By Bal Ram Singh, PhD
There is so much controversy about discrimination and politics based on caste, that it has become an issue internationally.
A lot more activists and political personalities have come together to form a dal (group) for Dalits (defined as oppressed, to be derived from Sanskrit dalan) to introduce an anti-caste discrimination law in the state of California, home of the Silicon Valley, where a large number of Indian diaspora excels. Although the Governor vetoed that bill, according to CNN, Seattle recently became the first US city to ban caste discrimination, and several institutions of higher education, including Brown University, the California State University System, Colby College and Brandeis University, have also added caste protections to their nondiscrimination policies.
These controversies raise real problems of discrimination, which must be addressed in the most congenial and fair way for all. Indian government has tried to address it by introducing quotas for various communities, and US institutions have introduced anti-discriminatory provisions, which sound appropriate for the protection of its citizens from injustice.
Over the last two decades, caste has also become at the heart of controversies around how Hinduism is portrayed in California textbooks. Several strong Hindu groups have argued that proposed textbook language perpetuated bias and stereotypes against Hindus and have successfully lobbied in California and other states to remove or change certain references to the caste system.
What needs to be understood, however, is the origin of these practices linked to the practice of Hindu philosophy of varna (class) and jati (ancestral identity). There is a good reason for that as an example of bad practice of the most liberal life’s philosophy on the planet. Therefore, it needs to be addressed.
When Bhagvadgita (4.13) says:
चातुर्वर्ण्यं मया सृष्टं गुणकर्मविभागश:|
तस्य कर्तारमपि मां विद्ध्यकर्तारमव्ययम् ||13||
chātur-varṇyaṁ mayā sṛiṣhṭaṁ guṇa-karma-vibhāgaśhaḥ
tasya kartāram api māṁ viddhyakartāram avyayam
Meaning: The four varnas (types, shades, choices) are created by ME (that eternal witness in each of us, or in any and everything that ever exists) based on the qualities or characteristics (naturally endowed by mind – the triguna, sat, raj, and tam, and material – the five elements, aakasha, vayu, agni, jal, and Prithvi) and karma (action) Despite that ME being the creator of this system, it should be known that that ME is indeed a non-doer, eternally.
This shloka is a main reference in Hindu philosophy for the Varna system. The varna basically means types, with further qualification of based on colors or shades, meaning various characteristics. And, those characteristics are to be natural, much the same way as the colors of leaves, flowers, etc., except in this case it is based on one’s mental/intellectual and material capabilities. Ayurveda combines these trigunas and panchabhutas into Prakriti or doshas – vata, pitta, and kapha – for health assessment and care. These prakritis, according to Ayurveda, indicate the inclinations, proclivities, or predispositions.
Most American universities require standard aptitude test (SAT) for college admissions more or less on the same basic premise for advancing students goals.
These four varnas in Bhagvadgita (18.41) are – Brahmana, Kshatriya, Vaishya, and Shudra.
ब्राह्मणक्षत्रियविशां शूद्राणां च परन्तप |
कर्माणि प्रविभक्तानि स्वभावप्रभवैर्गुणै: || 41||
brāhmaṇa-kṣhatriya-viśhāṁ śhūdrāṇāṁ cha parantapa
karmāṇi pravibhaktāni svabhāva-prabhavair guṇaiḥ
Meaning: Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, and Shudras—are distributed according to their qualities, influenced by their prakriti or nature.
The social issue of untouchable is a separate one, beyond this undeniable philosophical doctrine. The unfortunate history and reason for untouchability must be addressed for recognition of the problem and for justice. However, to politicize it for self-promotion is perhaps the least desirable cause. Following the Brahmacharya to realize the Brahm within is what must be practiced by all, be a Shudra or Brahmana.
That leads one away from Kaam (desire), Krodh (anger), Lobh (greed), Moh (infatuation or attachment), Mada (ego), and Matsar (jealousy). One could easily sense in the political activists of any kind, particularly the Dalit ones, the presence of these Shatharipus (six enemies or vices) created by the non-still mind.
Dalit word is misappropriated, as its real meaning a large group, as in Janata dal, is grammatically similar to falit from fal, chalit from chal, or chhalit from chhal!
The six vices of the mind are also a reflection of the strength one has which one can use through Brahm within, through intellect and controlled mind turn, into six virtues (shathasampatti) which provide solution to any and all problems. This, however, requires training and practice of yoga leading to self realization.
A good understanding of these natural characteristics of self, and a better practice of them in life, provides the most satisfying experience of the universe, be a brahmin or shudra.
Balram Singh is a Professor and the President of the Institute of Advanced Sciences, Dartmouth, Massachusetts, researching Ayurveda, Yoga, Vedic education, and Vedic social and political traditions. He is also adjunct faculty at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi.
Disclaimer: The views expressed are not necessarily those of The South Asian Times