A Case Study in Digestion of Vedic Mind Sciences?

In my other post, I explained that mind sciences is at the core of the Yogic world view and can be considered the organizing principle for the Indian civilization. Various Dharmic schools (including Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism), Sanskrit, Yoga, meditation, Pranayaam and Ayurveda were all developed to create an ecosystem for exploring the mind. Needless to say this is not generally appreciated, not even by Hindu Indians, forget the rest of the world. I myself didn’t appreciate this until a few years back when I was still an IBCD!

Why so?

One of the reasons is the systematic decoupling of the Indian mind sciences from Hinduism and, consequently, India. RM’s talk in this earlier post (India’s (unacknowledged) contributions to Mind Sciences by Rajiv Malhotra) presents numerous examples of famous westerners indulging in this appropriation and digestion. They are all from recent times (last 100 years); some are around today. I think I have found one more which can be added to that list — David Chalmers, a professor of philosophy and a cognitive scientist in NYU and Australia.

I came across this episode of NPR’s TED Radio Hour titled the Unknown Brain. Last segment of the show is on the below TED talk by Chalmers. With over 600,000 views, this is one of the most popular TED talks. Watch it before reading further –

Amazing, isn’t it?! It could hardly have been grander. With his following two “crazy” ideas, Chalmers is sketching the outlines of the next scientific revolution which might well be much more fundamental than quantum mechanics and relativity combined (!):

Idea 1: consciousness is fundamental – in the same sense as space, time, mass and charge are; he calls it his “postulate”.
Idea 2: consciousness is universal – everything is conscious, even the rocks. There is even a word for it — panpsychism!

I was stunned when I heard this talk, and not at all by the grandness of his vision or the originality of his ideas. Even a casual reader of Vedanta would recognize the ideas as the core tenets of the Vedanta, as I explain in the other post using references to a talk by Sadhguru. In fact these ideas would not be novel to any one who knows about the philosophies of any of the Indian-origin Dharmic traditions. Still, all that Chalmers says about the eastern connection is a casual side comment – these ideas are not all that alien to people from the eastern traditions. But an unsuspecting viewer might not pick it up and may well get the impression that these are radical new ideas and that Chalmers has pioneered them!

At this point, you may say – all right, he is not crediting the source adequately. Why is this such a big deal? A friend of mine actually said this to me. And he is certainly not the JNU-type with any allergy to anything Hindu. He is just confused! In other words – my target audience!

Ok, so what is the big deal? For starters, using an idea without crediting the source is considered academic misconduct. Chalmers, being a professor, ought to know this. Perhaps he is not aware of the Vedic philosophy? Possible, but unlikely. He is a philosophy professor, after all! So yes, I do suspect that he has plagiarized from Indian thinkers, but I can’t make that  claim just based on a 15 min video. I am raising a red flag, just like RM raised a red flag for Wendy Doniger, Sheldon Pollock, Devdutt Pattanaik and many more. Readers should investigate further. But certainly, if Chalmers ever applies for a patent for a product (say a new “mindfulness” app!) based on these not-really-that-crazy ideas, I hope the patent office considers Vedic mind sciences as prior art. (Related – Dr Mashelkar on The Turmeric Patent Battle and KSRI, Chennai)

Now, whether or not Chalmers has plagiarized from Indian thinkers or is “inspired” by them is not really my main concern. Ignoring the ethics of all this, look at this from the point of view of the end-user — a layman who has no exposure to this stuff but is curious about meditation, brain, mind, etc. I happen to be in that category. Recently, I have been listening to an (authentic) lectures series on Patanjali’s Yog Sutra, the master text for meditation. And I am completely awe struck by the depth, sophistication and rigor of it. Patanjali, unlike Chalmers, is not iffy about things. He does not use words like “postulate” or “crazy” to describe his theories, presumably just to be safe, in case he turns out to be wrong later! Patanjali has developed the whole thing from theory to application. And by the way, Yog Sutra is just one of the many Hindu theories of the mind.

My point is that, not only is Chalmers not original, his formulation is likely also crude. So, a new student would be well advised to refer to authentic Hindu material along side Chalmers and see which makes more sense. For me, Patanjali’s Yog Sutra is the real deal. Why would you go for something like scotch when scotch is available; or, since it is mango season now, why go for any other mango when Indian mangoes are available?! RM has often commented – the digested versions of Indian traditions are invariably inferior to the original. And it is not always due to an ulterior motive. For a westerner, it may just be due to a lack of context.

Now, let us change the point of view to that of a nation or civilization. Imagine a TED talk which starts with these words: Imagine if we could cure diseases without any chemical drugs or surgery .. just by poking on your skin with micro needles. We call this technology micropoking! And it continues for 15 min without any mention of accupunture or China. Anyone, even an IBCD, would smell something fishy. The fact that people do not associate meditation with Hinduism, in the same way as they associate accupunture with China, or, for that matter, burger with the US, shows how India has squandered its greatest soft power. Even today, in India, Vedic mind sciences are not given enough attention in school curriculum nor in medical training. The centers of excellence in mind sciences are all in the west and that is were most the innovation (new apps, courses, etc) is also happening. The situation is very much like that of yoga 25-30 years ago. India had nearly lost the adhikaar on Yoga till PM Modi intervened a few years back. Different matter that the intervention may be too little and too late. Ayurveda and meditation are fast heading in that direction.

Finally, I think I should make a disclaimer which should really not be necessary for those who know me or those who have read the rest of this blog. But then, this is on the internet and people have short attention spans! Some of you might be asking – so, you think all of modern neuroscience — fMRI based brain mapping, human-computer interfaces, artificial intelligence, moon shot projects like BRIAN — are all pointless? I never said that. And I don’t think so. But I am asserting that the Vedic mind sciences are useful and have relevance today. The object of study for both the Hindu rishis and modern neuroscience is the same – the human mind. The two approaches have to be complementary, not at conflict with each other.

[Proof reading TODO: using Hindu, Vedic, Yogic and Dharmic interchangeably. Sort out and standardize the terminology.]

Further reading:

  1. Very nice (and short!) video on the Hindu formulation of consciousness by Swami Sarvapriyananda of  Ramakrishna Mission.

 

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A wake up call for parents who read Devdutt Pattanaik to their kids

Finally! I have been hoping for a few years now for Rajiv Malhotra to expose Devdutt Pattanaik (DP). I had become suspicious of DP when he called Wendy Doniger his mentor because I knew the reality of Wendy Doniger from RM’s book Academic Hinduphobia.

The video is a conversation between RM and a Sanskrit scholar named Nityanand Misra who has studied DP’s work minutely, but from a Dharmic perspective. It is a rigorous hour-long critique. This is enough evidence for me to conclude that Devdutt Pattanaik is a quack.

This post is primarily addressed to parents who are using DP to introduce Hinduism to their kids.

Ok, so one more quack. What is the big deal? The big deal is that this quack is considered an authority on Hinduism by many, including some in my family and friends. One thing that stood out for me in this video was that most of the errors and distortions by DP are not that sophisticated. I was stunned by the अ vs आ error and the insidious definition of आस्तिक. One does not have to be a big pandit to pick these out. So more than exposing DP, this video exposes the ignorance of the people reading DP. The high popularity of DP shows how widespread this condition (of ignorance and confusion!) is.

Ok, let’s say DP is toxic. But I don’t see any good alternative to DP. I have actually heard that from a friend whom I told that DP might be toxic. First, this is a ridiculous argument. Would you take poison if you are hungry and food is not readily available? Second, this is a lazy excuse. There is plenty of good material out there. You just have to  seek it out. Lastly, you can’t preach something that you don’t practice. So before you try to teach hinduism to your kids, you should first learn. And I will be honest — for someone who has been preconditioned by the popular hinduphobic (pseudo) secular narrative, Hinduism is easy to appreciate. First you would do some serious unlearning. And then put in some serious time into reading authentic material and reflecting upon it.

Alright then, forget it. I will drop DP … and hinduism! Neither do I, nor my kids have the time for this.  The fact is that you are not dropping anything. You have ideas and opinions on everything, not only Hinduism but also every other religion. In fact, given how the world is changing you better know not only Hinduism, but also every other religion. For kids, this education is far more important than math and coding. I am not interested in converting anyone to anything. But if you are going to form opinions on Hinduism, do so based on authentic sources, not quacks like DP.

That is too big an ask. Still, let’s say I try educate my kids accordingly, can I tell if I am getting it right? There is actually a simple answer to this. While in school, as long as your kids don’t get the impression that all religions are the same, you might be fine. And by the time they are out of school, they should be absolutely clear as to why the Dharmic religions are fundamentally different from the Abrahamic religions. Note that I said different, not that any one is superior.

India’s (unacknowledged) contributions to Mind Sciences by Rajiv Malhotra

India_unacknowledged_contributions_mind_sciences_blogcover

Indian embassy in Washington DC kick started their Third International Yoga Day (2017) celebration with the below lecture by Rajiv Malhotra. The main theme of the talk was appropriation and digestion of Indian ideas and techniques by the west. It charted the developments in Mind Sciences in the West since Swami Vivekananda’s trip to the west. In one-hour Rajiv Malhotra mentioned all the people (in yellow), institutions (in red) and techniques/ideas (in blue) in the image above! That should be reason enough to watch the lecture!

Every time I hear RM speak on this topic, I realize something that I was overlooking earlier. Digestion clearly violates the ethics of academic and scientific research since the references are not properly cited and acknowledged. By weakening Indian culture and tradition, digestion also facilitates various Breaking India forces. I appreciated all this earlier.

However, all that is a problem for the Indian government and Swadeshi scholars. Should the aam aadmi care? How does it matter whether one gets the authentic version of a technique or the digested one? In other words, should it matter whether you learn Vipassana or it’s digested version of mindfulness; yog nidra vs lucid dreamingTranscendental meditation vs relaxation-response? Rajiv Malhotra argues that it does matter because the digested versions are usually just a small subset of the source body of knowledge, and often are also substandard. He mentions that authentic Vipassana is much more advanced than mindfulness, yet mindfulness is projected as the “new and improved” version and is all over the town today! In a few generations, people may not even know that something called Vipassana even existed. I can easily imagine this. Indian scriptures and rituals can be very complex with many layers of meanings and symbolism. Same idea can often be interpreted and implemented in many different ways and combined with other ideas in numerous different ways. Once the source has been reduced to one or two digested forms, such experiments will no longer be possible. Paraphrasing from the talk:

digestion effectively plucks the fruit on a tree and leaves the tree behind to atrophy thereby eliminating the possibility of future harvests.

Another thing I realized is the difference between the way rest of Asia treated knowledge from India and how the west did it and is still continuing. Buddhism spread to China, Japan and south-east Asia over millennia and steadily became less prevalent in India. Yet, Buddhist scholars and practitioners in those countries even today respectfully acknowledge their Indian roots. Western appropriators, on the other hand, go out of their way to avoid crediting India. RM gives a powerful analogy to illustrate this point:

it is like you run 100m faster than any one before and the credit goes to the guy with the clock who timed you and reported it to the world!

RM mentioned that he is writing seven books based on this talk. I can’t wait for it!

What is the Indian counterpart of American Exceptionalism?

This is a very important talk by Rajiv Malhotra delivered in Feb 2017 in New Delhi at an event organized by IGNOU. It addresses the question – what is the Indian counterpart of American exceptionalism?

The answer is – Bhartiya Exceptionalism. RM defines it, lays out the need for such a thing and compares it with the Grand Narrative of other nations. Of course, the sad thing is that there is need for articulation of Bhartiya Exceptionalism 70 years after independence!

For any student (this is, an honest student – not the Pollockian variety!) of Indian history and Hindu philosophy, it would be clear that Bhartiya exceptionalism would derive from Hindu heritage and philosophy.

The immediate next question, most likely from a confused Hindu, would be – what about the non-hindu minorities? Is there room for them? How can you right wingers be so intolerant?! First, let me remind you of the name of this blog: this-is-not-right-wing! Second – calm down. These would be non-issues in a society built on Hindu principles. That is because mutual respect (watch this short clip, ideally read Being Different) has always been a defining characteristic of Indian civilization. It has not just been an abstract idea but a ground reality and has actually facilitated integration of multiple immigrants over the ages.

So, how would we go about implementing Bhartiya exceptionalism in today’s India? Towards the end of the talk, RM clearly lays out there requirements that minorities ought to meet in order to integrate in a nation built on Hindu values. These are :-
1. Mutual respect should be a two-way street
2. Minority religions should disown foreign authority (apparently China has done this)
3. Minorities must accept the history of violence and oppression perpetrated in the name of their religions (think Aurangzeb).

I think these are perfectly reasonable requirements.

On the third point, note that no apology is being demanded from the minorities today. What is being asked is a recognition that, just like Jewish holocaust is a fact of history, so is Hindu holocaust. Anyone denying the Jewish holocaust in the west is promptly labeled fringe. But in India, Hindu holocaust deniers can easily be found writing for The Hindu, appearing on NDTV and, of course, raising slogans in JNU!

Rajiv Malhotra’s Report Card of Indian Diplomacy [Feb 2017]

Rajiv Malhotra today posted the below talk delivered in Feb 2017 at the Foreign Service Institute in Delhi which is part of the Ministry of External Affairs. I must have watched over 50 lectures by RM. This one is definitely among his greatest hits. It is full of deep insights, telling anecdotes and, of course, political incorrectness!

Some of the questions that RM addresses are:

  • Why would US and the west destabilize India? Isn’t India, being a democracy, a natural ally?
  • Are the Breaking India forces isolated and local? Or, are some foreign “grand designs” also at play?
  • How does India studies in the west compare with that of other major civilizations such as Chinese, Japanese and Islamic? Who funds it? Who controls it?

Some observations from the talk that struck me are:

  • It is not always the case that Breaking India forces are driven by Western agencies. Indians are far too eager to blame it all on the west. However, now there even are vested interest groups based in India who are duping western agencies into supporting them under the pretext of human rights, etc. It is the responsibility of Indian government to identify and weed them out.
  • Islamization of India is often pointed out as a threat to the stability of India. However, RM makes a distinction between islamization and Arabization, and says that it is the later that is the problem. Islam per se is not an issue. He points to Indonesia as a case study since, in spite of converting to Islam, it has retained the Indian civilizational identity. So religion and civilization are two different things – fascinating! He also points to the rise of Urdu in Kerala as a symptom of the problem. Urdu in Kerala – WTF?!

 

Jallikattu – Animal Rights or a Breaking India issue?

I saw this post from ShankNaad on FaceBook today:

jallikattu

Along with this text (emphasis mine):

It is only extreme cases of cruelty that need their lordships to ride in favour of hapless creatures. Jallikattu does not fall in that category. Off late we’ve seen frequent attacks on our traditional practices. These attacks are hidden behind the garb of animal rights, women rights, child rights, minority rights and so on.

Our cultural ethos, our scriptures, the roots of our belief system have ample provisions for every aforementioned groups and much more than that. Therefore, any traditional practice, if it strictly follows our scriptures, is guaranteed to be harmless against any group deemed to be one without a voice.

One doesn’t need to be a scholar of our belief system to confirm the same. Our upbringing and memory of our festivities is enough to see how that’s taken care of.
But then, how will the nexus of Indian deep state and conversion freaks of all kinds demonize your native culture and nation? Propaganda must be carried out to show us that we’ve, all this while, been a pukeworthy regressive society.

The court orders, the fatwas by NGT, the campaigns by the feminist groups, the biased outcries by animal rights groups.. they are not the end result, they are very much part of the propaganda and the actual end result is a complete disaster for us and our nation as people without their identity and core values run around in panic like headless chickens in decades to come.

I completely agree. But let me elaborate further on the topic at hand – Jallikattu.

Some might say that pointing out the cruelty of slaughter does not reduce the cruelty in Jallikattu. I agree that pointing out a greater evil does not make a lesser evil any less problematic. But selectively pointing out only the lesser evil does indicate hypocrisy. Also, it must be pointed out that the extent of animal abuse in slaughter houses that work on an industrial scale, all year round and all over the country (and world) is orders of magnitude greater than that in a once-a-year degree regional event of Jallikattu.

The degree of abuse is still not an excuse for abuse in Jallikattu, if any. For every news article or anecdote that expresses horror at the cruelty against animals in Jallikatu, I have found another report which says that either the news is fake or overblown.

My view is that any tradition, or for that matter, any institution, which has been around for hundreds of years runs a risk of accumulating distortions which may not be true to the intended spirit of the tradition. Do you think the founding fathers of US would consider the election of Trump a success of democracy as they had envisioned it? I doubt it. And would the solution be to do away with democracy or fix it? The later, I think.

Likewise, if there are distortions in Jallikattu, then it should be investigated and fixed. But it should be done by people who have respect for Indian heritage and tradition and are genuinely interested in reform, such as Sadhguru (this is what he has to say on this matter). Respect for animals and nature is a core value in Hinduism. You don’t need to learn it from these modern animal rights activists.

The Big Picture

PETA and other activists who are calling for a ban on Jallikattu, regardless of their rhetoric, are not really interested in mitigating animal abuse. In some cases, their hypocrisy is out in the open, for example in these tweets by Shoba De –

sobhade

But often it is not so obvious. To really understand the motivations of these activists, you need to look at who are funding them and why? What philosophies – Islamic, Christian, Marxist or some other – guide them? Are these activists evenly critical of all societies, cultures and countries (for example, do they have anything to say about bull fighting in Spain)?

Attacks on Jallikattu is not an isolated incident. Attacks on the Kumbh Mela, where human rights violation and caste discrimination is the cover up, are similar. These attacks are manifestations of the Breaking India forces aimed at undermining India by attacking her underlying Hindu culture. Remember that India is a relatively young and weak nation-state, but an ancient, highly developed and resilient culture-state. The Hindu culture is what defines the Indian civilization and has helped India resist colonization for nearly 1000 years. All this is explained in painstaking detail in Rajiv Malhotra’s book Breaking India.

(update) This detailed article on Indiafacts by Sankrant Sanu explains how these attacks on Hindu festivals fit into the larger strategy of Christian evangelical organizations.


Updates

  • Swamy speaking on 16-Jan-2017 in Bay Area US (watch for ~5min)
  • A first hand account of what happens in Jallikattu by Francois Gautier, an insider  journalist. It starts off like this:

I covered Jalikattu a few times and found that it was pretty harmless. Don’t let the intellectuals and the Marxists deny your Hindu inheritance, boys and girls …

Sadhguru on the Damage done by 1000 years of Colonization of India

Greatly enjoyed and impressed by Sadhguru’s views and observations in this video. It covers a wide range of topics including who is a good student and a good guru? what is leadership? what is needed for a democracy to work? 

The things that impressed me the most was Sadhguru’s take on Indian history. He says clearly that we have been colonized for 1000 years by barbarians who had no respect for the inward looking vedic culture. And the reason that we fell to these invaders was that in the pursuit of higher knowledge we neglected the mundane task of building a good army. He also explains why we did not completely vanish like the Pagans and other civilizations who were demolished by western expansions.

His take on the history of education in India also hit the nail on its head. He correctly points out that the British systematically destroyed our superior education system to create subservient clerks instead of free thinkers. More importantly, he states clearly that the situation hasn’t been remedied after independence. In other words, we are still colonized. He also hinted at the need for Swadeshi Indology.

In short, Sadhguru gets Rajiv Malhotra’s message and is doing an excellent job of propagating it.

Gurus who impart abstract Vedic spiritual and philosophical teachings are important and should be revered. However, sometimes the teachings become too abstract and world-negating. We need more gurus like Sadhguru who bridge the gap between the spiritual and the mundane and take a stand on current issues – politics, corruption (Sadhguru on Demonetization), environment, science, other religions, individual responsibility, identity, and so on. I may not always agree with their stand, but that is a different matter.

By the way, Subhash Ghai’s interruptions in the video were quite dumb!