This Dark Age

A manual for life in the modern world.

By Daniel Schwindt

NOTICE:
This Dark Age is now available in paperback on Amazon. The print version is MUCH cleaner than this online version, which is largely unedited and has fallen by the wayside as the project has grown. If you’ve appreciated my writing, please consider leaving a review on the relevant paperback volumes. The print edition also includes new sections (Military History, War Psychology, Dogmatic Theology).

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8.1. Introductory Remarks on Hinduism

What is a Hindu?

The term Hindu should not be considered as a religious label, like ‘Christian’ or ‘Muslim’; nor can it be said to specify the beliefs of a race, since those who belong to the Hindu tradition are composed on an ethnic diversity that rivals Europe; nor does the term refer to a nationality, since there are no nationalities in the East. That is why, although there are Muslims in India, we must always refer to them as ‘Indian Muslims’ and not ‘Hindu Muslims,’ and it would be absurd also to speak of a ‘Islamic Hinduism’ or some such confused notion. What, then, is the meaning of this term? To answer this question we might look to the origins of the present state of affairs. The civilization now called ‘Hinduism’ was brought to India at some distant point in time from the north. We can refer to this early civilization as Indo-Iranian and not ‘Aryan,’ for reasons we will explain below. At a certain point, this tradition ruptured and a branch extended to the West, and became Persian civilization. The nature of this rupture is clear by the fact that in language of the Persians one finds Sanskrit terms, but endowed with a meaning opposite to that found in the latter. Persian civilization should therefore be seen as a limb branching away from the trunk, and this trunk now goes by the name Hinduism.

Mazdaism

The Persian tradition which can be seen as a result of the rupture goes by the name of Mazdaism. This tradition, first in opposition to its source, became established as independent, and was so long before it was codified in the Avesta under the name ‘Zarathustra’ or ‘Zoroaster.’ This name, we will remind the reader, should be taken to refer to a traditional collectivity and not an individual, as is also the case with Fu Hsi in China, Vyasa in India, and Hermes (Thoth) in Egypt.

The ‘Aryan’ race

As we have said, it is not legitimate to trace the unity of Hindu civilization to a single race. Some have posed as a response the theory of an ‘Aryan race’, and much has been made of this term. However, the Sanskrit term arya, from which this term developed, was simply an epithet applied to members of the first three Hindu castes, and this would have included those of any race. The truth is, we cannot accurately describe the race that brought the tradition now known as Hinduism from the north, and it likely that this group was composed of several and not one.

Hindu unity

The unity of Hinduism is of a purely traditional order, which is to say it is not religious, national, or racial, but is instead held together by an acknowledgement of a set of principles integrated into the life entire of the civilization. Again, we emphasize that it should not be conceived as a unity of ‘beliefs,’ in the religious sense. There is no externally recognizable authority, as in Islam or Catholicism; its unity is inward and is a matter of participation in a traditional that is not separable from life itself. Hindus are anyone who participates in this tradition, and non-Hindus are those who do not.

The Veda

The term Veda, which means ‘traditional knowledge unqualified,’ is the term applied to Hindu scriptures, these being divided into four collections: the Rig-Veda, the Yajur-Veda, the Sama-Veda, and the Atharva-Veda.

Veda is derived from the root vid, bears the dual meaning of seeing and knowing, where sight is symbolic of knowledge, chief faculty of the sensible order. Knowledge is also described as ‘inward vision,’ such as is implied in the word ‘intuition.’

Vedism, Brahmanism, Hinduism

Some have sought to link the primordial tradition to the present one by means of a series of doctrines which evolved in stages. They usually divide these into three, which they depict as if they were distinct doctrines, and call them Vedism, Brahmanism, and finally Hinduism. While it might be legitimate to divide things in this fashion from a historical point of view, it should not be imagined that each stage represents a different understanding of doctrine. On the contrary, the doctrine is precisely the same in each, although these periods do represent varying applications, which we should expect considering the reality of changing conditions. Each change in conditions requires a ‘re-adaption’ of the tradition, but it should not be lost sight of that the traditional principles that are in each case being applied do not change. In this sense, although the terms are useful purely as superficial identifiers for historical periods, they should never be seen to represent real deviations or transformations in the doctrine, and Hinduism could with equal validity be called Brahmanism or Vedism at any point. Vedism, in fact, might be the most exact term, although we will not insist upon it, since it means simply ‘traditional knowledge unqualified,’ and this is what Hinduism, being founded on the Veda, embodies.

Dating of the Veda

As one should expect, the Hindu scriptures have been subject to the ‘criticism’ of experts much in the same way that ‘biblical criticism’ has been at work in the West, with much the same results, sometimes undermining and sometimes pointless. The obsession is to ‘date’ the authorship of the Vedas, which is impossible for reasons we’ve already mentioned. First, the idea of an individual author for these texts is absurd, and could only be the result of a collectivity. If the collectivity could be identified, it would also be necessary to ascertain when they committed these works to writing, which itself probably took place over a period of centuries. And there is also the question or oral transmission, which in these cases always precedes the production of written scriptures, and it is impossible to tell how long this oral transmission took place before it was deemed necessary to write things down. This is indicated in some texts by what is called the vansha or traditional filiation. Oral transmission, contrary to what is imagined today, is actually still held in high esteem in India, and there are men living who can recite the Bhagavad Gita in its entirety. Much of this has to do with the cosmological primacy of the sense of hearing, but that will be addressed in its time. It is common to date civilizations by their connection to the Phoenician alphabet, from which it is assumed by some that all other alphabets are derived. Even among specialists, however, there is no consensus on this point, and Sanskrit characters resemble the Phoenician in neither shape nor arrangement, and so the connection here is unlikely. Lastly, to refer again to name Vyasa, which as we already said denotes a collectivity and not an individual author, we can say that the work of this Vyasa was nothing more than an act of codifying pre-existing texts. This means that discussion attempting to date the work of Vyasa are of historical interest, but nothing more, and certainly get us no closer to identifying a date for the supposed authorship of the Vedas.

The perpetuity of the Veda

Objections having been set aside, the Vedas should be viewed in accordance with their name, which is to say they should be viewed as a codified, textual expression of traditional knowledge unqualified. In this view, which is the only one that does them justice, they exist in perpetuity, as hard as this is to fathom for moderns who, seeing everything in the context of evolution, where each and every idea must have been ‘invented’ at a specific point by a specific person. On the contrary, being a direct expression of the primordial tradition, this doctrine can only be referred back to direct inspiration, and this is why the origin of the Veda is called apaurusheya or ‘non-human.’ More on the theory of inspiration will be said later.

Coherence of the Veda

Lastly, just to fend off certain tendencies of the modern mentality, we should stress that the Veda represents a coherent whole, but should never be considered a system, being of its nature anti-systematic. All of its contents should be viewed as if existing simultaneously, and not as something developed over time, with that which came later modifying that which came first. This is appropriate with some doctrinal texts, but not with the Veda itself which, as we have said, is of non-human origin. This is not to say that the scriptures were not unfolded in a particular order, but is only to say that when considering them from a doctrinal standpoint, this order does not matter.

Orthodoxy and heterodoxy

Orthodoxy is usually considered a religious concept, by which authorized and ‘official’ doctrine is held against unauthorized conceptions and interpretations. However, the term is also useful in the larger context of tradition unqualified. Here, heterodoxy is equivalent with falsity, plain and simple, and usually amounts to absurdity. Because at the level of principles absurdity is much more obvious, the falsity of heterodoxy is much easier to see, whereas at the religious level, heterodoxy can often extend itself much further and results in numerous debates before it subsides, if it subsides at all. Remember that we have said that metaphysics excludes everything of a hypothetical nature, since it is absolute certainty itself. ‘The intellect is truer than science,’ says Aristotle, and metaphysics is pure intellection. At this level, orthodoxy is not conformity with an authority, but is simply truth itself. Externally, in the Hindu tradition, agreement with the Veda is the criterion of this truth, but we placed certain explanations prior to this statement because it must be understood that this criterion is not a matter of ‘proof-texting,’ as so often takes place in Christianity when doctrinal debates occur. Rather, the test is more of an overall measure of coherence with the tradition as a whole.

The example of atomism

When direct reference to principles is available, heterodoxy is unable to gain much force before its absurdity becomes plain. Where principles no longer exist, doctrinal expositions of a lower order, even if they are true at their level, must ‘fend for themselves’ against the falsity, and sometimes this is difficult without rising to a higher level. In the West, false conceptions are able to thrive and take root and this is precisely because principles there are not present. Taking the case of atomism as an example, we can compare its success in Hinduism to that of the West, where it survives to this day. In India, atomism is in formal disagreement with the Veda, which is to say it does not conform to a pure metaphysic. Originating in the cosmological school of Kanada (Vaisheshika), it is regarded as something of an anomaly that could not have arisen in a school devoted to pure metaphysics; and because this point of view was present, and in combination with the Veda, the theory did not go far. In Greece, on the other hand, the notion of atoms as constitutive elements of all things implied the conception of a void in which these atoms could move, and this ended in a denial of ether as a corporeal element. Consider how long this notion has persisted among physicists in the West, and the fact that it is still deeply ingrained in the imagination of people in general, even if physicists have begun to question it. But because the Vedic texts are explicit on the five elements, ether just as much as the others, this denial could not gain traction.

It might be worth mentioning that if all naturalistic theories are not atomic, that all atomic theories tend toward naturalism. The Greeks used it as a basis for mechanism, which, even though it did not there devolve into the full-blown materialism which is common today, was a significant set in that direction and would underpin the mechanistic naturalism of Isaac Newton.

Admitting the presence of atomism in the Vaisheshika darshana does not affect the legitimacy of its point of view in its essence. To quote from the Sankhya-Pravachana-Bhashya of Vijnana-Bhikshu:

In the doctrine of Kanada [this being the Vaisheshika] and in the Sankhya [attributed to Kapila], the portion which is contrary to the Veda must be rejected by those who adhere strictly to the orthodox tradition; in the doctrine of Jaimini and that of Vyasa [which is to say, the Mimansa and the Vedanta], there is nothing which is not in accordance with the Scriptures.

Personal attributions of the darshanas

With reference to the names attached to the darshanas it should be mentioned that the Vyasa to which Vedanta is attached is merely an expression of the tradition, since it is also one of the seven Chiranjivis, or ‘beings endowed with longevity,’ whose existence has no specific place in any one historical period. There are correspondences here with the Taoist reference to eight ‘immortals’; and likewise, within the Christian tradition, we find Melchizedek, a figure which modern Christians do not seem to know what to do with, but who has great significance for us. He is ‘without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life.’ (Heb. 7:3). Here we will also not a parallel with the Hindu Manu, lawgiver of each cycle, but for the moment we need only note that the name refer primarily to an intellectual function. This being the case, the primacy of Vedanta is again suggested, given its attribution to Vyasa, who is also attributed with organizing and codifying the scriptures.

Upanishads and Brahma Sutras

The Upanishads form an integral part of the Veda, and in case of doubt, at least with respect to doctrine, it is to the Upanishads that we must appeal. The Vendata has its prinicpal teaching drawn from the Upanishads and concentrated into sutra form in the Brahma-Sutras or the Shariraka-Mimansa. The author of these is said to be either Badarayana or Krishna-Dwaipayana, and is again identified with Vyasa. While the Upanisads belong to shruti, the Brahma-Sutras belong to smriti; we will deal with the difference between these two classes of writings below.

Shruti and smriti

The two basic classes of writing contained in the Hindu tradition are shruti and smriti, the latter being derived from the first, with shruti as the highest class of writings and properly called Scripture. However, clarifications are in order due to Western modes of thinking about scriptures in general. Shruti is not ‘revelation’ in the religious sense, and the two things should not be identified with one another, being two different points of view. According to Shankaracharya:

[Shruti] is a means of direct perception, since, in order to be an authority it is necessarily independent of all other authority; while smriti plays a part that is analogous to induction, in that it derives it authority from an authority other than itself.

We should note at this point that, in Hindu logic, perception (pratyaksha) and induction (anumana) are the two ‘means of proof’ (pramanas) pertaining to knowledge derived from the sensible order. The difference between shruti and smriti is like that between immediate intellectual intuition and reflecting consciousness or discursive thought. This is further evidenced by the former term being related to ‘hearing’ and the latter to memory. We should note again that ‘hearing,’ in Hindu cosmology, has a certain priority due to sound being considered as the primordial sensible quality. ‘Memory,’ on the other hand, is a reflex of perception, and all it contains is reflective, which is to say indirect, knowledge. If we acknowledge light as a symbol of knowledge, we can say further that shruti is the sun and smriti the moon.

Inverse analogy

We may pause here to note an important concept that will recur throughout the study of traditional doctrines due to the frequent use of analogy. All analogies must be inversely applied. For example, we have said already that smriti is likened to induction, but whereas in general induction is a way of ‘rising’ to a higher level of knowledge when used in relation to sense data, it is the opposite when we apply the analogy to the relationship between smriti and shruti, and the conclusions of induction do not represent and ascent to something higher but are subordinate. To use an example from the Hermetic tradition, which teaches the same thing regarding analogy: ‘That which is below is like that which is above, and that which is above is like that which is below.’ This truth, in order to be properly understood, but be combined with the symbol of ‘Solomon’s Seal,’ which is formed of two superimposed triangles.

God in Hinduism and in the Vedanta in particular

In Hinduism, the term that can be rendered as ‘God’ with the least risk of confusion is not Brahma but Ishvara. And terms such as theology and theosophy (etymologically and not as used by the school of that name), which refer to ‘knowledge of God,’ can only be rendered as Ishvara-Vidya; on the other hand, Divine Knowledge as dealt with in the Vedanta must be rendered Brahma-Vidya, since it takes the point of view of metaphysics and deals with the Supreme Principle. The consideration of Ishvara is certainly legitimate, but only when one intends to adopt a relative point of view.

Buddhism and Hinduism

Buddhism must be dealt with on its own terms, and we will do this in the proper place, but because it has its origin in the context of Hinduism, we should also examine its relation to that tradition. To do this we should return again to a point we’ve already emphasized, if only because here, due its familiarity to the Western world, the misunderstanding in question is likely to be exacerbated. We are referring to the Western tendency to refer all doctrines to either the religious or the philosophical level, and if this fails to relegate them to the level of ‘primitive superstition.’ This is the only conceivable explanation for the labelling of Buddhism as an ‘atheistic religion’, which, is not only false but, taken on its own terms, is an absurdity. Buddhism is not atheistic, nor is it pantheistic, for the simple reason that it is not ‘theistic’ at all. Finally, we must state that it is also not a moral philosophy. Moralism is as absent in Buddhism as it is everywhere else in Eastern philosophy, and although there is an element of sentimentality that appears in it, and through which it is distinguished from the purely metaphysical character of Hinduism, it never descends to the moral point of view. Thus, when the Buddha speaks of Compassion, it is not a sentimental notion but something more like the ‘cosmic charity’ of the Islamic tradition. That is to say, it’s doctrines are metaphysical.

Which Buddhism?

Buddhism presents itself to us in various forms, from the Zen of the Far East to the various schools elsewhere in Asia to the strange and vague conceptions of Western adaptations going under that same name. We can disregard these Western adaptations as products of the imaginations of New Age charlatans and orientalists, but of the remainder we can divide them roughly into two groups: Mahayana and Hinayana. These can be translated as the the ‘Greater Vehicle’ and the ‘Lesser Vehicle,’ respectively, or else as the ‘Great Way’ and the ‘Little Way.’ The first question to ask, in the case of Buddhism, is which of the numerous schools is an accurate expression of the teachings of Shakyamuni himself. That is to say, if there is an ‘original’ Buddhism, which is it? Based on the work of Ananda Coomaraswamy we can say that the Hinayana school represents that doctrine which is most primitive, in the positive sense of being that which the Buddha taught to his followers, but this does not discount the Mahayana, which in a sense represents the complete fruition of the kernel preserved by the Hinayana. Such a distinction is of course over-simplistic.

The attitude of Hindus to Buddhism

It has been said that the more one studies Buddhism and Hinduism, the more difficult it becomes to tell them apart. Why, then, has it been customary to see Buddhism as a ‘rejection’ of Hinduism, something like the Reformation in relation to Catholicism? On the contrary, King Ashoka held Buddhism in high esteem, but as Buddhism was, as we have said, inappropriate for the soil in which it grew up, it was never established there with any permanence. We also see that many Orthodox Hindus acknowledged Buddha as an Avatara, that is to say they accepted his legitimacy as a manifestation of divinity in the world; and in the writings of Shankaracharya we find that he mentions various schools of Buddhism, but only to refute certain aberrant theories in passing, and never attributes these to the Buddha himself. If the Buddha were some sort of Martin Luther, it would be strange to find those playing the role of Catholics failing to mention him by name in their refutations. A more appropriate comparison would be this: that the rise and spread of Buddhism was something much more like the spread of a monastic order throughout Christendom and beyond, open to critique and not welcomed by all, but nonetheless never condemned as if it were a rejection of the tradition itself. Hence, we can accept the term ‘Buddhist monastery’ for certain communities as an apt designation.

Ambulatory adaptations

Buddhism grew up in the context of Hinduism, but as it spread to lands outside that territory, it saw a corresponding decrease in popularity within India itself. It was as if it was granted residence there only so long as it took for it to stand and walk away, and this is why it’s appearance and disappearance should be seen, for India, as but a historical episode. It is wrong, then, to mark out some sort of dividing line between pre- and post-Buddhist Hinduism, as if that doctrine permanently altered the tradition which fostered it. This being that case, we should inquire into the true significance of Buddhism. If it was not a heresy to be rejected, and yet not a re-adaptation of Hindu doctrine to be embraced by it and allowed to supersede it, then what was it? If we take into account its susceptibility to re-adaptation, of which Zen Buddhism is an excellent example, it would not be far from the truth to suggest that while it was necessary for Buddhism to have its roots in Hinduism, it was never made for Hinduism, but was rather a mobilized re-adaptation capable of carrying its doctrine across the face of the Earth. By analogy, taking into account the necessary differences between the religious and non-religious contexts, we can say that Buddhism was to Hinduism what Christianity was for Judaism; for Judaism, by its nature, was never capable of being adopted elsewhere while Christianity is much more susceptible to application in various contexts.

Buddhism’s various adaptations in the Middle and Far East, namely Zen and Tibetan Lamaism, will be discussed when the Buddhist  doctrines are taken up as a special subject.

Attempts to translate the term ‘dharma’

Arriving at the concept of dharma, we come again to one of the many terms that defy translation for the simple reason that they find no equivalent in European languages. Various attempts are made to translate it, such as ‘virtue’ or ‘justice,’ but when this is done it is essentially the replacement of a Hindu idea with a European one, and is a disservice to both the subject and the student. It is for this reason that this and many other terms should simply not be translated, and if anyone wishes to understand them he must make the effort to introduce into his mind an entirely new conception. That said, if an English term must be had as an aid to comprehension, we would suggest ‘law’ above all others, on the condition that this be emptied of its purely social and moral connotations.

Dharma and karma

Some have sought to translate dharma as ‘religion,’ in the sense of the accomplishment of rites. This must be avoided not only because the term religion itself is inappropriate, but also because the rites usually in mind are properly included, not in dharma, but in karma, which itself means ‘action.’ The two have a connection, and karma could be seen as the expression, through action, of dharma.

The meaning of dharma

Having set aside one example of confusion, then, we can say that at its root, the term means ‘manner of being,’ and refers to the principle of hierarchical ordering among all beings. Dharma corresponds to the essential nature of each thing and can apply to the individual, both inwardly and outwardly, and to the collective, but it should be seen above all else as a pertaining to harmony.

Dharma and moral duty

The moral notion of ‘duty’ and ‘obligation’ should be carefully separated from that of dharma, and this refers back to the absence of the moral point of view we have attempted to emphasize. The problem with Western familiarity with the concept of duty, for example, is that too much familiarity leads to an assumption of universality, and when one takes an idea for granted one begins to assume that everyone else takes it for granted as well. But the notion of duty has not always been so prominent as it is in the modern world, particularly since the time of Kant. In Stoicism, just to use one ancient example, it was almost completely absent. Aristotle as well, when discussing virtue, seemed less concerned with good and evil than with a harmony between deliberation and passion.

Adharma

From what has been said, that which is adharma should not be seen as ‘sin’ but as a rupture of harmony, or the introduction of a disequilibrium.

Prajapati and Manu

Dharma can be see as the expression of a ‘cosmic will’ that has the character of law, in some sense like the Scholastic notion of the divine law which is the principles of the natural law human law when properly formulated. This ‘cosmic will’ is expressed at corresponding levels in Hindu doctrine through names which should not be taken as individuals but as principles. Prajapati, ‘lord of produced beings,’ expresses dharma in each state of manifested existence, and corresponds very roughly to the Divine Law of the Scholastics; for each cosmic cycle this same will is expressed by a Manu, resulting in the ‘Law of Manu,’ and while we could analogically compare this to the Natural Law of the Scholastics, the correspondence seems to us too weak and so we should instead abandon the comparison. Manu is not a mythical figure, but is, in accordance with its root manas, the ‘cosmic intelligence; and this Manu is also considered a ‘prototype’ of man, since man is manava insofar as he is a thinking being endowed with a rational faculty. There is a connection here, concerning the universal prototype of man, with the Taoist ‘King’ and the ‘Universal Man’ of the Kabbalah and Sufism, and the personage of Melchizedek, but these must be put off for the moment. Finally, when dharma is expressed in the concrete, within a specific social order, it takes the form of a shastra, and this law is referred to Manu as its author. Here again we mention a weak correspondence with ‘human law,’ which the Scholastics placed on the bottom of its hierarchy and which was also the application of the higher levels and which was only legitimate insofar as it conformed to them.

In sum, we can say that the shastras referred in this way to Manu do imply direct authorship by any person with this name or title Manu, but only conformity with this ‘cosmic intelligence.’ It is only through this conformity that the dharma-shastra becomes valid. The actual personages responsible for authorship are therefore irrelevant.

Terms used to describe caste

Caste should be understood as a social function determined by the exact nature of each being. Hindus have two terms which they use to speak of caste: jati and varna. The term varna means color, and this has led to the assumption that the caste system was based on race. This is unfounded. The same word also refers to ‘quality’ and corresponds to the qualitative distinction between one being and another, and in this way really refers to the essence of the individual, which is an inner distinction, and while this can in some ways correspond to racial differences, race is itself secondary. That is to say, caste is not derived from race, although due to the shared characteristics of racial groups, it may happen that a specific race is found mostly within one varna. The second term, jati, means ‘birth,’ and this also has led to a confusion among Westerners who, approaching it in the same way they approach varna, assume that caste must also be hereditary. This is also not strictly the case. Like race, heredity also may play a significant role in determining an individual’s nature, but there are also a number of other influences which come into play in addition to these two. If in practice caste is often hereditary, it is not hereditary in principle.

Nama and rupa

In order to better understand the metaphysical principles on which the institution of caste depends, we can refer to the terms nama and rupa, which are the two elements that combine to form the individual being. Nama,‘name,’ and rupa, ‘form,’ correspond to what in Aristotelian terminology are called ‘form’ and ‘matter,’ although this comparison can introduce confusion due to ‘form’ being used for the opposing term. This is the unfortunate, and we’ll address the reasons for this when we arrive at that point in our discussion. Nor should the nama-rupa pair be thought to be exactly equivalent to the Western soul-body, which is analogous but not precisely the same in meaning. For example, the Hindu rupa or ‘form,’ even though it corresponds roughly to the Aristotelian ‘body,’ does not refer to an exclusively corporeal form. Having distinguished nama and rupa accordingly, there is a further distinction within the nama or ‘individual essence’ of a being. First, there is namika which means ‘that which the particular name of each individual should express.’ Namika is the sum of all qualities belonging to to individual, not derived from anything other than himself. Second, there is gotrika, and this term means ‘that which belongs to the race or family,’ and refers to the qualities derived by the individual from heredity. The naming of individuals reflects this order, the ‘given name’ belonging to the individual, and the ‘family name’ which he shares with others. This makes it clear why it is simplistic and superficial to reduce caste to a matter of race or heredity, both of which only constitute one of the elements taken into account, namely gotrika. ‘Birth,’ as denoted by the term jati, is nothing but the resultant of the union namika and gotrika.

Diversity of natures

Having loosely outlined the constitution of individual natures, it can be said that no two being will have all the same characteristics and aptitudes, some being inclined more to one type of activity than another. There is little point in dwelling on why some are born for this and some for that task, any more than asking why some are born to one family and not another. Each has its role in the total harmony. Moreover, we should mention, for the sake of those Westerners who’ve only encountered Hinduism through popular, uninformed prejudices, that one’s place in the hierarchy of society is not a result of sinful or virtuous behavior in a previous life. Nothing in manifestation repeats itself: not history, and not the corporeal union of soul to a body. That this should be attributed to orthodox Hinduism is a misfortune that will be dealt with when we deal with reincarnation specifically, which, taken as commonly understand, is simply an impossibility. Returning now to the diversity of natures that are produced, each as a unique combination of namika and gotrika. All of the potentialities of such an individual will be present from its birth, and none will be added. This is why, if an individual moves between castes, it is not a result of his having changed himself, but is due to the allowance that one may be born in one caste whose ‘birth’ relegates him to quite another, and it is only natural that it would not be immediately apparent when this is the case.

Symbolic meaning behind the origin of the castes

It is common to refer to organized society as the ‘social body,’ and it is in this same sense that the origin of the caste is described in the Purusha-sukta of the Rig-Veda: ‘of Purusha, the Brahmana as the mouth, the Kshatriya the arms, the Vaishya the thighs; the Shudra was born under his feet.’ This gives the four castes and differentiates them by their functions, which correspond to the essential nature of the beings who belong to them. One should not assume, however, that because there are only four castes that there are only four individual natures. There are as many individual natures as their are individual beings, and the four castes are susceptible to indefinite subdivision. Their primary meaning is hierarchical, and they order the castes accordingly, which is as follows: the Brahmanas represent the spiritual and intellectual authority; the Kshatriyas represent the administrative powers, whether royal, military, or judicial; the Vaishyas represent the economic functions of society, ranging from industries, crafts, agriculture, trade, and finance; finally, the Shudras represent the tasks necessary to material subsistence.

The superiority of the Brahmanas

The Brahmanas were symbolized as the mouth of the social order, and this accurately describes their role as teachers. They should not be imagined as ‘priests,’ necessarily, even if their carry out so many sacred rites. Their main function is the preservation and transmission of the doctrines, since they alone possess proper knowledge of this order. The Kshatriyas excel in action, and that is their order of operation. Taking this into account, it is obvious that, just as thought must precede action, so the Brahmanas must sit atop the hierarchy, maintaining the doctrinal principles upon which society itself is based. Their position is primary because the knowledge that is their vocation is primary. All else is but a secondary and contingent application of it, dependent on it for stability. The Brahmanas are the hub–or are the keepers of the hub–around which the great wheel of traditional civilization turns. This is why deviations away from traditional principles, not only for Hindus but for any civilization, usually involve a subversion of this hierarchy, which almost always comes in the form of an attempt of the Kshatriyas to deny superiority to the Brahmanas, or whatever social class serves an analogical function. The European Reformation is one example of this subversion that resulted in success. The superiority of the priestly class in Europe remained for some time after that subversion, but only as a superstition. For what could the Divine Right of kings possibly mean without a sacred authority to bestow it? It was Pope Leo III who crowned Charlemagne. He could not have crowned himself.

Direct and indirect participation in the tradition

Full participation is reserved for the first three castes, hence the designation arya, which we have mentioned elsewhere as referring, not to some ancient race, but to the first three castes; in addition, these are also designated dwija or ‘twice born,’ which this second birth being spiritual, much like the Christian notion of second birth through Baptism. This means that for the Shudras, participation is indirect, through the mediation of the other castes. They are not a vital part of the body of Purusha, but spring from the earth under his feet.

Additional remarks on caste will be reserved for the section dedicated to that subject.