In Tuesday’s class, we touched on the diverse story traditions from ancient India. My colleagues spent time at the beginning of our meeting talking with each other about what they had discovered about Indian sacred traditions, and what questions this had brought up to them. There were basic similarities, of course, but a few folks were intrigued by the variety of traditional beliefs and how they seem to hang together. We followed one line of thinking which led to a short exploration of patriarchy and matriarchy. (You can find a reaction to that discussion here as well as some further insights.)
There was also a discussion about the four varnas, or classes: the priestly, warrior, mercantile, and laboring classes. Outside of these, of course, the so-called “untouchables” or “outcasts.” Folks discussed among themselves for a little while about the caste system, and we asked ourselves whether there might be some implicit or explicit caste system in the United States.
Interestingly enough, as we discussed why there might be some factors that “predetermine” a persons life, we spoke about it more in terms of “accident of birth” where folks have the opportunity to change their circumstances. Of course, the notion of the varnas and castes speaks to a kind of metaphysics or “essentialism.” The person is who their karma has made them. They may achieve liberation, but where they are now is who they are now. This led us to note as well how “essentialism” plays a part in various factors in our own society vis. racism and sexism.
Finally, after a short break, we came back and I gave a rather rambling lecture on mythopoesis, or the making of narratives. But the main gist was to bring how we see and how we hear to the foreground to consider how stories are integrated into our lives, as ciphers for our own being and as traditions for our society.