Trans-national Hindus: Seeking vicarious redemption! – Sandhya Jain

SJToday, (comparatively) rich and officious Hindus (aided and abetted by a handful of Dollar-enamoured Swamis) who quit Bharat for foreign soil, foreign money and foreign citizenship, are trying to re-cast Hindu Dharma in conformity with Western Monotheism and values. Ignoring the inalienable link between the dharma and the divine soil of Bharat, they are trying to remould the dharma as a trans-national faith – an oxymoron called Global Hindu – and in this guise serve the trans-national ideology and religion of their new masters. A previous attempt to promote a blueprint for re-casting Hindu dharma on Vatican-Church lines failed to take off; but the agenda to install one or other Dollar Swami as a kind of ‘Hindu Pope’ is intact. – SJ

A recently released report on ‘Caste’ by the Hindu American Foundation, a body of (mostly first generation) American citizens of Indian origin, has unleashed a raging controversy in India and the US Hindu community.

Indians question the ‘adhikar’ (locus standi) of American Hindus to pontificate on the nature of what they call the ‘caste system’; the conflation of caste with discrimination against so-called lower castes; and above all, the brazen insistence that Hindu Dharma in India must be ‘reformed’ so that the self-ejects have greater psychological comfort in the new homeland, free from heckling by missionaries and administration-backed journalists.

The old colonial agenda – the reins of which moved from London to Washington after the end of the Second World War – remains intact: to portray Indian society as a Jurassic relic, where jana-jati-varna continue to operate as social and cultural motifs and enjoy potency in the political arena.

The Portuguese gave the generic term ‘caste’ (casta) to the complex Indian social organism, which is the signature tune of the civilisation, so intricately interwoven with soil, society, and dharma, that while its unity and continuity can be readily discerned, none can say where it began…it just is. It proved amazingly resilient in the face of missionary attempts to deconstruct Hindu society and remould it as a rootless monotheism; hence the constant tirade to undermine it by foreigners, fellow travellers, and ‘dissidents’. The HAF report is just another missile in the White Man’s arsenal to annihilate Hindu civilisation in India.

As in the colonial era, the mischief pretends concern for sections of society designated as backward or disadvantaged. This obsession with a pecking order – of classes rather than of values – clearly derives from the classical Biblical notion of a ‘Great Chain of Being,’ where God (or Nature) organised the world so that all living things from man to insect could be classified and slotted into an appropriate hierarchy.

Crispin Bates, master deconstructionist of colonial race theories, observed that the Western racial claim to superiority made a far deeper impact on Indian society than is generally realised. He suggested that instead of trying to answer the question ‘what is caste,’ we should ask ‘who wants to define it?’ To this, one need only add: ‘and to what purpose?’

This brings us to the issue of adhikar/right and the nature of Hindu Dharma, which emphatically denies trans-national Hindus the authority they are arrogating to themselves in order to please their self-chosen White Masters. Hindu Dharma has an inalienable bond with the sacred geography of Bharat and Bharat Jana (people), an organic link that cannot be broken or disregarded without distorting or destroying Dharma.

The Jambudvipa of Bharat and Trans-national Hindus

Indians have from hoary times distinguished between natives and foreigners, a distinction not based on racial criteria (skin colour, ethnicity) but on the unique character of the Hindu ethos where the ‘Arya’ (pious, noble, cultured) was honoured in contrast to the mleccha or barbarian/outsider. The tradition arranged the primal identities of jana (clan, tribe, people or visah) and gotra (also clan, tribe) in a broad Varna system – a socio-ethical and ritual hierarchy. A place in the Varna system marked the Arya from the outsider. Social identity was thus associated with varnasrama dharma, gotra, janapada; this underlay social and ritual rights and obligations, adhikara…

Hindu ritual begins with a resolve (sankalpa) in which one recalls one’s place in time (samay) and space/place (sthan). The traditional formula recalls one’s belonging to Jambudvipa or Bharatvarsa. It reflects the primordial unity of Hindu, Bauddha and Jaina streams; the Buddhas and Cakkavattis (chakravartins) can be born only in Jambudvipa; the Tirthankaras and Cakravartins are born only in the Arya janapadas of Bharat, one of the seven regions of Jambudvipa. In the Puranas, Bharat is the centre of the nine Varsas of Jambudvipa, centre of the earth and one of seven dvipas (regions, not islands). As the four-fold order, Caturvarnya, operates in Bharat, it is the only place where proper practice of religion is possible as Varnasrmadharma makes performance of svadharma (one’s own dharma) possible. Hence Bharata alone is karmabhumi.

In other countries, bhoga is possible, but not karma, as without adhikara, karma is not possible, and without karma one cannot tread the path of emancipation. The samkalpa-mantra recalls the obligations to which one is heir by virtue of being born in Bharatavarsa, and of the eligibility won by that place in moral and religious life. Bharat is thus a geo-cultural region where natural and cultural frontiers correspond in terms of the Himalayas and the sea; in the north-west and north-east, the natural frontiers merge into the lands of barbarians who do not use Sanskrit or follow the four-fold order.

Hindu tradition is thus unambiguous that Bharat alone is the punyabhumi where dharma can be practiced properly, because here alone karma can be expiated by Hindus living on the bhumi.

Today, (comparatively) rich and officious Hindus (aided and abetted by a handful of Dollar-enamoured Swamis) who quit Bharat for foreign soil, foreign money and foreign citizenship, are trying to re-cast Hindu Dharma in conformity with Western Monotheism and values. Ignoring the inalienable link between the dharma and the divine soil of Bharat, they are trying to remould the dharma as a trans-national faith – an oxymoron called Global Hindu – and in this guise serve the trans-national ideology and religion of their new masters. A previous attempt to promote a blueprint for re-casting Hindu dharma on Vatican-Church lines failed to take off; but the agenda to install one or other Dollar Swami as a kind of ‘Hindu Pope’ is intact.

Bhumi and dharma

The non-negotiable tie between land and faith is not based on a Hindu mental aberration, but derives from the organic growth of the civilisation in the hoary past, when myriad tribes (or sections of tribes) of hill, mountain and jungle transited to village life and made their tutelary deities the grama devata. These deities are deeply respected throughout the country by tribals and non-tribals alike. Grama devata is generally a female divinity, and goddesses are intimately linked with the earth in the form of soil and territory. The grama devata holds sway over a specific geographical area; it is believed that Devi ascends from the earth and unites her various earthly forms within herself. Bhudevi (Earth Goddess) is the divinized earth. Grama devata is mostly worshipped in the form of a stone (uniconical murti) placed under a tree, often accompanied by a pot and/or a trishul.

Hindu religious experience can be condensed into the sutra: ishta deva, kula deva, grama deva, sthan deva (personal beloved god; god of the clan/gotra; god of the village; and god of the land/region). The last holds special eminence in hilly/mountainous country and transports the devotee safely from one mountain-side to the next. When foreigners dubbed Bharat as ‘hindustan’, they meant only that this was the abode (sthan) of the gods of the Hindu people (people beyond the river Sindhu); the vulgar claim that we owe our identity as a people to this labelling by outsiders is wholly untenable. The presence of ‘sthan’ countries in our neighbourhood to this day testifies to the prevalence and power of primordial native gods.

Tribal society metamorphosed into castes; the proper term being ‘jati’, derived from the root ‘jaat’ (genesis). Hence the defining characteristics of tribe/gana and caste/jati is the same – common descent from a common ancestor (gotra), common language, endogamy and clan exogamy, tribal councils/caste panchayats, taboos in diet and marriage alliances, presence of hierarchy within groups, and limited self-sufficiency (inter-dependence and division of labour).

The idea of the nation was established in India as the distinct Arya culture spread through spiritual-cultural linkages and a community of worship, rather than political conquest. Geography is thus intrinsic with Hindu spirituality; this could embrace all tribes and groups, even immigrants, provided only that they embraced this spiritual unity, “for here culture and not race or language was the passport for admission”. Hindu dharma, as Sri Aurobindo noted, “observed the one truth from its many sides” and “is not a creedal religion, but a vast, universal, many-sided and unifying system of spiritual culture”.

In this system, caste or jati/varna became an agency of integration of diverse groups and a mechanism to resolve mutual conflicts. As the unity of dharma embraced all, caste proved the sole and sufficient glue of Indian society.

Consciousness of spiritual-geographical unity spread through an elaborate network of shrines and places of pilgrimage which wove the entire land into a cultural unity. Pilgrimage gave the people a geographical sense of the civilisation, and encouraged them to see India as a single immense entity.

Towards a Hindu Canon?

The HAF report seems to emanate from the deracination that comes from severing one’s connection to one’s bhumi, and transplanting oneself in an alien soil and culture, solely for material gains. This can be a fairly dehumanizing experience; hence the foreign Hindus’ desire to cling to some form of faith and culture is utterly understandable. What is not forgivable is the deliberate attempt to pretend that Bharat is/was merely a janmabhoomi (birthplace), when they know well that it is punyabhoomi and karmabhoomi.

Bharat cannot be equated with Abrahmic holy lands like Jerusalem, Bethlehem or Mecca, because these sites are just dots on the map of the regions from where these faiths burst forth; they are not even the spots from where the respective monotheisms of Judaism, Christianity or Islam were preached by their respective prophets; nor the sites where the first ‘kingdoms’ of the new monotheisms were established, and from where they permeated to the rest of the world. The Abrahamic faiths are nomadic and spread through conquest; their holiest sites belonged to the god(s) of an extant tradition which was re-cast as a new orthodoxy to which the prophet claimed sole copyright. Thus, Jews elevated Yahweh (a god of the Canaan tribe) and the Temple at Jerusalem; Christians accepted Yahweh and the sanctity of Bethlehem and Jerusalem though the powerful centre of their faith is the Vatican in Rome; Islam gave preeminence to Allah (a god of the Quraish tribe) and made his sanctuary at Mecca the centre of the faith.

To equate the divinity of the entire sub-continent of Bharat with what are essentially temple-complexes in arid deserts, is to cut the nose to spite the face. Possibly the HAF report is an attempt by American Hindus to redefine themselves, rather than reform Indian Hindus, because they have literally lost caste by losing their links with the bhumi, jati, gotra, kula, varna, and with it the chance to expiate their karmas. They need a monotheistic-like structure to which distant allegiance can be claimed and homage paid, and have found some globe-trotting swamis to play the game. If only it were that simple.

Hindu dharma is incorrigibly resistant to Canon (one authorized version). Nor does it perceive itself in terms of higher and lower strata – so how is HAF going to redeem the ‘blighted’ of this culture? The sanatana dharma is a living tradition and the earth (prithvi, bhumi) a living goddess. Abrupt curtailment of links with both by voluntary migration in search of greener pastures abroad does not create a Global Hindu Community with equal rights with Hindus living in Bharat, as already explained.

Indian society is a socio-cultural-spiritual continuum as also an economic-political spectrum, where exchange is dynamic and evolving, nothing is static. The HAF report appears to be a sort of colonial anachronism because it fails to comprehend the multi-layered tradition. The best allegory of dharma is that of a river: it changes, appears the same, and maintains the continuity of its flow through the ages. Hindu dharma has incredible capacity to adapt its metaphysical principles in consonance with social and historical needs without losing its essential character or sense of identity. It is called sanatana or eternal in the sense that it is perennial and always contemporary – it nurtures change and continuity… (K. Suresh Singh says a Dom was prince of Ayodhya in the thirteenth century; the history of India is replete with such narratives of the rise of the bold to exalted heights. Ms Mayawati today contends to be elected as Prime Minister of modern India; her chances are better than those of Mr Rahul Gandhi).

HAF seems to have mistaken the varna system as an immutable social hierarchy though it was merely an attempt to arrange the myriad jatis in some system in order to establish a hierarchy of values for society, and ensure that no single group could monopolise the empowering tools of knowledge, power, or wealth, much less misuse one form of power or prestige to subvert the harmony of society or state. In our contemporary era, the abuse of wealth and access to subvert the system to monopolise economic and political power has discredited our public life; hence this ancient Hindu concern is amazing. The Arthasastra owes its origin to a king siphoning off the wealth of his treasury to a secret location!

Finally, Hindus believe that grief is caused by the endless cycle of birth and death to which the soul is condemned on account of its ignorance of the purpose of life. The HAF report is rooted in abysmal ignorance. Worse, it believes that the barely-tolerated Hindu citizens of America will receive salvation through the Grace of the ‘true faith’ (which itself abounds in myriad ‘false sects’)! But vicarious redemption is denied to Hindus; HAF should have known that. Vijayvaani, New Delhi, 26 December 2010.

Update

On Jan 2, 2011 Swami Dayananda sent the following letter to the HAF president Dr. Mihir Meghani:

I have been reading some of the E-mails regarding your recent report “Hinduism: Not cast in caste”. I am very happy to learn hat different people are reviewing the report. One of them I know, is revising the whole report. So I request you to withdraw the report immediately from the website until we have a consensus among all the Hindu leaders. Thanks.

[Sd. Swami Dayananda]

11 Responses

  1. It is unfortunate fruitless discussion. This recent hue and cry on international front started by HAF should be taken in its right perspective and with a gesture of reality as faced by them in US today, as I believe. This is bound to spread across in different Christian nations also if not countered. I have read your blog and the Western Hindu, Transnational Hindus and etc whatever you like to call them. I have tended to ignore it simply because I dislike this subject ab initio.

    I just saw an entry of Transnational Hindus in my inbox and as per my usual curiosity, read it including the post and some comments. It baffles me to read them as a waste of time.

    HAF’s whole purport as I could understand, please correct me if I am wrong, on that report on Caste originates from their concern about their children going to Christian schools where these kids are subjected to humiliation by their christian teachers where none of you or us are there to defend those indefensibles. I think their concern is genuine. Had we been in their place, we would be equally concerned for our children.

    Now we may be making big noises but the fact is that Hindus in India have been marginalised by this sex and money industry. We all know it. How the Hindu elites are secularised by this “Indian Syndrome of Macaulayiitism” ever since it infested us since 1835.

    Respectfully if you all consider yourselves treasured Hindus, instead of mudslinging on each other, try to understand the real issue; which is not discussed by anyone here. It is a calculated missile fired at the peace loving Hindu community to first defame them and then subject them to proselytisation and conversions. I would respectfully request you all here to kindly put a coma if not the full stop to this fire cracker caste discussion and get real.

    Let us start by asking ourselves, “Do you consider the Hindus living outside India as Hindus or not”? Would you be happy if they left Hinduism? Think hundred times before answering these questions and how will it affect you?

    Lastly I read the post on Transnational Hindu and had made a small comment with request to some firebrand commentator viz Sita. Please do consult Dr S. Radhakrishnan and his collection of lecture series viz. Religion and Society, p 129 onwards published by Indus New Delhi 1995, first published in Great Britain by HarperCollins Publishers in 1947.

    In its Chapter III on Hindu Dharma, Dr SR mentions under the subhead: Caste and Untouchability, I quote – “Caste divisions are based on individual temperaments (quotes a slok in Sanskrit in footnotes), which is not immutable. In the beginning there was only one caste. We were all Braahmins (quotes another Sanskrit slok in footnote) or all Sudras. A smrti text says, that one is born a Sudra, and through purification he becomes a Braahmin (quotes a sanskrit slok in footnote)…” The description continues.

    In my personal opinion as a commoner, Dr SR has been the most reliable and an authentic source to refer to. I call Him the largest institution on Philosophy, Eastern and Western taken together. It is a pity that Hindus have slowly lost their bearings. I don’t know, if HAF had considered and refered to Dr. SR in their discussion or not. If not, they should.

    I have myself advised HAF on this messy issue to keep away from. But the Hindus should realise their sad plight. Today if we take a considered view on British Imperialism, they also came here for better pastures because they were suffering in poverty and inhabitated the North America and Australia as so many lands far away. If some Hindus went in search of some greener pastures, I don’t think there is anything wrong in it. They are as good a member of the world community as any other one.

    The need is to enlighten the other Organised Religions on Hinduism that has a lot to contribute to the peace of in World today. It is the Abrahamic religions who are the real culprits. It was nauseating to see the news on vatican official exorcist holding a Holy Cross in his hand and openly abusing Hindus and Yoga as evil. I think he should be sued in the ICJ for his unbecoming filthy remarks against Hindus, unprovoked. But I doubt if we can do that.

    We as Hindus are finding difficult to save our head in India, that seems to be a far cry. Please be realistic. I also notice some South Indian groups wanting to make a big meal out of this. I shall not spark any further issues but suffice to say, please inform yourself before you issue dictats on such sensitive matters. It is not my intention to hurt any section of society, be it a Hindu or non Hindu but the discussion must be constructive, informative and to the point to solve or help solve a theorem. Least of all, avoid complicating it if we can help it that way. God bless

  2. […] also “trans-national Hindus: Seeking vicasious redemption!” by Sandhya […]

  3. […] √ See also “Trans-nation Hindus: Seeking vicarious redemption!” by Sandhya Jain […]

  4. Thanks for calling the bluff. I am was also taken aback with this visceral obsession with “Zionists” who have never threatened any Hindu or Indian interest.

    The words “Zionist” and “Hindutva” are the bywords of communist-evagelical-Islamist joint aggression on the legitimate self-defence of two peaceful and non-proselytizing religious groups, i.e Jews and Hindus. There are exteremists in all groups but to purposfully continue to project the fringe as mainstream or majoritarian view is another form of extremism.

    These words are used to demonize the opponents rather than to engage them in constructive debate with a sincere and peaceful intent.

    Having said that , the author of the article has taken a line which is over the top and insulting to overseas Hindus. A large part of her thesis is purely her own private interpretation of Hinduism which no scripture clearly implies.

    All signifanct contributors to Hindu reform and Indian freedom movement either started their mission , or got organized, in Western countries.

    Gandhi-Tolstoy letters, containing some of the finest strains of Hindu thought, were exchanged between a South African postal address and a Russian one. It is Vivekannda’s Chicago speech which truly launched him as beacon of Hindu reform.

    The Ghadr movement for Indian freedom was launched from USA and Canada. INA was launched from Malayan region with active financial support primarily from Punjabi Hindu and Sikh immigrants living in Phillipines and south eastern countries.

    Ancient Hindus had migrated upto South East Asia and founded magnificient Hindu civilizations in Combodia and Indonesia. To argue that the founder of these civilizations were in any way less enlightened than people living in “Jambudvipa” is an insult to intellgence and is a view that contradicts Vedantic teachings.

    It is the Smritis , which most Hindus would agree , contain interpolations by corrupt brahminical clergy and other vested interests, which posit “Jambudvipa” over other countries. Puranas like “Bhavishya Purana” are rife with forgeries. The Shruties, the actual revelations of Hindu seers, give no importance to one geographical region over another. In any case the “Jambudvipa” of today ruled by some of the most currupt politicians and populated by equally currupt electrorates who vote such corrupt people into power, is hardly an entity to hold up as a moral example , or religious athority, or as something inspirational. All of Jambudvipa’s virtues and achievements are to be found in its hoary past. Its present and near past are defaced and deformed beyond recpognition, rendering it incapable of acting as moral authority in any serious sense.

    Ancient name of India was “Aryavrata” which literally means the “land of the noble”. Can you say this for the India (er..Jambudvipa), which is currently ruled by a dyansty which in all likelihood is not even Hindu?

    The teaching of the Hindu scriptures, whose quintessence is contained in upnishads, is broad-minded and catholic in character. After all “Brahman”, the ultimate truth, is beyond the conditioning of time and space. It is “Nirgun” (without attributes) and “Nirankar” (without ego). So why condition the unconditioned ? Why limit the limitless?

    In today’s world Hinduism has to compete with religions which are transnational in character. Islam , Chritianity and Marxism are world-conquering doctrines. If Hinduism has to ensure its survival against onslaught of these expansionist and totalitarian religions, it has to assume a trans-national character in some way. You need iron to resist iron. There is no other way. Otherwise, the way Coke and Pepsi would destroy all local brands, Christianity and Islam would destroy Hinduism unless it is delocalized and its timeless and also “placeless” treasures are made available to all without any distinction of caste, nationality and ethnicity.

    A Trans-national Hindu consciousness is inevitable to live out the essence of scriptural dicta of “Sarve bhavantu sukhinah” , i.e (greatest good to greatest number) and “Vasudha Eva Katumbhakam” (“Whole world is one family”). A call to restrict Hindu practice to the narrow confines of mythical Jambudvipa is at its heart a reactionary thought and pins down Hinduism to its dark age which it barely came out of.

  5. Get back to your Qur’an and stop trying to stir up trouble between Hindu groups and Hindus and Jews.

  6. It is the joke of the century HAF who can not stand up for the rights of Hindu minority in America is talking about rights of Hindus being mistreated on the basis of caste in India. Ask HAF where they were when Zionist controlled Police Union called Indians are cockroaches, animals, illiterates and illegal go home? These are the worst ever called racial slurs in over 200 history of America for any minority. What they have done to get justice for the brutal murder of Dr Geetha Angara and Dr. Divyendu Sinha when the murders are roaming on the streets of New Jersey? What was their role when Zionist controlled New Jersey & ICE spent over $100,000.00 to deport 1 Hindu Rajnikant Parikh in violation of every US law and Human rights just to save a white knucklehead who was accused by Parikh of racial discrimination and brutality? There are numerous cases I can quote when HAF was relaxing in the laps of Zionist rather than standing with Hindu victims.

    On top of that HAF is ignoring the fact that New Jersey in USA is world’s most racist state with 566 Municipalities/Cities carved out with race as the prime factor. Also New Jersey is the most corrupt state in the world. 8,000 sq miles NJ with 8.5 mil residents has 587 local governments in 566 racially segregated towns with over 9,000 Elected Scoundrels & over 466,000 Employees with little or no work appointed for political reasons. New Jersey is legally Racist & Legally corrupt; HAF can you criticize or ask for reforms publicly on your Blog the way you are criticizing Hindu Caste system?

    HAF is bunch of Lunatics waggling their tails for Zionist Masters & living off their crumbs in America . HAF is misguiding Hindus of America that Zionism a violent religion and Hinduism has no difference. So they don’t mind to be called cockroaches, animals, illiterates and illegal by their Zionist Friends.

    They are so brain damaged they can not see Zionist do not hate Muslims they only hate Palestinians so that they can get their land and hate Iran who can possibly beat them in 10-15 years. Ask these lunatics in HAF how come Muslims Prince & Kings have invested in world’s largest Private Equity Fund Carlaya Group managed by Zionist? How come world’s largest Bond Fund PIMCO managed by a Zionist has a Muslim VP? Why a New Jersey Based Zionist owned 3D Security has been supplying state of the art most modern and sophisticated Security Equipment & Technology which US cities do not have; to Middle Ease? Currently 3 D has more than $13 billion contracts in Abu Dhabi & Dubai itself. Why Zionist has been selling most modern Military Technology to India ’s hostile neighbor China ? Why Zionist who control America has been providing Free Arms to India ’s another hostile neighbor Pakistan ?

    Every one around the world understand except the lunatics in HAF, BJP, Congress & Samajwadi Party of Anil Ambani that Zionist have brought a one time super power America; Morally, Ethically, Financially and Militarily on its knees. It is the Zionist who have glamorized Gay, Lesbian, live in arrangements and unwed mothers. If you want to ruin a country; corrupt the moral and social fiber of the society. The same is being applied to India by Zionist controlled America in the name of Empowering Women and Liberty. On top of that all these lunatics can not see that North East in India is being Zionised with mass conversions and in next 10-15 years there will be a Israel in India .

  7. This article is a piece of sanctimonius garbage. I am a Western Hindu who left India some years ago. My geolocation has nothing to do with the contents of my faith.

    Vedas affirm the dictum of “Vasudha Eva Katumbhkam” (Whole world is your family). So why can’t Hinduism and Hindus be transnational?

    There is nothing wrong in leaving your homeland for greener pastures. The emigration of Hindus from India to other countries is a very healthy phenomenon and increases the global reach and influence of Indian culture and values.

    Israel stands today safely because of the Jewish diaspora in the West which continuously lobbies in Western nations on Israel’s behalf. Hindu diaspora , once organized, will play the same role for strengthening India’s global power projection and first diplomatic line of defense.

    The obsession with a piece of land called “Jambudweepa” reflects lack of “Advaita” consciousness on the part of this writer. This is a form of “raga” (attachment).

    HAF’s efforts are laudable and there is nothing in the report that panders to the “white masters”. There is sufficient amount of ammunition in it against the activities of Christian missionaries.

    And don’t you talk down to Western Hindus. India’s freedom movement was fought primarily by Hindus had left your “jambudweepa”. Thank the sacrifices of Ghadr martyrs, INA and even Gandhi all whom got organized in western countries and gave you the freedom and self-confidence to write an article like this.

  8. Sandhya Jain is writing from the perspective of Hindu civilization. Her article is directed at PIOs and NRIs in the US who have renounced India for purely material gain. She questions their locus standi in making pronouncements concerning Hindu Dharma and Hindu society when in fact they have abandoned India and are only interested in ingratiating themselves with their new political and social masters who are predominantly Evangelical Christians. She is also directing her critique at our pious and esteemed glob-trotting Swamijis who for honour and prestige and quite a few dollars have cultivated a foreign following (which includes PIOs and NRIs) and abandoned their responsibility to their home constituency in India. These same Swamijis have made secret deals with the Vatican, the nature of which they refuse to reveal to us in India, and continue to engage in interfaith dialogue with Christians, Muslims and Jews that do not represent Hindu Dharma truly and do not serve the Hindu interest. Sandhyaji has rightly questioned their actions and motives. She is not directing her comments at Western converts to Hinduism which is a different issue altogether. With regard to caste, a much maligned social institution that is not understood at all by Westerners, and which has been degraded by historical events starting with the Muslim invasions, she sends this comment by Swami Vivekananda:

    “Our solution of the caste question is not degrading those who are already high up, is not running amuck through food and drink, is not jumping out of our own limits in order to have more enjoyment, but it comes by every one of us fulfilling the dictates of our Vedantic religion, by our attaining spirituality and by our becoming ideal Brahmana. There is a law laid on each one of you in this land by your ancestors, whether you are Aryans, or non-Aryans, rishis or Brahmanas or the very lowest outcaste. The command is the same to you all, that you must make progress without stopping, and that from the highest man to the lowest pariah, every one in this country has to try and become the ideal Brahmana. This Vedantic idea is applicable not only here but over the whole world.

    “The Brahmana-hood is the ideal of humanity in India as wonderfully put forward by Shankaracharya at the beginning of his commentary on the Gita, where he speaks about the reason for Krishna’s coming as a preacher for the preservation of Brahmana-hood, of Brahmana-ness. That was the great end. This Brahmana, the man of God, he who has known Brahman, the ideal man, the perfect man, must remain, he must not go. And with all the defects of the caste now, we know that we must all be ready to give to the Brahmanas this credit, that from them have come more men with real Brahmana-ness in them than from all the other castes. We must be bold enough, must be brave enough to speak their defects, but at the same time we must give credit that is due to them. Therefore, it is no use fighting among the castes. What good will it do? It will divide us all the more, weaken us all the more, degrade us all the more. The solution is not by bringing down the higher, but by raising the lower up to the level of the higher. And that is the line of work that is found in all our books, in spite of what you may hear from some people whose knowledge of their own Scriptures and whose capacity to understand the mighty plans of the ancients are only zero. What is the plan? The ideal at the one end is the Brahmana and the ideal at the other end is the chandala, and the whole work is to raise the chandala up to the Brahmana. Slowly and slowly you will find more and more privileges granted to them.

    “I regret that in modern times there should be so much discussion between the castes. This must stop. It is useless on both sides, especially on the side of the higher caste, the Brahmana, the day for these privileges and exclusive claims is gone. The duty of every aristocracy is to dig its own grave, and the sooner it does so, the better. The more he delays, the more it will fester and the worse death it will die. It is the duty of the Brahmana, therefore, to work for the salvation of the rest of mankind, in India. If he does that and so long as he does that, he is a Brahmana.

    “Any one who claims to be a Brahmana, then, should prove his pretensions, first by manifesting that spirituality, and next by raising others to the same status. We earnestly entreat the Brahmanas not to forget the ideal of India – the production of a universe of Brahmanas, pure as purity, good as God Himself: this was at the beginning, says the Mahabharata and so will it be in the end. It seems that most of the Brahmanas are only nursing a false pride of birth; and any schemer, native or foreign, who can pander to this vanity and inherent laziness, by fulsome sophistry, appears to satisfy more.

    “Beware Brahmanas, this is the sign of death! Arise and show your manhood, your Brahmana-hood, by raising the non-Brahmanas around you – not in the spirit of a master – not with the rotten canker of egoism crawling with superstitions and charlatanry of East and West – but in the spirit of a servant. To the Brahmanas I appeal, that they must work hard to raise the Indian people by teaching them what they know, by giving out the culture that they have accumulated for centuries. It is clearly the duty of the Brahmanas of India to remember what real Brahmana-hood is. As Manu says, all these privileges and honors are given to the Brahmana because, “with him is the treasury of virtue”. He must open that treasury and distribute to the world.

    “It is true that he was the earliest preacher to the Indian races, he was the first to renounce everything in order to attain to the higher realization of life, before others could reach to the idea. It was not his fault that he marched ahead of the other castes. Why did not the other castes so understand and do as they did? Why did they sit down and be lazy, and let the Brahmanas win the race? But it is one thing to gain an advantage, and another thing to preserve it for evil use. Whenever power is used for evil it becomes diabolical; it must be used for good only. So this accumulated culture of ages of which the Brahmana has been the trustee, he must now give to the people, and it was because he did not open this treasury to the people, that the Muslims invasion was possible. It was because he did not open this treasury to the people from the beginning, that for a thousand years we have been trodden under the heels of everyone who chose to come to India; it was through that we have become degraded, and the first task must be to break open the cells that hide the wonderful treasures which our common ancestors accumulated; bring them out, and give them to everybody, and the Brahmana must be the first to do it. There is an old superstition in Bengal that if the cobra that bites, sucks out his own poison from the patient, the man must survive. Well then, the Brahmana must suck out his own poison.

    “To the non-Brahmana castes I say, wait, be not in a hurry. Do not seize every opportunity of fighting the Brahmana, because as I have shown; you are suffering from your own fault. Who told you to neglect spirituality and Sanskrit learning? What have you been doing all this time? Why have you been indifferent? Why do you now fret and fume because somebody else had more brains, more energy, more pluck and go than you? Instead of wasting your energies in vain discussions and quarrels in the
    newspapers, instead of fighting and quarreling in your own homes – which is sinful – use all your energies in acquiring the culture which the Brahmana has, and the thing is done. Why do you not become Sanskrit scholars? Why do you not spend millions to bring Sanskrit education to all the castes of India? That is the question. The moment you do these things, you are equal to the Brahmana! That is the secret power in India.

    “The only safety, I tell you men who belong to the lower castes, the only way to raise your condition is to study Sanskrit, and this fighting and writing and frothing against the higher castes is in vain, it does no good, and it creates fight and quarrel, and this race, unfortunately already divided, is going to be divided more and more. The only way to bring about the leveling of castes is to appropriate the culture, the education which is the strength of the higher castes.”

  9. This article is from the book, Swami Vivekananda On India and Her
    Problems
    .
  • I just realised that the link to the statement of the Hindu Jewish Summit in my comment was broken. Here is the correct link: http://www.millenniumpeacesummit.com/2nd_Hindu-Jewish_Leadership_Summit_Declaration.pdf

  • […] I read a blog-post which criticised the Hindu American Foundation’s statement on caste. Though I disagreed with […]

  • I am a Western devotee of Shiva and follows the practice of Sanatana Dharma to the best of my ability. Whether you would class me as a Hindu or not does not really matter. I found your article very interesting and thought provoking.

    Hinduism is a diverse systems of beliefs, and every now and then someone will make a statement which they attribute to all Hindus but actually ignores the beliefs of many lineages. For example the statement of the Jewish-Hindu Summit claiming that “The Hindu relates to only the One Supreme Being when he/she prays to a particular manifestation” is at odds with probably most Hindus’ beliefs about Ishvara and Devas. I see the HAF statement on caste in that light rather than any attempt to define a one true Hinduism. I think that perhaps this article falls into the same trap.

    Firstly, if you are going to criticise movements that deny the relevance of caste then this applies to many people and movements within India as well as outside. There are many Hindu schools that deny caste, such as the Arya Samaj and the Veerashaiva, I work in the IT industry, and have worked with many representatives from Indian off-shoring companies. They tell me that within the high-tech enclaves in Hyderabad, Deli, and many other Indian cities Hinduism is alive and well but the jati and varna systems have no relevance – technical education, skill and experience are all that matter here.

    Secondly, what is “outside Bharat”? Would you include those who were born in Bharat but now find themselves in Pakistan among the Trans-national Hindus? What about their children? Also what about Hindus living in places such as Nepal and Indonesia, where there is and historically has been a strong Hindu culture? There is some evidence that in ancient times India was seen as a religions centre over large parts of the world. The Irish-Celtic story of Ethne tells of a queen (or goddess in some versions) who does not eat and only drinks milk from a cow from India, which is the land of righteousness. I certainly feel that some ancient sites in England are holy places, inhabited by the devas.

    Thirdly, I find the assertion that karma is not possible outside India strange. Surely this is contradictory to the universality of karma, and the concept that every living soul is on a journey to moksha? It is true that the path through samsara is not as clear, but even without a formal Jati and Varna system it is clear that people have different inclinations and positions in society.

    I have thought about where I would fit in the varna system. I am a skilled IT professional and take great pride in producing high-quality systems. I see myself as a skilled artesan, which would make me a Shudra, which if it was good enough for Tiruvalluvar is good enough for me. I think that there is plenty of scope for karma to work outside India. I have also thought about how much easier it would be to follow and understand dharma if I was born into a Hindu family. I wonder if maybe the destiny of many of those souls outside India who try to live Hindu dharma is to be born in a Hindu family in India in a later life.

    I will finish by saying that I totally agree with you that Hinduism is a flowing river, that changes but stays the same. For good or ill people have now diverted part of the river, irrigation channels taking its waters to regions where it may not have flowed for millennia. This water will take a different course to that of the main stream, but it is still undeniably the same water. Hindus outside India have the same respect and love for God and the Devas, the same duties and dharmas, are bound by the same yamas and constrained by the same niyamas.

    Thank you for this food for contemplation.

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