Shastric Reform: - Varnas, Jaathis and Castes

The discussion on shastric reform with respect to caste in effect addressed four questions.

1. Is caste reform needed considering that the scriptures are freely accessible nowadays and religious leaders are trying to reach out across the divide?
2. Do the Hindu scriptures advocate hereditary caste?
3. Should religious reform with respect to caste follow liberal non-traditional paths?
4. If the reform is to be a mainstream effort what are its goals and what should be the means whereby these are achieved?
This summary will focus on answers to these questions.
Part - 3

3. Should religious reform with respect to caste follow liberal non-traditional paths.?

Since it is neither practical nor desirable for all followers of sanantana dharma to realize truth in one life time or even understand what these Acharya's wrote about truth, one may have to make a compromise. That is, keep the Truth and the Vedas etc. as references, yet rewrite/revive/revise the general guidelines for average practising Sanatans of today. A lot of work has already been done by several reformers, but why have these efforts not become generally accepted? This should give us a reason to think to avoid our failure.

- Were they not authoritative enough?
- Were they not revolutionary or drasticallly different from the loose views or undertanding people already have to attract the majority's attention
- are Indians for various reasons (culturall diversity etc., built in inertia, too flexible, etc.) inherently difficult to bring under one belief and will continue to be so?
- Were the books language and content so haard complex and abstract (like the current hot topic quantum theory of gravity etc.) that most people do not care to learn and could do even without it?
- Were they written by people who were theooretical and themselves did not experience much of the society(like many of us may be, who themselves did not suffer as Dalit so don't know the real story)
- were there elements in Indian society thaat deliberately resisted/stood against the reforms of both practices and principles (even by quickly writing books defaming Hinduism to counteract), were there conspiracies?
- Is a hierarchical and rigid srtucture of religion (like in Catholicism) the only way to push the ideas on the followers, which sanatana dharma, in practice, doesn't have? (Although one may say that the caste system itself is an extreme case of hierarchical system, where the common mass the shudra etc. don't have access to
books, temple, a decent preacher)
- were there too many reformers who might hhave inadvertantly created a competition or at least divide
- was it simply bad marketting?
Actually these are questions/issues I have myself. . Because I have read many times from Swami Vivekanada's books etc. that "There is no untouchability in Hinduism" yet I know many people who claimed to be religious would never touch certain groups of people.
Shri. Ranbir Sinha 11/8/02

Analysing the impact of unorthodox religious reformers
- Were they not authoritative enough?

"I think each of the reformers had an immediate following but their message also had ripple effect--otherwise we wouldn't be here proposing the writing of new smritis encompassing all of Hinduism.>inherently difficult to bring under one belief and will continue to be soThis is true for all religions and beliefs. - Were the books language and content so hard complex and abstract that most people do not care to learn and could do even without it?Certainly some of the Vedanta texts are hard to understand, but most of them also wrote simplified versions for the common man. Shankaracharya's Nirvana Shatakam captures the essence of Advaita. Were there too many reformers who might have inadvertantly created a competition or at least divide.
This is a good point! - was it simply bad marketting? Since we have had only 50 years of independence it is hard to tell if marketing was ineffective. Swami Chinmayananda was probably the most notable reformer in these times, apart from Sai Baba movements. Pre-independence reformers were certainly limited by many factors, the primary one being Indians were not free. Because I have read many times from Swami Vivekanada's books etc. that "There is no untouchability in Hinduism"
Recently, even Shankaracharya of Kanchi said Untouchability is not part of Hinduism, so Swami Vivekananada's message is finally seeping through to the orthodoxy too, albeit 100 years later!
I would ideally prefer if the English term "caste" simply disappears from the Indian context and replaced by the originalI agree the word caste has negative connotations--even after being aware of its colonial origins, we seem to use it interchangeably with varna AND jati all the time.
Dr. Jaishree G in response to Shri. Ranbir Sinha 11/8/02
We must remember that for most people, and especially for those who move away, the significance of religion lies, not in its doctrines of re-incarnation or karma, nor in the sacredness of the Vedas or the wisdom of the Gita, but in how at home and comfortable one feels as a member of the faith. The dvijas of our religion have no difficulty in this matter, but with the shudras and the avarnas it is very different. It is not enough to proclaim there have been great Hindu thinkers in the past who have decried discrimination or that there have been shudra saints in our history.
Just as the brain-drain from India of a few decades ago could only be mitigated by providing opportunities and jobs to our highly trained engineers, doctors, and scientists, what we direly and urgently need today - if we wish to slow down the human hemorrhage from Hinduism to elsewhere - is to reformulate what constitutes being a Hindu in ways that will make all proud and privileged to be Hindus.
Prof. VV Raman 11/3/02
It is a pity that while great reformers like Raja Rammohan Roy, and others managed to whack into oblivion malpractices like Sati, no one, not even Jyotiba Phule, Ambedkar and Gandhiji succeeded in cracking the great problem of casteism.
Casteism is still a major issue in India, because we Indians have not rid ourselves of casteist conditioning. No matter where we live, in India or abroad, we cannot get rid of this conditioning. Casteism is so much a part of our psyche. If we Indians really want to build a great Bharat, or as some would say, restore Bharat to her former glory, we need to build a meritocracy. A country where everyone gets equal opportunities. A level playing field must be created.
What is needed is the collective cleansing of the people's minds with regard to the caste system. But realistically speaking, this cannot be achieved in one or two generations. The evils of the caste system have been perpetuated for hundreds of generations. Getting rid of them is no mean task. With all its flaws, one will have to fall back upon the education sytem, to iron out the evils of the caste sytem, and gradually create a meritocracy, one's castedo not matter. Only one's work
efficiency counts.
Yes, I dream of a Bharat where,
There is friendship with the truth;*
Pride and pleasure in goodness;
Empathy for the downtrodden;
Equanimity in the face of adversity.>
Shri. Manish Modi 11/10/02
Movements like Hare Krishna movement are doing their share. every housewife can participate in preaching. As a result of this movement even some westerners have taken to Krishna Bhakti. I know one jndas who is converting whole villages in orissa to take up serious practice of sanatana dharma. in orissa the children are so poor they dont have dress or rice to eat. He feeds them with donations collected from NRIs and Westerners. When these children grow up, they will be staunch devotees.
I know another person in Chennai who trains up slum dwellers - children - in devotion. He also teaches them modern education. they come to him initially for food, dress and medicine. Slowly they become very knowledgeable in vedanta.
Once Sri Jayendra Saraswati Swamigal remarked that these slum dwellers recite and speak Srimad Bhagavatham much better than most Brahmins in Sankara mutt. I am sure that these young boys and girls will beat us in knowledge of Bhagavad Gita even though they live in slums.
Shri. Rajaram Ramani 11/14/02
I would like to create a database of leaders who may have sympathy for Hindu reform. Upon doing so, we can approach them with our ideas, individually and collectively. IF we are able to win supporters among a broad spectrum of religious leaders and thinkers, (orthodox brahmin, non-brahmin, and modern, Saivite, Vaisnavite, whatever) then it should be much simpler to garner press attention, and actually incite a worldwide debate on issues that truly require immediate attention.
After Brahma Das' essay, one thing we can do is get a formal conversion ceremony endorsed by a number of religious leaders. Hinduism needs a GLOBAL base, and cannot simply be perceived as an ethnic religion.If anyone would like to work on this project, please contact the moderator.
Shri. Vikram Masson 11/23/02
From Hindu dharma by Paramacharya Sri Chandrasekhar Saraswati Swami (previous Sankaracharya of Kanchi) "If we start making small compromises in our adherence to the sastras, it will eventually mean following only such scriptural practices as we find convenient in our everyday life. Some people tell me with all good intentions: "The dharmasastras are the creation of rsis. You are like a rsi. You must make changes in the sastras in keeping with the times. " Their view is that just as we remove weeds from the fields we must change our customs and duties according to our times. If I take out some rites and observances from sastras now, thinking them to be "weeds", later another man will turn up and remove for the same reason. At this rate, a time will come when we will not be able to distinguish the weed from the crop and the entire field will become barren.
It is important to realise that if we are to remain true to the sastras it is not because they represent the views of the seers but because they contain the rules founded on the Vedas which are nothing but what Isvara has ordained. That is the reason why we must follow them. It is my duty to see that the sastras are preserved as they are. I have no authority to change them."
Ms. Jaishree G 11/30/02
This is exactly what the Pope says about Christian doctrines and what the guardians of the Sharia say about Islamic shastras. I respect them all because they mean well: they are committed to their respective religious traditions, and they fear that any interference with them, however well-motivated, would eventually lead to total obliteration.Sadly, they fail to see that while there is much in the scriptures that can and must be preserved and that don't need to be changed, there is also much that,
in the interest of decency and humanity, and out of respect for logic and reason, need to be abandoned as out-dated, irrelevant, and even unacceptable.
The Roman Catholic Church forced Galileo in the 1630s to recant his belief that the earth moves around the sun and not the other way around. But that did not arrest the progress of Science. Likewise, no matter what good-natured Shankaracharyas say, the Hindu world will (I trust and pray) move into a more enlightened phase, thanks to the efforts of countless awakened Hindus in our own times. But I continue respect Shankaracharyas because their hearts are in the right
Prof. VV Raman 11/30/02
Many modern Hindu intellectuals are preoccupied with what brought about the scourge of Casteism. But social evils that have religious affiliations can never be cured by explaining them away as misinterpretations of scriptures, nor even by pointing the finger at alien hordes. The first may bring us some consolation, and the second may stir up our anger against another group. But neither will cure the ailment. For cleansing and remedy, we need to formulate new values (based on ancient wisdom, when possible) and get on with solving the problems, not continue debating their roots.
Prof. VV Raman 12/4/02
While shastras are thought to provide some basis for Hinduism - the actual practice being varied , there is another strand of Hinduism which is that of charismatic religious personalities.once bhakti saints from Azhvars to people like Jnaneswar or Kabirdas were charismatic personalities of those days. Nowadays people like Ramakrishna, Ramana Maharshi, Saibaba, Rajneesh , Prabhupada Goswami and a host of others are charismatic. Charismatic religious personalities do make shastras turn on their head and their immediete disciples, entourage and followers are drawn from all castes and walks of life. In urban India, these charismatics seem to provide some religious anchor for middle classes who seem to be culturally rootless.
While charismatic personalities outwardly break the conventions, in their immediete wake some kind of new convenions come into being. It would be ideal if navya shastras are taken up by such charismatic persons who can make it respectable across a large population quickly
Shri. VC Vijayaraghavan 12/19/02
In general I agree , that the ideas we are proposing for the NayyaShastra are likely to have good support and face less resistance among the Charismatic leadership.We need to then think carefully as to how best to use the Charismatic leadersip towards our goals,and at the same time also getting aleast some acceptance from traditional leadership of the NS.>
Shri. Rahul Saxena 12/20/02
Charisma simply means the power to inspire and fire up followers. I used charisma in contradistinction to knowledge contained in books. I think we are in a verbal trap here. Charisma does not mean being devoid of shastric and vedantic knowledge. All the Hindu leaders I mentioned had shastric/vedantic knowledge in their fingertips. Late Dr.Radhakrishnan had also all kinds of knowledge, but he was not charismatic. Charisma is a matter of personality.
Shri. VC Vijayaraghavan 12/21/02
Reconstructed orthodoxy might be based on these faulty assumptions
1. That Manu and the superannuated dharmashastyras somehow "govern" their own relationship to society.
2. And that while caste is evil it is a "necessary" evil to maintain social order.
Vikram Masson 11/3/02
Who really cares for Manu
Brahmins have manufactured Kshatriya lineages for any ruler willing to give them tax-free land. There is a Dalit Caste in Maharashtra called Shinde One of them became a Maratha King, still extant called Scindia.
Shri. G.Subramaniam 11/4/02

About 150 years ago, all the reforms you are suggesting were done by Swami Dayananda who founded the Arya Samaj. Let us look at the Arya Samaj
*Supports widow remarraige
*Gives vedas and sanskrit havans to all including Dalits
*Relentlessly anti-caste, many Arya Samajis use the last name as Arya
*Does shuddi and reconversion and gives full rights to reconverts

Arya Samaj can be considered a protestant form of hinduism, very similar to sikhism. There are Arya Samaj temples worldwide and Arya Samaj priests ( of any caste ) will gladly do shuddi whereas traditional priests wont do it. One of the things hard for traditional hindus to become Arya Samajis is that they dont do idol worship. Strictly vedic fire rituals.
We should encourage hindus to migrate towards progressive sects and gurus instead of following the traditionalists.
Shri. G.Subramaniam 10/30/02
I appreciate the Arya Samaj; .But Swami Dayanand did not know how to win friends and influence people. He was unabashedly critical of other "Indic" traditions--Sikhism, Jainism and Buddhism, not to mention what he called "Puranic" Hinduism. 2. Furthermore, I believe, at this time, that the vast majority of the Samaj's followers are Punjabi. As you say, most Hindus want to practice as they please and not be told to revert to supposed past glories. 3. He was shamed by "degraded" Indian practices as they existed in the nineteenth century, implicitly accepting Orientalist "critiques" of Hindu/Indian society. 4. By Dharmacharyas, we mean "reformist" leaders as well, not just the Shankaracharyas. I agree that the progressive sects are preferable at this time. And I might add, that major Sri Vaishnava and Smartha mutts in South India particularly will not accept non-Brahmin students for specifically "Vedic' learning.
Vikram Masson 10/13/02
Also is there a parallel to be drawn with Christianity? The Catholic church is the equivelent of our orthodoxy. They have incrementaly reformed since the dark-ages. As a result Christianity has improved their image and are no longer associated with slavery and in fact preceived as egalatarian faith, despite there history.
Hinduism continues to be associated with caste exploitation, due to the stand taken by our orthodoxy. It seems to me that the war on the caste problem has to be fought on many fronts including encouraging reformist groups. But reforming the orthodoxy also seems to be a battle that must be fought to achieve a permenant solution.
Shri. Rahul Saxena 10/31/02

1. Hinduism is not centralized; hence, reform has come about through charismatic leaders.
2. Hinduism has never stood still ... it has been changing almost continuously (for better and worse) over the ages
4. Reform of any kind in Hinduism comes about by attracting people to new structures and practices, rather than by changing old structures and practices. Communities following old practices are allowed to gradually atrophy and disappear. (3.Not applicable to context)
5. These new structures and practices are promoted and championed by new charismatic leaders.
7. Reform in Hinduism is already underway, and all the time. Most of the overt and violent discrimination in India occurs in rural areas and is highly correlated with a lack of formal education. Covert discrimination does exist in urban areas but is little different from that which obtains in Western nations. (6.Not applicable to context)
8. Discrimination creeps up, eventually, in all societies. Sri Ramanuja brought in dalits and others into his fold; everyone was given a Yagyopavita. All became Brahmins. The strted to discriminate against non-Brahmins
9. Perhaps the focus on self-realization can serve as a unifying force.

I am not saying that no reform is necessary -- of course it is, else it wouldn't be an issue today. I think it important to reflect in how to approach this whole beast called "reform".
Shri. Murli 10/31/02
Generally I agree, though there have been instances where a concerted,collective effort has led to societal improvement. One example is the now moribund Brahmo Samaj's efforts in eradicating child marriages. The question however, has nothing to do with the putative organizational structure of Hinduism per se, but rather, what is one's access to its myriad traditions? I have heard a multitude of rationalizations for why non-brahmins are forbidden Vedic instruction, but I have not found any of them remotely persuasive. This is acutely disturbing to non-brahmin south Indians who are, with scant exception, classified as sudra or dalit.
Shri.Vikram Masson 10/31/02
Opening up the books with equal rights like opening up all "Brahmin Hotels" in 1960's, is the only answer.
Dr. Bala Aiyer 10/31/02
Some major Dharmic Reform needs to happen in the next generation, otherwise Sanatana Dharma will go the way of the Ancient Egyptian and Mesopotamian religions There is a grave need for better and more positive marketing of Sanatana Dharma and Dharmic causes, otherwise Dharmins will always be on the defensive of hostile secularist (read 'anti-Hindu') reporters.
Dharmic Reform means many things. Internal reform, external reform, better defense, better offense, better marketing, better education and most importantly, a global Dharmic effort. If Hinduism is only a struggling religion in India, it has no future. A new, progressive Sanatana Dharma must be a global religion that is actively involved in politics wherever it is and that is a beacon of open-mindedness and spiritual wisdom to all.
Shri. Raj Mohanka 11/5/02
I do know for a fact that in south India, about 50% of brahmins have given up sacred thread and Gayatri Arya Samaj does offer sacred thread to all.
Shri. G.Subramaniam

As for non-Brahmin spiritual figures, there are plenty--including such modern notables as Chinmayananda, Aurobindo, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Satya Sai Baba, to name a few.
Shri.Vikram Masson 11/5/02

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