Socialism and Social Justice in Hinduism

Common people of ancient India

by Jayaram V

Be it an insect, a plant, or a human being, Hinduism believes in the fundamental unity and divinity of all life. It accepts all life as sacred, exhorting each individual to look at the world with the eye of a seer and the mind of a scholar. It inculcates in us an ability to appreciate the diversity of this world, to become aware of its attractions and mindful of the ubiquitous presence of God in its every aspect.

A true follower of Hinduism knows well that as a human being, higher on the scale of evolution, he has the rarest and the grandest opportunity to look at himself and the world around him with the mind of man and the vision of gods and that through that combination, he can experience the ultimate truth voiced by the Upanishadic seers:" One in all and all in One".

This is the thumb rule. This is what Hindus are expected to be in truth and what they should be doing according to the philosophy of the Hindu scriptures. But in reality, a great majority of the Hindus fail to see the unity. Brought up in a society that is organized on the basis of caste system and on social values that are centered around the concepts of karma and maya, an average Hindu is more obsessed with the problems of his evolutionary impasse and preordained existence than with the harsh realities of the illusory world.

Hindu society has always been divided deeply on the basis of caste, region, gender, language, beliefs, occupation and ideology. And every average Hindu considers these inequalities justified and puts up with them. Hinduism recognizes social and economic inequalities as inevitable constituents of society because of the individual differences in the nature of their karma.

If a person is born rich or into a higher caste it is because of his karma and if someone is suffering or born in a poor caste, he has to blame himself and his previous actions. Each individual who lives here is a continuation of his past and is fully responsible for his or her reality. Therefore how can any one blame others for ones own suffering? This is the logic that prevents effective collective action in Hindu society.

The same logic goes when people choose leaders who are corrupt, inefficient or anti social. The same thing happened when foreign powers invaded the subcontinent. People put up with suffering because they believe that they are responsible for it in the first place and that they need to endure it as a part of their salvation and progress. Improvement in the macro environment would be hardly possible in a society driven by that kind of mindset.

Hinduism therefore is not suitable for a political ideology that would strive to establish a socialist society based upon forcible restriction of the freedom of individuals and sharing of wealth. India tried unsuccessfully to inculcate the ideals of socialism among Hindus. Those who tried to rub it on the Indian masses over looked the fact that socialism and communism contradicted with the fundamentals of karma and maya and therefore would never succeed in the country so long as the roots of Hinduism were intact in the soil. The idea of free enterprise goes well with Hinduism because it is very much in harmony with the theory of karma. Free enterprise is natural to Hinduism. So also the theory of survival of the fittest.

Present day Hindus are however aware of the harshness of poverty and the need to give charities. If not because compassion, they should do it at least for the sake of their own karma and future wellbeing. People share each other's suffering, with an understanding born out of their sensitivity to the suffering of the soul and with the belief that such sharing by itself is a good karma.

A Hindu is not generally passive to the harsh realities of this world, because in grained deeply in him is another equally potent concept, the concept of illusion or maya, according to which the world out there is unreal and illusory and to worry about it is a less attractive option than to escape from it.

For a Hindu the problems of the world are therefore essentially the problems of illusion and ignorance, and our problems illusions with an illusion. To think about them and to worry about them is also a part of that illusion. The best way to deal with this problem is to withdraw into oneself and strive for salvation or turn to God and surrender to Him. Underlying the beliefs and the perfectly matching logic is a hidden pessimism and a sense of resignation, which are responsible for the stoical indifference and philosophical attitude of most Hindus.

The Hindu caste system which we will discuss later and which was a blot on Hindu society, survived in its worst format because of this line of pessimistic thinking. A person who was born in a lower caste was not supposed to attack the caste system or the privileges of the upper castes, because according to the concept of karma no one actually denigrated that person. He landed himself into that reality and it was his responsibility to pull himself out of it through his good actions. Endurance was then the only solution and way to salvation.

The caste system led to a great misery and perpetuation of great injustice for a large section of people. It survived because people believed that their status in the system depended not much upon their birth in this life, but upon their actions in their previous lives. Metaphysically it is a perfect logic and and if we look at caste system from this angle, perhaps we do not find enough reasons to condemn it.!

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