- Has heard of Manusmriti, but not Mandukya Upanishads. And of course hasn’t read either!
- Does not know the difference between western concepts of faith, religion and soul vs Indian counterparts of shraddha, dharma and aatma.
- Does not understand that the western idea secular thought is not a prerequisite for scientific temper.
- Does not appreciate that Indian philosophy framework can naturally absorb evidence and ideas from modern science.
- .. <additional inputs from readers!>
Well, because it is not, but the state of public discourse today is such that any mention of Indian philosophy and heritage is promptly labeled as right wing or hindutva or communal. The fact of the matter is if I urge Hindus to learn Vedantic philosophy, and you read between the lines a message of anti-muslim, or anti-christian or anti-anyone, then it is you who is communal, not me.
Still there is always a possibility of written word being taken out of context and misrepresented. So let me explicitly address a few misconceptions that I have personally come across.
So, you want to convert everyone to Hindu? First read my post on the issue of conversion and let me repeat the mantra – Your Moksha is not my problem, and mine shouldn’t be yours! The target audience for this blog is Indian Born Confused Desis. Evidence and arguments highlighted in this blog helped me to remove my confusion. It might help other IBCDs too. At best you can say that I want Hindus to convert to Hinduism.
So, you want to punish current generations to correct the wrongs of History? I do not believe in correcting the wrongs of history by punishing, or for that matter, rewarding current generations. I have no doubt that the British colonial rule over India was unequivocally malicious and damaging for India. But that does not mean that Indians today should hate Brits or the two governments should not cooperate, etc. Likewise, I do not believe in rewarding any caste with non-merit based reservations today to fix the injustices of the past.
So, you want to revert the whole society to how it was in Vedic times? Whenever I talk about the foundations of Hindu philosophy or scientific achievements of ancient Hindus, invariably someone would say – so you want everyone to shun modern living and live in a kutiya (hut) in the jungle?! This is ridiculous, let alone impractical since there isn’t enough jungle out there to support the current population!
I am not a Vedic romanticist. I am merely open to the idea that the Vedic and, more generally, Dharmic traditions may have something useful to offer for the current age, and I am curious to find that out. I feel that Yoga and Ayurveda may just be the tip of the iceberg. So let’s explore more and adopt things that may still be relevant.
- From this 2016 blog post of RM
For instance, Pandit Yudhishthir Mimansak was one of the greatest scholars of Sanskrit grammar in the 20th century. His writings were largely printed by small-scale regional publishing houses, and he lived in poverty and suffered greatly from illness during his last years. If he were alive today, his writings would be accused as being those of a Hindu Nationalist, just as many of the living scholars in Ganesh’s list are unfairly branded.
I became interested in Indian history and Hindu philosophy 7-8 years back in grad school. I could readily find examples of distortions and misrepresentation in not just popular media, but also scholarly literature. Perhaps the most glaring example of distortion of history is the Aryan Invasion Theory – a completely bogus theory which is still taught and widely accepted. Then the whole caricature of Hindu Gods based on a Freudian analysis of Hindu texts and mythologies. And the overly simplistic and demeaning portrayal of Indian culture as “caste, curry and cows” (another phrase from Rajiv Malhotra).
Along side all this negativity, I also started reading on the Vedantic philosophies. And was blown away by the depth and complexity of the ideas. Easily at par with the greatest ideas of modern science and western philosophy.
So I had a sense that the current popular understanding of Hinduism was out of whack. But I was not sure why this was the case? Who exactly was propagating it and what was their motivations (hint – it is not simply a case of vote bank politics)? Why was no one calling out the distortions? And in any case, what could an aam aadmi like me do about it?!
Then I came across Rajiv Malhotra’s books and lectures, particularly Breaking India. And got the answers to a lot of the questions above. I understood that these problems were in the making over a long multi-century period and were much more widespread than I had imagined. So the question of what I could contribute beyond educating myself became all the more vexing.
But what jolted me out of the intellectual musings into action was RM’s recent book The Battle for Sanskrit. By focusing on Sheldon Pollock, he converted the previously abstract and diffused kurukshetra into a real and immediate battle. More on the book in a separate post.
On the common argument that history is always biased
I have often heard people say that any history is biased and one can only get the side of the victor. There is a tendency to take this argument so far as to even suspend simple logic (e.g., if author A refers to author B, then B lived before A or the two were contemporaries) and cast doubts on hard facts (e.g., historical dates based on modern dating methods or an astronomical observation or a geological event). Such a study of historical facts is sometimes referred to as descriptive history. There is no room for subjectivity here; you can’t have different winner and loser views. Also it should be noted that hard evidence is more readily available for more recent times. British colonial period and Mughal period are very well documented, but strong data is available going back to at least early CE.
So, one of the goals of this blog is to set the record straight. Yes, it is crooked now. I will present examples in other posts.
On subjectivity in interpretation
Once you have described how things were, the next step is to try and explain why they were like that. This is where subjectivity enters and there can be multiple points of views. Now we enter the realm of prescriptive history.
Let’s say archaeologists found a 6000 year old sculpture showing two men, a woman and a monkey at their feet. The location of the sculpture and its age cannot be a matter of debate. But there can be many ways of interpreting the findings. For instance, one could say that it depicts three humanoids and one robotic monkey, or ordinary humans with a pet monkey, or animal rights violation in ancient times!
Or one could give a Dharmic interpretation – it depicts Ram, Lakshman, Sita and Hanuman from the epic Ramayana. Rajiv Malhotra calls this the insider view.
[And, by the way, this example is based on a real excavation in Iraq!]
There is no way to settle this beyond all doubt. The most you can do it try and find as much supporting evidence for your interpretation as possible. And doing so without cherry picking to support your point of view – a commonly used tactic to distort history.
Most academic scholars in the west and sizeable number in India interpret Hindu history from an adharmic or an outsider angle. The dharmic angle is either not presented or, if presented, dismissed using spurious evidence and flawed logic. The distortions have crept into Indian news media and even school textbooks.
So, another goal of this blog is to put forth the Dharmic angle. Basically provide an alternative point of view which is not easily available in mainstream academia or media.