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Also spelled brahmin or brahman ("possessor of Brahma"), highest ranking of the four varnas. The study and recitation of the sacred scriptures and scholarship is traditionally reserved for them.
Brahmanas act as advisors and ministers of ruling chiefs. Their traditional position is as priests, ministering both in temples and at domestic rites. The brahmana family priest (purohita) officiates at weddings, funerals, and other ceremonial occasions.
The purity of the brahmanas is maintained through the observance of numerous
restrictions, many of which relate to diet and contact with lower castes. Most
brahmanas are strictly vegetarian and must abstain from certain occupations.
They may not plow or handle any impure material, such as leather or hides, but
they may farm and do such agricultural work as does not violate these specific
restrictions. They may also accept employment as domestic servants; many well-to-do
Hindus have brahmana cooks, who are valued because members of all castes may
eat the food that they prepare.
(Brittanica CD. Version 97. Encyclopaedia Brittanica Inc., 1997)
"Brahmanas, ksatriyas, vaisyas and sudras are distinguished by the qualities
born of their own natures in accordance with the material modes, O chastiser
of the enemy."
"Peacefulness, self-control, austerity, purity, tolerance, honesty, knowledge,
wisdom and religiousness--these are the natural qualities by which the brahmanas
"If the kingly administrative order, being unrestricted in sense control,
offends the brahmana order and enrages them, then the fire of that rage burns
up the whole body of the royal family and brings grief upon all."
"Maharaja Yudhisthira, whose enemy was never born, performed his daily
morning duties by praying, offering fire sacrifice to the sun-god, and offering
obeisances, grains, cows, land and gold to the brahmanas. He then entered the
palace to pay respects to the elderly. However, he could not find his uncles
or aunt, the daughter of King Subala."
"You [the king] are always the protector of the deserving living beings,
such as brahmanas, children, cows, women and the diseased. Could you not give
them protection when they approached you for shelter?"
"Suta Gosvami said: O learned brahmanas, Maharaja Pariksit then began
to rule over the world as a great devotee of the Lord under the instructions
of the best of the twice-born brahmanas. He ruled by those great qualities which
were foretold by expert astrologers at the time of his birth."
"The brahmanas were not only given well-fed cows in charity, but also
gold, gold coins, bedding, clothing, animal-skin seats, blankets, horses, elephants,
girls and sufficient land for maintenance."
"Thereafter they offered the brahmanas highly delicious foodstuffs first
offered to the Personality of Godhead and offered their respectful obeisances
by touching their heads to the ground. They lived perfectly by protecting the
cows and the brahmanas."
"When the doormen of Vaikunthaloka, who were certainly devotees of the
Lord, found that they were going to be cursed by the brahmanas, they at once
became very much afraid and fell down at the feet of the brahmanas in great
anxiety, for a brahmana's curse cannot be counteracted by any kind of weapon."
"O Lord, You are the supreme director of the brahminical culture. Your
considering the brahmanas to be in the highest position is Your example for
teaching others. Actually You are the supreme worshipable Deity, not only for
the gods but for the brahmanas also."
"Manu replied: To expand himself in Vedic knowledge, Lord Brahma, the
personified Veda, from his face created you, the brahmanas, who are full of
austerity, knowledge and mystic power and are averse to sense gratification."
"Among human beings, the society which is divided according to quality and work is best, and in that society, the intelligent men, who are designated as brahmanas, are best. Among the brahmanas, one who has studied the Vedas is the best, and among the brahmanas who have studied the Vedas, one who knows the actual purport of Veda is the best.
"Better than the brahmana who knows the purpose of the Vedas is he who
can dissipate all doubts, and better than him is one who strictly follows the
brahminical principles. Better than him is one who is liberated from all material
contamination, and better than him is a pure devotee, who executes devotional
service without expectation of reward."
"The great sages began to think that although a brahmana is peaceful and
impartial because he is equal to everyone, it is still not his duty to neglect
poor humans. By such neglect, a brahmana's spiritual power diminishes, just
as water kept in a cracked pot leaks out."
"Maharaja Prthu was an unrivaled king and possessed the scepter for ruling
all the seven islands on the surface of the globe. No one could disobey his
irrevocable orders but the saintly persons, the brahmanas and the descendants
of the Supreme Personality of Godhead [the Vaisnavas]."
"The brahmanas and Vaisnavas are personally glorified by their characteristic
powers of tolerance, penance, knowledge and education. By dint of all these
spiritual assets, Vaisnavas are more powerful than royalty. It is therefore
advised that the princely order not exhibit its material prowess before these
two communities and should avoid offending them."
"By regular service to the brahmanas and Vaisnavas, one can clear the
dirt from his heart and thus enjoy supreme peace and liberation from material
attachment and be satisfied. In this world there is no fruitive activity superior
to serving the brahmana class, for this can bring pleasure to the demigods,
for whom the many sacrifices are recommended."
"Although the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Ananta, eats through the
fire sacrifices offered in the names of the different demigods, He does not
take as much pleasure in eating through fire as He does in accepting offerings
through the mouths of learned sages and devotees, for then He does not leave
the association of devotees."
"In brahminical culture a brahmana's transcendental position is eternally
maintained because the injunctions of the Vedas are accepted with faith, austerity,
scriptural conclusions, full sense and mind control, and meditation. In this
way the real goal of life is illuminated, just as one's face is fully reflected
in a clear mirror."
"O respectable personalities present here, I beg the blessings of all
of you that I may perpetually carry on my crown the dust of the lotus feet of
such brahmanas and Vaisnavas until the end of my life. He who can carry such
dust on his head is very soon relieved of all the reactions which arise from
sinful life, and eventually he develops all good and desirable qualities."
"Whoever acquires the brahminical qualifications--whose only wealth is
good behavior, who is grateful and who takes shelter of experienced persons--gets
all the opulence of the world. I therefore wish that the Supreme Personality
of Godhead and His associates be pleased with the brahmana class, with the cows
and with me."
"Any person upon whom the brahmanas and Vaisnavas are pleased can achieve
anything which is very rare to obtain in this world as well as after death.
Not only that, but one also receives the favor of the auspicious Lord Siva and
Lord Visnu, who accompany the brahmanas and Vaisnavas."
"The Vedas are My eternal transcendental sound incarnation. Therefore
the Vedas are sabda-brahma. In this world, the brahmanas thoroughly study all
the Vedas, and because they assimilate the Vedic conclusions, they are also
to be considered the Vedas personified. The brahmanas are situated in the supreme
transcendental mode of nature--sattva-guna. Because of this, they are fixed
in mind control [sama], sense control [dama], and truthfulness [satya]. They
describe the Vedas in their original sense, and out of mercy [anugraha] they
preach the purpose of the Vedas to all conditioned souls. They practice penance
[tapasya] and tolerance [titiksa], and they realize the position of the living
entity and the Supreme Lord [anubhava]. These are the eight qualifications of
the brahmanas. Therefore among all living entities, no one is superior to the
"I am fully opulent, almighty and superior to Lord Brahma and Indra, the
King of the heavenly planets. I am also the bestower of all happiness obtained
in the heavenly kingdom and by liberation. Nonetheless, the brahmanas do not
seek material comforts from Me. They are very pure and do not want to possess
anything. They simply engage in My devotional service. What is the need of their
asking for material benefits from anyone else?"
"In the beginning this brahmana named Ajamila studied all the Vedic literatures.
He was a reservoir of good character, good conduct and good qualities. Firmly
established in executing all the Vedic injunctions, he was very mild and gentle,
and he kept his mind and senses under control. Furthermore, he was always truthful,
he knew how to chant the Vedic mantras, and he was also very pure. Ajamila was
very respectful to his spiritual master, the fire-god, guests, and the elderly
members of his household. Indeed, he was free from false prestige. He was upright,
benevolent to all living entities, and well behaved. He would never speak nonsense
or envy anyone."
"O exalted governors of various planets, the true brahmana, who has no
material possessions, maintains himself by the profession of accepting silonchana.
In other words, he picks up grains left in the field and on the ground in the
wholesale marketplace. By this means, householder brahmanas who actually abide
by the principles of austerity and penance maintain themselves and their families
and perform all necessary pious activities. A brahmana who desires to achieve
happiness by gaining wealth through professional priesthood must certainly have
a very low mind. How shall I accept such priesthood?"
"When one is envious of the demigods, who represent the Supreme Personality
of Godhead, of the Vedas, which give all knowledge, of the cows, brahmanas,
Vaisnavas and religious principles, and ultimately of Me, the Supreme Personality
of Godhead, he and his civilization will be vanquished without delay."
"If a brahmana has all twelve of the brahminical qualifications [as they
are stated in the book called Sanat-sujata] but is not a devotee and is averse
to the lotus feet of the Lord, he is certainly lower than a devotee who is a
dog-eater but who has dedicated everything--mind, words, activities, wealth
and life--to the Supreme Lord. Such a devotee is better than such a brahmana
because the devotee can purify his whole family, whereas the so-called brahmana
in a position of false prestige cannot purify even himself."
"As an alternative, a brahmana may also take to the vaisya's occupational
duty of agriculture, cow protection, or trade. He may depend on that which he
has received without begging, he may beg in the paddy field every day, he may
collect paddy left in a field by its proprietor, or he may collect food grains
left here and there in the shops of grain dealers. These are four means of livelihood
that may also be adopted by brahmanas. Among these four, each of them in succession
is better than the one preceding it."
"The symptoms of a brahmana are control of the mind, control of the senses,
austerity and penance, cleanliness, satisfaction, forgiveness, simplicity, knowledge,
mercy, truthfulness, and complete surrender to the Supreme Personality of Godhead."
"A twice-born brahmana [dvija] gains his life by the grace of his parents
through the process of purification known as garbhadhana. There are also other
processes of purification, until the end of life, when the funeral ceremony
[antyesti-kriya] is performed. Thus in due course a qualified brahmana becomes
uninterested in materialistic activities and sacrifices, but he offers the sensual
sacrifices, in full knowledge, into the working senses, which are illuminated
by the fire of knowledge."
"Bali Maharaja has now become extremely powerful because of the benedictions
given him by the brahmanas, but when he later insults the brahmanas, he will
be vanquished, along with his friends and assistants."
"For a brahmana, austerity and learning are certainly auspicious, but
when acquired by a person who is not gentle, such austerity and learning are
"Maharaja Khatvanga thought: Not even my life is dearer to me than the
brahminical culture and the brahmanas, who are worshiped by my family. What
then is to be said of my kingdom, land, wife, children and opulence? Nothing
is dearer to me than the brahmanas."
"My dear son, we are all brahmanas and have become worshipable for the
people in general because of our quality of forgiveness. It is because of this
quality that Lord Brahma, the supreme spiritual master of this universe, has
achieved his post. "The duty of a brahmana is to culture the quality of
forgiveness, which is illuminating like the sun. The Supreme Personality of
Godhead, Hari, is pleased with those who are forgiving."