From Conversations and Dialogues of Volume 5 of The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda
The Discrimination of the Four Castes According to Jati and Guna—Brahmanas and Kshatriyas in the West—The Kula-Guru System in Bengal
[Shri Priya Nath Sinha]
Once I went to see Swamiji while he was staying in Calcutta at the house of the late Balaram Basu. After a long conversation about Japan and America, I asked him, “Well, Swamiji, how many disciples have you in the West?”
Swamiji: A good many.
Q. Two or three thousands?
Swamiji: Maybe more than that.
Q. Are they all initiated by you with Mantras?
Q. Did you give them permission to utter Pranava (Om) ?
Q. How did you, Mahârâj? They say that the Shudras have no right to Pranava, and none has except the Brâhmins. Moreover, the Westerners are Mlechchhas, not even Shudras.
Swamiji: How do you know that those whom I have initiated are not Brahmins?
Myself: Where could you get Brahmins outside India, in the lands of the Yavanas and Mlechchhas?
Swamiji: My disciples are all Brahmins! I quite admit the truth of the words that none except the Brahmins has the right to Pranava. But the son of a Brahmin is not necessarily always a Brahmin; though there is every possibility of his being one, he may not become so. Did you not hear that the nephew of Aghore Chakravarti of Baghbazar became a sweeper and actually used to do all the menial services of his adopted caste? Was he not the son of a Brahmin?
The Brahmin caste and the Brâhmanya qualities are two distinct things. In India, one is held to be a Brahmin by one’s caste, but in the West, one should be known as such by one’s Brahmanya qualities. As there are three Gunas—Sattva, Rajas, and Tamas—so there are Gunas which show a man to be a Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya or Shudra. The qualities of being a Brahmin or a Kshatriya are dying out from the country; but in the West they have now attained to Kshatriyahood, from which the next step is Brahminhood; and many there are who have qualified themselves for that.
Q. Then you call those Brahmins who are Sâttvika by nature.
Swamiji: Quite so. As there are Sattva, Rajas, and Tamas—one or other of these Gunas more or less—in every man, so the qualities which make a Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya, or Shudra are inherent in every man, more or less. But at times one or other of these qualities predominates in him in varying degrees, and it is manifested accordingly. Take a man in his different pursuits, for example: when he is engaged in serving another for pay, he is in Shudrahood; when he is busy transacting some piece of business for profit, on his own account, he is a Vaishya; when he fights to right wrongs, then the qualities of a Kshatriya come out in him; and when he meditates on God or passes his time in conversation about Him, then he is a Brahmin. Naturally, it is quite possible for one to be changed from one caste into another. Otherwise, how did Vishvâmitra become a Brahmin and Parashurâma a Kshatriya?
Q. What you say seems to be quite right, but why then do not our Pandits and family-Gurus teach us the same thing?
Swamiji: That is one of the great evils of our country. But let the matter rest now.
Swamiji here spoke highly of the Westerners’ spirit of practicality, and how, when they take up religion also, that spirit shows itself.
Myself: True, Maharaj, I have heard that their spiritual and psychic powers are very quickly developed when they practice religion. The other day Swami Saradananda showed me a letter written by one of his Western disciples, describing the spiritual powers highly developed in the writer through the Sâdhanâs practiced for only four months.
Swamiji: So you see! Now you understand whether there are Brahmins in the West or not. You have Brahmins here also, but they are bringing the country down to the verge of ruin by their awful tyranny, and consequently what they have naturally is vanishing away by degrees. The Guru initiates his disciple with a Mantra, but that has come to be a trade with him. And then, how wonderful is the relation nowadays between a Guru and his disciple! Perchance, the Guru has nothing to eat at home, and his wife brings the matter to his notice and says, “Pray, go once again to your disciples, dear. Will your playing at dice all day long save us from hunger?” The Brahmin in reply says, “Very well, remind me of it tomorrow morning. I have come to hear that my disciple so-and-so is having a run of luck, and, moreover, I have not been to him for a long time.” This is what your Kula-Guru system has come to in Bengal! Priestcraft in the West is not so degenerated, as yet; it is on the whole better than your kind!