Fragmented Consciousness:Do Varna-Jatis Learn?

By Phyecon1 16 Comments

Keep the slanderer near you, build him a hut in your courtyard —
For, without soap or water, he will scrub your character clean. ~Kabir

Ancient India post Indus civilization did not have a written language. Therefore the creations of Vedas and the requirements of memory in order to preserve it was the driving force for the believers. It therefore was a constraint to overcome, and in doing so created a class of people beginning from various stock to record and memorize verbally what was central to their lives and to enact the rituals.

Over time,as the volume of the content increased it perhaps became more laborious to try to remember all the relevant information and rituals, that meant the learning had to start early. This created a constraint for the preservers of knowledge (Veda) to become a lineage and over time for it to pass on from father to son and so on. This happened for a period of 1500 yrs before the writing system came to them. A very unique event. The consequence of this kind of development was that knowledge and learning was specific to particular varna-Jatis that developed as a result and the knowledge gained would not reverberate across all of society. And the consciousness of the people as a whole would be fragmented, the concerns fractured, the languages of the people also fragmented.

One notices the learning and who was eligible to acquire it go from a set of general principles to particulars. Consider the Artha Shastra, It speaks of a past referring to schools of similar genre before it.

” The usanas school considered that the only source of knowledge was the science of government.The Brihaspati school, considered that there were only two sources of knowledge, the science of government and the science of economics,Vedas but were a pretext to make it seem the rulers were not solely materialistic in their aims.The Manu school considered that there were three sources of knowledge, economics,science of government,Vedas and Anvishiki was but a part of Vedas. For Chankaya, there were four sources of knowledge, economics,science of government,Vedas and Anvishiki. Of these for Chanakya, Anvishiki is the lamp that illuminates all the other three sciences. “
Of the above three predecessors, chanakya seems a radical realist only in comparison with the manu school. What was new in chanakya was the value for anvishiki. For chanakya , anvisiki meant sankhya,yoga,lokayata and could hence perhaps be called as “philosophy” in his specific case. However one cannot simply use terms such as “philosophy” in general to describe it for the later period. What was clear though is that even during his time, nothing much was recorded about the yavanas, their ways of life , their beliefs,the place they come from, their politics,social systems . The contact with Alexander was a moment for the people of India to confront a different point of view, a different worldview, to see them in their own eyes without being lost in their own world. This opportunity was lost.  And the opportunity of what could have developed from the term “Anvishiki” into philosophy was also lost. As a consequence varna-jatis never built true “philosophy”. They instead built different soteriological traditions. Philosophy proper is interested in knowledge for its own sake, irrespective of soteriological aims.For philosophy is interested in various forms of ordering society which is rarely discussed. The next group of conquerors were the kushans, once again, the traditions of India never seem to record these groups that they came in contact for being part of kushan empire,  who they were, what was their social system?. And then came the Huns. By now India did have formal writing systems, but one never records the social systems and beliefs of the outsiders nor developed any work of History despite coming in contact with both the hellenics and chinese who did have such a tradition. Time and again there was an inwardness and aloofness to all things foreign and developed no curiosity to familiarize and learn about their social structures etc We know this as there was extensive interaction with China through Buddhism.The Chinese emperor did send material about Confucianism to India (Argumentative Indian). This peculiar ignorance seems to be due to the social system built around Varna-Jati. 
Consider therefore the shape of ignorance as a result. One could say that there was growth of knowledge in regards to mathematics, developed by some Jatis, similar was the case with what one would call as chemistry, metallurgy,grammar also by some Jatis .Then we see nyaya, a logical system was also a soteriological view of shedding one’s ignorance. Unlike other paths, under this path even the statements of mlecchas could not be rejected. However over time their motivations went from shedding ignorance to one of providing support for vedas for at least some (jayantha bhatta ,author of much ado about religion). And traditional dharmashastras like manusmriti (7.3 ) called for kings to be trained in only approved forms of anvisiki and to discard the science of reasoning of buddhists, charvakas and others as they are injurious to beliefs of vedas if one is not sufficiently intelligent. So in spite of a robust presence of a tradition of nyaya, one does not hear much about their critique of caste. And when it came to the question of History, such a system of knowledge was never developed in most of the country until perhaps kalhana in kashmir, so was the case of knowledge of foreigners or their societies. The travel to foreign countries through seas was hence considered prohibited, so was it the case that settling beyond the country of India was permissible only to Sudras during distress (manusmriti 2.24). Even now there is controversy regarding priests of famous temples and mutts going abroad. There thus seems to be a strong correlation with ignorance of the very specific knowledge that could challenge the ideas of Varna-Jati . So much so, that some Historians consider the mimamsa view to declare Vedas as authorless was a way to make it ahistorical so as to avoid them being brought into disrepute as a scheme of priests to earn money. The stance of school of mimamsa, the peculiar ignorance of History and complete lack of curiosity of foreigners and restrictions to travel abroad even for the purpose of strategic intelligence seem to correlate with the belief of Varna Jatis. 
How is it that with a very long interaction of Islam in India, there is no traditional commentary on what the belief system is, its motivation, the threats brought about by it by any of the shankaracharya?. The closest one gets is perhaps in bhavishya purana?. This is an astounding degree of ignorance. Such a system makes it difficult to pass on the learnings of one specific jati to others in the society. By comparison one can consider Christianity . One can clearly see the difference in regarding the motivation for learning. Christians were not in power under the Romans, their skill was to make converts from a position of not being in power. They needed to use a method of acculturation in a clever way, their need for social conquest was their motivation. And that meant they had to master the art of assimilating knowledge that helps them on this purpose and learn the invisible threads that held the society together and dissolve them accordingly. So they mastered a kind of social knowledge. The presence of Philosophy was useful for this purpose too. They do it to this day, Conquest brings about a motivation to learn, to interact across different people and different ideas , to challenge oneself against them again and again.A sophistication one sees in Chanakya and no where else. If Chanakya seems smarter it was due to his aim for conquest that brought about problems needing solutions to be integrated into a united framework. By comparison the Varna Jati system did not provide any motivation for one set of subgroups to familiarize themselves to the threats posed by others elsewhere in the north.One can see that even now to the plight of dalits or other groups in districts where they are in minority or without power,wealth in much of the country and those stuck in pakistan,bangladesh. And the stories of those unfortunate people does not reverberate, its not recorded for historical posterity and so gets questioned by those on the left. Why is it that one does not record the memory ?. It is from this that one often hears questions on the presence of Hinduism before the contact with the British. One could legitimately compare the record of the catholic church interactions with the Mongols and the crusades. Was there any such pan Varna-Jatis concern among the believers of what one would call Hinduism?.Much worse, the basic recognition of dignity for lower classes as important politically for its own good was perhaps not understood among many until the contact with the British. Unlike Islam which didnt concern itself with learning and exploiting the issue of dignity , christianity however did . One can see that in kerala and tamilnadu. Dignity and egalitarianism are pieces of political knowledge of strategic value.A mistake Chanakya would have clearly understood. The Indians did Interact with China and yet never picked up on egalitarianism or the examination system either. Which could have been of value.
Although Gita originally does bring about a synthesis in forms of different systems of yoga ,its implication didnt go far until the modern times. And one rarely addresses the question of people of other faiths outside of India, beliefs in other lands, what does the belief system say of their fates?. They don’t have a Varna-Jati system, so how important is it?.Why is it that one does not recognize to educate other believers?.What is their position in this. Such questions are rarely considered.
It could be said that the knowledge to bring about a synthesis was already there, isolated, fractured among various traditions. But there was not much motivation to bring them together. It was under threat of Islam and later christianity that the motivation was there to do so. Here too the tradition among the non elites beginning with alwars and later to veera shaivas (before Islam), ramananda, dadupanth,nath yogis played its part.  One could also perhaps see such pan resistance was in the militant sanyasis and it is hard not to see that they are the only groups where to join them , neither caste nor gender was relevant.The religious ecstasy available to bhakti cults, yogis and the elite intellectual tradition of advaita came together as an intersection of overlapping commitments among the believers. It is this we call today as Hinduism. Commitments beyond one’s own Varna-Jati and sampradayas. For some offered better arguments, others egalitarian views and even others better strategic value ,resources. One can see an example of this in the book , much ado about religion in Jayanta Bhatta.And how in a debate a follower of saiva and mimamsa divided their work in order to defeat a charvaka in a debate.  And this further continued later due to the interaction with the british, the availability of printing press. Some pejoratively call this as neo advaita or neo hinduism. A pejorative term with politically loaded implication of being inauthentic. But one rarely calls christianity as neo christianity in spite of the many disguises it puts on to achieve its social conquest. The difference however is in the pace of learning,the motivation for conquest vs the motivation for self preservation.  
What one could realize from this is that the diversity of ideas in thought is different from the diversity of traditions lying in close proximity even if interacting with one another. And how little a role did the tradition of nyaya(logic) itself play in furthering this synthesis. To possess a logical framework of views made little difference in of itself to society as it too was not philosophy, it too was a soteriological tradition. And the atheists among Hindus only found value in the society only during times of danger.  Here is the fact, Jati-varna traditions interacted with Buddhists, Jains but never learned the value for egalitarianism while they too believed in reincarnation, they had contacts with hellenics but never developed philosophy, had interactions with chinese civilization but never profited from the views of Confucian view nor learn of the better system of examinations conducted there. Had interactions with the atheists but never saw any benefit in them until the likes of savarkar in modern times or during danger (somadeva  a Jain, 9th century talks of learning from charvakas in dealing with enemies). They were in contact with Islam for close to 1000 yrs and yet never bothered to write down what it was. Infact much of the persecution due to Islam was perhaps better recorded by muslims themselves  than the native.
It’s clear that the pace of learning was very slow and  there was an unwillingness to learn from criticism of others on the social issues, it was mostly ignored even when it was of strategic value.This in part explains why history turned out the way it did. As sun tzu put it, “
If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat.If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle”
This recognition was a jolt to me, by looking at the mathematical and other sciences and logical and intellectual traditions I assumed premodern Hinduism (Jati Varna system ) was philosophically rich. It turns out that it was a retarded system that only learned to interconnect and integrate either sporadically or when under mortal threat.For there was hardly any true internal motivation to transcend one’s narrow parochial view. It also is a blow to the arguments purely from ideas. That “ideas have consequences”, when in fact the social reality has bigger consequences than ideas themselves, so much so as to retard the synthesis of ideas over long periods of time.Much of what Hindus have achieved in past 1000 yrs and especially in last 200 years has been due to their willingness to have multiple commitments across different varnas, Jatis and sampradaya ,creating very many cross links as to create a clear and a fully aware consciousness.
In response to the pejorative view of neo advaita/neo Hinduism, there is now work being done to bring awareness to “Greater Advaita” which goes beyond the orthodox works and sanskrit to vernacular works of various traditions. Thus premodern Hinduism was long periods of stagnation with few periods of synthesis between various traditions.


16 Replies to “Fragmented Consciousness:Do Varna-Jatis Learn?”

  1. Could you please elaborate in a couple sentences – “Alexander and different worldview”. Manu school – what was their connection with Aryans (did Aryans exist?)? Who were Kushans?

  2. Perhaps there should be a preface that this post is about Indian philosophy and not Hindu philosophy. (Side note: Are we sure Vedas are post-IVC? Without addressing Saraswati question? )

    From my understanding , Hindu philosophy was about personal moksha in spite of the conditions of the world. It considers world order isn’t fixed but you have to adjust to the changing order of the society. Every society has a right to decide in their own customs without having to be forced follow a single decree (this is basis of all differences with Chinese, Islam, Greeks, Christians).

    All of this isn’t great for nation building or knowledge exchange. But, if one is doing true search for truth, they stop counting on society or its whims.

    There is this great bit in War and Peace if Europe came together because of Napoleon or if Napoleon is just a representation of what was the wish of common man. (Reminds me of Trump).

    All this reactionary behaviour for political capital doesn’t matter if India were to be rich again. It was rich for a long time and attracted many people (Alexander came to India, not the other way around). Now that all the riches are lost, and there is a realization of all the things that are lost, there might be synthesis (if only victimhood isn’t imported) . It is the underdogs who have to learn the most if they were to win (however that is defined).

    1. Rose, what is your opinion why Alexander came to India? I will write something about that and this can help me. Optionally, do you think that he was a Greek or something else?

    2. @violet

      well, finally, you do agree that we should learn. That’s all that counts now I guess. And philosophy isnt just about philosophy, its about everything. It influences everything. And if one for philosophy,atleast challenging one self by different ideas, of different people, travelling to different lands far away. Interacting , all of that helps I guess to get out of being a Frog in the well ( Kupa manduka ).

      1. @Phyecon1,

        Based on your comment, you appear to be young and full of that energy to learn about the world.

        I don’t know if you noticed that it’s the people who travel the world and come back that want to be the most traditional.

        It is great to challenge oneself with ideas, but it goes back to the definition of “what is a good life?” (And related, is it necessary to have one? )
        Try a few questions for yourself:
        – How is Karma yoga different from stoicism?
        – why does Indian astronomy talk about yavana jataka?
        – when a civilization falls and all knowledge is burned, what would a community chose to save for key knowledge? Is it going to be political science, historical records, or spiritual knowledge for mental health?
        -most of what we’ve got of Greeks and romans is a re-translation from Arabic. Until what’s lost is rediscovered, people have this tendency to judge from what they know, not what they might be missing (availability bias and anchoring bias— both are hard to overcome). What could be rediscovered in Indian history?
        -how do we know what we know?

        Good luck with your exploration.

  3. “Ancient India, post Indus, did not have a written language”…..Based on this simple assumption, you have written down a great deal of theory.

    There are so many references in the Vedas and in the commentaries to “the act of scribing”. I will not bother to list them, they are so numerous. What are they referring to? Were they just doodling in the sand?

  4. Merely a hypothesis, to account for initial social pressures, even otherwise one knows it as a matter of fact that oral memory was the preferred way to memorize. The system of recitation still exists even now. what would be strange though is that atheists, buddhists,jains ,ajivikas, none of them using a writing system either.

  5. // Here is the fact, Jati-varna traditions interacted with Buddhists, Jains but never learned the value for egalitarianism //

    On what basis we are claiming this ? Why privileged Brahmins & Kings converted to Buddhism if they did not dabble with Saramana egalitarianism ?

    Here is a Hindu egalitarian text which questions all forms of social divisions which rarely gets mentioned unlike Manusmriti –

  6. @Milan Todorovic

    – “Alexander and different worldview”.

    I guess I still need to learn a lot about brown communication.

    I just meant, they should have studied hellenic culture ,social dynamics and knowledge.

    1. Thanks. A propos above mentioned ‘learning’…

      Does it mean that Alexander was a Greek (I asked Rose the same question)? I guess it is important for SA people because it is a part of their history. Should we learn that neither ‘Greek’ nor ‘hellenic’ were not the ‘Greek’ terms? Aryans? It seems that this also need to be learned.

      1. @milan todorovic
        I am not going to get into all that. They were not like Indians, so a new perspective is something they could have provided.That is all.

        1. No worries. Good writing. Stay cool. Maybe Alexander was not so different from (some) Indians, but this is a different story.

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