Why (orthodox) Hinduism matters

We live in a globalised world. The richest people in Britain are now Hindus.

That’s ironic when looking at the history of the empire. But never mind. I want to look at why it matters from an ideological point of view.

Hinduism is a religion with a deep ‘us and them’ attitude. (Spoiler alert: We are ‘them’).

At the base of this lies an understanding of human development which values purity over everything and whose goal is refinement of human society. The four castes are generally known: Brahmanas, Kshatriyas, Vaisyas, Sudras. Then there are the four stages of life, the varnas, which all the twice-borns, i.e. actual members of Hindu society, are supposed to follow.

The laws of Manu describe the people existing outside of this 4 castes as Chandalas. Gandhi talked a lot about the eradication of untouchability. But that’s all forgotten now.

‘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.’

All of this is of course now rejected by most Indians who profess to stand for equality, liberty and fraternity. Hinduism has, of course, undergone an evolution too – and as more and more people studied abroad, during the 19th century, there were discussions and writings on how to live with Hindu values, while also being compassionate.

But it’s still the base of Hindu society. And since Gandhi’s passing, orthodox Hinduism has become the thing in India (as far as I understand). I’ve worked with Indians and have marveled at their ability to worship their machinery with incense and flowers while at the same time not giving a shit about the welfare of the African people they made their products for. It all makes slightly more sense now.

Coming to my favourite subject, the Hare Krishnas. Their founder, Bhaktivedanta Swami (also known as Prabhupada) first established the four orders of life according to Hindu society – brahmacarya, grihasta, varnaprasta and sannyas (student monk, householder, traveling renunciate, monk) and was planning to establish a caste system at some point, but passed away before he could do that.

One of the people who took over the leadership of ISKCON after his passing was Harikesa Swami. He was probably the most fanatic of the original 12 (until he left in ’98, cue big scandal) and wrote a Varnashrama Manifesto in the eighties, making plans for ‘fulfilling the vision of the founder. It had to be pulped – it too clearly stated the objectives of the movement which included *some* (minor) cleansing, maybe some killing. And oh look. Oh dear. You can still buy it on Amazon.

I’m not saying the Hare Krishnas are planning something. But what is sadly true is that the founder mixed together concepts from ultra-orthodox Hinduism (the four varnas and four castes) with ‘modern’ Hindu thought (the non-differential chanting of the mantras, equally given to all by Chaitanya in the 15th century, causing a revolution of Bhakti, devotional Hinduism) and transplanted it all over here without really knowing what he was doing.

Bhaktivedanta Swami’s guru was a very switched-on guy, and the people who did spend time with him are good people – sadly, Bhaktivedanta Swami never did spend any time with his guru apart from a few lectures, during which the guru told him ‘to bring Krishna Consciousness to the West’. He was a chemist by trade, and really fobbed off with family life. He then left his family, re-translated all the scriptures and bent the Sanskrit to saying what he thought they should say, AND started a religion establishing himself as the only true representative of god. All that together is a good start. (oh and there’s some fun reading on Women in Iskcon too.)

And then, he cared a lot more for quantity over quality. His target was opening 108 temples during his lifetime. So not only did he not know what he was doing, but the people who took over had even less of a clue, and nothing more to go on than his talks and writings. That did two things. The flashy temples really impressed Hindus all over, giving ISKCON a good name and more power than it knew what to do with, and inside, it created a really manipulative culty mess. Just to give you an idea: It was ok to raise money for new temples by selling drugs. That was before my time, and the reason why ISKCON never got big in Germany – the authorities were on to them, raided their castle, and found drugs and weapons UNDER THE ALTAR. That sticks in the public’s mind, I can tell you.

During my time in the early nineties, we sold less dangeous things but even then part of ‘the service’ of raising cash was deception. And yeah I will eventually write about what prompted me to join so soon after the wall of the Berlin wall. I have a theory, anyways.

So – morality. We all have some idea for what’s right and what’s wrong. If we’ve spent time living within other cultures, we know l we live in a tiny bubble. Most of us however think our understanding of right and wrong is absolute. And then we deal with Indian industrialists on a daily basis and marvel at how they make SO MUCH MONEY.

We have pension money in their businesses, and then we have the THING standing around in Stratford, built from steel from Omarska while ignoring what happened there. There is, really, no crossover between what we think is right and what they think is right.

I’m going to have some more chats with people who know what’s happening on the ground in Orissa. I can tell you this much – it’s unbelievable.

And – if we don’t care to look, they won’t care to tell.

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