Statement against Caste-based Discrimination: Swami Bodhananda, Founder and Spiritual Head, Sambodh Foundation

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Backgound

Swami Bodhananda is highly respected in America and India as an accomplished teacher of Vedanta, meditation and Management and has delivered thousands of lectures on the above topics, especially on the Bhagavad Gita, the Upanishads, the Yoga Sutras and their relevance in the modern world. Presently, Swami Bodhananda is the Spiritual Founder and Director of 12 organizations and ashrams under the umbrella of the Sambodh Foundation, New Delhi, India (1991); the Bodhananda Research Foundation for Management and Leadership Studies, Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, India (1994); and, The Sambodh Society, Inc. (1997), his American organization. Swami Bodhananda is the author of several books: Meditation: The Awakening of Inner Powers, The Gita & Management, Self Unfoldment In An Interactive World, Irrreverent Spiritual Questions, Dialogues-Philosopher Meets The Seer, Indian Management And leadership, and a monograph titled, “Rishi Vision”. Swami Bodhananda began his mission in America in 1997 and, at the end of his first tour he, along with a group of devotees, established The Sambodh Society, Inc. for the purpose of teaching Hindu Dharma, Meditation and Vedanta.

Statement

1. As a student of Bhagavad Gita and the Upanishads, I firmly believe that all human beings are expressions of the same DIVINITY and hence no discrimination based either on birth, color of the skin or socio-economic status is allowed by the Hindu Scriptures. Bhagavan Sri Krishna says in the Bhagavad Gita that humanity is created with a fourfold division based on each individual's disposition and affinity to given pursuits like knowledge, power, wealth and sense pleasures. But, even though one is born (janmana) with a given disposition, one can create ones destiny by self effort (karmana). I believe that every individual should get the same opportunity to explore and express his/her potential and be responsible for his/her future. Caste determination and discrimination based on birth has no sanction in the Hindu scriptures. More over this practice is unlawful and punishable under the Indian Constitution.
 
2. The basic Hindu Scriptures are the Vedas, Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita, Bhagavatam and the Ramayana. If there are any internal contradictions the Vedas are taken as the ultimate authority. The Vedas see people with different dispositions as different limbs of the same cosmic person (Purusha Sukta). The Upanishads say that God/Brahman pervades and lives in all manifestations (Isavasya and Taittiriya Upanishad). The Gita says that one who sees God in all, indeed lives in God (Chapter 6). One of the qualities of Rama as described by Valmiki is 'sarvabhuta hite ratah', engaged in the well being of all. The Bhagavatam indiscriminately invites one and all to the Divine.
 
3. My organization, the Sambodh Foundation, has adopted a Dalit village in Srya Gaon, Sattal in the Nainittal district of Uttarakhand. Forty Dalit families live in an isolated village overlooking a lake. The overall population of the village is 140, males and females included. There are no health facilities, no toilets, no roads, no drinking water and no shops in this hapless Dalit village. There is only a primary school with one teacher and a ram- shackle building. Large families live in one-room tenements, cooking, eating, sleeping, mating and birthing, and, sometimes under the same roof, jostling with domestic animals for space. Seventy five percent of the people are suffering from tuberculosis. Our volunteers went from house to house talking to the members to assess their immediate needs. What they badly wanted was drinking water facility. Sambodh Foundation talked to devotees in Delhi and collected about 12 lakhs. One villager made the land available and bore wells were dug, tanks were built, pipes laid and now the Dalits are getting drinking water. But that was only the beginning. A lot more is to be done to create self-awareness among the Dalits  – about their potential as human beings, their rights and responsibilities as citizens, and the power of collective efforts, importance of education, sanitation, health care, productive work etc.
 
4. Every sensible Hindu agrees that the existence of caste system and discrimination based on caste are blots on Hindu society. Caste hierarchy is  ethically, morally and spiritually wrong. It is against enlightened social and political principles. Keeping 25 percent of people outside the mainstream is economic suicide. The four-fold type casting of people based on inner dispositions has psychological reasons, and division of people into many groups and guilds based on vocations has sound economic reasons. When education and transfer of skills took place within family confines, from parents to children, birth played an important role in educational status and skill levels. There were little movement of people and competition was unheard of and unviable in a subsistant economy. The accident of birth was the singular determinant of status, power, vocation and community in such a static fossilized society. During the long Islamic and British rule (lasting almost 1200 years) the Brahmins, custodians of knowledge and values, and Kshatriyas, protectors of the value system abdicated their duties and went over to the side of alien masters, subserving colonial interests. The rudderless masses withdrew into their caste shells and caste based superstitions for security and survival. Blind unquestioned adherence to caste rules and traditions was the survival strategy of the masses in the absence of native intellectual and political leadership. This survival strategy went so deep into the Hindu psyche that getting out, in spite of 60 years of independence, seems difficult. Now, Dalits are organizing politically, making smart moves in the Indian political chessboard. In India's divisive politics, any party with 32 percent of popular vote can come to power at the center.  The shrewd Mayavati, daughter of a Dalit, proved it in Uttar Pradesh by cobbling a coalition of 25 percent Dalits and 13 percent Brahmins, and capturing absolute majority in the assembly election. Caste based on birth, like language and class, will continue in India at least as long as poverty remains, but soon its sting will go. Caste will no longer be seen as a tool of oppression and exploitation, but will be used as a vehicle of entitlement, collective bargaining and emancipation.
 
7th August 2008
Swami Bodhananda
Sambodh Centre for Human Excellence
Kalamazoo, Michigan