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HINDUISM FROM A PERSPECTIVE OF THE NORMATIVE RULES OF LANGUAGE, CONTEXT AND LOGIC

INTRODUCTION:

[John Ankerberg and John Weldon, Encyclopedia of New Age Beliefs, Harvest House Publishers, Oregon, 1996. pp 216, 217]:

"The four Vedas are the Rigveda, Samaveda, Yajuraveda, and the Artharvaveda. They are divided into two parts: the "work" portion (basically poytheistic ritual) and the "knowledge" portion (philosophical speculation). This latter portion comprises what is called the Upanishads or Vedanta: "Since they brought to a close each of the four Vedas, the Upanishads came to be spoken of often as the Vendanta - the anta or end of the Vedas" (6) The Vedas are mostly a collection of ritualistic hymns to various Hindu gods. The Rigveda comprises the foremost collection of these hymns. The Yajurveda is a collection of various mantras, or special words used to evoke occult power. The Samaveda combines verses from the Rigveda to melodic chants. The Artharvaveda is basically a collection of occult spell, incantations, and hymns. (7) The Vedas are really the "Bible" of Hinduism. They can be divided into the Samhitas, Brahmanas, Aranyakas, and Upanishads. (...)

Only 108 Upanishads remain and, of these, ten are of central importance. They are the tsa, kena, katha, prasma, mundaka, mandukya, chandogya, brhandaranyaka, aitareya, and taittirya. As for as the Upanishads themselves are concerned, "[T]heir variety of thought has allowed considerable latitude in their interpretation, so that scriptural orthodox has not led to a single viewpoint. Thus, Hindu metaphysicians range in their adherance from ... theism to atheism." (8) [...more...]"

THE GITA IS NOT INERRANT!!

The Gita is an episode of the great epic Mahabharata (6,25-42), which narrates the dialogue of Arjuna, one of the five sons of the Pandava family, with the Hindu god Krishna, an avatar of Vishnu. A major battle is about to begin in which Arjuna has a horrible assignment, that of fighting against his relatives, the Kaurava family. Caught between duty as a warrior and the morality of fighting against his cousins, between his social duty and the threat of karma, he chooses not to fight and to be killed rather than to have his conscience stained by the killing of his relatives. At this moment Krishna reveals himself to the distressed warrior and helps him understand the situation from a transcendental point of view. He performs a spiritual exegesis of Arjuna's situation, stating: "Not by abstaining from work can one achieve freedom from karma, nor by renunciation alone can one attain perfection" (3,4). "Abstaining from work" is practically impossible according to Krishna, as "everyone is forced to act according to the tendencies (gunas) he has acquired from the modes of material nature (prakriti)" (3,5). As a warrior, Arjuna must always follow his duties, in other words, his dharma. On this basis the Gita founds a new element in Hindu philosophy: Spiritual perfection is not attained by asceticism or by abandoning action, but by giving a new meaning to action - that of detachment from its fruits. Such an attitude of mind does not feed karma and reincarnation. Krishna formulates the famous principle: Be focused on action and not on the fruits of action. Do not become confused in attachment to the fruit of your actions and do not become confused in the desire for inaction (2,47). Therefore one should not withdraw from the world of social involvement but live in it detached from the fruits of actions, since "action is better than inaction" and "renunciation of all action is impossible" (3,8). As a result, Krishna's command to Arjuna is: "Always act with detachment to the fruits of actions. The one who is acting without attachment attains God" (3,19). This is Karma Yoga, the path of attaining liberation through accomplishing one's normal duties with a totally detached attitude toward personal benefit. In his given context, Arjuna has to fight no matter who is going to die on the battlefield.

[Walter Martin, Kingdom of the Cults, Bethany House, 1985, p. 352]:

"The general assumptions of the Upanishads include a belief in pantheism, karmic retribution, and reincarnation. Perhaps the most well-known section of the Vedas is the Hindu epic and his charioteer, Krishna, who is actually the disguised incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu. The Gita was written down and subsequently modified between 200 B.C. and A.D. 200. [So it has indeed been changed at least once!!! Hence it is not inerrant and original!!! Note that the original text of the bible has not changed one time]

An illustration of the pluralism or contradictory nature of Hinduism is found by comparing the God of the Gita with the God of earlier Vedic literature. God, as only described by the Gita, is personal and often sounds even monotheistic (only one God who is personal and not a part of creation exists). However, when one reads earlier Vedic scripture, God is presented as being definitely pantheistic (all of existence is one, whether any divinity exists at all). The monotheistic characteristics of the Gita were appropriated by the founder of ISKCON, [Hare Krishnas = a modern school of Vishnu Hinduism which developed from the fifteenth century teachings of a man named Chaitanya, who instituted worship of Vishnu as God against the prevailing local worship of Shiva]... and consequently ISKCON teaches a more monotheistic rather than pantheistic idea of God today.

Unlike Hinduism and all of its variations, the Bible from Genesis through Revelation has no contradictions, no changes and is miraculously consistent without contradiction throughout. It predicts the future inerrantly and has no scientific, logical, geographical, spelling, grammatical flaw within its writings at all.

KRISHNA, KARMA AND GRACE

A first difficulty in the philosophy of the Gita concerns the relation between the law of karma and the grace granted by Krishna in helping his followers to attain liberation. On the one hand it seems that Krishna is sovereign over the law of karma, and uses it as an instrument for punishment or reward. He says: "Those who are envious and mischievous, who are the lowest among men, I perpetually cast into transmigration, into various demoniac species of life" (16,19). And also: "Those who worship me and surrender all their activities unto me, being devoted to me without hesitation, engaged in devotional service and meditating unto me, I deliver them quickly from the ocean of birth and death" (12,6-7).

On the other hand, karma seems to be a law that functions by itself, with no external control. One has to struggle alone against its drive and attain better incarnations from one existence to the next. God's interference with it is an artificial construct of Hindu theism, so that the Hindu commentators of the Gita had to choose between holding to the supremacy of Krishna and the ultimate power of karma in ruling the world. Consequently, we have theistic and pantheistic interpretations (and even translations) of the Gita, indebted to one or the other alternative. Those belonging to the first category see Krishna as a super-personal god using karma as an instrument for awakening humans from ignorance, while the others see him as a mere form of Brahman's manifestation, with no real power in controlling karma. The two positions contradict each other and the Gita leaves enough room for both sides. The view of grace in the Gita is a far cry from the meaning it acquired later in the prapatti devotional trend.

THE TEACHING OF KRISHNA AS SOVEREIGN GOD AND THE PERIODICAL CREATION OF THE WORLD CONTRADICT ONE ANOTHER

Another inconsistency of the Gita is regarding the character of Krishna. According to classic Vaishnavism, Krishna is only an incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu (which according to Vedanta is only a form of Brahman's manifestation). In the Gita Krishna is called the Supreme Lord of the Universe (5,29), eternal (4,6) and the source of all existence: "I am the source of all spiritual and material worlds. Everything emanates from me" (10,8). He is said to be not only the creator but also the substance of the universe (9,16-19; 8,4; 10,20-42). Contrary to Vedanta, Krishna becomes the source of Brahman (14,27) and contrary to Vaishnavism he is the instrument of attaining fusion with Brahman (14,26). Although the intention of the Gita is to present Krishna as super-personal, he is rather a heterogeneous mixture of theistic, dualistic and pantheistic components. The cycle of permanent transformation between a manifested state and an unmanifested state is characteristic for Krishna as it was for Brahman: At the end of an era (kalpa) all creatures disintegrate into my nature and at the beginning of another era I manifest them again. Such it is my nature (prakriti) to follow again and again the pattern of the Infinite manifestations and disintegrations (9,7-8). Krishna has to "follow the pattern of the Infinite manifestations and disintegrations" (avasham prakriteh vashat, lit. = "automatically, under the obligation of prakriti"), which implies that this process is a necessity that supersedes him as personal god. Instead of considering Krishna a genuine creator god, we should conclude that the creation of the world is not an option for him, but a periodic duty at the end of each cosmic cycle, as was the case with the manifestations of Brahman. S. Dasgupta comments on the contradictory personal character of Krishna: The Gita combines together different conceptions of God without feeling the necessity of reconciling the oppositions or contradictions involved in them. It does not seem to be aware of the philosophical difficulty of combining the concept of God as unmanifested, differenceless entity with the notion of Him as the super-person Who incarnates Himself on earth in the human form and behaves in the human manner. It is not aware of the difficulty that, if all good and evil should have emanated from God, and if there be ultimately no moral responsibility, and if everything in the world should have the same place in God, there is no reason why God should trouble to incarnate Himself as man, when there is a disturbance of the Vedic dharma. If God is impartial to all, and if He is absolutely unperturbed, why should He favour the man who clings to Him, and why, for his sake, overrule the world-order of events and in his favour suspend the law of karma? (S. Dasgupta, Indian Philosophy, Motilal Banarsidass, 1991, vol.2, p. 533).

THE GITA HAS A COMPLETELY CONTRADICTORY AND UNREALISTIC CODE OF MORALITY

When Arjuna found himself in the process of choosing between his duty as a warrior and the killing of his relatives (a severe violation of Vedic morality), Krishna explained to him that he must give a new meaning to traditional morality. Traditional ethical values should not be a hindrance to acting detached from the fruits of action. He argued: "The wise men who reached true knowledge see with equal vision a brahman (priest), a cow, an elephant, a dog and a dog-eater" (5,18). And as a result: "One whose mind is free from egotism, whose intellect is pure, is not bound even though he slays many people, for he does not truly slay" (18,17).

As only the self (atman) is immortal, Krishna argues that it is actually impossible to kill anyone: "Those who think that they can kill or those that think they can be killed are confused in the manifestations of ignorance. The infinite, immortal soul can neither kill nor be killed" (2,19). Therefore Arjuna is free to kill his relatives, considering them only temporary abiding forms for the eternal self, mere mortal frames. S. Dasgupta states in his commentary:

The theory of the Gita that, if actions are performed with an unattached mind, then their defects cannot touch the performer, distinctly implies that the goodness or badness of an action does not depend upon external effects of the action, but upon the inner motive of action. If there is no motive of pleasure or self-gain, then the action performed cannot bind the performer; for it is only the bond of desires and self-love that really makes an action one's own and makes one reap its good or bad fruits. Morality from this point of view becomes wholly subjective, and the special feature of the Gita is that it tends to make all actions non-moral by cutting away the bonds that connect an action with its performer (Ibid, p. 507). The contrast with traditional morality is obvious. Another important character in the battle of Kurukshetra, Yudishthira, Arjuna's brother, tried to expiate his sin of killing his relatives in battle through repentance, gifts, asceticism and pilgrimages (Mahabharata 12,7). For him a bad conscience could not be cleansed by a right attitude of mind, but by compensatory acts.

On the other hand, the same mindset that Arjuna should have had in securing a clear conscience (Gita 2,19) was used by the demon Kamsa in the Bhagavata Purana (10,4,22) in order to comfort Krishna's parents and justify the killing of their other sons by him:

In the bodily conception of life one remains in darkness without self-realization, thinking "I am being killed" or "I have killed my enemies". As long as a foolish person thus considers the self to be the killer or the killed, he continues to be responsible for material obligations, and consequently he suffers the reactions of happiness and distress.

If the same "detached" perspective on moral values can be used both by the demon Kamsa, who caused the corruption of the dharma, and by Krishna as the divine avatar who came to restore it (Gita 4,6-7) and kill the demon, it is hard to accept that such an approach could represent a true basis for morality.

A morality that operates on the premise that any act is good as long as it is dedicated to God, understanding that "it is truly God who is the controller of all" and thus rejecting a well-established set of moral commands, cannot have a good outcome in any religion - especially considering that mankind has never demonstrated any consistency in following his conscience or any religion's rules of conduct. In fact, although this has no connection at all to Hinduism, those involved in the September 11 attacks had such an attitude. Therefore it's always dangerous to "transcend" moral values, thinking that a person who truly thinks of God won't commit evil deeds. 4

THE VEDAS IS NEITHER INFALLIBLE NOR TRUSTWORTHY

The schools of ancient Indian thought are generally classified by orthodox Hindu thinkers into two broad categories, namely, orthodox ( astika) and heterodox ( nastika). The six main Hindu systems of thought -- Mimamsa, Vedanta, Sankhya, Yoga, Nyaya and Vaisheshika -- are regarded as orthodox ( astika), not because they believe in the existence of god, but because they accept the authority of the Vedas.

Out of the six orthodox systems of Hindu thought, Nyaya system is primarily concerned with the conditions of correct thinking and the means of acquiring true knowledge. According to Nyaya system, there are four distinct and separate sources of knowledge, namely, (i) perception (ii) inference (iii) comparison, and (iv) testimony or shabda. Shabda, which is defined in the Nyaya system as "valid verbal testimony" is further classified into (i) the scriptural ( vaidika), and (ii) the secular ( laukika). Vaidika or scriptural testimony is believed to be the word of god, and therefore, it is regarded as perfect and infallible .

[But if the origin of these writings is not from god because one maintains that god does not exist then they must be from man who is flawed and therefore the writings cannot be declared infallible or trustworthy!]

Mimamsa or Purva Mimamsa, another orthodox Hindu system is "the outcome of the ritualistic side of the vedic culture." However, in its attempt to justify the authority of the Vedas, Mimamsa elaborately discusses different sources of valid knowledge. Naturally enough, among the various "sources of valid knowledge", Mimamsa pays greatest attention to testimony or authority, which, too, is regarded by it as a valid source of knowledge. There are, according to Mimamsa, two kinds of authority -- personal ( paurusheya) and impersonal ( apaurusheya). The authority of the Vedas is regarded by Mimamsa as impersonal. As mentioned earlier, according to Nyaya, the authority of the Vedas is derived from their being the words of god. ButMimamsa, which does not believe in the existence of god, declares that the Vedas like the world, are eternal. They are not the work of any person, human or divine. The infallibility of the authority of the Vedas, according to Mimamsa, rests on the "fact" that they are not vitiated by any defect to which the work of imperfect persons is liable.

[There is no proof offered as to the source which originated this writing other than man himself]

Thus, orthodox Hindu schools like Nyaya and Mimamsa regard the testimony of the Vedas as infallible, though they give different reasons for doing so. Well-known orthodox Hindu theologians like Shankar and Ramanuja believed in the authority of the Vedas. Manusmriti, too, upholds the infallibility of the Vedas. As pointed out by S.N.Dasgupta, "The validity and authority of the Vedas were acknowledged by all Hindu writers and they had wordy battles over it with the Buddhists who denied it."

[So only on the authority of a few flawed men can one testify that the writings are infallible. A contradiction in logic]

CONTRARY TO WHAT HINDU WRITINGS MAINTAIN, A PROPOSITION IS TRUE IF THERE IS A CORRESPONDENCE BETWEEN THE BELIEF EXPRESSED BY IT AND THE FACTS. OTHERWISE IT IS FALSE

The point worth noting is that though popularly Hinduism is a theistic religion, it is not essential to believe in the existence of god for being an orthodox Hindu -- belief in the authority of the Vedas is more important. The Vedas is NOT a valid source of knowledge. The truth or the falsity of a proposition is logically independent of its being contained or not contained in the Vedas: A proposition is true if there is a correspondence between the belief expressed by it and the facts. Otherwise, it is false.

Finally, some propositions contained in the Vedas are certainly false. For example, according to Purusha-Sukta of Rig Veda, Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Shudras originated respectively from the mouth, hands, thighs and feet of the purusha or the creator. Varna-vyavastha is a man-made social institution and it has nothing to do with the alleged creator of this world.

Vedas could not have come into existence before human beings appeared on this earth, and before Sanskrit language came into existence. There are no good reasons for believing that Sanskrit language came into existence even before human beings appeared on this earth! For what would be the purpose of a language which is not required to be used by anyone before man existed?

GANDHI OPPOSED THE INFALLABILITY OF THE VEDAS AND RESERVED TO RIGHT TO SELECT WHAT HE WANTED FROM IT AS TRUE

As far as Gandhi is concerned, though he liked to describe himself as a sanatani Hindu, he was, in fact, not a completely orthodox Hindu. Gandhi said, "I do not believe in the exclusive divinity of the Vedas. I believe the Bible, the Koran, and the Zend-Avesta to be as much divinely inspired as the Vedas. My belief in the Hindu scriptures does not require me to accept every word and every verse as divinely inspired, I decline to be bound by any interpretation, however learned in may be, if it is repugnant to reason or moral sense. " I seriously doubt that this position will be acceptable to an orthodox Hindu. In fact, Gandhi's position comes very close to that of rationalists and humanists when he says that "I decline to be bound by any interpretation however learned it may be, if it is repugnant to reason and moral sense." However, since he refused to say in so many words that he did not believe in the authority of the Vedas, Gandhi may be described, in my opinion, as a liberal Hindu with an eclectic approach towards religion.

VARNA-VYAVASTHA IS ARBITRARY AND CRUELLY UNFAIR EVEN BRUTAL. UNLIKE THE BIBLE, HINDUISM IS NOT TO BE BASED ON REASON, LOGIC, GRACE, JUSTICE AND HOLINESS. NO CRITICAL VIEWPOINT IS PERMITTED. IT IS A DICTITORIAL AND CRUEL RELIGION WITH A CASTE SYSTEM THAT CAUSES ARBITRARY AND CRUEL PERSECUTION AND PUNISHMENT

We have already noted that the first reference to varna (class based on birth or caste) is to be found in the Purusha-Sukta of the Rig Veda . The reference to the four ashrams or stages of life, namely, Brahmcharya, Garhastya, Vanprashta and Sanyas is to be found in the Upanishads. These are, in their turn, related to the four purusarthas or ends of life, namely, dharma (duty), artha (wealth), kama (satisfaction of sensual desires) and moksha (liberation). Out of these, the Upanishads attach maximum value to sanyas ashram and moksha purusartha, which is regarded as the highest end of life. The system of varnashram dharma is upheld by popular Hindu scriptures like Ramayana, Mahabharata and Bhagvat-Gita. In Ramayana, for example, Ram kills Shambuka simply because he was performing tapasya (ascetic exercises) which he was not supposed to do as he was a Shudra by birth. Similarly, in Mahabharata, Dronacharya refuses to teach archery to Eklavya, because he was not a Kshatriya by birth. When Eklavya, treating Drona as his notional guru, learns archery on his own, Drona makes him cut his right thumb as gurudakshina (gift for the teacher) so that he may not become a better archer than his favorite Kshatriya student Arjuna! The much-glorified Bhagvat-Gita, too, favors varna-vyavastha. When Arjuna refuses to fight, one of his main worries was that the war would lead to the birth of varna-sankaras or offspring from intermixing of different varnas and the consequent "downfall" of the family. On the other hand, Krishna tries to motivate Arjuna to fight by saying that it was his varna-dharma (caste-duty) to do so because he was a Kshatriya. In fact, Krishna goes to the extent of claiming that the four varnas were created by him only. Thus, Arjuna's main problem was being born a Kshatriya. Had he been a Brahmin or a Vaishya or a Shudra by birth, he would have been spared the trouble of fighting a destructive war. Even the much-applauded doctrine of niskama karma is nothing but an exhortation to faithfully perform one's varnashram dharma in a disinterested manner. The celebrated orthodox Hindu theologian Shankar, too, was a supporter of varna-vyavastha. According to him, Shudras are not entitled to philosophical knowledge. However, the most elaborate exposition of varnashram dharma is to be found in Manusmriti, an important dharmashastra of Hindus. Let us turn to it in order to have a close look at the varna-vyavastha. Manusmriti In the very first chapter of Manusmriti, it is clearly stated that Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Shudras were created by Brahma (creator of this world) from his mouth, hands, thighs and feet respectively. Manu claims that the same Brahma, who created this world, also created Manusmriti and taught it to him. The duties of the different varnas are also mentioned in the Manusmriti. The Brahmins were created for teaching, studying, performing yajnas (ceremonial sacrifices), getting yajnas performed, giving and accepting dan (gifts). The Kshatriyas were created for protecting the citizens, giving gifts, getting yajnas performed and studying. The Vaishyas were created for protecting animals, giving gifts, getting yajnas performed, studying, trading, lending money on interest and doing agricultural work. The Shudras were created by Brahma for serving Brahmins and the other two varnas without being critical of them. It is interesting to note that studying, getting yajnas performed and giving gifts or charity are common duties of Brahmins, Kshatriyas and Vaishyas; whereas teaching, accepting gifts and performing yajnas are reserved exclusively for Brahmins. The Shudras, of course, are denied the rights to study, getting yajnas performed by Brahmins or even giving gifts to them. Manusmriti further states that having originated from the mouth of Brahma, being elder and being the repository of the Vedas; Brahmins are the masters of the entire universe. Besides, Brahmins alone act as a sort of post office for transmitting food to the gods and the dead, that is to say, the gods and the dead eat food through the mouths of Brahmins (apparently because they do not have mouths of their own). Therefore, no one can be superior to Brahmins. All others are said to enjoy everything owing to the Brahmins' mercy. The Manusmriti clearly states that Brahmins alone are entitled to teach this dharmashastra and none else. Manusmriti refers to the Vedas, which are to be regarded as the main valid source of knowledge about dharma, as shruti and to dharmashastras as smriti. No one is to argue critically about them because religion has originated from them. Any nastika (non-believer) or critic of the Vedas, who "insults" them on the basis of logic, is worthy of being socially boycotted by "noble" persons.

[So, unlike the Bible, Hinduism is not to be based on logic, and no critical viewpoint is permitted - a dictitorial and cruel religion that is not based on reason, with a caste system that causes arbitrary and cruel persecution and punishment]

In short, the main features of chaturvarnya as elaborated in the Manusmriti are as follows: 1. Division of Hindu society into four varnas on the basis of birth. Out of these only the first three, namely , Brahmins , Kshatriya and Vaishya, who are collectively known as dwija (twice-born) are entitled to upanayan and the study of the Vedas. Shudras as well as women of dwija varnas are denied the right to study.

2. Assigning different duties and occupations for different varnas. This is to be enforced strictly by the king. According to Manusmriti, if a person of lower caste adopts the occupation of a higher caste, the king ought to deprive him of all his property and expel him from his kingdom.

3. Treating Brahmins as superior and other varnas, namely, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra as inferior to him in descending order with the Shudra occupying the bottom of the hierarchy. A Brahmin is to be treated as god and respected even if he is ignorant. Even a hundred-year old Kshatriya is to treat a ten year old Brahmin as his father. Brahmin alone is entitled to teach. If a Shudra dares to give moral lessons to a Brahmin, the king is to get him punished by pouring hot oil in his ear and mouth. Similarly, if a Shudra occupies the same seat as a Brahmin, he is to be punished by branding his waist (with hot rod) or getting his buttocks cut!

4. Treating women as unequal. Women, that is, even women belonging to Brahmin, Kshatriya and Vaishya varna are not entitled to upanayan and the study of the Vedas. For them, marriage is equivalent to upanayan and service of their husbands is equivalent to the study of the Vedas in the gurukul. Even if the husband is morally degraded, engaged in an affair with another woman and is devoid of knowledge and other qualities, the wife must treat him like a god. A widower is allowed to remarry but a widow is not. Besides, women are not considered fit for being free and independent. They are to be protected in their childhood by father, in youth by husband and in old age by son. [40] They should never be allowed by their guardians to act independently. A woman must never do anything even inside her home without the consent of her father, husband and son respectively. She must remain in control of her father in childhood, of husband in youth and of son after the death of her husband.

5. Treating different varnas as unequal for legal purposes. The Hindu law as codified by Manu is based on the principle of inequality. The punishment for a particular crime is not same for all varnas. In fact, the punishment varies depending on the varna of the victim as well as the varna of the person committing the crime. For the same crime, the Brahmin is to be given a mild punishment, whereas the Shudra is to given the harshest punishment of all. Similarly, if the victim of a crime is a Shudra, the punishment is mild, and the punishment is harsh in case the victim is a Brahmin. For example, if a Brahmin is awarded death sentence, it is sufficient to shave his head, but Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra are to actually die. If a Kshatriya, a Vaishya, or a Shudra repeatedly gives false evidence in the court, he is to be punished and expelled from the kingdom, whereas the Brahmin is not to be punished, he is to be only expelled. If a person has sexual intercourse with a consenting women of his own varna, he is not to be punished. But if a person of lower varna has sexual intercourse with a woman of higher varna, with or without her consent, he is to be killed. If a Brahmin forces a dwija to work for him, he is to be punished. But if a Brahmin forces a Shudra to work for him, whether by making or not making payments to him, he is not to be punished, because Shudras have been created only for serving Brahmins. If a Brahmin abuses a Shudra, he is to be fined mildly, but if a Shudra abuses a Brahmin, he is to be killed. On the other hand, even if a Brahmin kills a Shudra, he is merely to perform penance by killing a cat, frog, owl or crow, etc. Thus a Shudra is to be killed for abusing a Brahmin, whereas a Brahmin is to be let off lightly even if he kills a Shudra. Such is the unequal justice of Manusmriti. In fact, this system of graded inequality seems to be the very essence of the varna-vyavastha. Whether it is the choice of names, or the manner of greeting, or the mode of entertaining guests, or the method of administering oath in the court, or the process of taking out the funeral procession, at each and every step in life, from birth to death, this system of graded inequality is to be applied and observed. Manu does not even spare the rates of interest on loan. For borrowing the same amount, Kshatriya has to pay more as interest than Brahmin, Vaishya more than Kshatriya and the poor Shudra has to pay the maximum amount as interest!

6. Prohibiting inter-marriage between different varnas. According to Manusmriti, a dwija ought to marry a woman of his own varna. A woman of the same varna is considered best for the first marriage. However, a dwija may take a woman of inferior varna as his second wife if he is overcome by sexual passion. But Manu strongly disapproves of Brahmins and Kshatriyas taking a Shudra woman even as their second wife. They become Shudra if they do so.

7. Supporting untouchability is also a part of the scheme of social stratification outlined in the Manusmriti. Manu clearly mentions that Brahmin, Kshatriya and Vaishya, collectively known as dwija and the Shudras are the four varnas. There is no fifth varna. He explains the origin of other castes by saying that they are varna-sankara castes, that is to say, castes originating due to the intermixture of different varnas, both in anuloma (upper varna male and lower varna female) and pratiloma (lower varna male and upper varna female) manner. For example, Nishad caste is said to have originated from anuloma relationship between Brahmin male and Shudra female, whereas Chandala caste is said to be owing its origin to pratiloma relationship between Shudra male and Brahmin female. Manu seems to be disapproving of pratiloma relationship more than the anuloma, because he describes Chandalas as the lowest of the low castes. [66] Let us see what Manusmriti, has to say about the Chandala. The Chandala, says Manusmriti, must not ever reside inside the village. While doing their work, they must reside outside the village, at cremation ground, on mountains or in groves. They are not entitled to keep cows or horses, etc., as pet animals. They may keep dogs and donkeys. They are to wear shrouds. They are to eat in broken utensils. They are to use ornaments of iron, not of gold. They must keep moving from one place to another, not residing at the same place for a long duration. They must not move around in villages and cities in night hours. They may enter the villages and cities in daytime, with king's permission, wearing special symbols (to enable identification), and take away unclaimed dead bodies. Moreover, how is the "religious" person to deal with the Chandala? He must not have any social intercourse (marriage, interdining, etc.) with them. He must not talk to or even see them! He may ask servants (apparently Shudras) to give them food in broken utensils.

8. Granting divine and religious sanction to varna-vyavastha. Manu gives divine and religious sanction to the varna-vyavastha by claiming divine origin for the varnas as well as for the Manusmriti and demanding unquestioning obedience of it.

So, that completes my exposition of the varna-vyavastha. I want to emphasize in particular that my exposition does not contain any exaggeration at all. The reader may check each and every statement by comparing with the original Manusmriti in order to satisfy himself or herself. I cannot help if the system is so unjust and so out of tune with our existing values that even an objective exposition reads like a severe condemnation.

REASONS FOR REJECTING VARNA-VYAVASTHA

I reject varna-vyavastha because it is irrational, unjust and undemocratic, being opposed to the democratic and human values of liberty, equality and fraternity. The varna-vyavastha is opposed to the value of liberty as it denies the freedom to choose one's occupation and marriage partner to one and all. Everyone must join the occupation of his varna and must marry within his varna. Similarly, it denies the freedom to study to the Shudras and woman in particular. Even the dwija must study the Vedas before he studies anything else. Otherwise, he becomes a Shudra. (Incidentally, according to Manusmriti, there are several ways by which a Brahmin or dwija may become a Shudra but there is no way by which a Shudra may become a Brahmin. A Shudra must always remain a Shudra.). What is worse, the Chandala is even denied the freedom to reside at a place of his choice or to wear clothes and ornaments of his choice. He is not even free to keep pet animals of his choice. The conflict between varna-vyavastha and the value of equality is more than obvious. As I mentioned earlier, the system of graded inequality seems to be the very essence of varna-vyavastha. It denies equal respect to all in society. It denies equality before law. It denies equal access to marriage partners. It denies equal access to jobs. The occupation of teachers and priests, for example, is reserved exclusively for Brahmins. Finally, it also denies equal access to education and knowledge. A Brahmin, according to Manu, must not teach the Shudra and woman even if he dies with his knowledge without imparting it to anybody. On the other hand, if anyone studies the Vedas on his own he or she will go straight to hell. ...The varna-vyavastha is most unfair to the Shudras and the untouchables. They are denied respect, knowledge, power and wealth. They are denied access to occupations considered respectable, just as they are denied access to men and women of upper varnas for marriage. The Shudras are virtually reduced to being slaves of the Brahmins in particular and the dwijas in general, whereas the untouchables are regarded as outcast -- beyond the pale of the society. The women are generally treated as sexual objects and as unfit for being independent and free. As far as fraternity is considered, we must not expect it to exist in a society, which is so unequal and unjust. A Shudra's waist is to be branded or his buttocks are to be cut only because he occupies the same seat as the Brahmin. The "religious" are not to talk or even look at a Chandala. Inter-marriage is prohibited. Manu seems to be most eager to prevent inter-mixing of the varnas. Thus, the Hindu social order is based on the isolation and exclusiveness of the varnas. The Manusmriti not only outlines a totally undemocratic and unjust social system but also gives divine, religious sanction to this man-made social institution of chaturvarnya. Some Hindus, including apparently learned "thinkers" and writers, smugly wax eloquent about Hinduism being the most tolerant and liberal religion of the world. Is there any other religion, which sanctions slavery and untouchability? Is there any other religion in which only persons born in a particular caste ( Brahmin) are entitled to become priests? Slavery is not peculiar to India or to Hinduism, but carrying it to the extremes of untouchability, and granting it divine and religious sanction is peculiar to Hinduism. Similarly, some Hindus may be tolerant, just as some of them are intolerant, but Hinduism or Hindu religion is not tolerant at all, either socially or intellectually. Manusmriti, for example, clearly says that anybody who argues critically and logically about dharmashastras ought to be ostracized. Non-believers, including freethinkers, rationalists and Buddhists, are not to be entertained respectfully as guests; though, mercifully, they may be given food. The families of non-believers are destroyed sooner than later according to Manu. A state with a large number of Shudras and nastikas soon meets its destruction. Manusmriti is full of abusive epithets for freethinkers and non-believers. The unorthodox (nastikas) are sometimes equated with the Shudras, sometimes with the Chandalas, sometimes with thieves and sometimes with lunatics! Such is the generosity of Hindu dharma.

WHAT THE APOLOGISTS SAY IN DEFENSE OF THE VARNA-VYAVASTHA

Let me now consider what the apologists of varna-vyavastha have to say in its defense.

1) A standard defense of varna-vyavastha is to say that it is a system of division of labor.

It is easy to grant that division of labor is essential for any complex society, but it is equally easy to see that varna-vyavastha is not a system of division of labor based on aptitude and capability. It is a system of division of labor based on birth . Besides, it has other associated features such as feeling of superiority and inferiority, inequality before law, denial of equal access to knowledge and prohibition against inter-marriage. What have these features to do with the division of labor? Division of labor is found in all societies, but varna-vyavastha is not. Thus, trying to justify varna-vyavastha as division of labor is a futile exercise.

2) Another standard defense of the varna-vyavastha is to say that the system was originally based on aptitude and capability.

Whether it was actually ever so is a subject for historical research. Most probably, the racial theory of the origin of castes is true. However, even if we grant for the sake of argument that the varna-vyavastha was originally based on aptitude and capability, how does it help? We cannot say that because the system was originally, some time in remote past, based on aptitude and capability; therefore we ought to gladly suffer the present system based on birth. It hardly makes any sense at all! In any case, Manusmriti was most probably written between 200 BC and 200 AD and the system as outlined in it is totally based on birth. Gautam Buddha, who lived in sixth century BC, challenged the infallibility of the Vedas as well as the varna-vyavastha. There are several passages in Tripitaka, mainly in Digha Nikaya and Majhima Nikaya which are "directed against the claims of the Brahmans to be of different origin from the rest of humanity, born from the mouth of Brahma, having a hereditary prerogative to teach, guide and spiritually govern the rest of the society." In Majhima Nikaya Buddha is quoted as refuting varna-vyavastha on several occasions. According to Buddha, it is unreasonable to decide one's place and functions in society on the basis of one's birth in a caste. Buddha is also quoted as insisting that in the eyes of the law all persons ought to be treated as equal, irrespective of the caste or varna in which he or she is born. Thus, it is obvious that even if the system of varna-vyavastha ever existed in its ideal form -- which is doubtful -- it had already degenerated by the time of Buddha, that is, about 2500 years back. The most blatant defense of varna-vyavastha, however, is to say that human beings are born unequal, and, therefore, it is natural and normal for children to join the occupation of their fathers.

GANDHI INADEQUATELY DEFENDED VARNA-VYAVASTHA

Surprisingly and sadly, no less a person than Gandhi defended varna-vyavastha in a similar manner. To quote Gandhi:

"I believe that every man is born in the world with certain natural tendencies. Every person is born with certain definite limitations which he cannot overcome. From a careful observation of those limitations the law of varna was deduced. It establishes certain spheres of action for certain people with certain tendencies. This avoided all unworthy competition. Whilst recognizing limitations, the law of varna admitted of no distinction of high and low; on the one hand it guaranteed to each the fruits of his labors and on the other it prevented him from pressing upon his neighbor. This great law has been degraded and fallen into disrepute. But my conviction is that an ideal social order will only be evolved when the implications of this law are fully understood and given effect to."

Again,

"I regard Varnashrama as a healthy division of work based on birth. The present ideas of caste are a perversion of the original. There is no question with me of superiority or inferiority. It is purely a question of duty. I have indeed stated that varna is based on birth. But I have also said that it is possible for a shudra, for instance, to become a vaishya. But in order to perform the duty of vaishya he does not need the label of a vaishya. He who performs the duty of a brahman will easily become one in the next incarnation."

So, varna-vyavastha, according to Gandhi, is a "healthy division of work based on birth," which takes into account the "natural tendencies" of human beings and avoids "unworthy competition." This apparently plausible defense of varna-vyavastha is, in fact, most unscientific. It is a well-known and scientifically verified fact that acquired characteristics are not inherited biologically, only genetic qualities are transmitted from one generation to another. For instance, carpentry is an acquired characteristic; just as knowledge of philosophy is an acquired quality. Neither a carpenter's son or daughter is born with the knowledge of carpentry, nor is a philosopher's daughter or son born with the knowledge of philosophy. These are acquired characteristics and, therefore, they cannot be inherited biologically. If sometimes, though not always, a carpenter's son becomes a good carpenter or a philosopher's daughter acquires a good knowledge of philosophy, without being formally initiated into these disciplines, it is not because they are born with the required knowledge, but only because of the favorable environment at home, which enables them to acquire these characteristics. The result could be different if their places were to be interchanged. One may say that though the knowledge of carpentry of philosophy in not inherited biologically, the mental qualities enabling one to acquire the requisite knowledge is inherited. Some physical and mental qualities are, no doubt, inherited but this does not mean that parents and their children are always identical in physical or mental qualities. It is a well known fact -- anybody can verify this by careful observation -- that due to different permutations and combinations of chromosomes and genes offspring of same parents are not always identical to one another or to their parents. More often than not, they are different. For instance, one son or daughter of same parents may be tall and another short. The colors of skin, hair and eyes may differ likewise. What is true of physical characteristics is equally true of mental qualities. Thus, a child may or may not have the mental characteristics, which his father has. Therefore, it is totally unscientific to forcefully restrict children to the occupations of their forefathers. It is true that all human beings are not equal in the sense of being identical in physical or mental qualities. But it does not follow from this that they ought to be denied equal opportunity to join a vocation of their choice or that they ought to be denied equality before law or equal respect as human beings in the society. As for "unworthy" competition, how do we know that the competition is unworthy unless all are, to begin with, given equal opportunity? Take the example of Gandhi himself. He was a bania by caste. Yet, in spite of some serious aberrations such as supporting varna-vyavastha based on birth and linking politics with religion, he performed fairly well in the role of a national leader. It would have been a great loss for the nation if in the name of avoiding "unworthy" competition in politics, Gandhi would have been confined to running a grocery shop. Similarly, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar was born in an "untouchable" caste, but he played an important role in the drafting of the democratic constitution of independent India. He also taught in a college for some time. To use the terminology of varna-vyavastha, he ably performed the work of a Brahmin. Is it possible to imagine how many Ambedkars we may have lost by now owing to the restrictive varna-vyavastha? As we have noted earlier, varna-vyavastha is a closed system of social stratification without any scope for upward social mobility. To quote M. Haralambos, author of a textbook on sociology, "A person belongs to his parents jati and automatically follows the occupation of the jati into which he was born. Thus no matter what the biologically based aptitude and capacities of an untouchable, there is no way he can become a Brahmin. Unless it is assumed that superior genes are permanently located in the Brahmin caste, and there is no evidence that this is the case, then there is probably no relationship between genetically based and socially created inequality in traditional Hindu society."

Returning to Gandhi, though Gandhi was opposed to untouchability and caste, he did not carry his opposition to its logical conclusion. Inconsistently enough, he continued to support the varna-vyavastha based on birth. At one stage, he even supported restrictions on interdining and intermarriage. As he wrote in Young India in 1921, "Hinduism does most emphatically discourage interdining and intermarriage between divisions... It is no part of a Hindu's duty to dine with his son. And by restricting his choice of bride to a particular group, he exercises rare self-restraint. Prohibition against intermarriages and interdining is essential for the rapid evolution of the soul." Later Gandhi moved away from these orthodox ideas, and started supporting intercaste marriages. Finally in 1946, he refused to solemnize any marriage at Sevagram Ashram unless one of the parties was an untouchable. May be he would also have given up varna-vyavastha if he had lived longer. That, however, is in the realm of imagination, the fact is that Gandhi supported varna-vyavastha. It is worth noting that he invented his own conception of varna-vyavastha, which, according to him, had nothing to do with the feeling of superiority and inferiority or with prohibition against intermarriage. We find here in Gandhi a quaint mixture of conservatism and reformism. I would like to dispose of one last objection before concluding this section. One may say that the Hindu law at present is quite different from what Manu desired, and presently Hindus in general do not follow Manu in totality. This is true. The Hindu law at present, for instance, allows inter-caste marriage and prohibits bigamy and child marriage. It permits divorce. It also allows widow remarriage and grants equal rights to daughters in father's property. Nevertheless, there seems to be a gap between the progressive Hindu law and the conservative social practices of the Hindus. A majority of Hindu marriages are still within the caste and very few Hindu women actually claim or get a share in father's property. The Indian constitution has rightly made special provisions, such as reservations in services for scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and other socially and educationally backward classes, to enable them to enter occupations and positions of power, which had been traditionally denied to them. No doubt, some upper caste liberal Hindus, too, support the policy of reservation. But, by and large, the Hindu upper castes are far from fully reconciled to this progressive step as is evident from violent and aggressive anti-reservation agitation spearheaded by upper caste students from time to time. This kind of reactionary agitation aimed at preserving the present dominance of upper castes in education and the services enjoys considerable support and sympathy in the upper caste dominated media as well as the academia. On the whole, the Hindu society is yet to fully exorcise the ghost of Manu. Caste based on birth and untouchability still exist in the Hindu society, in spite of the fact that untouchability has been abolished by the Indian constitution. The distribution of education, power and wealth continues to be uneven in the Hindu society, with the dwijas being on the top and the Shudras and untouchables being at the bottom. Teaching is no more an exclusive preserve of Brahmins, but the occupation of Hindu priests is still fully reserved for Brahmins, though this fact does not arouse the ire of our fervent anti-reservationists. Moksha, Karmavada and Avatarvada Moksha is traditionally regarded as the highest end of life in Hindu religion. The "endless cycle of birth and death" is considered a bondage from which one must attain liberation, that is moksha or mukti. This whole concept of bondage and liberation is based on the unproved assumption of life after death, and the existence of soul ( atma) which continues to exist apart from the body even after death. In the famous words of Gita, the soul changes bodies just as human beings change clothes. [88] Now, there are no good reasons for believing in the existence of soul or life after death or rebirth. These beliefs are not at all supported by incontrovertible scientific evidence. According to S.N. Dasgupta, "there has seldom been before or after Buddha any serious attempt to prove or disprove the doctrine of rebirth. The attempts to prove the doctrine of rebirth in the Hindu philosophical works such as Nyaya, etc. are slight and inadequate." However, even before Buddha, Lokayat had disproved the existence of soul, life after death, rebirth, heaven and hell on an empirical basis, as these things are never perceived. Thus, in absence of any evidence to the contrary, it is reasonable to believe that each one of us has got one and only one life . Once a person is dead, he is dead for ever. Never to be reborn. Mind, consciousness, memory and life cannot outlast the destruction of brain and body. This is the harsh truth; howsoever we may dislike it. The belief in soul seems to have originated from primitive animism. If this belief continues to persist, in spite of total lack of evidence in its support, it is only because of human beings' inability to come to terms with, or to squarely face, the reality of death. One likes to believe that one's near and dear ones, who are dead and finished forever, actually continue to live in some other imaginary world, and that they will also be reborn one day. One draws comfort from the thought that one will not die even after death, and continue to live in some other form. It is paradoxical that, first, the fear of death and love of life makes one readily accept the belief in the immortality and rebirth of soul without adequate evidence, and, then, getting rid of this alleged cycle of birth and death itself becomes the topmost religious aim! The problem of getting "released" from the alleged cycle of birth and death is a pseudo-problem (in the sense that one is trying to get rid of something which simply does not exist) and moksha is an imaginary ideal which has nothing to do with the reality. Instead of running after the imaginary ideal of moksha, it is far better to concentrate on improving and living well this one and only life, which we have. Mimamsa, which is an orthodox Hindu school of thought, considers attainment of heaven ( swarga), instead of moksha, as the highest end of life. References to heaven and hell are also to be found in the Manusmriti. The belief in heaven is fairly widespread at popular level. However, the ideal of the attainment of heaven, too, is based on unproved assumptions, like life after death and the existence of heaven, and, therefore, it cannot be accepted. Another related doctrine is the Hindu belief in karmavada or the so-called law of karma. According to this doctrine, every human being gets the fruits of his actions either in the present or in some future life. Whatever a human being is in his present life is the result of his own actions in the past life or lives. This, again, is a totally unverified and unverifiable doctrine based on the assumption of the "cycle of birth and death." It is only a convenient tool for explaining away the perceived inequality in human society. The idea of karma is found in Buddhism and Jainism as well. However, these religions do not support varna-vyavastha. But in Hinduism the doctrine of karma, along with the idea of god, has been used for providing ideological support to the unjust varna-vyavastha and for making it appear just and fair. In Hinduism the so-called law of karma merely serves the purpose of legitimizing the unjust varna-vyavastha by making the Shudras and the "untouchables" meekly accept their degrading position as a "result of their own deeds" in imaginary past lives, and by assuring them "better" birth in "next life" if they faithfully perform their varna-dharma in their present lives. In this way, this doctrine prevents them from revolting against this man-made undemocratic system, which has nothing to do with alleged past and future lives. Lastly, I come to the Hindu doctrine of avatarvada. According to this doctrine, whenever religion is threatened in this world, god takes birth as an avatar to put things back into order. Ram and Krishna, for example, are popularly regarded as avatars by the Hindus. Belief in avatarvada, too, is logically unjustifiable and merely makes one run away from one's own responsibilities. Instead of making efforts to improve their own condition, those who believe in avatarvada keep waiting for an avatar to take birth. Since god does not exist, there is no question of his being born on this earth as an avatar. (Let me add here that I also do not believe in the truth of statements like "Jesus is the son of god" or "Mohammed is the messenger of god.") Not only I do not regard Ram or Krishna (or anyone else) as an avatar of god, I also do not regard them as ideal personalities. Ram, as mentioned earlier, was on upholder, of the varna-vyavastha. His cruel behavior with Sita, after fighting a destructive war with Ravana to get her released, is too well known to need recapitulation. Krishna, on the other hand, is portrayed in the Mahabharata as the teacher of Bhagvat Gita, a book which expounds ...doctrines like the belief in god and immortal soul, avatarvada, karmavada, varnashram dharma and the doctrine of moksha. In Mahabharata Krishna adopts and advocates adoption of unfair means like lying and deception for achieving one's ends. Obviously, he did not believe in the doctrine of purity of ends and means. There are several flaws in the character of Krishna as portrayed in the Mahabharata, Bhagvat and Harivamsa. These have been ably enumerated by Dr. Ambedkar in his The Riddle of Ram and Krishna . I refer the interested reader to this work for a fuller treatment of this subject.

CONCLUSION

I categorically reject major Hindu religious beliefs including the doctrine of the infallibility of the Vedas, varnashram dharma , moksha, karmavada, and avatarvada. I am not an admirer of Ram and Krishna, and I also do not believe in idol worship or the Hindu taboo of not eating beef. I support logical and scientific thinking; and a secular, rational morality based on human values of liberty, equality and fraternity.