An essay I did a while ago on this topic:
Poverty is now a problem on a global scale, and Hinduism has needed, and will continue to need, to undertake an ongoing state of change and adaptation. Many of the beliefs Hindus held only a couple of centuries ago have been altered or even removed altogether. The globalisation of Hinduism, bringing it into contact with a wide range of other cultures and religions, has influenced this a lot. Hinduism, however, is full of variations itself, so what is said of Hinduism may be true for some Hindus, and false for others. Hinduism is less a religion, than a culture, and way of life. This way of life affects how they view poverty and wealth, and what their reactions to it are, as outlined below.
Unlike many other societies, where the caste system is based on power or wealth, thus giving the poorest the least power, Hinduism has four set castes, which a member belongs to by birth. These groups are called varnas, and each has its own set of rules and duties to live by, known as dharma. Too much inter-varna mixing, especially intermarriage, is strongly disapproved of. The first, and highest varna is that of a Brahmin-priests, teachers, and wisemen. The next is Kshatriya-warriors, rulers, and leaders. The third is Vaishya-traders, merchants, agriculture, and other work involved with commerce. The final, and lowest varna is Sudra-manual labour and service. In many societies, the difference between the high and the low, in terms of social status, has caused great troubles, due to discontentment of the poor and weak to continue living like they are. In Hinduism, however, this problem is avoided, by the promise of being born into a better life next time, and a higher varna, for those who follow the dharma well. This attitude, of following the dharma above all else, mainly comes from a Hindu text called the Bhagavad Gita, in which a powerful prince and general has to go to war according to his class (Kshatriya) dharma, but does not feel it is the right thing to do. His charioteer, Lord Krishna, an incarnation of Vishnu, tells and persuades him that the most important thing is to follow your dharma, rather than be guided by a judgement of right and wrong.
The varnas limit the jobs a Hindu may have, since it is only appropriate for a Hindu to have a job suitable for their caste. A priest should be a Brahmin, and a builder a Sudra. In recent times, however, especially in the cities, these attitudes have been breaking down somewhat, allowing members of lower varnas to fill professions before filled only by higher ones. Today, in the cities, there are some jobs reserved for the lowest, oppressed group, outside the caste system-the ‘dalits’ or untouchables. Some occupations go against basic Hindu beliefs, irrelevant of caste, making it unlikely to find a Hindu fashion model or butcher for example.
Hindus do not see money as an evil. Indeed, one of the four aims of life, the purushartas, is to earn and enjoy money (artha). It is everyone’s duty in the middle stage of their life, after being a student and before becoming a monk, to earn enough to support everyone around them. This makes it quite acceptable to want for money in the householder stage of life, and Hindus are not ashamed about this. It is quite acceptable to pray for money, and prayers to Lakshmi, goddess of wealth and prosperity, are common.
However, Hindus do not let greed overcome them, and must keep perspective. When they are a student, and in old age, Hindus must lead a very simple life at the bare minimum, teaching them that money is not the most important thing. They are meant to learn wisdom, devotion to God, and the right moral code. Hindu literature teaches that money alone will not bring perfect happiness, especially if kept rather than shared.
Poverty is a very common problem in India, bringing the problem more into the Hindu conciousness than most. There is a beggar on many street corners, so Hindus cannot simply ignore the problem. Giving to the poor is a way of life for Hindus in India. Employment is more acceptable than charity, however, so many will employ the poor as servants, even if they can only just afford this. People who refuse to employ servants, and do their own housework, are thought to be very mean, as there is no unemployment benefit in India. The servants should be treated with respect, and should be taken care of-medicines paid for if they become ill, old clothes given to them, etc.
Giving to the poor is a very good way of building up good Karma, giving them rewards in later lives. The Hindu belief in reincarnation gives rise to a contradiction in their attitude towards beggars. They believe that if they are suffering so in this life, it is because of bad Karma built up in a previous life, so many do not feel the guilt felt in other societies when they see a beggar. On the other hand, the beggar may have been your brother, sister, or loved one in a previous life. Dana, or giving, is also a basic part of everyday life. It is part of the everyday routine for many Hindus to make a small donation to the poor, and will give old clothes or shoes away, rather than throwing them out.
MK Gandhi changed many old Hindu beliefs with his teachings. He taught that it is wrong to think that a poor person is only getting what they deserve. He believed that everyone was a part of God, and people should recognise that they share the same world and should care for one another. He taught that service to others was the best way to find God and comprehend fully the human condition. This had a profound effect on the treatment of the poor in India today. There are many charities set up for helping the poor in India, such as the Hindu Mission Hospital and Prison Fellowship India. These receive many donations from many Hindus-even those overseas will often send back money to help the poor.
I apologise for any errors made, either in the text itself, in my form of noding, linking, and so on.
The only excuse I may use is my ignorance, so please feel free to criticise-its the only way I'll learn.
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