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  Hinduism and Equality  


By: Dr.Dipak Basu
February 22, 2007
iews expressed here are author’s own and not of this website. Full disclaimer is at the bottom.


(The author is a Professor in International Economics in Nagasaki University, Japan)

Recently Praful Goradia asserted (in ‘Western Imposition’, 18 January 2006, The Daily Pioneer) that the concept of equality is alien to Hinduism, but an imported idea from the West. In his words, “The people of Western faith are amenable to state intervention, whether it be welfare, as in France and Germany, or socialism, as in Yugoslavia under Marshal Tito, or totalitarianism, as in the former Soviet Union. The Hindu psyche is tuned to individual salvation whether through self-realisation, offered by Sri Aurobindo or by total bhakti, like Ramakrishna Paramhansa practiced.”

He also said, “In eastern ethos, excessive state intervention is not welcome. India, therefore, needs a minimal state that maintains law and order, ensures justice, protects the country"s frontiers and creates an infrastructure for national development. Further reason for constitutional amendment is that eastern faith and cultural practice are not preoccupied with equality.”

To support his idea Subramanian Swamy wrote (in 1 January, The Organiser, 2006) ‘Integral Humanism’, the espoused ideal of the R.S.S (Rastriya Sayamsevak Sangha) is the modified form of capitalism to smooth out the extreme forms of profit-motive and the resultant ill effects on the people. In his words, “Integral Humanism recognized that in a democratic market economy, an individual has a technical freedom of choice, but the system, without safeguards, fails to accommodate the varying capabilities and endowments of the human being. We need thus to build a safety net into our policy for the underprivileged or for the disabled while rewarding the meritorious and the gifted.”
As R.S.S and its political organ B.J.P are associated with “Hindutva” ideology or propagations of the Hindu religion it is essential to examine whether their interpretations are correct or not.

Hinduism and the concept of Equality:

In Rig Veda or Upanishad and particularly in Bhagwat Gita, the ideal of equality both social, economic and gender are fundamental. Following these classical texts of Hindu religion, Jainism, Buddhism and Sikhism subsequently have considered equality as the essential part of their religious doctrines. The Islam or Christianity did not introduce the concept of equality to India, as Jawaharlal Nehru falsely wrote in his book ‘A Discovery of India’.

In Hinduism and the related religious systems of Jainism, Buddhism and Sikhism in India ‘Enlightenment’, unity with the absolute or the realization of the Brahman (The God) is accessible to all irrespective of their origin, gender, economic or social status.
In Rig Veda, it is written, “Brahman of glory is he to whom both the Aryans and the Dasas belong” (Book VIII, Ch 8, verse 9). (Dasas and Asuras are the people of ancient Iran.)

Sri Krishna in Bhagwat Gita said, “I look upon all creatures equally; none is less dear to me and none more dear” (Ch 9, verse 29). “All those who take refuge in me, whatever their birth, race, sex, or caste, will attain the supreme goal; this realization can be attained even by those whom society scorns. Kings and Sages, too seek this goal with devotion”(Ch 9, Verse 32,33).

In both Jainism and Buddhism, equality is proclaimed more forcefully. According to Gautam Buddha, (in Dharmapada, 402-422), an Aryan is one who follows the Aryan Eightfold path and a Brahmin is one who attains the stage of ‘Arahant’ or supreme knowledge. “In whom there exist both truth and righteousness, pure is he, a Brahmin is he. He is free from impediments, free from clinging” (Dharmapada, 393-396).

For Jainism, “By deeds, not by birth, is one a Brahmin. By deeds one is Ksatriya, by deeds is one a Vaishya and by deeds is one a Sudra” (Uttara dhyayana Sutra, 25,3). Mahavir said clearly, “ If the Brahmin, Kshatriya, etc initiated into my holy order of equality still subscribe to castes and exult therein, they behave like unregenerate beings”
(Sutra Kritanga, Book 1, Ch 13, verse 10-11).

There is complete equality in Sikhism. “ Castes and dynastic pride are condemnable notions. The Master shelters all existence. He who arrogates superiority to himself shall be disillusioned, says Nanak. Superiority shall be determined by God, crediting such a one with honour” (Adi Granth, Sri Ki Var Mahalla, m.1).

Hinduism and Humanism:

In the classical humanism of Greece and Rome, the existence of gods is denied putting emphasis on human as the centre of attention and considering human values independent of gods are the supreme. In the ‘Integral Humanism’ the God is the source of all human virtues of humanism.
In order to explain classical humanism, Roman philosopher Cicero (106-43BC) in his book, ‘The Nature of the Gods’ (Natura Deorum in Latin) wrote, “honours are paid to the human virtues of these hero (or the gods) rather than to their immortality”. According to him, “…. the concept of the gods is invented to make men more virtuous. In many countries the memory of brave men has been celebrated with divine honour to promote the manly virtues and to make men more willing to face danger bravely in the service of the state”.
Cicero wrote, “…in the first place, it is improbable that the material substance which is the origin of all things was created by divine Providence. It has and has always had a force and nature of its own.” Cicero’s idea of materialism is very similar both Brihaspati of 6th century BC (or earlier), proponent of the Charvaka Nayatantra, and Marx-Engels in the 19th century. Their concepts of Humanism are also very similar.

As Capitalism dehumanizes human beings by turning them into mere factors of production, which can be discarded if market demands that, humanism is not associated with capitalism at all. Maximization of profit irrespective of its social consequences is the rational behaviour under capitalism. In this system workers are deprived from the fruits of their toil thus making them alien to the production system in which they are the essential part. This alienation creates discontent among the workers and that leads to the social and economic contradictions, leading to revolutionary changes in the society (in Economic and Political Manuscripts of 1844, Karl Marx).

There are reflections of it in Hinduism as well. This is the basic idea of both Karl Marx and Swami Vivekananda (Collected Works, Vol IV); both of them have predicted a future society of the workers or the Sudras. Karl Marx has approached the issue from the point of view of classical humanism; Vivekananda has used the Hindu approach to analyze social change in the tradition of ‘Integral Humanism’, which does not reject the concept of God. Both classical and integral humanism are thus opposed to capitalism, whatever form it may take.

We can analyze the issue from the basic point of ‘Utilitarianism’ the fundamental philosophy and rationale of capitalism. The Hindu view of life is that the personal life of an individual is ultimately subject to the same universal law as of all nature. Man sets himself the goal of freeing himself from the bondage of nature. The meaning of a man’s life, according to the Indian culture, “is the awareness of the soul to its bondage and its efforts to stand up and assert itself” (Romain Rolland, L"Évangile universel, 1930)

According to the message of Krishna in ‘Bhagawat Gita’, this freedom can only be achieved by Karma yoga or selfless work and Gnana yoga or pure knowledge (Bhagawat Gita, Ch. 3, Verse 3). Karma yoga recommends working for the sake of the work itself, not for the fruits of the work. Work without pay, absence of attachment to the result, generally to the point of complete disregard for one’s personal interest, complete selflessness is the karma yoga. This is essentially opposite to the ‘utilitarianism’, which is the philosophy of ‘capitalism’.
Humanistic aspects of Indian national culture, i.e. renunciation, selfless work, sacrifice, work without any attachment to the results do not correspond to the acquisitive consumerism glorified by capitalism. The essential characteristics of national cultures can be traced on these basic human values signified by the Hindu philosophy of life, which suggests that the present acquisitive consumerism or the capitalist system controlled by the merchant class cannot last, but would be replaced by an alternative system, as Swamy Vivekananda has predicted (Collected Works, Vol IV).

Sri Aurobindo has explained it further in ‘Life Devine’. Principal contradiction of human life is that between the individual and society or aggregate, the essence of ideal law of human development demands that the individual should harmonize his life with the life of the social aggregate. Individualism, the ideal of Western culture, propagated by Capitalism and the ‘globalization’ process, does not correspond to the ideal view of life according to this universal law of nature. Thus, according to both Swami Vivekananda and Sri Aurobindo, fundamental ideas of Hinduism are the same as those of ‘Integral Humanism’, a system of non-capitalistic nature based upon religion.

Greed, possessiveness, desires to create wealth are the virtues of capitalism but for Sri Krishna these are the gates of hell, enemies of the soul. Those who are attached to these are described by Sri Krishna as those “who hate me” (verse 18, chap 16, Bhagwat Gita)
Thus Hinduism considers both social and economic inequality and the resultant arrogance as unacceptable. Swami Vivekananda wrote, in ‘On India and Her Problems’ that, “ I consider that the great national sin is the neglect of the masses, and that is one of the causes of her (India) downfall.” Down the centuries he wrote, “..the rulers and the dominant castes neglected the interests and the lot of the simple people, and that was one of the greatest social evils”.

In capitalism, wealth is being concentrated in the hands of the few. The dominion of the capitalist class today is justified in the name of economic growth and production efficiency. The resultant deprivations are visible even in the developed countries. In the United States, about 12 million people are homeless, one-third of the people cannot afford even primary health care, 17 per cent of the children are living below the poverty line, about 23 per cent of the people are functionally illiterate, about 20 percent of the people are going hungry everyday, there is no security of either job or of life. Swami Vivekananda noticed that even more than 100 years ago in USA, when he wrote (in The Complete Works, Vol IV, p307) “The Standard of living is the USA is incomparably higher than in India, the fight between labour and capital is constant”.

Albert Einstein has explained, “The United States is fortunate in producing all the important industrial products and foods in her own country, in sufficient quantities. The country also possesses almost all-important raw materials. Because of her tenacious belief in ‘free enterprise’ she cannot succeed in keeping the purchasing power of the people in balance with the productive capacity of the country. For these very same reasons, there is a constant danger that unemployment will reach threatening dimensions” (Albert Einstein, Reply to Soviet scientists, 1948).

Rabindranath Tagore also wrote, in his essay ‘Crisis of Civilization’ that capitalism as a civilization is incapable of ensuring humanity’s progress. After visiting the efforts of construction of that socialist state the Soviet Union in 1930 Tagore wrote, in Letters of Russia, “ This (Soviet) civilization spreads the power of humanity”.

Experience shows that capitalism cannot be reformed to provide humanism, which is in conflict with capitalism. Thus, Subrananian Swamy’s reformed capitalism cannot passed on as ‘Integral Humanism’.

Hinduism and Gandhism:

Recently R.S.S in The Organiser on 7 January 2007 has explained its economic philosophy (Economic Philosophy of Shri Guruji) in terms of Gandhian ‘trusteeship’ as ‘integral humanism’. ‘Trusteeship’ does not presuppose equality as the trustee is above in power over the peasants or workers. Gandhism accepts a reformed version of capitalism and as a result it is not humanistic either.

Gandhian ideas are not based on Hindu ideals. According to Sri Aurobindo, Gandhism is Russian-Christianity, not rooted in Hinduism. On June 22, 1926, Sri Aurobindo said,
“Many educated Indians consider Gandhi a spiritual man. Yes, because the Europeans call him spiritual. But what he preaches is not Indian spirituality but something derived from Russian Christianity, non-violence, suffering, etc. The gospel of suffering that he is preaching has its root in Russia as nowhere else in Europe—other Christian nations don"t believe in it.”
“Gandhi is a European-truly, a Russian Christian in an Indian body. And there are some Indians in European bodies! When the Europeans say that he is more Christian than many Christians they are perfectly right. All his preaching is derived from Christianity, and thought the garb is Indian the essential spirit is Christian. He is largely influenced by Tolstoy, the Bible, and has a strong Jain tinge in his teachings; at any rate more than by the Indian scriptures-the Upanishads or the Gita, which he interprets in the light of his own ideas.”
Gandhi had never believed in the divinity or historical existence of either Ram or Krishna, who are considered as the reincarnation of the Brahman, the supreme creator or The God in Hinduism. In Harijan (27-6-1937), he says, “I do not mention the names of Rama and Krishna because they were not historical figures…” In his statement in Tej (5-8-1925), he says, Mahabharata’s Krishna never existed on earth.
Gandhian pacifism is not rooted in Hinduism either. On July 23, 1923, Sri Aurobindo said, “Purification can come by the transformation of the impulse of violence. In that respect the old system in India was much better: the man who had the fighting spirit became the Kshatriya and then the fighting spirit was raised above the ordinary vital influence. The attempt was to spiritualize it. It succeeded in doing what passive resistance cannot and will not achieve. The Kshatriya was the man who would not allow any oppression, who would fight it out and he was the man who would not oppress anybody. That was the ideal. Gandhi"s position is that he does not care to remove violence from others; he wants to observe non-violence himself.”

Gandhi was also against socialism or equality. This is obvious from his comments on the formation of socialist wing of the Congress party in 1929. Gandhi said, “I believe in private enterprise and also in planned production. If you have only State production, men will become moral and intellectual paupers. They will forget their responsibilities. I would therefore allow the capitalist and zamindar to keep their factory and their land, but I would make them consider themselves trustees of their property.” “We invite the capitalist to regard himself as a trustee for those on whom he depends for the making, the retention and the increase of his capital.” “Those who own money now, are asked to behave like trustees holding their riches on behalf of the poor “ (in Young India, 26-3-1931 and in M. K. Gandhi, Trusteeship, Ahmedabad: Navjivan Publishing House, 1960)

These ideas are idealistic, not at all practical as a socialist economic policy. Although Gandhi in principle aimed at removal of poverty and equal rights for all, he could not tell us the road map to achieve these. Gandhi during his lifetime could not implement ‘trusteeship’ in the factories owned by his industrialist friends like Birla or Bajaj.


The economic ideology of Swami Vivekananda and Sri Aurobindo, who have expressed in modern language the wisdom of Bhagwat Gita, Upanisad and the Vedas, call for a harmonious, caring social model where the state will take care of every aspects of the welfare of the people, and will not reject anyone who may fail. Swami Vivekananda asked every Indian to say with pride: “Wretched Indians, poorest Indians, illiterate Indians are my brothers”, not to reject them as ‘underclass’.

In the ‘Rama-Rajya’, the king is even responsible for the snakebite on a boy. That idealistic Hindu state demands a totalitarian government where ordinary people would be taken care of from ‘cradle to the cremation ground’ as it was the case in the former Soviet Union or in some countries in the Western Europe today. Anglo-American ideas like competition, profit-motivated efficiency, small government with total freedom for the business community to exploit the people, cannot uphold that Hindu idealism. As a result, supporters of these Anglo-American doctrines whether Praful Goradia or Subramanian Swamy are against Hinduism, which they are supposed to promote. They, when it comes to the economic policy, are propagating a false interpretation of Hinduism to support Man Mohan Singh’s economic policy of pure capitalism and globalization. As a result it is taking Hinduism away from the majority of the Indian people who are poor.

Dr.Dipak Basu

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