Saturday, March 10, 2007

Reality versus Idealism

Every system has its own idealism. But generally idealism is created by
later followers of a system who, in order to make sense of their views,
create an idealism by systematically arranging some of its precepts. For
example, here in India we talk about Vedic, Upanishidic, Vedantic, bhakti,
etc., idealism, as if there exists any one single idealistic trend in them.

In general, most systems start by addressing the needs and reality of life.
If one reads the Vedas, the Vedic people are down-to-earth realists in their
outlook and approach to life. In several of the Vedic hymns one reads their
poetic excitement (produced by Soma juice) about real issues which they were
facing in real life. Contemporary modern poems are the best equivalent. They
are appreciated not for their forms, but for the content as they address
real issues of life. The same is true of the Upanishads. In their
contemplative meditation, the sages thought through the real issues of their
life. It could be atman or brahman, but for them it is not some intellectual
talk or thought but rather the core of their struggle in their spiritual
life. However, later commentators and teachers created idealistic philosophy
out of it-like advaita by Sankara.

The same can be applied to non-religious systems-whether political, social,
or economic. Over the course of time, what the originators of system created
for their own understanding became, through the process of systematization,
an idealistic view of that system which the originators neither intended nor
were aware of. But now we who live in the modern era take that idealism as
the reality of those systems, and try to promote and apply that to our life,
which is completely different from the reality of those times from which
that system and idealism evolved.

Caste is one such Indian reality. Though traditionally brahmins were blamed
for 'producing, propagating, promoting and preserving' that ideal for their
selfish end, yet a sincere student of history will realize that in such
analysis 'reality bites'. My intention is neither to defend the brahmin not
to blame others. However, some people, who want to promote some kind of
'casteless' Hinduism, suddenly want to create another kind of idealism, even
confessing the sin of 'promoting and preserving' casteism all these
centuries in India, and now they want to repent and produce another
idealistic Hinduism of brotherhood and sisterhood (see the note below). But
reality in India bites again. This morning in CNN-IBN morning news (Feb.
16th, 2007) they showed several Dalit families in Haryana living in an open
field for the last few months, even braving the cold, in order to protest
the atrocity of high caste people in the Gandhian way of ahimsa.

To such people, the type of confession in the note below, particularly with
an international audience in mind, has no relevance. Even the high caste
people against whom these Dalit families were protesting will have their own
genuine issues related to some conflict or land dispute, etc. The reality
here undoubtedly is again an economic problem. All these centuries what the
so-called suppressed people faced was not some idealistic humiliation from
the upper castes, but they struggled first on an economic level and then on
the social level. Or, the economic reality of those times created that
social discrimination. Then for all these centuries they remained 'faceless,
voiceless, powerless, moneyless,' and continue to remain so even now. Mere
ideological slogans calling for a casteless utopian Hinduism by confessing
some past sins without addressing the reality of life may perhaps satisfy
some elitist Hindus, especially those sitting somewhere in their promised
land. But we Indians are going to have to struggle with our reality in
life-in which caste is a permanent issue.

Having said this, I am not against such confessions and calls for 'reform'
in Hinduism. Something is better than nothing. Whether 'idealistic' or
'reality', we have to begin from somewhere and I see this apology by Navya
Shastra as a good beginning with all sincerity and seriousness. But the
reality in life here is that even the so-called suppressed people want to
keep their caste identity, as it is now beneficial both for economic
advantage through reservation and political advantage through voting power.
Thus the call to give up that identity will be ignored by the people for
whom reality is more important than idealistic slogans or confessions.


Note: "Hindu Organization Apologizes for Untouchability." [From Hindu Press
International,, Dec. 21, 2006] TROY, MICHIGAN, December
20, 2006: (HPI note: The following appeared as a press release written by
Navya Shastra and sent out through Religion News Service.) Navya Shastra,
the international Hindu reform organization, has issued an apology to the
Dalit communities of India (see The organization issued
the apology after consulting with Hindu activists and its own Dalit members.
It reads: We, at Navya Shastra, deeply regret and apologize for the
atrocities committed on the sons and daughters of the depressed communities
of India, including the tribals, the "untouchables" and all of the castes
deemed as low.

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