In the last century two ideological schools dominated the intellectual landscape and served as a framework for social and economic organisation  – one was communism (and its multiple versions including a slightly benign variant called socialism) and the other one was capitalism with promise of freedom, free markets and free trade. By the end of 20th century communism,outside academia, had virtually no practical relevance. The end of first decade of 21st century is witnessing capitalism and its fashionable incarnate globalization coming under sustained attack. This has provided another opportunity to left-wing activism and a more pernicious manifestation left wing terrorism to capture public imagination in few pockets of the world. Is communism only alternative to capitalism or vice versa?  Can’t humanity think anything better than these ideas which are actually two sides of same coin? This is an attempt to compare economic and social ideals of Santana Dharma to current frenzy of globalization.

Social Foundations of sanatana dharma

Sanatana dharma stands on four legs of 1) Dharma 2) Artha 3) Kama and 4) Moksha. The Dharma referred to is swa-dharma or dharma of individual. These are called purusharthas; the fulfillment of these four aspects of human aspirations in a balanced way is the goal and purpose of sanatana dharma. Let’s see what this shloka in Gita says about swa-dharma

                          Shreyan swa-dharmo vigunaha par-dharmat swanusthitat,

                          Swadharme nidhanam shreyaha par-dharmo bhayavahaha.

Meaning: “To do one’s dharma (duty) is good, even if it is a small and insignificant compared to other’s Dharma. Death in the course of one’s duty (Dharma) is beneficial. It is dangerous to attempt other’s Dharma without qualification”.

What is swa-dharma in current capitalistic context? There is none in the true sense, since nobody has sense of ownership in any profession; at best they work as an employee for a salary. In a capitalistic society money and desire (artha &kama) replace Dharma as first principle. However for the purpose of this article we consider only qualified professional work aspect of swa-dharma leaving family duties. The most important thing in man’s life is his work; it gives him a sense of purpose and ownership in life. Any stable social system should focus on giving that purpose of work to its subjects, otherwise they are forced to interfere in para-dharma (other’s Dharma) without qualification or become disoriented idlers.  The above shloka says para-dharma is dangerous and it’s beneficial to die following swa-dharma. Swa-dharma is a medium of penance that gives fulfillment and purpose to life. Capitalism doesn’t give scope to this penance of swa-dharma and routinely displaces individuals, families, communities and nations. How sanatana dharma did ensured scope for practicing the swa-dharma, another shloka in Gita explains

                        chatur varna maya srishtam guna karma vibhagasha

       Meaning: I have created four varnas based on their nature and work

 The above shloka may ring alarm bells for some and they may smell caste discrimination.Varnais not related to caste discrimination, in fact not following the swa-dharma of varnas resulted in caste discrimination and conflicts, will explain this. There are four varnas 1) Brahmana 2) Kshatriya 3) Vaishya 4) Shudra. Does the capitalistic system have any aspect of varnas in the true sense? I would say no, it has some aspects of vaishya and shudra varna devoid of moral principles associated with them.

Swa-dharma of Brahmana – He should have dedication to preserve and practice ritual, spiritual and dharmic knowledge. Brahmana is supposed to maintain high standards of penance with internal and external purity, live on alms and patronage of other varnas without demanding anything. It’s amazing the way they preserved the vast Indic literature, many of them by memorizing.

Swa-dharma of Kshatriya – He is trained in the protection of dharma, should be ready to sacrifice his life if required in the fight for dharma. He is also responsible for administering the code of dharma.

Swa-dharma of Vaishya – Maintains material productivity and prosperity in society following moral code of Dharma and contributes monetarily to dharmic activities for common good.

Swa-dharma of Shudras – Service and manufacturing, activities range from technical, engineering, artistic work to manual labour.

The status, respect and privileges of all four varnas are proportional to their penance and sacrifice. Caste conflict is the result of varnas claiming their status and privileges without following the prescribed duties of their swa-dharma. The degradation and defeat of Hindu civilization is the consequence of failure of top three varnas in their swa-dharma.

Is varna hereditary? The above shloka clearly says it is based on guna (nature) and karma (work), it doesn’t say by birth.  Traditionally, the horoscope of a person also refers to his varna (nature) based on his birth star, a shudra parents born can astrologically have kshatriya or brahmana varna, this is another proof to say varna is not acquired from parents but an aspect of person’s dominating nature. However, offspring born in a particular varnahave natural opportunity to nurture the qualities because of the ecosystem or karma they live in, same is true with many occupations even today, everywhere we find offspring following the footsteps of their parents. In a world devoid of modern transportation, communication and omnipotent centralized governments this was the model that ensured current fashionable phrase “minimum government and maximum governance” and individual purusharthas of Dharma, Artha,Kamaand Moksha.

Effects of global capitalism

The current global capitalistic system has no concept of swa-dharma; it is driven purely by covetousness. There are temptations galore in the institutions it has developed. These temptations can lead to adharma. In this west influenced global economic and social architecture, monopolistic capitalistic system has achieved primacy and increasingly showing signs that its can be potentially as debilitating as tyrannical statist monopolies. Vibrant, pro-competition based system of capitalism that facilitates entrepreneurial energies to flourish appears to be on the decline . Expansive nature of global big business has resulted in government heads becoming increasingly dependent on capitalists to survive which reverses the natural power structure in which political authority hold primacy.

The market manipulations involving  large-scale deployment of dubiously designed speculative instruments and resultant financial crisis continues to agitates individuals, companies and societies; they remain in a state of perpetual turmoil. All perceptible elements of nature (air, water, earth) are exploited and polluted. All subjects of society are in either direct or indirect fight with all others out of mindless competition and artificial scarcities. Western imperialism and superficial ideas have pulled the globe into this state of self – destruction.

Is there no alternative possible to the current economic and social systems? Can we stabilize the system following the spirit of sanatana dharma?  Even if we manage to change the system will rest of the world allow us to sustain it? What is the road map of Hindu organisations in these matters? It would be outright foolishness if anybody attempts to exactly imitate lifestyle of bygone era. However, we could evolve decentralized grass root  social and economic institutions that let individuals grow to their capacity fulfilling their aspirations without undermining Dharma, but for that world needs an inspiring leadership, a leadership that can make this epoch transition feasible. Will the course of events in future bring forth such leadership that can do course correction, or the situation will turn so bad that lord himself has to come down and interfere as promised in Gita, or humanity has no redemption from these varieties of pollution and tendencies of mutual destruction until they finally become extinct?

PS: I am not an authority on sanatana dharma, just presented some observations from my limited understanding.

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Krishnarjun