10th August 2011
Does Hinduism cause corruption?
Extract from the draft DOF – for comment.
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I have argued (e.g. in BFN) that India’s corrupt governance can be attributable to the system of governance which fosters corruption. Some people have claimed, however, that Hinduism fosters corruption. This is clearly false since Hindus who work in the West have a lower rate of criminality than others.
But if this thesis turns out to be true, it would mean that India will remain corrupt as long as Hindus exist in India. So let me examine its key arguments further. N. Vittal and S.S. Gill have both suggested that Hinduism doesn’t treat corruption as a moral failing. N. Vittal writes:
Any number of examples are given in the puranas where a sinner having led a life of sin can get redemption by taking the name of Lord Narayana in his last moments as in the case of Ajamila. In social terms this has come to be accepted. People who lived a life of sin like the prodigal sons return to the straight and narrow path at some stage usually late in life. The sholka Vridha nari pativrata vridha veshya tapaswani probably represents the cynical acceptance of how people change in life from vice to virtue.
At another level, the very basis of Hinduism which believes in rebirth shows that every soul is given innumerable opportunities to improve itself on its onward path. There may be set backs for sins committed but then virtue is also earned. This endless cycle of birth and death leads to the ultimate goal of Moksha. The emphasis of our saints on getting out of the birth and death cycle also is an attempt to persuade people to come to the right path as early as possible. Punarapi jananam punarapi maranam punarapi jananai jathare sayanam iha samsare bahu dustare kripaya pare pahi murare
said Adi Shankara in Bhaja Govindam reflecting the toils of repeated births and death.
S.S. Gill states that ‘the numerous deviant actions of …[Hindu] gods are an integral part of Hindu folklore. And it is reasonable to infer that their influence on public morality could not be very wholesome. Such incidents, and there are any number of them, were bound to lower the importance of means used in achieving one’s ends. And coupled with a relatively relaxed concept of sin, their overall impact on social ethics was to enlarge the areas of permissiveness.’
No doubt, Hinduism allows sins to be washed away merely by taking a dip in the Holy Ganges or by bribing the god/s at the local temple. Such cheap forgiveness sits uneasily with the theory of karma, but is widely accepted for the cathartic relief that this provides. (Note that all religions have some methcanism or other to allow an affordable catharsis from guilt). Recall that in chapter 1, I had noted that the Srimad Bhagavatam talks about saama –the process of pacifying; daana–the process of giving money in charity; bheda –the principle of divide and rule; and danda –the principle of punishment.Vivekananda commented favourably on these four principles which were also emphasised in Kautilya’s Arthashastra,albeitin a slightly different form: sama, dama, bheda, danda. Dama represents a two-sided transaction, a trade. Through it we motivate others to do something for us. Daana, on the other hand,is one-sided, without an expectation of a return. Vivekandanda’ model translates thus: persuade, provide economic incentive, divide and rule, and punish. The problem, of course, is this that a focus on economic incentives can, without ethical self-restraint, justify even bribery!
Indeed, Vivekananda asked: ‘Is not doing work, though mixed with good and evil, better than doing nothing and passing an idle and inactive life, and being like stones?’ Even evil action, this could be taken to mean, in an extreme case, is presumably preferable to taking no action! To confound matters, he added: ‘Show your heroism; apply, according to circumstances, the fourfold political maxims of conciliation, bribery, sowing dissensions, and open war, to win over your adversary and enjoy the world – then you will be Dharmika (righteous)…. Of course, do not do any wrong, do no injure or tyrannise over anyone, but try to do good to others as much as you can.’ (This statement implies that one of India’s major Hindu gurus preached bribery? I hope this is a mistranslation, given its inconsistency with Vivekananda’s overall message.)
Nevertheless, such things do suggest a level of confusion, and some Indians perhaps find ready justification for their own corruption. Enlightened Hindus do insist that Hinduism is an ethical religion. The way out is for Hindu leaders to excommunicate corrupt Hindus and hand them over to the police. Only then can this issue be finally resolved. The other method to resolve it is, of course, for political system reforms to be introduced, as outlined in BFN. If corruption drops rapidly (as it should) then Hinduism would be exonerated.
Paper presented by N. Vittal at Institute of Secretariat Training and Management, New Delhi, on 8 January2002, [http://cvc.nic.in/vscvc/cvcspeeches/sp9jan02.pdf]
Gill, S.S., The Pathology of Corruption
, New Delhi: HarperCollins, 1998, p.8-9.
Complete woks, p. 451, vol 5
 The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda
, Calcutta: Advaita Ashram, 1989 , vol 5, p. 448.