The Illusion That Is Caste

The Illusion That Is Caste

The word “caste” comes from the Portuguese word casta, meaning “race, lineage, tribe or breed.” It originally comes from the Latin word castus meaning pure. The Spanish and Portuguese used the word differently in the Renaissance period; to the Spanish, it was applied more in a hereditary way, indicating family and/or lineage. For the Portuguese, it leaned toward something more akin to “breed” or social standing.

Many know that India was a British Colony but what many do not know is that it was a Portuguese one as well. From the beginning of the 16th century, the “Estado de India” or State of India was a Portuguese colony until 1961, when the country of India invaded Portuguese India and a treaty was signed. In fact, the Portuguese had a far longer history as a colonial power in India than did the British. For an American, this is nearly unheard of unless you are a history buff. While this is as oversimplification of the complicated workings of colonialism in India, we will delve into this to make a point, I promise.

This same time period of Portuguese rule (Early 1500s to 20th Century) is marked by British rule in India, which ended in 1947. While the Portuguese were the first, after the Romans, to begin trading with modern India, it was the British who seized dominance by the mid-19th Century. In 1661, Portugal was at war with Spain and needed assistance from England. This led to the marriage of Princess Catherine of Portugal to Charles II of England, who imposed a dowry that included the insular and less inhabited areas of southern Bombay while the Portuguese managed to retain all the mainland territory north of Bandra up to Thana and Bassein.

While the British were in India before this, this marriage marked the beginning of rulership, not just trade, within India. What is interesting to note is what while the Portuguese were using the word casta to denote the hereditary social groups they perceived in India almost as soon as they arrived, it wasn’t until 1613, during the time of British interest, that we see the word translated to “caste.”

BrahminPriestAssistantChristopherPillitzImageBankGetty-56a0428f5f9b58eba4af9280What may surprise some people is that there is no Hindu word for “caste.” In Hinduism, rising from ideas within the Rig Veda, the term associated with the Vedic social structure is varna.

According to one author, “The Four Varna system reflects a deep ecological and yogic vision of social and universal unity very different from the divisive idea of caste by birth.” This is an organic and natural social order that does not coincide with a hierarchy of rule which was applied by both the British and the Portuguese. The term varna is not specifically found in Hindu writings until later, possibly as an add-on in the Purusha Sukta. The text noted to discuss this social structure is:

When they divided Purusa how many portions did they make? What do they call his mouth, his arms? What do they call his thighs and feet? The Brahman was his mouth, of both his arms was the Rajanya made. His thighs became the Vaishya, from his feet the Shudra was produced.

The basic idea of this is that we, humanity, are one construct made up of different, outward talents. The one construct, the Purusa, is the cosmic being, or some say, the cosmos itself. All human structure is built off this Purusa. Some may have an inclination toward knowledge and thought (Brahman), like a philosopher or religious person, and some way have an inclination toward service (Shudra) like a fireman or waiter.

However, all are part of the same construct called humanity and all have a part to play in helping the body move. No one of these is higher than the other – they are all necessary. Additionally, there was never the idea, in Vedic writings, of a non-Varna, or outcast/out caste member. Everyone is part of the whole. It would not make any sense to have a whole and then have something that is not part of the whole. To quote another author, “There is in this original Vedic model no outcaste, Dalit or untouchable. Each Varna constitutes a necessary part of the whole and all are mutually interdependent. Each is a manifestation of the same Divine consciousness working in humanity.”

Basor_Dalit_casteIndeed, this is an application of the British and Portuguese who were exerting control over the Indian population.

Either through misunderstanding or, perhaps, intentional co-opting, the Varna outline was translated and Westernized into a caste-oriented system where everyone fell into a suppressive class system, one type of human being better than the other. The adoption of these changes, from varna to caste, caused the dalit to be “created,” those that were considered outcasts and not part of society.

Dalit was a term coined about 1873, by the leader of a non-brahman-centric movement called Satyashodhak Samaj. Over time, this rigid caste hierarchy became the consciousness of a country. I remember being younger and hearing the words, “there is no caste system in India.” Yet, every Indian person I had met had embraced the idea of perhaps one group being above all others, superior to them, and others not being of equal value. The term unclean was part of the vernacular.

It’s important to know the origins of this, I think, not because of the events of history but because of the corruption of something uplifting and universal into the tool to create an oppressive society. Said clearly, from the American Institute of Vedic Studies:

“The Vedic social order was meant to instill an intrinsic feeling of unity in each individual with the greater society, and human society with the greater universe. The Varna system was based upon a transcendent ideal of human unity in the Divine, not an effort to give power and domination to one section of society.”

What was once a purely unifying religious concept was co-opted to create disharmony and foment discord among people.

gahndiWe have all seen this, as base, human need to tear down another group, using religion, education, resources, or a combination of all three in order to build the suppressive group up – whatever ‘up’ means.

Freemasons care about these things because, in the search for Truth, the goal is to build up and not tear down. It is to seek truth and Truth. In order to do this, we need to understand not only human history but the motivations behind the scenes. It doesn’t hurt to dig and explore the perhaps little known histories of the world.

One of the best podcasts recommended in this is “Revisionist History,” by Malcolm Gladwell. He does an excellent job bringing out about the little known facts of what we have taken to be “truth” and made the visible. Would that we were all as curious.

There are many things which are, I think, of interest to those who want to know Truth and build a better world, things which are knowledge gaps for us. Curiosity and an open find fill those gaps and shed light.  I know that I will never again think of the caste system as something arising from Hinduism, and I think this gives me the tools to help others think differently as well.

Trust and Where to Find It

Trust and Where to Find It

Having just come off an ugly few weeks at work, the issue of trust has raised its ugly head. Bosses not trusting the people they hire; employees not trusting managers to look out for them; gossipers and those who malign out of jealousy or fear. The workplace seems to be the last place trust is formed. The specter of what passes for trust in the modern world of North America, well, it leaves something to be desired. Many books have been written about the subject, by various authors, from Dale Carnegie to Malcolm Gladwell.  We could talk about being a leader and being an employee ad nauseum, as most of us have performed one of those tasks in some way shape or form. We’ve talked in the last several articles about work, industry, and the idea of being a contributing member of society. We’ve also talked about the value of Social Capital. I find that many of these topics come to a very core value of trust. Where do we find it?

A friend once said that “trust can never be earned. It must be granted and only when you are ready to grant it. It’s yours to give, yours to take away. It’s not something that is a wage to be paid.” Wise words, although at the time, it didn’t seem so. It seemed judgemental and hollow. Of course we can earn someone’s trust. Can’t we? Work hard; be upright; and show our integrity. Right?

Confidence, belief, faith, and rely upon – all synonyms for trust. Yet, who creates trust? In short…we do. In our heads, in our minds, and in our hearts. Trust is a construct of our own internal making, built on ideas, expectations, and beliefs that have been gathered over the course of creating our relationships. The building of trust is a wall, brick by brick, that is made from repeated incidents that end up the way we believe they should or would end up. We’ve played out a scenario in our mind and the members of the play have participated correctly and created a lasting impression on us. The integrity and trust of these impressions is built on not  who the individuals are but to what we believe. That is, trust is in our own minds and our own reality.

In trust, both risk and reward are built in. The trust we create in our own mind, oddly enough, is the both the judge and the distributor of the decision. We need trust to be able to form relationships with people; long lasting relationships where both parties are mutually benefited by trust. Marriages, life-long friendships, even employer-employee relationships are trust built brick by brick. We might even consider that when we engage in commerce – it is an act of trust. We call AAA, and they say they will come to our aid. When that request is granted, trust has been gained. Never show up and well, trust has eroded or is gone completely. We decide in our own minds what constitutes the willful crowning of trust on a person or company; the decision lies solely within us. Trust seems to be the glue that maintains a civil and coherent society. Let’s face it – locks only keep out the honest people, yes?

0721_trustThat trust involves risk means that we place a value on trust that is above much of our common interaction with people. Having trust in something or someone can create a dependency that may be “warranted” or not. We need to see value in something in order to actually grant trust. Ergo, that value can be lost if trust is broken. We gain much when we trust – opportunities for cooperative activity, meaningful relationships, knowledge, autonomy, self-respect, and overall moral maturity. Perhaps trust itself has no value – that is, we grant trust not because we will obtain something for ourselves (and the trustee) but “just because” we find the person to be upright. Should we trust them solely out of respect for their person? If trustworthiness is a virtue, and we seek to grow it in ourselves, then doesn’t it behoove us to show respect for another simply because we see they are trustworthy? Shouldn’t others afford us the same quarter? “Trust would be a sign of respect for others if it were an attitude of optimism about the trustee’s character: that is, if it assumed that virtue resided within this person’s character. Moreover, trust that has intrinsic value of this sort presumably must be justified. If optimism about the person’s character was inappropriate, then the respect would be misplaced and the intrinsic value would be lost.” *Article on plato.stanford.edu here*

The author of the article noted above continues on from the quote above to drop the idea of the virtue of trust as simply respect for another person. However, I think it does merit talking about. The term “authenticity” sprang to mind while thinking about this and I think that is where the core of trust begins. Authenticity is not being false or an imitation of something else; it is “worth of acceptance or belief; true to one’s own personality, spirit, and nature.” Being authentic is first knowing about yourself – who are you and how do you show up in the world. Once you know that, being authentic is about letting no one sway you from that way of being. It’s not about conforming – it’s about being who you are regardless of the situation. There was an explosion of authenticity articles and movements between 2010 and 2014; what’s interesting to note is that we’re not, as a culture, talking about authenticity now. Is it because we have new leadership that, in their authenticity, are cultivating chaos? Or is it because the ability to be authentic is too hard or scary, and the movement is gone? Culturally and sociologically, it would be interesting to reflect on why there was that surge in “being authentic” and whence that movement has gone. However, not right now, another time… If you want to read more on authenticity, check out the plato.stanford.edu site which houses many articles both on trust (referenced above) and on authenticity.

All of these concepts seem tied together: autonomy, self-realization, authenticity, and trust. While the core of creating trust is authenticity, there has to be a certain willingness for the trustee to put a personal stake in the relationship. You can be as authentic as a fresh baked apple pie but if someone else has inherent trust issues, you’re never going to trust1be invited to dinner. As the cliche goes, “It’s not about you. It’s about me.” I feel as if I am in constant discovery of myself so to be authentic for me is to be present. As long as I am thoughtful and searching my feelings with honesty, that is as authentic as I can be. Like everyone else, I change my feelings and mind, as I learn more about myself and knowledge about the world. Am I still worthy of trust if my authenticity is fluid? I hope so.

Two of the core values, in my mind, about Freemasonry, are “authenticity” and “trust.” Like any society of men and women where people to come together for a common cause, Freemasons have a structure and codified ways of acting and being together. We are separate from the outside world because of the Fraternity. We don’t treat our fellow members with the same casual demeanor that we would the people we work with or classmates or even some of our family members. From the onset, we must consider the people that are bringing us into the fraternity with some measure of trust. This makes the vetting process not only important but critical; not for the Lodge or Order but for ourselves and for the aspirant. Freemasons themselves are under the microscope of the aspirant’s eye – will we meet their expectations?