“Let me offer my respectful obeisances unto Lord Krishna, who is the worshipable Deity for all brahminical men, who is the well-wisher of cows and brahmanas, and who is always benefiting the whole world. I offer my repeated obeisances to the Personality of Godhead, known as Krishna and Govinda.” (Vishnu Purana, 1.19.65)
The brahmana is the highest of the four divisions of social orders instituted by the Supreme Lord for the general welfare of the population desperately needing control and adherence to religion in their day-to-day affairs. The word “brahmana” references the fact that the member of the highest caste is familiar with Brahman, or the impersonal, visually unmanifest, all-pervading aspect of the Absolute Truth. Brahman is spirit, and that which is not Brahman is considered maya, or illusion. A trained eye, one that takes full shelter of the information of the shastras, is required to be able to correctly view all forms of life as being equal, part and parcel of the Supreme Absolute Truth. More than any other specific task assigned them, the brahmanas, as the highest and most respected members of society, must be worshipers of Lord Vishnu, the four-handed, ever-opulent and all-pervasive personal form of the Supreme Lord residing in the spiritual sky. In the absence of Vishnu-worship, the brahmana does not make the most of his potential, as his knowledge remains stalled on the Brahman platform. At this elevated stage of thought, the light of transcendence is seen, but the source of the energy remains invisible. But the brahmana who does properly worship Vishnu, or His non-different forms such as the vishnu-avataras and the original personality of Godhead, Lord Krishna, not only reaches the peak of knowledge acquisition but also performs the greatest benefit for society.
“According to the three modes of material nature and the work ascribed to them, the four divisions of human society were created by Me. And, although I am the creator of this system, you should know that I am yet the non-doer, being unchangeable.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.13)
Why the need for societal divisions? Why even have brahmanas and other castes? In the conditioned state, the soul is wholly unaware of its true nature, that of an undying spirit. The soul can never be cut into pieces, be made wet, burned or dried. Though such changes may take place with the outer covering of the soul, or the visible indication of life, the spiritual spark itself remains unaffected. Since we gather our information through both perception and precept, if we are not taught the differences between matter and spirit, we will always remain on the level of the animals, wherein the activities of eating, mating, defending and sleeping will be taken as paramount in importance. When the existence of the soul is denied or forgotten, the impulses arising from the sense organs, of which the tongue and genitals bring the strongest urges, are given highest priority. To learn about the nature of spirit is one thing, but to truly realize it is another. Therefore the brahmanas, the highest class in the societal maintenance system known as varnashrama-dharma, not only understand spirit, but they also truly realize, through steady practice of devotion, the equality shared between all forms of life.
“Peacefulness, self-control, austerity, purity, tolerance, honesty, wisdom, knowledge, and religiousness—these are the qualities by which the brahmanas work.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 18.42)
A brahmana is qualified as such based on possessing certain qualities such as cleanliness, purity, equality of vision, tolerance, humility and devotion to religion. They also must take to specific activities. A brahmana performs sacrifices, teaches others how to perform sacrifices, studies the Vedas [the eternal truths of life passed down since the beginning of time from Krishna Himself], teaches Vedic wisdom to others, accepts charity and gives in charity. A brahmana can be thought of to be a priest, a man of the cloth. While all forms of life are equal, the activities adopted according to the modes of nature are different. A brahmana lives in the mode of goodness, which is the topmost rung of the ladder of material qualities. When other modes like passion and ignorance are introduced, the personal qualities assumed vary and differences in occupation result. Those who are not purely in the mode of goodness take to administrative affairs, fighting, defense, business, agriculture, or menial service to others. Irrespective of one’s outward occupation, the ultimate aim of life remains the same, that of learning of the Supreme Spirit’s nature and the individual soul’s relationship to Him.
One who is fully aware of the simultaneous oneness and difference between God and the individual souls at the time of death immediately transcends all the effects of material nature and returns to the spiritual sky, the source of Brahman. There are three different gradations of residence. One is the spiritual sky, which is the original realm. In this land the Supreme Lord and His various forms reside alongside the eternally liberated spirit souls. The next realm is Brahman, which is the blissful light emanating from the transcendental body of the Personality of Godhead. The third realm is the material world, a land where matter becomes the predominant force, with temporary manifestations coming into existence at periodic intervals.
“The total material substance, called Brahman, is the source of birth, and it is that Brahman that I impregnate, making possible the births of all living beings, O son of Bharata.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 14.3)
The souls in the material world are all Brahman because the light of the brahmajyoti is from where they all most recently came. The Supreme Lord, as the seed giving father, impregnated Brahman and thus caused the entire creation and all its creatures. At the time of dissolution, those souls still not craving a return to the original spiritual realm remain within the light of Brahman until the time comes for the next creation. In this way ascension to the light of Brahman is not much of an achievement, for there is every chance of fall down in the future. When one returns to the spiritual land where Krishna and Vishnu reside, there is no chance of returning to Brahman or the material world governed by maya.
Can someone be a brahmana and not a devotee of Vishnu? Since material nature is so complex and has intricate workings, there are different degrees of systems of spirituality instituted, with each aimed at providing a gradual progression towards the realization of the ultimate Truth, Vishnu. In the absence of devotion, a brahmana can still perform his prescribed duties such as enacting Vedic sacrifices and teaching others about the esoteric truths found in the Vedas. If devotion to Vishnu is absent, the highest platform a brahmana can ascend to is that of Brahman realization. Similarly, this is all they will be able to teach their students and dependents about. Since association with the Supreme Lord in one of His personal forms is a higher benediction, a brahmana who is a devotee of Vishnu is far more advanced and thus described as a Vaishnava.
Unlike with the brahmana status, which requires knowledge of Brahman and explicit occupational duties to be undertaken, the title of Vaishnava is open to all members of society, irrespective of caste, age, gender, ethnicity and country of origin. Goswami Tulsidas, the great poet and devotee of Vishnu’s form of Lord Rama, kindly points out that just as the otherwise ordinary trees that line the path to the heavenly realm are worshiped and adored, those who are born in low castes but take to chanting the holy name of Rama become equally as worshipable. It’s interesting to note that the poet doesn’t say that such an individual automatically turns into a brahmana, as such material designations are of minimal importance. A brahmana is an occupational post, one where specific duties are adhered to. A devotee of Vishnu, or a Vaishnava, is more respected than a brahmana because they immediately become worshipable. A Vaishnava may not take to openly teaching others about Vedic wisdom and they may not even be respected as a learned scholar, but since they know Vishnu and the importance of chanting His names, they become more respected and praiseworthy than an ordinary brahmana.
When a brahmana does take to worshiping Vishnu, the benefit to society is tremendous. The effect is similar to how when a famous celebrity takes to a particular activity, automatically the cause gets more popularity and fame. A brahmana, who is already generally respected for their high knowledge, by taking to vishnu-bhakti can teach others the supreme truths of life and how devotion to God is the highest dharma, or occupational duty. Murari Gupta, a famous devotee and associate of Lord Chaitanya’s, set the ideal example of how a brahmana and householder should behave. When it comes to understanding Brahman and the temporary and illusory nature of life around us, not only is the brahmana position considered beneficial but so is the stage of life known as sannyasa. A brahmana in the renounced order of life is given tremendous respect because of their way of life. It is one thing to say that material nature is the cause of great pain and bondage, but it is another to back up your words by renouncing worldly attachments and taking to the life of a mendicant. A sannyasi especially has more facilities to preach the truths of the Vedas, as renunciates are not inhibited by demands of work and family.
Murari Gupta, though a householder, still proved to be an extremely effective teacher and distributor of the holy name of the Lord. Though he was a doctor for a living, he spread as much spiritual healing as he did physical. Though Lord Chaitanya, who was Krishna Himself appearing on earth to distribute the holy names of the Lord through the congregational chanting of “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, specifically recommended worship of Radha and Krishna, Murari Gupta still could not abandon his attachment to Lord Rama. Lord Chaitanya tested his devotion on several instances, and Murari Gupta proved his love for Shri Rama every time. In this way Murari showed the example of an ideal brahmana and householder. He never begged for money, nor did he haphazardly abandon his occupational duties. He worked within the bounds of the qualities he was given and dedicated his life to preaching the glories of the Lord.
Shri Krishna is especially the deva, or worshipable god, of the brahmanas and the cows. There are millions of other celestial figures who are each powerful in their own right. A vaishya, one tasked with taking to business and food production, may pray to several demigods to bestow mercy upon them in the form of rain and good fortune. A kshatriya may worship the family deity or the celestial figures in charge of bestowing strength and good fortune amongst their kingdom. But the brahmanas, those who know the temporary nature of fruitive activity and the resulting rewards, are meant to simply worship Vishnu, or Krishna. The Supreme Lord is especially kind to the brahmanas, as he knows they are wholly dedicated to His service. A Vaishnava brahmana, one who exhibits all the qualities of the mode of goodness, takes complete shelter at the lotus feet of Lord Vishnu. As such, they become ideal members of society and great proponents of the supremacy of the practice of bhakti-yoga, or devotional service.
Murari Gupta, through his great devotion to Vishnu and his supreme knowledge, was able to properly identify Lord Chaitanya for who He was, Shri Krishna Himself. The saintly class of men in the Kali Yuga all follow Lord Chaitanya’s example of regularly chanting the holy names of the Lord. Shri Gaurahari especially popularized congregational chanting, or sankirtana, as being the most potent and powerful form of deliverance for the fallen souls of this age. By taking shelter of Krishna Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and the brahmanas who regularly worship and spread the glories of Vishnu, we can be rescued from the troublesome situation brought on by material contact.