Monday, August 8, 2016

The Food Chain and Role of Brahmins in Universal Well Being

The following shloka from the Bhagavad Gita says more than what it does literally:

अन्नाद्भवन्ति भूतानि पर्जन्यादन्नसम्भव: |
यज्ञाद्भवति पर्जन्यो यज्ञ: कर्मसमुद्भव: || 3-14||

"Bhutani" refers to all living beings - not merely human beings.

अन्नाद्भवन्ति भूतानि - Annam literally refers to Rice. However, the statement here is that living beings subsist on Rice. We must therefore take Annam to be representative of Food, in general, than purely rice. Why did the Lord choose "Rice" as representative word for Food when He could have chosen other words - perhaps, including Meat? It is possibly because of the emphasis on vegetarianism. Does is means He does not care for subsistence of carnivores? No, understanding this more deeply, deers subsist on grass, and tigers on deers. What it means is that the food chain starts with grass/plants, and other living beings in the food chain can subsist only as long as the beings in the lower level of the food chain can subsist. So let us generalize this - Food at the lowest level of the food chain is herbivores that subsist on plants. Humans (vegetarians) subsist on rice, grains, leaves, vegetables, and fruits provided by plants. And so on. The choice of the word "Annam" primarily points to the Lord's preference for a vegetarian diet for humans, as he is addressing Arjuna here.

Secondly, Herbivorous or Carnivorous, can we image a world that has no vegetation? What would that world be like? Humans eating animals, and animals eating humans, or worse, human eating humans? Can humans or living beings in general subsist in such a world?  Plants, and their products are essential for the survival of all living beings on earth!

पर्जन्यादन्नसम्भव: - In this phrase the Lord says that Annam, i.e food, becomes possible because of rains. Having established the importance of plants, we do well understand the importance of rain for plants and vegetation to thrive. Now, one may say that plants also need sunlight to thrive. We must understand that order to establish the food chain, the Lord has chosen rain as the common term to mean all that a plant needs to thrive - air (carbon-di-oxide), water, and sunlight.

यज्ञाद्भवति पर्जन्यो - In this phrase the Lord says that rains are caused  by yagna or sacrifices. Now this may be a little controversial even to most believers. In common, we see that rains are simply seasonal. The South West Monsoon arrives around the first week of June in India, no matter somebody has performed a yagna somewhere or not. Otherwise, performing a rain-begetting-yagna would have been common-place practice. And then, it is commonplace understanding that yagnas are always officiated by Brahmins. Is the Lord emphasizing a role for Brahmins in causing rains?

To understand this a little better, let us look at the first line of shloka 3-12.

इष्टान्भोगान्हि वो देवा दास्यन्ते यज्ञभाविता: |

In this line, the Lord says that Higher Beings (Devas) grant the desired necessities of life when propitiated through yagna. This does not mean they shower gold coins on us. All those gold coins are not going to buy you any food if there is no rains or sunshine and if plants do not grow!! These higher beings are merely administrators of this world (upon the supreme Lord's order). They give us rains (water), sun-shine (causing water cycle and rain), and air, which in turn causes the soil to become fertile to grow plants. They may also bestow wealth on us in mysterious ways, as long as we propitiate them sincerely as stated in the Vedas.

Now, what needs to be understood is that the Lord has established a symbiotic relationship between  these higher beings, and human beings. An important part of all yagnas that humans do is invocation of the higher beings, and offering them our little mite, in terms of the annam (cooked food) and kusha grass offered in fire. Fire is the celestial messenger/postman that carries our offerings to the higher beings. Fire, personified as a higher being, is himself to be offered respects and propitiated first, in order to act as the messenger to take these offerings to the other higher beings.

That said, the panchabhutas - Prithvi (earth), Aapa: (water), Tejas (Fire), Vayu (Air), Akash (Space) are primary for the survival of the human race and need to be propitiated, along with their leader, Indra (who is instrumental along with Aapa: for causing rains). We are indebted to these higher beings for providing us an opportunity to sustain human life on earth. Being indebted, we are expected to do our duty of "thanking the higher beings" for what they have given us.  Therefore yagnas must be performed for the well being of all human beings. It therefore is not a coincidence that all yagnas end with Loka Samastha Sukhino Bhavantu i.e "may all the lokas subsist as a result of this yagna."

Yagnas are indeed officiated and performed by Brahmins. What it means is that Brahmins are an indispensable part of human life. Not Brahmins who are not living as brahmins - but the emphasis is on "practicing brahmins" who do their yagna every day. It is because of them that human life on earth is in equilibrium.  Brahmins, traditionally, even in vedic society have been minorities. But in Vedic society, Kings recognized their need for the society's well being, and patronized them. They invited brahmins  who were vedic experts to conduct various yagnas and ensured their well being. Kings also used their services to consult them on how to administer the kingdom justly, as stated in the Vedas. Thus, despite being minority, well-versed vedic brahmins were powerful. However, the most learned ones seldom used their power and chose a life of seclusion. There may have been a few of lower-learning in the Vedas that might have misued such confidence expressed by the Kings. That may be reason why brahmins are today marginalized in the modern society.

यज्ञ: कर्मसमुद्भव: - Yagna is nothing but performance of ritualistic duties as stated in the Shastras. A grahastha brahmin is supposed to be an agnihotra who does his daily rituals, offering food via fire to the higher beings. Satisfied with that offering, the higher beings bestow equilibrium of natural forces offering fertility of soil, rains, and sun-light, causing plants to grow, which in turn provides enough food for all living beings on earth, causing peace, happiness, wealth, and all-round well being of the society at large. And the brahmin does not do it for himself, because, when he does the rituals, it rains not merely in his field or house - but everywhere; the sun shines, not merely in his locality, but every where.

Universal Well Being (Sukha for Loka Samastha) - the Universe has several lokas of which 14 are important - Bhu Loka is in the center of the 14. The seven upper lokas are Bhu:, Bhuva:, Suva:, Maha: Jana:, Tapa: and Satyam.    The seven lower lokas are Atala, Vitala, Sutala, Rasatala, Talatala, Mahatala, and Patala. A brahmin performing his agnihotra duties bestows equilibrium of natural forces in all these 14 lokas causing sukha/happiness.  It causes food to be available to all living beings in Bhu lokas.

That said, if brahmins are marginalized in the society and if they are unable to perform their ritualistics duties due to the pressure of modern "civilization" and the numerous societal pressures - the downside to society is unthinkable. Unfortunately, that is the direction the society is headed. Already a minority, brahmins are today persecuted in every way possible by the modern society. There are no kings anymore and democratically elected governments have nothing but apathy for them. Systematically they are now drawn in to modern societal structure causing them to have lesser and lesser time for practice of ritualistic duties. Schools do not teach anything related to the vedas nor do they prepare brahmin children for the practice of their ritualistic duties. Brahmins are drawn in to mainstream job market - as accountants or teachers or IT software professionals, or some other profession - reporting into bosses who seldom understand the value of a vedic educated brahmin.

It will not take very long, before the brahmins will stop wearing the sacred thread any more. Upanayanam - the sanskar that ought to be done when children are 7 years of age, is already getting delayed. Some delay this all the way to the day before marriage!! There are very few sources available for brahmin children to learn the shastras - and even the very few sources available on the internet are all but biased and distorted, having been translated into English by the likes of Max-Mueller!   And Manu Dharma Shastra is completed derided having been faultily translated - and written as if it promotes discrimination! What was once societal segregation on the lines of division of labor has been misconstrued as racial discrimination! The society needs brahmins, and it needs them to study the vedas and practice their daily duty for the welfare of not merely Bhu loka, but for all 14 lokas! But when charged with racial discrimination that brahmins were not responsible for creating, and marginalized, and persecuted entirely as a community for no fault of theirs, they have no other option but to give up being a practicing brahmin.

The society is taking the Sun, air, soil fertility, and rain for granted. They think it is going to rain, no matter what. They think the Sun is going to shine, no matter what. Yeah, there is global warming - but then it is not so perceivable - it is only gradual. They think we have time to fix global warming. Nations like India are passing food security bills without understanding the connection between brahmins, their practice of yagnas, and the food chain as described above. But once can see clearly that the human civilization on earth is headed in the wrong direction. There will be day when trillions of dollars stashed away in bank will not be able to buy an individual a morsel of food! And as predicted in some of the puranas, as kaliyuga progresses, cannibalism will become the order of the day. Food security is not assured even to the rich. It shudders to think what life will be like down the road in Kaliyuga!!!

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