BOOK REVIEW: Defending Hinduism’s philosophical unity – M.V. Kamath

M. V. Kamath“Today we are living in a new world in which the United States wants to be seen and acknowledged as a Great Power with no one to challenge that status. And that calls for ridiculing every other segment of thought and action that even remotely challenges America’s self-anointed superiority. Among those segments of thought hails Hinduism, brighter than a thousand suns with its intrusion in all forms of thought and action, a religion which gave to mathematics the symbol of zero and to the mind, freedom to think in its myriad ways.” – M.V. Kamath

Indra's NetIt is one of the most inevitable facts of political life that when a nation enters the rank of a great or super power, it gets fancy ideas of its superiority in all fields, political cultural or religious. It happened to the Portuguese in the 16th century when they conquered Goa. They sought to ban the people’s language Konkani and tried to downgrade peoples’ religion Hinduism by every means.

In the 19th century when the British were safely ensconced in India as the ruling party, the end result was the same, Lord Macaulay, who had been despatched to India as legal adviser to the supreme Council of India in his Education Minute sought to belittle the country by saying that where literature was concerned he had never found one among ‘orientalists’ who could deny that “a single shelf of a good European library was worth the whole native literature of India”.

He then went on to further denigrate Indian learning as “medical doctrines which would disgrace an English farrier, astronomy which would move laughter in girls at an English boarding school, history abounding with kings thirty feet high and reigns thirty thousand years long and geography made of seas of treacle and seas of butter”.

Now in the 20th century and beginning of the 21st century we are having in the United States of America prototypes of Macaulay who can’t stand the greatness of India and who think there is no such thing as Hinduism and insisting that if there is something like that it is the product of Vivekananda’s fertile imagination, an artificial unity he constructed for political purposes.

As Rajiv Malhotra notes in his brilliant analysis of current views on Hinduism among America academia, “Vivekananda fabricated present day Hinduism by appropriating western religious and secular ideas and restating them in Sanskrit!”

Vivekananda is further charged with inventing Karma Yoga to match western social ethics and additionally to prove that Vedic traditions contain scientific merit! Writes Malhotra: “The perception that a unified idea of Hinduism lacks legitimacy has rapidly spread into mainstream intellectual circles.” It must be a sick mainstream intellectual circle indeed that thinks that way. One can only despise such circles.

Henry David ThoreauBut being a scholar, Malhotra had taken great pains to patiently refute theories that slander contemporary Hinduism as illegitimate and to present the most ancient religion in the world in its true light – a truth that was once accepted by an earlier batch of academicians like Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. Indeed Thoreau it was who said that he read the Gita every morning and how important it was to his own life.

And do American mainstream intellectuals remember what Robert Oppenheimer said when the US had its first nuclear bomb detonated? Oppenheimer recited a stanza from the Gita which began as: “divi surya sahasrasya bhaved yugapad uttita….” (If the effulgence of a thousand suns were to blaze forth simultaneously, that might resemble the splendour of that exalted Being). But then Emerson and Thoreau lived in another age and clime when the United States was more self-contained and had no pretence to make.

Today we are living in a new world in which the United States wants to be seen and acknowledged as a Great Power with no one to challenge that status. And that calls for ridiculing every other segment of thought and action that even remotely challenges America’s self-anointed superiority. Among those segments of thought hails Hinduism, brighter than a thousand suns with its intrusion in all forms of thought and action, a religion which gave to mathematics the symbol of zero and to the mind, freedom to think in its myriad ways.

Hinduism was prevailing long before Christ was born, long before the Holy Prophet was born, growing by the day and standing up to challenges that might have drowned a lesser philosophic entity. That it survives and even more relevantly growing by the day is the envy of America’s mainstream academicians.

Was it Newsweek (August 2009) that published a one page essay with the headline ‘We are all Hindus now’? It is not Hinduism that is picking the minds of American thinkers, it is plainly the other way round. And American academicians cannot stand being marginalised. They have to show that it is Hinduism which is borrowing ideas originating in America and the West.

Peter van der VeerThe arguments pronounced by the new enemies of Hinduism are funny beyond imagination. There is this character called Van der Veer (is the word ‘Veer’ stolen from Sanskrit which gives it the meaning of ‘hero’?) who is described as “amongst the most insistent of the scholars who claim that Hinduism was created for sinister political motives”.

Veer is reported to have said that the construction of a unified Hindu identity is of utmost importance for Hindus who live outside India because they need a Hinduism that can be explained to outsiders as a respectable religion. These Hindus are known as NRIs – Non Resident Indians; but then in the United States is born another purely local sect that could also be called as NRIs (Non-Rational Imperialists). Sadly Van der Veer and his ilk, many of whom are quoted, belong to it.

Malhotra has done his job in explaining Hinduism remarkable well. He has done a brilliant job in putting the west in its place, that of an imitator. But let this be said too: Hinduism is the most ancient of all religions; it has no pope or maulvi to lay down fatwa. It has withstood terrorism of all sorts and has survived over ten thousand years and will also survive the mainstream American intellectuals with their hate-filled thoughts on Hinduism for another ten thousand years, because of its sheer intellectual and spiritual power that remains unsurpassed. – Free Press Journal, 4 May 2014

» Madhav Vittal Kamath is an Indian journalist. He was the former chairman of Prasar Bharati. He has worked as the editor of The Sunday Times and as the Washington correspondent of Times of India. He has also served as editor of  The Illustrated Weekly of India. Currently, he is the Honorary Director of Manipal Institute of Communication. He has also authored nearly 40 books on various topics. He was awarded the Padma Bhushan in 2004.

Spider's web in the early morning

“Imagine a multidimensional spider’s web in the early morning covered with dew drops. And every dew drop contains the reflection of all the other dew drops. And, in each reflected dew drop, the reflections of all the other dew drops in that reflection. And so ad infinitum. That is the Buddhist conception of the universe in an image.”Alan Watts

4 Responses

  1. Reblogged this on Gr8fullsoul.

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  2. Yes sir, I agree. I have immensely benefited by studying the works of Sita Ram Goel and Ram Swarup. I got many basic doubts cleared by their writing and gained new insights. I regret that I discovered them late. I also agree that Sanskrit should have become the national language. It is nobody’s mother tongue — a very unique position — and so confers no natural or undue advantage on any one (as Hindi does today). Everyone has to learn it and every generation has to do it! Maybe Tamil too deserves that status, being the oldest Indian language after Sanskrit, with a vast and rich ancient literature.

    Yes, Sanskrit and Tamil are the two eyes of Lord Shiva. Going a step further, Tirunavukkarasu Swami, also called Appar said of Lord Shiva: “You became the Northern Tongue and the Southern Tamil. Hail to you! (Vata mozhiyum then thamizhum aanai, Potri)”.

    A small clarification is due here. In Tamil Nad, the tradition is to call Sanskrit “Vata mozhi“, literally rendered as ‘northern language’. Usually it is explained as the language of or coming from the north. However reflection will show that this is not correct. Every other Indian language has a region from which it rises and to which it belongs. Sanskrit alone has no region specific to it! It is common to the whole country. So there must be some other meaning for this phrase.

    My old teacher used to give two explanations: 1.”Vata” refers not to northern direction (called Vadakku in Tamil) but the banyan tree called ‘Vata Taru‘ in Sanskrit. Sanskrit arose from the Damaru of Lord Shiva, as revealed in the Maheshwara Sutra. And Lord Shiva as Dakshinamurti is depicted as sitting under the banyan (cf Chitram vata taror mule etc) So, Vata mozhi means the language directly emanating from Lord Shiva. 2. Vata mozhi is a corruption or contracted form of the expression in Tamil: ‘Vatu il mozhi‘ meaning the language without a defect. This after all is the literal meaning of Samskrutam in Sanskrit- a perfected language, refined language, language made well, etc.

    Though Tamil is ancient, it is never free from the influence of Sanskrit, even the works claimed to be the oldest extant Tamil works, using Sanskrit words either directly or in a derivative form. The old grammar books prescribe rules for this — showing that such a practice was after all so common that it required to be formally regulated! Over the centuries the use of Sanskrit words has only grown, a distinct mixture ‘manipravalam‘ coming into vogue in religious literature. The works of Arunagirinatha constitute the supreme and sublime example in this regard. And legend has it that he had his poetic genius instilled or awakened by Lord Subrahmanya!

    Sri Aurobindo in the course of his Vedic studies indicated that there must have been an older form of both these languages, with many common elements. He even said that he obtained much clarity on Sanskrit words, their evolution and their meanings by his study of ancient Tamil words! Unfortunately, his studies remained incomplete and he could not pursue this research later.

    It is held in orthodox circles that the Vedic language is altogether different from classical Sanskrit and has to be studied and understood differently. This only strengths Sri Aurobindo’s thesis.

    As a Hindu, I have no hesitation in saying that Sanskrit should be the national language. As one whose mother tongue is Tamil, I would hesitate to make that assertion regarding Tamil, as it would sound rather chauvinistic — something we resent about Hindi! It would be better that it comes from neutral, and more mature quarters!

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  3. Thank you for this, Sri Nanjappa. You have reminded me of Sita Ram Goel’s discourse. He would agree with you one hundred per cent — especially about the need for self-reflection among Hindus. When he visited South India without any South Indian language, he said he got on very well with Sanskrit. Everybody understood something if only a little bit. Sanskrit should have been made the national language along with Tamil — they are the two eyes of Lord Shiva, isn’t it?

    Unfortunately Rajiv Malholtra has not recognised Sita Ram Goel and Ram Swarup as the pathbreakers they were, nor did he defend them when they were publicly disparaged by his Jesuit friend Fr Francis Clooney. It is a mark against him and casts a shadow on his very good work. Recognising those who did the original groundwork is intrinsically part of Hindu tradition and should not be ignored.

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  4. Rajiv Malhotra has been waging a relentless battle single handed against American academic arrogance and entrenched opposition to Hindu interests. What they represent is not honest academic criticism or projection of a different point of view, but deliberate misrepresentation of facts, dishonest and inaccurate translation based on defective scholarship and dubious interpretations which are illogical and are not germane to the discipline. What is more, they refuse to engage Indian scholars in free and fair discussion, and refuse them the right to represent their own religion. This is what Sri Malhotra has been fighting. His position is well explained in the books: Invading the Sacred, Being Different, Indra’s Net.

    He has accomplished two things in the process. 1. He has provided new tools of analysis, new perspectives, new ways of understanding. His books depart delightfully from the old Victorian language and dense presentation. There is analysis in place of mere description, new turn of phrase, an entirely new orientation to the way matters are handled and presented. An old student of economics cannot refrain from comparing this with the way a Samuelson revolutionised the teaching and understanding of economics with his new textbook, in place of the old masters like Benham, Pigou, Taussig, even Marshall And Samuelson is still studied, more than 50 years down the line! This is a new experience for most Indians in understanding our own religion and philosophy. In addressing the Americans, Malhotra has also opened our eyes, and widened our minds, like what Vivekananda did earlier. 2. Malhotra has in particular understood and exposed two subtle games played by the American academics. They study Indian systems carefully, painstakingly and well. Then, they develop their own ideas out of them, invent new jargon, resort to profuse verbiage and present them as their own discoveries, carefully avoiding all reference to original sources. This Malhotra calls “digestion.” Even Ken Wilber is not above this.

    Again some of the scholars, take to our systems but at some point refute their allegiance to them, while still holding or propounding subtle variations on the same. This Malhotra terms “U-turn”. Joseph Campbell is an example of this. If we read Sri Malhotra’s writings with attention, as we ought to, many western scholars whom we take to be friends and admirers of India will fall from grace. Alas, many Indians do not realise this in time.

    This is where the smug confidence expressed by Sri Kamath, the doyen of our journalists, and an eminent public spirited intellectual, causes concern, and sparks dissent! Whatever may be the past glory, today the young Indians (who constitute half of our population) are almost totally cut off from the roots of our philosophical tradition and the language it is enshrined in — Sanskrit. Adam Osborne, son of Arthur Osborne of old Ramanasramam fame, who had, for many years the opportunity to observe international students in American academia found Indian students to be least informed about their own religion, philosophy and culture, among all foreign students entering the States. They may at best depend on some translation. But this is like jumping from the frying pan into the fire. Most of the serious translation work is done by foreign scholars whose knowledge of the language, devotion to the subject and commitment to our tradition are suspect. The PhD discipline ensures that every one tries to see something novel, however foreign to the spirit of the subject it may be. Thus a person soaked in Freudian ideas who is trained to see a penis in a cigar (A cigar is sometimes just a cigar, said Freud) — what will he make of a Kali except a blood thirsty goddess?

    But, Indians and their blessed universities are neglecting serious Sanskrit studies and the vacuum is automatically filled by foreign scholars, who have developed a vested interest in finding something unusual everywhere and give their own twist to the matter, in the name of academic freedom. If there is a chance to misrepresent India and Hinduism, they will not miss it.

    But the matter does not stop there. Religious studies constitute a major stream of academic studies in the US and thousands enrol every year. While every other major religion is presented in the formal courses in a sympathetic manner by material and teaching developed by practicing ‘insiders’, Hinduism alone is represented by material prepared by ‘outsiders’ who have no personal knowledge, sympathy or actual experience of practice. Imagine the damage to young minds and the amount of misinformation generated every year. And imagine what happens in the universities through peer pressure and example. and what happens when thousands of such people enter public life through academics, the law and other professions, journalism and electronic media, politics, etc. The huge wall of sheer ignorance and prejudice created against Hinduism is insurmountable.

    Students from India go to the States in thousands for study and employment. Now, the new govt is thinking of even inviting American universities to set up campuses in India! In any case it is these American universities which are setting standards in the English-speaking world. Our scholars simply follow American norms; else they risk acceptability there and respectability at home! How can Indians be complacent when there is such a huge tide against them in the rest of the world?

    Chesterton pointed out (in his book Heretics) that truths turn into dogmas the moment they are disputed. Every man who utters a doubt defines a religion. Thus our religion gets defined by others by our default. One effect of honest criticism is to induce honest self appraisal. But the answer to the deliberate misinformation campaign in the age of mass communication and media cannot be splendid isolation based on notions of ancient superiority or invincibility. We have to assert contemporary relevance by continuous engagement.

    We observe that in spite of all the power of organised church, one third of Europeans and a large chunk of Americans describe themselves as not religious or having religious affiliation. But the same church groups are active in India harvesting our souls. What will happen to our religion when we become indifferent?

    Let us remember: Arjuna was right, but he was still required to fight.

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