Jaldhar H. Vyas jaldhar at BRAINCELLS.COM
Fri May 12 11:36:59 CDT 2000

On Fri, 12 May 2000, Rajiv Malhotra wrote:

> To Mr. Vyas:
> In the spirit of our great tradition, let us focus on pramanas and not just
> conclusions. Each side in the Indian debating tradition has the right to
> question the other's methodology, and if the methodology is not sound then
> its just an opinion and no more.

I certainly agree with that. Let me say right now that my opinions on the
socio-political aspects of Advaita Vedanta are just that--my
opinions.  They are I think informed opinions based not justs on the texts
and thinkers of the tradition but my own experiences and observations of
attempting to put those tenets into practice in the world.

> POINT ONE: As long as you base your discussion on text analysis, I
> have great respect for what you have been writing. But the moment you
> get into social-political-cultural aspects, particularly concerning
> contemporary American life as it pertains to Hinduism, I wish you
> question your pramanas. It is NOT valid means of truth to say that
> when one man wearing a dhoti gets no ill-treatment, or if one man gets
> served vegetarian food respectfully, that it implies that there is no
> prejudice against Hinduism. There are two flaws with your pramana: (1)
> One man is not a statistically valid sample.

I agree.  However I think you are putting to much faith in statistics.
For example, If I am 4 feet tall and I'm apply to the NBA to be a
basketball player, arguing "the average height of my ethnic group is 6
feet 6 inches." won't get me anywhere.  Statistics tells you the average
trend.  It doesn't tell you anything about any particular point on the

Now  back to our subject, you're saying you have detected evidence of bias
against Hinduism.  Ok I believe you but what does that mean to me in my
life?  Apparently nothing.  So as not to appear selfish, let me also ask
what does this mean for my community?  Is anyone being prevented from
practicing Hinduism?  Are they losing their jobs, or being attacked?  Are
mandirs being burned down or anything?  In New Jersey we have a very large
Gujarati community, I'd say I know what's going on in it, My mother is
very active in organizations.  If there was some systematic repression of
Hinduism going on, I think i'd know about it.  If there are incidents
going on they should be dealt with but far bigger problems that exist are,
1.  Many Hindus are ignorant of their religion.
2.  Those that know do not always have the wherewithal to practice it.

It's not that the bias you've seen is not important but it is a lot less
important than these more pressing problems.

> In
> America, great emphasis is place on objectivity based on quantitative data.

In the land of OJ Simpson and Monica Lewinsky?!!!  I think you need to get
off campus a bit more.

> Otherwise, it is deemed worthy of gossip columns only.

And gossip columns have more influence on American attitudes than
scholarly journals.  Actually it is very interesting how American pop
culture has a pseudo-scholarly affection.  Look at the way the guests on
Oprah are careful to parade their Ph.Ds and MDs.  A big part of the appeal
of the New Age movement is the way it wraps up irrational ideas in big
smart-sounding words.  I don't think Hinduism wants to go there.

> Therefore, please get
> involved in large-scale surveys before pronouncing conclusions. (2) Explicit
> prejudice is the tip of the iceberg only, and many studies show that the
> real biases are implicit and do not just come out spontaneously until one
> examines deeper. Even deeper still and more problematic than implicit
> beliefs, are biases that are unconsciously applied and the person is not
> even aware of having them, because he/she suppressed them into the 'shadow
> side'. There was great denial about prejudice against women in the
> workplace, about racism against blacks, about prejudice against gays in the
> Army, etc. These were proven eventually by systematic research.

It's not the research but the interpretation of the results which is of
concern.  Sure everyone is doing it but that doesn't mean Hindus have to
join the band of vixtim groups looking for a quota.

 > So please
> consider that ancient texts will not give you the pramana to make social
> commentary about American life.

But living in America will.  Listening to the interpreters of those
ancient texts (who also live in the world) will.

> You must be humble enough to want to go out
> to learn with an open mind. A tradition emphasizing outputting memorized
> knowledge, and not respecting new learning from others to keep renewing
> itself, does become ossified and obsolete. Ours is a great tradition not
> afraid to learn.

If I weren't interested in learning I wouldn't be replying to you.  Having
learnt what you tought I'm now rejecting it.

> Once you are outside the realm of direct spiritual experience and texts, and
> into social-political issues, there is no absolute truth. Hence, bias is
> inevitable.

Yes.  Bias towards Hinduism is what I want to encourage.

> Media owned privately has bias, and media owned publicly
> (Doordarshan or BBC) has bias controlled by different strings. Academics are
> the same way. There is enormous politics on who gets what job, tenure,
> committee appointment, etc. These mechanisms control what is taught and are
> believed by a given civilization as 'truth', when in fact it is largely
> subjective. (Propaganda is simply other people's biases; one's own are not
> see the way a fish does not know there is water.) Hence, you can either be a
> player in inputting your own values into the belief system or abandon it to
> others,

Hence advaita-l is intented to inject Advaita Vedantic values into
the belief systems of others.  The difference between advaita-l and
propaganda is that it doesn't seek to force it's views on
anyone.  That is immoral and no Advaitin would want a part of it.  Anyone is
free to unsubscribe when they wish.  Sure life would be easier if everyone
understood and suported our beliefs but they have to choose to.  If they
don't well this is samsara and we have to deal with it.

> just as Indians left to the British the job of administering the
> country, because it seemed like too much trouble and not a lofty
> intellectual task fit for the elite.

Which Indians?  We're from Rajkot which was a princely state.  There was
no British presence in the administration there.  In fact most of my
ancestors were government officers of one type or another.

> There is a role BOTH for institutional means of education to influence
> public beliefs, and also the informal mechanisms such as the 'new age'
> movement. Neither can be denounced as valid, and I am very active in both
> equally. They involve different issues. The dynamics of each must be studied
> in detail. New age is very open, but the result is lack of quality control
> and authenticity, and also there is lots of plagiarism. For instance, I have
> papers to show that yantras/mandalas have been turned into Western claims
> called "sacred geometry"; nidra yoga is being marketed as 'lucid dreaming';
> the vasana-samskara theory and skandhas (of Abhidharma) are being
> re-discovered as 'meme' theory; the vital/subtle body ideas from tantra are
> being pronounced as discoveries of cognitive science called 'morphogenic
> resonance'. The list is rather long and the hypocrisy is blatant. Besides
> myself, I do not see Hindus at these technical conferences to point out the
> genuine knowledge verses the superficial fast-food. In academics the issues
> are equally serious, because there are 70 million students being influenced.
> You cannot say that there is no relevance of all this, because you have not
> done exit surveys of students learning history, social studies etc. These
> graduates are the ones who get jobs in media and we know how poor the
> media's image of Indic ideas has been. When very little quantity and
> superficial coverage exists on Hinduism, then quality and authenticity
> become even more important. These simplified modules in textbooks become
> stereotypes in popular belief.

Yes there should be a Hindu presence.  A true Hindu presence not some
diluted, mixed up "Indic" presence.  Actually I look forward to the day
when "Hindu" is out of use and we have Smarta, Shaiva, Vaishnava etc.
presences.  But it might take a while to get there and we have to start by
getting our priorities straight.  The rest can wait for another day.

> I want you to know that I greatly admire your leadership to mobilize Hindus
> at all levels towards advaita, which is my practice as well. But these are
> socio-political issues you have wandered into, and text analysis will not
> suffice.

This is a very Greco-Semitic attitude isn't it?  Our shastras are not just
theoretical, they tell us how to live.  I have full faith in our shastras
and Gurus and believe they should be followed in all aspects of life.

Jaldhar H. Vyas <jaldhar at braincells.com>

bhava shankara deshikame sharaNam

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