[Advaita-l] mleccha-s not eligible to take Hinduism??

Jaldhar H. Vyas jaldhar at braincells.com
Wed Jul 11 15:55:50 CDT 2012

On Wed, 27 Jun 2012, S L Shivashankar wrote:

> I have now received many replies to my posting of yesterday (which in turn
> was a reply to Sriram´s posting). I am familiar with the arguments
> regarding non-Indian aspirants, caste issues etc prevalent on this list for
> many years, so I have not encountered anything previosly unknown to me.
> Moreover, I have a very vast collection of traditional hindu litterature in
> my home, so I am also quite familiar with the quotations and views
> discussed in this thread.

You may have a vast collection of books but I am sorry to say you have not 
read them very carefully.  Nor do you seem to grasp exactly what is the 
issue in the crticisms that have been made.  (And to be fair there was 
confusion on the other side too.  This is not about "mlecchas".)

> Of course there is no such thing in ancient shastras as "How to handle 
> an European that enters into the hindu-fold?".

But thats not what Ravi said.  He said you have no adhikara for upanayana 
and sandhyavandana.  That's a different question from "entering the Hindu 
fold."  The vast majority in the "Hindu fold" do not have adhikara either. 
There is a vast literature in dharmashastras about adhikara.

> This was a non-existing question to people in ancient times for obvious 
> reasons.

This is where a study of history becomes fruitful.

Heliodorus the Bactrian-Greek ambassador to the Sungas circa 1st century 
BC established a Garudastambha at Vidisha in which he describes himself as 
"Heliodorus the Bhagavata."  So even in ancient times "conversion" was not 
unknown.  However note that the "fold" he was joining was the tantric 
pancharatra religion, the forerunner of Shrivaishnavism not "Hindu" or 

Perhaps of more relevance is Dara Shikoh the son of the 17th century 
Mughal emperor Shah Jehan under whose direction the first translation of 
the Upanishads (into Urdu) was made.  He did this because although he 
considered himself a Muslim, he believed that the "Hidden books of 
knowledge" mentioned in the Koran referred to Vedanta.  His inheritance 
was usurped by his brother the fanatical Aurangzeb who considered him (as did 
most mainstream Muslim elite opinion") an apostate.  Which "fold" does he 
belong to?

During the days of the East India company Major-General Charles "Hindoo" 
Stuart was notorious for having "gone native."  He dressed in dhoti with 
urdhvapundra tilaka with his personal team of pujaris regularly worshipped 
the full pantheon of Hindu devatas (He was buried as a Protestant but 
along with his murtis.)

> But today things are different, and many people all over the world gets 
> interested in and sometimes even enter religious traditions of other 
> people and cultures.

Its the conceit of every generation that they have discovered something 
new but hrough the ages we see that various groups and individuals have 
entered what is being termed "the Hindu fold."  That's not an issue. 
What is relevant to the discussion at hand is nowhere do we see them 
taking up the specific dharma of a Brahmana.  This is unprecedented and 
requires strict scrutiny.

> So how are such things dealt with in practice by acharyas and pandits of
> today? Pointing to myself as an example was the whole idea behind my
> posting.

I understand this and it is the larger question that interests me more but 
there is a personal element too.  You have been a long time member of this 
list and many of the regular readers know you and look favorably upon 
you.  Normally one behaves gently with a friend but if that friend was, 
say, about to be hit by a bus, you would be justified in shoving him out 
of the way wouldn't you?  What you are doing is wrong.  Never mind any 
injury to Hinduism, it is injurious to your self.

> If at least some traditional acharyas and pandits let foreigners like
> me to enter the hindu fold, giving me upanayanam etc., then perhaps we
> should ask ourselves why they are doing so.

Yes this is a very good question and one which is not being looked at 
critically by Hindus.

The basic problem as I see it is that "modern" Hinduism is not very modern 
at all.  Indians may be superficially modern in the usage of technology, 
computers etc.  but philosophically, conceptually, they are not.  And the 
paradigms they have for modernity, Christianity and to a lesser extent 
Marxism are ill-suited for integration into traditional conceptual models. 
They are in a similiar situation to the Jews in Europe.

Like Hindu jatis, Jews traditionally think of themselves as both a 
religion and an ethnicity.  Not eating pork etc. makes you Jewish but so 
does having a Jewish mother.  You can be "converted" to the Jewish faith 
but you are also "adopted" into the Jewish tribe.  Because of opression 
but also by their own choice Jews lived their lives apart from their 
Christian neighbors and those who violated the social norms by marrying 
outside or religious norms by working on the sabbath were equally shunned 
and expelled from the fold.  Then the Enlightement came and Jews became 
slowly but surely integrated as citizens of the nascent nation-states with 
secular law overriding the authority of the traditional power structure. 
The self-consciously Orthodox Jews continued the old dual conception as 
best as they could but now for the first time there were new conceptions 
focusing exclusively on nationality indifferent or even hostile to 
religion (Zionism especially the older socialist kind.) or as just another 
denomination of Englishman, Germans etc. (the Liberal/Reform position.)

Hinduism is facing that same bifurcation between ideology and ethnicity. 
Both sides appeal to "tradition" however to my mind they are equally 
inauthentic.  A truly "traditional" person takes both into account.

What is tradition anyway?  I maintain that there is no fixed point but a 
trajectory.  "Traditional" people look to the past to guide their actions 
in the present and aim to maintain continuity with the past into the 
future.  It's not just a question of whether a person is wearing kesari or 
not.  Do their actions further the continuity of Vedic dharma?  It's 
hard to predict the future.  But a rational man can have some idea 
by reviewing similar responses and their consequences.  Take the Jewish 
experience for instance.  While the early deviants were not very different 
in their behavior and outlook from the "orthodox" we can after 200 years 
see who has diverged from tradition and how.  Many of the "modern" Hindu 
perspectives also have had several generations to show results.

> Are their interpretations of the shastras necessarily less reliable 
> than interpretations found among members of this list?

In my experience they are often lacking to the point of incoherence.  But 
as I said, the problem is equally that they are attempts to react to 
modernity but lack real understanding of it.

> Many people on this list apparently are unfamiliar with the fact that 
> quite a few Westerners over the years have been initiated and given 
> upanayanam or mantropadesha also by strict sampradayavits.

Again you betray confusion in confusion of dharmic categories. 
Mantropadesha, upanayana, and sannyasa are three separate things with 
different adhikara.

On Tue, 26 Jun 2012, S L Shivashankar wrote:

> Does the absence of a prayoga valid for every occasion and at every time
> really excludes the possibility of conversion? Apparently not. I know of
> many examples when people have been adopted into the hindu fold, and it
> seems to be different methods in use.

Because there are several different entry points and levels of 
participation in the "Hindu fold" as I mention in one of my other posts 
today.  The poster you were responding to said there is no conversion into 
a specific varna.  This is absolutely correct.  In fact there are many 
Indian ethnic groups of ambiguous varna most likely due to the way they 
entered the "Hindu fold."

On Wed, 27 Jun 2012, S L Shivashankar wrote:

> While studying and checking is certainly advisable, what´s wrong following
> one´s gurus views on issues like this?

I can't fault you for using the "My guru says" argument because many 
Hindus do but It's ironic that the other big topic being discussed on the 
list is apaurusheyatva because this is exactly what the Mimamsakas were 
trying to avoid.  The problem is you are replacing rule of law with cult 
of personality.  Maybe on an individual level it might not matter but on 
the societal scale it does.  On any global survey of corruption, Sweden 
comes out as one of the least and India as one of the most corrupt 
countries.  Why?  Its not because there are no villains in Sweden or no 
noble people in India.  But I submit to the difference is that the average 
Swede though he is most likely to be an apathetic Lutheran or outright 
atheist has nonetheless inherited from Christianity a respect for the rule 
of law.  Hinduism has provided the same but in recent times a mentality 
has arisen which tolerates flouting of the rules by a "big man" whether 
politician, film star or even Swami.  This does not bode well for our 
culture in the long run.   These gurus making exceptions may have their 
hearts in the right place but may also end up destroying that which they 
are trying to protect.

> After all, the guru is the link between oneself and the shastras. The 
> shastras are to be studied with the help of the guru. One has to 
> cultivate shradda towards the shastras and the guru as the upholder and 
> teacher of shastras.

As the upholder and teacher of shastras not the maker of exceptions.

> And how to check whether the guru "knows enough about shAstra-s and is pure
> enough to stand steadfast in truth"? I guess this is a problem we all have
> to encounter, regardless of sampradaya or background. The inner  qualities
> mentioned in Bhagavadgita chapter XIII are qualities that should be present
> in one´s guru.

In the end it comes down to faith.  But that shouldn't stop you from 
asking questions.  Have you asked your guru why he thinks you should have 
upanayana.  I personally don't think he will come up with a plausible 
answer but I am willing and interested to know what it is.  In the mean 
time please remove the yajnopavit and dispose of it in a respectful 
manner, stop sandhya and continue with a more appropriate form of sadhana.

The paramount Vedantic sadhana requires no external implements at all. It 
is to ask the question "Who am I?" and to adjust ones actions accordingly. 
It is not just you, I ask myself this and review my own actions in the 
light of the answers.  We all should.

Jaldhar H. Vyas <jaldhar at braincells.com>

More information about the Advaita-l mailing list