Why the Hindus do not Convert?

One aspect of Hinduism that is more widely accepted, even by the outsiders, is that Hindus do not evangelize. Forget trying to convert others, often parents do not impose their beliefs on children. It is not uncommon to find members of the same family praying to different Gods, and some not praying at all! No Indian ruler has waged a war in order to spread his faith. And even if a particular belief or philosophy received royal patronage, it was not to supplant the current belief system, but just to complement it.

 Although widely accepted, I don’t think this aspect of Hinduism is widely appreciated, even by Hindus. Let me explain. The goal of any practicing Hindu is to achieve Moksha – freedom from suffering. Now if you think you have found a way to achieve Moksha, would you not be motivated to “spread the word” to your family and friends. In fact, would it not be incredibly selfish to not do so? And yet Hindus don’t convert!

 The reason, as I see it, is a deep understanding that every person is different – in terms of prakriti (nature, temperament, intellect) and samskar (past experiences, including previous lives). As a result, the path to Moksha for you may not work for someone else. In fact, every one needs to search for their own path uniquely customized for them, usually by a Guru. That is why Hindus call themselves seekers, not believers.

I have come up with an mantra stating this is in a more tongue in cheek manner: Your Moksha is not my problem; and mine shouldn’t be yours. 🙂

Advertisements

FAQs: Why now? (And the Importance of Rajiv Malhotra)

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.

FAQs: Why this blog?

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 the best documented, but strong data is available going back to at least early AD.

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.

Is there such a thing as single India?

.. or is it just a collection of linguistically, culturally and geographically disjoint entities?

It is a common question by people who still have a colonial hangover. This is what Rajiv Malhotra has to say –

(~4min from where the video begins)

I completely agree. India is much more than a country, it is a civilization in continuous existence for atleast 8000 years. Will add more supporting evidence in due course.

 

India Has to Be its Own Cultural Ambassador, But it Has to Be Scientific About it

Read this interview with Manjul Bhargava posted on thewire.in on 19 Jan 2016. Completely agree with the thoughtful and measured views of Manjul Bhargava. Introduction from the article:

On January 2, Princeton University mathematician and 2014 Fields Medallist Manjul Bhargava delivered a lecture at the Madras Sanskrit College, Chennai, on the connection between Sanskrit and mathematics. Over 75 minutes, he touched upon ancient Indian contributions to advancing number theory and geometry, the importance of preserving their historic contexts, and what institutions like Sanskrit College can do to legitimise modern debates over India’s claims to primacy. Edited excerpts of his speech follow.

In other interviews Manjul Bhargava has cautioned against over hyping Indian contributions to science and technology. There are many important contributions which can be backed up by solid evidence. Let’s just stick to them.

One work that does a great job of collecting such contributions is Dr Alok Kumar’s book Sciences of the Ancient Hindus: Unlocking Nature in the Pursuit of Salvation. I will post a review of this book at some point. Interestingly, Rajiv Malhotra’s Infinity Foundation has funded a project to design a school curriculum based on this book. A great idea!

 

 

 

Response to Shatavadhani Ganesh’s review of The Battle for Sanskrit

This is indeed a thorough and critical review of Rajiv Malhotra’s book The Battle for Sanskrit,  befitting a scholar of Shatavadhani Ganesh’s standing. SG admits the influence of Pollock and the need for opposing people like Pollock who are undermining Sanskrit and Sanskriti. Infact he provides explicit material to strengthen RM critique of Pollock in the appendix “Additional Approaches to Counter Pollock”. I hope SG expands this appendix to a full article.  

Given all this it is somewhat puzzling that SG can not bring himself to fully support RM; he supports the spirit of RM’s mission, though. It seems to me that SG is primarily bothered by RM’s presentation of the finer aspects of Hindu tradition and philosophy – idea of transcendence; blurred boundaries between sastra, kavya, and veda; epistemologies of adhibhuta, adhidaiva, and adhyatma; scope of dharshana and dhyana, etc. And yes, these are finer aspects for a large majority of Hindus, including myself.

Does SG really believe that the current social, political, and even academic environment in India is conducive to such lofty discussions? 

Let me illustrate the importance of what RM is doing using my own example.

I grew up in India in the 80s and 90s in a Hindu family. I went to top CBSE schools and an ‘ivy league’ engineering college in India — a privileged upbringing and best education by any standards. However, nothing in my education at home or in school exposed me to the philosophical underpinnings of the Hindu tradition. At an individual level, Hinduism for me was effectively what RM calls ‘transactional hinduism’ and at a community level it was about festivals and rituals. And at the political level it was about caste, cows and Ram mandir. In effect, a lay Hindu in India is completely unaware of the deep philosophical basis of the Hindu tradition. And if you add to that the idea that origin of modern science and technology in the west involved rebelling against religion, you end up with the mindset that I had just out of college. Forget being proud of my heritage, I had become cynical about it and at best I thought of it as a glorious past which belonged in the past.

And I was not an outlier – most of my highly educated Hindu friends had the same attitude.

Then I came across the work of RM a few years back and it completely changed my views. Suddenly it all made sense. I understood that my previous mindset was an outcome of a massive multi-century social engineering program that was started by the likes of Max Mueller, institutionalized by the British and pretty much continued forward post-independence. If anything it became more vicious due to people like ‘pandit’ Pollock and his Indian followers. Now I am enraged, but not surprised by commentaries in defense of Pollock by people like Ananya Vajpayee in leading Indian newspapers like Hindu! At a personal level, I am no longer ashamed or apologetic about my heritage. On the contrary, I am motivated to go deep into it, not with an attitude of cynicism, but one of shraddha.   

But now I am an outlier!

Most of my friends continue to have the same pseudo-secular anti-Hindu attitude and think of me as fringe or right wing (hence the title of this blog!).

My point is that if SG really wants to elevate the discourse to the level of his critique here, then the first step has to be winning the battle that RM has outlined. I learned a lot from this review and I hope SG uses his deep understanding of the subject to mentor the ‘home team’, not undermine it.

Additional Reading

Other analysis of SG’s review:

  1. By Aditi Banerji on 27 March 2016 (link)
  2. By Raja Bhardawaj on 27 March 2016 (link)
  3. By Druvid A CRITIQUE OF DR.GANESH’S CRITICAL REVIEW OF RAJIV MALHOTRA’S ‘THE BATTLE FOR SANSKRIT’ on March 26 2016 (link)
  4. By Rajiv Malhotra A preliminary response to Shatavadhani Ganesha on 26 March 2016 (link)
  5. By Sejuti Banerjea A Laymans Response To Shatavadhani Ganesh on 26 March 2016 (link)
  6. By SureshVure RESPONSE TO SHATAVADHANI GANESH on 29 March 2016
    (link)
  7. By Rajiv Malhotra – full response posted on April 4, 2016 in two parts (part 1, part2). For me these two articles are the last word on this debate! Must read.

Appendix

With that background, here are some specific comments on SG’s review:

  1. SG makes the following observations regarding RM’s contributions and his mission: 

This is not a new battle. It has been fought before, and won before. We (Malhotra included) have to humbly submit to the fact that we are merely trying to continue the great scholarly tradition.

The battle for Sanskrit and Sanskriti is not a new one.

.. Malhotra writes in several places that he is the first person to undertake such a task (see pp. 27, 44, or 379, for example), which as we know is false.

He provides extensive bibliography of “past masters” who countered the ‘outsiders.’ I am not aware of most of these masters but will now try to seek out their works. As for how much credit should RM get, I have explained his impact above.

I will just add that the scope of this battle is huge and I hope the other scholars would do the same kind of outreach as what RM does — write books explaining things for a common Indian, visit college campuses and make their lectures videos available broadly.

2. SG writes

.. it is noteworthy that Time has been unkind to theories and approaches that have been against the spirit of sanatana dharma.

In principle, I agree with SG here but perhaps this time is different.

The ground reality is that Pollock is being awarded the Padma Bhusan and made the head of Murty Library of Classics! The influence of western indologists is deep and too close to home. 

Moreover, in this age of social media it is not difficult to spread false propaganda. Nevertheless, I do not believe in any sort of censorship. I just want equal representation for both the insider and outsider views. It is then up to an individual to pick his side.

  1. SG writes

[RM] aims to show that Hinduism is exclusivist in its own way and its exclusivism is somehow better than other exclusivist faiths like Christianity or Islam (see his previous book, Being Different).

RM books and lectures do not give me this impression. He has repeatedly and explicitly said that dissent and diversity of thought are unique strengths of the Hindu tradition and must be preserved.

  1. SG writes

That said, Malhotra’s analysis of European Orientalism and its latter variant, what he terms ‘American Orientalism’ is reasonably accurate. When the British scholars came in contact with Indian knowledge systems in the 18th and 19th centuries, they faced a worldview vastly different from theirs. Instead of understanding the Indian view in Indian terms, they force-fitted what they observed into the worldview they were familiar with. Added to this, there was the White Man’s Burden that egged them to ‘civilize’ the people they conquered. This led to a gross misrepresentation of the Indian culture and this would later become, ironically, the primary source for educated Indians to learn about their own culture. This viewing of India through the Western lens has given rise to several erroneous conclusions and Malhotra makes this point numerous times in his book (to the extent that he could have saved many pages had he chosen not to repeat himself).

Very well put. Completely agree. But this is not common understanding and more scholars need to make this point .. repeatedly!

Romila Thapar dethroned .. finally!

This might well be the most important thing that Modi government has done so far! Hope  many more will follow.

Humanity departments in Indian academia need to be cleaned up by removing leftists and pseudo-secular scholars like Romila Thapar and Irfan Habib. Once the clean up is done, it should be massively funded to enable original and unbiased Swadeshi Indology. Projects like Murthy library of classics should be undertaken by Indian universities.

I think this is even more important than boosting  science and technology. Of course, both should be done.