The difference between two kinds of differences: Digestible and Non-digestible

Two kinds of differences: Digestible and Non-digestible

I want to respond to a common confusion about the kind of difference we need to assert in order to protect ourselves. A difference that the other religion can adopt is not sustainable and can easily become a part of the other faith as well.

For example: Removing shoes to enter a temple, wearing tilak, eating with one’s hands without silverware, eating on a banana leaf, wearing saffron clothes, giving prasad, etc. – each of these has become common practice in Christian churches in south India. None of these differences causes any violation in the core tenets of Christianity. They see these practices as mere “culture” that can be accepted by them without any problem.

The church developed the doctrine and practice called “inculturation” precisely to encourage its followers to adopt local cultures, symbols, even festivals, etc. in order to “localize Christianity”.

This is no different than MacDonald’s adopting Paneer Burger for menus in India and Chow Mein for China. It is a very common globalization strategy to adapt products for local markets. The church gave this the name “inculturation” and experimented it for generations in Africa, Latin America before introducing systematically in India. Each adapted product is market tested, feedback given from field operations to headquarters, policies updated, new versions developed, etc. This process is ongoing very studiously.
This is why Western Indologists like to separate religion and culture, so they can reject the former and digest the latter.

What are the Hindu dharma items that the Christian host cannot digest because these items would violate core Christian tenets? These are the kinds of things explained in Being Different. If such a tenet were absorbed by the Christian side, they would need to distort it in order to make it fit their framework and assumptions. Here the Hindu side must forcefully resist letting such distortions take place – for which we need well-informed and assertive Hindus.

What would happen if Christians were to ingest such non-digestible items in their authentic form (i.e. without being able to distort them)? The result would be what I have called the poison pills.

Below is a post I received that I now want to respond to. I have removed references to a specific guru because that leads to personal fights for/against, which is silly, because what we want to do is to discuss the principles and learn.

The discussion thread was about examples of digestion; a guru’s position on yoga came up in this context. A follower of his defended him by writing the following:

As a counter example, I can say I first learnt one of the main essences of "Being Different" from XYZ's talks, long before Rajiv's book "Being Different" was published. Like for example his talk on uniqueness of Hindu Temples, as he says here "Nowhere else in the world, such wisdom exists", or his talk on how Indian Temples are totally different from places of worship of other religions like Churches or Mosques.’

Note that he is unconscious of the distinction between digestible and non-digestible differences. Merely praising Hinduism is useless if the issue is to explain what/why certain differences are non-negotiable for us and at the same unacceptable to the other side. The question is not how Hindu temples are superior/unique. But in what ways do they have features that are impossible for Christians to adopt and adapt? Clearly the person who wrote the above is not focusing on this, and it remains unclear whether his guru is sufficiently focusing on teaching non-digestible differences. Difference can be at many levels.

What I am requiring is impossible to do without reversing the gaze and first studying the other religion. How can you be sure that Hindu item X is non-digestible into a certain religion, and that it will act as a poison pill, if you have only a superficial idea of that religion?

This is the crux of the matter. Teachers who are mixed up about the other religion, perhaps partly because they want to be politically correct with them, simply lack the depth of knowledge about the other religion to be able to formulate Hindu dharma in non-digestible terms. They can go on praising Hinduism, but that does not address the issue of digestion.

Followers have a blind spot regarding their gurus that they need to overcome

A very important message from Rajiv in the background of discussions in the forum on some of the stands taken/policies followed by some present day gurus or their lineages.

He says:

There is a serious mix up here [in the forum] that is a common occurrence among Hindus everywhere. It has to do with the notion that to be a good guru he/she must be enlightened, a term which is further assumed to mean perfection in every domain of activity. Therefore, if someone challenges that guru's position on something, it is seen as an insult to the guru's integrity. This starts a fight in which the guru's character/legitimacy become the topic of contention.

I have tried numerous times to explain that one must compartmentalize domains of knowledge and expertise. Being enlightened is one domain, but there are also many others. Can your guru (and the same applies to mine) run as fast as the Olympic champion? Or match Tendulkar's record of 100 centuries?

The point being there are many domains out there and just because a given guru is enlightened to teach us Vedanta does not imply infallibility. Even Avatara takes form within maryada, and hence is bound by the limits of the body, i.e. disease, old age, death, etc.

It is foolish escapism to imagine some infallible, perfect state in all domains achieved by any human in our times. I would like to put to test any claims of infallibility - our tradition DOES ask us to test the guru.

The false notion on this leads to chauvinism about one's guru, his/her being beyond all criticisms, etc. When I have spoken privately to gurus on this, they say they are ordinary humans who have achieved insights and abilities to teach that require long term tapasya, but they never say they are perfect/infallible in every domain of activity.

So it is perfectly fine to question a guru on his/her policy on other religions, knowledge on how digestion works, pro's and cons on building hybrid systems, etc.

My UTurn Theory case studies are full of instances where gurus were simply foolish in the way they got deceived by Judeo-Christian followers, and this is a big reason for our failure today. The same also applies to the arrogance of many Hindu political leaders who go on promoting policies that are simply retrograde. The long term implications of some well intended policies are often not appreciated by gurus who have not acquired sufficient knowledge outside their own domain of expertise.

This problem is illustrated by what has happened at one of the foremost Bhagavad-gita teaching movements. 
  • Their acharyas at one point did not want to let me speak at their gatherings, citing the reason that by policy they limit their discussions to the works of their organization's founder. 
  • But then a large number of parents and teachers of their bal-vihara made a list of questions to be answered. These questions are faced by the children in their daily lives and are not adequately addressed in the organization's teachings. They asked this guru to please address these issues. Many of the parents/teachers of this organization are members of our egroup here. So they are well informed about such matters. 
  • The good news is that their acharya personally called me to invite me to address all his students. We are good friends now. I see this as a sign of maturity. He accepts the limits of their internal teachings, and what I will present is not a threat of any kind, and complements their own knowledge.
So in this way I have developed good relations with many other gurus as well. Swami Dayananda Saraswati never hesitated to bring in outside subject-matter experts to teach in his ashrams those topics that were outside his core topic of Vedanta. This shows maturity, not deficiency of any kind.

Bottom line: A guru is not being undermined if we disagree with his policy on yoga's relationship to other religions, and if we claim that he lacks adequate knowledge of other religions. Nor are we insulting a guru when we disagree with his policy to include Jesus on the altar, and when we state that he is not an expert on Christian theology or its present socio-political strategies.

Forum member's experience as a Hindu professor in a Christian college in TN

A newly inducted member to the discussion group had a very heart breaking story to relate regarding her experiences as a Hindu professor of English in a Christian college in Madurai, Tamil Nadu.

We reproduce here her exact words.

1. As a Prof of English in a Catholic College experienced innumerable verbal attacks, gestures of disapproval and arrogant remarks from colleagues: a. Human Rights class open attack on Brahmins - "Brahmins only used to molest Dalits."

2. When I had a chat on Whats app with my student - a journalist currently with Indian Express - I criticized her for using the term "saffron bulls" and I told her not to denigrate that noble term which symbolizes sacrifice. I referred to noble works of Swami Vivekananda. From an unknown activist I had wordy dual who condemned Swami Vivekananda as Castetist and he said he too had done nothing for the Dalits. I had to argue through the night. I showed him how DMK has done only ethnic cleansing of the Brahmins and not improved the situation of the Dalits. But he was not convinced. 
3. I had an opportunity to get a Dalit girl married in my own house (to avoid a critical situation about 8 months back.) I had priest in my house (a Catholic priest who was not happy about the turn of events for my gesture broke their myth of Brahmin brutality against the Dalits) But openly he abused the Hindu gods and our faith. (Whom are you going to see when you reach Heaven. Your religion confuses you with so many Gods).

4. I happened to wear the label Brahmin and though I achieved a great deal in college there was always a step motherly treatment. I was denied FIP . ( I had to pursue my Ph.D without any leave benefits. I had to exhaust all my personal leave.)

5. I have received threat calls in college. When I mentioned the term Taliban (an announcement in the The Hindu- about 25 years back) I had an anonymous call threatening me. (At that time the nuns had to awareness- I am still waiting to talk to that nun - for recently 60 odd Christians were killed in Pakistan during Easter by Taliban.)

6. Conversion into Christianity is rampant as Sri Rajivji has pointed out now it is the Pentecosts. My own Prof. of Tamil has been hounding a Brahmin Prof (both retired) with constant e mailing saying that she would not reach Heaven if does not become a Christian.

7. I read the Scriptures daily. so they have branded that I am R.S.S. and a Hindutva. Only a Christian and a Muslim has the right in India to be religious. If I defend Hinduism I have always been under attack.

I saved my maid a refugee from Sri Lanka from being converted.Her family went through horrible pressure from a local Christian group.

8. I hear that they woo the people with newer and newer techniques. Especially lower class in the villages. Vegetables are given on Sundays.

I can go on. I used to be so badly treated that in 2006 I had a psychological and neurological disorder. I did not wish to continue there. But when they sensed that my leaving the institution would lead to criticism (for I am a popular teacher a favourite among students) they begged me to come back.

I have medical records and service records to prove that one whole year I was going through depression. I could not go to any Human rights org. 
The funniest thing is they would easily advice me to forgive. The tactics is they would bring the Bible and say forgive.

I am an African American and American studies scholar. I know all about AF/Am litt. Now there is a huge attempt to create a non existent Dalit literature, The voice is Ms. Meena Kandasamy. She has declared that she has embraced "Dalit" ism I wonder what she means by it. The African Americans have been pouring out their misery ever since they set foot on American soil in the 17 the century. I do not understand how on earth they can achieve a manufactured literature in a short period. I read Kanch Illiya's poem attacking the Brahmins.

I feel a systematic, serious confrontation of all these charges with facts must be done soon enough.

Almost all the U.G.C. sponsored conferences have been pro - Dalit and Brahmin bashing only I have been attending many.

Thanks for your time. If I need to elaborate on any of the experiences I am willing to.

I tried introducing Yoga in the campus about five years back with the help of a Hindu called Yoga master Subramanian.

But last year "Mindful Meditation" was introduced by a Priest much to the disappointment of Christians themselves and they laughed at it calling Mindless meditation. The first thing the students were asked to buy was a pillow.

Last year 2015 I was forced to organize a National Conference on Human Rights Issues in Literature and Sociology. Please follow the activities of a person called Dr. Balakrishnan of Roots - a NGO - I am sure a Christian group is supporting him.

During the Key note address he attacked Hindu belief systems and mocked at the idea of going to temples. As I am heading the Dept. I could not openly accuse him. But I boycotted the publication of papers. He calls himself Academic Event manager. Conducts a lot of programmes for the youth. He is a vocal Anti Brahmin advocate and so he along with five members including the so called Brahmin principal called Dr. Murali were chucked out of the local college called The Madura College. You could verify info.

More specifically He is part of the Brahmin versus Dalit Narrative -- Breaking India force.

But Roots is doing academic programme focusing on Dalits and I am sure it a Breaking India racket. You could probe. This org. is in Madurai. It is a one man army with support from a Christian called Periera. (Not sure of the spelling.) They have a press called Shanlax. Almost all the papers are eulogizing the works by Bama a Dalit writer who is compared with African American Writers. I get angry by these comparative studies. But I am always at a loss.

I have guided Ph.D scholars in this area and still have about 9 students. I can never support the argument that Dalits suffered like the African American slaves. By the way I have been part of the U.S. State sponsored International Visitor's Program.. Met writers like James Alan Mc Pherson.

I live in an area called Vel Murugan Nagar. There is a priest called Dudley Thangiah in this area who is well known for conversion. Now it is all a stealthy deal. He does not rechristen them. They believers have Hindu names but attend church. What he does is one influential member in the family is converted and the rest are swept in.

I see a New Prayer Tower in Nehru Nagar an adjacent colony. I shall get more details. Madurai is full of prayer houses not formal churches where Dalit conversions are rampant.
The caste politics is another reason for conversion.

My Nadar friend tells me her entire family is broken to pieces because of conversion. They are owners of Flour mill called Mayil Brand. Excepting the eldest son's family all are converted. Conversion and breaking of Hindu families in Virudhunagar has been going on for 3 to 4 decades now.

Now Southern Tamil Nadu - Ramnad belt is fully Muslim area. Illaiangudi and surrounding areas mini Pakistan. Tanjore Kumbakonam Muslim concentration. Kanyakumari Thirunelvelli are all Christian belts. Now Madurai is infested with Evangelical movements.

There is British priest working near Nagamalai Pudhukptai doing conversion. Pentecosts openly declare that they can make a living doing Evangelical work. Money is pumped in from the West for sure.

There are open attacks on Ramayan in colleges like Lady Doak where priest come and give lectures on these Scriptures mocking them.

There is Church called First Assemble of God and there is more recent one on Vaigai river bed near Fatima college (Dindigul Road) an org. from Ceylon doing a lot of Conversions.

Please appoint someone to enter into these churches and record their sermons.

In Dhargas there is an open order that none should stop with a single child. Must have 5 or 4 children. But Shakshi Maharaj of U.P. was heavily criticized by the media NDTV is vocal in supporting Muslims and Christians. That one channel is enough to Break India.

All their programs are attacking Modi. Similarly The Hindu is another Anti Hindu paper which exaggerates anything against the Minorities and no violence against Majority community ever gets reported.

There must be a Ban on Conversion soon. And derecognize all those who got converted in the last ten years.

How I prioritize my work, battles, feedback, critics

By Rajiv Malhotra

Here are my thoughts, and the ways I solicit and deal with critical feedback in order to strengthen my work.


  1. Being from software R&D background, I understand the value of debugging a system in order to strengthen it. We used to hire outsiders to try and defeat the system, in order to learn its vulnerabilities. Even when considered ready, it was first released to a few beta sites for further debugging. Once out with customers, the maintenance team must be good at receiving feedback, and dealing with it in a new release. So I am not one to run away from problems with my work. But there is a system to this.
  2. Errors are not all of the same type. Some are serious errors in the deep architecture and these can require major redesign. Some have isolated impact that is contained within one module/feature only. Some can be bypassed such that the system works despite the error. Some are merely inconvenient or even cosmetic. There are certain "error reports" that are not errors at all, but the complainant wants a different functionality or a different approach than intended by the system design; the issue raised is not a bug but a matter of preference; maybe we don’t want to offer that feature for whatever reason – that’s our call.
  3. Errors must be graded, stratified and not all treated equally. Some are urgent, others can and must wait, some will be addressed in the next system (or book in this case) to be developed, and many are to be entirely ignored.
  4. Ultimately, the system developer decides what matters most to his client base. He must figure out the priorities for his success. An outsider might not know all the factors that go into his decision and his priorities. There are many considerations and levels of tradeoffs. In other words, someone unfamiliar with all the facts can be a nuisance if his opinions are based on what he sees from within his mental burqa.
  5. In writing my books, I go out of my way to face critics. Everyone knows this about me. Some of these encounters get captured on videos you can watch, but most are in private settings. I go deep into “enemy”/opponent territory to understand their reactions, and this is for my own good. For the first 10-15 years I spent much time going to every Hinduism related academic conference/meeting and engaged the top tier scholars of every stripe. For my books, I send every draft to at least 10 critics for detailed peer review – in some instances I pay the critic to allow him to spend quality time and give me a critical analysis. In this feedback I am not looking for accolades, but quite the opposite. I am hardly sitting in my comfort zone the way most of our folks are. My works are the product of multiple encounters over many years with all sorts of people across the ideological spectrum. I can do this only because this has been my full-time work for nearly 25 years. Also, I thrive in debates and discussions to honestly introspect on serious issues, and I do not approach a topic with a closed mind. This is why I am able to innovate.
  6. The major impact I seek from a book is where I focus on getting feedback, not on side issues. I want to write a book only when there is some big paradigm change I want, and one that is badly needed. I am not interested in quibbling about whether someone translated a particular verse correctly, unless that has impact on the overall paradigm. Remember that I was a chief design architect of large, complex systems, and now I seek intellectual situations with equivalent significance. I am not concerned with every small module of code being correct – many others are able to do that and they are probably better at it than me.
  7. For example, in Pollock’s case, my major contribution is to have (a) decoded some of his most important theories/frameworks, (b) articulated these in ways that more people can understand, and (c) offered some preliminary responses or red flags from the dharma standpoint. I am not interested in minute errors here and there that would not help to demolish some major thesis of his. I will let others do that. Unfortunately, almost nobody on our side has even as of now properly understood his theories/lens; most of our folks still focus on relatively trivial issues in his work.
  8. Pollock does not consider himself a Sanskrit language expert, and nor do I consider TBFS an analysis of his Sanskrit skills. Pollock is a major philologist today; philology = “making sense of texts” using some theory of interpretation. I critique him in his approach to philology. This is his deep work. It’s his work’s architecture. As a systems architect, this is how I analyze it. Finding a mistake here and there in his Sanskrit makes little impact on his philology – that would be pedantic for my purpose. For one thing, such errors are easily corrected without altering his philology. It is his philology that I am after. The famous Sanskrit expert in Bangalore who wrote a review of my book did not understand the difference between philology and use of Sanskrit as a language; hence much of what he said is of little significance.
  9. Those few individuals who then took his review and turned it into a sort of public fiasco were even further removed from what would matter to my work, or to Pollock’s. These noisemakers are twice removed from where my priorities lie. This is why I call them pests because in my priority scheme, they are best ignored. Their issues do not belong do not impact whether or not I am able to pierce holes through Pollock’s political philology and liberation philology. Pollock’s impact in Indology is for having introduced the most widely accepted philology system and trained an army in its propagation. The impact I desire is to put enough reasonable doubt in his system that it does not become a de facto standard in Indology. Unfortunately, prior to my intervention, he was being very successful in making deep inroads into our Sanskrit studies establishment. The same Sanskrit folks who are embarrassed because they were sitting around staring at their navels, are now jealous and upset that I am doing what they were being expected to do all their careers.

Algorithm: With this background, below is my algorithm on how I choose to ignore/filter those I consider pests, hecklers, attention seekers, shallow noisemakers, opportunists, etc.

1. Does a given feedback relate to Pollock’s thesis and my counter-thesis? If so, it is priority 1 and gets my attention. If not, it is below priority level 1.

2. If below top priority 1, what is the effort required to rework it compared to the benefit to my target readers? In other words, will fixing this error help in a big way to educate my readers for their own analyses/critiques of Pollock’s philology? If of marginal/pedantic value, then it gets demoted below priority level 2, to level 3 or lower.

3. Is the critic genuine or someone seeking publicity, opportunistic, bringing down someone else just to hoist himself up? If so, I don’t want to encourage such behavior, and hence I would further lower the priority to level 4 or less.

The pests don’t like being ignored. They angrily demand as their birthright that I must deal with every single issue they raise as if they control my priorities. But are they my boss? Do I work for them? Do they have enough experience in this field to decide my priorities? Do they know enough about my workload and what is on my plate to be able to optimize how I should best allocate my time and resources? I have my own algorithms and keep updating them heuristically based on what makes me better at my game. I learn from the best khiladis in the world, not failures, would-be players, junior players, and especially not from persons lacking strategic minds.

Yesterday I did two important interviews with Vijaya who visited me for the day. These will get edited and put on Youtube. I told her that I spend as much as 50% of my prana dealing with type 4 persons who waste time. I request my supporters to help me get rid of the pests so we can focus where our collective yajna takes us.

I asked her: who are the ones in out texts that destroy the yajna of someone else. She said they are rakshasas. She also suggested Karna as the prototype who opportunistically switches sides as he is not rooted in dharma. This made me think: Just how grounded are such hecklers in the dharma? If they are not transformed by guru and by sadhana, then what is their motive for claiming to be “champions of Hindu dharma?” Are they trying to ruin the yajna without having one of their own? Are they loose canons?

In my interviews taped yesterday, I thanked the type 2 genuine supporters. I can continue on my journey with their encouragement.

Part 2 of review of TBFS by Shrinivas Tilak

This is a reproduction of the second part of the review of TBFS done by Shrinivas Tilak for the magazine Hindu Vishva

Refutation of Sheldon Pollock on Sanskrit and sanskriti by Rajiv Malhotra

Shrinivas Tilak*

In my review of The Battle For Sanskrit (HarperCollins 2015) in Hindu Vishva (January-March 2016), I discussed author Rajiv Malhotra’s fair and faithful presentation and rigorous examination (Purva paksha) of Professor Sheldon Pollock’s allegations that Sanskrit is dead, politically motivated, and socially oppressive. In this follow up article I present Rajiv Malhotra’s (hereafter RM) spirited and energetic refutation (Uttara paksha) of Professor Pollock (hereafter Pollock) in the form of nirnayas (considered verdicts or decisions) delivered on points of order pertaining to Sanskrit and sanskriti raised in Pollock’s various writings: Nirnaya on Sanskrit and Prakrit, Nirnaya on Shruti, Nirnaya on Kavya and Shastra, Nirnaya on Sanskrit and Sanskriti, Nirnaya on American Orientalism.  

Nirnaya on Sanskrit and Prakrit

Agreeing with Pollock that Vedic Sanskrit was used mainly for ritual purposes, RM explains in his The Battle For Sanskrit (hereafter TBFS) that a simplified form of Sanskrit nevertheless served as a basis for languages derived from Prakrit and spoken by ordinary people. Sanskrit has always functioned as a meta-language for these languages (RM rejects Pollock’s use of ‘vernaculars’ for languages derived from Prakrit) facilitating a bi-directional flow between the two. This interaction has remained a continued source of decentralized and open architecture encompassing unity and diversity in India. Sanskrit has also acted as the template of sanskriti with its various angas (limbs)--architecture, dance, theatre, sculpture, poetry, etc. Rejecting them in favor of modern, westernized cultural practices as demanded by Pollock would alienate Hindus/Indians from their traditional roots. Furthermore, Sanskrit has made available its rich vocabulary for engaging in discourse in sciences and in other fields that are meaningful and necessary in everyday life activities (natural sciences, mathematics, linguistics, medicine, ethics, and political thought). RM laments that Pollock fails to acknowledge this power and potential of Sanskrit. Merchants and monks who travelled long distances for trade and commerce were able to engage in conversations, debates, and lectures with locals spreading in the process Sanskrit (and often some Prakrit-derived languages) across India and beyond. Since Vedic metaphysics held a deeper place in the lives of people it was replicated in different places with local geographies and kingdoms substituted in place of those mentioned in such source texts as the Ramayana.

Nirnaya on Shruti

RM vigorously contests Pollock’s suggestion that mantras, being in some cases meaningless in the conventional sense, could be discarded. RM argues that such action would amount to rejecting the important place the concept of vac has in Hindu cosmology. Such a step would entail loss of a key adhyatmika (inner science of self) resource. Chanting of mantras has also been an integral part in the performance of yajna, which plays a significant role in social cohesion. Discarding the practice of chanting mantras in yajna or in meditation as demanded by Pollock would result in loss of the integrative power of traditional rituals of Hindus rendering them more intellectually dependent on (and subservient to) the West.

RM further clarifies that chanting of mantras from the Shrutis, as part of meditative practices, serves a useful purpose for the sound vibrations (spanda or spandana) that are produced are beyond (or above) the limited literal or conceptual meanings Pollock associates with them. Spanda is the dynamic aspect of shakti, the energy of Shiva, the supreme Self. In Hinduism spanda is not a fantasy or a merely philosophical concept, it can be experienced and felt directly as expounded in the Spanda Karikas, a classic text of Kashmir Shaivism, from the 10th century CE attributed to Vasugupta.

Nirnaya on Kavya and Shastra

While Pollock deliberately breaks shastras from kavya in his deliberations, RM takes them together following the traditional convention. While acknowledging that the kavya and shastra are two distinct types of works, RM insists that this distinction is only a heuristic device and not a clear-cut or absolute boundary as posited by Pollock. Indeed, many kavyas demonstrate keen awareness of knowledge of various types from shastras. Conversely, shastras are often expressed in a poetic format and often display an excellent literary quality. Indeed, Sanskrit spread through its cultural applications via such shastras as ayurveda, astrology, philosophy, mathematics, and performing arts. Pollock selectively quotes from one chapter of Kalidasa’s Shakuntala as an example of the politicization of Sanskrit kavya. Had he added the traditional lens to his gaze, observes RM, Pollock would have recognized that Hindus appreciate such works for their aesthetics independently of (or in addition to) any political motive or framework. Pollock talks about Bilhana’s Vikramankadevacarita, in the eleventh century, as another example of political kavya. But he does not mention Bilhana’s Caurapancashika (The Love Thief), which is appreciated for its romantic aesthetic. One should also consider the reproduction of Ramayana in Tamil (twelfth century, by Kamban) and in Avadhi (sixteenth century, by Tulsidas) as non-political kavyas expressive of bhakti (TBFS endnote # 263).

Nirnaya on Sanskrit and Sanskriti

RM is particularly keen to controvert Pollock and company’s sinister attempts to break Sanskrit away from sanskriti. Sanskrit is better studied, he argues, using traditional methods and models that are compatible with its function both as a language of rituals and sacred discourses as well as worldly matters. He denies Pollock’s charge that traditional Sanskrit scholars are averse to the critical study of Sanskrit or to using tools of philology, cognitive science and history developed for this purpose.
People of India or Southeast Asia did not approach Sanskrit exclusively through the lens of politics; rather, they saw it in the context of cultural practices and spiritual realization. This is in conformity with ongoing Indic ethos—an interconnected network of Sanskrit, sanskriti, and dharma. As to Pollock’s charge that women in India are/were denied access to Sanskrit; the fact is that women have internalized Sanskrit, and for many of them, the intimacy with it is based on oral culture rather than written materials. While Pollock et al think of Sanskrit as a 'religious' language, it is fascinating to find out that Indian women have preserved the oral and worldly dimension of Sanskrit to this day.
In Chapter seven of TBFS (‘The Web of Sanskriti as a Potential Alternative Hypothesis’) RM presents the ‘web of sanskriti’ as an alternative approach to the notion of Sanskrit cosmopolis put forth by Pollock.  RM demonstrates how grass-roots spirituality can play a meaningful role in the spread of languages and culture. In Chapter ten (‘The Re-colonization of Indian Minds’) RM suggests ways of correcting the distorted perceptions of Sanskrit, sanskriti, and dharma that have spread beyond academia into media, industry leadership, government, and even among many traditional centers of Sanskrit learning (pithas) in contemporary India.

RM foils Pollock’s attempt to divide and set the people of India against each other through agency of the caste system. RM points out that select elements of Vedic metaphysics, the web of sanskriti, and the Sanskrit language could be replicated in different places because they enjoyed a deep place of respect in the hearts and lives of local populations. Sanskrit and its texts expressed the fabric of cosmic reality and Indians (kings, brahmins, merchants, or farmers) were naturally drawn and inspired to explore, discover, share, and celebrate the manifestation of this reality in their personal and social lives.

Nirnaya on American Orientalism

Pollock’s call to ‘liberation philology’ (designed on the lines of a movement called ‘liberation theology’ that challenged Roman Catholic collusion with oppression in the nineteen-sixties and seventies) for secularizing Sanskrit is an important plank of American orientalism. RM strenuously objects to this allusion because it obscures a significant difference between ‘liberation philology’ and liberation theology, which was a movement internal to Christianity and fully accepting of its fundamental principles. Indeed, this latter was largely a call for a return to these principles. However, Pollock rejects the Vedic roots of the Sanskrit tradition altogether and regards them as no more than relics of primitive thinking or attempts to blind people to their oppression. Furthermore, his liberation philology seriously misrepresents the texts it purports to illuminate, and distorts both the evidence and the function of these texts in the lives of real people, both in the past and the present.

As an alternative to Pollock’s ‘liberation philology,’ RM proposes what he calls a ‘sacred philology,’ [I would prefer to call it ‘sadhana philology’] a philology rooted in the conviction that Sanskrit cannot be divorced from its matrix in the Vedas and Upanishads or from its orientation towards the transcendent realm. RM’s proposed alternative is quite different from the stance of the Western, secular academy that Pollock represents because sacred philology would involve a respect for and a practice of tapasya and meditation that constitutes the basis of all four dharmic pathways to liberation originating in India (i.e. Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, and Sikhism) (TBFS 282-283).

After a fair and faithful depiction and scrutiny of Professor Pollock’s views on Sanskrit, i.e. Purva paksha without bias (puravgraha or pakshapata) and their refutation (Uttara paksha) Rajiv Malhotra provides his own well thought out and crafted plan to preserve and promote Sanskrit and sanskriti (to be discussed in a subsequent issue of Hindu Vishva).  

* Shrinivas Tilak (Ph.D. History of Religions, McGill University, Montreal, Canada) is author of The Myth of Sarvodaya: A study in Vinoba’s concept (New Delhi: Breakthrough Communications 1984); Religion and Aging in the Indian Tradition (Albany, N. Y.: State University of New York Press, 1989); Understanding karma in light of Paul Ricoeur’s philosophical anthropology and hermeneutics (Charleston, SC: BookSurge, revised, paperback edition, 2007); and Reawakening to a secular Hindu nation: M. S. Golwalkar’s vision of a Dharmasāpekşa Hindurāşţra (Charleston, SC: BookSurge, 2008). Contact <>