A Personal Note After Attending a Conference Held by Balu’s Research Group

Last weekend I attended a 2-day conference titled Dharma & Ethics – VIII: Revisiting Swami Vivekananda. It was conducted by Prof S . N. Balagangadhara’s research group at Alva’s Engineering College, Mudabidri, Karnataka. I presented a paper titled Swami Vivekananda’s Ideas on Hindu Reform. It’s been available for free download on this site for years now: just check the right sidebar. I believe we’ll have a video of my presentation soon.

You probably know that I’ve previously criticized some of the output coming out of this group, including Prof. Balu’s thesis that there’s no religion in India. So what’s going on?

Just this: I read his Heathen in His Blindness with a keen eye, I realized that he has hit upon a goldmine inasmuch as the social sciences are concerned. The book sheds a lot of light on how cultural differences played out when the Europeans set foot on India. Specifically, I agree with Balu, now, that there’s no religion in India and that Hinduism cannot be called a religion.

This doesn’t mean I agree with everything the group has published or publishes. Wholesale agreeing or disagreeing is for the weak of mind. (The conference itself proved that this group is actually quite heterogeneous. It agrees on some things and disagrees on some. For those who can’t wait to hear, I think it can be safely stated that most of the papers presented in the conference were critical of Vivekananda. I didn’t see any of the usual mindless prostration.)

I have a long list of discussions and arguments I’ve had over several years with the people in Balu’s group, including Prof. Rajaram Hegde of Kuvempu University.

At one point of time, I had pointed out an error in Prof Hegde’s reading of the Apashudradhikarana section of the Brahma Sutras, specifically in the commentary by Adi Shankara. This was on nilume.net – a site which I painfully decided to stop contributing to after being ill-treated for speaking the truth.

However, the episode only brought me closer to Prof. Hegde who actually agreed with me and like a true seeker of truth, told me that he stands corrected. I met him twice afterwards, including at last weekend’s conference. I was there because of him.

It’s not just nilume.net that I ‘quit’. I also quit the group’s email discussion group on yahoo, again because actual discussion had slowly become impossible. But then I met the members of the group in real life last week: Prof. Shanmukha, Dunkin Jalki, Marianne Keppens, Prof. Jakob de Roover, etc., etc.. The experience was totally different. Actual discussions happened, and I’m glad I went to the conference.

When I wrote my book, The Pyramid of Corruption, I hadn’t read Balu. Therefore, I do call Hinduism a religion in it – like everyone else. However, I do add the following qualifier:

[S]ome people question whether there is any single entity called Hinduism at all, but I use the word as a collective noun for all the religious systems that have taken birth on the Indian subcontinent.

I criticize the caste angle to this Hinduism, and I continue to do so. Balu has unleashed a storm by showing that this Hinduism is different from what the Europeans called as Hinduism. Most people have the European definition in mind, and that’s what makes Balu’s thesis very important.

In any case, as a result of what I’ve learnt from Balu, I’m willing to remove all references to “Hinduism” and “religion” in my book. That will take away nothing from my thesis. My criticism of caste will remain, and so will the idea of the pyramid of corruption. What will go away is any suggestion (I can’t recall any) that the pyramid is deified by a nonexistent religion. In fact, I’ve explicitly stated that the pyramid wasn’t a proactive creation:

I don’t want to give the impression that the Aryan Pyramid of corruption was a perfectly executed ‘project’ with some sort of strict central control.

In the words of Balu’s group, the words “with some sort of strict central control” would change to “with religious sanction”. Balu points at the absence of this central control, more specifically via a “holy book”, when he says there’s no religion in India.

My book remains as relevant as before, but I’m willing to rewrite it in the new language I’ve learnt from Balu. I’m saying “willing to rewrite” because I no longer want to proactively go out and publish it myself. As the dismal sales of my book have proved, and as the drop in hits to this website have proved, I don’t think anyone has time for philosophical matters affecting society. There’s no time left after going through all the bullshit pouring into newsfeeds.

Besides, The Truth is not something I’m willing – any longer – to try and insert into newsfeeds or even the old-school email inbox. While I’ve already stopped broadcasting on facebook and twitter because of the low return on investment and high pain, even emails have proved equally useless. 80% of people who got this essay in their inboxes didn’t even open the email. Most of those who opened it didn’t care to read even the first paragraph fully. If you’ve read every sentence till here, you belong to a statistically insignificant group. Most who read this just jumped to this paragraph without reading in sequence (like reading should be).

So why not just keep The Truth to myself, maybe just murmur it to myself here on the website? Shouldn’t the thirsty should go to the well, like I went to the conference? Vice versa is a waste of time and energy, useless. So if at all I have something to say, I’ll say it on my website and be done with it. I’m stopping all sorts of distribution right away.

The Childishness of So-Called Rationalists Like KS Bhagavan

These people are stuck with the idea that religious texts have to be accepted or rejected in toto. Why is that? Why can’t you take stuff which you think is good, and leave out the rest? Why act as if it’s take-all or leave-all? Why act like children?

There seems to be something wrong with those who call themselves rationalists in Tamil Nadu and their friends in Karnataka. Today, I was shocked to read what Prof KS Bhagavan and others had to say during a meeting organized on Periyar’s birthday celebration in Bengaluru (Udayavani, 19 Sept 2015).

In short, they seem to equate rationalism with rejecting everything Hindu.

If you’ve read The Pyramid of Corruption or some of my articles on Hinduism, you know that I am myself a critic of how Hinduism handles society – the caste system in particular. But that doesn’t mean I hate everything Hindu. For example, I have always considered the Upanishads, the Bhagavadgita, etc., as the leading lights of human life. Even that doesn’t mean I take everything they say literally. I always put them to my own tests – both spiritual and worldly – before accepting or rejecting them.

In fact, I shouldn’t say “accepting or rejecting them” because true learners don’t simply accept or reject anything in its entirety. If you’re open to learning, everything and everyone has something to teach. Therefore, I should only say “accepting or rejecting what you read in them”.

I’m stressing on this because this is exactly where, I think, the so-called rationalists are going totally wrong. By making statements such as “Rama wasn’t born to his father, so don’t worship Rama” (attributed to KS Bhagavan by the Kannada daily Udayavani), these people are making a mockery of their own religion: atheism.

A good atheist would never make such a statement. He’d question who Rama is, why he should be called God, who God is, and so on and so forth, and if he can’t reconcile the data using the scientific method, he’d walk away saying it’s all nonsense.

But this is not what these so-called rationalists are doing. They’ve reduced atheism to hatred of everything Hindu – a hatred they’re willing to spread by making stupid statements like the one above. Why is it stupid? Because it makes no difference who Rama was born to, or even whether he was born at all.

I’m reminded of the Kannada hymn “Neenyaako ninna hangyaako” in which Purandara Dasa sings, so beautifully, that the name of the Lord suffices for the devotee; the Lord himself is redundant. None of this, of course, makes sense to people who don’t understand or who haven’t experienced first-hand the psychological power of chanting.

The living Guru of all atheists, Richard Dawkins, doesn’t go about asking people to stop following Jesus because he was supposedly born to a virgin. He asks them not to follow because the whole theory about God as put forth in the Bible doesn’t fit together according to Dawkins. I’m saying ‘as put forth in the Bible’ on purpose, because it’s completely different in the Upanishads, the Gita, etc.

I asked Richard Dawkins once on twitter what he thinks of the concept of God in these texts, and he had no answer. It ended up bolstering my feeling that what they call as atheism is nothing but the denial of the Christian and Islamic idea of God.

The God of the Upanishads and the Gita cannot be denied. That’s because that which you’d have to deny is everything, including the denier and the act of denial. I wrote about this in an article titled The Irrelevance of Atheism for the Upanishadist.

By the way, I don’t think Rama is worth worshipping either, but that’s for a completely different reason: there’s nothing to learn from him and I can’t imagine worshipping someone I can’t learn from. If you haven’t realized, there’s no such thing called Rama’s teaching. Unless, of course, you include in that term the teaching given to Rama in various places including the Ramayana itself and the Yogavasishtha.

Krishna I do consider worth worshipping (which is another big word, by the way), and that’s again because he’s a great teacher. He’s the teacher (not the taught) in that great text, the Bhagavadgita. I don’t mean to say Krishna was an actual person – it doesn’t matter. What matters is his teaching. Nor do I mean that I accept everything Krishna says – even this doesn’t matter. Does he teach stuff which is worth learning? Yes, yes, yes, much more than anyone else from my point of view, and so I find him worthy of worship.

Coming back to KS Bhagavan & Co, the problem with them, in summary, is that they’re stuck with the idea that religious texts have to be accepted or rejected in toto. Why is that? Why can’t you take stuff which you think is good, and leave out the rest? Why act as if it’s take-all or leave-all? Why act like children?

Free E-Book: Swami Vivekananda’s Ideas on Hindu Reform

‘Our vigor, our strength, nay, our national life is in our religion… for good or evil.’ At a time when everybody who was anybody in India had a theory on the reasons for British colonialism and how to get out of it, Swami Vivekananda was absolutely sure that religion was the key. To ‘the Indian mind there is nothing higher than religious ideals’. Whether you like this fact or not, ‘You are bound by it, and if you give it up, you are smashed to pieces.’ Religion was not only the highest ideal but also the ultimate unifying force in India—he was speaking at a time when the country could certainly use some—before which ‘race difficulties, linguistic difficulties, social difficulties, national difficulties, all melt away.’

svivekebook

‘Our vigor, our strength, nay, our national life is in our religion… for good or evil.’ At a time when everybody who was anybody in India had a theory on the reasons for British colonialism and how to get out of it, Swami Vivekananda was absolutely sure that religion was the key. To ‘the Indian mind there is nothing higher than religious ideals’. Whether you like this fact or not, ‘You are bound by it, and if you give it up, you are smashed to pieces.’ Religion was not only the highest ideal but also the ultimate unifying force in India—he was speaking at a time when the country could certainly use some—before which ‘race difficulties, linguistic difficulties, social difficulties, national difficulties, all melt away.’

It wasn’t as if this unifying force lay on the shelf waiting for the right person to pick it up at the right time and flag off the melting process. The religion in question had its own difficulties that begged melting. Hinduism had itself to be unified first. The ‘first plank in the making of a future India’, declared Vivekananda, ‘is unification of religion.’ His idea of Hindu reform was essentially this unification, and as I gather from his speeches and writings, it involved work on three vectors: (1) denominational unification via Advaita, (2) linguistic unification via Sanskrit, and (3) caste unification via uplift to ideal Brahminhood.

Download the full e-book (14 pages), from my website, http://kiranbatni.com.

The Law Cannot Prevent Rape

The law pretends to be many things, including being good enough for all those who are required to submit to it. Those who make laws would like us to think of them as the complete solution to public problems. They’d like us to believe that we, the people, can’t come up with any useful solutions ourselves. But we must be wiser. We must understand what the law can never do. It can never guarantee protection from rape.

Rapes happen because both men and the law are bad. If any one of the two were good, they wouldn’t happen. Since they’re happening, let’s first begin by blaming both men and the law. Next, since we can’t do anything about men’s bad, let’s make the law so good that no rapes happen. This is how we’re supposed to think about rape in India, and I think it’s stupid.

The generalization that men are bad is too obviously wrong for me to address it. The other generalization, that the law is bad, is right. But however good it may get, the law can’t prevent rape. Since this is not widely understood, and since this lack of understanding actually works as a reason for rape, let me focus on the role of law in rape.

First of all, I’m not talking about the law being bad in this or that location, or even this or that time. I’m talking about the law being bad in all space-time settings. This is because every criminal, in this case a rapist, is always above the law before it catches up. Every rape is proof that the law was powerless in preventing it.

I’m not denying that the fear of law can prevent rapes, but the crux of the matter is that we’re talking in the language of probability and statistics here. We can only move towards a reduced number of occurrences of rape using the law, but no woman, including you if you are one, is guaranteed protection from rape by the law. All the law guarantees is punishment for the rapist after the rape has occurred.

Therefore, it’s unintelligent to completely rely on the law to prevent rape. In the olden days, people weren’t stupid enough to do that. They had their own methods outside of the law. Today, however, this stupidity of relying entirely on the law not only seems to have come to stay, but has also become globalized and acquired an honor and legitimacy of its own.

What were those methods over and above the law? They varied from culture to culture, place to place, and time to time, but in principle they were all forms of women refraining from kindling men’s sexual instincts in public. Our ancestors understood, apparently, that even in the presence of the law, it helps prevent rape if male sexual instincts aren’t publicly kindled by women.

I’m not talking about a particular woman protecting herself by her not kindling male sexual instincts publicly, but all women protecting themselves as a whole by none of them kindling them publicly. I have to say this for the benefit of those who are programmed to conclude that I’m ‘blaming the victim’ here. I’m blaming the stupidity of relying exclusively on the law to prevent rape, not anything else.

But today, this imprudent public kindling of male sexual instincts is being described as women’s freedom, notwithstanding the fact that any definition of women’s freedom cannot take away men’s freedom to enjoy sexual and mental health (which are affected by such kindling). People take women’s ‘freedom to kindle’ from one corner of the globe, which has its own culture, system of law, and male kindle-ability thresholds, and apply it to their corner of the globe.

If and when rape occurs, they blame the local men as a whole for being too kindle-able and the local law for being too insufficient or inefficient or both. When men elsewhere aren’t kindled by x amount of kindling, why should they be kindled here? Even if they’re kindled, why shouldn’t our law prevent rape? That is, why isn’t the law catching up with increasing ‘freedom to kindle’? These are the questions they ask, and it’s doubly stupid because they understand neither the local conditions and the local males, nor the fundamental shortcomings of law.

The law pretends to be many things, including being good enough for all those who are required to submit to it. Those who make laws would like us to think of them as the complete solution to public problems. They’d like us to believe that we, the people, can’t come up with any useful solutions ourselves. But we must be wiser. We must understand what the law can never do. It can never guarantee protection from rape.

Therefore, it is prudent to look for other forms of protection, too. The one of our ancestors, tried and tested, isn’t bad at all. We need not go back thousands of years and replicate that environment today, but we can at least begin by appreciating the need to stop kindling male carnal desires in public. How to stop it is something each small community, however defined, will have to decide for itself. We shouldn’t pretend, like our legislators and their laws, to know everything about the men and women of every community.

Generalization Is Inevitable When Talking Meaningfully about India

Prof S. N. Balagangadhara’s argument that the Europeans described their experience of India and not India itself is obviously right. It is only from the frame of reference of one’s own culture that anyone can describe what one sees in the world. The observer is intimately connected to the observation. It is only from the frame of reference of their culture that the Europeans saw and talked about Hinduism, the caste system, etc. I’d like to submit here that the Europeans had another important compulsion over and above their culture: the need to generalize what they saw.

Prof S. N. Balagangadhara’s argument that the Europeans described their experience of India and not India itself is obviously right. It is only from the frame of reference of one’s own culture that anyone can describe what one sees in the world. The observer is intimately connected to the observation. It is only from the frame of reference of their culture that the Europeans saw and talked about Hinduism, the caste system, etc.

I’d like to submit here that the Europeans had another important compulsion over and above their culture: the need to generalize what they saw.

Prof Balagangadhara will agree that words like Hinduism and caste system are huge generalizations. But generalization is inevitable when one is compelled to account for innumerable and diverse phenomena. European colonial writers had to generalize what they saw because their Empire had spread itself recklessly wherever possible. The colonizers didn’t have any reason to stop their conquests at any sort of previously existing boundaries because easy money didn’t stop at those boundaries. How does one talk meaningfully about such a recklessly spread Empire without making generalizations? It’s impossible.

To make matters worse, the list of collective nouns the Europeans used to describe and generalize what they saw has another entry in it which Prof Balagangadhara doesn’t seem to have paid attention to: India. As long as we wish to take this entry seriously, there is no escape from generalization. Every statement about India is a generalization because the very word is the result of European generalization. I’m not saying that we must refrain from making any statement about India. I’m only saying that we must recognize the fact that we’re compelled to generalize when we make one.

I think it’s still possible to make a very good generalization, but we have to be careful. If we aren’t, what we end up calling the Indian way to generalize will continue to have European generalization at the base because European generalization thrives in the very word India. In some sense, we have to remove Europe from India before making our generalization, and it’s not an easy task. (In passing, I have to point out that even European is a generalization, but we can live with it because Europe is quite far away from us and we’re not interested in describing Europe but India here.)

Fortunately, we can talk much more easily about generalization by a Vedantin, a Buddhist, a Jain, a Lingayat, a Shudra, and so on, without including European generalization by default. Similarly, we can also talk about generalization by a Kannadiga, a Tamil, a Telugu, a Gujarati, and so on. These categories were attested before our brush with European colonialism, and continue to exist even today. But we have to be very careful when we talk of an Indian way to generalize because the very category owes its birth to our colonial experience.

Let me end with a few comments on how we could think in order to arrive at an Indian generalization. In some sense, we must arrive at the least common denominator of all the pre-attested categories described and implied in the above paragraph. We must arrive at what is common to all of them and lodge ourselves in that common frame of reference before making our generalization. Most importantly, our generalization must apply to the new India, which is a product of European generalization, and which we also like to call as a democracy.

The task is neither impossible nor simple. Until we come up with such a generalization, there is no option but to use what the Europeans have left us with — Hinduism and caste system. Unfortunately, it is also true that different people will naturally come up with different ways to tinker with these concepts in this interim period. They will infuse them with their own meanings, knowingly or unknowingly retain the European-ness in them to different degrees, and try to explain their version of reality as well as they can.

Understanding Rape as a Statistical Phenomenon

If the statistical occurrence of burglary can be discouraged by building houses in a certain way, then the statistical occurrence of rape can be discouraged by women dressing in a certain way. I have seen many who take this argument to be an approval of the criminal mind housed in a rapist, or an argument to curtail the freedom of women, but that is a mistake.

If the statistical occurrence of burglary can be discouraged by building houses in a certain way, then the statistical occurrence of rape can be discouraged by women dressing in a certain way. I have seen many who take this argument to be an approval of the criminal mind housed in a rapist, or an argument to curtail the freedom of women, but that is a mistake.

It is the same mistake as thinking that securing a house with a compound, thick walls, grilled windows, reinforced cement concrete ceilings, etc., is an approval of the criminal mind housed in a burglar, or an effort to curtail the freedom of its residents. If in one case people do not depend entirely on the law to discourage crime, there is no fundamental reason why they should in the other.

I am aware that some will conclude that I am equating women with property, but that is incorrect, too. I am not equating women, but that which is lost in rape, with property. Whose property? It is every woman’s individual and private property, and, like all property, it is prudent to guard it well from criminals irrespective of how strong the law of the land is, or how effective its enforcement is.

The question of the relationship between the way in which women dress and the incidence of rape, which is but one of the many relationships that one needs to consider, is the question of the relationship between two statistical phenomena. That is, it is the question of the relationship between the general environment created by the dress-sense of all the different women in society and the statistical probability of rape.

The existence of this statistical relationship cannot be rejected on the grounds that particular sample-cases can be produced wherein the victim’s dress can be shown to have been the least of the motivations for the crime for the most criminal of minds.

The criminal mind of the rapist is not necessarily set in motion by the dress-sense of the victim under consideration, but by the general impact of the overall environment in which he finds women, especially on television and in the movies. This should be read in conjunction with the fact that rape is, first of all, an act of violence which could have been triggered by many factors, only one of which is the general image of women formed in the mind of the criminal due to the overall environment in which he finds them.

To summarize, I say the crime of rape deserves the toughest punishment: capital punishment. But I am certain this will not solve the problem.

Why Mohan Bhagwat is both right and wrong about Mother Teresa

Of course, Mother Teresa’s objective in doing charity work was conversion to Christianity, and I don’t think she would have considered it something shameful or worth hiding. She might not have done or presided over any conversions herself as her organization in Kolkata, Missionaries of Charity, has clarified, but that’s beside the point.

On February 23rd, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat reportedly said the following at Apna Ghar, a charity and service organization in Bharatpur, Rajasthan:

Here we will not provide service like that rendered by Mother Teresa. It is possible that her kind of work was good but there was a motive behind that service. It was to convert those she served to Christianity. Someone wants to convert others to Christianity, that is another thing, but to do it under the garb of social service is to devalue that service. Here, nothing like that will happen. In our country, social service is done like this, selflessly, completely selflessly.

Political parties and commentators opposed to the Sangh Parivar have unanimously criticized him for this. There are very few points on which I tend to agree with the RSS, but that doesn’t require me to reject everything he has said here.

Of course, Mother Teresa’s objective in doing charity work was conversion to Christianity, and I don’t think she would have considered it something shameful or worth hiding. She might not have done or presided over any conversions herself as her organization in Kolkata, Missionaries of Charity, has clarified, but that’s beside the point.

To suggest that Mother Teresa has nothing to do with the spread of Christianity in India is to suggest that Warren Anderson of Union Carbide had nothing to do with the Bhopal disaster. “Look, he didn’t let the gas out with his own hands!” – is that even an argument?

I see Mr. Bhagwat’s criticism to be directed against the entire Christian religion which openly uses charity as a delivery system for the Christian faith. Both Christians and non-Christians know it, and the Constitution of India allows it. In fact, except in situations like this one involving Mother Teresa, Christians are quite proud of conversions via charity. And, for someone like me (and Mr. Bhagwat) who doesn’t think Christianity must spread in India, charitable work indeed loses its sheen if it comes with the baggage of conversions.

Let me end with where I don’t agree with Mr. Bhagwat. It is in his last sentence where he says Hindus (that’s what he means by ‘in our country’) do social service “completely selflessly”.

I must remind Mr. Bhagwat that not enough of social service happens in our country to begin with. In fact, we Hindus have an entire system of alienating those capable of service from those who need it, which invites the Mother Teresas of the world in the first place. It’s called the caste system, and its effect is being amplified by the idea of India which your organization spreads, Mr. Bhagwat.

Also, most Hindu social service organizations in India hope to convince Hindus, themselves included, that even they can do what the Christians do. “Even we can take care of the sick, even we can give free education to the underprivileged” is the cry of these latecomers. And why do they do that? It’s not selflessness, Mr. Bhagwat, but a clear sense of self and a fear of losing it.

I’m not saying it’s wrong or that we Hindus shouldn’t do it. I’m saying we should do more of it, and also work to get rid of overall Pyramid of Corruption which associates purity and impurity, superiority and inferiority, to everything we can think of: people, languages, you name it. It’s time your organization, the RSS, stops defending and implementing it.

[First Published: IBNLive February 25, 2015 at 11:58AM, http://ift.tt/1BRqYis ]

The irrelevance of atheism for the Upanishadist

Feeling depressed about the Paris attacks, I was browsing around when I found Richard Dawkins’s statements. A couple of hyperlinks led me to an interview of Dawkins by Mehdi Hasan in which I was surprised to find Dawkins not even acknowledge Hasan’s questions about Hinduism. I tweeted to Hasan and asked him about it and he told me it must be there in The God Delusion, which is a book by Dawkins.

Since I don’t have the book, I decided to watch the free documentary with the same title on YouTube. It’s a wonderful piece of work in which he makes a good case against God. I am totally impressed by what Dawkins has to say — and convinced. It’s a must watch for those who want to understand atheism.

But there’s a catch – a very important one. Dawkins doesn’t mention India or Indic religions even once in the entire documentary. This supports my point, once again, that atheism is not the negation of the Indic concept of Brahman (or, for example, Buddhist or Jain teachings, but let me leave that aside for the moment). As I’ve written before, denying the Brahman of the Upanishads is impossible. Yes, even for Richard Dawkins, and I am willing to debate with him about it.

From this point of view, I can appreciate S N Balagangadhara’s idea that only Christianity, Judaism and Islam are religions. If Dawkins could spend ninety minutes talking about religion without mentioning Hinduism, Buddhism, etc., why should Indians invite themselves into this word? Powerful.

But I still don’t think it’s necessary to call only Christianity, Judaism and Islam as religions. If we bring Hinduism, etc., also under the umbrella of the word religion, comparisons become possible. It is only because of this word that I take a look at what Dawkins has to say, a lot of which is indeed applicable to most Hindus.

It is only because I think I too belong to a religion that I listen to what the Christians, the Muslims, etc., have to say, a lot of which is, again, wonderful and applicable. If I were to look at the people of these religions as aliens, as it were, I’d build thicker walls between me and them, which is not good at all.

The Balagangadhara Problem

Prof S.N.Balagangadhara, in The Heathen in his Blindness, says ‘religion is what Christianity, Islam and Judaism are’ and goes on to argue that Hinduism is not a religion. Given this definition of religion, anyone can arrive at this result. I don’t see the point in trying to make it impossible to compare Hinduism with the above religions in any manner whatsoever.

I understand that Hinduism is not a religion according to the above definition, but I reject that definition. Yes, Christians, Muslims, and Jews would, in all likelihood, agree with Balagangadhara’s definition, but that should be no inducement for me or anyone to follow suit. Yes, Balagangadhara’s definition might have been the working definition of Christians, Muslims, and Jews, but that doesn’t require us to refuse to redefine it.

I don’t understand why Balagangadhara and his research group seem to find it impossible to come to a definition of ‘religion’ which includes all the above religions. I know that they claim that they don’t even want to try, but I don’t understand why. It’s like claiming that one doesn’t want to try to arrive at homo sapiens as a category.

I offer, as a definition of the word religion, ‘a set of methods for spiritual uplift’, and I think it sits well in all the situations in which the word ‘religion’ has been used. Religions differ with respect to what the method is and what spiritual uplift is, and with respect to the intended and unintended effects on society, but every religion of the world falls under the umbrella of this definition. In short, I don’t think the Balagangadhara problem exists.

Some thoughts on the apex of the Pyramid

In his 1955 classic History of South India: From Prehestoric Times to the Fall of Vijayanagar, the famous historian K. A. Nilakanta Sastri writes:

[The] institution of caste with all its social and economic implications was accepted almost universally, and the upholding of the social order organized on its basis was held to be the primary duty of the ruler. This accounts at once for the prevalence of  much social exclusiveness in matters of food and marriage among different sections of the people, and for the readiness with which they came together and cooperated on matters of common concern like the management of a temple and its adjuncts, the regulation of land and irrigation rights in the village, and the administration of local affairs generally. The emphasis was throughout on the performance of duties attaching to one’s station rather than on the rights of the individual or group. The general atmosphere was one of social harmony and contentment with the existing order; differences and disputes there were – there has been no society without them – but they were seldom acrimonious. Even the quarrels between ‘right-hand’ and ‘left-hand’ castes, a distinction which has an early start and whose origin is a mystery, did not attain the violence that characterized them in subsequent times. Both in towns and villages, the castes tended to live in separate quarters of their own and follow their own peculiar customs and habits. The outcastes who tilled the land and did menial work (under conditions little different from slavery) lived in hamlets at a distance from the village proper. [p. 289]

Sastri is writing about South India in the period from the sixth to the seventeenth century, A.D. Clearly, there is hardly any criticism of the caste-system in the above passage. There isn’t anywhere else in his book, either. Of course, it’s a book of history (an excellent one, in fact) and one doesn’t expect the author’s personal views to influence it. But as I have argued before, selection and emphasis are inevitable to the historian. Sastri has clearly selected and emphasized only those facets of the caste-system which he likely considered positive. The negative facets are buried in vague terms like ‘social and economic implications’ and ’emphasis on duties’; even the slave-like situation of the outcastes finds a mention only within brackets. Before the reader even notices them, the narrative moves on to what Sastri seems to be more interested in.

But why exactly was the caste system, with all its ‘social and economic implications’ that is to say with all its social and economic injustice to the lower castes, ‘accepted almost universally’ (I don’t doubt Sastri’s knowledge of facts)? Sastri himself hints: because the rulers were concerned with upholding the system. It would have been impossible for the people subjected to a monarchy not to accept what the ruler considered his duty; death would have been an easy way of getting rid of dissenters. So then, why did the rulers uphold such an unjust system? This is also quite straightforward: the more subdued and ‘well-behaved’ the people are, the less the threat to the ruler’s authority. This does not mean the people welcomed it, only that they must have had no option but to display ‘social harmony and contentment with the existing order’.

We must also realize that this ‘existing order’ was hierarchical, meaning every layer in the hierarchy had inferiors of their own to oppress, i.e., exploit socially or economically or both. This is what makes it a Pyramid of Corruption where every layer assumes power over layers below and abuses it for its own gain. This structure yields further stability to the whole system because when everyone is corrupt, seldom does anyone raise a voice against the system. I explain this further in The Pyramid of Corruption (Ch. 4):

The Aryan Pyramid of corruption has exhibited an inordinate degree of stability; it has endured for thousands of years. But why is it so stable? It is stable due to a unique feature of its: the most visible and active castes possess not just a certain quota of inferiority, but also a certain quota of superiority. Each of them is inferior to the castes above it in the hierarchy, assuming they exist, but is superior to the castes below it in the hierarchy, assuming they exist. Therefore, the people in the middle of the Pyramid who are most vocal and most in charge of material wealth are equal in that all of them have their quotas of superiority and inferiority. So, all of them can assume power over those southwards of them and then abuse it, at the cost of giving away power to those northwards of them who then abuse it. Life is not only roses but thorns too, and everyone accepts this as normal. The brahmanas at the top of the Pyramid, however, have no inferiority whatsoever and they assume power over the entire Pyramid which lies to their south. The shudras at the bottom of the Pyramid have no superiority whatsoever because all superiority lies to their north; they have their voice removed from them, and, therefore, no complaints are heard from them, even if there is the urge to voice them. Thus, the opportunity that all the vocal and active people in the middle of the Pyramid have to abuse public power for private gain, together with the suppression of the voices of those who lie at the bottom of the Pyramid and an overall reverence for the top of the Pyramid which abuses its power over it, lends stability to the entire Pyramid.

It may now be asked why the brahmanas, not the kshatriya rulers, were (and are) at the apex of this Pyramid. After all, weren’t the rulers the ones who wielded the sword of enforcement? Why didn’t they place themselves at the apex? One easy answer is that the ruler cannot openly declare himself supreme. Among other complications in doing so must have been the fact that he would become the laughing stock of the people should that inevitable defeat in war occur. Instead, the kshatriyas seem to have found it useful to bow down to the brahmanas and spread the belief that their job is to act according to eternal rules laid down by the brahmanas: the dharma. And of course, the brahmanas presented no political or economic threat to the kshatriyas. As Sastri points out, they indeed ‘stood outside the race for wealth and power’. By power Sastri means political power, but the brahmanas were certainly in the race for social power, i.e., social status. Their word was literally taken to be the word of God, and nobody throws that sort of respect away; hardly anyone dislikes kings falling at their feet.

Were the brahmanas the authors of this whole system? Clearly the system required help from the kshatriyas, but they cannot be called its authors. They were merely its protectors. In fact, if the brahmanas had cared, they could have refused to become party to this whole business even if it meant corporal punishment. Many must have actually refused. One expects such adherence to values from the brahmana, not to mention the possibility of escaping to the forest. But the fact is, a good number of brahmanas seem to have happily entered into an alliance with the kshatriyas and considered the creation and sustenance of this system good for one and all. This together with the lower status of the kshatriyas makes them the authors, although Sastri is almost right in pointing out that they ‘lived on voluntary gifts from all classes of people from the king downwards’. It is also true that the brahamanas were the last ones to have benefited materially from this (some refuse to attribute authorship for this reason), but that was not the benefit they sought to begin with. The caste-system is proof that one can make a complete mess of society even if, or just if, one has little self-interest in the material world of politics and economics. Of those who only faked it, on the other hand, there is nothing to be said at all.