Hinduism and Social Work

Hinduism and Social Work

The affinity between Hinduism and modern Social Work becomes immediately apparent in the light of the foregoing discussion.

1) The Hindu Philosophy and Traditions are replete with the importance accorded to the spirit of service and compassion; and sacrifice of personal gain in favour of others less fortunate.

2) The Hindu concepts of social conscience and social concern emphasize the fact that one’s welfare is entwined with that of others. The mutual aid and mutual interdependence have been in practice right from the ancient times.

3) However paradoxical it may seem, the concepts of God, Soul and maaya provide the foundation for social justice. Hindu Philosophy holds all living beings equal with similar capacity to realize their real potential; to achieve divinity. It discards all social ranks and differences as illusory (maaya) and temporary and denounces all discriminatory practices as sin.

4) Like professional social work, Hindu philosophy believes that human beings can and do change towards self-actualization-the goal of life. It is strongly believed that soul’s natural inclination is towards self-realization – realization of its divine nature. The religious and spiritual activities with the help of gurus help them move towards their goal of life. The spiritual and religious activity involves emotional and mental well-being; acquiring rational
and clear perspective and removing misconceptions; getting connected to reality and realizing one’s Self.

5) The concept and practice of dharma is closely linked to the concept of social functioning as we know it in social work literature. Doing what is expected of us in a given station in life role; doing it well and getting satisfaction out of it has been considered the basis of mental well-being. Dharma as linked both with social position (occupational or social)
and with different stages in life covers social functioning concept in all of its connotations. In-depth understanding of the concept of dharma can help Social Workers provide effective professional service.

6) Relationship between the worker and the person requiring professional help is a vital component in social work practice. Among various principles of professional relationship, the principle of acceptance is the most basic and held almost as an absolute value. Hindu belief in the divinity of man makes it compatible with this principle. Having faith in the fact that all human beings are striving towards selfactualization makes it possible to maintain nonjudgmental attitude towards even the so-called worst criminals. Hindu scriptures contain numerous examples of criminals, prostitutes and cruel people getting redeemed because God who dwells in all is perceived as patitpaavan, the redeemer of the fallen.

As the goal of life is seen to be merging in God, the  qualities of forgiveness and compassion are seen as divine and thus desirable to inculcate in one self. The practice of ahimsa, further, underlines an absence of hatred towards or blaming of the person in need of rehabilitation or reform. The principle of controlled emotional involvement has been very adequately expounded in the Gita. The images of sthitaprajna and sthit dheer present a person who has achieved high emotional stability, has clear perceptions, high degree of self-awareness; is socially conscious, remaining detached feels compassion for his fellow beings. Controlled emotional involvement does not preclude empathy, compassion, kindness and positive regard for the person in need of help.

7) Frequently professional literature has reflected critically on the power and authority inherent in worker – client relationship by the very fact that client feels inadequate and looks upon the worker as an expert capable of helping him or her and as one having control on necessary resources. Hindu scriptures maintain that the giver is not superior
to the receiver. The same divinity is operating in both the receiver and the giver. The giver should rather be thankful that the receiver has accorded the giver an opportunity to merit punya for the good deed. That the two are intrinsically equal, mutually helping each other comes quite close to the assumptions and practice principles held by feminist therapists.

8) The dignity of human beings upheld as a core value in Social Work is actually the foremost belief in Hinduism. The belief that one’s true identity is defined not by physical and social attributes but by its divinity is drawn from the concept of Atman. All human beings have to be respected as they all have the same spiritual core. The recognition of innate dignity of human beings is a given in Hindu Philosophy. In the words of Swami Vivekanand, “Have faith in man, whether he appears to you to be a very learned one or a most ignorant one. Have faith in man, whether he appears to be an angel or the very devil himself.”(The Common Bases of Hinduism)

9) The ‘strength perspective’ that the social workers have begun emphasizing, rather than focusing on the deficiencies or problems, surfaces in Hinduism, almost effortlessly. That all human beings have the innate strength and tendency to realize self is a matter of faith. The call of the spiritual gurus is to draw forth the inner resources of all human beings – to start with what each one has rather than highlighting what one lacks. The fact that one has lost direction, is emotionally disturbed, is unable to carry on one’s duty (dharma), is quite understandable because of the very nature of life in the world of maaya (illusion). But the person in need of help is not completely ‘helpless’.

10) The concept of innate worth, further, supports the principles of self-help and self-determination. The worker primarily enables or even facilitates client’s mobilization of his own inner and external resources. A well worn definition of social work, “Social work helps people to help themselves” bears this point out. The client has to take ownership of his own change process. The spiritual guidance by the gurus and scriptures is founded on this
requirement of the devotee taking ownership of his desire to achieve self-realization. The gurus do not impose their will on the devotee.

11) The concept of reincarnation coupled with the law of karma states that each human being despite having a common divine spark is born with a unique destiny. This is in alignment with professional assumption that each person is unique, irrespective of the fact that he or she shares certain common characteristics with those in the same social group.

12) The law of karma further helps in keeping the process of help focused on the ‘present’.
Consequences of our actions (including thoughts, speech and deeds) as occurring in the present have significance for us and those around us in our milieu. The concept of duty helps us in getting over our defense mechanisms.

13) Development of the professional self is the cornerstone of the training of professional social workers. The social worker learns to believe in certain assumptions, like each human being is unique; inculcates certain core values and develops some important qualities like compassion,controlled emotional involvement, respect for all human beings etc.; acquires high degree of self awareness; achieves emotional stability; offers help without seeking to satisfy his / her own needs through the helping process; acquires necessary knowledge; becomes a citizen sensitive social conscience; strives continuously towards  self actualization; and finally becomes a role model. The ideal of nishkam sewa (the Gita) is not working without remuneration; it is working without self gain or praise; it is working with compassion but with detachment, without imposing own will or  views and letting the person in need of help move at his or her own pace.