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Towards Understanding Caste – A Systems Approach

TOWARDS UNDERSTANDING CASTE – A SYSTEMS APPROACH-
PART I – (A NOTE ON HINDU SOCIOLOGY)
  • K. SATYA DEVA PRASAD

A caution: This paper is submitted to the Hindu fraternity as a modest input towards opening up channels of dispassionate, informed discussion and the possible enrichment of our understanding of caste institution.  Our attempt is to avoid emotional outbursts which characterize most discussions on caste.  This paper is not, I repeat not meant either to support or oppose caste institution.  It is only an attempt to supply some hitherto missing perspective on caste which may encourage further study and discussion on this crucial but mishandled topic.Caste system Pulitzer prize winning author Jared Diamond has words of praise for the `caste system` for its efficient bottom up management of economic and natural resources:Each of these cases of bottom up management that I have just mentioned involves a small society holding exclusive rights to all economic activities on its lands.  Interesting or more complex cases exist (or traditionally existed) on the Indian subcontinent, where the caste system instead operates to permit dozens of economically specialized sub.societies to share the same geographic area by carrying out different economic activities castes trade extensively with each other and often live in the same village but are endogamous ie., people generally marry within caste.  Castes coexist by exploiting different environmental resources and life-styles, such as by fishing, farming, herding and hunting/gathering.  There is even finer specialization eg., with multiple caste of fishermen fishing by different methods in different types of waters.  As in the case of the Tikopians and of  the Tokugawa Japanese, members of the specialized Indian castes know that they can count on only a circumscribed resource base to maintain themselves, but they expect to pass those resources on to their children.  Those conditions have fostered the acceptance of very detailed societal norms which members of a given caste ensure that they are exploiting their resources sustainably.  ( p.307 of collapse: How societies choose to Fail or Succeed, NewYork, Viking (penguin), by Jared Diamond. 2005).

(For further information on various aspects of caste, see Cultural Heritage of India, The Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture, Kolkata).

Caste is a fundamental feature of Hindu society.  It is the most maligned and least understood of all Hindu institutions. Notwithstanding our ignorance or meager understanding, we feel free to pronounce final judgement on this institution.  In spite of all our so called efforts to `reform` or `remove` or `annihilate` the `evil` of caste, it continues to exercise tremendous hold “ direct or indirect on every aspect of Hindu life.  Because of its hold on present day Hindu life, a discussion and understanding of caste institution is an unavoidable necessity.  We may avoid or neglect it only at our grave peril.  Our present knowledge of caste is mostly coloured by two hundred years of European-christian (mis) propaganda coupled with centuries of unsettling socio-political upheavals.  As a result of these we developed many knee-jerk reactions to caste rather than healthy, informed, realistic, confident responses. While presenting as Hindus either to ourselves or to outsiders we tend to become either apologetic or aggressive.  Both of these responses are the result of our inner conflict with regard to our caste identities. The data on which we formulate our responses is meager and defective in the extreme.  The aim of this paper is to try to remedy this situation to the extent possible by supplying some meaningful information on caste.  To understand caste better, it is necessary to understand its structural and functional  aspects from as many angles as possible.  One such attempt is to understand the caste institution from a systems point of view.  What is a system?A system is an assemblage of inter-dependent, interconnected elements forming a complex unity.  It is a whole composed of parts in an orderly arrangement according to some scheme or plan.All nature is a system. Life forms and aggregates of life forms are also systems.  The cosmos is a huge system, our environment is a system, our body is a system, our family, society, school, government, business- all these are systems.  Every system has within it a number of sub-systems.Characterstics of a system:

  1. A system is more than the sum of its parts or sub-systems.
  2. A system may be closed or open.

An open system exchanges information, energy and material with its environment as in the case of a biological or social system.  A closed system does not maintain exchanges with environment.  The closedness or openness of a system is only a matter of degree.  There are no absolutely closed systems in nature.  When a system falls sick or inactive or fatigued or undergoes forced or voluntary isolation, it shows symptoms of a closed system.

  1. Every system has some discernible boundaries or limits, which separate it from its environment.  Again, this separateness is not absolute or rigid.  The boundaries are flexible(supple), porous or fuzzy.  The purpose of boundary is to enable the system to function effectively with appropriate degree of autonomy or individuality. It is not meant to isolate the sub-system as such.  But under crisis situations, the boundaries may become rigid and non-porous in order to protect the system from total collapse.  Under such conditions, the system is not expected to discharge all those functions or display all those features which it possessed while it was healthy and normal.  Depending on the nature and expected life-span of the concerned system, episodes of health and crisis may last over varying periods.  An individual`s life span, say, of 70 years may contain episodes of sickness lasting for days or months, and rarely years.  In the case of human societies with very old cultures, like ours, episodes of sickness and fatigue may last for centuries. Societies with younger, immature, ephemeral collective experience may never understand the alternating phases of  health and sickness of older societies in the right perspective.  Even most members of the concerned old society itself may not have this perspicacity to grasp the subtle nuances of their own society.  This has been the bane of present day Hindus more than anything else.  Added to this is another problem.Our present knowledge of ourselves and our society is mostly gained  from people who understand us the least ie., westerners and their writings, interpretations, commentaries, analyses of Hinduism and Hindu society.  This is mostly true of  the English educated Hindus.  Therefore we have to first de-educate and then re-educate ourselves on proper lines.  There is nothing wrong in getting informed through western writings as such.  Only we have to do it on our own terms.  For that we have first to identify our terms of reference.  This paper is meant to help us formulate, identify and use our own terms of discourse to understand  not only our society and culture but also others.  In short it helps us to formulate a consistent effective world view.

2. Every system contains some sub-systems.  The sub-systems of a particular system have commonality which distinguishes them from the constituents of any other system.  The sub-systems of a system are in constant interaction with each other and with the system as a whole. Thus, each sub-system is double faced.  It interacts with other sub-system horizontally and with the system(in a subordinate status) vertically. Each sub-system has some amount of autonomy or self-government but is subject to the overall control of the system in the interest of the whole.  In other words, the interest and conduct of the system should always take precedence over that of any or all of the sub-systems.  When this principle is infringed chaos occurs in the system which may lead to its deterioration.  As applied to social systems, this principle is best expressed in the Mahabharata “  For the sake of  the family, sacrifice a (bad) individual; for the sake of the village, sacrifice a family; for the sake of the kingdom, sacrifice a village and so on¦.

  1. For a system to survive and function, it must achieve  a state in which it ingests enough inputs from its environment to offset its outputs plus the energy and the materials used in the maintenance to keep the system intact and going.  This state is called the steady state or homeostasis or dynamic equilibrium or optimal condition.
  2. To achieve a steady state, a system must have feedback or information input that tells whether the system is at least achieving a steady state to avoid the danger of disintegration.  In Hindu social system the information sources exist but information processing mechanism is impaired and communication channels are choked for centuries on  due to various historical, logistic, and  psychological factors.
  3. With the exception of the entire universe, all systems are sub-systems with different degrees of autonomy and self-determination.  Systems have sub-systems and are also a part of a (super) system.  Sub-systems tend to be hierarchical in higher systems.  Here hierarchy does not imply any high-low status in human terms.  Higher systems are more complex, mature, sophisticated, multifaceted and hence long lasting.  Hindu social system meets all the criteria of a higher system.  Its survival over millennia as a living and thriving system is proof of that claim.
  4. Open systems, social systems in particular, tend towards increasing elaboration and differentiation. Open systems as they grow, tend to become more specialized in their elements and  elaborate their structure enlarging their boundaries or creating new super system with wider boundaries.  In this sense Greater India ie., Indian cultural empire is an example.
  5. Open systems can achieve desired results (steady state) in various ways, whereas a system tends towards more closeness, its options get narrowed down and its elements react in a direct cause and effect way.  A comparison of  Hindu and Islamic societies bears out this statement. In a social system goals can be accomplished with varying inputs and with varying processes or methods. There is no single best way.  Thus Hindu society achieved steady state ie., stability with expansion through absorbing certain foreign tribes like Sakas and Huns in the past by accommodating some of their traditions and customs while rejecting much of their cultural baggage which was not in consonance with the Hindu genius and core values.  It has accommodated some races like the Parsees by retaining their cultural identity as they pose no threat to its systemic health and wellbeing.  But the situation is different with the two expansionist predatory groups namely Islam and Christianity. They neither integrate with Hindu system nor maintain a symbiotic relation like the Parsees. They pursue a course of confrontation with the sole intent of obliterating the Hindu system.  In fact not few of the problems faced by Hinduism are directly related to these two hostile, uncompromising systems.  A perusal of the `revelations` of these two religions, namely Bible and Koran will convince even a casual reader as to what makes them so aggressively exclusivist, expansionistic, predatory systems.

* Rationale of caste as a system: In the light of above discussion of systems theory, let us examine how the caste system fares.

Centralization and decentralization, freedom and control, autonomy and participation, growth and stability with security are equally desirable but opposing tendencies existing side by side in any complex system.  A vast, hoary social system with intractably complex record like Hindu society displays all these qualities in all their permutations and combinations.  The caste system is the result of such long complex social evolution.  In the caste system each caste is a sub-system.  Each caste has some autonomy in the form of its own variant of Hindu mores and manners, customs and rites, rules and relationships.  Each caste`s civil affairs are managed by its caste-elders or peer groups or caste associations.  Thus, while the bench marks overall lifestyle are laid down , and controlled by Hindu cultural principles, there are any number variations within that framework as displayed by different castes according to their inherent nature and needs.  These variations markout each caste (at least the  major ones) distinctly.  At the same time the underlying ˜Hinduness™ unites them as integral parts of  Hindu society.

This complementarity of opposing tendencies coupled with the complexities of human nature and the variations in human capabilities, tendencies, tastes, and aptitudes resulted in the evolution of hierarchical caste system.  There are many hierarchies in caste system- ritual, social, political, economic and knowledge hierarchies.  This hierarchical nature is neither peculiar to Hindu caste system nor contrived by man`s ingenuity.  It is an essential condition of human existence which finds expression in every society. Hierarchisation is a nature`s mechanism to manage complexity.  It stems from two fundamental, human tendencies- one, human beings differ in nature, ability and aptitude; two, human beings are social animals with the higher faculty of cerebration (Buddhi/Dhi).  The first tendency determines certain proto-types of personalities and the second tendency determines the need to bring together (grouping) those personality types in the best possible manner according to the collective experience of the human aggregate (here Hindu civilization) concerned.

Human societies all over the world since the dawn of civilization have been contending with these facts of nature as best as they can. Hence we find gradations or divisions in every civilized society. Sumerians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Egyptians, Greeks, Persians, Chinese, Romans- all have their social divisions.  Which of these is best?  Or superior?  Just or least unjust? Or egalitarian? There cannot be a single, simple answer to these questions.  The answer can be obtained only by examining the track record of different societies against their stated objectives (if any).  After all we apply this method in our day to day life too.  To assess the profitability of a particular investment or choosing a career or a life partner, or choosing a university to pursue studies, we try to gather information on the subject concerned as best and as much as we can, and then come to a conclusion based on our assessment of the data we have on hand. Similarly we can assess the track record of the different civilizations with particular reference to their social structure and by comparing them, we arrive at a reasonably accurate conclusion.  As already stated  nature`s hierarchy forming tendency manifests in social sphere in the form of social gradations and each society produces its version of gradation based on its racial experience, its stated aims of human existence, its conception of here and hereafter, and its desired view of individual and collective life.  Also external factors like natural resources, climate, geographical situation exercise decisive influence on a society and its gradations or divisions.

Coming to the issue of comparison, many of the ancient civilizations that took birth along with Hindu civilization have not the virility and stamina to survive into the present age.  The Sumerians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Egyptians, Greeks, Persians, Romans, have all been consigned to museums and monuments.  The Chinese ancient culture is nowhere appears in practice.  Only Hindu civilization and social structure survived though in a battered shape.  No doubt Hinduism has undergone innumerable transformations but nevertheless it retains its Vedic identity to a degree clearly recognizable and undeniable.  Therefore nothing is left in other ancient civilizations to compare our caste system with.  The only way left for us is to assess it on the basis of some realistically formulated criteria based on modern knowledge in the areas of science, history, sociology, ethics, economics etc.,

Now the question arises as to what is it in Hindusim that forms the basis of assessing caste system?  As stated above it is the stated aims of social and individual life namely the four purusharthas- Dharma, Artha, Kama, Moksha, and the meaning Hindus attach to or the way they conceive fundamental categories like God, Man, Society, Truth, Beauty, Knowledge, Wisdom, Happiness, Progress, Wealth, Peace, Fulfilment, evil, sorrow, poverty, ugliness, ignorance, etc., offers a firm basis to assess the caste system.  In doing so we also take into account the modern knowledge and ethos of justice, fairplay,  happiness, peace and progress as the world understands them today in general.

Systems Approach to Caste

Now let us apply the features of systems as explained above to the institution of caste and see how it fares scrutiny on the lines laid down above.

  1. Every caste down to the fifth caste whose members are now-a-days proudly appending caste tags to their names (viz., Krishna Maadiga, Rama Maala etc.,), unmistakably retain and maintain certain amount of autonomy and identity.  It proves that they have some kind of attachment to and stake in their caste identity and wish to profess it openly.  It is most natural human tendency to flaunt what is dear to you (for one reason or the other) and hide what you dislike.  Each caste has its own leaders or opinion makers.  It is they who represent the caste with the society at large.  For instance leaders of Hindu society cannot deal with individual member of every caste.  Some kind of representative mechanism is unavoidable, however defective it may be.  The role of leaders or representatives increases manifold in castes where literacy and capacity for vocal expression is low.
  2. Hindu society is not a mere aggregate of sub-system called castes.  It is a conglomerate of many hierarchies of semi-autonomous groups comprising of individuals who are more similar in their interests, life style, conditions of life, skill sets, aptitudes,  than members of any other group.  But even among themselves there are differences of ability and outlook.  In short Hindu castes display the features of sub-systems clearly.
  3. The sub-systems called castes are double faced.  They behave as semi-autonomous wholes while facing other subsystems viz., the separateness asserted by Madigas against Malas; and as parts while facing the whole ie., Hindu society. To appreciate this observation, note the demands made by `Dalits` against `the caste ridden Hindu society`.
  4. All advanced forms of social organization are hierarchical in nature.  The individual is part of the family system.  Family is a sub-system of caste.  Caste is sub-system of social system or society.
  5. In a system, each sub-system asserts its individuality.  Otherwise the system would lose its power of articulation and efficiency.  In order that every caste should contribute something useful to the society  to justify its existence, it needs to have some freedom and self-determination. This reflects as flexibility of the system.  Hindu caste system is known for its flexibility in the sense that its tolerance for internal dissent is very high .  This contributes to the efficiency of the Hindu social system.  The measure of efficiency of Hindu society is its longevity. Because no society can survive for long without the active consent and cooperation of most of its constituent groups. But at the same time there are definite limits to the autonomy, freedom and the resultant self determination and right to dissent.  Each caste sub-system must remain sub-ordinate to the demands of the whole.  These limits are ever changing and are determined by the internal, external forces acting on the system at any particular moment.
  6. For example each caste has its opinion makers or conscience keepers who articulate that caste`s problems, opinions, perceptions and so on.  In matters that involve more than one caste, it has to be tackled at the next higher level in the social hierarchy ie., inter-caste interaction and dialogue. We have lots of historical evidence to show that our society was (and is) functioning in this fashion since long time.
  7. Here the objective of the social system has been to provide a stable but permeable milieu to each caste which helps it to maintain its individuality and also interact and integrate with other castes at the same time.  Towards this end an unwritten but well recognized code of conduct is observed in each caste through common consent.  At times the finer points of the caste code of conduct are interpreted or clarified by the caste elders. Peer pressure within the caste acts as a powerful control over the behavior of caste members.
  8. An individual achieves growth, social mobility, progeny, relationships, earning capacity according to his own capabilities and opportunities within the caste and social environment.  These are encouraged, inhibited or modified by the caste, social environment.  Thus two complementary tendencies namely self-asserting and participatory are displayed at individual and sub-system levels.  These tendencies are derived from hierarchic nature of social life.  If man wants to live in a society, that too in a highly civilized and hence complex society, he has necessarily to live according to this natural law.  The only alternative to hierarchical social living is to exist in an isolated, atomized way ie., Robinson Crusoe style.  Even family life is not possible without some kind of hierarchy. And hierarchy results in social divisions.  The name of social divisions may change but their essential features persist since they are part and parcel of human nature and existence.
  9. Under normal conditions, various sub-systems of a society perform their semi-autonomous functions (as sub-wholes) honouring the regulative conventions of the sub-system as well as the system.  This pattern of healthy functioning does not come in the way of creative, growth oriented skills of the individual.
  10. Under conditions of systemic stress like external aggression or internal dissension, the sub-system that is called upon to cope with the disturbance may become over-excited or traumatized and gets out of control or display `abnormal` features.  Some kind of blockage occurs in the channels that connect part and whole.  Under such circumstances the self-assertive tendencies of the sub-system, isolated and released from the restraining influence of the whole, will express themselves in deleterious ways. In social terms these expressions may range from simple mis-understandings to major rivalries, hate-campaigns, secessionism, terrorism, oppression and so on.
  11. Individual represents the top level of the organismic hierarchy and at the same time the lowest unit of the social hierarchy.  It is on this boundary line between physiological and social organization that the two antagonistic tendencies, which are at work on every level, manifest themselves in the form of emotive behavior.  Under normal conditions the self-asserting tendencies of the individual are dynamically balanced by his dependence on and participation in life of the community to which he belongs.  Social controls get institutionalized in order to be effective in maintenance and application.  These controls restrain, stimulate or modify the autonomous patterns of activity of the social sub-systems on all levels down to the individual.  When tensions arise or control is slackened,  the `social organ` (sub-system) gets over-excited and goes out of control.  The individual for the same reason may give unrestrained expression to rage, panic, jealousy, and cease to obey the rules of the game laid down by the society (by common direct or tacit consent) of which he is a member.  Society lays down rules of the game only through the direct or tacit consent of all its members.  There is no way it can do it arbitrarily. Not in the long run  at any rate. There is one more possibility for prolonged sectional injustices to continue for longer than usual. That is when the society has lost its power of self-determination due to foreign domination, direct or indirect. This is the case with post-independence Indian society. First muslim and then christian domination prevent truly Hindu social ethos to take charge of social transformation. Yet the remnants of muslim and christian social devastation wrought on Hindu society are blamed on Hinduism. Contrary to popular belief, the so called ˜social reform movements™ of say, nineteenth century are not truly Hindu in character and inspiration in that they were undertaken at a time when our society was too weak to stand on its own, let alone be strong enough to take up reforms on the lines of its age old civilizational experience. Those nineteenth century ˜reforms™ were mostly undertaken by men and women who were predominantly alienated, and rootless. Moreover the ˜reforms™ were undertaken under the malafide ˜guidance and inspiration™ of the missionaries and imperialists. The acid test of any positive reform is that the society which undertakes it should find itself stronger and more unified after the reform. But the above said ˜reforms™ left the Hindu society too enervated  to resist division of Bengal(which was undone with great difficulty and cost), and finally the 1947 division of the country which stands to this day to the great humiliation, genocide and wealth-drain of Hindu society.

Rationale:

As already pointed out, differentiation of structure and integration of function are the two fundamental characteristics of all systems.  This is true from the constituents of an atom to the planets circling the Sun.  In Hindu tradition these pairs of opposite tendencies are called Dwandwas (Dyads or twosomes).  On every level of evolutionary hierarchy stability is maintained by the equilibrium of forces pulling in opposite directions.  In the syste ms the dyads (opposites) manifest as the tendency that asserts  the part`s independence / autonomy / individuality and the tendency that keeps the sub-system integrated to the whole.  The part behavior and whole behavior are opposite tendencies which have to be reconciled at every level of the hierarchy.

Thus partness and wholeness are pair of complementary concepts which are the result of ubiquitous hierarchical nature of aggregates or systems in nature-be it material systems or social systems.  These concepts enable us to understand the basic features of our society in clear terms.  As a matter of fact the more advanced and complex  the system becomes, the more it displays differentiated and specialized features which need more delicate, subtle ways to integrate them.

Increased complexity means increased risks of breakdowns which can only be set right through constant monitoring by way of (social) understanding through appropriate, mutually agreeable modes of interaction and communication among the sub-systems.

Then there is the problem of perpetuating the (social) system. This needs some criteria that forms basis for the designing of social system.  Caste by birth, caste by qualities and actions are the criteria evolved by Hindu society in course of time for the perpetuation of Hindu social system.  It is not correct to say that caste by birth prevents choice of profession.  Historical evidence does not support that opinion.  On the other hand there is evidence to the contrary “ that there is sufficient choice available to a person born in a caste to take up jobs, professions other than his caste profession.  For example a weaver could take up agriculture or animal husbandry if he chose.  All castes practiced agriculture and home-spinning which found new prestige during independence movement(charka).

We have to study caste institution in the light of changing socio-economic conditions in the country.  For instance multiplication of castes is inevitable with increase in population, increased human wants and expectations, increased exploitation of natural resources leading to new skill-sets, industries and professions along with trade activity.  This results in proliferation of professions and each new profession became a new caste.  It is the natural human tendency that a person belonging to a caste possessing a particular skill wanted to jealously guard his professional or trade secrets within his family or caste group.  This created strong caste consciousness which reflects at the social level as `hardening` of caste institution.  It is totally wrong to attribute motives and single out one caste or few castes for this unstoppable natural phenomenon.  This is a measure of the flexibility of caste system and its readiness to accommodate new developments in production system. It is a pity that modern sociologists dub this positive trait of caste system as its worst feature.

Further the real hardening of caste system was brought about by foreign attacks- political, religions, economic, social and cultural. What used to be a natural, healthy, inevitable social growth process turned under the foreign attacks and foreign rule into a stultified, defensive, seize-minded response of  the Hindu society.

Inter caste relations are not wanting even today.  There has been a kind of social-osmosis mechanism working all  the time within the caste system.  Group festivals, social functions, sports events, daily commuting in public transport, work places, recreation events like cinema, parks, religious discourses,  and so on.  Add to these the inter caste marriages.  These are all forms of inter-caste relations.  Each type of interaction carries some weightage.  Add up all such values, you will see that the amount or degree of inter caste relations is far more than the inter group relations in any other society anywhere in the world.  Yet our ˜reform™minded English educated people, especially those who have internalized the alien modes of thought and methodology of social studies, are blind to the responsiveness of Hindu society to changing conditions. It is one thing to feel dissatisfied with what one has achieved so far. It is a mark of healthy appetite for social transformation and upliftment. But our alienated ˜reformers™ display a morbid craving for social ˜change™ totally divorced from the stated civilizational goals of Hindu society, its proven racial experience and time horizon. There are some enemies of Hindu society whose only objective is the disintegration of this society and its culture. Such people are propagating a critique of caste system without undertaking any rational assessment.  Unjustified emotional grouses are raised against the system through exploiting human weaknesses. Most of the criticisms leveled against caste system do not hold on a rational, dispassionate scrutiny.

This is not to say that there are no serious problems faced by some sections of Hindus.  The point is that a disproportionately large blame is attributed to caste system for those problems while the real cause lies elsewhere.  That cause is precisely the enemies of Hindu society cited above.  It is they who have created problems in the past and are doing so even today and cleverly shifting the blame to Hinduism and its caste system, Karma Theory and what not. It is the urgent duty of every self-respecting, alert Hindu to properly see the enemies for what they are, identify their modus operandi, neutralize them. Without doing this, there is no future for Hinduism or Hindus.

One example will tell you how the enemies of Hindu society have been working to destroy it: Thomas Babington Macaulay, the chief architect of English Education system in our country revealed the true worth and strength of Hindu society and the need to destroy that strength in order that it can be looted at will.  Speaking to the British parliament on 2.2.1835, Macaulay said “  I have travelled across the length and breadth of India and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is thief.  Such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values, people of such caliber, that I do not think we would ever conquer this country, unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage and therefore, I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system, her culture, for if the Indians think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self-esteem, their native culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation.

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TOWARDS UNDERSTANDING CASTE – SYSTEMS APPROACH-PART II (A NOTE ON HINDU SOCIOLOGY) –  K.Satya Deva Prasad

Having explained in brief the nature of human (societal) relationships in the form of system and sub-system arrangement, we now take up some specific areas of human activity and examine how Hindu society which is considered almost synonymous with caste system fared.  The following account of Hindu society through the ages in different fields not only shows that caste institution did not come in the way of all round development of society and individual, but positively contributed to it in a big way.

Caste and Economic Development: India is  known for its material wealth since time immemorial.  India™s vast base of production system and natural wealth produced   variety of goods and services which were very much sought after all over the world and  were exported to foreign countries that comprised the then civilized world. As a result  India earned the honorific titles ˜Azab Al-Hind™ from the muslim world and ˜Mirabilia Indae™ from the Latin (European) Christian countries.  This material wealth had been produced by Hindu peasants, and  artisans; distributed by the  Hindu merchants belonging to different castes. They were  carried over thousands of miles on land and  seas by ships constructed and operated by Hindu artisans. The underlying knowledge base for this huge production and distribution system was created by the pundits. India was the number one country in industries like cotton textiles, food-grains, sugar, steel, ship-building etc., till the end of 18th century as per the evidence produced by historians like Lala Lajpat Rai in his book England`s Debt to India (publications Division, Govt.of  India).  This goes to prove the artisanal and organizing capabilities of Hindu society comprising of different castes with different skill sets.  Every caste boasts of wealthy people among its ranks.  Each caste has its own sphere of influence in the larger Hindu society.  To cite an example, Alexander walker who came to India in A.D.1780 as Brigadier General and who also worked as political resident at Baroda observed that Sudras were the caste with power and money and were predominant section of Hindu society of his time ie., 18th century.

Development can be viewed from two angles.  One is economic stability and security to the individual and secondly growth of economy leading to prosperity at collective level.  If the positive results achieved by a society is any proof of the efficiency of its socio-economic-political system, then Hindu society can boast of high degree of economic development sustained by its social arrangement. The variety of goods produced by Hindu skilled artisans, the wealth earned by exporting those goods to practically all the civilized nations of the world over thousands of years is proof of India`s economic development.  This  huge production and distribution system was supported by trade and caste guilds.  Self-sufficiencey is another test of the success of any socio-economic system.  Our society not only achieved self-sufficiency, but exported many commodities.  Till 18th century our country had been the no.1 country in the world in industries life cotton textiles, shipbuilding, steel, sugar, etc., World Economist and Statistician Angus Madison in his The world Economy: A Millennial Perspective says India had the world`s largest economy in the 1st century with a 32.9% share of world GDP and 28.9% in 1000 C.E.  India continued as largest economy from 1st century C.E  till 18th C.E. in the world. In 1750, china was in the second position.  In 1850 China occupied first place, India in second place followed by England in third place! Till then America was nowhere in the reckoning. Then all of a sudden America came to occupy the first place, England second, followed by China, France, Germany, and India in that order. The same conclusion is expressed in his `The world Economy-Historical Statistics`, These two books are published  published by OECD (organization For Economic Cooperation  and Development, 2004) of  the UNO.

  1. Castes and technology based production: Different castes specialized in different skills based on different branches of science.  They developed relevant technologies to help improve their production capabilities.  We find immense variety in production methods, tools and implements designed by different artisanal groups. For instance we find castes practicing ceramic techniques, metallurgy, smithy, surgery, medicine, animal husbandry, agriculture etc.,  The knowledge base of this vast productive system has been so extensive that the History of Indian Science and Technology extends over millennia.  And the vast pool of theoretical and practical knowledge underlying this production system has been transferred through caste, family channels.
  2. Caste and politics: Traditionally political power in India was vested in the Kshatriya caste.  But there has been sufficient flexibility and responsiveness in this arrangement to changing circumstances.  For instance when owing to repeated, large scale foreign invasions depleted the kshatriya ranks or reduced them to tribal status, other castes took over the political responsibilities including national defence.  All castes including Sudras taken to rulership.  During and after medieval period, we find a preponderance of sudra caste in politics.  At present sudra dominance in Indian politics is a demonstrable fact with SC s and ST s fast catching up.  Dr. Ambedkar criticized that because only kshatriyas defended the country and others did not join army in the past,  Hindus got vanquished.  This analysis is not borne out on a closer look at Indian history.  There is more harm in all castes joining the military service by leaving their socially important occupations.  Specialization through division of labour has its own benefits and also a price to pay.  We have to weigh the benefits and costs to pronounce a judgement or take a decision at any moment of time.  While we reaped the benefits of occupational caste divisions in the shape of increased skills and resultant technology and high productivity and commercial acumen, we had to contend with invaders who devoted all their energies to military activities alone.  Thus it is a matter of priorities that a society places before itself.  And the order of those priorities is dictated by the cultural values of the concerned society.  While Hindu society set before itself an all-round development of individual and the society as its priority, the people who invaded India set for themselves war, plunder and rape as their priorities.  It is for us to decide which set of values we wish to pursue in future.
  3. Caste and Education: The traditional Hindu education system till 18th century was open to all castes, though certain castes showed special inclination to certain skills and areas of knowledge. It is often alleged that the Brahmin caste monopolized learning. This charge is belied when we examine the evidence and ground realities.  To start with, the first three castes called Dwijas or twice borne are eligible for vedic learning per se.  Yet there is a widely prevalent impression that only Brahmins are entrusted with vedic learning ie., chanting and teaching of Vedas.  The other two castes, namely Kshatriyas and Vaishyas did not pursue vedic learning in course of time.  One has to seek reasons for the same in historic changes that influenced external and internal compulsions of those castes and also of the Hindu society at large.  Not only that, even among the Brahmin caste there has been a drastic fall in the number of people who took to vedic learning and also the quality of their learning.  The net effect of all this is a calamitous disappearance of many veda Sakhas (Branches of Veda) with their auxilary literature (pratisakhyas, Niruktas, Vendangas, etc).  Going by the present trend, one can clearly see that the prestige and subsistence potential in vedic learning has come to such low levels that not many Brahmins, leave alone other dwijas, take to vedic learning.  So those who feel that Brahmins monopolized vedic learning to garner the `privileges`(whatever that many mean) that accrue to them through such monopoly have to think over why this is happening? And Hindus may well remember that the basis and origin of their knowledge system which made India legendary economic and scientific power for such a long time is Veda and its ancillaries. To any careful student of history, it appears that the gradual weakening and decrease in Vedic studies coincides with the all round deterioration of Hindu society. By Vedic study not only the chanting of Veda is meant but also the study and practice of various subjects that are have their origin in the Vedas and form part of the Vedic knowledge system.

For Hindus other than Dwija castes, there is full scope and eligibility to pursue shastras as per their aptitude and taste.  To cite one source by way of evidence, one may consult Dharampal`s book `The Beautiful Tree` to get a fairly good idea of the educational opportunities available to Hindus of all castes including the untouchables.

If it is agreed that the aim of education is to make man culturally elevated, responsible and happy individual,  besides imparting productive skills, then we can say that education in India was far more widely available to all sections of Hindu society than anywhere else in the world.

For the transmission of cultural inputs to all sections of Hindus over millennia, a vast network for knowledge transfer had been painstakingly built up and was functioning since very long time.  A number of groups performing folk arts and crafts through various media disseminated cultural knowledge which contributed to character building, skill formation, and up-gradation, and also their own improvement and sustenance.  These folk media had for their subjects the topics and issues relevant to common man`s life based on vedas, shastras, puranas etc.,  Thus the higher knowledge contained in the Sanskrit literature was brought to the door steps of the illiterate (but not  ill cultured by any standard) Hindu populace over centuries.  As a result, the culture gap between the top and bottom strata of Hindu society has been much narrow than in any other comparable society in the world.  This is made possible through a consciously built, widespread, age-old system of knowledge transfer which has been functioning since vedic days.  From Vyasa, his disciples, and their disciples like Ugrasrava, son of Suta, the puranic bard par excellence to the recent local wandering story-teller, our knowledge transfer system has been unique, unparalleled and continuous.  It covered practically all castes and all areas of our land.  The proof of character as well as skills possessed by all sections of Hindu society can be seen in the material wealth created by Hindus over millennia and the fame they earned as the most cultured, healthy, wealthy and well-behaved people is borne out by travel accounts of foreign visitors, archaeological remains, written records of Hindus, records left in foreign lands about India etc., All this goes against the allegation that caste institution weakened Hindu society and contributed to its downfall. Available evidence shows that the opposite was true.

Caste and social freedom: It is another area where the enemies of Hindu society tried their best to create dissensions among Hindus. For example note the observation of Thomas Babington Macaulay, the father of English education in India quoted above.  In an address to the British parliament on 2.2.1835, he said—  I have travelled across the length and breadth of India and I have not seen one person who is a begger, who is a thief.  Such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values, people of such caliber, that I do not think we would ever conquer this country, unless we break the very back bone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage, and therefore, I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system, here culture, for if the Indians think that all that is foreign and English and greater than their own, they will lose their self-esteem, their native culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation.

With this sole objective of destroying the Hindu spiritual, cultural heritage and with it the social, material heritage that is a product of that heritage, Macaulay designed the English education in India.  Unfortunately, he and his ilk achieved fair measure of, if not total success as is evident from the underdeveloped status of India for the past two centuries and the inter-caste rivalries and accusations that erupt from time to time.  To begin with, it must be remembered that wealth, power, privilege relationships while our society was run on Hindu principles were totally different when the society was run under non-Hindu dispensation and inspiration.  The Hindu sociological practice separated political power from social power and money power.  These sources of power are vested in three different castes namely Kshatriya, Vaishya and Sudra.  The Brahmin`s power or influence depended not on political, money or social power severally but on all these together.  His position was something like the power of Zero or infinity in maths.  He imparts power to others through his association with that particular centre of power and in turn derives power from that centre.  But in himself he has only abstract knowledge which is not a direct source of power.  This, in short is the Brahmin`s position in Hindu society.  No doubt, on many occasions Brahmin also acted as a direct centre of power- as a ruler, artisan or even as a service provider.  In such cases, be is to be classed among the concerned centre of power- Kshatriya, Vaishya or Sudra according to the role he played.  A Brahmin as Brahmin has no access to political, economic, or social power.  His knowledge could earn him enough to satisfy his material needs.  This is the traditional Hindu sociological scheme.  To the extent this scheme is disturbed, no one need question the Brahmin only.  Every other caste has deviated from the norm.  Inter-caste equations hold good only till every caste observes the caste scheme at least in its essential aspects.  Once the equation is disturbed willfully or by the hand of history, it is incorrect to hold the Brahmin or any single caste responsible for the problems of the society.  Yes some caste or castes might have created more problems than others.  But that can only be decided by taking stock of the situation in a methodical way by taking consideration all relevant factors rather than resorting to the blame game or smear campaign.  The smear campaign may benefit the smearer in short-run (even that is doubtful, though), but it will certainly do incalculable harm to the society as a whole and its survival prospects.  And we are facing a problem of survival at present ie., survival as Hindus.

The Hindu enemies unleashed unheard of propaganda against the `caste inequities` in our society holding one caste now, another caste at other time responsible for the said inequities.  Here Dr. Ambedkar`s remarks in his book `Sudras, who were they` are pertinent. He remarked that no single caste in Hindu society is powerful enough to `create` the said caste inequities by itself.  Those inequities are the result of complex historic forces over a long period of time. We may not agree with Dr. Ambedkar `s every observation on caste system but it cannot be denied that some of his observations are astute indeed.

  1. Caste and society in general: In Hindu society the institution of caste has been the strongest bulwark against foreign aggression, proselytisation and disruption. It imparted socio-cultural and economic stability and security to its individual members and became a stable vehicle for the passing on the racial wisdom.  In these respects caste comes out in brightest colours.  Over centuries of chequered history of India, it stood as a rock around which Hindu society rallied and saved itself from total destruction.  For details one may refer to vol II of cultural Heritage of India, published by Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture, Calcutta.
  2. Caste segregation “ its rationale:  As pointed above, differentiation is the natural and inevitable consequence of any complex system.  Caste, being a complex social system is no exception to this natural law.  We find different castes in a Hindu village or town segregated into distinct neighbourhoods or localities or streets.  Each caste lives in a street that goes by the name of that caste viz., the Brahmin street, the Kumhar (potter) street, the Goldsmith (kamsali) street etc., often, this kind of village layout comes under criticism by those who oppose caste system who consider such segregation as a mark of division of Hindu society on negative lines, as a mark of caste discrimination. They also point out that it is a kind of social discrimination practiced by the dominant castes, hence it is against the principles of equity and equality.  On careful observation, these charges prove to be baseless.  People of same caste living together is the most natural thing to do.  It is also logical.  For one thing it promotes the skills of that particular caste by providing professional ambience for the youngsters who are brought up in surroundings filled with the values, skills and nuances peculiar to that caste skill.  Secondly, each caste has its special requirements and it needs enough social space to fulfill those requirements.  Then only the special skills of that caste can blossom fully.  Thirdly, by living together ie., mixed dwellings of different castes create some inconveniences which can be avoided. For instance, metal smith makes a lot of noice in executing his profession.  This can be unbearable to a painter or a teacher who need calm surroundings.  Therefore it is desirable that all metal smiths live together.  Our village dwellings are laid out on these sound lines.  Chester Bernard`s `fixed milieu principle` is relevant here.
  3. Caste and external aggression: (see also point no. 6) It is demonstrated in our history time and again that caste system stood in the way of religious conversions and as a source of rehabilitation of victims of enemy attacks. Societies without caste system such as Buddhists suffered the most in this respect.  For example, Buddism was practically wiped out from India by Muslim invaders once they killed Buddhist monks in large numbers.  Because Buddhism had no social basis to survive. It is built on ascetism.  It is not so with Hinduism.  When Kshatriyas were killed in the battle, sudras and others substituted for Kshatriyas  and defended Hindu society.  Of course all castes participated in the defence of Hindu society in general.
  4. Caste and assimilation of foreign elements: Caste system not only provided social framework for all round development of individuals and institutions, but also served as assimilative force. Foreign races like Sakas, Huns wanted to adopt Hinduism, the Hindu social system was resilient enough to accommodate them within the Hindu fold.  It was made possible through the complex filtering, screening and absorbing powers inherent in caste system.  Although this kind of assimilation of foreign tribes was not without some unresolved, undigested cultural residues, on the whole it augured well for Hindu society.

5. Caste and Individual Initiative: Caste is a social super market to meet the individual`s needs.  Right from birth till death, the individual depends on his fellow caste members.  Besides, his skills are honed within caste guilds and each caste imparts its own mix of socio-cultural traits to its members.  This contributes to the fulfillment of immensely diverse needs of the society besides meeting the physico-emotional needs of individuals.  Thus caste system provides the widest possible scope for individual initiative and collective development.  At the same time caste provides for Dynamic States of Equilibria (General Systems Theory by von Bertalanffy) to suit countless types of social situations that crop up in the long life of Hindu society.  It is pointed out above that under caste system, a Hindu has economic, social, political space to exercise his choice and unfold himself.  That being the case, there is no place for the charge of inherent monopoly, exploitation etc., This is not to say that Hindu society has no problems or shortcomings or defects. But they are not intentionally created ones.  To say that caste system has defects is like complaining that man is disease prone. And the more serious defects we see in Hindu society today are the direct outcome  of prolonged foreign  rule, be it Islamic or Christian.

6. Is caste system defect free?:  The aim of man in life is not to purposely commit mistakes or crimes against others.  Most of the people aim to live their lives.  During the course of that natural process of living man tends to make mistakes of omission or commission.  So is the case with institutions created by man viz., caste system.  Its stated aim is not to exploit the so called  lower castes as alleged blindly by some enemies of Hindu society.  Caste system came into existence in response to a natural human urge to organize into a well-knit society on the basis of a set of values and outlook to life.  This system, as already pointed out, has generated certain shortcomings in course of its long existence in the  natural course and   many more defects were introduced by extraneous forces. In assessing the historical record of caste system, many defects are assumed to be endemic to the system.  It is not so.

7. Caste rigidities and degradation of some castes: Muslim invasions starting with Mohd.Bin Kasim on Sind in 8th century A.D. followed by Ghazni invasions in 11th century and Ghurid invasion of 13th century down to Ahmad Shah Abdali in 18th century, introduced many rigidities into the Hindu social structure and functioning. These invasions destroyed the resilience and self-correcting and self-renewing mechanisms for which Hindu society is well known. These invasions also destroyed the extensive, variegated and flouring productive systems consisting of agriculture, animal husbandry, textiles, spices, animal products, dairying, metal-working, ship-building and many others.  The invasions eliminated   Hindu socio-cultural, political, military, managerial, scientific, artisanal, artistic manpower in very large numbers through repeated massacres, enslavements and deportation to distant slave markets.

Those who survived the Islamic onslaught were pauperized, brutalized and degraded socially, economically, and of course politically.  Many Rajput ruling classes were driven to jungles where they became Banjaras(Vanacharas)and  spent their lives as tribals and vagabonds.  In some cases, groups practicing higher professions like medicine, surgery were reduced to the state of barbers.  In this manner many caste groups found themselves degraded to socio-economic backwardness due to muslim invasions and planned mis-rule.

As a self-defence reaction some Hindu groups adopted purdah custom and child-marriage to ward off Muslim menace to their women folk. This is how many rigidities and backward customs have forcibly intruded into Hindu social fabric which was hitherto flexible, healthy and  responsive.  Ranks of  SC, ST, OBC populations swelled tremendously during Muslim invasions through loss of socio-economic status.  This painful process is well documented by writers. For example K.S. Lall in his books `Growth of ST,OBC during Muslim Rule`; `Indian Muslims, Who are they` provides lots of authentic information on this topic.

The British rule that followed mughal rule, further worsened the situation.  British rule not only destroyed our society and resources, but also introduced and perpetuated such institutions which destroyed the capacity to recover and rejuvenate our civilizational energies and repair the damage.  Thus they largely contributed to our ignorance and poverty.  Foremost among the evil institutions setup by the British is the Macaulayist educational system (not English Education as such) which continues to this day. As a result today many namesake Hindus are working overtime to rationalize, popularize and perpetuate practices, ideas and institutions that erode our cultural values and ultimately spell doom all in the name of modernism and progress.  On top of it, some of our `progressive`, `secular` Hindus are bent on pampering and supporting all kinds of Hindu enemies like predatory religions, MNCs, hostile western media and what not.  At the bottom of this colossal cultural alienation and suicidal behavior lies a lack of correct understanding of institutions like caste system and rootedness in our own civilizational moorings.  Hence a thorough discussion and fresh assessment of caste and other related issues are vital in rediscovering and rejuvenating Hinduism and Hindu society.

Conclusion:   A reopening of discussion of caste-system is to expose the planned vilification of the system undertaken by our enemies as well as our own misguided brethren and to prepare ground for proper understanding of our society and its workings.  This is vital for our survival and future development.  This write up is not meant to support caste system or to oppose it.  The aim is to encourage informed discussion and draw conclusions on the basis of our upgraded knowledge of our institutions which is hitherto lacking.

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FAQ’s on Hinduism

A Guide to Answer Some of the Frequent Questions/Criticisms Against Hinduism
– A Practitioner’s Perspective

Contents

Introduction

1. Is Hinduism a religion or a dharma or a way of life? Rather, what is Hinduism?
2. What is good in caste?
3. Is caste determined by birth or by qualities?
4. Discrimination and exploitation – does caste create or control these?
5. Does Hinduism need to be protected by VHP and the likes?
6. Tolerance is in the Hindu philosophy but not in its religion
7. What good is spirituality if it can be understood only by few?
8. All religions worship God, preach salvation. What is so great about Hinduism?
9. Did God create man or has man created God?
10. Do gods get angry?
11. Who worships Gods and who worships devil?
12. Who is fit to preach? Hindus do not even worship God but only the forms of creation!
13. Is religion bad or the followers bad?
14. Is animal sacrifice not cruel and violent?
15. Hindu Gods hold weapons, and their stories are about fighting – how does Hinduism preach nonviolence? Also, if these wars are said to be for a noble cause, are not crusades and crescentades the same? Why then is so much fury about those?
16. Do Vedas have science? Is it not too much to claim that?
17. Hindus claim that Vedas and Agamas to be revealed scriptures, so do the Abrahamists. So how does Hinduism become any more non-dogmatic than the latter?
18. Religion is the reason for dogma, it has caused bloodshed and is anti-science.
19. Why does Hinduism promote idol worship while some other religions prohibit it?
20. How are women treated in Hinduism?
21. Superstition and religion
22. Force-guidance-handholding in religious practices
23. Untouchability
24. Single vs multiple gods – lack of clarity or better direction?

Introduction

This is a compilation of frequent criticism/questions on Hinduism, along with brief answers from a practitioner’s perspective. The length of these answers and the taste in which the questions are often posted hardly give scope for explaining the broad and lofty system of traditions that Hinduism has. This is an essential attempt to meet the question-and-run type criticism where the questions need profound understanding of many subjects to be addressed but discussions seldom give scope for such understanding or explanation. Most of the times, those who raise these questions hardly have authority on the subjects and concepts involved. However that is serving their purpose – to raise these fundamental questions in the minds of less aware Hindus. And in many occasions, in the light of lack of readymade answers, less patient Hindus tend to give benefit of doubt to the questioner – and this is harmful, as it paints a negative image of Hinduism to the common man and confuses believers. There are many kinds of people who raise these questions – right from the innocent to those whose intention is to malign the great tradition.

Much of the answering contrasts the oriental and Abrahamic worldviews, for multiple reasons –
· The contrast is easily visible and that makes things easily understandable.
· The difference needs to be understood and one should understand that evaluating any tradition needs to be done within the framework of its concepts. Most of the times we tend to evaluate the oriental traditions using the concepts and terminology of Abrahamic traditions and western worldview, which is hardly sufficient to explain, understand or evaluate the diverse and lofty oriental traditions.
· Most of the criticism is done by the followers and promoters of Abrahamic systems, therefore one should understand the worldview adhered to by the critics and also the system they are criticizing.

The answers are not really targeted to a specific audience but intended to give a quick clarification on these. Those who are interested in understanding the concepts and the core of the tradition are advised to consult classical texts, learned men and practitioners of Hinduism. The answers are also not complete in the sense that they do not address the diverse schools of Hinduism – each school has its own approach to the fundamentals. Therefore it would be simplistic even to attempt to give a blanket statement to represent the whole system. However, all the schools are broad and lofty, and though they differ in their approaches they are all based on a thorough understanding of life, consciousness and human nature – which makes them correct, all at the same time with all the differences. The material used for these answers is compiled from various sources on Hinduism, some of them online and some of them printed texts.

Question

Is Hinduism a religion or a dharma or a way of life? Rather, what is Hinduism?

Answer

Hinduism is a loose word that refers to the original Indian culture, its society and its varied spiritual traditions. There are different contexts in which one would seek to define Hinduism – spiritual traditions, social fabric, civilization. There are varied spiritual traditions native to India – Vedic-Tantric, Bauddha, Jaina, Sikh and so on. Some of these do not call themselves part of Hinduism in the sense that they do not subscribe to the Sanatana Dharma, and its Vedic-Tantric worldviews. They are however part of the same civilization and society. Thus there is a civilizational and a spiritual tradition specific demarcation.

The need to define Hinduism arises primarily because of the need to assert a civilizational, cultural and spiritual identity and differentiate it from the totally alien worldviews like the Abrahamic traditions. Until they have invaded India, there was hardly a need for a collective definition – there are Vaishnavas, Saivas, Saktas, Ganapatyas, Bauddhas, Jainas, Srauta-Smartas, Nastikas and many more. All these sprouted from the same civilization, have coexisted with each other for millennia with the diversity of their worldviews. Their differences and diversity have only enriched the knowledge system of the civilization. The civilization that had all these systems is truly so universal in its nature, that it could accommodate virtually any worldview provided it fits into the pluralistic system and agrees to coexist with others.

The whole thing changed with the invasion of exclusivist and intolerant Abrahamic traditions. And there came the need for the otherwise unconditional and universally accommodating society to put a definition, a boundary to preserve itself. In that sense, Hinduism is a social level definition intended for a practical purpose. However the very nature of society it represents has many aspects – civilizational, religious, cultural and social. Hinduism is not a society, a culture, a civilization or a group of religions – it is all this and more than this. It is a comprehensive system of life encompassing a collection of tolerant and pluralistic spiritual traditions, their collective knowledge system and wisdom, the society they built up, their civilization and the whole range of cultures and customs they practice.

However when the word Hinduism is applied to a religion, one usually refers to its Vedic-Tantric traditions such as Smarta-Srauta, Sakta, Vaishnava, Saiva. This excludes Bauddha, Jaina traditions. By saying Hinduism in this context, one is referring to Sanatana Dharma, whose corner stone is the Varna-Ashrama Dharma. Dharma/righteousness is its foundation rock. The traditions such as Bauddha that do not subscribe to it fall outside its fold in that sense. However, they all have a higher level of similarity with Sanatana Dharma in their spiritual practices, their pluralistic nature and the knowledge system consisting of sciences, arts and metaphysics that they contributed to. Bauddha even bases itself on Dharma, though it does not subscribe to the Varna system.
Question

What is good in caste? It has always been a vehicle of discrimination, a social stigma.

Answer

Caste system is one of the primary and defining features of Hindu society, and its armour. That is the reason its enemies have targeted it. And ignorant Hindus are buying the arguments of their enemies. If we look at facts –

· Caste/jati is an endogamous cultural unit. Hindu society is a group of jatis. In fact the word Hindu itself is not very rigid here, any culture/religion that came from outside India such as Parsis or Jews are treated as jatis and allowed to preserve not only their religion and theology but their customs and cultural traits.
· Caste is one of the primary contributors to pluralism and coexistence in India. Communities right from those millions strong to those that hardly have thousands of adherents, have retained their cultural identities, their uniqueness, their autonomy for millennia in India alone, and jati/caste is the organization that made it possible. Smaller and weaker communities all over the world have lost their identity and existence in front of bigger communities – even million strong communities a couple of thousand years ago are not even to be seen today. In contrast even small communities in India have retained their identity.
· Caste creates social capital, caste offers strength to the society. It is the intermediary level of collectivity smaller than nation individuals identify themselves with.
· It is the endogamous cultural unit, and preserves the cultural diversity in the society without eliminating it in the name of uniformity.

On the other hand –
· People who criticize caste system for discrimination do not differentiate between feudal and caste systems, untouchability and hatred. They fail to see that caste has not created the feudal setup – on the other hand it had to some extent brought down the strength of feudal setup.
· People who cannot even create an organization of hundred men without grouping and classifying them, who talk loud about caste but do not even refrain from discrimination in their own lives, who cannot even avoid such breed/brand/class discrimination while choosing their pet dogs and their partners, are the ones who unfortunately get to talk about social dynamics and discrimination. They hardly have any right to give lectures about those.
· Those who had the understanding of Hinduism, those who genuinely wished for the good of Hinduism have always tried to reform the caste system, to advocate against caste-rivalry but never went against caste itself.
Question

Is caste determined by birth or by qualities? How does it ensure social mobility?

Answer

There are two aspects in the caste system – jati or the cultural unit and varna, the higher abstraction. Jati is very much determined by birth. Varna is explained in two ways – one is the abstraction over Jati. Any Jati by its predominant occupation falls into one of these. The other is not a categorization but a description. Any society has four kinds of people. Its four pillars are the knowledge institution, governance and defense, commerce, vocations. This is not segregation but a commonsense description of any society.

While evaluating caste, two things are generally ignored –
· the difference between jati and varna, and the two faces of varna
· the fact that jati is the social unit while varna is only an abstraction, not an arrangement

In any organized society, there are two things to be ensured – social mobility and security. Protection or security in Hindu society is ensured through the jati system, both by distribution of power centers (and thereby preventing any single group from assuming the power) and by strengthening/protecting the autonomy of each group. This is not theory, but this is how the strong castes we see today have developed – by strengthening the bond between individuals and the caste unit. On the other hand the castes where individualism takes precedence over group identity have remained weak as groups.

Varna on the other hand, is about creating synergy between individuals and groups that perform the four major social functions mentioned above.

Social mobility is of multiple types Mobility could be at individual, group or jati level –
· Mingling of individuals and groups at different capacities, their synergy and protocol of interaction to prevent a stronger group from taking advantage of a weaker group. An individual with his merit, can move to another Varna. This depends on the merit of the individual, the eligibility to pursue the function of a Varna, the teacher he seeks and so on. Examples:
o Many rishis born as non-dvijas, Sudras like Vidura taking up ministries.
o Many persons with study or yoga becoming teachers today
· Through inter-jati marriage an individual can move from one jati to another. This has some regulations. In a patriarchy, a woman moves to the jati of her husband. In matriarchy, it is the other way round. There are very few matriarchic societies in India, like in Kerala. This however does not change the varna/function of the individual. Examples:
o All inter-jati marriages.
o Many brahmins losing their varna because of not practicing their varna dharma
· Marriage across jati results in change of caste. In a patriarchy (most of the communities are patriarchies these days) the woman takes her husband’s jati. In a matriarchy the man takes the woman’s jati. However, the varna does not transform still, even after change of jati.
· Change of varna in case of individuals, through initiation into learning given by a learned man.
· An entire group of individuals could move to another Varna, because of the role they play in a social situation. Examples: Many non-Kshatriya jatis becoming Kshatriya jatis as they took up military defense during Muslim invasions.

Question

Does caste system not create discrimination, inequality and scope for exploitation?

Answer

People who say this, are either ignorant of the basic workings of human nature and society, or deliberately attack the Hindu society. Inequality and segregation is not created by caste system, rather they are inherent in human nature and society. What caste system aims at is not to deny that fundamental fact, but rather to address and control these to the extent possible, so that it is least harmful the society. The fact that Hindu society had survived over ages, while most societies have broken up and were replaced by different civilizations multiple times in the same duration, stands to say this. Far from the picture of oppression that is often painted against Hinduism, the fact remains that there were hardly caste level clashes in Hindu society before foreign invasions done by the Muslims and Christians (Europeans). The natural differences and discrepancy that no society could get over, is not created by, but rather kept by the caste system under check.

Question

Hinduism is not so weak that it needs to be protected by those like Bajrang Dal or VHP. It has withstood various onslaughts over centuries and continues to survive. Why does it need to be campaigned for or defended?

Answer

This is one of the most common arguments, but those who do such arguments fail to answer the question – “how did it withstand those onslaughts?” It did, by defending itself from those, physically, militarily – when “fanatics” of yore fought for it. And that is what follows from commonsense – something will survive when it has warriors to defend it. Hinduism did not survive by itself while monks kept closing their nostrils. It survived because of its warriors who defended its “fabric” by the strength of their swords.

And even today, as commonsense suggests, it will survive only when it is defended. The difference today, however, is that it does not have a military to defend it. There are only these so-called fanatics!! So you either leave it to them, or take it upon yourself to defend the rare, great and tolerant system.

It retained its culture, its social fabric by the strength of its warrior class, by the blood of millions of its warriors, its soldiers. It is a naive and/or hypocritical to show the very survival of Hinduism as proof for the lack of need for its protection, because such tolerance would survive only when it is defended, when the intolerant tribes attacking it from all ends are controlled. It is very well known from whom Hinduism is trying to defend itself, for the past thousand years, continuously losing its people, its land, its culture, its fabric. Once a grand culture that spread out in many places in Asia, it is now reduced to less than a dominant Hindu nation – with even that being a secular nation where it hardly finds the leadership favorable to defend it. The continuous and fast diminution in the following of the tolerant culture and the steep rise in the intolerant tribes that are attacking it, would cause concern not just to a practicing Hindu but any tolerant and peace-loving human being.

Question

The tolerance of Hinduism is in its philosophy, not its ritual/dogmatic part.

Answer

There is just one Hinduism – philosophy, culture, religions are only different aspects of it. And Hinduism is evolving, synthetic, accommodating and flexible in all these aspects.

Whatever customs one sees, one should understand that they are specific to the tradition that follows those. And there are several traditions – following different customs, rituals, practices and philosophies. And a common Hindu follows any of those traditions or even remains outside those. One still very much remains a part of the Hindu society. This flexibility in Hinduism is not because of the “philosophy”, but a flexibility that comes by drawing the line between religion governance and society, and minimizing the interference of one on the other. This is the uniqueness of Hinduism – to have a comprehensive system of life and still being able to keep the various aspects of life in proper context.

There are multiple religions in Hinduism, multiple traditions and philosophies. To call it a philosophy is in itself simplistic. It is a system in which religions, philosophies, arts and sciences have thrived, reinforced each other. Its religions have only furthered the study of sciences and pursuit of arts, and bulk of its knowledge lies in the various spiritual traditions. Unlike the west, the Hindu knowledge system is a single structure where philosophy, arts, sciences, worldviews share a common base.

The tolerance in Hinduism therefore is not in spite of its religions, but because of the religions and the philosophies that guide them.

Question

What good is spirituality if it can be understood by only few individuals or priests?

Answer

Let us raise an equivalent question. What good is science, when it is understood only by a few researchers, and when people by and large are not aware of its complex theories? The answer is simple too: because most people use it, benefit by it, though they do not know its intricacies. Scientists bring science into the hands of technologists, and the way technologists develop socially useful contrivances based on that science. Similarly seers bring religion into the hands of practitioners and teachers, who in turn package it for the practice/belief of a common man. Just the way a scientist questions and existing scientific theory, a seer questions a spiritual philosophy. Just the way a technologist uses different theories to different ends, a teacher/practitioner develops different methods/practices to suit different people and different situations. Just the way a science understood only by a few is called mainstream knowledge spirituality too is the essential knowledge for mankind.
Question

All religions worship God, preach salvation. What is so great about Hinduism?

Answer

Typically people who say this, are Hindus. After all, if all religions worship God and preach salvation, then why does one need to persecute, attack, insult and mudsling the gods of other religions? Why does one need to destroy the places of worship of other religions, conduct riots, murder, arson, loot on the followers of other religions? Why does one need to create havoc, exterminate tolerant civilizations and religions if all one needs is to preach love? Why are some religions tolerant, accommodating and pluralistic while some are intolerant, exclusivist and below basic morality?

No, all religions are not the same. Some religions preach love and salvation, while some are vehicles for imperialism in the name of preaching. For them preaching is not a matter of sharing their knowledge, because they themselves have no knowledge about divinity or even humanity.

Here is exactly where we understand the greatness of Hinduism. Unlike the Abrahamists who have long missed the fundamentals of humanity, forget divinity and salvation, Hinduism has understood those. It has understood that organizations to preach religion are not beyond human weaknesses and they will become vehicles of imperialism just the way Church and Islam have become. It aims at expanding human mind into its higher reaches, into freedom unlike the latter that have learned only to curb it and even encourage its lowest instincts in the name of divine sanctions. That is the reason why one finds sublime spiritual philosophies in Hinduism. Not one but many philosophies coexisting, contributing to a comprehensive knowledge system, developing a wide range of theologies, spiritual traditions. Even the conflicts between those schools have only enriched them into more comprehensive and complete schools – unlike the conflicts with Abrahamists which were socio-political and military – nothing of the sort or anywhere near the profound system that Hinduism is.

Faith is only preliminary in religion. Its higher reaches are freedom and expansion. The Abrahamic cults exhibit nothing of that sort. All they know of is to curb freedom, sanction sense and ego gratification irrespective of morality for all the “believers”, to preach hate against fellow human beings by drawing an artificial line of disbelief in the place of an existent and important line – of humanity, morality, tolerance and freedom.

And this is where one knows of the greatness of Hinduism – it has protected the institution of knowledge, the pursuit of truth and divinity. It has not allowed the claims of such pursuit to be a vehicle for imperialism or persecution or amoral sense or ego gratification. It created institutions that allow the quest for perfection, excellence, the pursuit of truth beauty and divinity, and the result is visible in the philosophies that scale the whole range of consciousness, in traditions that train individuals to expand the limited human mind into that infinite consciousness, to realize the farthest reaches of nature, to have a first hand experience of such consciousness and salvation.

Question

Did God create man or has man created God? Is not all this just in human mind? Even if it is said that there is a God is it that not just the same concept or entity that all the religions talk of and worship?

Answer

The original philosophical statement goes thus: “God created man in his own image, and man promptly returned the gift”. Man created God in his mind, his thought – that is not what God IS, but that is what man thinks of God.

In that sense, yes man created God – and it is no sacrilege to say that.
Rather, it shows the paradox, the limitation of logic. The limitation of mind
and its necessity to “create”, to imagine instead of being able to SEE what is right in
front. It is also appropriate to recollect the famous Russel’s paradox – if God
is omnipotent, He can create a rock so big that He cannot lift it. So if he
cannot create such a rock, he is not omnipotent. If he can eventually create
such a rock, he again is not omnipotent because he cannot lift it! So who
created a God who is not omnipotent? Logic (rather its limitation) and nothing
else.

And it is actually true – every person, every collectivity has its own
conception of God – and that depends on how evolved that person or group is. An
average mind thinks of God as a person, a big mind thinks of it as a concept and
only a seer as a living presence. This is why we see so much of diversity in the
theologies of different societies – in societies that worship jealous and angry
gods, such theology only represents their collective psyche. And it is not difficult to see
that the highest they can understand is an average human quality like jealousy,
anger and at most forgiving (that too, not infinitely merciful but sectarian
enough to punish all non-believers and protect believers no matter how immoral
they are). In the societies where gods are infinite, beyond these qualities but
still causing all these at the phenomenal level to fulfill the divine purpose,
such concepts show their psyche – their understanding of the vast and causal
nature of the universe in sharp contrast to the former type where the understanding is (1) anthropomorphic (2) too terrestrial and narrow.

Thus the more evolved man is, the less he will try to impose his image on god
and the more he tries to see for what god actually is. And that is the goal of
all sadhana – to get a first hand experience, to see what is instead of create
what we think that is.

Therefore for people who say all religions talk of the same
God or supreme or “param satta”, the answer is that – the “param satta” as defined by someone and as it exists, an attempt to know it, the modesty to declare human incapability to understand it and only describe it in the most general possible way to be as accurate as possible, is the difference. The difference is of agency between the creator and created and living forever as a subordinate of such agents (who are themselves hallucinated, have no first hand experience of divinity and hence preach jealousy, hatred and anger), and acknowledging the fact that such first hand experience is the goal.

On the other hand, those who understand that a concept like God which is beyond mental impressions cannot be comprehended with limited human consciousness, does not claim to be “the only true religion” or his concept of God to be “the only true God”. He understands that his conception, knowledgeable or naïve, is only one of the several conceptions, some of them deeper and some shallow. Such a claim only shows how imperfect and ignorant one’s understanding is, of God, human nature and consciousness.

Consciousness and mind: The whole range of consciousness cannot be reduced
to mind. Seeing the whole world with mind’s eye is one of the several levels.
It is certainly mind that causes the senses to be conscient, and senses that
cause the body to be conscient. Upwards, it works the other way – it is the
intellect that governs the workings of mind. The four faculties of consciousness
– mind (manas), intellect (buddhi), ego (ahankara) and memory (citta) are
overlapping but distinct. Mind/conscient-proper needs an external or inner
inspiration – it processes either external impressions or those impressions that
are created from actions. So it depends on which impressions one chooses to feed
mind with, and that “one” who chooses is the intellect. Intellect too, does not
get to govern mind’s functions always. Many times, it goes unwatched – most of
the times it just repeates external impressions (that senses receive from the
world) and their memories. Some other times it digs from memory the impressions of previous experiences – and depending on the gross or subtle senses are active, these can be impressions recent or old or of previous lives. As one knows himself to be subtle body
instead of gross body, his experiences and impressions will be deeper, and will
not be limited to a present life. Since gross body is specific to a life, the
impressions and knowledge that is gained without shedding mind’s identification
with the body will be limited to that life. As one’s identity happens with the
subtle body (sukshma sareera), one knows himself to be more than carnal. With
subtle body yogas (kundalini, mantra, hatha, laya yoga etc) one can achieve this
through proper use of mind and intellect. However, the causal is beyond these –
it is neither experienced with these nor known through these. For knowing it the
only way is to dissolve the mind-intellect in causal being.

Residence of knowledge: Knowledge exists not in mind but in the parama vyoma.
It only reflects on the mind when one realizes it. Mind is only the upadhi for
knowing, and the means for descending the knowledge into one’s life.
Question
Do gods get angry? Are Hindu Gods not feared for the punishment they give? On the contrary, some religions only preach love for the God.

Answer
As for love or fear, where is love for someone who cannot tolerate your
disbelief in him? In those cases, the God is himself not an unconditional lover! The point is about what you and your God think of those who do not care about or believe in your God. Hindu Gods never punish disbelievers or anyone for that matter, just because they do not have faith – according to the Hindu traditions the one who is righteous always receives the grace of God, irrespective of his faith. One who is unrighteous, receives the rotten fruits of his unrighteous deeds no matter how much of faith he professes.

Hindus never say daiva-bheeti (fear of God). Hindus say daiva bhakti (devotion to God) and papa bheeti (fear of being unrighteous) – be devoted to God and fear the unrighteous. In Hinduism, God is not the center-stage. Dharma is. The experiences one undergoes, according to Hinduism, follows the nobility of his own actions – God is only a witness to these actions and fruits, but not the one who gives punishments. One can be righteous get liberated without any God either by following the principles of Dharma or through devotion for God or by realizing the true nature of oneself. These three, righteousness, devotion and knowledge are three major paths to liberation in Hinduism.

This is in stark contrast to the Abrahamic worldview where faith is primary and righteousness secondary. After all, one’s righteousness is of no use if he does not announce his faith is a wrathful God. It is from here that all the nobility of Hinduism and all the evil of Abrahamics sprout, from there that the tolerance of Hinduism and intolerance, exclusivist mentatily of Abrahamics comes.

In Hinduism, it is not ignoring them that makes Gods angry. It is invoking them for a purpose and then not propitiating them that causes undesired results. There is a lot of difference. And in this, it works the otherway way – the Abrahamic god hurts you even if you do not invoke him or do not believe in him. Our gods are not like that. If you leave them alone, they will leave you alone without hurting.

Of course, there are terrible negative effects, if the path of worship is not followed properly. However it should be understood that it is not like an anthropomorphic God getting angry but the kind of energy generated when not channelized properly, causes negative effects to the one who invoked it. It is similar to a reactor lacking proper moderators. That is why elders say that practice should be done with due guidance from a learned man.

Question

Who worships gods and who worships ancestors and who worships devils?

Answer

Worship of God and forms of God – many religions in fact do not worship God. They just call it God, but it is not God. In fact, contrary to what they criticize the likes of Chinese both the anti-semitic Abrahamic religions are mane-worshipers. One would observe that their places of worship are always tied with burials. There is the two world and three world theory. In two world theory, they only have man and mane, no god. What they call God, has all the qualities of a mane, and not God. He is sectarian himself, angry, jealous all that a mane is and God is not. Hindus have a third world beyond the world of manes, which is the world of Devatas – who are beyond the outward impressions of mind like anger. These three worlds are ruled by earth, moon and sun. Vasu, Rudra and Aditya. Their time scales are day, month and year respectively. Beyond this, there are many levels and worlds one has to evolve through, before reaching the divine, the formless eternal (each of these has a higher time scale). For the Abrahamics there are no such worlds – in fact in Islam they only have month, whose ruler is moon. Their calendar does not have solar year, it has lunar months adding up to a year.

Question

Who is fit to preach religion? Hindus do not even worship God, they worship forms of creation and not the creator.

Answer

Hindus do not worship the forms of God – they worship God in those forms. This is very different from saying they worship forms. It is the axiomatic difference between seeing things as they appear and knowing things as they are. To understand this, one should understand the basic premise of Hinduism, that God is not outside His creation but is the essence of it. Thus every element of His creation is divine, and worshiping any element is essentially worshiping God. The difference in worship as one evolves is that he elevates from worshiping the form to worshiping the essence. On the other hand, those who think they are worshiping God and not its creation, are ignorant of the basic premise and essential nature of creation, and the relation between creation and the creator.

It is the limitation of human mind to contemplate on objects first and their essence next. And the traditions that have understood this and have addressed this are the Indic traditions – in contrast to those that boast of worshiping God but end up praying to anthropomorphic entity. The Abrahamic God is not anthropomorphic only in the sense that he does not have a physical body, but is anthropomorphic in every other sense – they superimpose almost every human quality such as anger, jealousy, hatred, mercy on their God – through which basically they are projecting themselves onto their God, instead of worshiping God.

In contrast, Hindus traditions have a thorough understanding of human consciousness, the aids needed by mind at different stages of evolution, the pitfalls in the path. They address these to perfection, by avoiding the projection of human mind over God at a stage where mind is not trained enough to see what is beyond it. They give methods to train the mind, to prepare it to see what is beyond, for man to unite with a higher consciousness. It is at this stage that they expose the mind to divine consciousness, at which stage the person is not projecting his mental image over divine but becomes a vehicle for divine consciousness to descend into life. For this reason, the Hindu seers are not hallucinated and their words are not projection of their ego. Hindu Gods are anthropomorphic (that too partly) only in the description of their physical attributes – in essence they are representatives of the deeper layers of consciousness. And in Hinduism it is not a crime to describe divine in human and animal forms, because all of them are His creation, His forms, whose essence is He Himself.

On the other hand the Abrahamics hardly have any legacy on the subject of consciousness or training in it. Centuries after their false claims to divinity they are today stealing the methods followed by oriental traditions, including yoga and the teachings of Gita, advertising those in different terminology, and using the same to gain converts from the traditions that have developed these! Forget preaching divinity, they hardly even have morality.
One who has the understanding of these subjects and has a first hand experience of what is explained by those, is the one who has the authority to preach. One who has scaled the heights of consciousness, in contrast to those who have no understanding of any of these subjects but try to be salesmen, has the authority to preach. As people have wondered after Swami Vivekananda’s speech in Chicago, it is the oriental spiritual traditions like Hinduism that have the right to preach and teach. But not surprisingly, those who have the knowledge also have the modesty to understand and say that they are not the “only true” ones to know it!

Question

Is religion bad or the followers bad? If religion is itself bad, then are not all religions bad? On the other hand if it is the followers that are bad, then why blame religion?

Answer

There are two aspects in this – human nature and how religion attends to it. While human nature can be directed in both ways by philosophies, theories and religions, the one that succeeds the most is the one that on one hand understands the pitfalls in human nature that can potentially harm man and addresses them, and on the other hand directs it towards its highest and greatest reaches.

Thus, the religion or philosophy that does not address the pitfalls such as sense and ego gratification, mistaking hallucination for realization, the one that does not have a methodology to train the various faculties of consciousness to avoid such false identifications and forces one into dogma instead of knowledge, is indeed a bad philosophy or religion for mankind. Its effects are often visible in the queer mix of persecution, imperialism, sense of sin.

On the other hand the system that has comprehensive understanding of human nature and has addressed its most fundamental aspects such as morality and ego, that has devised methods to train human mind and senses to avoid any pitfalls in morality or false knowledge, that has developed various methodologies to suit men of different tastes and capabilities, is the one that is indeed a great philosophy. And Hinduism is such.

Thus, while it is human nature that eventually causes good or bad of man, the effect of a philosophy or religion on society very much depends on how it directs human nature, what it aims at, what problems it foresees and addresses.

Question

Is animal sacrifice not cruel and violent? How does it go well with the non-violence, one of the principles people boast of?

Answer

There are three aspects in this – food, violence and sacrifice:

· Food is the basis of life. Life is sustained by the consumption of life, and this is the inherent principle of nature. And sustenance of life is the highest principle. At the same time, consumption of life defeats the same principle (for other creatures). Harming any living being is against that principle. Thus there arises the need for reconciliation between the principle of consumption and the principle of sustenance. This is explained by the concept of sacrifice.
· Body is the basis for the performance of every rite, through performance of which the purpose of life is fulfilled. The rite undertaken for sustaining the body, namely consumption, is thus one of the most sacred and important ones. However, this means that only the consumption done with the sense of sacrifice, or with the sense of sustaining the body, is considered sacred. Superfluous consumption of life, is against the principle of sustenance. Therefore, meat-eating and superfluous eating as a whole is discouraged in Hinduism and not just killing of animals. Thus while explaining violence/consumption to be inherent in nature, it is sought to be minimized by the same principle that makes it inevitable.
· Hinduism, along with its offshoots, is unique in presenting vegetarianism as a virtue, though it has not prohibited meat-eating for the simple reason that majority of mankind is non-vegetarian and it is not practical to make vegetarianism a rule. However, practitioners do remain vegetarians on occasions, during the period of austerities. There are also sections of Hindus who are totally vegetarian.
· Sacrifice is typically done with edibles. One would sacrifice what one consumes subsequently, as a fruit of the sacrifice (though there are exceptions to this, which is not relevant here). Thus the whole thing comes down to what one consumes. So when the majority of mankind is non-vegetarian, it hardly makes sense to say that sacrificing an animal and consecrating it is violent – while cooking and eating it on a much larger scale is not. The animals sacrificed are too few compared to the animal eaten – so any complaint on sacrifice is simply unjust and even dishonest.
· Sacrifice of animal in a sacrifice is part of the optional rites, and not a regular rite.
· Through consecration, the animal being sacrificed is absolved of its samskaras, and is elevated to higher births subsequently.
· What sacrifice is achieving, while it has not added any violence which is not already present, is the attitude, the consecration, the sense of offering which makes man devoted. And as practice evidently shows, one’s violent nature actually diminishes as one does sacrifices, since that brings in the sense of divinity in his actions and his view of the world.
· Meat-eating – There is no evidence that sacrifices have increased meat-eating, rather India is among those countries that have minimized meat-eating even when compared to other tropical countries. On the other hand, those who show animal sacrifices as something superstitious and violent are among those who consume more meat and kill more animals – the Abrahamics for instance! After all, it becomes no less violent or cruel just because one does not cut the animal himself but gets is a nice pack after it is cooked. Therefore for any representative of a majority non-vegetarian community to talk of violence or cruelty in the most refined traditions like Hinduism is ridiculous.
· Even the sacrifice part, should be looked at in two ways. Sacrifice can be literal as well as symbolic. Literal sacrifice involves sacrificing an animal. In symbolic sacrifice, the sense of sacrifice is important and animals are not offered. In a literal sacrifice too, animals are offered as symbols of animal-nature sacrificing which man is symbolizing his evolution. In many sacrifices, animal is replaced with a pista-pasu. Thus while retaining the spirit of sacrifice sacrifices have been refined to suit the increasing vegetarianism. Since Hinduism is a living religion and not time-stamped by an “only great man”, it evolves continuously, and sets trends that benefit mankind in the coming centuries.

Question

Hindu Gods hold weapons and their stories are about fighting and killing. How can Hinduism preach love and nonviolence? Also, if these wars are said to be for a noble cause, are not crusades and crescentades the same? Why then is so much fury about those?

Answer

There is no contradiction in this. First of all, the stories are full of assertions of morality and the fight of the righteous to resist and control the unrighteous. They are also stories of evolution, of the victory of knowledge over ignorance, of gnosis over nescience. And this is not a secret symbolism – each such story explicitly mentions this. They are stories also of the control of demons who, start invading the lands that are not theirs, hurt innocent men and try to establish their control over the world. Thus they are stories of controlling the intolerant, the imperial and the unrighteous, establishing peace and tolerance.

On the other hand, crusades and crescentades (jihad) are not control of intolerance – they are themselves the invasions, done by the intolerant over people they term as non-believers. In this, they are similar to the asuric assaults on people to make them accept their supremacy and “true religion”. They are in no way similar to the wars done by Devatas described in Puranic literature, but are rather similar to the assaults done by the asuras on rishis and innocent men.

If crusades and crescentades are anything about nobility, they would not result in eliminating tolerant cults all over the world as they did. If they were at least about valor, they would be involved in combat with armies and would not result in attacks over innocent people they way they happen to this date. Above all, they would be means to restore tolerance and in defense of a righteous cause, and they would not be means of aggression. But facts state the opposite. They have been aggression, invasion and intolerance.

The fundamental difference in the Hindu concept of “dharma yuddha” and the crescentades is that the former is about fighting for the righteousness and peace, the latter is fighting for glory and supremacy.
Question

Do Vedas have science? Is it not too much to claim that?

Answer
One should define what science is, and what is scientific, before going into this. Science is knowledge, but all knowledge is not science. There are specific modes of explanations acceptable in science (deductive, probabilistic, teleological and genetic).

Going by that, traditional knowledge is not all “science”. Traditional subjects are called Sastras. Some Sastras are sciences, and go by the modes of explanation accepted in science (for instance mathematics and physics). Some Sastras do not. However, entire traditional knowledge has its framework and means for its verification. The means for acquiring and verifying knowledge are called pramanas. Each Sastra or subject has its pramanas spelt out clearly.

Whether it is art, science or philosophy, any subject is called Sastra, because it is a methodical exposition of a subject, specifies the means to gain and verify knowledge, the means to perfection, methods of instructing the same. What is important is the framework of traditional knowledge that integrates all forms of knowledge and organizes them into a single system, instead of compartmentalizing the continuum into “exact” and specific subjects. The holistic view to world that can be gained through such a continuum, is the uniqueness of Hindu knowledge system.

Science is found in traditional knowledge system – but it is just inappropriate to expect that ancient knowledge would have the theories that match today’s science, for the present is built over past and is always an improvement over the same.

The other important point we often miss, is that even the traditional knowledge has a hierarchy and arrangement of subjects – each text mentions what it is to be approached for. Veda is axiomatic knowledge, and not deductive. There are subjects like tarka that are deductive. When one approaches traditional texts, this should be kept in mind.

Question

Hindus claim that Vedas and Agamas to be revealed scriptures, so do the Abrahamists. So how does Hinduism become any more non-dogmatic than the latter?

Answer

Yes, Hindus hold Vedas and Agamas to be revealed by divine inspiration. However, these are the fundamental differences in this notion between Hindus and Abrahamists –

· Vedas and Agamas are part of sabda pramana, which do not overrule but come into picture for knowledge that cannot be known through reason. This is unlike the Abrahamic religions where the revealed scripture overrules what is known through reason. Sabda pramana is clearly listed after perception and logical inference as a valid means of knowledge (and applies when the first two turn out to be insufficient for validating truth). The important feature of sabda pramana is the inability of deduction in proving or disproving it. When there is a possibility of proving or disproving a statement through perception or deduction, then such statement is not called sabda pramana.
· Vedas and Agamas are only part of the grand scheme of Hindu knowledge system, and are selectively called Apourusheya – though the other texts are equally divine and contain knowledge. Basically, Hinduism is not a system of a single book – it is a system with a grand scheme of knowledge, out of which a few texts are said to be Apourusheya.
· The Vedas are known by the seers that revealed those texts. The most important point here is that such revelation is not patented by any seer, but the seers mention clearly that the knowledge and those words are present eternally (in the parama vyoma) and can be realized by anyone who is trained enough to that consciousness. The knowledge is about impersonal (divine), the knowledge is itself impersonal, and therefore of impersonal origin. Thus no body has created that knowledge, seers have only revealed it. It is this sense of discovery and non-invention of knowledge, its eternal presence that makes it Apourusheya and not in the sense that the text is secretly revealed to a seer by God while others have to take it by faith. This is in stark contrast to the Abrahamic traditions where the text is said to be revealed and that believers have to take them to be revealed.

Question

Religion is the reason for dogma, it has caused bloodshed and is anti-science. Religion is mistaken for spirituality, but spirituality is different.

Answer

Religion is not the reason for dogma, but the preliminary stages of practice of religion involve dogma to an extent. The effect of such dogma too, is limited to the practitioner’s individual life. What really caused bloodshed all over the world, is not religion but political ideology and imperialism in the guise of religion.

Being anti-science again, is true of ideologies that call themselves religion, but not true of religion itself. There are many religions that have not only not interfered with political machinery but have contributed to a moral order, to human knowledge and well being. In oriental cultures science never was a discipline unrelated to religion – science, religion, philosophy and metaphysics all were part of a grand structure of knowledge, which is how an ideal society should be.

Religion is not mistaken for spirituality – any religion worth its salt is means for the same. When religion ceases to be a religion, then it goes far from its goal – namely spirituality. In oriental systems, religions have always served their purpose as ladders to spiritual evolution of individuals and collectivities.

Question

Why does Hinduism promote idol worship while some other religions prohibit it?

Answer

First of all, prohibiting one form of worship is itself irreligious and shows rigidity. Different beings have different tastes and ways of worshiping. There can be no restriction on any form of worship as long as it does not offend others. And in that way, it is the abrahamics that need to be prohibited really, because they are the ones who offend practitioners of the oriental, non-proselytizing religions. And for that reason, Hinduism does not prohibit any form of worship. And idol worship being central to the concept of worship itself, is not only not prohibited but encouraged and promoted.

Secondly, those who think idol worship is something incorrect or preliminary, are themselves worshipers of various symbols. For instance there is no christianity without cross and church.

Thirdly, Hindus do not worship symbols – they worship forms. A form is a container, a vessel that holds the essence. There is no worship of essence without worship of form. And everyone who thinks idol worship is preliminary or incorrect, is ignoring this fundamental fact. After all, there is no worshiper on earth who can claim that he is worshiping divinity without a form – he is either worshiping a symbol, an idol, a thought-form, or within his body. Without upadhi, there is no upasana. And the religions that do not understand this basic fact, are not fit to be called religions.

In fact, the world itself is the form of god, which is why serving the world is said to be serving God. And serving different beings – animals, plants, fellow humans, is part of the primary rituals a Hindu undertakes every day. And God is the essence of the world – and essence is worshiped as form is worshiped. A stone idol similarly, is not merely a symbol that reminds us of God, but a formation of God, whose essence is God.

In other words, Hindus do not worship forms of God – they worship God in His various forms.

The profound understanding of consciousness and the various upadhis through which consciousness flows, makes it clear that there is no worship without form. And one who thinks he is not taking the help of a physical form, is unconscious of the fact that he is taking the help of a non-physical form. The reason Hinduism describes “physical” forms carefully and with great detail, is that it realizes that unless one masters the consciousness it is not possible to grow over physical forms. Without that, one only thinks he is not worshiping forms, but fact is far from that.

For instance, all the descriptions of forms given by Hindus are necessarily beyond physical forms – vyomakesa, digambara etc. And it is through these epithets that Hindus drive the truth into the devotee’s mind, and expand him into infinity without making him impose limitations on his conception of divinity. And thus, the divinity sought by Hindus is beyond not only form, but also beyond the vital-mental tendencies and intellectual limitations.

On the other hand, although there is no physical form of the God, all the descriptions given by the abrahamics to God are actually anthropomorphic – their God has all the mental and intellectual limitations and qualities of humans such as anger.

So it is in reality a thorough understanding of consciousness and its mastery that results in idol-worship, and not blind faith or a beginner’s mindset.

Amitabh’s letter- Racism in Australia- a discussion

Namaste

One of my cousin living in Australia forwarded an open letter to Amitabh Bachan written by an Australian married to an Indian , to which I had to respond. The letter from her friend was written in good intention of supporting her country but opened another dimension of what many of the westerners feel and know about India.

Below is the letter and my response,

Dear Sir
 
Please allow me to point out some misconceptions about the recent discussion of how Australians treat Indians:
Australians in general are NOT racist. True, there have been attacks against Indians in Australia; there have also been attacks against many other people in Australia who do not have the support of a separate ethnic group to publicise their plight. Many “Anglo” Australians suffer similar plights as those Indian students who have been attacked eg. my brother is 184cm tall and was robbed of his telephone and wallet in the central business district at 7pm one night. My sister had her handbag stolen by two girls who punched her repeatedly on the train and then ran away at the next station. Neither of these incidents were reported in the mainstream media in Australia.
A female friend of my family was attacked and badly injured by a stranger when working/touring in Rajasthan; a man that I work with was beaten senseless in Mumbai. These incidents were not reported in the media in India or Australia. When the female friend reported the incident to the police, she was told that it was her fault. That was the thanks she received for teaching orphans.  Go out for a meal in a restaurant in Melbourne or Sydney; go to the cinema – and you will see many racially mixed couples.

My husband was born in Punjab and his family moved to Australia 20 years ago, yet when my husband brought me and my family to meet his parents (when we became engaged), his father would not open the door to his son and his mother screamed abuse from the window. My sister-in-law came outside and slapped me “for making his family ashamed” – because I am not an Indian. Gora and gori were the main adjectives used in the abuse by all, despite that I had begun studying to read and write Punjabi as well as taking my husband’s religion. At weddings we are generally accepted by the families of friends but there are still people in the community who build and maintain rumours about our marriage. My family does not look at the colour of my husband’s skin or hear his accent. My mother now cooks aloo mattar, saag paneer, daal, etc. Our children have not learned the wisdom of their Punjabi ancestry from their Punjabi grandparents and aunts who will not see them.
We have no caste system in Australia, we have no Dalets or “untouchables”, it is against the law to discriminate against anyone.

It is a shame that you have refused an honour to be bestowed upon you by an Australian University, based on the flawed logic and lack of knowledge of some readers who really know nothing about Australia. If Australia was a racist country, such an honour would not have been offered to you.
In Australia, everyone has the right to demonstrate. If a similar demonstration had been held in Delhi – by “Anglo” women protesting the treatment of their parents-in-law, I doubt that protestors would have escaped without serious injury from police batons or the crowd.

It is terrible that anyone is brutally attacked under any circumstance, in any country. I would suggest that those who verbally attack Australia – and Australians generally, should look at the mess in their own yard beforehand. There are horrible people and good people in every nation and every country. Australia wished to honour the good that Mr Bachan has given to the world; and it has been rejected – sadly.

My response to the above :

Though I appreciate the POV, I think there is a flaw in the argument. The writer is trying to equate the caste system to a racist issue when it is not and is unncessarily diluting her point. She should focus on talking about lack of racism in Australia and close.

The jaati vyvastha  ( wrongly equated with the caste system of the West) is purely a Hindu phenomenon and she is unncessarily dragging the Hindu way of life into the issue. What is her knowledge about the Jaati vyastha (caste system )?

How come Christian socieites discriminated against women, blacks & encouraged slavery ? How come they killed millions of women branding them as witches in the 17-19th century under the canons of the Pope ? Did the Hindu jaati vyvastha prompt them to do it ?  It would do them good to confront these issues rather than talking about the caste system. It is fashionable in the western circles to speak about caste system when they know nothing about it.

 The jaati vyvastha in India evolved as a socio-cultural set up with professions as the nucleus. It later stratified into an extended family set up and I think it is nobody’s business to comment on how the Hindus live their lives. It is for the Hindus to decide whether they want the jaati vyvastha or not.

Just as she says that it is against the law to discriminate against anyone in Australia, so also it is in India.So much so that calling a so-called Dalit by his caste name is a non-bailable offence.Untouchability has no sanction by any of the hindu texts..it is purely a social problem that is being tackled not only by the Hindu leaders and organisations but also by the government.

In the last 60 years, we have had a President, a Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, hundreds of MP’s, Chief Ministers, Governors from the Scheduled castes ( called as Dalits by some) . Can any other nation equal this where the most oppressed sections have got so much representation and that too by free electoral process ?

So the equation of equating racism to caste does not work.

Considering the heat of the moment, it is perfectly acceptable for a lady to voice her views defending her own nation. But, if the only point she has is to deplore the other community, there is no case.

If you read Amitabh’s refusal, he used an important clause viz., ” it would be inappropriate to accept it at this point of time ” which is fair I think considering the current moment.

Though I do not subscribe to many of Amitabh bachan’s political views, I think this is one moment, where he has taken a right stance. His views and Queensland University’s response are blogged at

http://bigb.bigadda.com/favicon.ico/?paged=2

http://bigb.bigadda.com/favicon.ico/

dhanyavaad
Ayush