“Tulsi says, ‘Listen ojha. You don’t understand the loss in abandoning Rama. Even the pure water that comes from the holy rivers like the Ganga can become impure like wine.’” (Dohavali, 68)
tulasī rāmahiṁ parihareṁ nipaṭa hāni suna ojha |
surasari gata seā'ī salila surā sarisa gaṅgojha ||68||
The Vedas give knowledge applicable for seemingly every important department. The two main categories are material and spiritual. The spiritual is difficult to understand, since there is immersion in the material from beginning to end. Upon exiting the womb, the child identifies with the body and continues in that mindset until taught otherwise. Vedic knowledge of the material is arranged in such a way as to foster gradual advancement in spiritual understanding. There is something linking the two, and it is mentioned by Goswami Tulsidas in the verse quoted above.
Varnashrama-dharma. This is the more specific definition of the term “Hinduism.” Indeed, “Hindu” is a word used by outsiders to describe the ancient system of life and societal management passed on in the sacred Sanskrit texts. These works have no known date of origin since they were originally passed down in an oral tradition. In reality there is no such thing as the “Hindu faith” since the knowledge presented is not reserved for any sect. Just as gravity applies to all objects, the spiritual science that is the Vedas applies universally, regardless of one’s acceptance.
When viewed as a religion, Hinduism is really varnashrama-dharma. Dharma is the Sanskrit word that most closely resembles religion. Dharma is actually a defining characteristic. In the living entity, that characteristic is the desire to serve, and it is a byproduct of spirit. Dharma becomes religion when there are rules put in place to allow the essential characteristic to regain its constitutional form.
Varna is a color or class and ashrama is a spiritual institution. Spiritual leaders are known to have ashramas, which are like boarding schools for the spiritual aspirant. In varnashrama, the ashrama is a phase of life, but the name has a similar meaning. The phase is meant for spiritual advancement. In fact, the holy human experience is meant only for this purpose. Material life is for keeping spirit and body together in a healthy way that allows for the progression through the designated ashramas.
Varna as a class is a division based on occupation. Everyone has to eat. This means that everyone has to work; at least they should. In varnashrama there are four divisions of occupation and four spiritual institutions. Among the varnas, the brahmana is the highest. They can be likened to the priest. Notice that the highest occupation is not related to income. In fact, the business division is considered the third class. It is closer to the bottom than it is to the top.
This is because earning money is not the goal of the human existence. The rabbit is satisfied with a small allotment of vegetables. It doesn’t need more than this. The same spirit is there in the human species, and it similarly requires only a certain amount to survive. The advanced intelligence in the human is not meant to be used for accumulating more than is necessary, as this serves no viable purpose.
The brahmana is an occupation that has certain requirements as far as characteristics are concerned. Not everyone can be a leader of a company. Not everyone can excel in a job in sales. There are qualifications for each job, and in the brahmana the characteristics of cleanliness, purity and honesty must be there.
śamo damas tapaḥ śaucaṁ
kṣāntir ārjavam eva ca
jñānaṁ vijñānam āstikyaṁ
“Peacefulness, self-control, austerity, purity, tolerance, honesty, wisdom, knowledge, and religiousness - these are the qualities by which the brahmanas work.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 18.42)
In work, the brahmana has six primary engagements. They study the Vedas, teach the Vedas, perform sacrifices, teach others how to perform sacrifices, accept charity and also donate to others. The brahmana doesn’t need to do all six; they can be specialized in a single area, such as performing sacrifices. These are known as yajnic-brahmanas.
Despite being a member of the highest order in the varnashrama system, the brahmana is still in a material occupation. By definition they must know the existence of spirit, which is known as Brahman. How can the brahmana be in a material engagement, then? Knowledge of spirit alone doesn’t make a spiritual existence. The brahmana is considered in the mode of goodness, which brings elevation to the higher planetary systems in the afterlife. Though life in goodness is preferred, by itself it still brings rebirth.
tatra sattvaṁ nirmalatvāt
“O sinless one, the mode of goodness, being purer than the others, is illuminating, and it frees one from all sinful reactions. Those situated in that mode develop knowledge, but they become conditioned by the concept of happiness.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 14.6)
The brahmana occupation becomes spiritual when there is devotion to God the person. This makes the brahmana a Vaishnava, which is a devotee of Vishnu. Vishnu is the personal God, and He has other forms like Rama and Krishna that are non-different from Him. Without this devotion to God, who is the source of Brahman, the brahmana can become impure; their occupation alone doesn’t immunize them from material contamination.
Goswami Tulsidas gives the example of water. There are several sacred rivers in India, and they are assigned to this category because of their association to the Supreme Lord. Ganga Devi, who is more commonly known as the Ganges River, emanates from the lotus feet of Lord Vishnu. The Ganga is worshiped like a high personality, and her water is considered the purest. Despite contamination that may enter her, she is never considered impure.
But if you take the same water and remove its association to Vishnu, it can become impure. How impure? Tulsidas gives the example of wine. Though with the advancement of Kali Yuga, drinking wine is generally considered a good thing around the world, wine is actually an impure substance. It degrades the mind and leads to all kinds of negative reactions. Overconsumption of wine leads to illicit sex, unnecessary fighting and loss of clarity. The wise person always chooses sobriety over intoxication.
And so the brahmana can become impure like wine if they turn their back on Shri Rama, who is the worshipable deity of Tulsidas. The poet warns the ojhas, who are a certain clan of brahmanas, that they don’t know the loss they will incur by abandoning Shri Rama. This warning is important since it is natural to get puffed up by being in a lofty position. The position alone doesn’t make the person dear to God; it’s what they do with the high responsibility that counts.
A brahmana is not automatically a Vaishnava, while a Vaishnava can be found in any of the four varnas. They can be in any of the four ashramas as well. The brahmana-vaishnava is uniquely qualified to teach the spiritual science to society, to explain the importance of devotion to the Supreme Lord. It is His association which makes an occupation truly religious. Faith, attachment and service to Him is the real definition of dharma.
In varnashrama brahmana at the top,
Spiritual knowledge they have got.
But more important what you do in role,
Working for personal pleasure or God’s glories to extol?
Warning to ojhas Tulsi kindly giving,
That against Shri Rama not living.
Otherwise even water like Ganga to find,
To become impure like wine.