My encounter with Brian Pennington at the recent AAR
Rajiv Malhotra: I am posting below my report from the recent American Academy of religion annual conference where my book BEING DIFFERENT was the subject of a special panel discussion. The account below deals with just one of the three panelists, Brian Pennington, the man who wrote the book, "Was Hinduism Invented?" The panelist I respect most is the one who offered the most serious counter position to BD based on evidence and arguments. That was Rambachan. Of course, I disagree with his argument that Swami Vivekananda violates Hindu tradition. But there was no smear, ad hominem or personal issues raised in his talk. ...The organizers of the panel did a great job promoting BD, as this kind of open discussion ultimately leads to better flow of arguments in both directions. The tragedy is that a scholar like Pennington failed to take BD's thesis seriously and, instead, focused on personal attacks against me. Please read the following account and judge for yourself.
Pennington spent his talk making an all-out personal attack against me. I was unqualified to be given this honor by academics, he stated. Calling me a Neo-Hindu and someone suspected in the academy of having links to Hindutva politics, he spewed several personal allegations ... I was later informed that one man had used his laptop to tape it, and had later transcribed the audio...
Pennington started by caricaturing me. He branded “Rajiv Malhotra as the internet personality who spared eminent scholars no insult, or as the fire breathing self-proclaimed public intellectual who haunts academic meetings poised to dominate Q&A with angry challenges complete with data and dismissive rejections of their interpretations…” He positioned Being Different as “his latest attempt to intervene in the academic of religions”, and went on to admit with great aplomb:
“I would confess to accepting this invitation to participate in this forum out of some curiosity … [in order to encounter] the globe-trotting nemesis of academics … [because nobody has challenged academic works] as vigorously and directly as Malhotra often has. This is after all a self-trained scholar who single handedly accomplished what no credentialed scholar of Hinduism has yet been able to accomplish - making RISA world famous. So we thank him for that.”
....."Malhotra has previously likened the system of academic credentials to a caste system… [and] explicitly labeled the practices as a peer review cartel. … Malhotra … has further accused the academy of intellectual corruption and cronyism and demanded a free market in the depictions of Indic religious traditions in which activist groups scrutinize scholars work on both India and the West …employing their own knowledge of India and her intellectual traditions.”
Next Pennington showed his own agenda, stating that the “ready identification of these two things – India the nation state and India the ancient civilization ...Umm … To me the association is troubling,” because he was suspicious of “the political uses of such a work.” He went further as said:
“What I do see is a project that is imbued with the identification of India with the Sanskritic and Hindu tradition, an identification that really disallows the association of any individual or community that does not identify itself in these terms.” He was disturbed by what he saw as an attempt to “construct an authentic Hindu”.
In other words, at the heart of this anger is his problem with associating Indian civilization and India as a nation. This deep trouble was the focus of his influential book, Was Hinduism Invented? In that book the main culprit is Swami Vivekananda because he more than anyone else had “invented Hinduism”.
Pennington was upset that Islam is hardly mentioned in Being Different, even though the book makes clear up front that it deals specifically with a comparison between dharmic and Western civilizations, respectively, and explains why Islam needs its own separate comparisons with each of these two. As the typical White Man facing the burden to save Indians, Pennington was worried that,
“there is no doubt his work could be useful as a device to delegitimize the political subjectivity of the Christians and Muslims [along with other] marginalized and ignored communities in India.”
His final remark was to chide the organization that had invited me to the panel: “I remain somewhat puzzled about why the Society for Hindu-Christian Studies would honor this work with a serious discussion, when Christianity features as a fairly invisible presence in this work.” And he concluded with a patronizing gesture “I would hope that we could have a frank and respectful and collegial discussion about all those things.”
"Someday in the future, as Indian universities improve in quality, lets hope India produces an army of well-funded (non-marxist) academics who understand Hinduism better, who have access to the latest facilities and are able to publish their books without any impediments.
... This debate will then shift to the "Indian academy of religion"
I have promoted this idea for 20 years. Easier said than done. Infinity Foundation held 3 major world conferences on religious studies in Delhi with opinion leaders across the political and ideological spectrum. Lots of passion, resolutions, etc. No action in the end...
For now I want to focus on producing new discourse that challenges old hegemonic discourse, and on debating my work with serious scholars, so as to take it further amongst readers who have the required level of commitment and background to follow the issues. "
"From a perusal of Pennington's writings I find that he treats Islam with kid gloves and is almost as apologist. This quite contrasts with his fierce attempt to deconstruct Rajiv Malhotra. One should take it as a measure of the success of Being Different. "
Surya briefly reviews Brian Pennington's book:
" ... BD demolishes the foundation on which his career was erected.
As readers patiently, and painfully, labor through his book "Was Hinduism Invented?", they will find that it is deeply wanting in coherence of thought and focus leading to the purported end of proving that Hinduism was but a fiction of 19th century Hindu activists.
After promising to expose this fiction, Brian's book meanders through a sundry of unflattering Western accounts, articles or letters in (a couple of) domestic magazines in 19th century India, trying to sift for peculiar social practices and religious customs of Hindus. How do they all tie to his final purported end? They do not. That is the purposeless, laborious meandering through irreverent historical accounts while hopelessly conflating ideals with practices. Is there a clincher? Nope, just the hope that the tired reader succumbs to his hypothesis that Hinduism is a fiction of 19th century Hindu activists. Personally, I could not shake the feeling that Brian Pennington used the excuse of proving his hypothesis to unleash a vindictive narrative against Hinduism.
It is truly reprehensible that Brian Pennington lobbies the "Indian nationalist" bomb to quash BD. Can he show what the basis is for such a claim? I did not quite count but felt that the word Christianity showed up more frequently than the word Hinduism in Brian Pennington's book that is supposedly about Hinduism. There is greater evidence to say that his motive is to establish supremacy of Christianity at all costs.
Now, here comes the book BD by Rajiv Malhotra that recognizes the folly of conflating ideals with practices. It takes the world-views of Dharmic traditions and contrasts them with Abrahamic religions by walking the readers through a 4-dimensional space of (1) history-centrism, (2) integral unity vs. synthetic unity, (3) attitude towards complexity vs. rigid order, (4) non-translatable concepts (described in original Sanskrit works).
BD shows how Dharma traditions show their cohesiveness and commonness, an identity, that is established not by homogenizing them, but by separation of the group from Abrahamic religions.
So how should we on the forum read Brian Pennington's outbursts at the conference against BD and Rajiv Malhotra? Considering that there was not a single argument against the contents of BD, it is an expression of sheer exasperation."
"Pennington reflects the defensive-aggressive strategy in use by much of the globalized western-trained academic community. It claims to be objective, unbiased and universal and denies that quality to any other school of thought. An illustration of that way of thinking is the present "multi-cultural" (which in fact means a-cultural) mainly leftist notion of any national society in which no element should be given priority over others. For instance a European society (say France) should not be defined by its leading historical characteristics because that would be "discriminatory". ...For similar reasons the present government of Russia is under intense attack and condemnation in most of the West for being "Russian" and not a "multi-cultural" open society with a "global secular" free market identity. In fact it should be only a market because as Maggie Thatcher memorably said when she was in power: there is no such thing as society (and she was not a leftist but liberals and neo-mrxits agree on this)."
The thread below elicited many responses.
How to be Dharmic?
Sudhir asks questions:
I wanted to put this question up for discussion. I am encountering a strange antagonism from my relatives with regards to the idea of Dharma and how it is perceived within and outside the rashtra as defined by Bharat. This question arose from Bharat- India argument on the mainstream media.
The problem is such:
I am trying to life a dharmic lifestyle after being re-educated after reading BD and after following various bloggers who have a gift of writing well on thoughts which are Indic in origin. ... My wife and a few relatives find this too much and ridiculous. Perhaps it is. Perhaps its not. Trying to live the right way our forefathers expected a dharmic person would is my personal effort at trying to do my bit for dharma.
Do you experience this 'klesha' within your family and extended circle [?]
Another question is how to bring up children in the west who would look up to people like Swami Vivekananda as role models and idols? .."
This question ... is coming sincerely from the heart. It deserves serious responses from members...Issue is a common one: What to do if one's family/friends circle is
not aligned towards one's dharma and this creates tensions?
Dh"Practicing Dharma does not mean you must mimic ancestral rituals blindly. It was this problem that Sri Aurobindo cited when he said people get stuck in "old forms".
Some person several hundred years ago started "dainik sandhya" because he had some intuition that it might help him go inwards. That doesn't mean you might also benefit from it. You have to find what suits your personality. The goal of Dharma is to go within and find your Atman. You may be better off joining some contemporary Yoga school ...
Not every child is bound to become "Dharmic". Some people are not cut out for it. If you force the child into something they don't like, they may rebel against you later and turn atheists for the rest of their lives. Take the case of Vikram Gandhi, who was immersed in religious practices of the Arya Samaj while growing up in New Jersey, but lost interest in it after growing up. Now he has made a movie Kumare on fake Gurus. (See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bIXNjDcOLWU&feature=player_embedded)
Therefore, one has to gauge the personality of the child to find what is the best path. The child is more likely to be attracted to poetry, literature and dance rather than dry philosophy and discursive ethics.
The best way to mould a child is to become a different person yourself. If they sense a positive change in you, they will naturally come to you for guidance. "
".. Practice kula-aachaar (as much as one may, no matter where you live) - at least daily snaanam, dyaanam, and vyaayaamam are must; details (if one desires) may be learned and taken up - they may be very involved yama-niyama-aasana-praaNaayaama- etc.
Eat mita (limited) and hita (beneficial) food suited to your work - most of us don't fight wars and therefore saatvic food is all that we need - mita hita aahaaram. You become what you eat.
Serve the needy without expecting any return (not even puNya) - starting from those near and dear - don't make a project of saving the penguins on the Antarctica and ignoring your own family. Do some neighborhood sevaa once a week at least - such as feeding the homeless right off your backyard...
Donate (thinking that "this is not mine - na mama) to the deserved - daanam to those with paatrataa. Don't give to the devil (cf. figure out who is devil and who is not).
Do weekly, paakshik, or maasik 24-hour upavaasam, such as on Fridays, Ekaadashi, etc. - don't eat or drink anything, but work as usual and reflect on all there is - jeeva-jagat -Ishwara connections. Being near That One Truth is upa vaasam. upavaasam is a great cleanser of the body and the mind as well. amaavaasyam ("Sun and moon living together"), eclipse times, sandhyaa times etc. are highly beneficial for being in upavaasam.
Visit temples and be a part of some poojaa monthly, quarterly, or at least annually. Go on a teertha yaatraa annually - visit holy places and gather holy company. They all add to your dharmik living. Don't dismiss it as mere rituals - you won't know what you miss unless you do these for a few years and find out yourself. You will find great people and noble friends if you seek - satsangatve nissangatvam...
Don't get into any fad or rigidity to the point of imposing your way on others - including work, play, sandhyaa, or poojaa. Balance life. Be vulnerable. "I am this or that, I am doing all this" etc. must not be in your head.
Live first, then (only) teach - svaadhyaayam first followed by pravachanam - svaadhyaaya pravachanaabyaam na pramaditavyam. Our traditions place the guru who is aachaarya way up.
"...Guidelines recommended Sri Shambhu Shastryji are fairly pragmatic and can be put to practice even in our modern-day circumstances. However, I don't agree with Sri Sandeep who rejects Sandhya vandanam as useless today but upholds yoga
practice. I don't think such dichotomous generalizations would help. In my opinion, what you should practice should be decided by yourself and Sri Shambhu's post provides guidelines that help in making such choices. My suggestions centre around how to ease-in Dharmic practices (whatever you choose) into your daily life without much friction from family and relatives..."
"...As far as drawing children to dharmic way of life is concerned, if i were a child i would catch and appreciate anything that appeases me in my regular course of life, i will then try to look deeper and deeper and end up having developed a certain perspective. For example , while studying public administration i came across Maslow's hierarchy theory, studied it, what drew me towards the indian philosophy is when i came across the idea of 'PANCHKOSHA' in one of the discussions in this group. I loved it so much that i ended up studying several other aspects of indian philosophy and i am in a state of constant learning. One cant make a child do something, you will have to draw him in such a way that the child appreciates it on its own and develops an urge to delve into it."
[several other interesting responses around Vahanas of Hindu Deities, Panchatantra stories (which are great!), etc. read the original thread. It may be worth your while].
Promoting RM's Books and Ideas On Swami Vivekananda&#
I am promoting RM's Books and Ideas On Swami Vivekananda's 150th Birthday Anniversary by distributing 10,000 copies of a pocket calender. I believe it is an effective way to generate awareness of RM's work. I hope to repeat this several times this year.
For thos interested in doing the same in your area...I am attaching a pdf and Correldraw files of the final version of the Pocket Calender.
The Correldraw file can be used by the printers. Please check with RM before you print or change it.
It is inexpensive to print. It cost me Rs 7500 for 10,000 copies.
I can send samples to anyone interested in India. For those interested in printing more copies, Please contact.... [see egroup for contact information].
The Samudra Manthana story in Hinduism appears to be a key metaphor to describe order & chaos in BD where the Amrit (nectar) that comes out of the churning the ocean represents 'order', and the accompanying poison, the 'chaos and disorder'. In multiple online forums, Shiva's drinking of the poison is equated to Christ's crucifixion to proactively save humanity from original sin. Some Hindus have equated Shiva's act as one of collective salvation from sin, feeding the myth of sameness. Reading Chapter 4 of BD again (I quote from the Amazon-Kindle copy), indicates that this interpretation is incorrect.
1. Firstly, BD notes:
"....The story of the Samudra-manthana is not intended to be taken literally.
Indeed, the ultimate uncertainty of knowing how the universe came about is given
eloquent expression in the famous 'Hymn of Creation' ..."
whereas History-Centric Christianity requires Crucifixion, resurrection & its implications of collective salvation to be literally and absolutely true, with no room for alternative explanations.
2. BD also rules out equivalence to a story in the 'book of revelation' where 'satanic disorder' has to be absolutely vanquished:
"...In one such story, Lord Shiva himself consumes the fierce, dark and bitter poison first churned up from the ocean. He does so in order to overcome it, leaving the nectar to others. But significantly, Shiva makes this choice both out of knowledge (of the poison's deadly effect) and love (for those who might suffer harm) – not out of any dark, destructive passion. Furthermore, he is able to transmute the poison not by ejecting it but by incorporating it in himself. . .. needless to say, this is but a hypothetical scenario; the good versus evil dualism of Judaism and Christianity is absolute."
3. The section below appears to give the interpretation of 'why Shiva drank the poison':
"... Disorder serves as a source of creativity by preventing order from becoming fossilized. The Lord is not only the creator of the universe (as Brahma) and the maintainer of its order (as Vishnu) but also the one who ultimately dissolves it
(as Shiva). The dissolution makes room for the next cycle of creation. At the spiritual level, Shiva, the Lord of Yoga, aptly assumes the appearance of chaos to facilitate the dissolution of bondage to the falsehoods in our minds – making
way for new creation..."
I thank the person for the post blow. He points out a serious
example of digestion at work right under our nose, i.e. the attempt to digest Shiva into Christ. And many foolish Hindus are buying into such nonsense, imagining that this is helpful to us. What this digestion does is to incorporate Shiva as a subset within Christ, such that Jesus' history centrism remains
intact and all that we know about Shiva becomes part of Christ. Please oppose this ploy staunchly. This is why I wrote BD to make our people vigilant.
"Following differences should be raised:
(1) Original sin affects only descendants of Adam. It has no bearing on the life as lived on Earth - only saving people from Hell in the after life. Shiva saved all life forms, in this life, on Earth.
(4) Original sin transferring to others is a violation of the doctrine of Karma. Original sin absolved by sacrificing Jesus is also a violation of the doctrine of Karma. One cannot bear the consequences of another's karma.
(5) Shiva is not Human. He prevailed by holding poison in his throat and not swallowing it. Jesus was sacrificed and he paid for original sin of other's with his own life. We are told that Jesus has not saved all humans even with his own death."
"You mentioned "The dissolution makes room for the next cycle of creation"The above comment is written by Sri Aurobindo ..."
What is the next circle of creation?
Evolution is the progressive manifestation of the different powers and aspects of the Divine.
.... The progression is striking and unmistakable.
What is the next circle of creation?
Evolution is the progressive manifestation of the different powers and aspects of the Divine.
.... The progression is striking and unmistakable.
"In Aurobindo, there is both a deep philosophy having its source in Sanathana Dharma as well as an element of the Nietzschean Overman that is not based on, nor is supported by, the Hindu tradition. In Hinduism, evolutionary progression
pertains to an individual that walks the path of dharma; it does not pertain to the collective whole....."
A theater review
Something to look at, and check:
It's not often that you go to the theater these days and find yourself excitedly questioning and rethinking your reactions. Self-examining art, after all, has become such a cozy genre in itself that it rarely startles.
But "Ganesh Versus the Third Reich," the remarkable production that opened this year's Under the Radar festival of experimental theater, never lets you settle into passive acceptance of anything it does. It's a vital, senses-sharpening
tonic for theatergoers who feel they've seen it all.
Even the title of the show — created by the 25-year-old Back to Back Theater of Geelong, Australia — inspires shivers of discomfort. Ganesh, the elephant-headed Indian deity, takes on Hitler's Germany? That sounds like a Hollywood head trip
that might once have been marketed to stoner college students, an audacious fantasy that traffics in wild jokes and political incorrectness...."
"... To give you a bit of back ground, there was a huge outrage of the Hindu community in Melbourne,Victoria, Australia when this play was screened for the first time in 2011. After some pressure from political parties and Victorian Multicultural council, they invited some Hindu leaders to see the play and then give their opinion. Accordingly i was invited to see it and I was flabbergasted to see the level of ignorance and in sensitiveness about Hindu principles, Hindu deities and Hindu scriptures. Myself and other Hindu groups, submitted our strong reservation against the play, You could read more about it in this link of Forum For Hindu Awakening,
Sandeep shares a link:
Prema Nandakumar responds to Sanjay Srivastava in a Hindu op-ed:
He gave us back our dignity
Does one write deliberately as a woman or man when taking up pen and paper? I do not know. But right now, I am writing as an Indian woman. The Indian woman who has held up the torch of cultured living for millennia through self-sacrifice, incredible feats of physical and mental endurance and abiding compassion. I know that the pen is a sacred object; if used unthinkingly as Sanjay Srivastava has done (The Hindu, Op-Ed, “Taking the aggression out of masculinity,” January 3, 2013), it might do more harm than good to the position of women in India.
Two portraits have been constant companions in my longish life as a housewife and writer. They have both infused in me the needed strength to face life despite scores of disappointments, frustrations and tragedies. One is the figure of Bharat Mata, rider on the lion, as though telling me: are you a weakling? You are as strong as this land, endowed with hurrying streams and gleaming orchards. Never give up! I learnt the connection between nature and the Indian woman when I read Sita say in Kavisamrat Viswanatha Satyanarayana’s Sri Ramayana Kalpavrikshamu that she has no fear of rivers and forests. Is she not the child of Mother Earth? ..."
January 12 (continuing thread from March 2012)
Digestion of Holi is happening at a rapid pace and it is now gone global. Please see this: http://TheColorRun.com/
The main "fun" aspect of Holi -throwing colors- got disconnected, secularized and now it has been digested.
In an earlier discussion on this topic of "Holi Digestion" (message 2343), it was about Americans participating in our celebration. In that context Rajivji had stated:
Rajiv comment: ... The issue at hand is not about digestion, but about potential distortion. Digestion would be if (as in the case of yoga) mainstream Americans were appropriating Holi into some kind of festival claimed to be their own - as they did with Halloween. But the examples cited do not apply to American digestion of Holi, rather they concerned Indians in USA morphing their own symbols and festivals - i.e. difference anxiety from below.
article by Tavleen Singh on the biases of Delhi's literati & chatter
January 13 (continuing discussion from December 25)
Christmas origins -- digested others
What better time to scrutinise Christianity's insatiable and insidious digestion of pre-Christian festivals to come up with Christmas (please see the...
January 14 (continuing discussion)
Oh No! We ended up with Synthetic Unity! see link shared by Nitin.
"Neale Donald Walsch wrote:
"How has it comes to pass that we have created an entire world that is so violent on so many levels?
... Walsch does not mention that this idea of onenessâ is there (only) in India's ancient religious tradition. It would be the right time for Hindus and especially their leaders to stress on this fact in a big way in India and abroad and bring it into mainstream. The Dalai Lama said at the Kumbh Mela in Haridwar, Already as a youth I was impressed by the richness of Indian thought. India has great potential to help the world. Will Hindus dare to say that dogmatic religions are the problem worldwide and Dharmic religions offer the solution?
Hindus also hesitate to mention that this belief (conviction) in unity has beneficial aspects on their society. They dont see that India is doing amazingly well in relation to other countries. I met recently several western tourists who are stunned by the incredible accommodation of others by Indians in crowded places or on the road everywhere. If Indians ever discover road rage, half of them would be dead in no time, an American said. And in case our liberal friends on this forum will react now that India is in no position to lead the way and start listing all the atrocities happening in India, please figure in the population density and imagine how US would be faring if they had 3700 million instead of 315,,,
In India it is at present not easy to get anything positive about Hinduism published. When I once wrote an article on the basics (fundamentals) of religions and naturally Hinduism looked best, Life Positive considered it too sensitive a subject.
Incredible India! Here you have living gods and you want to import dead ones only because Indian tradition is taboo for a certain influential section of society."
...this is what Malcolm Muggeridge wrote about what the British did to India --
“As I dimly realised, a people can be laid waste culturally as well as physically; not their lands but their inner life, as it were, sewn with salt. This is what happened to India. An alien culture, itself exhausted, become trivial and shallow, was imposed upon them; when we went, we left behind railways, schools and universities, statues of Queen Victoria and other of our worthies, industries, an administration, a legal system; all that and much more, but set in a spiritual wasteland. We had drained the country of its true life and creativity, making of it a place of echoes and mimicry.”
Very very few of the 1200 million Indians have any idea what serious damage colonialism has done to them; on the contrary, we often come across Indians who still believe that British Raj was the best thing to have happened to India.
Cry, my beloved country!"
"There are elements in Hinduism which are eternal and imperishable and so cannot be digested. Sanatan Dharma cannot be digested. Those parts that can be digested are perishable and not eternal. Those parts are the forms not
the substance of Hinduism. The decline of India was caused by to much emphasis on the forms than on the substance. Those things should be discarded like waste matter to liberate the substance."
...There are two errors in the post.
He assumes that true discourse cannot be digested into false discourse. If that were the case, discourse on integral unity would not be possible to digest into synthetic unity. The whole problem we face is that discourse on integral unity is being digested into synthetic unity, discourse on truth is being digested into falsity.
We have said this MANY times before: Digestion is always selective. it appropriates what fits and rejects what does not, and hence it distorts the integral unity (or truth) by breaking it into parts....
The deer is never taken whole and made into a part of the tiger. Such a statement as the above post lacks understanding of the terms like digestion that he uses.
Secondly, truth and discourse about truth are two different things. People's understanding of it gets destroyed, not the truth itself. When Krishna says that we must fight adharma that threatens dharma, it is not that dharma as a set of tenets could be destroyed. he means that society would no longer be dharmic. Similarly, we are discussing discourse here and not the truth itself. When we say a certain tenet gets digested, we imply that the consensus of peoples' beliefs and what they follow no longer respects that tenet.
The attitude that says "maybe all humans have discarded the truth but it is still the truth" allows one to can escape having to deal with the situation."
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