Jaldhar H. Vyas jaldhar at BRAINCELLS.COM
Mon May 15 10:18:13 CDT 2000

On Fri, 12 May 2000, Rajiv Malhotra wrote:

> In order to discuss socio-political trends, its not a single point on the
> graph that matters but the overall message, trends, norms.

Matters to whom?  I don't doubt there are trends but what I'm trying to
get at is that ultimately all trends, movements and ideologies come down
to individual people.  The higher-level you go the more vague and less
relevant you get to the needs of individual people.

> The question is, 'how does implicit and unconscious bias affect a
> community'. Since it is not explicit or even conscious, why should it matter
> how people feel internally? This I have examined in some detail. I agree
> with you that Hindus are to blame for inadequate education and priority
> about their faith.

I wouldn't say blame.  I think the process of immigration occupies the
energy of the older generation and younger generation simply don't have
the means to practice it.  I'm sure you've heard of Hansons' Law.  It will
apply to Indians as much as it to every other ethnic group.

> But that is related to the 'primitive' image they are
> given of their own religion in the environment in so many subtle ways.

The person who wanted the mala hadn't any image problems.  His problem was
far more simple.

 It is
> easier to hide their Hindu identity, some even apologize for being Hindus in
> front of others.

I don't know anyone like that.  I also don't think not declaiming your
Hindu identity to all and sundry means you are trying to hide it.  To go
back to the dhoti thing, it was very interesting to see peoples reaction
to it.  I was quite surprised by the negative reaction I got from many
people.  Now some were perhaps self-hating cowards, but most of them were
not.  The fact is, our culture sees fitting into society at large as a
positive value.  Those people thought I wasn't doing that.  (Btw, my
reasons for dressing that way are neither religious, or for ethnic pride
but because I find Indian clothes more comfortable in 90 degree
weather.  In most of the cases the problem with those who reacted
negatively was not that they didn't understand their own culture, but they
didn't understand America.  I don't think it's even fair to ask the
immigrant generation to understand America the conceptual leap is so
great.  Younger generations don't need to apologize to or react against
American culture, they are American but they lack information on what it
means to be Hindu.   That's the group that needs to be worked with.

> It is not enough to express one's faith inside the fortress
> of a temple or home, we need an environment in which we feel safe, respected
> and very comfortable being Hindus. I mean not you as one man but the
> community at large.

Again, I don't think people by and large feel uncomfortable expressing
their Hinduism in this environment.  It's the values of our own culture
which urge them to keep things personal.  I find that younger people
(including myself) are more brash in outward displays of identity but that
is a measure of their assimilation into American modes of ethnic identity
not "Hindu" ones.

> Please remember that there is a difference between being tolerated and being
> respected. Western ethics (and in some cases, law) train people to be
> outwardly ethical, which is only one of the 8 stages of yoga. More important
> is to educate people to understand Hinduism with genuine respect.

Advaita Vedanta counsels us to be like Jadabharata who inwardly was a
great sage but outwardly was shunned by society as a freak and a madman.
In America we don't have to go to such extremes.  Americans are very
generous, tolerant people their philosophy is to each their own.  This is
in contrast to England where I grew up.  There, there was a palpable
feeling amongst Indians that they were second-class citizens.  There, I
might agree with you.  Not here.  Here, frankly I don't think it matters
much if we are respected as long as we're free to practice our beliefs.

> So I am confused about your views. If you don't believe in new age and you
> also don't believe in the value of academic teaching of religion, then
> please tell me what is the methodology for changing the attitudes towards
> Hinduism?

Hinduism itself.  The daily contact between articulate Hindus with other
people.  That's the only change that really counts.

> Yes.  Bias towards Hinduism is what I want to encourage.
> So to be consistent with that intent, you cannot denounce as propaganda use
> of the methods of influence that are the norm in America.

Yes I can.  The difference is I'm only giving out my views to those who
ask for them.  If they don't want to know then I don't care.

> I am still unable
> to get a clear logical position from you. You don't like 'propaganda' to
> promote an enhancement of Hinduism's image. First it is academics that are
> useless.

Insofar as Academics print texts, maintain libraries etc.  They are
useful.  Academic interpretations are interesting but not practically

> Then it is also the popular new age channels that are bad.

New age movements are often annoying but mostly harmless.

> But now
> you say that you do want propaganda towards Hinduism.

Put it this way, insofar as there has to be propoganda at all, I want
Hindu propoganda.  Not Buddhist, not "Indic", not "Pluralist".

> Maybe, you should just
> come out and say that you want your own voice as the only propaganda, and
> all others are useless for various reasons, even if they strive towards the
> same goal. If that's not politics then what is?

Well yes.  Propaganda is all about politics.  It's about getting one
viewpoint across regardless of objectivity.  If someone wants to conduct
propaganda in my name, I want to make quite sure it fits in with my point
of view.  And I don't take it for granted  that that someone is striving for
the same goal as me.

I think there is a better way of getting ones views across than
propaganda though.  It may seem old-fashioned in this cynical age but I
believe in the power of integrity.  Even if they end up not agreeing with
the message of Advaita Vedanta, I think people appreciate that the members
of this list will give them that view in an honest, straightforward, and
informed way.  By diluting that message we may temporarily gain more
sympathizers but we would be betraying their trust.

> By the way, I do not work on campus. I have never had an academic job.
> But since I decided to analyze the portrayal of Hinduism in America (so I
> have some objective facts and not just opinions), I went wherever the
> inquiry took me - including academics at all levels, theological seminaries,
> new age events, etc.

As I said before, it is not so much your data that I'm questioning but the
interpretation you're putting on it.

> 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.
> So again, you are being full of yourself.

And once again you are generalizing about all Indians or all Hindus on the
basis of the behavior of some.  Yes, the British presence deeply affected
some segments of the population.  It hardly touched others.

> The discussion was not about one
> man, his princely lineage, his high caste, his dhoti, his temple, etc. I
> thought we were trying to discuss whether there is bias against Hindus and
> not you in particular. If there is, does it have any relevance, again not to
> you but to the community.

What is "the community"?  Ideologically my faith is more like that of
South Indians than most of my Gujarati neighbors.  Yet the mandir I
usually go to follows the Vaishnava Pushti Margi sect.  Even though it is
ideologically incompatible, its' language, mode of worship etc. are more
attractive to me.  I feel rather uncomfortable in South Indian
mandirs.  Punjabis, I barely consider part of my religion at all.  Of
course all these groups share the pan-Indian beliefs and practices of
Hinduism so there is some common ground.  but is that enough to make a community?  I
think not.  If a Punjabis or South Indian
came to me for help, I'd try to help him become a better Punjabi or South
Indian,  there's nothing wrong with those things but theres

Amongst those people who I consider to be in my community, I see little
practical evidence of this bias you speak of.

> And if that be so, what are the channels to
> upgrade the portrayal.

The portrayal may not be perfect but it is adequate.  There are more
important things to worry about first.

> You keep backing into a corner with outlandish
> statements, and then trying to get out by making it personal about whether
> or not it applies to you. Either you take the position that your arguments
> only pertain to your condition, in which case I have nothing to argue. Or if
> you wish to discuss the socio-political situation in America at large,

I do not accept your either/or.  There is a big middle ground.  The
community of people I care about is larger than myself and smaller than
America at large.

> then
> you cannot resort to your personal one-point sample as being statistically
> relevant.

I don't claim to be statistically relevant.  I do however claim that
statistically relevant, does not equal real life relevant.  Scientific
methods only are useful when there is valid data.  In the

> Furthermore, if all that matters is yourself, then why bother to explain the
> texts to others?

Because they ask me to?  Because one of the aspects of my dharma is to
teach those texts when asked to?

> 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.
> Again you contradict yourself. If you agree that there is plurality within
> Hinduism, such as Smarta, Shaiva, Vaishnava, etc, then that's what has been
> called as Indic. It refers to all the wisdom and traditions from the
> Indus-Saraswati-Ganges civilizations without labeling them into religious
> boundaries. You dislike such a collection as 'dilution' on the one hand and
> yet want to see this diversity.

I accept there is pluralism and diversity.  I would rather see this
diversity expressed than some false unity.  However the mere existence of
different opinions doesn't mean they are all worth the same.  I am biased
towards the Smarta religion.  And the fact is the Acharyas of my religion
have treated Shaivism and Vaishnavism differently than Buddhism.  In fact
they have roundly condemned the latter.

> The socio-political issues about American life today and its attitude
> towards Hinduism, is what I thought the discussion was referring to. How do
> you find such analysis in the shastras, please give us references about
> modern American socio-political beliefs mentioned in the shastras. (America
> did not even exist at that time in its current form.)  If you cannot, then
> you are forced to go outside these shastras to learn American
> socio-political aspects, or else not deal with them. This is uncomfortable
> because it is an activity beyond arm-chair theorizing.

The message I get from the shastras, is that desh and kala are maya.  So
modern-day America poses no special challenges and makes no more demands
than any other place and time.  Far from burying my head in the sand, this
actually frees me to take each practical situation that comes up in daily
life, deal with it--and drop it.  If you look at India the fastest growing
religions are traditionalist in orientation.  The 19th century reform
movements were attuned to the needs of their day but having made a big
emotional and theological commitment to a kind of do-good socialism, they
are floundering in todays capitalist India.  Traditional or
neo-traditional sects never made that investment so they find it easier to
re-orient to new situations.  The same is true in America.  It is the
liberal Jewish and Christian sects which are hemorraging members.  It is
fundamentalists who are innovating and keeping hold of their followers.

>  Brahmins were great
> at impractical theorizing in the name of being high-class scholars. That's
> the attitude that finds it useless to listen to what the public is saying,
> for instance.

I listen to what the public is saying.  My public is different from your
public.  As to being impractical, well we've been impractical for how many
thousand years now?

> There is nothing wrong with your taking the position that you wish to
> specialize only in authentic text analysis, because it is very useful to
> everyone including myself. Why pretend to be an expert on modern American
> society and then get defensive when your lack of pramana is questioned?

Defensive?  I thought I was just answering your questions.  Be that as it
may everyone who lives in American society, has to become an
anthropologist, a sociologist, and a psychologist whether they want to be
or not.  Noone can afford to surrender those roles to "experts."

> Might it better to focus your forum on what you know, which I must say I am
> quite impressed by.?

But not impressed enough to actually live by it eh?

This whole topic came up due to the assertion that Hinduism needs Buddhism
to give it "heart".  It continued due to the assertion that Hinduism needs
Buddhism to help defend against some vague threat.  What I know is that
neither of those assertions are true.

Jaldhar H. Vyas <jaldhar at braincells.com>

bhava shankara deshikame sharaNam

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