Hinduism, Islam and Baha’i: Castes and Classes and Rose-Colored Glasses…


Hindu Temple in Sri Lanka

I tend to concentrate on Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism as the world’s three major religious offerings, though that system follows no formal logic, especially since by actual numbers of adherents, Hinduism would be number three.  Rather it seems to reflect their current positions in terms of relative importance, especially in articulating clearly defined philosophical and religious positions.  But I should add that personally I wouldn’t really want Hinduism anyway, for a number of reasons.

For one thing: they apparently don’t want me, notwithstanding all the many light-skinned ‘Hare Krishnas’ out there showing devotion to Gods that their parents never heard of. The signs dotting temples around India are clear: ‘Hindus only’. Ouch. The only other religion where I’ve experienced that is Islam. They asked me to leave the mosque in KL, Malaysia, when I was just sitting there quietly—like everybody else. Double ouch. I wasn’t asked about my religious affiliation.

But this is not too surprising, considering that Hinduism is mostly a national religion, the Indian religion, with all that that entails, i.e. few outside adherents, except in the neighboring states, especially Nepal, and far-fetched Bali, where they took it really seriously a millennium or two ago, and never gave it up. That once occurred all over SE Asia, notably the Khmer empire, hence to be largely supplanted by Buddhism, and to a lesser extent Islam and Christianity.

Hindu God

Hindu God

But the main reason that I could never embrace Hinduism, even if they were to embrace me, is the thinly-veiled racism that operates under the (dis)guise of a caste system. They back-fill the logic as a merit system based on skill, but that’s all BS. It’s racism, no small irony imposed by the original Aryans, our distant relatives, and Hitler’s inspiration. The traditional Sanskrit word for caste means ‘color’; case closed. It’s no small irony, either, that the world’s other major national religion is Judaism.

It IS somewhat surprising that Islam is not-always-so-welcoming to foreigners, since it is NOT a national religion, indeed the majority religion of dozens of different countries, with a total number of adherents second only to Christianity. The number of white Muslims is quite small, though, no doubt creating some skepticism there, though they do exist, even as national majorities, i.e. Bosnia. Yes, I’ve read the Qur’an, and was astounded by it.

But I think it’s fair to say that Islam just might have a little chip on the shoulder.  Modern Islam is almost as much an offshoot of Hinduism as it is Judaism, what with the major populations of the Indian subcontinent comprising almost half of the total. So that Indian/Aryan weirdness toward women and sex and caste and alcohol carry over into Islam there.

Many Arab countries are much looser in their thinly-veiled prohibitions than the Indo-Persian ‘hood, what with their burqas and purdahs, chadors and murders. Women behind veils aren’t known for their cuteness, either, hint hint, nor their fertility rates, so it takes an entire religion to get a quorum in competition with India, China and the European diaspora.

Philosophically, though, Buddhism is an offshoot of Hinduism, but with significant differences, caste system not the only one. The other major difference is Hinduism’s plethora of gods, where Buddhism has none, or maybe one at most. I think it’s significant, but not often acknowledged, that most of the world saw monotheism as a significant improvement over their aboriginal religions, with their ever-expanding pantheon of divinities, i.e. economy of worship as well as wealth.

It allows the focus to narrow on the qualities of divinity, not the actual numbers.  Like the Old Testament, the early Hindu Vedas don’t allow for much discussion of philosophy, with more emphasis on battles and heroes. The philosophy comes later…and a good one it is: non-self and non-attachment.  Buddhism gave Hinduism equality, monotheism, and universality, just as Christianity gave Judaism love, forgiveness, and universality—good career moves.

Going just by the book—the Qu’ran—Islam should have been a synthesis of them both, and of them all.  Instead it dropped the ball and become the most conservative of the lot, eye for an eye and a wife for a buck; keep the women behind bars and the men in cafes, with honor as currency, dignity on the dole and jobs hard to find.

The Bahai Faith still aims to unite them all, but can’t wrap their heads around couples of the same sex or people of a third sex.  Even Hinduism does that.  And they’ve still got too many prohibitions on this, and on that.  I prefer polite suggestions.  To its credit Buddhism foregoes the behavioral ceiling and the floor, in favor of a Middle Path.  When will one religion be able to get all their ducks in a row, and forego guns at the same time?  Clock’s ticking….