Dharmic Forest and Judeo-Christian Desert

An interesting excerpt from Rajiv Malhotra’s book Being Different:

In the West, the forest is often seen as a place of chaos, confusion and bewilderment; it is the ‘dark wood’ of Dante, the place where ‘the straight way is lost’).109 The desert is the place of illumination, where truth in all its black-and-white absolutism and starkness is revealed. It is also empty, barren and flat. In contrast, the forest in Dharmic traditions is a place of refuge, hospitality and profound spiritual inspiration.

Sri Aurobindo uses a forest analogy to show some essential differences between Indian and Western spiritual philosophy:

The endless variety of Indian philosophy and religion seems to the European mind interminable, bewildering, wearisome, and useless; it is unable to see the forest because of the richness and luxuriance of its vegetation; it misses the common spiritual life in the multitude of its forms. But this infinite variety is itself, as Vivekananda pertinently pointed out, a sign of a superior religious culture. The Indian mind has realized that the Supreme is the Infinite; it has perceived, right from its Vedic beginnings, that to the soul in Nature the Infinite must always present itself in an endless variety of aspects.

A Word of Advice to Prospective Indology Students

The very first Swadeshi Indology conference was held at IIT Madras from 6-8th July 2016. The conference was by organized Prof KS Kannan from Jain University, Bangalore and was inspired by Rajiv Malhotra’s book The Battle for Sanskrit which was a purva-paksha of the entire body of work of Prof Sheldon Pollock at Columbia University, NYC. The conference was essentially a uttar-paksha or a rebuttal of specific papers of Pollock which was chosen by the organizers. This youtube playlist contains six talks in the section titled “Pollock’s Position on Shastras”.

Around 20 papers were presented and recordings of some have already been posted on youtube. Check out the welcome address by Prof KS Kannan which sets the stage of the conference. The historic nature of this conference should be evident from Prof Kannan’s remark that we have gathered here to do something that has not been attempted for at least 800 years.

That something is a critique of the western indology from an Indian perspective. Given Rajiv Malhotra’s book was released earlier this year and the conference was announced just three months ago, it was a big success. The best testimony for this is Rajiv Malhotra’s remark in his closing address that he is no longer feeling alone and that there is now a home team to respond to western indology ideas. These comments by RM are huge! Because the real battle is in India. Nothing that people like Pollock or Wendy Doniger write or say would have any impact if people in India could immediately see through their prejudices and ulterior motives.

So here is my advice to new research scholars of indology who are looking for an advisor –  As part of your literature survey, read every thing that Rajiv Malhotra has written and what comes out of the Swadeshi Indology conferences. The work of Pollock, Doniger and the like is getting discredited rapidly, and no longer just by Rajiv Malhotra. If you still decide to work with these folks, then all I can say to you is to study hard .. very hard! Because in 5-7 years from now, when you will be out of school and looking for a position, you might well have to defend your thesis before the Swadeshi scholars. By then Swadeshi Indology may become main stream or may be well on course to becoming mainstream and you may find yourself to be part of the fringe. Whenever you write a paper, just consider the possibility that one day it might be in the list of papers to be critiqued in the call for a future Swadeshi Indology conference.

May be I am wrong. But what if I am not?!


  • 09-Dec-2016: In an hour long talk at the Indira Gandhi National Council of Arts (IGNCA), New Delhi, Rajiv Malhotra gave a sweeping history of videshi indology over the last 200 years and then made a powerful case for Swadeshi Indology. I am sure that a lot of old school people in the audience must have gotten very uncomfortable!
  • 22-Aug-2016: update by Rajiv Malhotra on his mailing list –

Thanks to the great effort of the IFI team, they now have commitments from a major GOI organization to support the second conference inckuding funding, as well as another large funding from a corporate group.

This means:

  • a much bigger event than SI-1. Travel, etc paid within India.
  • Besides stipends for each paper, there will also be a prize of INR 70,000 for the best 10 papers.
  • Publishing of papers in a prestigious manner.
  • Continuity for multiple years of this series has been promised by the sponsors.
  • Many more topics than Pollock will be added, in subsequent conferences after SI-2 is over.

Please see the web site for SI: http://swadeshiindology.com/#

  • The SI-1 menu at top gives videos, powerpoints, etc of all talks, etc for 1st the conference that just finished in Chennai. This structure/presentation will get further improved over time.
  • The SI-2 menu choice gives you the call for papers, plus it has 4 summary papers on Pollock on 4 key topics from the list of 10 topics highlighted about his work. This is intended to help potential scholars interested in participating get a head start. We have a small team available to guide serious scholars on Pollock’s work to make it easier for them to respond to him.

Please read the call for papers and respond as required therein, if you are interested or someone you know is a good scholar.

Additional reading:

This is how Hinduism and India is taught in the West

Here’s an analogy to describe how Hinduism and India is taught to students in Western schools and colleges. Mind you, in most cases, this is the first time the students are encountering Hinduism in any serious manner.

The analogy is of teenagers in a driving school.

In the first lecture at a driving school, while the students still have the option of opt-ing out (with full refund!), the school will likely show videos of some one driving a car through scenic landscapes, or of a race car zooming past the background, and other enticing videos. And they will talk about the freedom which comes from driving. If not romantically positive, at the very least, it will be utilitarian – you will have greater job opportunities if you know how to drive. Then, once the student is in, they will get to the technical aspects of steering control, gears, etc and hands-on training. This will go on for a few months till the student is a confident driver. Then in the last lecture, they will talk about the potential risks. They may show videos of crashing or burning cars. But they will also tell you that all the hazards can be avoided if certain precautions are followed. They will be very clear that driving per se is not the problem, the real problem is not following proper traffic rules and safety precautions.

At the end of the course, the student will be confident and eager to drive and encourage his friends to do the same.

Now contrast that with how Hinduism and India is taught –

The course typically begins with multiple lectures full of gruesome videos of crashing  and burning cars, statistics of the number of people injured or killed, and so on [read – caste oppression, primitive, archaic, regressive, rigid, ..]. Then in the middle technical part of the course, it will be all about how the machine and the humans can go wrong [read – mechanics of how the evils manifest in the form of weird Gods, esoteric mantras, Brahmin supremacy, ..]. How one cannot count on other drivers on the road following traffic rules. They will point out that the there are continuous explosions in the internal combustion engine and how easy it is for the explosions to go out of control! [read – the whole system is fundamentally broken] Of course, there is no room for the romantically positive or even the utilitarian aspects.

At the end of the course, forget driving himself, the student will be scared just by watching a car on the TV!

Which one do you think is the right way of teaching a civilization?








Why Gurus should not talk Science!

One of my pet peeves with Hindu Gurus is how they talk about science. It is often something to the effect of what was known to our ancient Rishis, modern science is realizing only now. I have seen this happen in between an impeccable presentation of some deep Vedantic thought. Such a digression into science during a discourse often fails because Gurus mess up the science. At best the analogies do not work, and, at worst, the science is factually wrong. As my friend said – run away, as soon as a Guru utters quantum mechanics! By the way, rediscovery of ancient knowledge by modern science, if done independently, does not make modern science any less impressive.

The thing is that the Guru does not stand to gain anything here. The lay audience doesn’t care about science, while it puts off the scientifically literate audience. Even worse is that it gives ammunition to (pseudo) secularists who can point out that Gurus embrace science as long as it agrees with them, and when there is disagreement they start using phrases like higher consciousness, sat chit anand, etc. Javed Akhtar made this point in this debate with Sadhguru. This is the only place in the debate where I agree with Javed Akhtar, otherwise Akhtar is at his obnoxious best throughout the interview.

Such conduct by Gurus strikes seems strange to me because they would often like to say that the spiritual knowledge that they are imparting is more valuable and powerful than any other knowledge. Why then do they need the approval of modern science? By the way, I do believe that Vedantic teachings are incredibly enlightening and thank the Gurus for imparting that knowledge.

So, is it ever okay for Gurus to talk science?

The answer to this question is best given by an anecdote that Rajiv Malhotra often relates: A westerner asks a Tibetan Buddhist monk (his name sounds like Tai Sipuren Che) – Is Buddha same as Christ? The monk responds: I have dedicated my life to Buddha and have studied his teachings; So I can tell you all about Buddha, then you can decide if he is same as Christ. Likewise, Gurus should stick to Vedanta or what ever philosophy they know and let the scientists in the audience determine if science agrees with what he is saying.

Let me make this more concrete with some examples. No guru should talk about quantum mechanics till he can write down the Schrodinger equation and solve it for the electron in a hydrogen atom! No guru should talk space-time relativity till he can write down the Lorentz transformation. No guru should talk genetics, till he can explain the difference between driver and carrier mutations. No guru should talk artificial intelligence, till he can code a Hidden Markov Model. By the way, all this is undergrad level science. So knowing the answers to these questions is a necessary condition, not a sufficient one!