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 - 4

3. If the reform is to be a mainstream effort what are its goals and
what should be the means whereby these are achieved?

I feel that the Navya Shastra should not be dogmatic, but rather should collectively and consisely summarize the wisdom of the Vedas, Upanishads, Shastras, Agamas, Bhagavad Gita, etc. In addition, it should bring together wisdom from non-Sanskrit texts as well such as the Tirukurral, Tirumurrai and Ramcharitamanas. However, the underlying theme should be defining all segments of Hindu society as Hindu and stressing equality of all people regardless of gender, birth or background. Finally, the Navya Shastra should be available to everyone in all Indian languages, Sanskrit, English, and other European languages so that possible mistranslations can be avoided.

However, in putting together a new scripture, it is also essential to get the approval of Dharmacharyas. The Dharmacharyas opinions may be insignificant to many or most people, but endorsements from such personalities will go a long way in getting orthodox Hindu society to accept such a scripture.
Shri Gautham kr. 2/13/03

A great Hindu thinker once said that if you remove the caste system, the whole fabric of Hinduism will collapse. We may not all agree with this, yet there is an element of truth in it, if only because the caste system has been an intrinsic feature of the Hindu world for many centuries now. It is important to recognize that, conceptually speaking, the caste system not only formulates principles for a well organized and stable society, but it also shows a profound insight into the variety in human interests and talents. It is good to proclaim that all humans are created equal, but this is simply not a true statement. We are born with unequal capacities for various functions, and with different inclinations. We develop different tastes and interests. Even siblings are seldom the same in interests or abilities.

It does not follow from this that in a civilized society people must be treated differently, or that they must be given different privileges or subjected to different constraints on the basis of their talents,intelligence, physical capabilities or lack thereof. Nor are these significantly dependent in any genetic way on one's lineage.In other words, what is objectionable in the caste system is not the categorization of individuals, but in structuring as a hierarchy, and in confining people to the caste of their birth. It is not impossible to imagine a healthy and just society with four castes: (a) productive workers; (b) traders, merchants, and money-handlers; (c) administrators and members of the armed forces; and (d) people committed to intellectual and spiritual pursuits. Each group may still be called a caste to preserve a historical aspect of the Hindu world.

But no one group will be regarded as more important than another. Children will not belong to any caste, but at some age (say 19 or 21), one voluntarily chooses to belong to one of the four castes, with option to switch his or her caste at any time. In the same family, we may have people of different castes, and no one will be deemed superior or inferior, any more than that we should regard a professor as more important than a banker,or a factory worker as less important than one serving in the air force. The point I am making is that we may still retain castes not only as a historical memory, but also to recognize that it embodies the insight that the svadharma and svabhAva of one individual may be quite different from another's.

What we need is a complete renovation in the operation of the system rather than a total rejection of it. We may still retain the names brahmaNa, kshatriya, and vaishya. The only caste that bears a negative connotation in its very name is Sudra. Perhaps it can be given a different name, like the utpAdaka (productive) caste. The so-called Dalits will be welcome into any of the four standard castes, depending on the profession they choose. It seems to me that such a transformation, drastic though it sounds, can still be more realistically achieved than the complete elimination of castes in the Hindu world.
Prof. V. V. Raman 2/18/03

Professor Raman's writing and proposal is very good except, I think he mixes the terminology Caste and Varana. In NS, we have debated about this. I feel, what he explains actually is Varana. Since we want to change at the same time preserve the ancient traditions, I must say, people can preserve the four varnas as he explained, as per the old plans. Three varanas as Dwijas who have learned about the basic of Hinduism and the fourth one with a new name for all others, who have a choice of moving into the one of the three according to their education and desire at any time. There will be no Dalits, Harijans or Milechas. Every one from birth is an Utpakas. Children of the Dwijas can carry the Varanas of their either parent until they finish school [age of 14 or 16] and choose any one Varana according to their study and desire.

Now about Castes - rather call it as Jaathi - it is a different stories. First we need to disconnect the relation from Varanas to Jaathis. Jaathis can be maintained as a family tradition and for rituals and for family names, with no bars ininter-marriages or inter-dining. Food habits will go with the Jaathis also. Rituals and style of marriages etc may vary with jaathis like family traditions Jaathi can be assumed to any of the choice like a family name and not a name of a profession and those who are like Dalits can be allowed to choose any family name or a new fame as they choose with no connection to the way caste is understood now and not according to Varnas. - This will cause a demise of the Caste system as we know them now. This is similar to the last name "Rao" is being used in Andhra Pradesh.
Dr. Bala Aiyar 2/ 20/03

"I must respectfully disagree with much of what you have suggested I address those points below

The caste system has been an intrinsic feature of the Hindu world for many centuries now.

Oppression of low castes and women have also been an integral part of the Hindu world, yet I think most of us will agree that these must stop. Even if we discard some of the dharmashAstras, it is embedded in ourIthihasas and even in the Purusha Sukta which is regarded as a part of the Vedas. That only means that the we need to discard elements of these as well shows a profound insight into the variety in human interests and talents. I wonder about this. Any system that presupposes someone's worth and abilities simply based on the groups in which they are born seems to me to show very little "insight into the variety of human interests and talents."

Even siblings are seldom the same in interests or abilities. Yes, everyone is an individual. If even siblings are different, how can we then classify a millions of people in a group as being essentially the same??? It does not follow from this that in a civilized society people must be treated differently, talents, intelligence, physical capabilities or lack thereof. Nor are these significantly dependent in any genetic way on one's lineage. But, this is exactly what the caste system does: it treats people differently based on lineage. what is objectionable in the caste system is not the categorization of individuals, but in structuring as a hierarchy, and in confining people to the caste of their birth.

With this point, I am in strong agreement.

It is not impossible to imagine a healthy and just society with four castes: Each group may still be called a caste to preserve a historical aspect of the Hindu world..The categories you mention above are fine, but to call them a caste does, as you write, "preserve a historical aspect of the Hindu world. Unfortunately, it is an aspect that has led to the oppression, mistreatment, and even murder of countless innocent individuals. Is it not time to let that aspect go?
Children will not belong to any caste, but at some age (say 19 or 21), one voluntarily chooses to belong to one of the four castes, with option to switch his or her caste at any time. In the same family, we may have people of different castes, and no one will be deemed superior or inferior, any more than that we should regard a professor as more important than a banker, or a factory worker as less important han one serving in the air force.

This is a good system, and I would support it completely.

The point I am making is that we may still retain castes not only as a historical memory, but also to recognize that it embodies the insight that the svadharma and svabhAva of one individual may be quite different from another's. The only caste that bears a negative connotation in its very name is Sudra. Perhaps it can be given a different name, like the utpAdaka (productive) caste--
I do believe you are being very sincere. I respect you for that. However, please try to think about it from the point of view of those who historically have experienced nothing but hardship and evil from the system. There is no way they can simply forget those aspects of the system because we tell them that wehave changed some of the rules. Over the years, I have had personal friends who were tortured, raped, and/or killed because they were harijan. You mention the caste system to them or their families and they shudder with a mixture of fear and hatred. I think that it is time to consider such the lives and experiences of such people in our rethinking of what Hinduism is and can be."
Shri. Ramdas Lamb 2/20/03
I actually agree completely with the sentiment of your post. I look forward to hearing more of your ideas. I say personally (not speaking for the group) that even the shruti neednt be held up as infallible authority, especially when used to perpetuate injustice.
Vikram Masson 2/20/03
I agree with Prof. Raman. The logic behind the caste system is simple:For the body to function, we need the head, we need the arms, we need the stomach and we need the legs. If we lack any of these, the body will not function properly. Similarly, the social body requires a head, arms, belly and legs. A society without a natural division into these 4 classes cannot function properly. That is the way (hereditary caste) things have turned out to be, not the way things are supposed to be. If I have a cataract in my eye, I would get the eye treated. I would not pull out the eye itself. The solution is to treat the eye, not to pull out the eye. Society was perfect in the reign of Maharaj Yudhisthira under the varnashrama system. Which society today does not have oppression, mistreatment and murder of innocent individuals?
Shri. Omkar_Deshpande 2/20/03

Personally, I think the Vedas themselves must be left intact and must not be fixed or discarded in anyway but smriti should and can be discarded or "fixed". Just my view
Shri. Mukunda Raghavan 2/21/03
If some Brahmins say they are superior to Sudras, Sudras can always say they are superior to Brahmins, and that will be theend of that mutual pettiness. What is important for the Navyashastra movement (as I see it), is not so much to convince high-placed AcAryas and small-minded true-believers that they are not really as superior as they imagine themselves to be, but rather that, no matter who is superior or inferior, every Hindu who respects the symbols of the tradition and behaves properly in the relevant contexts has equal rights to our scriptures, practices, religious initiations, temple-entry, etc.It is neither necessary nor possible to educate all religious heads on this matter. But I believe there are a great many in the Hindu world who have already reached a socially enlightened state. They are the ones who must be supported and encouraged so that they may spread the message to awaken more and more people.
Prof. V. V. Raman 2/24/03
I am not interested in the winning of any argument but in a solution that must reflect the best of our Hindu ideals, values and interests. The way out is for the Hindu world to accept both as valid, varna by birth as well as varna by merit. In any case even the children and grand children of Brahmins by birth may not accept this definition tomorrow, this we see. Further, even many Brahmins by birth are not training their children for Brahmin responsibilities and many are too busy living like as non-committed Hindus anyway. The Hindu world looses. Further, Hindus are increasingly rejecting caste-varna consciousness.
Shri. Raviji 3/3/03

What is "equality?"
"Equality" has many meanings. THe focus here is on the social and spiritual senses of the term. Many past sages have said that we are to look at all beings as being equal in the eyes of the Divine and thatone's actions are what make one good or bad. What that means to me is there is no intrinsic spiritual value in external differences, only in one's actions and realizations. As a consequence, all beings are born with the equal rights to pursue a life of spirituality.

I do support the notion that anyone who wishes to participate in religious activities should, depending upon the nature of the activity, be expected to undergo training, of one form or another. However, such training should be available to anyone and everyone willing to adapt their lifestyle in proper manner. For example, if one wishes to be a priest in a temple, then that person--male or female--should have to undergo the proper training before being given the authority to perform the functions of a priest. In this way, all rituals, teaching, etc. will be performed by qualified individuals, irrespective of their birth origins. Thus, it is equality of opportunity on the physical level and equality of soul on the spiritual level."
Shri. Ramdas Lamb 3/3/03

First we need to be clear about what one means by shastras. Traditionally speaking, shastras are canonical texts on various aspects of culture, conduct, and civilization. Essentially, they are rules by which one should live, one should perform rites and rituals, one should construct a temple, one should treat members of various castes, one should punish or reward people, one should conduct the sacraments, etc. They are guidelines and principles by which Hindu society has functioned for long centuries. They acquired legitimacy by continued practice over many generations, and because they were often traced to eminent thinkers from ancient times. They served Hindu society well for long periods of time. They were not always literally adhered to. Hindus have learned to relegate shastras only to religious contexts, and that too, mostly in rites and rituals.

Therefore, when we talk about Navyashastra what we (should) mean is: A set of guidelines which would make the practice of Hindu dharma meaningful, relevant, and spiritually fulfilling to those who are affiliated to the tradition. It could also include a set of credos as to our deepest beliefs about life, society, and God.

Now to the questions raised. (by "gktk us" 11/23/02)

1. Is it the Shastras that we need to "reform"?

My own feeling is that we need to reformulate new shastras in terms that are relevant and meaningful to Hindus in the modern world consonant with the values and framework of the 21st century in various contexts.

2. Is it our understanding of shastras that is misplaced, hence needs re-interpretation and reform?

This is the traditional approach whenever any attempt at reformulating the shastras. Is made. It is often the view of those who are convinced (rightly or wrongly) that the shastras are innately good and perfect, and don't need to be tampered with. All we need to do is to interpret them properly, and everything will be fine. This view is held by the orthodox in all the major religious traditions: Judaic, Hindu, Christian, and Islamic. It is based on the idea that the shastras (of any religion) were formulated by superhuman visionaries who knew what is best for humanity. Personally I have no quarrels with those who hold such a belief, but I don't share that belief. I believe strongly that every generation has to re-think and re-formulate the shastras of its tradition, holding on to whatever is meaningful and appropriate, and firmly rejecting whatever is not. As I see it, if we are only going to be reinterpreting tradisional shastras, and attribute all the social evils to our misunderstanding of what our ancestors had said, the Navyashastra project would become another exercise in apologetics of which we have far too many already.

3. Is it our practice of religion that needs "reforms"?
Not so much the practice (which has a great many beautiful and deeply uplifting aspects), as the underlying beliefs in some of the practices - especially those which have serious social and moral consequences.>
Prof. VV Raman 11/23/02
There is a statement in the Mahabharata where Bhisma tells Yudhistra that rules must change with time, place and situations. I think it is about time the rules and traditions change for our time and possibly include statements to the same effect as what Bhisma has said.
Shri. Mukunda Raghavan 11/23/02

In the context of our daily life, we are frequently called upon to determine the nature of our duties, or DHARMA. The question arises, what is our Dharma and from what authority is it derived? Ordinarily, the enactments of the legislature, i.e. the laws of the state, regulate our public conduct. These laws derived their sanction from the constitution adopted by the representatives of the people. The laws are also enacted by the elected representatives of the people. It does not require much argument to show that the voters are of various grades of intellectual and moral calibre, and that not all the representatives they elect are the best that could be found. Such a state of affairs is inevitable in this imperfect world.

In our day-to-day personal and moral conduct, signified by the expression DHARMA, our religion has declared that we should be guided by the ordinance of the Vedas. It is declared that Veda is the source of all DHARMA( Vedokhilo dharma moolam). To illustrate the vastness of Veda, there is a story that what Sage Bhardwaja was able to learn was compared to a handful of dust taken from mountain the mountain representing the Vedas. If a doubt arises, which cannot be solved with reference to the Vedas, we are enjoined to seek guidance from Smritis. It is a mistake to regard the authors of the SMRITIS, like Manu, Yajnavalkya and Parasara, as law-givers. SMRITIS are merely AIDE MEMOIRE or short notes, meant to indicate what are contained in the Vedas. The authors of the SMRITIS did not write anything new, apart from what is contained in the SRUTI or the Vedas. There is authority of Kalidasa to this proposition. If we are unable to get the necessary guidance to clear out doubt either from the SRUTI or from the SMRITIS, we are asked to be guided by the conduct of those who know and follow SMRITIS. When this guidance is not available, we are asked to model our conduct on the action of good people who have conquered desires and ego, and are pure in heart. When even this source of guidance fails. We have to abide by the dictates of our conscience. That is how Dushyanta reconciles himself to the love which sprang up in his breast at the sight of Sankuntala in Sage Kanva's aasrama. Being aware that it is wrong for a KSHATRIYA to fall in love with daughter of a sage, he concludes that having entertained no evil thought before, his conscience could not have misled him into falling in love with a wrong person. In these days it is fashion to give preference to conscience and relegate all other Sastraic guidances to a secondary place, or, as is often done, to condemn them a antiquated , meaningless and irrational. But according to our SASTRAS, the appeal to the conscience must come as the last resort, when all other guidances like SRUTI, SMRITI, etc., are not available. quoted by kwagi razuyu 11/23/02
The question is not which is right and which is wrong, but which one this group chooses to accept. If it is assumed that traditional utterances have all the revealed truths and we have to simply interpret them properly, then that is fine, except that it has been done and is being done by countless thinkers all the time.The other approach is: True, there are pearls of wisdom in the Shastras, but there is also much that needs to be discarded. More importantly, many changes have occurred in human history and society, in science and values over the ages. We need to think anew and afresh in certain situations and with respect to certain problems. Unless we do this, and instead keep on repeating everything our ancestors said and did, we are doomed to uncreative stagnation, if not eventual decimation. My own feeling is that we can never convince all Hindus that not everything in the shastras is God given. But some Hindus can choose to incorporate appropriate changes in a system that could still be Hindu in the best sense of the term. We need to this because, otherwise, enlightened and educated Hindu children will move away from their heritage. They may not become Christian or Muslim, but they won't have much respect or attachment for their own heritage either. Indeed, I would propose that this project be called Navyadharma or Adyatanadharma, of which Navyashastra would be an important part.>
Prof. VV Raman 11/24/02
Our Vedas (the constitution of that period) respect the sanctity of life and gives equal status to all human beings when they say "Brahman resides in all beings" "Person is known by his karmas and not by birth". The spirituality and its moral codes of our Vedas "WE ALL ARE SONS OF ONE ISHWARA" But unfortunately the same is not put into practice thus creating a wide unbridgeable gap between preaching and practice. This creditability gap has generated the ills in our society. The fault does not lye with the teachings of Vedas but with the user of Vedas and Shastras who interprets and uses these scriptures in a perverted manner as it is happening even today. We have plethora of laws touching every aspect of our life but their enforcement is selective; influenced and guided by ulterior motives as it used to be in the bygone era of Vedic times or thereafter. The enforcer of law should be reformed: The mind set of the law enforcer so that he or she uses the laws and rules and regulations made there under, for the benefit of the society and not for self interest promotions:>
anandrk2000ind. 12/4/02
I admire you for taking positions and wanting to make changes to the world around you. But effectiveness requires many other necessary conditions to be satisfied. I wish to give you my feedback in this regard---
1: Your own agenda (if I may use that term) is stated as replacing old shastras with navya ones. But have you identified the incumbents in power who are to be challenged, i.e. the individuals and/or institutions which sustain these shastras' legitimacy, and the specific texts to be refuted?
2: Have you read the DS? I mean not some western Indologist's synopsis or commentary, because these are themselves unreliable (and "agenda" laden), and your entire project would have a quicksand foundation. There is a 7-volume history of DS by Kane that is regarded as a standard reference. Have you read it? Have you studied under a pandit who is an expert on DS, the way western scholars do for 5 to 10 years before writing their thesis on a specialized text?
3: Let us take the Manusmriti in particular. Indologists have a lot to say about the way Manusmriti in particular was misinterpreted. Many verses were selectively quoted out of context. Others verses that said the opposite were ignored, even if they were right next to them.
7: How much operationizability is there in your own ideas? How much operational experience does your team have? (4-6 do not truly relate to mission of NS)
Shri. Rajiv Malhotra 12/9/02
Mr. Malhotra has thoughtfully and forcefully expressed the view that: What litigation attorneys are to the victims they represent, many of these so-called human rights activists and new shastris and pseudo-intellectuals are to the victims they claim to speak for. This is not a trivial comment, and it deserves to be considered seriously by all the members of this group. It can, perhaps it should, affect the goals of this collective effort. In light of this, as I see it, we have clear alternatives: It is important that all the members reflect on Mr. Malhotra's statement, and recommend what we ought to be doing.
(a) Focus attention on how we may formulate a framework in which Hindu children growing beyond the shores of India can develop respect, sensitivity, and understanding with regards to the Hindu tradition.
(b) Still make recommendations for change in Hindu faith and practice within India through the good offices of shankaracharyas and other influential religious heads.
(c) Ask Mr. Malhotra to give the group direction and guidance as to what exactly a group like this can usefully do.
(d) Ignore whatever Mr. Malhotra has said and continue doing what we have been doing.
Prof. VV Raman 12/29/02
The news is definitely encouraging, looks like the Shankaracharaya is gradually moving towards reform.
Shri. Rahul Saxena 11/4/02
None of us can interpret the Manu Samhitas and we don't have to either---we leave it to the
dharmacharyas and other learned scholars. But it has to be done in such a way that it guarantees the survival of Sanantana Dharma, as that is the legacy we want to pass on to our children. We as laypeople can only hope to facilitate this progress in our own limited way.
Dr. Jaishree G 11/4/02
The point I was making is how much of origin of Indian "caste" systems do we need to know in order to come up with a better system that avoids the abuses such as discriminations and isolation. For example RamMohan Roy used the Indian scriptures and convinced the "Brahmins" that Hinduism never supported Sati system, which did silence them and the law could be easily passed. Now the situation is probably better with media and general awareness of people to undo any of the negative systems that we may have, at least theoretically. And hope that over the time through education (as someone suggested in another topic) it will also vanish from the mind. Just as an example showing on TV programs how Bhishma's father got mnarried to a fishermanking's daughter etc. or how some rishis got married to chandal's daughter may remove the unfounded beliefs commonly attributed to religion itself. Just a thought.
Shri. Ranbir Sinha 11/4/02
All this, to say that there is much value in revisiting and understanding history and historical works, but there is no need to revise them in any way given that they will not be used to guide one's behavior in the present. It is better to develop new smritis for a new age. This is consistent with Hindu praxis.
Shri.Murli 11/6/02
Let us discuss the vision of Navya Shastra for the future. If there is one thing and only one thing that you would like to see a change in our tradition and practice, even if you think everything is perfect as it is -or- that there are hundreds of things that needs to be rectified.what will be that? - and how will you achieve that change, witthout offending any group and keeping every Hindu together, to improve Hindu faith and religious practice?
Dr. Bala Aiyer 3/24/03
Insofar, as Manudharma either by accident or design discriminated against women and depressed classes both socio-economically and spiritually it was contrary to dharma. Moreover, it created a scenario where 20 % of Hindus benfitted at the expense of 80%. The empowerment of the meek has to start with a sound spiritual foundation whereby they could fight to overcome inequity by appropriate means. Use of force is impractical even if we reconcileto it morally. By denying them scriptural initiation they were denied access to even this source of strength. It was not that hopeless in reality because they had access to epics and puranas. We also had the bhakthi movement. None of this could however, make up for scriptural initiation or secular education-in those days both were imparted (or denied) by the same guru. Suffice it to say that such a system is contrary to both the letter and spirit of the Hindu faith. Until this root cause is addressed social reform or affirmative action will be ineffectual. Until we institute shastric reform Indian or Hindu society will remain poor, illiterate, apathetic and backward.Such is the nature of the monumental task that we have the good fortune to contribute to. Subject to personal constraints and other commitments, I would urge every navyadharmic to set heart, mind and body to this task.
Dr. Mira Govindarajan 3/31/03

The lay Hindu should be educated in the essentials of the faith so that they are not the mercy of the unscrupulous or ignorant who use the name of God to justify their own predjudices. All societies had inequities. By giving them (pseudo)divine sanction Hindu society made perpetrators self-righteous and the sufferers apathetic. For instance no other ethnic group had been submissive for centuries like the dalits. Fights for justice in other parts of the world always came from the sufferers. Hindu society has been at the mercy of the moral conscience of the perpetrators for centuries. This has presented formidable barriers to social reform. Authoritative statements from religious leaders would make all the difference.

The Hindu scriptures per se give broad guiding principles rather than rules for society or daily living. That is why they are eternal and universal. The downside is that one is left to one's own devices to derive rules for society or daily living. Not everybody has the intellectual, spiritual or devotional wherewithal to do that. That was what the sastras were meant for. Unfortunately, not all the authors had the necessary insight into vedas or human nature. For example, karma in the sastras is a passive thing. Whatever, one suffers today is the result of past sins. Moral judgement added to misfortune. A far cry from the karma of the Gita that depicts life as a battle field (dharmaksetra) and each one of us as warriors. The message of the Gita seems to be- reach out for your destiny undaunted by fear or favor. Clearly different from surrendering to fate.

All that glitters is not gold. Everything written in Sanskrit is not infallible. As Dr.Ambedkar said we need to shed 'the thraldom of the sastras'. The lay Hindu must participate in making the rules.
Dr. Mira Govindarajan. 4/1/03


What is the relevance of varNa today? Just to imitate a vedic verse, what is the son of an accountant father and surgeon mother? Is he a brahmin, vaishya or shudra? We have deviated so much from varNasramic svadharma, so as Aurobindo says, why not let our inner calling determine our svadharma? Let us open the vedas and priesthood to *all* women and men.

Having said that, I am under no illusion that millions would come in and learn the vedas. The Gita, the poems of the Azhwars and the nAyanmArs are all available in print and audio, yet how many have even listened to them? Already there are institutions like the Chinmaya's which have made the vedas available to all, yet they have abyssmal registration. I am also aware of another reality. Traditional priests, going to veda pATasAlas, are also the economically poorest. I know that many of them have taken to the vedas, not because there is any monetary assurance in chanting them, but because they earnestly believe that is their svadharma. I am also aware that among that dwindling tribe, we have a repository of our ancient wisdom. I would be very careful about preserving them and making their knowledge and traditon available to *all*, instead of destroying them.

Above all, I would look around and ask another question: if a Harijan becomes a priest, will you (meaning, the society) invite him to officiate your marriage? If you won't, then how am I going to assure his livelihood? Reforms are indeed needed, but more than ushering them in, sustaining them is important. A reform is not just about a rebellion against tradition. It is about re-inventing the tradition to cleanse it of its shortcomings and making it adaptable to modern times. Finally, I am acutely aware of the fact that it is *not* the access (or the lack of it) to the vedas that is perpetuating caste inequality in India. It is the skewed land ownership in our country where 67 % are dependent on agriculture.Opening the floodgates to the vedas, how much ever I am for it, is way down in my list of priorities. Indeed, way too down.
Shri. Kalavai Venkat 4/ 26/03

In the present day this professional distinction is simplistic and untenable because of professional complexity and multi-tasking. Some ideas for the Navyashastra. from the sanatan's pledge in Bankim Chandra's Anand Math (
"Will you give up caste? All Santanas belong to a single caste. There is no distinction of Brahmin and Sudra. Are you prepared?"
"We have no caste. We are all children of the same Mother."
"Be it so; you shall be initiated."
Depending on context 'mother' could be interpreted as Mother Goddess (Amba), motherland or mother earth.
Dr. Mira Govindarajan 3/31/03

Here Swami Jayendra Saraswati demonstrates his all encompassing approach towards the Harijans. I am just translating his speech delivered at a meeting of the Harijans in Chennai:
"Some politicians have been spreading a canard that I have suddenly started meeting the Harijans and started participating in their conferences. The truth is, ever since I came to this mutt 50 years ago, I have been meeting the Harijans daily. There is not even 1 Harijan colony in Tamilnadu, which I haven't visited. The doors of the (Kanchi) Sankara mutt are always open to everyone. Those who have no knowledge about Sankara mutt can't understand its greatness or openness. The mutt has always been assisting the Harijans in building temples in their residential areas and in funding them for starting their own businesses."

"Rama, Lakshmana, Bharata and Shatrughana were biological siblings, but Guha, Vibheeshana and Anjeneya were not. Guha was a fisherman, Vibheeshana a rakshasa and Anjaneya a monkey. Yet all of them treated each other as siblings. (Kalavai Venkat's note: Here, he is using this analogy to drive home the point that the Harijans and others should treat each other as siblings)." "Sankara mutt and I will always stand for you."
Shri. Kalavai Venkat 4/29/03

It's time for NS to act. We should officially write to Hon. Jayendra and;
1. congratulate him for visting dalit communities and his latest speech,
2. thank him for responding to the needs and wishes of the people.
3. encourage him to employ dalits at least as cleaners and garderners in the mutts and its institutions.
4. let him know our views that dalits are 'Hindus who have notreceived the sacraments'. In other words, they are Hindus, not avarnas, and therefore their spiritual responsibility lies with all the abbots in the lands, and that they should direct all their temples to provide these sacraments to the dalits; starting with namakarana, etc.
5.encourage him to hold occasions for interdining.

The Hon. Rajarathina Battar should also write to him separately, honouring Sri Jayendra. He could also provide us with the address, telephone numbers and email addresses of the Mutt, as all as all other monasteries in the lands. We could also write to all these abbots, asking them to congratulate Sri Jayendra. We should also infrom him of who we are, what are the goals of NS, the people involved, and ask him (thru a rep) to join the forum. A senior member like Dr. V.V. Raman could also speak to him directly on the phone at an arranged time on behalf of the group. In future, we could send a delegation comprising Dr. Raman, Prof. Lamb, meet him.
Shri. Pathmarajah Nagalingam 5/1/03
Note: Navyashastra will be sending a congratulatory message to Jagadguru Sri Jayendra Sraswathi
as suggested by Shri. Pathmarajah Nagalingam.
In conclusion:
The salient points of this discussion are therefore:

1. In spirit the Hindu scriptures recommend that varna or brahmanhood be determined by one's attitude (svabhava) and aptitude (svadharma) and not by birth. Though some of the orthodoxy would differ with that opinion.

2. Non-traditional charismatic leaders and other non-mainstream efforts could play a significant part. But the thrust of Navyashatra's approach would be mainstream reform to ensure the spiritual rights of all Hindus.

3. Reform should be carried out in a positive manner with a view to co-ordinating with and convincing mainstream leaders rather than controverting them. While Navyashastras vision is enlightened and progressive, Navyashastras mission would be to facilitate step-wise evolutionary changes to ensure that the shastras as practised reflect the letter and spirit of the Hindu faith, interpreted conscinably and in accordance modern times. Hopefully, a global outreach of the faith would be facilitated thereby.

Navyashastra having completed six months after its incipience, is taking its first infant steps in this direction.

Thank You

Back to Part 3