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I was having a discussion with a friend and it came up that in earlier times Brahmins lived on Bhiksha. Somehow it didn't sound okay to me because I had read Bhiksha to be practised by Buddhists and they were called Bhikshuks. Brahmins were either priests in temples or associated with kingdoms as 'rajpurohits' or 'rajjyotishis' and whatever was offered to them was/is called daana.

I read on Wikipedia about Bhiksha but it fails to define or mixes up Bhiksha, donation and beggary. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bhiksha

Could someone clarify what is meant by Bhiksha and why would a Brahmin/Scholar/Pandit beg for food or alms?

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    The tag Brahman indicates the Alimighty, whereas the OP is interested in the life of Brahmins. Hence, suitable tag was added, duly deleting the tag Brahman and Buddhism. – srimannarayana k v Mar 24 at 16:14
  • Not Dwija-Vipra scholars, but knower of real self Brahman, live a life of religious mendicant/beggar or Sanyassi hinduism.stackexchange.com/a/37465/20089 but very rare are able to know Brahman completely and shun Maya to live in forest. – Manu Kumar Mar 24 at 16:19
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The primary duties of a brAhmin are adhyayana (studying) and adhyapakatva (teaching). Some enlightened people like Vasistha also worked as purOhita of a king.

The following is from Bala Kanda of Ramayana.

स्वकर्मनिरता नित्यं ब्राह्मणा विजितेन्द्रियाः | दानाध्यानशीलाश्च संयताश्च प्रतिग्रहे || १-६-१३

The sense-controlled scholarly Vedic Brahmans are always engaged in their rituals, and they donate the education of Vedas to their students, as well practice their own, and while receiving donations they are principle-minded.

The donations received by Vedic scholars are not alms to beggars or charities to the destitute. The Vedic scholars do not receive them from anybody or everybody. There are set rules to accept such donations like cows, gold coins, villages, temples etc., from a befitting hand. Otherwise, the recipient is destined to go to Hell for having received greedily. Thus, if ever somebody wants to donate to such a scholar he should first notify his bona fides, which are verifiable by the recipient. Another kind of donation is referred here as daana-aadhyaana, meaning that these scholars while receiving donations from a righteous source, they also have to donate something to others. It is the education in Veda, which they have to impart to their students free of any charge and that too, to the befitting students only. Thus, the words, daana and pratigrahaNa mean all these rules to accept a donation or to accord it.


Another source is Sutta Nipāta of Buddhism (P.101), in which Gautama, the Buddha praises the high valued life of a brahmin of earlier age.

Brahmins then no cattle had, no gold, no grain they hoarded up, their grain, their wealth was Vedic lore— this the treasure they guarded well.

For them, whatever food prepared was by the doorway placed from faith prepared for those who sought, for (donors) thought it should be given.

Then in various states and provinces rich in colourful cloths well-dyed with furniture and dwellings too with these to brahmins they paid respect.

Unbeaten were brahmins and inviolate— guarded by Dharma-goodness then, none hindered or obstructed them when they arrived at household doors.

Until the age of eight-and-forty they practised celibate student life— the brahmins of those ancient times fared seeking knowledge and conduct good.

  • This is great answer. Thanks. – sbharti yesterday
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The Bhagavata Purana Skandha 7, Chapter 11 describes the duties and livelihoods of the four varNas. In regards to the livelihood of brahmanas, it says:

vārtā vicitrā śālīna yāyāvaraśiloñchanam ।    
vipravṛttiścaturdheyaṃ śreyasī cottarottarā ॥ 16 ॥

A Brahmana's livelihood is to be got from the following four occupations:

  1. vārtā - Agriculture, cow herding
  2. śālīna - living on unsought gifts
  3. yāyāvara - living as a wandering mendicant seeking alms
  4. śiloñchanam - living on grains collected from harvest leftovers in fields (śila) or gather scattered grains from markets / seeking grains in alms from homes (uñcha)

These are in increasing order of superiority.

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