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  • Hinduism and Capitalism

    Posted on September 10th, 2009 Sheila Yair 26 comments

    hinduI’ve been writing a lot about green valleys, snow peaks, and beautiful hikes. But India is not only nature. It has a lot of culture, and a lot of religion.

    Now why compare apples to oranges? First of all, it makes for a more interesting comparison. Secondly, many Hindus will tell you that Hinduism is a way of life, while many capitalists will practice and defend capitalism religiously.

    The first striking similarity is that both accept poverty. In Hinduism, there is karma, which means your present life circumstances are a result of your past life actions. So if you are poor and belong to a lower caste, it is because you did something wrong in previous lives. Capitalism looks upon poverty a little lighter, saying that the opportunities are always there, and if you are poor you just didn’t work hard enough or grab the opportunities that were present. The religious aspect to poverty and it being a punishment, perhaps explains why Indians mistreat their poor and are so appallingly indifferent to misery. Going through India, you will often see old men getting kicked and pushed in a train or bus line, you will see shop owners pouring jugs of water on beggar kids to scoot them away and I have even seen a policeman hitting a homeless person with a stick to make him leave a corner where the policeman wanted to stand. This behavior is accepted both by the inflicting and the receiving parties. You will never see any protest by the beaten poor. In capitalism, the punishment of poverty is less personal, and you are not reprimanded for being poor. Capitalism sees poverty itself as punishment enough. You have less means, therefore you can only afford lesser education, lesser health care, lesser accommodations, and even lesser justice when you get into trouble.

    In Hinduism, there is also the comfort of knowing that your position, your caste, is secure for this lifetime and will change only with the next reincarnation. Perhaps this gives a Hindu more security to mistreat the ones below him. In capitalism, you are more on your toes, as changes occur in this lifetime. Obviously, if you’re a multi-millionaire and do not have risky investments, you are financially secure for life. But there are very few of those, and even upper middle-class with one bad investment, with losing your job after taking too big of a mortgage, or with unexpected medical bills that no insurance company will pay, you can fall down the ladder and find yourself a lot lower than where you were. You are constantly responsible for your actions, being rewarded or punished accordingly.

    Every system needs a force to glue it together, to keep the poor from revolting, to keep order, and to keep chaos away. The forces are usually fear, necessity, or hope. A feudal farmer knew that if he would not make his quota with the harvest, the landlord could kick him off the land, mistreat his family, or inflict any other punishment. That fear made the farmer wake up early every morning, and work a plot of land that wasn’t his.

    In Hinduism, if you are good and fulfill your duties to the gods, to family, and society, your next life will be better. There is also Maya, in Hinduism, which claims everything is an illusion. All is false but god. So your poverty and misery are not real, and if you do right this life, your next life will be better. That gives you enough hope to keep going. With capitalism I have mentioned before how you can fall down the ladder, but you can climb it just as well. There is an abundance of rags to riches stories, people who started with nothing and accumulated vast fortunes. If you work hard enough, if you have a bright idea, or if you’re innovative enough, you will make it. That is the hope that makes people go to work, whatever job they have. That is also the hope that brings millions of immigrants knocking on the doors of the US. But both are a little bit of a pyramid scam, no matter how much people pray in India, go on pilgrimages, and offer goods to the gods, poverty is still at almost 50%, with many living way below the poverty line. No financial expert in his right mind will tell you that everybody can be a millionaire (unless they are trying to sell you a book they wrote). Someone has to open the shop on Sunday, wash the dishes in a restaurant, or man the cash register on Christmas Eve, we can’t all be the C.E.O. There will always be upward and downward movement, but there has to be a base. Now some will rightfully argue that the middleclass outnumbers the poor, but that is only because we have outsourced our poor base. The people making our clothes, electronic gadgets and pretty much everything else that we buy, are the base of our pyramid and are very poor.

    There is a reason the Egyptians, Aztecs, Mayas, and ancient Hindus, thousands of miles and years apart, all built pyramids. It is the sturdiest most stable shape we know. In Peru, which is very earthquake prone, the Spanish churches come tumbling down after every earthquake but the Inca ruins stay intact, they are all wide at the bottom and narrow at the top.

    We see social pyramids all across nature; a wolf pack, a bee hive, and a monkey tribe all have a pointy top and a large base. With capitalism, humans have taken the most stable shape, poured hope as the gasoline to keep it running, and even added a fair amount of justice by integrating socialist elements. But with globalization the base is pretty much cut off from true ability to rise.

    We have broken out of evolution by boosting our survival rate. We have fought and won many diseases. In the west, we have even managed to control our food supply, where drought, floods and plant disease no longer cause famine. So maybe one day, we will devise a social system that breaks out of the pyramid shape and is more horizontal, with more people enjoying a bigger piece of the pie, without compromising stability or efficiency.

     

    26 responses to “Hinduism and Capitalism” RSS icon

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    • In youth I leaped to Marxism and I was much critical of ideas of spirituality and indeed I was inclined to materiality, and of course my reality was matter. Indeed Das Capital, the Communist manifesto, Mao’s writings were my favorite books. Good post.

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