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

Rajiv Malhotra rajiv.malhotra at WORLDNET.ATT.NET
Thu May 11 18:19:15 CDT 2000

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.
Lets define what you mean by propaganda, and apply it also to what you do.
Others' views seen as propaganda but not one's own, is the hallmark of
narrow-mindedness. Hinduism has never been narrow minded.
Our foundation gives grants to universities and schools to sponsor PhD work,
conferences and course development in areas that would focus Indic
religions. Academicians do not as a matter of principle, agree to get
influenced in what they say, because they are fiercely independent. But what
the grant giver can do is specify the topic although not the conclusions. If
that's called propaganda, then all the R&D grants must be propaganda.
India is often buried within South Asian studies, whereas China is a
department of its own. Indology departments have shrunk over the past few
years, as our survey showed, due to the reason of lack of funds, whereas
other areas grow. Many Christian philanthropists such as Templeton, have
endowed massive education to upgrade Christianity's portrayal. Hinduism has
had few sponsors in education and in this country that matters. Successful
Hindus are generally not so generous.
Honesty, I don't think any of this is what bothers you. You probably don't
like someone to disagree with you, and that all there is to it.

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.
20 pages. I would very much appreciate your comments if you would be
interested. It is based on textbook analysis, web site analysis etc. of
non-Hindu portrayal of Hinduism Your views above are the typical superficial
ideas most Indians have. America is a culture that is big on politeness and
being politically correct, so they will not tell you on your face.

Have you done surveys with Americans on such topics as the following:
What percentage think Hinduism is pagan, believing in many gods?
Is Kali a vampire, or some sort of worship of evil deity?
Is Shiva a sex god because of the Shiva linga?
Is Hinduism world negating, resulting in no social committment, hence the
chaos and poverty in India?

I have a whole list of such stereotypes resulting from years of surveys in
schools and colleges. Mine are conclusions not based on an ivory tower
opinion, but hands-on engagement with grass-roots America on the specific
topic of what the public thinks of Hinduism ESPECIALLY what they don't talk
about. We are now in the process of sponsoring a major Princeton market
research firm to do an opinion poll, whose results would be used to educate
the media on how their stereotyping can hurt the image of a community.

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.
I agree with you. Hate not the person but only the ignorance and prejudice.
I also feel that hatred cannot be fought with hatred, only with
understanding. That is what the sadhana has to be, to upgrade understanding
through education that is unbiased and friendly to all religions.

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.
I agree with this also, which is why VHP or any type of politicization of
religion is bad. Only education can help build pluralism in society.

I'm not suggesting one cannot learn anything from Buddhism.  The fact is
Advaita Vedanta stands for certain things.  As a result it stands against
certain other things.  Many of the Buddhist ideas fall in the against
I am not so sure on this. Many Buddhist ideas and Vedanta are the same in
different words, as is Kashmir Shaivism. But Vedanta could have been the
Brahmin response to the non-Brahmin Buddhism. The latter disenfranchised
Brahmins as the exclusive keepers of knowledge, the only ones to perform
ceremonies (for a fee), the only ones allowed to recite the scriptures, etc.
They had turned it into proprietary know how just like Microsoft Windows. So
Buddha, Jainas, Kashmir Shaivists, and later Nanak, were among those who
taught the same or very similar truths WITHOUT relying upon the Vedas as
their source. That's what the fight was about. Its just like someone
launching something very similar to Windows that is in the public domain. It
would be a threat to Microsoft.

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.
Which is exactly why we want to facilitate such seminars so that different
voices can be heard and people can make their own minds.
The problem historically has been that Hindus left their portrayal to others
to do, be it history, or religious studies, or philosophy. The result is
what we now have (despite the fact that you go in your dhoti, which I am
very glad to hear about).
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?
That's the group I am thinking about. In academics, only 1% study Hinduism,
It's the other 99% whose attitude towards Hinduism is to be upgraded. This
is not a good attitude today. Hindus often feel a taboo and prefer to low
profile their religion. The dynamics is that many of Hinduism's ideas belong
to philosophy departments, cognitive sciences and medicine. But these
departments relabel as their own whatever they learnt of Hinduism. So the
portrayal of Hinduism is reduced to anthropology, meaningless rituals,
caste, women's abuses, etc.
The K-12 school level textbooks now have Hinduism included as culture or
history or religion. That is what 70 millions American students are being
exposed to. It starts with the Harvard Plurality project and Univ of
Chicago, and a couple of other places that got the govt. grants. These
materials then get used to write school texts which are taught by teachers
who know next to nothing about Hinduism. Once your kids go through the
school system, you will have greater sympathy for what I have learnt.
Otherwise, the bird's eye view which is so typical is not to be relied upon.
One must get into the details of the education system, its structure,
funding, politics etc to know who and what controls the portrayal.
Islamic leaders organized a council to review all textbooks from leading
publishers and advise changes to ensure nothing negative goes in.

 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.
I am so glad to hear this, and feel very proud that there are leaders such
as yourself so committed.

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.
What kept it alive is that its like a banyan tree with many trunks, roots
etc. There has never been just one truth for all, simply many views each
relative because the absolute is beyond all views. So we cannot turn it into
an ossified dogma like the prophet based religions have become. There is
constant revelation and not just one single historical revelation controlled
by some privileged group.

bhava shankara deshikame sharaNam

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