|A sustained dialog must begin between Indic deconstruction theories and Postmodernism, in order to better understand areas of overlap and differences.
By Rajiv Malhotra
IV: Constructive Hinduism
The foregoing discussion leads to the following question: Can there be a positive Hindu identity and universals that are neither History-Centric nor a library of shareware for ‘generic’ spirituality? This section suggests projects that might help accomplish this. It is merely a preliminary list at this stage.
Develop History-Centrism vs. Ahistoricity as a theoretical framework:
History-Centrism is the cause of religious violence. Religious difference is not the cause of violence if it is difference-with-respect. This is a key entry point for discussing what Hinduism has to offer to the world today.
Religious freedom has become a major geopolitical initiative of the United States, as a sort of Manifest Destiny to intervene in other countries that get listed as being in violation, especially against Christians. The meaning of religious freedom must be debated in my proposed new framework: I posit that true religious freedom is freedom from History-Centrism. Evangelism towards any History-Centric religion reduces the freedom in the world because it boxes people into historical clashes. Therefore, the freedom to convert others into History-Centrism leads to loss of religious freedom from History-Centrism. (Analogy: Freedom to promote slavery would result in the loss of freedom of the slaves; hence this ‘freedom’ in not genuine.)
A sustained dialog must begin between Indic deconstruction theories and Postmodernism, in order to better understand areas of overlap and differences.
Develop antidotes to the Sameness Myth:
Expose the blunder of thinking that the equality of religions’ rights implies their sameness. (Analog: Men and women have equal rights, but men and women are not the same.) Show Hinduism’s principle of equality-with-difference:
- Multiple worldviews, practices, paths, images and cultures, with intellectual engagement to reconcile contradictions. In the end, no narrative is privileged to eradicate others, because these are not History-Centric.
- Spirituality which does not depend upon proselytizing can respect (not just ‘tolerate’) others’ faiths.
- Change without need for discontinuity.
Purva-paksha of other worldviews using various Indian siddhantas. European, Western, White, etc., identities were constructed via study and construction of others, and the Constructive Hinduism Project must engage in similar theorizing of others while being true to the Indian darshana tradition of honest debate.
The constant critique of others, including their History-Centrism, immunizes Hinduism from sameness. Point out how the mimicry of Whiteness creates the pressure for sameness among Indians. Whiteness Studies help decenter Whiteness and show Western thought to be relative and not universal. This makes elitist (Whitened) Indians self conscious of their inauthenticity, reducing their rate of multiplication into the next generation of students.
Sanskrit non-translatables must be explained in considerable detail, and the common translations should be problematized. These are the most robust and sustainable long-term anchors to preserve the authenticity and distinctiveness of Indic traditions.
Refute radical difference:
The opposite of sameness is radical difference, which means that Hinduism is so different that it cannot possibly make any sense to the West. A consequence of radical difference (sometimes referred to as radical relativism, as in the case of Richard Rorty), is that the study of Hinduism can only be positioned as a study of the South Asian exotic folks – in the same category as their monsoon and snakes.
Both sameness and radical difference are the result of on-going U-Turns. These distill Hinduism into two kinds of components:
Things that are deemed valuable for appropriation into the dominant culture are processed into generic sameness as an intermediate stage, pending being re-contextualized as ‘Western’. These are eventually removed out of Hinduism, and the traces of appropriation are erased.
The residue consists of things that are considered ‘undesirable’ by the dominant culture’s values at a given time, although these determinations are subject to future revision. These aspects are demonized and otherized. A polite version of this is to exoticize Hinduism as a property of the ‘South Asian’ geography.
The result is that Hinduism’s claims of a universalism that rivals the West are denied. In fact, attempts to position Hinduism as a world religion invite insults from those who see this as Hindutva Nationalism and who dismiss without consideration its merits as a competitor to Western worldviews.
Myth of Radical Otherness is used to protect American culture from equivalent scrutiny and blame as others are normally subject to:
- It prevents India’s dowry murders from being treated at par with American spousal killings (which are done for collecting insurance policies, the Western form of spousal wealth).
- While Islamic Fundamentalism and Hindutva Fundamentalism are fiercely studied and blamed for any and every crime in those respective societies, Christian Fundamentalism is not explicitly named with equal intensity or frequency, and nor is it used in the mainstream media as the frame to interpret Abu Ghraib, the Oklahoma City bomber, the inner city crime, hate crimes and racism, etc.
- Ethnic cleansing is not something that Western societies could possibly be accused of because the very category applies to less civilized peoples.
- American caste is denied because the category is only applied to South Asia.
However, the massive amounts of appropriations in the past to build ‘Western’ civilization prove that when it suits the West’s self interest it has no difficulty to understand others. For example:
- Mathematics, metallurgy, linguistics, grammar, transcendentalism, and numerous other imports would have been impossible if Indian culture had been so radically different as to be incomprehensible to the West.
- Chinese paper, printing, silk, gunpowder, etc., were understood and made a part of Western society without any difficulty.
- Economic wealth expropriation from colonial India and the importation of manufactured goods from China and India for centuries demonstrate that the West had little difficulty in understanding what those cultures had to offer.
- Native Americans gave Europeans the gift of potatoes without which a huge portion of Europe’s population would have starved in the 18th century. They also gave Europeans tomatoes without which it would have been impossible to evolve Italian cuisine. Europeans had little difficulty in understanding the value of looting their gold and land, without which they would not have gone from rags to riches so suddenly.
This is why the rediscovery and proper documentation and dissemination of the West’s unacknowledged debts to others is an important academic project, because this would demolish the Myth of Radical Otherness.
Some years ago, the huge Cathedral in Mexico City was found to have been built by the European conquerors on top of a Mayan temple (which can now be visited under the basement). This and numerous other examples illustrate how the Myth of Radical Otherness has been a strategy of arson: plunder and destroy the source.
Challenge the resistance to Constructive Hinduism:
Study the history of Constructive Christian Theology to point out its series of reconstructions over many centuries.
Study Hinduism’s history of constructions to show that this is nothing new, nor is it a violation of any canonized or frozen tradition. In fact, constructive theology is truer to the spirit of changing smritis of Hinduism than it is to Christianity’s canonized History-Centrism.
Refute the scholarship that negates Hinduism as a world religion. The typical arguments used against the legitimacy of Hinduism include the following:
- Because the name ‘Hindu’ is of non-Hindu (foreign) origin, therefore the tradition being named is deemed to also be a foreign derivative.
- Constructions during Islamic or British influence are assumed to be inauthentic Hinduism.
- Any and all Constructive Hinduism done today has to be a ‘right wing chauvinistic clean up’ of Hinduism. (One must separate out History-Centric Constructive Hinduism to refute this.)
Refute the ‘frozen in time’ glorification of ‘eternal India’, essentialized as ‘mystical’ contrasted against ‘rationality’ – now internalized by too many Hindus. (In the doctrine of white people’s Manifest Destiny, one of the criteria for declaring others to be ‘unfit to self-govern’ was ‘irrationality’. Furthermore, ‘mysticism’ in Western history has occupied a less honorable place than in India, and is seen as a pre-rational or child-like stage of mental evolution.) This project entails separating shrutifrom socio-political smriti, and refuting the highly exaggerated (mis)use of Manusmriti as being the ‘code’ of Hindu culture.
Explore innovative solutions for today based on Indic traditions:
The Hindu ashrama system of four life stages, each with its own norms for dignity and its own dharma, provides many resources for socioeconomic and mental health applications. This can be developed into theoretical frameworks for managing aging with dignity, and managing the fear of death and ‘running-out-of-time’ anxieties that haunt Westerners.
The world population is expected to reach 9 billion by mid century, and the Western lifestyle has been sold successfully as the global standard of expectation and legitimacy.
- But this is unachievable on the global scale as is now being demanded, because: (i) enough natural resources do not exist, (ii) enough capital does not exist, and (iii) the labor competition from poorer economies will be intolerable in the rich societies especially given their chauvinistic upbringing based on entitlements and privileges as their birthright and ‘destiny’. Hence, there is the serious threat of a cataclysmic systemic collapse.
- The Hindu sadhu paradigm offers an alternate lifestyle that is not dependent on obsessive levels of consumerism. It is an established tradition of dignified and voluntary poverty, which is not seen by the individual as a ‘problem’ waiting to be solved.
- How might the infrastructure and resource demands be alleviated if a certain portion of population (such as many of the aged) were to opt for such alternative lifestyles? How might honoring these alternatives serve as role models to reduce the obsessive consumerism of others?
The effectiveness of Hindu dana and Christian charity must be compared using quantitative methods. The sums spent must be seen in light of the tangible results produced, so that the efficiencies in the use of funds may be compared. Much has been written about Christian charity in India, but these accounts fail to consider the huge funds available to Christian charities. Comparisons must also include the value of real estate owned by the churches and affiliated institutions in India. (The church is said to be the largest non governmental land owner in India.)
- It is my hypothesis that Christian charities spend far more for producing a given level of charitable benefit to society than their Hindu, Buddhist or Muslim counterparts. The wastage is partly due to monies diverted for proselytizing, partly for PR to impress, but also for corruption.
- The Vatican’s refusal to provide accounting for the billions of dollars raised by Mother Teresa’s organization worldwide and allegation about misuse of funds is an example of this point.)
- The value of New York City real estate that is occupied by various cemeteries is estimated to be in the tens of billions of dollars – enough to feed/clothe all the homeless of America’s East Coast in perpetuity! Should burials be contrasted with cremations as issues concerning ecology, poverty alleviation and other human rights factors?
- Such an analysis would enable NGOs and donors to learn from Hindu approaches that may be applicable in other third world countries.
Hinduism’s adhyatmika technologies for embodied knowing could be applied as antidotes against a variety of body alienations and counter productive body fetishes: plastic surgery, anorexia, sexual orientation dogmas, mental health, addictions…
- jati structure (as distinct from caste) must be seen in light of growing multiculturalism in Western societies, a trend which is inevitable with globalization. Jatisprovided identity-with-mutual-respect, giving both a sense of internal coherence and belonging and without the theological imperative to conquer others or make them the ‘same’. (Wars have existed in non-Monotheistic societies, but usually not driven by religious mandates.)
- from History-Centrism is a solution to the clash of civilizations. Denial of this clash by the left is merely an evasion of the deep-rooted problems caused byHistory-Centrism. Hinduism offers spirituality (which Communism admits it cannot eradicate), yet in a manner that is free from History.
Refute common presuppositions in many disciplines:
Hinduism has been disassembled into parts that are taken in isolation and reduced to prepackaged conclusions, which are then blindly applied in various humanities disciplines and mass culture. At each stage of this pipeline of misinformation, the conclusions from prior stages are simply assumed without enough critical examination.
For example, as per Prof. Paranjape (English Department, JNU), it is now the trend in English Departments everywhere to apply a few standard frames in examining Indian texts, movies, art, history, society, etc. These frames are as follows:
- Caste oppression
- Religious minorities’ oppression
- Women’s oppression
- Indian Nationalism as oppression
Meanwhile, positive aspects of Hindu culture are omitted, including: yoga, meditation, vegetarianism, ecological theologies, history of Indian science/technology, history of Indian economy prior to colonial disruption, etc. Because these themes would demolish the negative stereotypes, students are discouraged from pursuing them on the basis that they are not the ‘real’ Hinduism, i.e. they are not Hinduphobic. Those who persist in pursuing these topics are attacked as ‘chauvinistic’, ‘killers of Muslims’, ‘rapists’ and ‘fascists’, and other demonology that has become standard weaponry.
Therefore, literary and critical theories are taught with the specific goal to make students apply a given tool box of theories and derive the predefined negative set of conclusions about Indian culture. This is done in literary analysis, cultural studies, political science, sociology, etc.
One who is able to prove his/her competence at using the ‘theories’ imported from the West to reach one or more of the standard set of established stereotypes is advanced forward as a ‘scholar’. The better the style and more unusual the data the more useful the person is considered to be.
This has turned a whole generation of Indian writers into ‘hunters’ looking for specific demons in Indian culture. It reminds one of the recent US hunt for WMDs in Iraq: The goal is predetermined, and any means may be used to reach that conclusion. Huge rewards await those who assert claims in support of the agenda. The result is to install deep Hinduphobia in young minds in college. Many become coolies or sepoys doing the dirty work of empire building while being led to believe that they are spreading Indians’ “progress.”
In conclusion, the Constructive Hinduism Project should also engage various other disciplines and cannot be isolated to Religious Studies.
Author: Rajiv Malhotra
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- Neo-Hinduism is the Western influenced watered down version that is pop Hinduism today.
- Perennialism must be differentiated from New Age, but the former led to the latter because of dilution of rigor and under pop demands. F. Schuon, a pioneer of Perennialism, does not speak about equality or identity between traditional forms but about a transcendental unity. Also, Guenon agrees with me that Abrahamic religions necessarily limit their exotericism by their theological and moral views, while Hinduism does not. Perennialists were also severe critics of New Age: Guenon was one of the first scholars to offer a radical critique of theosophy, of Vivekananda’s neo-Hinduism, and of theories by Paul Lecour, a pioneer of New Age. (In ‘Theosophy, History of a pseudo-religion‘ and in his ‘General Introduction to the Study of the Hindu Doctrines‘, he highlights the mistakes made by Westerners on Hinduism). Nevertheless, I locate all these on the same spectrum of (mis) appropriation from Hinduism: Some did it more sincerely and authentically than others, but in the long run they fed off of each other and the result has been disastrous for the Hindu psyche. Westerners’ harm was much less than that caused by Hindu leaders’ own internalizing of Western mappings in the spirit of sameness.
- Not all gurus slipped into this trap. Prabhupada, Swami Chinmayananda, Swami Dayananda Saraswati, and many others remained authentic. On the other hand, Self Realization Fellowship and Sri Sri Ravi Shankar are examples of those who are promoting genericized spirituality that plays to the new age market. Ramakrishna Mission and Chinmaya Mission are examples where the founders were authentic, but which subsequently diluted their authenticity by resorting to the sameness syndrome for the sake of PR, political correctness, and possibly out of fear of being different than the dominant culture. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi remained true to Vedas as being distinct, despite the fact that he lost the majority of his white followers to U-Turns once it became clear to them that his generic TM program was only an introduction to deeper Vedic teachings. Yogi Amrit Desai, who trained the largest number of white yoga teachers in the US over a period of 30 years, avoided dilution, but he was dismissed by his institution’s trustees over alleged ‘sexual misconduct’, and the new Western owners have drifted away from Hinduism.
- Many Western liberals/leftists do detest the classical Western heritage. They have waged a long-term and concerted attack against the Western literary canon. They often portray the West’s great historical thinkers as ‘dead white guys’, ridicule and attack their own Judeo-Christian past (which is then, unfortunately, extended to all other religions, and ‘religion’ itself), etc. Many of the leftist intellectuals who have dominated American academia clearly have an ideologically driven crypto-Marxist agenda. What is ‘good’ in their eyes isn’t necessarily what is explicitly Western, but what represents the ‘oppressed’, the ‘disenfranchised’, the ‘lower’ class, race, religion, gender, ethnic group, language, etc., in any given perceived (on their part) antithetical social-cultural coupling. Yet, their theories often embed deep and invisible Biblical epistemologies, and, furthermore, they have failed in impacting the West’s own mainstream power structure while having colonized India’s empowered intellectuals because of the latter’s vulnerability to mimic. The Manifest Destiny doctrine of 19th century America expressed white supremacy in terms of ‘freedom’, ‘democracy’, and ‘fitness to self-govern’. Ironically, today’s leftist activism has inadvertently played into the hands of the reincarnated Manifest Destiny in the form of the Bush Worldview.
- ‘Constructive Christianity’ has been a project to protect the core idea of a unique historical revelation. Hence, it is a system of Christian apology of finding ways to incorporate new facts (using science and/or U-Turns from other plundered traditions) while pretending that it is all from the single original source (which can be made to say anything). Hinduism does not need that kind of construction because it does not have that kind of History-Centric problem to begin with. What it needs is expressions of the Truth gained from the adhyatmika experience for contemporary times, as well as new sociopolitical smritis for today. This is precisely what people like Aurobindo and others were up to. ‘Constructions’ without adhyatmika experience is what many Hindutva politicians have been doing.
- In Hinduism, the importance of (i) tradition (agama-pramana), (ii) lines of succession (sampradaya-parampara), and (iii) the sacredness of places (tirthas) due to sacred occurrences that happened there, are all important in preserving the teachings of Dharma. However, the subtle but critical point is that if all the above were lost one would still have the Truth revealed inwardly via yoga and meditation. Abrahamic religions are history-dependent, whereas Hinduism merely uses the examples of concrete instances of Truth revealed in what we call history as guides and tools for personal self-realization. Thus, Hinduism is not history-dependent.
- Evangelical Christians, despite being the dominant American theological and political force, do not speak for the esoteric strands that are not History-Centric. Esoteric interpreters of the Bible map Indic Adhyatma-vidya on to Platonic metaphysics and consider the events of Sacred history and the Prophets as contingent manifestations of eternal Principles such as Logos. The esoteric interpretation of the Bible does not speak of the Original Sin as a sexual act between Adam and Eve. The symbol of the Tree (of knowledge) evokes rather an orientation of the will towards the world and duality, a subversion of the sprit by the soul. The Revelation and eschatological events are events in the Soul that any being on the spiritual path is potentially able to turn into an inner reality. The Perennialists would say that history-centrism is the result of the intellectual limitations of fundamentalist Evangelists. However, the Christianity that is ‘on the ground’ that Hindus must deal with, both in the form of proselytizers playing havoc in India and in the form of the geopolitical projection of Manifest Destiny, is not what Ivy League professors and their followers would like us to imagine.
- A Sufi academic scholar wrote to me the following in defense of her tradition (paraphrased by me): “There were numerous debates in ancient Islam about the status of the Koran. It is absolutely necessary to distinguish between the ‘Mother of the Book’ and the physical Koran which cannot seriously be considered eternal or of non-human origin. The Sufi tradition distinguishes between the earthly Kaaba and the celestial one. Islamic History-Centrism is the result of degeneration of its traditional intellectuality and of the development of politicized schools of theology. The present situation only reflects the views that prevailed for political reasons.” My response to her was that Sufis represent around 1% or so of the worldwide Muslim population and that Islam as experienced popularly is best understood based on what is preached in the Mosque on Fridays and not what a few elitist intellectuals would like to project it to be externally.
- Antonio deNicolas explains the difference as follows: “The Abrahamic religions base themselves on the discontinuous, while Hinduism bases itself on the continuous. Discontinuous based religions believe in a God that is unique, comes from the outside, and dictates eternal laws. The continuous religions make a God or gods as they practice internally the discipline of will development for decision making as the paradigm of the gods (different brain centers) demand according to the dharma in front of the individual. The discontinuous religions base their practice on the left brain, theoretical, conceptual descriptions of the path they want to follow and as convenient. The continuous religions base their practice on memory, imagination, and experience using the conceptual, theoretical left brain only as an instrument of translation. The discontinuous religions are imperialistic because one brain dominates all others, while the continuous religions base their practice on the ability to modulate all the brains and find a harmony leading to moksha.”
- Using the modern language of trusts, one may say that (i) Jesus established the Trust by contributing his suffering; (ii) the Church (long after Jesus’ death) claimed the role of Trustee in perpetuity; (iii) the Beneficiaries are all those who join the History-Centric Grand Narrative; and (iv) the Distributions from the Trust to the Beneficiaries are Redemption from all their Sins. According to the Biblical Apocalypse, all Beneficiaries thus Saved are scheduled to be flown to Heaven and live there in Eternity. All those remaining will be massacred by Jesus personally when he returns at the End of Time which is just around the corner.
- It is claimed to have been ‘coming soon’ for 1900 years based on the Book of Revelation in the Bible.
- The Christian (especially Thomist) idea is that people have a soul like the property of a person. This soul is a metaphysical appendage of the person similar to the physical appendage of a spleen or a lung. Thus, a soul can be lost, sold or injured. This is a radically different notion from that of atman.
- Hindu scripture – both shruti and smriti - is also packed with ethical norms, laws, proscriptions and prescriptions. The Bhagavad Gita is full of descriptions of right and wrong behavior; the Yoga-Sutras of Patanjali outline the yamas and niyamas, etc., etc. While it is true that the Manusmriti was not the ‘l