Antiquity of Advaita Vedanta (was Re: An Open Letter to All)

Jaldhar H. Vyas jaldhar at BRAINCELLS.COM
Thu May 11 11:34:10 CDT 2000

On Thu, 11 May 2000, Rajiv Malhotra wrote:

> Yes, but as a relative matter, Thailand cannot be put in the same state of
> poverty as India.

And in India the state of poverty is different relatively between Gujarat
and Kerala and Orissa.  And within Gujarat it is relatively different
between Rajkot, and Vadodra, and Junagadh.  Within Rajkot...  you get the
picture.  The intention was not to slam Buddhists in particular, but to
demonstrate how ludicrous are simplistic notions such as "we have brains,
they have heart."  Culture and religion are just two factors in
determining the state of a society.  One could note the Thai economy is
Capitalistic while India only recently began shedding off backward
socialist practices.  Or that India is a huge country of many languages,
while Thailand is relatively small and homogenous.  There are many, many
different issues and it does not pay to lump them all together.

> Tibet has the worst kind of slavery now. Also, Tibet has always acknowledged
> its gratitude to India. It has become a safe haven for India's wisdom when
> India was dominated by muslims and then Christians.

Apart from specifically Buddhist ones, there are only a small number of
rather unimportant works which were lost in India and preserved in
Tibet.  Particularly in the North, Vedic culture suffered a heavy blow
from the impact of Islam but it was hardly a fatal one.

> Given Tibet's excellent and well deserved image in the West, and given
> Hinduism's unfortunate 'taboo' image in the West, my projects to enhance
> Hinduism's image depend heavily on cooperation with Tibetans and Buddhists,

So you are basically engaged in propoganda?  Propoganda for a good cause I
agree but propoganda nonetheless.  I suggest enhancing the substance is a
much more worthwile project then enhancing the image.

And what if you pardon me asking is exactly wrong with the image of
Hinduism in the popular mind anyway?  Every day, I'm out and about in New
York city wearing a shikha, tilaka and rudraksha mala.  Now that the
weather is warm, I'll wear a dhoti too.  In other words the fact that I am
a Hindu is out in the open for everyone to see.  I can honestly say I have
encountered very little negative reaction.  Mostly curiousity and a lot of
good will.  So I don't see what the fuss is about.

> who have been extremely helpful and supportive. We are now creating a
> unified Indic religions front in America to deal with the aggressive
> Greco-Semitic religions of Judaism, Christianity, Islam.

Did you know there are several Muslim readers of this list?  (Through the
web interface.  I don't think any are actually subscribed right now but
one was once.)  At least one of them based on what I know of him could be
deemed a fundamentalist.  I have several friends and aquaintences who are
fundamentalist Christians and Jews.  Of course we disagree on many things
but I don't live in fear of them.  Why would I want to join a united front
against my friends?  Why would I want to be friends with someone just
because they are "Indic"?  Greco-Semites are not the enemy.  Ignorance is
the enemy wherever it comes from.

This the the problem I have with the VHP types and "modern" Hinduism in
general.  It is based on paranoia.  Lacking any kind of inner principles
of their own, modernists define themselves as not-christians or
not-muslims.  Such a negative outlook is inherently unstable.

> Each person has a different experience. My spiritual journey benefited
> greatly from many sources both Vedantic and Buddhist, especially Madhyamika.

Actually several readers of this list would agree with you.  I'm not
suggesting one cannot learn anything from Buddhism.  The fact is that
Advaita Vedanta stands for certain things.  As a result it stands against
certain other things.  Many of the Buddhist ideas fall in the against

> My foundation sponsored a course and conference at Columbia University on
> this very subject of Vedanta-Buddhism principles. It was called
> "Nondualism". The consensus from both sides was that there was so much in
> common that the historical differences were probably exaggerated for
> political (caste) reasons.

This is why I take a lot of Indological work with a large pinch of salt.
It is often guesswork, or pet theories dressed up in fancy words instead
of facts.  Whether or not the differences were exaggerated, they are ther
in plain sight for anyone who cares to look at the evidence.

> In any case, one must be practical above all theory. In the US, Hindus are
> 1%, Buddhists (including American) probably another 2%. The remaining 97%
> are Greco-Semitic religions. 50% of Americans are fundamentalists to varying
> degrees. The risk is from the Christian Right, not of Buddhists.
> Have you surveyed what the textbooks say about Hinduism? I have done a
> review of these stereotypes in American Academics.

The risk (in India as much as America) is that without new generations
having knowledge, values, and purpose, Hinduisim will degenarate into a
hollow shell of style over substance.  Ignorance is capable of doing what
a thousands Aurangzebs are unable to do.

As we are speaking practically, What does it matter what American
academics think?  Only a miniscule number of people will ever even read
those textbooks.  In my daily life it is postal workers, bank managers,
waiters, and subway riders I have to deal with not professors.  Have you
reviewed what *they* think about Hinduism?  What about the children of the
immigrants who have never lived in India?  What do they think of Hinduism?
Do they even think of Hinduism?

I belong to that group.  I'm 29 years old.  I was born in England, and
have lived there and in America my entire life.  If I am able to help
others know about our heritage today, it is because my parents and
teachers refused to water it down just to make me or someone else
comfortable.  I know other people my age who were brought up the same way.
We hold that our eternal Dharma is more important than any other purpose
in life and the world must be adapted to it, not it to the world.

This is the future of Hinduism in this country.  Attempts at compromise
will eventually fade away.  This is not just a matter of theology but
sociology.  Many ethnic groups have come to America before us.  All have
had this exact debate.  All have come to the same conclusion--or perished.

> The Buddhists have become
> supporters of Hinduism to offset this Christian bashing of Hinduism. So lets
> keep all factors in mind before we become rash.

Sorry I absolutely refuse to tailor eternal truths to trifling political
considerations and will use any avenue available to me to urge others to
refuse also.  That rashness has kept our religion alive for thousands of
years and will keep it alive for thousands more.

> The context today has changed from the debates during Shankara's times. But
> many persons are still stuck in the past. Lets understand what we face here
> and now and then develop accordingly. Ours is not a static religion based on
> one single revelation. It keeps evolving and growing with the times. In that
> spirit, lets reassess Buddhism's value as part of the banyan tree of Indic
> religions.

Of course our religion is not static.  Are we not having this conversation
via the Internet, the pinnacle of todays technology?  Let's drop this
canard about living in the past.  Advaita Vedanta and its teachings are
valid for today, yesterday and tomorrow.  Let us each try to understand
and practice them to the fullest and then worry about what other people
are doing.

Jaldhar H. Vyas <jaldhar at>

bhava shankara deshikame sharaNam

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