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Is there any incidence or statement in the scriptures which shows that varna/caste was not deduced from birth/parentage, and was deduced only from "qualities independent of parentage"(without referring to parentage at all).

The top answer to this question uses this verse as a reference:

catur-varnyam maya srstam
guna-karma-vibhagasah - (BG 4.13)

and says that "They substituted heredity in place of qualities", but doesn't provide any reference to a prior system which didn't consider heredity. All authentic commentaries interpret the word "guna" here to mean that "qualities acquired by birth". So, this verse doesn't seem to fulfill my need.

Also, please note that I'm not asking about the flexibility of varna system.

Please cite direct scriptural references(if possible with links).


Edit: It would do if Shruti(Vedic or Upanishadic) references are provided which show that varna/caste was deduced from birth/parentage, and was not deduced from "qualities independent of parentage".

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    Heredity is never discounted. Exceptions like Satyakaama were blessed by gurus in spite of heredity not by devaluing or discarding it. – user1195 Apr 7 '17 at 2:38
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    I think the question would be better if you asked for shruti references that show caste is dependent upon parentage. – Swami Vishwananda Apr 7 '17 at 4:28
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    As said by Swamiji, it would be better if you limit your question to Vedas. As far as i know, Vedas never say Varna is based on birth. – The Destroyer Apr 7 '17 at 5:19
  • @Swami Ji, If I change the question, and if there are no such references in Shrutis, I'll be left without an answer. I would like to hear what Smritis say as well. Obviously, if there is any contradiction, the Shrutis will be valid. – SMJoe Apr 7 '17 at 5:49
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    You have misunderstood my comment. Change to the following - which shows that varna/caste was deduced from birth/parentage, and was not deduced from "qualities independent of parentage" – Swami Vishwananda Apr 8 '17 at 8:00
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In 7.11 The Perfect Society: Four Social Classes) of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (Bhāgavata Purāṇa), Nārada Muni says

यस्य यल्लक्षणं प्रोक्तं पुंसो वर्णाभिव्यञ्जकम्।

यदन्यत्रापि दृश्येत तत्तेनैव विनिर्दिशेत् ॥३५

If one shows the symptoms of being a brāhmaṇa, kṣatriya, vaiśya or śūdra, as described above, even if he has appeared [born] in a different class, he should be accepted according to those symptoms of classification.

Few examples are discussed here where varana got changed based on qualities:

  • From the kṣatriya known as Agniveśya came the celebrated brāhmaṇa dynasty known as Āgniveśyāyana. (Source: Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (Bhāgavata Purāṇa) 9.2)

  • In addition to these nineteen sons mentioned above, there were eighty-one younger ones, all born of Ṛṣabhadeva and Jayantī. According to the order of their father, they became well-cultured, well-behaved, very pure in their activities and expert in Vedic knowledge and the performance of Vedic rituals. Thus they all became perfectly qualified brāhmaṇas [from kṣatriyas]. (Source: Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (Bhāgavata Purāṇa) 5.4.13

  • That wretched Brahmana who falls away from his duties and whose behaviour becomes wicked, becomes, O king, a Sudra. (Source: Santi Parva: Rajadharmanusasana Parva of Mahabharata)

  • Vishvamitra was a kshatriya king earlier. Later, he undertook intense penance and attained brahminhood. This is discussed here.

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    Thousands of Shudras have I encountered, haven't I got any single Shudra who showed Brahminical charm so far. – Mr. Sigma. Sep 15 '18 at 17:31
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    This is the best answer! – brahma jijnasa Sep 15 '18 at 18:10
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    @Rickross First of all, Upnayana for 3 classes is done..so not a problem for them.. only problem is with one class..Now however standard age is 8/11/12 for Upanyana.. but in some cases it can be done till 16 (Agni Puran: Ch 153 says so)..and i think by 16 year the qualities of a person can be determined..So i don't see a problem in following this in practice.. – YDS Sep 16 '18 at 9:11
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    @Rickross I think Rama lamenting for Sita or for Lakshmana is not the right example or not the enough to declare someone Sudra..But there are many examples for varna change...if someone did something that is permitted to other varna then 1)they had to do something to overcome from that or 2)they were outcasted or 3)they were cursed or 4)their varna got changed... – YDS Sep 16 '18 at 10:46
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    @Rickross If max age limits are 16/22/24 (hinduism.stackexchange.com/a/20364/12304) then there is no Q as such "how will people determine the Gunas of a 8 yr old kid.."... – YDS Sep 16 '18 at 20:16
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There is one reference in Mahabharata that clearly states that Varna is independent of birth and specifies conduct to be the only ground.

Maheshwara said, ‘..Neither birth, nor the purificatory rites, nor learning, nor offspring, can be regarded as grounds for conferring upon one the regenerate status.Verily, the conduct is the only ground. All Brahmanas in this world are Brahmanas in consequence of conduct. A Sudra, if he is established on good conduct, is regarded as possessed of the status of a Brahmana. The status of a Brahma, O auspicious lady [Uma], is equal wherever it exists. Even this is my opinion. He, indeed, is a Brahmana in which the status of Brahma exists – that condition which is bereft of attributes and which has no stain attached to it. of human beings in four orders dependent on birth is only for purposes of classification.The boon giving Brahma, when he created all creatures, himself said that the distribution of human beings in four orders dependent on birth is only for purposes of classification.'

Mahabharata Anusasana Parva Section CXLIII

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    It does not mean birth is not a requirement. It means birth ALONE is not sufficient. Birth (to brahmin parents) + Purificatory rites (samskara) + learning (vedas) + CONDUCT (achara & anushtana) are required. You're misinterpreting. When Vedas say 'na karmana na prajaya' - meaning you cannot attain moksha by karma or progeny etc. they mean you cannot attain moksha by those ALONE. it does not mean you can simply neglect all of them. – ram Sep 15 '18 at 15:55
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    You are inserting the word alone arbitrarily to justify your stand. The word is not there in the quotation I provided. – Pradip Gangopadhyay Sep 15 '18 at 23:33
  • by that logic, you can teach a fish or a deer gayatri mantra and karma yoga and good conduct. you can try all you want, but it won't be of much use. you're confusing the 'anyone can attain moksha' statement, with 'everyone can attain moksha'. do you really think people got a dvija birth by chance ? good conduct in previous life leads to good birth in this life. good birth in this life implies good conduct in previous life. i've repeated this many times - very rare exceptions for changing varna exist, but telling everyone they're eligible for vedas is highly misleading – ram Sep 16 '18 at 3:23
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    Very sad that you equate human beings with fish and deer. – Pradip Gangopadhyay Sep 17 '18 at 13:31
  • @PradipGangopadhyay How and who will even determine what someone's caste is based on their qualities? And what if you exhibit qualities of all 4 castes? Therefore, the guna based caste system is refuted. – Ikshvaku Jan 10 at 0:35
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If we say varnas can be determined entirely neglecting the birth factor then that will clearly contradict the Purusha Suktam which says how the four castes came out of (or born of) four parts of the Purusha's body.

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brāhmaṇo'sya mukhamāsīd bāhū rājanyaḥ kṛtaḥ, ūrū tadasya yad vaiśyaḥ padbhyāgï śūdro ajāyata.

The Brahmana (spiritual wisdom and splendour) was His mouth; the Kshatriya (administrative and military prowess) His arms became. His thighs were the Vaisya (commercial and business enterprise); of His feet the Sudra (productive and sustaining force) was born.

So, the varnas very much depend on how they were born to start with. Then how can we expect that varnas can be decided by entirely neglecting the birth factor?

For example, the Sudras are the ones who were born out of the Purusha's feet. So, the birth factor is the first deciding factor for determining the varnas. Then how can we ignore it?

Then of course come the Samskara and the conduct factors. Because the scriptures say that everyone is a Sudra by birth; & one becomes a Dvija only by Samskaras.

See, the following verse from Manu Smriti, that says birth, samskara (purificatory rituals) and conduct all collectively determine a Brahmin. The purport is all those three factors are important and we can't neglect anyone of them.

Manu Smriti 10.3. On account of his pre-eminence, on account of the superiority of his origin, on account of his observance of (particular) restrictive rules, and on account of his particular sanctification the Brahmana is the lord of (all) castes (varna).

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    At many places .. For example : 2.172. (He who has not been initiated) should not pronounce (any) Vedic text excepting (those required for) the performance of funeral rites, since he is on a level with a Sudra before his birth from the Veda.-Manu @KeshavSrinivasan – Rickross Apr 8 '17 at 15:59
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    OK, but "on a level with a Sudra" is not the same as being one, it just means that he has no more right to chant the Vedas than a Sudra does. – Keshav Srinivasan Apr 8 '17 at 16:36
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    You are saying actual literal first brahmin man, first kshatriya man etc were born out of various parts of purusha? Not mental qualities which are characteristic of four varna? Medatithi seems to take that account as metaphorical not literal. wisdomlib.org/hinduism/book/… – Aks Apr 8 '17 at 18:39
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    @KeshavSrinivasan That is not the only verse which says so. There are many other verses with similar purport. – Rickross Apr 9 '17 at 5:16
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    @Rickross I can't quite agree with the main argument presented. The Varnas originating from 4 parts of Purusha's body is completely different from a sudra being born from another sudra. One happens once during creation, while the other is literally happening each time a child is born. Birth is important, but because it is decided based on the guna-karma of a the soul being born, and not the other way around. Based on the qualities and nature/karma of a soul, it is born in an appropriate family. That does not completely determine soul's fate though, since there is always free will. – Advaita Charana dasa Apr 9 '17 at 11:57

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