Rajiv Malhotra's messages

Recently, Rajiv Malhotra [RM] shared details of his personal journey via his article in the 'Speaking Tree' - http://www.speakingtree.in/blog/my-journey-businessman-to-philanthropist-to-scholar-to-victim-556443. As much as his story is inspirational in itself, what really caught my attention was the guidelines enlisted in eight points that RM recommends for the supporters of the Indic traditions. I had originally intended to write a short blog on these eight points, but I kept on writing. The end result is that I have divided the blog into four parts -  the first part summarizes RM's messages, and Part II conveys the importance of these messages. These set up the context for the guidelines to becoming an Intellectual Kshatriya (defined later), i.e. why one must care for the Indic traditions. These guidelines are then reproduced at the end of this blog (Part III) followed by my personal thoughts on these guidelines (Part IV).

Part I - RM's messages:

His 'Speaking Tree' article is a must read for everyone! We will not go into his personal life details (the reader can read for themselves), nor go into the extensive details of his work. We will only look at some of the key messages. To know the gist of Rajiv Malhotra's works, one only needs to read the first two paragraphs of the brilliant article by Aditi Banerjee. In these paragraphs she encapsulates the essence of RM's works from the past two and a half decades. Aditi's article was in response to the flawed plagiarism charges against RM few months back.

RM's main message in this article, and indeed in a lot of other forums, is that the Indian tradition is facing imminent threat both from outside and within. The threat is based upon the generic notion that the Indic traditions are unworthy of being followed and therefore India needs to be 'saved'. RM's works explain why the Indic traditions are rich and harmonious and indeed crucial to India and in fact the world. To counter this attack against the Indic tradition, RM is urging the followers of the Indic traditions to stop being passive listeners, and that it is high time they become intellectually alert. This alertness, or lack thereof, is intertwined with the education system prevalent in India. He cites some of the maladies afflicting the Indian education system today when he briefly compares and contrasts the education system prevalent in pre-colonial India and the current modern/post-modern education system, a legacy from the time Industrial Revolution began in Europe. He finishes the article with some suggestions on how to become intellectually active participants in this battle for the Indic traditions.

Continuing with the current education system, he also criticizes the "scaffolding" that has been created in the modern system where an academician wanting to progress a career must toe the line drawn by a select few. Who are these select few? Typically, high profile academics in Ivory Towers (another name for Universities, pejoratively used sometimes by academics themselves). The scaffolding comes from this misplaced belief that any knowledge coming from outside of Ivory Towers must be bogus, especially in non-hard-science fields such as social science. RM points this out vis-a-vis Indic studies by Western Indologists. These academics have developed a specific theory on what Indian civilization is and nobody (or even a group of individuals) outside of their line of thinking is meant to challenge it. The intellectual alertness, RM asserts, comes from being aware of this dynamics at play and then coming out of one's comfort zone to challenge this Western notions about Indic traditions in various capacities. Drawing from his traditional Indian knowledge, he calls this intellectual alertness and the capacity to challenge the prevalent ideas of Indic tradition based on solid research and logical reasoning, as 'Intellectual Kshatriya-ness'. [ness] is my addition.

Part II - Importance of RM's messages:

So how does one go about becoming an Intellectual Kshatriya [IK]? In his speaking tree article, RM summarizes the qualities essential for a successful IK. The following two paragraphs briefly trapezes through RM's journey following which the 'qualities' of an IK are mentioned. The readers can jump forward to these points (Parts III and IV) skipping RM's journey if they so wish. It is however suggested that one reads RM's journey to get the import of his messages and his recommended guidelines.

When one looks at RM's career profile one finds he is trained in Physics and Computer Science from an elite American University. Subsequently, he became a very successful entrepreneur. How then, did he get into social studies where he crossed paths with the Western Indologists? Following advice from his guru, that he should give something back to the society, he gave up his business (more on this later) and immersed himself in charity work - volunteering at the AIDS center, serving at the Kitchen soup, footing the education bill for strangers and acquaintances - the whole gamut. In terms of Indic studies, he originally started out as a 'regular' Indian who gave donations to scholars for such studies, and in return would be showered with accolades. However, over time he realized he was being side-lined as a 'feeder' whose only job was to be a funding-source to these scholars, who would then create whatever theories they themselves deemed correct. Alarmingly, these theories invariably showed the Indic traditions in poor light. Why were these theories a problem? Simply because his personal adhyatmic practise under a guru based on the same Indic traditions that the Indologists were writing about, told him a diametrically opposite story compared to the popular Western theories about these traditions. Here is an example. RM willingly gave up his multi-million dollar business which is quite common and a unique feature in the Indic tradition continuing since millenia - King Ashoka from the pre-common era (B.C.E.) and more recently (June 2015) one of India's billionaire businessman, Shri Bhanwarlal Doshi, gave it all up to join the order of Jain monks. These examples are important as it brings forth two points that are readily apparent - 1] the homogeneous unity in the Dharmic tradition of India, while Ashoka followed Buddhism, RM followed a Hindu path and Sri Doshi became a Jain monk - all three have the common ground of Dharma as its foundation. 2] The uniqueness of this tradition to India. It is one thing to become a billionaire and donate money while still maintaining one's billion dollar bank account, but a completely different cup of tea to let go of an entire business empire. RM sold his business for $1! This requires extreme mind training of non-attachment, which is a critical component of all the Dharma-based mind sciences. These mind sciences are mentioned in texts dating back to well over thousand years. One of the current Western theories is that Hinduism (Neo-hinduism to be exact) is a repackaged version of Western ideas and therefore barely a century old! Therein lies the crux of RM's message of being intellectually alert, of becoming an Intellectual Kshatriya to protect the age old tradition from such West produced theories.

Coming back to RM's story on how he entered social studies, following such bold assertions by the Western academia about Indic Traditions, an example of which is mentioned above, was when he decided to perform his 'due diligence' on this 'Indic study industry', as he fondly called it subsequently. The answers to questions such as: how many full time scholars are there in the West who study Indian civilization? Who funds them? Where do these knowledge outputs go (Conferences, Journal articles, Post-graduate thesis etc.)? Who uses these outputs and how is this knowledge used?, showed a completely new picture to him. The books that he subsequently published is a result of his single-minded devotion to the task at hand.

Part III - RM's core points on becoming an IK:

We read his books, listen to his talks/lectures and we learn a great deal. This is akin to Dharampal's writings from a few decades ago where he was showing the true picture of the pre-colonial India as obtained from the archives present in the British libraries. Both Dharampal and RM have been Intellectual Kshatriyas. RM knows much and has experienced much. Since his outputs are in direct contrast to the Ivory Tower publications and more importantly, aims to show the true picture of what is happening in the background, he has had to endure a lot of personal attacks. This has been a long battle as well - not for the faint of heart. Based on his experiences, RM has presented some guidelines to enable others who also wish to be on this path. Let us now look at these guidelines for becoming IKs, which are reproduced verbatim for the full effect. Here goes:

To do the kind of work I do, one must have the following qualities:

1. The uncompromising dharmic commitment to want to do this even if a heavy personal price is paid. This requires sadhana to be grounded and have resilience.
2. The freedom from needing to generate monthly income.
3. The freedom from greed to go on accumulating materially.
4. The risk-taking ability and fearlessness.
5. Originality, creativity and ability to think out of the box.
6. The intellectual calibre to study intensely detailed works and decode the other side; then be able to write well-structured arguments.
7. Autodidact with a genuine interest in the subject matters at hand.
8. Extensive experience managing Westerners from a position of authority – i.e. not be weak or obsequious in facing aggressive Westerners.

Part IV - My thoughts on RM's points:

Each of these points are extremely critical and equally important and they flow sequentially from one to the next. Following are my thoughts on the aforementioned points.

[1] Uncompromising Dharmic commitment:
This commitment comes from a deep sense of respect and sense of pride for the Indic Traditions. The Western Indology writings projecting these ancient traditions in a poor light, attack this very sense of pride/respect vigorously. RM's work in throwing the spotlight back on the nature and the reasons behind such writings therefore assumes even more importance. However, each individual IK must do his or her own research and put in the hard work to gain mastery over what is at stake. This requires serious commitment to the task at hand. This commitment must be uncompromising as there will be guaranteed challenges (in all its forms) along the way as RM's journey amply shows.

2] Freedom from the need to generate monthly income:
As an extreme example, a person barely able to garner 2 square meals a day is merely surviving. Hence, though this person could be practicing the Indic tradition, this person cannot be expected to join the 'intellectual battle' as his/her energies are consumed in meeting the basic needs. This is a serious dilemma for the supporters of Indic traditions as there is scant financial resources available.

3] Freedom from greed:
This is for people who have managed to place themselves well above the basic needs pointed in [2]. The question for people in this category is: what brings about a sense of achievement in them - fighting for a cause without the guarantee of fame/notoriety OR amassing material wealth and status? A person aspiring to become an IK, the answer is rather obvious.

4] Risk taking ability and fearlessness:  
Okay, so lets say our man has his basic needs met and his sense of achievement comes from fighting for the Dharmic/Indic traditions. How far could our man go without a healthy dose of fearlessness and courage? Not too far. Recall that the Ivory Towers hold all the cards at the moment - funds and institutions backing them. They can therefore speedily mobilize their vast resources to counter anyone who dares to challenge their theories. This is the 'Goliath' in the story - play on word very much intended. Does our man, lets call him 'David', have the courage to take on the 'Goliath'?

5] Originality, creativity and ability to think out of the box:
Even when [2]-[4] are present in our man, this is not a physical 'David-sling-shots-Goliath-to-death' narrative. This is an intellectual battle. Our proverbial David has to prepare an 'intellectual sling-shot' and aim at the 'intellectual weak-point' of Goliath. Clearly, this calls for intellectual creativity and alertness.

6] Intellectual calibre to do a purva-paksha:
Finding the intellectual weak-point of 'Goliath' is akin to performing purva-paksha and requires some minimum intellectual calibre. This is self-explanatory and flows readily from [5] above.

7] Autodidact with a genuine interest:
I had to open a dictionary to find out what 'Autodidact' meant. The act of opening the dictionary to find out what RM was trying to convey was Autodidactive. Autodidact = self-learning. The effort required to learn things out of ones own initiative comes naturally if the person is genuinely interested in the subject at hand.

8] Extensive experience in engaging an aggressive Westerner:
Well, now that [1]-[7] are in place, the David-Goliath battle actually begins. However, unlike the popular 'David-Goliath' story where Goliath is well and truly dead after a single sling-shot, our 'David' needs to be prepared for multiple combats, learning from each engagement and continuously improving, for the 'Goliath' in this intellectual battle is not going away any time soon! Experience is necessary.

1 comment:

  1. Arvind

    I do follow the underlying messages in the guidelines.

    Our challenge has been the ever changing requirements of "need" and the fear of the "unknown".

    The world has turned into a huge production machine with multiple distractions. So the simple focus of understanding the requirements of the simple lifestyle, although readily available has become hard t get.

    Most of us have been leading a hybrid lifestyle based on our post-colonial upbringing and have lost touch with our true roots. Where we would have had. 60-40 split of indic traditions in the 1970s it's more of a 20-80 now that we see it from a holistic perspective.

    Take yoga for example, it's being made widely popular in the west with the so-called Western gurus who are mixing messages that favour their individual upheaval. The so-called experts visit India for a short period of time and some return with half-baked ideologies while the others have little to no change in their mindset. Pre-Disposed guideline is what they have

    Indians including me have been brought up within hybrid Indic traditions bask in using the flexibility provided by our culture where the was favourable parts are readily promoted while the much-needed and absolutely essential learnings are either ignored or are contradicted by generally accepted Western principles.

    You have a well written blog with simple messages. Something to definitely ponder upon and highly regarded for us middle agers.