Today I read a blog-post which criticised the Hindu American Foundation’s statement on caste. Though I disagreed with a lot of what the post said I found it to be a well thought-through and clear expression of an opposing view. I wrote a comment in response to the post which I will expand on here.
First a brief background. The Hindu American Foundation published a report on caste, which basically said that caste-based discrimination is not intrinsic to Hinduism and that it was a problem that is being addressed in India. The blog-post I am responding to is by Sandhya Jain. She sees this report as part of an attempt to “recast Hinduism as an International faith” and set up a canon of Hinduism, one defined set of sources and beliefs. The article has comparatively little to say about caste, except that it is part of a dynamic system that has positive virtues. The article should certainly not be seen as an endorsement or acceptance of caste-based discrimination. Here is my response, together with some expansions and comments.
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.
I would add here that I do refer to myself as a Hindu, but since that is irrelevant to the post and the point I am making I wanted to avoid getting sidetracked into that discussion. Ultimately labels are not important, it is what you do that is.
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.
I think that India is certainly the home of Hinduism, but Hinduism is not confined by it. Once much of the world followed sanatana dharma and God has dominion everywhere.
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 find this idea so strange that I am not completely certain that I understand what Sandhya Jain is saying here. Is she really claiming that Karma is not a universal law? I will be interested to hear the response.
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.
When I started to follow Sanatana Dharma I thought that anyone searching for God would be of the Brahmin varna. Having read the Tirukural, written by Thiruvalluvar, a weaver, I realised that it has more to do with your role in society, and that all may study and reach for God. As a computer specialist I feel that I am really a skilled artisan. True I am involved with management and informing others of what to do, but my heart is really in delivering a high-quality product with the team of developers. Working for a salary and doing this puts me in the position of a shurdra. I am not sure that this view will be popular with the many IT professionals in India who have left their caste occupations to work for multinational companies, but I believe it to be correct.
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.
You will notice I did not say anything about the HAF caste report itself. That is because the post istelf does not give much detail on this. I think the main jist of the post was that there is a difference between Hindus living in India and “transnational” Hindus. Whereas I agree that the free-flowing river of Hinduism will change and there will be differences, the essence – the water and deep currents of the stream – remain the same.