Tuesday, January 30, 2007

A question from a student

According to perhaps the most popular philosophical tradition in Hinduism, Advaita Vedanta, all things are one and distinction between one thing and another, or between God and the world, are not real. Yet through much of Hindu history, one of the defining elements of Hinduism is the caste system, which makes a good deal about the distinctions between persons. If, as Advaita Vendanta teaches, all things are one and all things are God, doesn't it follow that all castes are one and distinctions between them are not real?


Jason Pratt said...

Keeping in mind I am not a Hindu: the caste system seems to be an outworking of the doctrine of karma. If so, then the question of whether "caste" is supposed to be real or not may be irrelevant. Persons in a caste are progressing toward the point where their differences are eliminated, but in order to reach that eventual zero-balance all souls must zero out their experiences and actions.

_Specifically_ how it's supposed to work out, I don't know. It would seem to entail that, quite literally, no good deed goes unpunished (so to speak!); but on the other hand I also get the impression that to be reincarnated into a lower caste (or even into an animal) is done in order to balance out for _evils_ done in prior lives. On the other hand, this may be a popularized version of a technical doctrine that doesn't really have what we would think of as 'good' and 'evil' (thus not reward and punishment) in operant view at all. Opinions?

In any case, the resolution would be necessarily complicated (assuming karmic doctrine) by any actions done in this life--if those actions don't contribute to the zero-balancing, _they_ have to be karmically balanced the next time. I would expect there are mystical disciplines intended to help discern which actions would help toward karmic release and which ones a given individual should avoid as adding to that individual's karmic disbalance. A related trend would be toward the minimization of action at all.

Jason Pratt

Anonymous said...

The Hindu religion seems to follow a very simplistic way of life. If the doctrine to be followed is that all things are one and all things are God, then it would seem to follow that the caste system does not necessarily follow a sense of real or not real distinction, but that they are merely areas of the religion. Being reincarnated into another life does not have to mean being rewarded or punished. It can mean being placed into another level of the religion. Some people might think being reincarnated as a bald eagle is punishment, while others may believe it to be a reward. It's all based on everything being at the same level, and focused on the religion, not the differences.