Hinduism teaches that the Divine is equally present in all. Because all beings are connected through this shared divine presence, prejudice and discrimination against anyone violates this most profound and fundamental teaching and the moral duties of selflessness, non-injury, and truth evoked by it.

The following are a sampling of teachings from Hindu sacred texts which articulate this teaching of oneness, considered a core, eternal spiritual truth:

“No one is superior, none inferior. All are brothers marching forward to prosperity.” — Rig Veda V.60.5

“Thou, O God, art woman, thou art man, thou the young man and maiden, too. Thou art the old man, tottering with his cane. It is thou alone who art born in all these infinitely diverse forms.” — Svetasvatara Upanishad 4:3

“He who sees all beings in the Self itself, and the Self in all beings, feels no hatred by virtue of that wisdom.” — Ishavasyopanishad 1.6

“He who has gained yogic integration with equal vision everywhere, perceives the Self as abiding in all beings, and all beings as dwelling in the Self.” — Bhagavad Gita 6.29

“As bees suck nectar from many a flower and make their honey one, so that no drop can say, ‘I am from this flower or that,’ All creatures, though one, know not they are that One. There is nothing that does not come from Brahman. Of everything he is the inmost Self. He is the truth; he is the Self supreme. And That thou art, Shvetaketu, That thou art.” — Chandogya Upanishad 6.9.1-4

Lacking an authoritative basis in sacred teachings, it is unfortunate that the Hindu tradition has been conflated with reprehensible prejudice and discrimination in Indian society that has similarly manifested as racism, religious persecution, and slavery in other cultures throughout the world. Indeed, the word caste itself comes from the Portuguese casta, meaning lineage, breed, or race.

All leading Hindu sampradayas, lineages, and institutions emphasize the Hindu teachings about the equal presence of the Divine in all beings, promote practices that sustain this truth and uplift those who suffer, and openly and strongly condemn all forms of prejudice and discrimination.

Read more: Caste Hierarchy And Discrimination Not Sanctioned By The Vedas
Read more: Hindu Leaders’ Reflections on Oneness

Revered Hindu teachers from diverse backgrounds

A large number of Hindu figures revered by all Hindus have emerged from communities which today would likely be designated as Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, or Other Backward Castes under India’s legal framework, including several alive today. These are individuals who have deeply and profoundly impacted Hindu philosophy and devotional practice.

To cite only a few: Shabari, a woman ascetic of tribal background described in the Ramayana as having inspired Lord Rama’s discourse on the Nine Fold Path of Devotion; Sant Raidas, a cobbler who was the guru of Mirabai, the most famous of the female devotional poets of northern India; Sant Ramdev, a prominent devotional poet from central India important to both Hindu and Sikh traditions; and Sant Tiruvalluvar of southern India who wrote the Thirukkural, an influential scripture of sacred wisdom.

Veda Vyāsa, who compiled Vedas, wrote the Mahābhārata, and the Srimad Bhāgavatam (two of Hinduism’s most popular scriptures), was born out of wedlock to and raised by a fisherwoman. For all of his contributions, Veda Vyāsa is easily the principal sage of classical Hinduism.

Vālmiki, who composed the Ramāyana, one of Hinduism’s great epics, is said to have been born into a forest dwelling jāti and initially made a living robbing travelers.

A very large number of bhakti or devotional saints across medieval India were from the lower castes. Prominent examples include a number of the Tamil Nayanārs; Bhakti saints of Maharashtra such as Chokhamela, Soyrabai, Karamamela, Gora Kumbhar, Nirmala and Banka; and North Indian saints such as Raidas (also called Ravidas and Rohidas).

Modern-day saints, with millions of followers worldwide, include Mata Amritanandamayi (or Ammachi) who was born into a fishermen community and Satya Sai Baba who was born into an agrarian community.

Movements in the historic past against social prejudice and discrimination have largely been led by Hindu spiritual and religious leaders.

Many Hindu religious figures including Basaveshwara (11th Century CE), Swami Vivekananda (19th century), and Dayanand Saraswati (19th Century CE) condemned community based discrimination as being outside of Vedic (Hindu) teachings. Countless Hindu leaders argued that discrimination and oppression violate the fundamental principle in Hindu philosophy of equal presence of the divine in all beings and the related precept to treat them as we would treat ourselves.

Lastly, the Bhakti movement, which consisted of hundreds of saints across India spanning over a millennium, ignored social distinctions and highlighted the divinity inherent in all beings in their teachings and poetry, and emphasized right conduct or dharma entailing treating others with mutual respect and dignity. They initiated disciples of all backgrounds, across different genders,  or social status or sometimes even religion. The famous saint Kabir Das, born a Muslim weaver, was a disciple of the 15th century saint Swami Ramananda.