Overcoming the Scars of Our Caste Past
RELIGION, 3 Dec 2012
Recently, a religion scholar wrote an article on the Huffington Post questioning the legitimacy of non-Indian converts to Hindu/Vedic traditions. In response, Suhag Shukla — co-founder of the Hindu American Foundation and a well-wisher of ISKCON — invited Anuttama Dasa to share a response as a guest writer in her column. We’re including Anuttama’s post below. Read the original, in Suhag’s column, here:
Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, a 16th Century saint, led perhaps the world’s first non-violent social disobedience movement in Bengal, India. Accompanied by thousands of followers, he marched on the local Muslim Kazi’s (ruler’s) home to protest the government’s attempt to forbid religious practice.
Why such restrictions? It was not due to Muslim bias. Instead, it was the Hindu caste brahmanas, those priests who commanded special privileges due to their “higher birth” and ancestral heritage, who demanded the Kazi act. The caste leaders could not tolerate the threat to their power base from Mahaprabhu’s teaching that all men and women may worship God without discrimination — and that all are equal in the eyes of a loving Supreme Lord.
The Kazi, moved by Mahaprabhu’s wisdom, humility and saintly qualities proclaimed after their meeting that neither he, nor any of his descendants, would ever obstruct Sri Caitanya’s reformation bhakti movement, nor the joyful chanting of God’s names among people of all castes and colors.
This history illustrates why I, a white person of non-descript Christian roots, chose to practice the Vaishnava Hindu faith some 40 years ago.
The essence of the Vedic culture, today known as Hinduism, teaches that none of us are white, black, brown, red or yellow. We are spiritual beings, eternally lovers and servants of God, who have forgotten our spiritual nature and are wandering through this material world seeking happiness via money, power, sex, fame and other temporary will-o-wisps.
The wise, seeing the folly of such pursuits, dedicate themselves to spiritual practice and self-realization. Genuine seekers of truth see past the bodily designations of white and black, American and Indian, and embrace all people as sons and daughters of a loving God.
Thus, my friend Deepak Sarma’s recent blog about white and diasporic Hindus misses the mark. I, and my “converted” friends around the world in Canada, Russia, Brazil, South Africa, New Zealand, Italy, Vietnam and hundreds of other countries did not choose a spiritual practice to avoid, deny or fulfill any colonial history. We chose a path that at its core helps us heal and transcend scars from individual and social exploitation through an experience of shared humanity and divine love.
It is this profound experience that every week draws together diasporic and other Hindus in temples, homes and similar sangas — who side by side in loving friendship seek to serve God, who is known as Krishna, Rama, Jehovah, Allah and a host of other names, and who is the supreme refuge and friend of all souls.
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