The Problem of Moral Equality in the Indian Philosophy
One of the most critical challenges the today’s world faces is the problem of consensus. Globalization leads the world into an era of total unity and creates a form of global integrated nation that has no inner contradictions. At the same time, the issue of national diversity is as important as the problem of its unity. On one hand, people should share the same worldviews in order to avoid contradictions and struggles. On the other hand, all people are different and the voluntary unification of their positions would require oppressive mechanisms that are inappropriate in a modern society based on the principles of human rights and dignity. Certainly, the main issue here is common morality that should be shared by all people in a global society. The contradictory essence of the challenge needs solutions and a good illustration of possible ways of social development may be the moral teachings of Bhagavad Gita and the Theravada Buddhist tradition that oppose each other. According to Bhagavad-Gita, society should be divided into different groups with different moral codes and obligations that depend on peoples’ social positions. Theravada, in contrast, denies any divisions of society in the moral aspect, and claims that all beings have the same moral obligations. In my opinion, the Buddhist position in this case is much deeper, because it appeals to moral fundamentals common for all people instead of pinpointing professional differences like Bhagavad-Gita.
The classical Hinduist teaching about social structure and each professional group’s moral duties is described in the sacred dialogue of Krishna and Arjuna concerning the specifics of the spiritual way of a righteous Hinduist. The professional groups mentioned are called “varnas”, and their role is to organize the society in accordance to people’s personal differences. There were four varnas in the ancient Hinduist society: brahmanas (priests or intellectuals), kshatriyas (warriors or administrators), vaishyas (merchants), and shudras (workers or artisans) (“The Four Varnas”). According to Bhagavad-Gita, “brahmanas, kshatriyas, vaishyas and shudras are distinguished by the qualities born of their own natures in accordance with the material modes” (Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada 982). Thus, Krishna tells Arjuna that all people are naturally different, and one of the aims of society and traditions is to help everyone find their own path of self-realization (Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada). Krishna explains this natural diversity through mythical, ineffable ways. The main point here is that the differences between social groups justify the social hierarchy and allow some people to have more rights than others and obey other moral norms. In other words, the Hinduist society described in Bhagavad-Gita contradicts the modern principle of human equality in the context of law. The social system of the ancient Hinduist state is very close to some totalitarian societies of XX century where each individual had their own place and could not oppose the dictate of the system and hierarchy. One example of such societies is Nazi Germany where people had different rights in accordance with their nationality, which has led to Holocaust. Another good example is the totalitarian USSR with its constant repression of people who did not share the ideology of the proletariat’s dictatorship. The system proposed in Bhagavad-Gita clearly leads to many injustices.
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The society based on the moral principles of Theravada is also very contradictory. Certainly, it seems that the Theravada tradition requires its followers to treat all beings as equal and act in accordance with such a moral position (“Buddhist Ethics”). However, Jones claims that understanding of this tradition is incorrect because morality presupposes the concept of good and evil, when the Enlightened people have to exist beyond both positions. Thus, the path of a Therabada Buddhist is non-moral because it neglects both good and evil as mistakes of improper worldview. Thus, “the basic path required by Theravada Buddhism is non-moral in leading to nibbana, but moral activity may be opted for in the enlightened way of life” (Jones 371). Such a detail makes the moral teaching of Theravada Buddhism as contradictory as that of Bhagavad-Gita. Certainly, not all people become Enlightened, and others just follow the moral statements of the tradition adapted for their social reality, and in this way, the socialized version of Theravada provides the mentioned moral code based on equality (“Buddhist Ethics”). Besides, the research provided by Jones makes it clear that the society in the Theravada tradition is very far from real equality. The Enlightened individuals who are beyond the good and evil are able to commit everything they consider necessary in accordance to their mystical knowledge, while other people who are not enlightened yet remain in inferior position. The equality of the Theravada society is disputable and fictive to a certain degree. As for the denial of diversity stated in Bhagavad-Gita, it is clear that the Theravada society is closer to the ideal of human rights because it provides equal opportunities to all people. At the same time, the social structure of Bhagavad-Gita looks like a more elaborated one in accordance to the social demands of the epoch. As was previously stated, the weak point of Theravada moral teaching is the superior status of the Enlightened persons as well as the denial of people’s innate differences.
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There is no unity among modern researchers concerning the aforementioned question. Some of them claim that moral diversity is inevitable because the world includes too many different cultural contexts, and there is no way and no reason to deny them for the sake of global unity. For example, Dean considers that “diversity in attitudes might prove expeditious at promoting social stability in a wide range of environmental conditions” (13). Some researchers claim that moral diversity requires deeper understanding of the phenomenon of diversity and the levels of its social realization. Similarly, Haidt, Rosenberg, and Hom explain the situation through the balance between demographic and moral diversity, and claim that “it may be possible to balance out increases in demographic diversity with decreases in moral diversity” (24). It is clear that Haidt, Rosenberg, and Hom try to resolve the problem of American moral diversity and speak about the control over the demographic factor. Besides, in a global society such a position would be inappropriate. Thus, the problem of moral diversity has no certain solution presented by contemporary researches. In the same way, the comparison of ancient moral systems also does not provide any concrete responses. The weak side of the social structure of Bhagavad-Gita is the hierarchy that contradicts the principles of human equality. The weakness of Theravada is the denial of human diversity and convening all people to an indifferent class of beings along with other creatures. Both approaches need some discussion and reinterpretation. Besides, it is clear that the social structure of Theravada proposes a lot more rights and freedoms because it does not provide people with stable social status and allows them to change it in accordance to their development. Certainly, the correlation between morality and professional attitudes makes sense, but a fairer way to organize society is to allow everyone to become superior through personal achievements and self-realization. For example, though the division of people into varnas should depend on their personalities, it mostly depends on peoples’ relatives. Thus, the children of Brahmins become Brahmins and the children of Shudras become Shudras. Such a situation demonstrates that the theoretical aspect of teaching may contradict its practical realization, as well as in the case of Theravada with its non-moral path of the enlightened individuals. This brief comparison makes it clear that the teaching proposed by Theravada is closer to the modern society and looks more appropriable for contemporary challenges and social demands as well as moral presuppositions of the present-day people.
In conclusion, the phenomenon of diversity has many different aspects, and one of them concerns morality. Some traditions state that unified morality is a condition of social unity; other traditional approaches consider unified morality to be an oppressive instrument that denies individual identity and makes people alike. The problem here lies in differences of understanding the term “oppression”, because both approaches seem oppressive through opposite point of view. Besides, moral unity is a much more adequate way for social unity, than the morality that depends on professional differences. The social duties of the representatives of different professions have to be the same, because this way the social equality can be achieved.