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The "Brahmin" of today needs no excuse to forsake his duties. He may change his Yagnyopaveetam, or Sacred Thread, once a year but forgets its purpose for the remaining 364 days. Furthermore, he conveniently comes up with a philosophy and opinions, that suit his own lifestyle, on what Brahminhood should entail. In fact, according to Shri Ganesha Sharma, a Vedic scholar, such "Brahmins" are more dangerous than atheists for an atheist can only malign religion. On the other hand, ill-informed "Brahmins" can wreak havoc on an already dying appreciation for tradition and culture.
Nevertheless, what is it that a Brahmin's duties really are? Who is a Brahmin? Jagadguru Shri Chandrashekharendra Saraswati Mahaswamigal (the Paramacharya or "Teacher of All"), the 68th Shankaracharya of the Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham provides us with the answer. During about 500 BC, when Dharma was undergoing a similar decline, Adi Shankara incarnated on the blessed earth of Bharata Varsha and rejuvenated the Vedic way of life. The Paramacharya is the Adi Shankara of our own era. The following are not my thoughts, but His, from the popular set of books titled the "Voice of God" series.
A Brahmin is one who dedicates himself to a life of spartan austerity and spiritual endeavor with the aim of using the spiritual merit thus gained for the betterment of the world (or "Loka Kshemam"). It is believed that the performance of Sandhyavandhanam, the recitation of Vedic hymns, and the performance of Yagnyas creates around us an atmosphere of positive energy and vibrations. Yagnyas and the power of spiritually powerful saints of our yore, such as Rishi Rishyashringa, have been claimed as spiritually potent enough to even bring torrents of rains to drought-stricken lands. It is the duty of a Brahmin to thus serve humanity while himself subsisting on only just enough to bind soul to the body and abstaining from excessive pleasure that would negatively impact his spiritual prowess. The duties of a Brahmin male, to a fuller degree, is provided below:
- Trikaala Sandhyavandhanam: Ritual performed thrice a day, i.e., before sunrise, during noon and before sunset; contains the powerful Gayatri Mantra.
- Samithadhaanam: Ritual performed twice a day by bachelors, once after the morning Sandhyavandhanam and once after the evening Sandhyavandhanam; offerings of firewood are made to Agni, god of fire, to grant intellect, a good married life and health and strength of body.
- Aupasanam: Performed by a married couple; offerings of rice made to Agni, the god of fire.
- Brahma Yagnyam: A daily practice and recitation of the Vedas for the benefit of the individual and the world as a whole.
- Pitru Yagnyam: Oblations made to ancestors.
- Performance of Yagnya's, i.e., Vedic fire sacrifices for the benefit of the individual and the world as a whole.
"Nourish the gods and the gods, in turn, will nourish you." says Lord Shri Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita. "He who partakes of the gifts of the gods without contributing to them is verily a thief." He also says. Unfortunately, most of us today are of the latter category. We enjoy the gifts that the spiritual momentum of our ancestors and other dedicated Vedic scholars are affording us without making any contribution, that is our duty, to this pool of positive spiritual energy.
Where does the role of a Brahmin woman, barring in the Aupasanam, fit in here? It is said that a Brahmin man acquires the right to perform Yagnya's only upon marriage. This is because the wife is said to possess Agni on the palms of her hands. Since she thus helps the man in performing his Dharma, or duty, she is known as the "Dharma Pathhni." In fact, the Brahmin man loses his right to Yagnya's upon the death of his wife (Sumangali Gathi).
How about Vedic recitation and the Gayatri Mantra? May a woman not chant them? Is that not discrimnation? The Paramacharya explains that Vedic sounds, which are extremely powerful and potent by nature, emanate from the depths of one's abdominal region. Since a woman's anatomy possesses some fragile parts, such as the uterus, in that region of the body, the vibrations of the Vedic sounds emanating from her abdominal region may adversely affect those vulnerable sections of her body.
Moreover, the Paramacharya goes a step further to say that women are not as afflicted as men. They are the pillars of support for the entire family. A woman doing her Dharma of caring for the family is what allows the Brahmin man to engage in his own spiritual activity in addition to engaging in other mundane tasks. Therefore, her salvation comes from the performance of this Dharma alone, without the need to engage in any rigid ritualistic regimen.
In addition to the above-mentioned duties, Brahmin men and women are supposed to follow a strict dress code of the Panchagacham (a particular style of wearing the Dhoti) and Madisaar (a particular style of wearing the Sari). Furthermore, all Brahmin men have to sport a "Shikha" or a few loose tufts of hair worn as a knot on the upper back of one's head.
Nevertheless, we must admit that most, if not all of us, are accustomed to a more worldly ("Laukeeka") way of life rather than a Vedic ("Vaideeka") way of life. While those of us who choose to go back to the old way of life, i.e., by renouncing mundane sources of income and taking up the Vedic profession (this has happened with several blessed souls even during these modern times), the vast majority of us will find this transition extremely hard to make. How then can we live as as good Brahmins? As a start:
- We must start doing the Trikaala Sandhyavandhanam: The importance of this ritual cannot be overemphasized. Performing the Sandhyavandhanam, with the Gayatri Mantra, thrice a day is not a privilege but a duty according to the Shastras. Greatest sin is accrued by not performing the Sandhyavandhanam. The Paramacharya states that one who is negligent in its performance gains the status of "Durbrahmana" or "evil Brahmin." Abstinence from the Gayatri Mantra (and hence, the Sandhyavandhanam) for three generations results in permanent loss of Brahminhood.
- We must learn and start practicing Vedic recitation. While we must learn from a qualified Guru and never by ourselves, many of us may not be able to find the time or such Guru's. In that case, it behooves us to financially support and physically encourage those, such as Gurukkal's, Archakar's Shastri's, and other Vedic scholars who are indeed dedicatedly following the tenets of their Dharma. Although not equal in merit to chanting the Vedas by oneself, this helps eliminate some of the sin accrued from the negligence of the Vedas.
- We must offer oblations to our ancestors in the appointed times. Our ancestors are the reason we are here and it is our responsibility to care for them in their afterlife. Negligence of this very important duty could lead to their starvation and can have very negative consequences on our lives.
- We must abstain from food (such as meat) and drink (intoxicating) that is forbidden for us so as to keep our physical bodies pure and worthy of absorbing the spiritual energy as we engage in our Dharma.
- We must frequently visit temple and assist in their maintenance or restoration by either physical or monetary help.
- We must, as often as possible pay homage to and consult with the Acharyas of our respective schools of thought, i.e., Advaita, Visishtadvaita and Dvaita. We must make use of these gods in human form for our material and spiritual guidance whenever necessary.
- We should live a life of non-violence according to the tenet: "Loka samasthah sukhino bhavanthu." or "May the whole world live in happiness."
While this is no exhaustive list for what we must do, it is what it is: a start. Let us all take pride in and perform our Dharma as dedicatedly as we can and more. As Lord Krishna says: "The performance of one's own Dharma, unseemly though it may appear, is far superior to performing another's, attractive though it may seem.
Through this website, we shall provide you with resources to get back to and preserve your roots and also engage in real-time networking with peers. Let us, henceforth, live up to the duties that Parameshvara has graciously bestowed upon us!
Jaya Jaya Shankara, Hara Hara Shankara!