Question: Why are you targeting Sheldon Pollock personally, i.e. one man?

An important point that we want people to understand. Please read the following FAQ closely. Also read the comment by Sonal Mansingh.

Question: Why are you targeting Sheldon Pollock personally (i.e. one man)?

Answer: We are never targeting anyone personally, but critiquing and responding to their ideas. We see these ideas as a serious school of thought and not as one person’s. Before choosing a target for purva-paksha and uttara-paksha, one must ask the following kinds of questions:
·         What is the specific harm being caused to us by a given target, which we hope to undermine?
·         What further high-value targets become within our range once we have successfully engaged this target?
·         What does our team gain through this fight, in terms of learning new sophisticated methods?
·         What would be the demoralizing effect on the opponent’s supporters, and how would this boost the morale of our support base?
·         How did our tradition respond to similar situations?

Such an inquiry led to the following position regarding the above question.

1.      Following the purva-paksha system:
a.      The purva/uttara paksha system of argumentation on behalf of one’s tradition requires naming the opponent, citing his/her specific works and then giving a sound, logical critique. It is not done by sweeping generalizations of opponents. It is essentially a “case studies” method in which specific instances of differences get argued with specific opponents (similar in some ways to the famous Harvard business school case studies approach). While a general treatise with critique can be ignored, a direct critique of named opponents who have stature is non-ignorable, which is important.
b.      There is a difference between doing a purva-paksha and developing a new shastra/siddhanta on a given subject. Before a new shastra can emerge, one must first clear the table of existing theories by doing specific purva-paksha on the major ones. This is how the system of knowledge continually renews and refreshes itself. Ignoring the opponent was not seen as a worthy thing.
c.       The target should be a leader representing an important school of thought, one with lineage, followers and traction. In other words, we like to critique an entire ecosystem.
2.      Harm being caused that we must remedy: Sheldon Pollock is not just an individual but also the leaders of an important school of thought causing the following problems that are very serious, concrete and immediate:
a.      Harmful content and substance: There are vast and deep problems with Pollock’s positions, and they often remain camouflaged beneath his surface praise and emotional appeals. The book, The Battle For Sanskrit (TBFS), started exposing these. The first Swadeshi Indology conference (SI-1) validated these concerns and added more substance to the criticisms. The next conference is going to take this criticism to a much higher level. For specific issues with his scholarship, the reader is referred to TBFS and the SI-1 web site. But as a sample, he alleges that: (1) the Sanskrit tradition from its beginning has been socially oppressive, (2) shastras by design have prevented creative thinking, (3) Sanskrit texts contained toxins that influenced the Nazis to commit the holocaust, (4) the Ramayana contains seeds of violence and this has been provoked against Muslims, (5), mimamsa was developed in response to Buddhism, as a way to codify biases, (6) rasa entered late in the tradition, and even later it was reinterpreted (by Rupa Goswami) to introduce sacredness, (7) kavya has from the beginning been a device for kings’ projection of power in an aesthetic manner; and so on.
b.      Hijacking Sringeri: Prior to TBFS, he already had provisional commitment from Sringeri mattha to set up Adi Shankara Chairs in US Ivy Leagues, with Pollock himself in charge of selecting and directing the academic programs.
c.       Hinduphobic parampara: He has trained and influenced one of the largest and most influential group of students and peers. His importance through his writings is well attested by the Western academic establishment. These followers include many sepoy scholars/journalists whose works are filled with venom against Hinduism. Many who wonder “why bother critiquing Pollock?” must wake up and discover that many individuals they are fighting are trained by him and/or operating under his ideological influence. Rather than fighting isolated instances, we must get to the roots of the system that produces such instances.
d.      Official recognition & infiltration: His followers have infiltrated the official establishments of higher learning, media and education, and he has received official awards. This has made his positions officially endorsed in India. Hence they need to be examined closely and evaluated objectively.
e.      Murty Classics Library: A direct and immediate consequence of TBFS was a major petition against the MCLI, which triggered response and counter-response from both sides. This brought to the surface the previously hidden faces of Pollockism. In fact, the recent Vande Mantram Library initiative is an example of a direct result of the awareness created by TBFS.
3.      Knowledge being acquired by our scholars and further purva-paksha opportunities:
a.      Because very few of our traditional scholars have done purva-paksha on the latest Western Indology, this work has required them to learn about many areas of Western thought, research methodologies and institutional mechanisms. Some of these insights may help us upgrade our competitiveness in the global discourse. This knowledge better equips us to encounter with many other Western schools besides just Pollock, from a much deeper level than our scholars have done in the past.
b.      Subsequent purva-paksha targets under consideration include: Romila Tnapar, Wendy Doniger, Western(ized) feminists, to name a few. In each case, we wish to adopt a focused and sharply targeted approach in order to maximize the impact on the ground.
4.      Psychological warfare:
a.      By toppling the leader of a school, the followers of that school get demoralized. New recruits into their program become harder to attract. This already happened to other intellectual leaders we targeted in the past.
b.      Simultaneously, we are witnessing a boost to the self-confidence of our young scholars. They are becoming fearless and better skilled at debating in open forums.
c.       An important quality to cultivate is being non-ignorable. This cannot be achieved by criticizing dead scholars (who will not talk back), dead empires, marginal players, or over abstracted and over-generalized opposing views. To trigger lively debate that can transform the discourse requires one to name names, be direct and sharp – precisely the qualities exhibited in our tradition of debates in the past.
5.      Waking up some tamasic, lazy and pompous “insiders”:
a.      It is our experience that many “insider” scholars, including and especially some with big reputations and high society profiles, are pathetically out of touch with the latest scholarship, lazy to do any new reading in a serious manner, and even deficient in analytical/debating experience to engage Westerns with confidence. Some of them are also sold out through various forms of patronage. Hence they tend to be cynical about such attempts as the Swadeshi Indology movement where hard work and original, non-emotional scholarship is being required for membership.
b.      The strategy adopted by SI is to welcome all established scholars on the terms of rigor and objectivity, rather than mental blockages or emotions. Many senior scholars are already solidly in the SI movement and their leadership is given paramount importance.
c.       The good news is that we find the new, young scholars to be very enthusiastic and competent in this pursuit. This fits well with our goal to develop next generation specialized teams of scholars with different kinds of subject-matter expertise.
d.      The old-school scholars who did not make much impact but spent their energies traveling for events and enjoying the limelight, now feel threatened by a new stock of scholars that are bypassing them. There is also blatant jealousy on display at times. We do not want our scholars to get discouraged by this, and one purpose of writing this is to prepare them for such cynicisms.

Now, here is some additional context.
  • When I was researching on Pollock in 2015, I went around many senior scholars in India for leads, help, sources, etc. Did not want to rediscover what was already known to our people.
  • Result: Very disappointing. Hardly any serious work had been or was being done, little interest to get off their rear ends and work hard, lots of bombast/ego, pride, emotions, etc. 
  • But not surprised because i have been through this inertia in India for 25 years on various topics.
  • Basically our "scholars" want to get maximize personal benefit with minimum effort/investment of their own.
  • Case study: One retired Delhi U prof who is well known as natya shatra "expert" (though scantily published) wanted to save himself the effort of reading Pollock. So he felt that giving me enough chai and a samosa at India Int'l Center cafeteria would allow him to pick my brain while he and his wife would sit and take notes. This would let him beat me by getting a quick blog out of his own. Serious books are unnecessary as per this lot, because it is too much effort. Result is that the western Indologists call the shots when it comes to prescribing books in colleges worldwide even though the subject is Indology.
  • I told him he would have to wait for my book to come out first, as leaking out the critical research and responses by me would not be appropriate. In the end he and his wife gave up trying. 
  • Within a couple of weeks from this "samosa-based research" attempt, his article suddenly appeared in IndiaFacts attacking Pollock and Rohan Murthy. Note that when I met and told him about Pollock, he had only hesard about him tangentially and lacked even the basic idea of what Pollock's work or controversy were about. Now he was writing like an overnight "expert". However, as expected, there was no substance in his article - merely emotional allegations based on how everything wasgenerally wrong with the West. So no need to spend effort reading Pollock.
  • Fast forward several months. My tbfs book comes out, gets rave reviews by top Sanskrit scholars in India, there are 25 events, lots of awareness. This man wants to ignore all this material because it is overwhelming to him. He now wants to make it seem that it was unimportant (because he could/did nothing about the topic).
  • Next comes a big surprise. Last week there was some meeting in Delhi to create a rival to Murthy Classics Library - an initiative inspired by tbfs and the subsequent petition against MCLI. One of the speakers presents a summary of the Swadeshi Indology movement. Guess who is the top cynic speaking out against "conferences targeting Pollock?" Its our DU friend who last year was desperate to get masala on Pollock so he could put out a very rapid article critical of Pollock. Contradicting his own previous desires/article, last week he argued: we must not attack one man's work. He gives every reason not to be so focused in conferences. 
  • Of course, our team of three SI scholars argued back and explained the importance of specialized. focused analyses.
In light of this, I decided we must do a FAQ on why we targeted Pollock per se, not personally but as a school of Indology. 

The link above takes you to a summary of the importance of specializing. Some of it is taken from TBFS.

I hope serious scholars will take the time and study it. This issue is important for us to debate. As I noted in this attachment, Indian scholarly events are too unproductive, more like flea markets with substandard speakers regurgitating their same old material for many years.

As you can see, so much of our fight is internal, with our own people.


Smt. Sonal Mansingh, who is a famous performer and expert on Indian Nritya/Natya responds:
Apropos ur 28th August mail: this Naatya Shastra 'scholar' has threatened to expose classical dancers who according to him,  know nothing abt it. He is more aggressive now than before having been brought as Exe Trustee of most prestigious Govt cultural organisation. In any case, Pompous pretentiousness is the hallmark of most scholars & academicians, Indian or non-Indian. Sincerely
Sonal Mansingh

Rajiv: Sonal ji, I have always considered the performers (and you are among the foremost of this era) as our exemplars, not the cynical bookworms sitting on the sideline passing comments...

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.