are striving to mesh philosophy and reality
Thursday, February 10, 2000
By OM PRAKASH and ATUL PRAKASH
Hinduism (Dharma) is a very broad and sublime religion,
a way of life that sees the world as a single family.
Prayers to God have invocations for health, happiness,
and peace on the earth. According to basic Hindu scriptures -- Vedas,
Upanishads, Gita, and epics of the Ramayana, Mahabharata, and Puranahs -- Dharma
stands for righteousness and the practice of spiritual and moral values. God --
omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent -- is one, but people refer to him by
Hinduism imparts social justice in many different ways.
Its built-in form of social justice is the idea that the soul is eternal and
indestructible, born again and again according to the sum total of past and
present actions until one has communion with the Supreme. These actions do not
include eating, sleeping, and procreating, but rather actions for others without
expectation of reward. The reward is to be left to God.
The Vedas prescribe 16 sacraments to purify and mold
the mind in righteousness throughout its cycle of earthly existence. These
stages include marriage, which is to be undertaken only upon completion of
education of both partners and in the presence of compatibility.
The bride has equal say in accepting or rejecting the
match, and may choose her partner in a ceremony called swayamvar (self-choosing).
The aim of the family is to be a stable and righteous unit of society.
The Vedas prescribe five great duties (maha yajnas)
to sublimate self-interest to the interest of the society. Yajna means
self-sacrifice. These noble obligations include brahma yajna,a discipline
for personal development by acquiring knowledge, including daily reading of the
scriptures; deva yajna, a symbolic sacrifice required of every head of
household to remind the family that they have to share with each other and use
wealth for the welfare of others; pitri yajna,a commitment to discharge
one's responsibility to senior citizens; athithi yagna, an obligation
toward the entire human race (athithi means an unannounced visitor), even
at the price of one's own comfort and happiness; and booth yajna, a
unique contribution of Hinduism to the world that advocates giving a portion of
one's meal to an animal.
Hinduism also stands for social ethics and a dedication
to society. The Vedic society is divided into four natural groups according to
the service rendered by an individual.
Those who pursue the vocation of learning and propagate
knowledge are called Brahmins. Warriors and those who govern the state
are Kshtriyas. Traders, farmers, and professionals are Vaishyas.
Those who serve the society with manual labor are Shudras. No vocation is
considered high or low; all are deemed dignified and essential to society,
working together for the common good.
These four classes form the backbone of the society.
Rigveda and Atharveda detail the principles and methodology of governing this
society in a way that helps promote righteousness, dispense justice, and
establish peace within the state. The officers of the state, including the king,
were required to have certain qualities and were chosen by the public. There was
full freedom of speech, and any unjust, incompetent, corrupt, or tyrannical
ruler could be removed.
Clearly, the Vedas and the other Hindu scriptures
encourage equality, freedom of mind, expression, self-discipline, and righteous
values for a just and equitable society to provide social justice.
Unfortunately, external aggressions, internal strifes, and subjugations have
resulted in some of the present-day ignorances, distortions, and aberrations.
Mahatma Gandhi is perhaps the greatest example of an
individual's attempt to eradicate these aberrations. Though he is best known for
his principles of truth and non-violence, his ashrams reflect a perfect
example of social justice as defined by the Hindu philosophy.
These Ashrams were small-scale versions of classless
community life without any discrimination. Gandhi inducted spirituality and
spiritualism in all facets of his own life and the lives of people all over the
world. He constantly strived to eradicate the sociocultural aberration of "untouchability,"
which is against the basic tenants of Hinduism. But socio-cultural aberrations
do not by any means undermine the social justice emphasized by Hindu traditions.
Om Prakash of Paramus is retired engineer, diplomat,
and social worker.
Atul Prakash is a cardiologist and electrophysiologist,
as well as a clinical assistant professor at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School
and The General Hospital Center at Passaic. Both belong to Arya Samaj Hindu
community of New Jersey.