Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Plague of Casteism, Part 2

In the last post I began talking about caste in Indian Society. Caste was a way to control what was considered by the Indian world to be the greatest resource, knowledge. Knowledge is the doorway to enlightenment and moksha, which is why it seemed to so important to control. Secondly, caste became a way to explain all the inequalities in the world. Why are some people born in poor and uneducated families? The caste system explained that it was due to the fruits of previous lives. An untouchable is an untouchable because they committed evil deeds in their past and therefore had to be born as an untouchable to reap those fruits. It is a very self-affirming system.

The first three castes (brahmana, kshatriya and vaishya) were also called dvijas or twice born. Upon reaching maturity dependant on the caste, these three castes were invested with the sacred thread which allowed them to gain Vedic Education and entry into Spiritual Knowledge. Sudras and the Untouchables were denied this and thereby denied the ability to gain moksha and spiritual knowledge, according to the traditional view. They were considered impure and spiritually inferior. Shankaracharya, the 8th century mystic and paramount philosopher, also felt that non-dvijas and women cannot receive salvation because they were denied access to the Vedas and Vedic Knowledge. It was not until Ramanujacharya, a 11th century mystic, reformer and philosoper, that the orthodoxy threw open the doors of salvation to all people. Ramanuja argued that devotion and self-surrender was the key to salvation and all people are entitled to that. Following him were scores of reformers who tried to eradicate caste from Hindu and Indian mind but sadly it hasn't had the effect that is needed.

To this day, caste exists even though it is a legal non-entity. It exists in the mind of many hindus and if it exists in their mind then it will issue out into their actions and social views. Caste is the one massive anchor which is weighing Hinduism down from achieving its place as the Universal faith. Caste is social, spiritual and religious evil that has plagued hinduism for nearly 2600 years. It is about time that it is destroyed and wiped off the face of this earth. We have to confront this evil as we would any other evil or oppressive force, with unwavering conviction and courage to fight it with all our abilities. The weapons to combat this evil are education and compassion but ultimately it is acceptance of this evil and the ability to show its proponents how caste stands in opposition to everything Hindu Spirituality is. The task is set but now is the time to began the battle.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

The Plague of Casteism, Part 1

Caste, is quite possibly the next worse thing next to slavery in terms of what society as a whole can do it to its own people. The western world has some idea of caste if you have read the Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. Basically, it is a division of society based on birth. In Brave New World, the civilized world is divided into Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Delta. This division is based on ones genetics, the people with the best genes are Alpha, better than average is Beta, average is Gamma and below average is Delta. Each caste can only take certain jobs and mate with people of their own caste. This is what the Indian caste system was like but worse.

The Indian caste system is based on the idea that one is born into a certain caste due to karma from previous lives. There are four castes in Hinduism: Brahmana, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Sudra. Brahmanas are the priests, philosophers, teachers, intellectuals and religious leaders. Kshatriyas are the warriors, nobles, soliders, kings, rulers and so on. Vaishyas are the farmers, merchants, money lenders, voyagers and so on. Sudras were the artisans, servants, menial workers and laborers. Finally, there are the outcastes or the untouchables, these people were treated just as their names imply. They were given jobs such as sewage cleaners, funeral workers and other such jobs. The castes according to medieval indian society/texts were not allowed to intermarry and in some cases interdine. Brahmanas, Kshatriyas and Vaishyas were given superior education and spiritual roles/rights. Sudras were not allowed to partake in many of the religious training or rituals, let alone untouchables. Untouchables were considered soo polluted that if their shadow fell on you, you would have to take a bath. Next time i'll continue with this.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Freedom of Speech vs. Religion

Unless you have been living under a rock or are totally oblivious to the international world, you would have heard about the current issue affecting Denmark and the Islamic Community. A newspaper in Denmark requested their artists to draw caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed to see if there would be self-censorship. These caricatures have been reprinted by a few news and press organizations throughout Europe. The caricatures depicted the Prophet and one caricature even had him depicted with a bomb for a turban. These drawing drew the resentment and anger of many Muslims for a couple reasons.
1. Under Shariat Law it is blasphemous and sacrireligious to depict the Prophet, other prophets or Allah.
2. The drawings showed the Prophet to conform to stereotypes of modern Islamic fundamentalists.

Now, the press organizations or at least the ones who believe themselves to be standing up for free speech say that it is their right to engage in political and religious commentary. The Muslims argue that their religious laws and sentiments should be respected. Both make strong points but lets try to break it down. Freedom of Speech is not absolute neither here in the United States nor in Europe. For example, here it is illegal to yell fire in a theater or similar place. This debate isn't based on legal limits of free speech but on "moral" or "ethical" limits. Is it right to poke fun at a faith that has over a billion adherents?

My answer is that there is a level of respect that should be given to all faiths but its a level that the people of the faith themselves portray. Meaning this, there is no doubt that many many Muslims are peace loving, God loving and human loving people but what can explain the sheer number of violent acts and intolerance that occur in the world from the Islamic Community. This is what the people of the world see. We see the acts of terrorism, suicide bombers, intolerance to Hindus and Jews, desire to convert the world to Islam and so on. The problem is that the rest of the world cannot curb radical Islam, Islam must curb Islam. There are a lot of religious apologetics in the world. Christians like to portray themselves as loving all humanity but their history shows otherwise. They supported slavery for hundreds of years and spent over a millennium killing other religions such as pagans and Muslims. Hindus have professed to be an enlightened and spiritual people but they have oppressed their own kind for thousands of years using the evil of the caste system, yet some people say that its not the true spirit of Hinduism. Well, thats not entirely true. The religion allows for it and in some places supports it. Much like Islam supports killing of infidels and non-believers. These are elements that can only be fixed but must be done by the religion and its own adherents.

The Danes by printing these drawing showed they too only focused on this part of Islam, the part that the terrorists and fundamentalists portray. Furthermore, the past few days have gotten worse because the radicals and fundamentalists have helped to prove this point again. They have killed and attacked innocents in Lebanon and Syria and many other Islamic nations. A few peace loving clerics and muslims have tried to oppose them but without much success. If the Islamic community wishes to be respected and given the tolerance they desire, they must do the same to others, respect does not come at the end of a sword, bullet or explosion of a bomb but it comes with mutual respect. It is akin to this, when we see two sportsman play against each other and one beats the other, we can respect them but if a sportsman plays a child or nonsportsman and beats them they don't gain any respect. When Islamic terrorists attack innocents and cities they don't gain respect but gain anger and resentment. Just my two cents. let me know what you think.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Bhagavad Gita and War

This week I decided to reread The Bhagavad Gita or also known as the Song of God. It forms a small but pivotal part of the world's largest epic called the Mahabharata, which is about 13 times longer than both the Illiad and Odyssey combined. I speficially read the Gita and commentary by Ramanuja, one of the finest logical and mystic minds of India. The Gita is a discourse between Krishna, the Supreme Being/Reality/God who has taken incarnation or avatar on earth, and Arjuna, the greatest archer to exist at that time. Essentially, the circumstances that surround the Gita is one of war. Arjuna is one of the Pandava Brothers, of which there are 5 total. They are engaged in a civil war with their paternal cousins the Kauravas, of which there are a 100. The Kauravas have "unrighteously" refused to return the kingdom to the Pandavas who are the kingdom's rightful rulers. After many attempts to peacefully resolve the dilemma, the Pandavas who were even willing to rule only 5 villages and yet denied, decided to go to war. The Pandavas enlist the aide of their maternal cousin, Krishna. He promises the Kauravas that he will not fight in the war but will only be Arjuna's charioteer. So the sides are assembled and they meet on the field of battle. This is where the Gita begins.

Arjuna request Krishna to draw his chariot in between the two armies so that he can see who is on each side. When Krishna complies and draws the chariot in between the two armies, Arjuna is overcome with emotion. He sees his cousins, uncles, grandfather, friends, teachers and kinsmen all arrayed against him. He is overcome with compassion and sympathy. As a warrior, he understands that most of these people will not leave the field of battle alive. He knows that he might even kill many of them. His body shakes and he drops his bow. He tells Krishna that winning all of creation let alone a mere kingdom is not worth killing all of ones friends, family and loved ones. He says how can I enjoy all the riches of the world after I've killed all these people. With that he resolves not to fight and sits in his chariot.

Ok now we have a basic background on the Gita. What follows is Krishna's teaching about the true nature of the soul, karma, God, Reality and ethics. Here, I just wanna focus on the ethics primarily because most people only view the Gita as a spiritual and religious text. The context is both spiritual and also "mundane". Krishna is trying to enlightened Arjuna so that Arjuna WILL fight the war. Krishna advocates war but not just any war but a righteous war. What exactly is a righteous war? Well, a righteous war as we can decipher from hindu texts is a war that is based on the conflict between dharma and adharma. Dharma means many things and it is hard to explain in english but it means both natural law and righteousness. Adharma means opposite of dharma. Natural Law, here isn't the same natural law as seen in western world. Natural Law refers to a balance here, all people have duties to themselves and others. A King to his subjects, parents to children and vice versa. If these duties are breached then the balance must be scaled.

Krishna makes it clear that war is to be fought between warriors/soldiers. A warrior's duty is to fight a war when it presents itself. Attacking non-warriors, un-armed people and non-combatants is considered adharmic in Hindu rules of war. So clearly the Gita nor Hinduism advocate terrorism on civilians. War is always the last option. The Mahabharata clearly establishes this as the numerous attempts by the Pandavas to avoid war and still lay claim to their rights. The key point about Gita and war is that war must be fought for the right reasons without really attaching oneself to the ends. Meaning this: Fight because its the right thing. Krishna says that we have the right to action alone not the fruits of the actions. A war to defend your rights or safety is just but a war to further your interests or desires isn't. The Gita takes the position that war is an inevitable part of nature because fundamentally we are all beings with ego. Hindus view the state of nature as one of warring, or as they say the larger fish feeding on the smaller fish. War should not be taken lightly but must be limited and controlled, hence the many rules of warfare. Fighting must only occur during sunrise to sunset, must take place away from cities and town, non-combatants cannot be hurt, unarmed people must be allowed to surrender or let go, no attacking another while they are fleeing, all fights must be one on one and so on. Now, the warriors in the Mahabharata broke almost every rule in the book. The rationale given was that they were entering Kali yuga or the age of darkness, where people won't have honor or righteousness. anyways, thats just a lil bit of my rambling on the subject. I'm too tired to write more. late