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Philosophy 312: Oriental Philosophy
Hinduism: The Caste System,  Reincarnation, and Karma


I. The Caste System--(groups assigned by birth not personality). The Hindu conception of the social order is that people are different, and different people will fit well into different aspects of society.  Social order or social class according to varna forms the framework of moral duties according to personal characteristics of individuals (not necessarily birth).

    A. Historically the caste system dates back to the Aryan invasion of India around 2,000 BC.

    B. Society is divided into four main groups (with a fifth, "the untouchables," outside of the caste system).

      Passage from the Rig Veda:
      (The world was formed from Purusa whose body is described as follows.)
      "The brahmin was his mouth, his two arms became the rajanya (kshatriyas), his thighs are what the vaisya are, and from his feet the shudra was made."

       1. Brahmin: the seers, the reflective ones, the priests.

        a. The intellectual and spiritual leaders.

        b. In our society, they would correspond to the philosophers, religious leaders, and teachers.

      2. Kshatriyas--(pronounced something like "kshot ree yahs") the born administrators (formerly nobles, rajahs, and warriors).

        a. The protectors of society.

        b. In our society, the politicians, police, and the military.

      3. Vaisyas: (pronounced something like "vy sy us") the producers, the craftsmen, artisans, farmers.

        a. The skillful producers of material things.

        b. In our society, the merchants.

      4. Shudras--(pronounced something like "shoo drrahs") the unskilled laborers or laboring class.

        a. The followers or the maintenance people.

        b. The so-called menial workers or hard laborers.

    C. Advantages to the Caste system. The heritability of intelligence and factors of personality raise some interesting philosophical questions. 

      1. What we would like people to be is not usually what they are. Many persons would be more comfortable in their own social class.

      2. Unless unequals are separated into different classes, many persons would be "born losers."

      3. Egalitarianism is the belief that privileges are proportional to the responsibilities and a denial of the tyranny of the majority.

II. Reincarnation: the philosophical basis of this belief is the consideration that if individual souls (jivas) are eternal, where did they come from?
    A. The spirit is independent of the body and the situation the spirit is in.
      Passage from the Gita:
      "Worn out garments are shed by the body; worn out bodies are shed by the dweller."

      1. At the subhuman level the passage is almost automatic up the chain of being.

      2. At the human level comes consciousness which implies freedom, responsibility, and effort.

      3. The consequences of your past decisions have determined your present state.

    B. Law of Karma--the moral law of action and reaction.

      1. The present condition of your soul (confusion or serenity) is a product of your past decisions. You have made yourself what you are.

      2. Your present thoughts, decisions, and actions determine your future states. ("Unsettled state" = "bad karma.")  Karma can be altered through natural and moral decision and action.

      3. Every person gets what that person deserves--even though decisions are freely arrived at, there is no chance in the universe. Karma is the middle way between determinism and indeterminism.

      4. The assumption is that we will not change the world in any significant way--the world is the training ground for Atman-Brahman.

      5. There is no randomness or accident in the universe. "There are no lost traces."  Karma is not fate or strict causality.

 

     

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