Avatar or Incarnation: Does it matter?

Short answer: yes, it does. A great deal.
This is a brief but important discussion in the forum that highlights a key defense mechanism to avoid getting 'digested' into adharmic ideology: Use of Sanskrit Non-translatables (refer to chapter in Rajiv Malhotra's book 'Being Different').

SNikhil had an interesting question:
I was watching Rajiv ji's video on youtube of his conversation with Mark Tully and being not conversant with the whole story of the Nicene Creed I googled it...

The fourth point in the original creed was "Who for us men, and for our salvation, came down and was incarnate and was made man" ; ... here is what Oxford has to say about the Origin of the word Incarnate:
Origin: Middle English : from ecclesiastical Latin incarnat-incarnare 'make flesh' , from Latin in-'into' + caro,carn-'flesh'.

... About the word Incarnation Dictionary.com gives the origin as follows:

Word Origin and History for incarnation :
n. c.1300, "embodiment of God in the person of Christ," from Old French incarnacion (12c.), from Late Latin incarnationem (nominative incarnatio), ...

And the definition of Incarnation given on same page is as follows :

Incarnation definition
The Christian belief that the Son, the second person of the Trinity, was incarnated, or made flesh, in the person of Jesus, in order to save the world from original sin.


... do the words Incarnation and Incarnate,even if used in lexicon as stripped off its Christian Liturgical underpinnings,sufficiently convey the concept of Avtar as in our tradition without distorting/biblicizing the concept?

Rajiv Malhotra's response is worth reading and re-reading:

Your last sentence is critical - "stripping of its Christian liturgy". This is the issue with any translation. But it is not practical to sustain this.
You could also strip "soul" of its Christian meaning and translate atman = soul.
You can do this with anything - redefine a word that has been in long-term, deep usage in the West, and make the new definition what fits for us. It "feels good" does it not?
But this is the trap of getting digested.

POINT: We dont have the power to control how these words get used outside our narrow confines. Their usage in the long run is determined by forces outside our control.
We would give up our own non-translatable word, and once its "dead" it is virtually impossible in the future to revive its usage.

Its like voluntary surrender in the hope you can enter the prison and then make it a free space when you are inside.
This is a foolish thing to do though people constantly get tempted by it.
A word, symbol, brand, idea - these are always contested, and there are complex power dynamics at work.
We not only lack the power, we dont even have a home team to play this game and carry out a strategy consistently.

We dont have leaders who even understand what the issue is all about - "why this fuss" they say?

Swami Nithyananda - Persecution 2.0

This post has Rajiv Malhotra holding forth on the Swami Nithyananda case in view of the recent developments that have taken place in this regard.


In my recent India trips I tried to inquire into the allegations against Swami Nithyananda and found a totally new set of facts than what I had been led to believe earlier. Though not a legal expert, I feel I should share what I heard from sources that seem reliable.
  1. About 4 years back a sudden scandal broke out with charges ranging from stealing land, illegal gold, tiger skins, all the way to sex and drugs. Media constantly replayed a few tapes none of which had been verified. Swami Nithyananda went to Kumbh Mela and became invisible, and later got arrested. This much is well known. It was alleged that a woman named Ranjitha had been sexually compromised by him. This became a headline scandal that preoccupied the media for weeks.
  2. But legal experts I spoke with recently told me that the chronology of events that took place was very strange and abnormal: First the allegations against Swami Nithyananda were made solely by media,before any charges had been filed by authorities. Then the police wanted to gather evidence to substantiate the charges and started placing advertisements on TV asking for victims to come forth and approach the police with complaints. Police phone numbers were displayed on TV ads round the clock for people to call. Interestingly, nobody came forth despite massive solicitation by the police and media. It was strange that the allegations were being repeated as though the matter was settled, even before the police had formal complaints from any victims,and even before the evidence was available.
  3. So the sequence was: Media scandal ==> police ads looking for victims ==> police starts complaints. This is backwards.
  4. 4+ years of due process later, all the charges got dropped, except one charge made by one woman. The other matters concerning illegal financials, land "grab", and various other unlawful activities initially charged all got dropped one by one.
  5. The main woman said to be the victim (an actress named Ranjhita) has since come forth and refuted all the allegations supposedly made on her behalf. She hired a lawyer and filed lawsuits against the main TV stations that started the scandal, charging the media with slandering her name. It turns out that other media across India had blindly copied what had been shown on Sun TV (which is owned by DMK supremo Karunanidhi's family). Ranjitha now lives in the ashram of Swami Nithyananda - hardly a sign of someone seeing herself as a victim.
  6. So where are things today? I am told that one woman is making the sole charges against Swami Nithyananda. Ranjitha and her lawyer appeared in the Supreme Court to petition that she was falsely used as victim in a conspiracy.
  7. The sole accuser is said to have a track record that I dont want to state here, as what I was told is very messy, and I have not confirmed it for myself.
  8. The matter was sitting dormant with nobody wanting to press it further, presumably because the case lacked merit. Swami Nithyananda could have just let it sit indefinitely and fade away. But his lawyers decided to make an aggressive move, and they initiated a petition in the Supreme Court. They petitioned that the state High Court of Karnataka had failed to dispose of the case in a timely manner, and it was well past all the deadlines applicable. The goal of Swami Nithyananda's lawyers was to escalate the case higher in order to get rid of it once and for all.
  9. Whether this was a wise strategy or whether it might backfire, only time will tell. Now the case is back in full swing in the state High Court, because the Supreme Court reprimanded the High Court for tardiness and sloppiness, and ordered it to hear the trial quickly and resolve the matter.
  10. Will the state High Court take its revenge for being embarrassed before the Supreme Court and for being made to look incompetent? Will the police look for every excuse possible to become extra tough just to save face - after all, its very intense and urgent case 4+ years went nowhere, and most charges got dropped anyway? I don't have a clue how to answer these, as this is not my field of expertise.
  11. But one thing is for sure: the biased and opportunistic media is once again seeing this as another chance to sensationalize even though most of the journalists covering this are of modest levels of IQ and even lower levels of due diligence.
My advice to the ashramites of Swami Nithyananda's organizations is to remain loyal to their guru. He has without doubt helped a large number of people worldwide in solving a variety of personal matters. His teachings resemble those of Osho in many ways, with the added touch that he has revived many rituals and traditional practices alongside the Hindu dharma theory. I have said the same to the disciples of every other guru that approached me at a time of crisis: Be loyal to your guru.

My advice to Hindus at large is to always give the benefit of doubt to a Hindu guru over secular media or other charlatans of faiths making charges of whatever kind. When similar problems hit other religions, they close ranks and resolve the matter internally. Hindus do not have any such internal mechanism. Hence the matter goes to high profile forums, and secularists turn it into an opportunity to mock and ridicule.

I disapprove of Hindus who jump ship at every such opportunity or who join the opponents.  For many weak persons, its easier to do that, and harder to stick one's neck out for the principle of solidarity.

In closing: I was neither present as eyewitness when the alleged events are said to have occurred, nor am I a legal expert to evaluate the case. But my loyalties are clear as a Hindu.

Here is how US Federal Court issued ruling in favor of Swami Nithyananda, confirming the conspiracy theory against him.

Do join the discussion by signing up on the yahoo group. This thread can be followed here.

Sufism: The latest fashion statement among Hindus

This introductory post on 'Sufi' brings to your attention how Hindus are constantly found wanting in assessing the dangers that will eventually confront them if they are not vigilant to the modes and forms of digestion prevalent around them today. Sufism is one such attractive and subtle mode of inculturation and digestion that has enticed a large number of Hindus particularly among the elites (read 'secular') in India and the diaspora in the West.

While this post focuses primarily on a current thread in the forum, we also provide links to other threads where the subject has surfaced before and highlight some of Rajiv Malhotra's comments. Interested readers can navigate to the discussions to gain a more in-depth understanding of the what is going on. First to the particulars of this thread:

As we have just celebrated Ganesh chaturthi, Rajiv Malhotra wrote in to say:

Last evening there was a high class event in my neighborhood thrown by a wealth Hindu family. It featured sufi quwalli singers.

I have been down with flu for 3 days so I could not have gone in any cse. But it was called a great success by many. Strange way to celebrate Ganesh Chaturthi!

Clearly, the digestion into Islam/Sufism/Urdu is a serious issue deserving discussion. This is the high fashion among north Indian Hindus.

Ashok replied:

A couple of months ago I sat through a very Hindu wedding reception with similar 'Alla-hoo, Alla - hoo' and 'Khwaja mere Khwaja' being sung and danced to with great enthusiasm by the troupe. 

I lightheartedly objected amongst those at my table and although they too felt a bit uneasy when I mentioned it, the general feeling was 'what a good singer - he reached the finals in the Britain Has Got Talent TV show, you know'. 

It would have been very rude of me to mention it to the host (who obviously paid for this) but I would not be surprised if he was ambushed into this and was feeling sorry for not having vetted the songs in advance. 

I am mentioning this here, so none of us make a similar mistake. 

To the above, Rajiv responded by saying that he was in disagreement about the fact that those Hindus who are actually sponsoring such sufi programs at their celebratory gatherings might be naive or careless about checking facts. Rajiv was of the opinion that such Hindus genuinely loved the music and that they were willing to pay for this. He added:

I am told yesterday's event [the one near his place for Ganesh Chaturthi] was paid by every attendee. 90% were Hindus, the same ones who go for pujas to the temples. 10% were Pakistani Muslims, delighted to see this easy entry.

The sales pitch yesterday was that sufism unites all religions. God is one. So whats the problem singing to God this way? There was a nice intro explained to sufism, which the Hindus lapped up. Nobody disagreed at all. It was a huge success. Many more Hindus now want to host a similar event in their homes.

Rajiv also provided a link which profiles the group that had performed at the puja.

Ananth then wrote in referring from a paper titled "The Mughals, the Sufi Shaikhs and the Formation of the Akbari Dispensationby Muzaffar Alam. He said:

Muzaffar Alam (Ref 1, p171--172) says that Baqi-Billah, a Naqshbandi Sufi, opposed the importance of music, considered mysticism of secondary importance, and emphasized the dividing line between a believer and an infidel.  When Baqi-Billah fell ill, his mother recommended a Hindu doctor.  Because Baqi-Billah emphasized obedience to parents, he obeyed his mother, but when the Hindu doctor examined him, Baqi-Billah refused to make eye contact with the doctor.

What this shows is that among Sufis, there was disagreement about how much tolerance Muslims had to show to Hindus.  It is true that some Sufis did consider other religions on par with Islam (Ref 1, p 162).  Those Sufis would satisfy Rajiv's criterion of mutual respect (Being Different).  But many Sufis were not interested in the principle of mutual respect. 

The practice of left-leaning secularists is to gloss over this fact.  Left-leaning secularists only speak of the those Sufis who actually showed mutual respect.  But how important were they to practicing Muslims?

Sant wrote in to give a perspective on the lead singer of the group that was asked to perform at the puja near Rajiv's place. He said:

The lead vocalist is Sonny K Mehta has been the President of Hindu Students Association.

Years ago, I together with a number of Hindu elders in Washington DC area had collected funds to promote their activities. Sometime later to my surprise turned to this form of entertainment.

The original Hindu Students organization at the university campuses in the US were getting discredited.

Rajiv responded that it was interesting to see how change happened in individuals within as short a time span as 3 years (the article linked above in Sant's post is dated in 2011); the fact that it seemed that less and less of the people considered leaders and role models by the Hindu diaspora were real "Hindus"; that a Hindu student leader in the USA had turned into a sufi singer.

Other forum members responded on this thread. Champak wrote in to say how sufi music had become a regular fixture at the Ganga Mahotsav held at Varanasi every year. Saptaswara talked of how there was a a qawwali performace at Chinmaya Mission temple in Boston. Prayas wrote in to say that while Hindus agonized about sufi music becoming so popular, it was also important that Hindus questioned themselves on why they stopped popularizing and patronizing Hindustani and Carnatic classical music among their kids. Rohit spoke about the recent trend of dharmic festivals being corrupted these days with the introduction of extremely frivolous forms of entertainment. In response, Rajiv expanded on the topic thus:

1) How far back the digestion occurred is irrelevant: Our calendar got replaced by western calendar long back. But the effect of this change is v. important to understand. One day people will say we are English speakers for generations, so why bother discussing it? Maybe in 20 years most Indians will practice Christian Yoga and scholars trying to uncover the dogestion will be told this is an old thing so leave it alone. PointThough sufism might be old in India, that does not make any difference on what we must think of it.

Analogy: Smoking tobacco became popularized in India by the Mughal court long ago. That should not prevent us from fighting against it.

2) Understand the philosophical dimension first: I have explained in Youtubes and/or blogs how advaita vedanta and sufism differ in serious ways. Similarity, eys. But apple is similar to orange does not make them interchangeable or the same. Similarity means certain overlap exists between x and y. Thats true of any to objects. Even shit and prasad share the fact that both are made of the same electrons, protons, neutrons; hence one could say they are the same because they are made of identical ingredients. Difference is what makes an entity what it is. At the human level of consciousness where dharma is enacted, how we relate to something is as per whats distinct about it. Otherwise there would be no difference between dharma and adharma, between tamas and sattva, between right and wrong. Once you appreciate whats different about sufism then you can converse intelligently, beyond superficialities.

3) Understand the political past of sufism in IndiaSufis were the Good Cops sent to soften the target, and then the Bad Cops (tough, radical Muslims) could then defeat the compromised Hindus. Please try to understand this history.

4) Pop culture can be understood only after 2 3: All digestion facilitators are nice guys, goody-goody, we are same, global brotherhood, no boundaries, etc.Tell them to practice this in the other side. Why dont the Sufi festival people in Delhi hold it in Jama Masjid? In Mecca? After all, this would present the world a great face for Islam. The Nawab running the Delhi Sufi fest was shocked at my question in a delhi elite farmhouse gathering of Hindu morons - all in awe of his aristocracy. Most Hindus present sided with him that we need not go into it, just sit back and enjoy. But I persisted. Finally, he told me that the "authorities at major mosques will not allow music, sufi or not". So this should be one's opportunity to open the door to further inquiry. 

5) Read Muslims scholars on the differences between Sufism and mainstream Islam: You must realize Sufism is outside the fortress, meant to appease and tempt non Muslims in the door. Its a strategic deployment, just like inculturation by the church in the third world to make the natives happy, and remove barriers to conversion.

Shalini added to the discussion by providing some links on sufism. Some of the links are provided below.

The Wiki entry on sufism states:

Muslims and mainstream scholars of Islam define Sufism as simply the name for the inner or esoteric dimension of Islam[2] which is supported and complemented by outward or exoteric practices of Islam, such as Islamic law.[15] In this view, "it is absolutely necessary to be a Muslim" to be a true Sufi, because Sufism's "methods are inoperative without" Muslim "affiliation".[16] In contrast, author Idries Shah states Sufi philosophy is universal in nature, its roots predating the rise of Islam and Christianity.[17] Some schools of Sufism in Western countries allow non-Muslims to receive "instructions on following the Sufi path".[18] Some Muslim opponents of Sufism also consider it outside the sphere of Islam.[2][19]...

Its also states:

The rise of Islamic civilization coincides strongly with the spread of Sufi philosophy in Islam. The spread of Sufism has been considered a definitive factor in the spread of Islam, and in the creation of integrally Islamic cultures, especially in Africa[52] and Asia. 

Here is a google books link which in fact shows that sufism in medieval times, was a way for forcible conversion particularly in Bengal. Interestingly, the book is a critique of Islam by M.A Khan, a person who left Islam for reasons mentioned here.

In an earlier thread relating to this topic, the context for Rajiv's response above was provided by Vijendran who noted:

The irony is that the US/European universities like Harvard are introducing Bhagawad Gita as a part of the standard texts for their MBA programs, while the Indian IIMs are stuck with the western ideals! ..

This comment from Rajiv underlines how mentally colonized Hindus believe sufi is "cool".

Rajiv responded thus:

 Indian universities are also teaching BG in IIMs. ...The problem is different. 
Indians are borrowing spirituality from the west which the west appropriated has from India - this is called stage 5 of Uturn, the Pizza effect. Hence, [Howard Gardner?] teaches multiple intelligences at Tata, Infosys and other corporate houses even though we have more profound versions of it in dharma; Andrew Cohen and Eckhart Tolle type of frauds impress Indians because they see it as "Made in USA" spirituality. Many secular folks I know in Delhi who are outright embarrassed by things Hindu, flock to such events because its cool. In the same way, its cool to get "sufi" teachings even though the same or deeper versions are found in Hinduism.

To follow this entire thread go here on this blog.

On another thread, Rajiv touched upon the use of sufism as a tool for digestion. The context was provided by a conversation between Jeffrey and Maria, on the point of how Hindus are different and how one needs to take firm positions.

Rajiv response was to point out that those who didn't take clear positions and preferred to sit on the fence advocating sameness of religions, were generally stage 2 u-turners. He reiterated that this phase was dangerous because the mirage of sameness led to a false "feel good" factor among Hindus who believed they were legitimized by a westerner. He also gave the example of Unitarians who tried hard to make "whitened Bengalis" (or sameness experts) of Ram Mohan Roy and other Bengali bhadralok with the result that they are an extremely marginalized (<1%) group among the US Christian population. He uses this example to drive home the point that most other Christian denominations reject "sameness". Rajiv also uses the fashion for sufism (a digestion tool) among Hindus today, pointing out that only a very small portion of mosques allow sufi music and dance. He stresses that the core of Islam has no place for sufism.

To follow the entire thread, join the discussion. Here is the link to that particular discussion on yahoo groups. Here is the summary of that thread on this blog.