Vedic Culture - A Truly Liberal Tradition of Humanity
The Vedic society was not only one of the advanced civilizations of the world, but also one of the most open, liberal, and egalitarian ones. It embraced the belief in equal opportunity in education, profession, marriage, and the spiritual choices of males and females. For example, we find in the Vedas, the following injunctions towards women:
Women should participate in war (Yajur Veda, 16,44)
Women should take part in “legislative chambers” (Atharva Veda, 7,38,4)
Women should take a lead role in leading nations (Rig Veda, 10,85,46)
Women should take a lead role in social activities (Rig Veda, 10,85,46)
Women should take a lead role in government matters (Rig Veda, 10,85,46)
Women have the same rights as men in inheriting property (Rig Veda, 3,31,1)
There was no societal prohibition on women’s secular and spiritual advancement whatsoever, since this goes against the spirit of the Vedas. Following this truly liberal path, Vedic sages were both male and female. Male seers were known as Rishis and female seers were known as Rishikas (seers of truth), or Brahmavadini, the knowers of Supreme Reality). No less than 27 women sages have authored sublime hymns in the Hindu holy book called the Vedas. That is a first. (See Appendix for references from the Vedas.) 1
The Vedas See Animals as Teachers:
“One should be considered dear, even by the animal kingdom.” (Atharva Veda, 17.1.4)
“The ascetic calls these animals as his teachers.” (Bhagvad Purana, 11.9.24)
“Deer, camel, donkey, monkey, rats, creeping animals, birds and flies should be considered like one's own children, and one should not differentiate between one's children and these creatures.” ( Bhagavad Purana, 7.14.9)
“One should not satiate his hunger and thirst without first giving water and food to one’s animals.” (Vishnu Dharma Sutra, 63.18)
“He who does not seek to kill, cause pain, or tie up living creatures and desires the good of all attains everlasting bliss of liberation.” (Manu Smriti, 5.46)
“Having no ill feeling for any living being, in all manners possible and for all times, is called ahimsa, and it should be the desired goal of all seekers.” (Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, 2.30)
Hinduism is sometimes saddled with three pejorative terms: caste, cow, and curry:
Caste is a social evil that arose in India due to social/historical circumstances; and caste afflicted both Muslim and Hindu societies of India at one time. The Vedas and its major religion of Hinduism, however, do not sanction the caste system. In fact, the Vedas proclaim:
One is my brother and the other is not – is the thinking of a narrow-minded person. For those who are broad-minded, liberals, or noble people, the entire world is one big family.
No one is superior, none inferior. All are brothers marching forward to prosperity.
Ahimsa Paramo Dharma, meaning the very first duty, ethic, and responsibility of mankind above all duties, ethics, and responsibilities are to maintain non-violence and peace in the world.
Truth is One, the wise call it by different names.
Let noble ideas come to us from all directions.
May all beings be free of sorrow.
Awakened souls act and go about in the world, not for their own sake, but for the welfare and wellbeing of everyone else.
The knower of Self begins to own the joy as well as the suffering of other beings (humans, animals, and plants) as his own.
Caste System was Born from Misunderstanding a Psychologically Driven Personality Categorization:
The modern caste system has no mention in the Vedas. In fact, the four categories of people were divided up
based on inborn psychological propensities, called ‘varna’, towards certain kinds of vocations of pursuits; and were never genetically determined or ‘locked’ based upon birth. It was also recognized that our inclinations may change over time.
The four personality types or psychological propensities, also known as Swadharma, are four root
propensities or personality types described by the Veda. These propensities are aligned to your inborn, root, or original nature. These propensities are called Swadharma, or personal dharma. When we act from our swa-dharma (swa means self and dharma means value), we feel supported from within and more fearless going about our business. It makes us more authentic in all our interactions. We are also able to face related challenges since we are more adapted to a specific ‘propensity’.
Pure Existence is our true nature. How does it want to express through your body, senses, mind, ego,
intellect? The Vedas asks each one of us, what is your dharmic life purpose beyond personal survival? What did you come here to blossom into, and how can you become a gift to the universe? How can you be that, which existence celebrates and supports, since you have become of incredible “value” to the cosmos, through your upholding your deepest propensities (swa-dharma).
By reading what I have shared below, you may identify with mainly one or even two propensities. You can
use this knowledge to say yes or no inside relationships and clarify beautifully fragrant boundaries. However, keep in mind that even as we are upholding our swa-dharma, we will not neglect universal dharma at any time. In fact, both, flowing together from our mind by choice make for even greater clarity, within and without.
Swadharma is a specific form of dharma, and points to you your deep-rooted nature and authentic traits,
inclinations, and aptitudes. Uncovering swa-dharma reveals what upholds you deep within, and your sense of purpose evolves through this upholding. This mindful expression of an inner propensity becomes the basis for leading a much more deliberate, more conscious, and fulfilling life in the ‘worldly sense’ of choice of profession, vocation, inner seeking, partners, colleagues, setting priorities, etc., and for understanding your experience of the roles you take on. Let us briefly explore each propensity type below.
The Mystic, Known as ‘Brahmin Varna’
You are a born mystic if you are a seeker of higher truth from a young age. It does not matter who
your parents are. You are a mystic if, from childhood, you have wanted to know Self, God, Truth, and this desire has gone beyond a passing or occasional wish in your mind and translated into a full-fledged lifestyle, where you read spiritual books, seek out spiritual teachers, attend spiritual classes, or even have a deepening relationship with a living Guru (who you value above all human relationships). The goal of acquiring Self-knowledge is your top priority.
The Guardian or Holy Warrior, Known as ‘Kshatriya Varna’
You are a guardian if you naturally experience the urge to protect the unprotected; stand up for just causes,
and lend your voice for what is just, fair, and right. You should never suppress your voice, says the Veda.
The Entrepreneur or Wealth Creator, Known as ‘Vaishya Varna’
You are a natural wealth creator when you ‘download’ ideas to create wealth not only for yourself, but for
society, by creating jobs and opportunities to make a living.
The Pleasure Seeker and Happiness Creator, Known as ‘Shudra Varna’
You are a pleasure seeker when you are content with life as it comes along; you give pleasure in your role as
employee, caregiver, administrator or artist - and you become a source of spreading pleasure through your vocation, service, and presence.
Thousands of year later, in medieval times in India, ‘shudras’ became shunned or looked down upon by the
Brahmins, Kshatryas, and Vaishyas (and blame was laid upon the Vedas). This was a social evil born from prejudice and sheer ignorance of the Vedic worldview. The Vedas themselves never sanctioned this biased behavior and bigoted attitude. In fact, the word Shudras is mentioned in the Vedas about 20 times. It is nowhere mentioned in a denigrating or inferior way.
The Vedas nowhere deny Shudras the right to read the Vedas.
The Vedas nowhere consider Shudras as untouchables.
The Vedas nowhere consider Shudras as inferior.
In fact, let us look at the Vedas, and their truly integrative stand towards ‘shudras’:
O! Humans I gift you with this blissful knowledge of the Vedas for all Brahman, Kshatriya, Vaishya,and Shudra. This knowledge is for the benefit of everyone. (Yajurveda, 26, 2 )
I pray to God that O God! Let all Brahmans, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, and Shudras glorify me. (Atharva Veda, 19,62,1)
Thus, the Vedas do not discriminate between different classes. They consider everyone as equal:O God make me so gentle that all Brahmans, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, and Shudras have affection for me. (Yajur Veda, 18, 46)
The Vedas speak of good relations with all four classes: There is no one superior or inferior in the Vedas. All are equal, just like brothers. All should help each other to attain the pleasures of this, as well as the other world. (Rig Veda, 5,60,5)
Let us honor the truly expansive and inclusive Hindu seers and their sacred Vedas that have given the world its first body of systematic spiritual wisdom, including the original and mind blowing mystical teachings on the One Universal Reality that underlies all creation and creatures; along with the teachings of Ahimsa (nonviolence), Dharma (universal values), Advaita (non-dual truth), Atman (Self), Yoga (varied paths to spiritual freedom), Ayurveda (activating our inner healing using natural laws), Dhyanam (meditation), Kundalini (inner spiritual energy system), etc. that became the foundation for a world revolution in defining a spiritual movement without walls.
Vedas have always been valued by people who could appreciate them for their truly universal, progressive and unitive vision:
"Vedas are the most rewarding and the most elevating book which can be possible in the world."
- Schopenhauer (Works VI p.427)
“In all the world, there is no kind of framework within which we can find consciousness in the plural; this is simply something we construct because of the temporal plurality of individuals, but it is a false construction…The only solution to this conflict insofar as any is available to us at all lies in the ancient wisdom of the Upanishad.” -Erwin Schrödinger
“Whenever I have read any part of the Vedas, I have felt that some unearthly and unknown light illuminated me. In the great teaching of the Vedas, there is no touch of sectarianism. It is of all ages, climates, and nationalities, and is the royal road for the attainment of Great Knowledge. When I read it, I feel that I am under the spangled heavens of a summer night."-Henry David Thoreau
"I owed a magnificent day to the Bhagavad Gita. It was as if an empire spoke to us, nothing small or unworthy, but large, serene, consistent, the voice of an old intelligence which, in another age and climate, had pondered and thus disposed of the same questions which exercise us." -Ralph Waldo Emerson
We can look at the achievements of a spiritual tradition and its culture by examining what attitudes it has cultivated towards its more vulnerable sections of the society. Clearly, the Vedas have an edge over most modern societies. Thus, the wisdom of the Vedas that I expound upon is truly ahead of its time, liberal, universal, timeless, and highly effective in changing erroneous belief systems with the truth of One Self.
Acharya Shunya is a Vedic lineage holder and teacher of nondual wisdom from the Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita, along with the Vedic sciences of Ayurveda and Yoga. She is the spiritual preceptor of a global community of truth seekers. She teaches out of her wisdom school, Vedika Global, based in Emeryville, California, USA and lectures worldwide. She is the award-winning author of Ayurveda Lifestyle Wisdom (Sounds True, 2017), voted among the Top 10 Books in Alternative Medicine by Health Line (2017). To find out more and to explore studying the ancient wisdom from Vedic seers with Acharya Shunya, visit her official website maintained by her students: https://www.acharyashunya.com/.
1) 1. The Rig Veda (V. 7.9) clearly speaks of women completing education as spiritual scholars (Brahmavadinis)
2. Yajurveda (Vii,I) similarly state that a daughter who has completed her Brahmacharya should be married to one learned like her.
3. Atharvaveda (Xi, 6) clearly refers to women who have accomplished disciplined life of Brahmacharya and in x,5,16 – benefits of adopting Brahmacharya for girls is also clearly admitted.
4. The Rigveda speaks of the following women Rishikas in Rig Veda and Samaveda (see detailed list below)
5. The Brihadaaranyak Upanishad (Vi, 4,17) mentions an interesting ritual by which a person prays for the birth to him of a daughter who should be a Panditaa or lady learned in Vidyas.
6. The Kaushiitaki Braahmana (Vii, 6) recounts the tale of a lady Pathyaasvasti who proceeded north for study and obtaining the title of Vaak, i,e Saraswati by her learning.
7. Of the two wives of Rishi Yajnavalkya, one of them takes considerable part in discussions and disputations on philosophical topics (Brihad, iii, 4. 1; iv, 5,1)
8. Aitareya Upanishad (ii,1), refers to elderly women who are students of Vedanta and listen to its discourses (unclear if married or not)
9. The Ramayana contemplates women who were Bikshunis (Aranyakanda, 74, 9-33) – also, Shramani is described at Jatilaa, Taapasi, Siddha with her Ashram established along the river Pampaa and her own Guru is referred to as Rishi Matanga.
10. Janaka has a philosophical discussion with feale sage “Bhikshuni” Sulobha
11. In the Mahabharata, Rishi Ashtavakra converses with an old women who describes herself as a Brahmacharini
12. The daughter of Rishi Sandilya was also a Brahmacharini and so also the daughter of Rishi Gaargya.
13. In Harita (xxi, 23) Yama states that in times of yore, women were eligible for (1) Maunjibandana (upanayanam) (2) study of Veda, (3) Savitri Vachana (use of Savitri mantra)
14. Jamini’s Purva-mimamsa talks of equal rights of men and women in performing of sacrifices. In discussion of the adhikari –Vidhis or the eligibility for the performance of sacrifices Jamini clearly states that “women are as good as men in point of the desire and capacity for performing sacrifices”.
15. Madhavacharya (in Nyaya Mala Vistar) also agrees to the same.
2) Book – My View of the world pg 31- http://www.krishnapath.org/quantum-physics-came-from-the-vedas-schrodinger-einstein-and-tesla-were-all-vedantists/
3) Ralph Waldo Emerson said this about the Bhagavad Gita: "I owed a magnificent day to the Bhagavad-Gita. It was as if an empire spoke to us, nothing small or unworthy, but large, serene, consistent, the voice of an old intelligence which in another age and climate had pondered and thus disposed of the same questions which exercise us."