Rajivji's messages - Part II: “How have you benefited from Rajivji’s work?”

Rajiv Malhotra's [RM] messages were summarized in a previous blog a few weeks ago. These messages were aimed at a deeper level in that it enumerated the prerequisites (according to RM) that are required to become an Intellectual Kshatriya (IK). One might ask what is the need for an IK? This too was answered to some degree in that blog. To restate the answer in brief - RM's work exposes the deep prejudices prevalent against Dharmic traditions and India within academic and political circles at a global scale. One of the consequences of such prejudices is that Hinduism does not have a seat at the table when the Indic/Hindu traditions are discussed and deliberated upon at power circles which give directions to geopolitics. The end result is the propagation of a distorted view of these age old traditions seriously undermining India's integral unity and thereby India’s role in the world. To counter such unfair prejudices and give the Dharmic traditions their rightful place requires providing correct interpretations of the traditions by virtue of originating from the traditions themselves. This therefore is naturally a battle of the minds. Intellectual Kshatriyas are required.

A cursory glance at India's pre-colonial history will reveal the advances India made, and indeed has contributed, in the field of mind sciences, medicine, mathematics, etc. And yet, India's current image in the world-stage is 'caste, cow and curry - the latest additions being Bollywood and India as a repository of trinkets, which can be bought to adorn one's living space'. How many of the readers have this image of India, while completely oblivious to India's contributions to the world? RM's crusade has been to bring this issue to the fore. Not only that, an even more serious issue is the appropriation of the Indian ideas (on medicine and mind sciences in particular) and peddled as being of non-Indian origin. 

RM has essentially worked to expose these prejudices. Please read the previous blog to get a glimpse of RM's journey in the past 25 years. For those not aware of RM’s works, he has written three books “Breaking India”, “Being Different”, “Indra’s Net” and the main protagonist of a fourth called “Invading the Sacred”. His latest book "The Battle for Sanskrit" is due to come out in Jan.'16. Recently, Aditi Banerjee, a noted professional journalist, described RM's work succinctly - "Rajiv Malhotra has been a ground-breaking thinker and writer on matters related to Hinduism and Indian civilization for decades now. He has single-handedly and courageously challenged a coterie of Western Indologists and associated forces bent on denigrating Indic traditions and [who are] denying the national and civilizational unity of India and Hinduism". Apart from his books, his excellent scholarship on the forces trying to destabilize India has earned him plenary (invited) talks at conferences both in India and, indeed, mostly abroad. He has also debated with top researchers and religious men (Dr. Christian A. Eberhart: Professor of Religious Studies @ University of Houston), Prof. Francis X. Clooney (Harvard Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts), media personnel (Mark Tully: Ex-Bureau Chief of BBC, New Delhi), and shared the dais with policy makers (Arun Shourie), as well as traditional gurus (yoga guru: Baba Ramdev). A simple keyword search with his name results in numerous hits on Youtube (including the ones listed above). His works have prompted articles to be published in journals such as the International Journal of Hindu Studies. It is abundantly clear that his scholarship is excellent which has forced people to think about the arguments he presents.

I have watched most of RM's lectures on Youtube and have read parts of two of his books. While his lectures are lucid and points easily understood, I must caution the uninitiated that his books are not amusement readings! Recently, one of the Discussion group members (Sriram) initiated an interesting discussion topic – “How have you benefited from Rajivji’s works?” To anyone who has been exposed to RM’s works, or perhaps even not exposed to his works, Sriram has asked a very pertinent question. For me, the answer has been an extended awareness of “how the geo-political situation of the world is aligned”. For instance, I can now understand the nuances when a professor of Engineering (as opposed to a Professor in social-sciences/history/Indology) who also happens to be non-Asian, engages me in a discussion about Brahmins and the caste system. I recently read an article about the numbers-game that Evangelicals are involved in. I can now understand their obsession with the target number of conversions they have to achieve in a certain time frame. Rajiv's works have given me a new lens to see the world with. And the more I see the world with this new found lens, the more robust RM’s thesis seems to be. 

But what about the others? What have they gleaned from RM’s scholarship? This short article summarizes the responses from other group members.

To begin with, the audience, at least the ones who have responded to Sriram’s question, come from a diverse background – engineers, current and prospective students, working professionals – the full range, and as diverse a country as Australia to India to South Africa to the USA. The responses had a sense of excitement and they all seem to agree that RM’s work was a revelation and that his work has been an inspiration. Some said they have devoted themselves to becoming an IK, others said they understand what purva-paksha means and its importance, some have started local reading groups to discuss Rajiv's works, and yet others said they now understand the complexities of the problems faced by India. 

Reading through their responses, it appears that there are some profound insights developed in whoever has come across RM's works. These insights can be categorized into the following three sets of keywords: Hinduism and its differences with the Abrahamic religions, the attack on India/Hinduism and its traditions, and the ability to engage in Hinduism related debates. Let us briefly unpack these categories.


Hinduism and its differences with the Abrahamic religions:

First and foremost, there is a clearer understanding of what Hinduism is amongst those who have been exposed to RM's works. There is now an understanding that Hinduism is a Dharmic tradition with integral unity with other Dharmic traditions such as Buddhism, Sikhism, and Jainism. Integral unity means that the fundamental basis of all these traditions is the same. The unifying factors being that all of these traditions agree upon the idea of dharma, the need for individual karma (actions) in the present time for an individual’s liberation (as opposed to the idea that an individual's salvation is dependent upon the birth and actions of one figure who appeared in the distant historical past) and the idea of reincarnation. For example, Buddha taught about a Dharmic way of life which is very similar to the ‘yama’ practices found in the yoga philosophy of Hinduism (compare Panchsheela in Buddhism to the five yamas in Patanjali's yoga sutra). More importantly, none of these traditions are based on history-centrism. The implication of non-history-centricism is that even if Buddha/Prince Gautam did not come into being, the principles of Dharma that he eventually taught (i.e. after his enlightenment), would still remain intact. ”Buddha did not teach Buddhism”, said my yoga teacher! I understood what he meant.

In contrast, the negation of the history of Jesus with a birth from a virgin mother would result in the entire religion of Christianity to fall down. Same with the Islamic faith, albeit with the history of Prophet Mohammad in their case. Holding on to the story of Jesus’ birth steadfastly is central to the Christian faith i.e. Christianity is history-centric. Same with the Islamic faith, albeit with the story of Prophet Mohammad in their case.  There are other core differences as well, for e.g. the nature of time in the Dharmic traditions is completely different to the idea of time in the Abrahamic religions.

Attack on India/Hinduism and its traditions:

Perhaps one of the biggest revelations from RM's work is that there is a constant attack on India via Hinduism. Much has been written by RM and indeed others, which need not be repeated here. Pertinent examples will suffice to bring out the relevant points. Here is one. In his recent visit to India, US President Barack Obama, in a tone of complaint, remarked that India's success depends upon India safeguarding the interests of it's religious minorities. Now consider this. Immediately after the India visit, the US President went on a State visit to Saudi Arabia, accompanied with his wife. The strife between Shia and Sunni denominations of Islam in Saudi Arabia (and indeed the Islamic states in general) is well known. And yet, not a word was, or has been, spoken by Mr Obama on the rights of religious minorities in Saudi Arabia. Besides, the reader will recall the massive outcry in Saudi Arabia on Mrs Obama's headscarf, or lack thereof, during this same visit. Indeed, Mr Obama had no comments to make on this incident as well. To put things in perspective, regarding the state of religious minorities in India – Jews, certainly a religious minority in India in terms of absolute numbers, settled in India in distant past going back several centuries. As it turns out, India is one country where the Jews have not been persecuted - not once in their long history of being in India. Note that Britain, Spain or France doesn't have bragging rights on their treatment of Jews in their respective countries in the relatively more recent past.

It would not be remiss here to recount RM's debate experiences with representatives (some of them being at very high positions in their respective faith organizations) of the Abrahamic religions at various platforms over the years. He has espoused the notion of replacing the use of 'religious tolerance', which is a marginalizing idea, with the all-encompassing idea of 'mutual respect'. Needless to say, his attempts have been futile so far. It is noteworthy that representatives of Dharmic traditions have found the idea of 'mutual respect' to be easily acceptable. And yet, President Obama found it appropriate to make a comment on India on its religious affairs! Such is the prevalent geopolitical scenario.

The point here is that the intellectually alert must ponder, and if possible, seek the answers to such questions as - what made Mr Obama comment on India about its religious minorities but not a word on Saudi Arabia? Why are the Abrahamic religions persistent on using the word ‘religious tolerance’?

The attack on Hinduism is on another front – subtle, and yet an equally dangerous process of digestion. Here the useful things/ideas of a given culture is slowly appropriated and disembodied from the original culture by the digesters. The modus operandi is that while one hand is pointing fingers at all that is bad in a given culture, the other hand is gladly appropriating the traditional knowledge systems from the very culture that the former hand is criticizing. William Jones' motif at Oxford is a glaring example (see here). It’s a generic phenomenon which has been repeated in history several times and Hinduism/India is not the only one to suffer. Accelerated attempts at appropriation-digestion of Yoga is one such example that India would do well to take steps to counter. RM gives the example of Christian Yoga where 'Sun salutation (surya-namaskar)' has been changed to 'Son salutation' i.e. Salutation to the Son of God = Jesus, with no mention of the Indian philosophy behind the word ‘surya-namaskar’. The irony of this episode is that one of the five yamas mentioned earlier is called astaya, which means non-stealing! The original true philosophy of yoga has been well and truly stripped off.  

Ability to engage in Hinduism related debates:

Readers, armed with a better understanding, can now engage in intellectual debates on Dharmic tradition vs Abrahamic religions. They have also acquired a new vocabulary, a significant part of which RM calls, the “Sanskrit non-translatables”. Atman, Shradhdha, Dharma are some examples of non-translatables. For instance, ‘Atman’ is not the same as ‘Soul’ and therefore Atman cannot, and should not be translated as 'Soul'. As currently defined, 'Soul' is something that a human being possesses. By extension to non-human forms of life, the claim is that the animals/trees don’t have 'Souls'. Thus, 'Soul' is akin to an object that only a human being can possess, which leaves the body when the physical body perishes (a New Age lingo often heard). Atman, on the other hand, is immanent in everything, both living and inanimate objects and therefore, is present everywhere and at all times. Thus it cannot ‘leave’ from one object to another or from one place to another or from one time to another. Thus 'Atman' and 'Soul' describe two very different philosophies. 'Atman' is non-translatable.

In the final analysis, a veil has been lifted from the reader's eyes and they can now clearly see what is at stake. The readers draw inspiration from RM and his works, have a new found confidence, and they are eager to devote their time to learning - not only from RM's monumental work, but also from other sources. RM’s works coaxes us to do so. 

1 comment:

  1. I should have read this blog before I posted the previous one.

    Well written again.

    Religious tolerance is same as Climate change Vs global warming.

    Acts of terrorism V domestic disturbance.

    Some terms are coined to dilute the effect while others to further a chosen agenda