[Advaita-l] Advaita and Caste system (reply to Vidyasankar)

Vidyasankar Sundaresan svidyasankar at hotmail.com
Thu Nov 4 10:35:28 CDT 2010

I hate to encourage this thread, but have to make a few points, after which I'll stop.
> > I don't see how race enters into the picture of caste, unless you buy into outmoded ideas of the "races"
> >that populated the Indian subcontinent thousands of years ago.
> That theory could well be true, considering Indians look so different from one another: a Kashmiri looks nothing like a Tamil. But that's another matter altogether. My point is that caste is simply another name for race. Without race, how else is a person's caste determined? 

It is precisely for that reason that the theory cannot be true. True, the Tamilian looks nothing
like the Kashmiri, but the Tamil Brahmin looks more like the Tamil Chettiar than like the Kashmiri
Brahmin. The latter in turn looks a lot like the Kashmiri Wani (merchant caste), and not like the
Tamil Brahmin. So there you go. Appearances are very deceptive. The different castes exist in
both Kashmir and Tamil Nadu, but they just do not correlate with whatever notion you can put
around "race". Indians need to start thinking afresh and independently about caste and race and
class, instead of parroting the same outmoded theories that Europeans coined and foisted upon
the "natives" in colonial times. True independence from colonization has not been gained yet, by
the majority of Indians!
> >Could you explain exactly what is contradictory and baffling? Which advaitin "preached" the caste system?
> It is so contradictory because, on the one hand, advaitins preach oneness and such glorious concepts; yet on the other hand, they do nothing to abolish the caste system, which is an affront to humanity.

If advaitins have to get affronted by anything, rather than learning Sama, dama and titikshA,
and if they have to start fighting such presumed affronts, they could not be advaitins. Those
whose temperaments align with peace and ahimsA are not inclined to take up cudgels and
fight. Besides, your idea of an "affront to humanity" is totally conditioned by contemporary
social, historical and political considerations. If you had lived three hundred years ago, you
would not have thought of caste as an affront to humanity. Caste is merely a descriptor of
how human beings in Indian civilization have organized and divided themselves in society,
whereas an advaitin steps out of this organization and transcends all divisions. This
transcending of divisions happens at a personal level and the advaitin learns samatva-buddhi
with respect to the vidyA-vinaya-sampanna brAhmaNa and the Svapaca. It does not mean
that an advaitin needs to go out and obliterate all divisions from human society or force others
to accept a Svapaca as a brAhmaNa or force the brAhmaNa to become a Svapaca. The sort
of political and cultural fighting that will be involved in such an exercise is totally alien to the
nature of the true advaitin.

As a matter of fact, the true advaitin will be wiser than to attempt such meaningless and
impossible things. You might have heard of Basava, a prominent Saiva leader in Karnataka,
who is supposed to have preached against the varNa dharma, about a thousand years ago.
What has happened to his followers today? They are a separate caste in Karnataka society!
This is the course that has been followed by admirers of every zealous social "reformer"
over the ages. As someone else pointed out earlier, it is not caste (or race, or gender, or
anything else) that needs to be a problem; it is discrimination by the state on the basis of 
caste (or race, or gender, or anything else) that is a problem for contemporary society.
You don't need to be an advaitin to address the latter and if you are an advaitin, you will
know better than to fight against the former.

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