Rajiv’s Response to Gier

Response to Nicholas F. Gier

I am deeply appreciative of the close reading and serious attention Nicholas Gier has brought to Being Different, and for his agreement with its general purpose and intent. He makes many arguments and points with which I hope to engage further in my subsequent work. In general, however, I think he is wrong not only on many small points, but in his larger critique of two of my major theses: first that the foundations of Western civilization are based on a synthetic unity, precariously superposed upon the distinct and divergent streams of Hellenistic intellect and Hebraic history-centric religion; and second, that the dharmic traditions display by contrast an integral unity. Let me briefly return to these two theses in order to clarify my own position, meet his objections, and suggest where and why he has not fully taken on board extent and depth of the evidence or the analysis that I have presented.


Western synthetic unity and panentheism

BD devotes an extensive section that western civilization displays a merely synthetic and precarious unity for reasons that lie deep in its fragmentary cosmology and its insistence on historical revelation. Gier’s refutation relies heavily upon the contention that, in developing the philosophy of panentheism, Charles Hartshorne and Alfred North Whitehead have provided a basis for substantiating Western claims of integral (as opposed to synthetic) unity.


However, as I shall explain, Gier’s contention glosses over ignores the elephant in the room:  the unmistakably Indian origins of the philosophy imported and reformulated as “panentheism” by these Western scholars. Gier also relies upon Hartshorne and Whitehead to substantiate another problematic claim: that a “constructive postmodernism” based on these two men’s philosophies represents a universally acceptable way forward in intercultural and interfaith relations.  (I should clarify here that panentheism – with the middle syllable ‘en’ – refers to a unified concept of the world as God and simultaneously of God as transcendent. This conception of a dual character of God is central to integral unity. God is the unchangeable transcendent; God also constitutes everything that exists, hence is ever in flux.  This concept is not to be confused with ‘pantheism’ – without the middle syllable ‘en’ – exemplified by the nature worship that is characteristic of many pagan faiths, the difference being that pantheism lacks a transcendent God.)


Given the central place accorded these two men in Gier’s arguments, it is important for me to provide further evidence that both of them borrowed heavily from Indian thought, , although they credited only prior Western thinkers for supplying the building blocks and inspiration for their views. Successive generations of Westerners have turned these ideas into original “Western” thought and washed away their Indian sources to conceal evidence of the heist. Gier is only one among many contemporary Western scholars who, ironically, cite Whitehead and Hartshorne as independent originators of Western worldviews, when in fact the evidence is quite to the contrary.

Gier states that “the German philosopher Karl Christian Friedrich Krause (1781–1832) coined the term in panentheism 1828.” Many Western accounts assume this simplistic view, ignoring the fact that Krause was a serious scholar of Sanskrit, who employed Sanskrit texts to evolve and argue ideas which departed from the work of his predecessors Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel. German historians of 19th century philosophy know that it was from Sanskrit sources that Krause derived the notion which he eventually introduced into German philosophy as “panentheism”. In fact, he influenced Schopenhauer who did not know Sanskrit and who relied a great deal upon Krause for his access to Indian texts; indeed, Krause is also said to have introduced Schopenhauer to Indian techniques of meditation. For instance, Claus Dierksmeier, who has studied Krause’s role as a transmitter of Indian ideas into German Indology, notes that  Krauincorporated some elements of Upanishadic and Vedantic speculation into his system. “ In particular” Dierksmeier writes, “I emphasize Krause’s ‘panentheistic’ conception of the absolute being (hereafter ‘the Absolute’) and how it facilitates an ‘open’ dialectics that compares favorably with the dialectics of Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel.”


Dierksmeier deserves to be quoted at length to demonstrate how far Gier is from a true understanding of Krause, and hence of the manner in which Sanskrit texts helped introduce panentheism into German philosophy.  For quick access I highly recommend that readers should go through his Eastern Principles within Western Metaphysics which may be found at: http://www.cavehill.uwi.edu/fhe/histphil/philosophy/chips/2006/papers/dierksmeier.pdf


Secondly, Gier’s asserts that “Malhotra is wrong to claim that Hartshorne got the idea of panentheism from India.” On the contrary, compelling evidence demonstrates that Hartshorne derived his view of panentheism from the Indian Vaisnava philosophers Ramanuja and Jiva Goswami. Here are the major points in this argument.

  1. Panentheism has been a foundational component of many schools of Indian thought – including the Vishisthadvaita philosophy of Ramanuja, the Gaudiya Vaishnavism of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, and the diverse traditions of Tantra and Kashmir Shaivism — all of which predate Hartshorne by several centuries. This is well acknowledged by scholars, Indian and Western alike.

  2. Hartshorne has himself acknowledged that prior to his own work panentheism was a concept utterly alien to traditional Christian theology, wherein the notions of monotheism and pantheism were considered to be mutually exclusive. Can you give a reference? If not, delete.

  3. Hartshorne has published several detailed and extensive studies of Indian philosophers such as Ramanuja, and he has explicitly referred to them as panentheistic thinkers.

  4. However, subsequent to these studies, Hartshorne went on to have contact with from subsequent Indian thinkers of the same tradition, most notably Jiva Goswami, though he does not mention Goswami in his own published work.. This contact occurred through a Vaishnava monk from the lineage of Jiva Goswami named Mahanambrata Brahmacari, who wrote a PhD dissertation on the “The Philosophy of Jiva Goswami” at the University of Chicago from 1934 to 1937. Hartshorne was a faculty member of the philosophy department at that university from 1928 to 1942, and worked with Brahmacari over that period.#

  5. Prominent contemporary scholars and theologians, including John Carman, John Plott, and more recently Julius Lipner and Keith Ward, have affirmed without reservation the panentheistic credentials of Ramanuja (and, by extension, of Jiva Goswami).#


After a prolonged period spent studying and writing on Ramanuja’s metaphysical system, Hartshorne became dissatisfied with what he considered the Indian philosopher’s “incomplete” panentheism: a shortcoming Hartshorne attributed to Ramanuja’s failure to apply completely the principle of dipolarity with regard to divine nature.

This supposed “shortcoming” should, in fact, be ascribed to Hartshorne’s own rigid and forced over-application of Whitehead’s dipolarity principle.  Neither Ramanuja nor Jiva Goswami entertained any a priori notion of dipolarity, and neither was constrained in the articulation of his philosophy by some preconceived notion of dipolarity.  These Indian panentheistic thinkers remained free to maintain the transcendence-qua-immanence of divinity, through the principle of the universe-as-the-body-of-Brahman, while also upholding the goodness and accessibility of the Lord (Krishna). Ultimately, in order to preserve the “goodness” of his own deity, Hartshorne found himself forced to compromise his adherence to the dipolarity principle on the question of whether evil is applicable to God. Hartshorne’s assimilation of Indian panentheistic conceptions is, therefore, hobbled by the traditional rigidity of Western logical frameworks such as dipolarity; even though dipolarity itself was designed to ameliorate the inflexibility of Christian monotheism.

Gier also argues that “the rationalist Hartshorne, however, breaks with Goswami on the question of divine revelation as the primary source of knowledge.” Most historians of Christianity agree that Christian theology relies primarily on the dogmas of history-centric revelation, rather than on reason or experience, to substantiate its claims; moreover, some Western observers incorrectly project the same epistemology onto dharma. I now address two senses in which we might understand Gier’s characterization of Hartshorne as a rationalist:

  1. Was Hartshorne a “rationalist” simply because he applied dipolarism to Christianity? To merely superimpose the logical category of dipolarism upon a doctrine rooted in revelation does not alter the fundamental dependence of that doctrine on revelation: a primary determinant of the dogmatic character of Christianity.

Regardless of whether the notion of dipolarism is derived from Whitehead or Ramanuja or Jiva Goswami, the fact remains that such a category fits poorly with the underlying monotheism of Christianity. Any “rationality” ascribed to Hartshorne, or to any Christian theologian by virtue of having employed such a category, must necessarily be superficial; ultimately, their arguments are circular in character, and resort to Biblical history-centric revelation as the final authority.#

In comparison, Jiva Goswami has far more in common with rationalists and empiricists, since he gives priority to experience (anubhuti) and reason (yukti) rather than to revelation. Moreover, Hartshorne’s theology is purely theoretical and speculative, lacking reference to any credible practice of yoga or sadhana. By contrast, all dharma systems, including that of Jiva Goswami, are rooted in experience, and hence open to verification.

Rather than Hartshorne, it is Jiva Goswami  who ought to be considered a rationalist, for his advocacy of yukti as a primary means of knowledge; and an experientialist-empiricist, for having accorded first place to experience (anubhuti) in his epistemology.


2. Gier might be more correct in characterizing Hartshorne as “rationalist”\if that term referred specifically to Hartshorne’s over-application of dipolarism, and to his reliance upon the Hegelian-Kantian a priori procedure of deductive reasoning. In contrast, Jiva Goswami’s epistemology accords first place to experience; the Indian monk was unconstrained by any rigid a-priori principle of dipolarism.


There is further evidence to support the contention that Jiva Goswami’s approach is predominantly “rational.”  From the triad of valid means of knowledge (pramanas) that Jiva Goswami describes, it becomes clear that his epistemology prioritizes experience and reason over revelation. Significantly, shruti, which might loosely be rendered “revelation,” is listed third in the triad of pramanas, not first. This order of precedence, in itself, renders implausible Gier’s contention that Jiva Goswami’s theology is derived primarily from revelation. I emphasize this point specifically because the central, even foundational, role of experience and reason in Indian soteriological systems is rarely recognized by Western critics, presumably because it would undermine the myth of “rational West and mythical East”. Gier’s charge that Jiva Goswami’s system is based primarily upon revelation, represents a distortion introduced by projecting the Christian theological epistemology of faith and revelation onto Indian philosophy.


The debt that Hartshorne’s formulation of panentheism owes initially to Ramanuja’s Vishishtadvaita and subsequently to Jiva Goswami’s Achinta Bheda-abheda, is far too large to justify Gier’s dismissal of it.  Gier is seriously in error when he states that . Charles Hartshorne “was most impressed by Bengali Vaisnava theologian Jiva Goswami.” It is Ramanuja, not Jiva Goswami, whose work Hartshorne has publicly admitted to being impressed by. In fact, while Hartshorne’s writings over many decades include extensive analyses of Ramanuja, they never once mention Jiva Goswami. How has Gier concluded that Hartshorne was most impressed by Jiva Goswami, when Hartshorne himself has never acknowledged knowing of Jiva Goswami’s existence, and has never referred to his work?#


Synthetic Unity and Constructive Postmodernism

Gier mounts a strong defense of western civilization in terms of its moving beyond a merely synthetic unity, and he bases his defense heavily on his reading of Whitehead and of the constructive postmodernism of contemporary process philosophers, of which he supposes me ignorant.


He fails, however, to highlight the importance of properly understanding the relationship between Indian thought and what is now being called “constructive postmodernism”.  A century ago, many western thinkers were quite open about acknowledging the Indian sources of their ideas.  Nowadays, this acknowledgment has been lost in the packaging via sucessive intellectual movements into terms such a “process philosophy” and “constructive postmodernism.”


Buddhism was very much in vogue in the late Victorian and Edwardian Britain of Whitehead’s milieu; he, in turn, was quite undeniably impressed and influenced by its ideas. Both Whitehead and his pupil, Bertrand Russell, studied Buddhism closely.  Whitehead once acknowledged this interest quite forcefully: “Buddhism,” he wrote, “is the most colossal example in the history of applied metaphysics.”#


In the heyday of Whitehead’s tenure at Cambridge, many leading British intellectuals were strongly influenced by Abhidharma philosophy, a hallmark of the Theravada school of Buddhism.  Among such scholars are, for example,, Thomas and Caroline Rhys Davids who produced much literature on the subject.  As early as 1910, the Pali Text Society published Compendium of Philosophy, Shwe Zan Aung’s English translation of Anuruddha’s Abhidhammatha Sangaha, with an illuminating introductory essay by Caroline Rhys Davids.  At Harvard, too, Whitehead’s tenure was contemporaneous with the firm establishment of Buddhist studies, which covered the various traditions of Indian and Far Eastern Buddhism (Chinese and Japanese Mahayana).


Unsurprisingly, there are extensive correspondences between Buddhism and Whitehead’s process philosophy; these have been documented at length in the Ph.D. thesis of Peter Kakol.#


I have worked for over a decade, with experts on Buddhism and on Whitehead, to trace the influence of Indian ideas on process philosophy. The table below, in its three columns, lists the original Sanskrit terms for some key Buddhist concepts, the English equivalents of these Sanskrit terms, and the terms used by Whitehead when mapping these concepts onto his own framework.

Buddhist Term

English Approximation

Whitehead’s Term











Dependent Arising or Relativity

Relativity, Nexus



Occasions of Experience, or Actual Occasions or Actual Entities



Speculative Scheme


Existence in the Three Times

Objective Immortality






Fallacy of Misplaced Concreteness






Actual Entity


Propinquity or Pressing



Ultimate Realty, or Final Meaning, or Ultimate Thing

Final Reality, Res Verae




What is most striking is the extent to which Whitehead declines to acknowledge the influence of these Buddhist concepts upon process philosophy, and attributes the origins of his thought exclusively to Western sources.  While he makes vague token references to the general affinity his organic philosophy has with “some strains of Indian, or Chinese, thought,” he gives no indication of the specific origins of such extensive correlatives equivalences as I have listed above.


In contrast, Whitehead routinely cites ancient Greek philosophers such as Heraclitus as proto-proponents of the process view throughout his major work, Process and Philosophy. Leibnitz‘s monadology is mentioned as his inspiration for actual entities, and Locke is referenced as his model for non-substantialism; but all the while, his arguments remain patently Buddhist. Whereas the Western precedents Whitehead cites are weak analogs at best, the Buddhist tenets from which his system derives are clear-cut and immensely detailed. Indeed, it could be demonstrated that Whitehead’s arguments are strongest and most lucid when he remains closest to the original Buddhist models. In comparison, his contentions become vague and confusing when he turns to speculation and bouts of “originality” by inventing terminology and framework, and when he attempts to generalize his arguments into a general theory of feeling that is unsubstantiated by any experiential grounding on his part.


Neither Heraclitus, Leibnitz, Locke, Whitehead, nor any of the others in this imagined Western lineage claim to have tested, or used as an experiential source, any rigorous system of meditation with the exactitude and continuity characteristic of dharma traditions. Whitehead’s construction, then, amounts to a collage of ideas cut and pasted from Buddhism; it represents a purely synthetic unity of thought that cannot be considered primary, and that certainly never supersedes Buddhism in any respect. Anyone with a genuine knowledge of Buddhism would find Whitehead’s attempts to anoint Western philosophers as his sole theoretical predecessors entirely unconvincing.


Besides Hartshorne and Whitehead, several other agents who appropriated Indian ideas into Western thought have also been instrumental in shaping a variety of Western intellectual movements that are often cited as evidence of integral unity in the West. Next, I will address the appropriations of another prominent Western digester: the Jesuit-Scientist theologian Teilhard de Chardin.


Teilhard de Chardin

Teilhard, from an early age, attacked contemporaneous interpretations of Christian theology. He was especially critical of its lack of mystical and cosmic sense, and its resistance to evolution and to science in general.  In comparison, he saw Eastern religions as a repository of philosophical gems; these he craved to possess, so that he might better interpret his own mystical experiences, and thereby reinterpret Christianity.


Teilhard acknowledged India as the ur-source of mysticism, and credits her with a profound spirituality which influenced the subsequent spiritual progress of all mankind. He wrote:  “never perhaps has the sense of the Whole, which is the life-blood of all mysticism, flowered more exuberantly than in the plains of India”.# In fact, Teilhard openly declared his intention to appropriate many of these Indian ideas, while also remaining within the boundaries of what he considered to be uniquely Christian.


Despite his efforts to fit his new formulations onto Christianity, Teilhard had to bear the brunt of vicious attacks by the Church throughout his career. His writings were censured by the Vatican; he was forbidden to lecture on religious subjects and ordered to confine himself to scientific research and publishing. Teilhard suffered deeply from the rejection of his new ideas by the Church. When he died, he received a humble funeral attended only by a few close friends. Yet, it is common among Western thinkers today to equate Teilhard’s ideas with “Christianity”, while marginalizing or claiming to supersede the dharma traditions from which they derive.


Teilhard’s theological challenges:

In his private correspondence with friends, Teilhard often admitted to a rather un-Christian point of view. For example, he confessed to Henri de Lubac: “I had always felt the pantheist yearnings to be native to me and unarguable; but I never dared to give full rein to them because I could not see how to reconcile them with my faith.”# Clearly, Teilhard was confounded by many dilemmas in his attempts to adhere to Christian dogma. Union with the divine through mergence was the Indian forbidden fruit he craved; yet, his Catholic conditioning rejected any such notion as heretical. One must note the deep historical origins of this Christian fear: the idea of an immanent God mirrored too closely the spectrum of pagan beliefs once practiced by the very peoples who had been conquered by Christianity in its rise to global domination.


K.D. Sethna and Beatrice Brutreau point out that Teilhard had very meager Christian (and in particular Biblical) sources to support his imagining of a cosmic Christ to supersede the theandric (‘historical’) Jesus. While acknowledging and bemoaning this deficiency in Christianity, Teilhard declared his agenda to acquire the missing element from Indian religions that he knew to be richly endowed with the aspects missing in Christianity. However, he could not import Hindu philosophy into Christianity, wholesale, with any degree of transparency. Teilhard recognized that his difficulty in trying to assimilate the “religion of the Whole” (referring to Hinduism) into Christianity derived from “the antagonism between the God of supernatural revelation on the one side and the great mysterious figure of the universe on the other.”#


Faced throughout his life with this dichotomy of attraction to and rejection of Hinduism, Teilhard sought a solution that would retain the supremacy of Christian axioms, yet assimilate the attractive elements from the Indian mystical vision in a Christianized form. His solution was to differentiate an ostensibly genuine or Christian pantheism from false pantheisms that represented “pagan” or “nature” mysticism.


Confusion between pantheism and panentheism

Teilhard’s process of assimilation necessitated a radical repudiation of Indian philosophy, which he accomplished through extraordinary sleight-of-hand. The cornerstone of his rejection consisted of a facile interpretation of Indian thought as monist dissolution of individuality, and of Eastern thought as inherently a negative outlook on life.


To this end, Teilhard quotes William James’ view that Vedanta negates all individuality and retards all initiative. He goes on to accuse Indian mysticism of absorption in an undifferentiated whole, which brings loss of consciousness and personality, and thereby cripples creativity and activity. In a radical distortion, he says that Purusha (consciousness) gets collapsed into Prakriti (matter).# He follows this with an assertion that the unity sought in Hinduism is unity in matter, or Prakriti. This misinterpretation collapses Hinduism into pantheism, i.e. a philosophy only of immanence and lacking any concept of transcendence. Any sincere student of Hinduism would recognize that it espouses not pantheism, but panentheism (simultaneous transcendence and immanence.)


Teilhard’s surreptitiousness in dealing with the difference between pantheism and panentheism represents the key approach of his scheme to digest Hindu philosophy into Christianity while rejecting Hinduism. Ultimately, Teilhard proffers a “Christian pantheism,” which consists heavily of borrowings from Hindu panentheism; yet, he never uses the term panentheism to describe his new formulation. In this manner is his “Christ’s transcendence and immanence” constructed; while at the same time, Hindu panentheism is dismissed by equating it to a false pantheism.


Digesting Hinduism into Christianity

As Ursula King has documented superbly, Teilhard maintained extensive contacts with Orientalists, Buddhist lamas, and Hindu swamis; participated in Oriental Studies conferences; and read copious scholarly works on Indian philosophies. All this belies the frequently assumed view that Teilhard was largely ignorant of Indian philosophies, and that he derived his formulations entirely from Christian sources. The true portrait is one of a man who took keen interest in Indian philosophies, and studied them in considerable detail.


Unfortunately, Teilhard’s biographers and  contemporary panentheists seldom acknowledge that he spent many years researching Indian religions;  that he studied treatises on Vedanta (being especially impressed by Ramanuja)  as well as Shaivism and Buddhism;  that he met with Indian thinkers of his day;  that he absorbed Western interpretations of Indian ideas through such intermediaries as William James, Aldous Huxley, C.G. Jung, and A.N. Whitehead; and that he travelled, in person, through China and India.


This cover-up correlates strongly with the fact that Teilhard’s desire to digest Hinduism into Christianity was driven, in part, by his lifelong Christian missionary zeal. This is revealed in many of his statements, such as:

“Could we not enrich our spirit a little with the heavy sap circulating in their veins, while at the same time bringing them the wherewithal to make them live? Could we not try to complete ourselves by converting them? I have noticed that the missionaries don’t have the faintest idea of this.”#


Teilhard triumphantly announces the East’s acceptance of Western superiority: “There rose a voice which whispered, ‘Now, my brothers of the West, it is your turn.’”# Teilhard’s cherished perspective held that, at one time, Asian civilizations had been ahead of the West in engendering conceptual advances; but that in his present, it had become imperative for the West to take over Asian ideas and lead the further development of mankind. He wrote that Asians were old and “weary,” stating that the “night has fallen” on them. In his view, the light of civilizational progress had “passed to other hands,” meaning to the West. However, Asians need not fear that the light might die, because the light was now “in safe keeping” of “a few wise men” (like Teilhard himself), who “shall not allow it to die.” In fact, Teilhard’s entire worldview served the contention that Western intervention and imperialist takeover would help re-civilize Asia’s “ravaged plateau.”#


In her Evolution Towards Divinity, Brutreau poses the question: What elements of Ramanuja’s Vaisnava theology might Teilhard have found desirable for utilizing in constructing his own cosmic Christology? Her answer involves a detailed exposition on Hinduism to pinpoint the numerous Hindu sources leading to Teilhard’s notion of Cosmogenesis-Christogenesis: a formulation of the process by which Christ prefigures matter and consciousness, while at the same time remaining external and untouched as the “Christ-Omega” who, in his plenitude, attracts the process. Christ is both inside the process and outside of it — just as Saguna Brahman is immanent while Nirguna Brahman resides without; and exactly as Shakti and Shiva, respectively, have been conceptualized in India for thousands of years. The equivalent of Ramanuja’s Saguna Brahman, and of Saivism’s Shakti, is Christ within the world as the historical Jesus. In addition, Teilhard formulates a description of the Cosmic Christ that very closely resembles Arjuna’s vision of Lord Krishna’s cosmic body in the visvarupa-darsana – a vision that Ramanuja articulates as the centerpiece of his philosophy.


Brutreau opines that the Gita’s freedom from juridical constraints would afford Teilhard the latitude he needed, and “supported him in holding together those seeming extremes which he felt must somehow be joined.  In her view, the Gita itself “rises imperturbably above these fine theological distinctions”#. She writes:

“What Teilhard needs is a strong doctrine of a God who reveals Himself to the cosmos. He does not have this in Christianity as developed in his tradition. He has two or three texts from St. Paul and he makes maximum use of them. But what if he also had the Bhagavad Gita, in which God is equally transcendent, cosmic, and personal?”#


In his final stage, Teilhard accepts “a superior and synthetic form of ‘mysticism’ in which the strengths and seductions of ‘oriental pantheism’ and Christian personalism converge and culminate!” (January 2, 1951).#


Incomplete Digestion:

Teilhard’s critics include prominent members of his own Jesuit order, such as his friend and biographer Henri de Lubac, who chided him repeatedly for his stubborn refusal to acknowledge the highly developed philosophy and spirituality of Indian dharma traditions.#


According to Brutreau, Teilhard failed to properly incorporate mainstream Hindu tradition’s triadic framework of God as transcendent, immanent and personal.  She writes that Teilhard’s cosmic nature of Christ “never really stands as an independent dimension. His system has to fall back on a dyadic model: only two basic elements to be dealt with, God and man. In the final analysis cosmos is subsumed under human person and enters into the ultimate unity only under this form.”# In addition to Hindu sources, the triadic Buddhist conception of deity known as trikaya, or “three bodies of Buddhahood”, also offers elegant solutions to replace the “missing piece” of Teilhard’s cosmic-Christ puzzle.#


R.C. Zaehner also laments that Teilhard did not adequately utilize existing Indian philosophical and theological tenets to bolster his own theology, and thus to strengthen his position against the ‘juridicists” or dogmatic literalists of the Vatican. Brutreau and Zaehner opine that, had Teilhard been less dismissive of India, the unrestricted and organic conceptions of the Supreme Person in the Gita might have considerably improved his reimagined Christianity.


Numerous scholars, including Zaehner, Ursula King, K.D. Sethna, and Ann Hunt-Overzee have amply demonstrated the profound parallels between Teilhard’s philosophy and dharmic thought, while criticizing him as being prejudiced against dharmic philosophies.# They also point out the major internal contradictions between his philosophy and such core Christian ideas as creation ex nihilo.


Today, however, Teilhard’s evolutionary Christology finds an increasing number of subscribers among the progressive wing of the Catholic Church, and among Western scientists who seek to integrate science and spirituality by digesting Indian traditions repackaged in Western frameworks. The digestion of Hinduism into Christianity has only accelerated since Teilhard’s time; yet, it has become typical to deny the very existence of such digestion. The history of this massive appropriation is hidden in the basement of Western intellectual discourse; and when I excavate that edifice, I can only expect to be attacked. Indeed, a major purpose of my writing is to provoke open debates on the recent history of how the West has digested Indian traditions.


Other Indian influences often ignored or disguised

Gier’s approach to panentheism, process philosophy and related ideas resembles the phenomenon I have termed “digestion”, wherein the Western scholar silently recasts whatever he finds useful in dharma on to Western substitutes, even if that entails considerable extrapolation and imagination.


Misunderstanding Mithya and Integral Unity

The second major objection Grier makes to my work has to do with my claim that dharmic traditions have an integral unity. Gier writes: “Malhotra himself admits to ‘profound differences in theory and practice’ in the dharma traditions, so this undermines his principle claim that these philosophical schools are ‘integral’.” Gier’s misinterpretation, here, arises from his having confused “integral” with “homogeneous”.


BD goes into great length to explain that various dharma systems are integral in their own separate and diverse ways, and devote an entire appendix to demonstrating the validity of this claim, especially in the case of Buddhism. The point that Gier appears to have missed in my explanation is that integral unity differs from homogeneity by two cardinal criteria. First, integral unity does not mandate that any integral system need be homogeneous internally, and in fact the integral unity itself implies built-in multiplicity of certain kinds. Second, integral unity is not contingent upon every integral system necessarily being in agreement with every other integral system. Because Gier ignores the first criterion of difference between integral unity and homogeneity, his charge that I advocate undifferentiated divinity amounts cannot stand. .  Because he evades the second criterion of difference, his accusation that I represent all dharma systems to be the same as one another, stands equally invalidated.


In explaining integral unity, BD expounds at great length upon  (i) the immense internal diversity amongst Indian systems; (ii)  the family resemblances that exist amongst Indian systems despite these differences, similar to the family resemblances between individually different Abrahamic systems;  and  (iii) the diverse multiplicity of ways in which a system can adhere to the integral criteria, as evidenced by the unique cosmologies, epistemologies and vocabularies evolved by different Indian systems to describe an integral view of the universe.


By way of analogy, if one were to describe the underlying principle of a “prophetic system” of theology, one could identify the uniquely individual branches of Judaic-Prophetism, Christian-Prophetism, and Islamic-Prophetism; one might even discern sub-branches, such as Mormon-Prophetism, Ahmaddiya-Prophetism, etc. All these prophetic belief systems are different from one another, and yet, all share an important common identifying characteristic: prophetic revelations as the ultimate means to access religious truth.


Gier’s criticism that BD somehow collapses all Indian belief systems into a single homogeneity is thus patently illogical; it is similar to an argument which by demonstrating differences between Judaism and Christianity, claims to have debunked their shared principle of prophetic revelation.

For another analogy, consider the worldviews of Newtonian-Rationality and Einsteinian-Rationality: these differ from each other substantially in terms of their respective precepts, and yet both are founded on the rational principles of mathematics and the scientific empirical method. Also, both strive to describe the universal laws of physics in rational terms. An integral unity, likewise, may be expressed through Madhyamika-Integrality, Advaita-Integrality, Vishishtadvaita-Integrality, Tantra-Integrality, Sri Aurobindo-Integrality, and many other forms, each of which is individually distinct.


An underlying problem with Gier’s position here and a fundamental problem with many modern interpretations of dharma has to do with a persistent mistranslation and misunderstanding of the word mithya in the west.  As used in the context of Vedanta, mithya is often wrongly translated as “illusion”.  Similarly, the words sat and asat are respectively mistranslated as “real” and “unreal”. This, in fact, reflects a limitation of the English language in failing to allow for a category in between “real” and “unreal”.


Such a limitation precipitates the conflation of asat and mithya (both being mistranslated as “unreal”), making it impossible to conceive of mithya as a type of reality different than sat. This colossally flawed understanding of basic Vedanta terminology has fed the rampant misconception that Shankara regards the world as illusory, which in turn justifies a worldview predicated on otherworldliness, social irresponsibility, fatalism and the like.


It is this very misconception which causes Gier to conclude that, “If Malhotra believes that organic unity of self, cosmos, and God is essential to dharma tradition, then Shankara does not meet that criterion.” Gier compounds his error by relying unduly upon Lance Nelson’s secondary scholarship. He states: “Vedanta scholar Lance Nelson contends that Advaita Vedanta achieves its nonduality ‘exclusively, not inclusively’ such that disunity rather than unity with the world is the result. … Nelson shows that the Advaitin imputes no value whatsoever to the natural world and by implication to the social world as well.” (Emphasis supplied.) Gier cannot claim to effect a dismissal of such magnitude simply through a casual quotation of Nelson, while failing to provide a single substantive argument of his own in support.


A far better authority than Nelson would be Swami Gambhirananda’s translation of Shankara’s Bhasya on Badarayana’s Brahmasutra. It says:

“That omniscient and omnipotent source must be Brahman from which occurs the birth, continuance, and dissolution of this Universe that is manifested through name and form, that is associated with diverse agents and experiences, that provides the support for action and results, having well-regulated space, time, and causation, and that defies all thoughts about the real nature of its creation.”


As this should clarify, Shankara does not describe the Universe as being anything even remotely close to illusory; indeed, it is the organic unity encompassing the Universe, its diverse agents, and its experiences that Shankara terms Brahman.  This excerpt also indicates what Shankara means by mithya:  “that [which] defies all thoughts about the real nature of its creation”.


To understand how Advaita Vedanta achieves its nonduality “inclusively, not exclusively”, we must grasp firmly what it means by mithya. The Vedanta exponent Swami Bhajananda, Assistant Secretary of the Ramakrishna Mission, explains mithya as follows:

“The Advaitin concludes that the world is different from both sat and asat; it is sad-asad-vilakṣaṇa. Such a fact defies the laws of [ordinary] logical thinking; hence, it is anirvacanīya. Another word used in the same sense is mithyā. In common parlance mithyā means illusion or falsehood, but in Advaita Vedanta it means something mysterious.”#


In Advaita Vedanta, the conception of reality is always comparative. Relative to a particular material, an object made out of that material is considered ‘less real’. For example, a bucket made out of plastic is unreal relative to the plastic itself. This is elucidated in the Chandogya Upanishad, which explains that a clay pot is in fact name-and-form (namarupa) taken on by clay; so that the clay pot is not real, independently of clay. If X depends upon Y then X is less real than Y.


A cause is hence considered to be `more real’ than its effect, because the reality of an effect depends on its cause. It follows that anything which has material and/or efficient cause can be described as mithya: a dependent reality.


The “cause of the world” is thus ascribed a greater degree of reality than the world itself. When we say that the universe is mithya, we mean that it is unreal when seen as the world we commonly perceive; however, it is surely real when seen as Brahman, its cause.


Vishishtadvaita, which is distinctively different from Advaita, ultimately also addresses a view of the universe predicated on integral unity in ways I have clarified in BD. To understand mithya correctly in relation to sat and asat, one must appreciate that (a) sat (Satyam) is that which does not depend on anything else for its existence; (b) mithya is that which depends on something else for its existence; and (c) asat is that which cannot have existence. The profound points of distinction between these Sanskrit terms become blurred by mistranslation into Western languages that simply cannot support the categories they wish to appropriae, leading ultimately to such distortions as those purveyed by Nelson, and reproduced, unfortunately, by Gier.


To understand Ramanuja’s Vishistadvaita properly, one must first appreciate the specific contours of his approach. In contrast to Shankara, Ramanuja says that Brahman cannot be imagined as nirguna or nirvishesha (devoid of attributes). In support of this, he divides Vedic passages into two categories:

  • Abheda shrutis are passages that negate difference, suggesting that Brahman is without any internal distinctions. Examples are Chandogya Upanishad 3.14.1, and Mandukya Upanishad 3.2.

  • Bheda shrutis are passages that uphold difference, suggesting that internal distinctions exist within Brahman. Examples are Svetasvatara Upanishad 1.9, and Katha Upanishad 2.2.13.


Ramanuja does not consider these two categories of Vedic passages to contradict each other; indeed, he declares emphatically that both are true. The apparent contradiction between them is resolved and harmonized by another category of passage called ghataka shruti, exemplified by the antaryami brahma passage of the Brahadaranyaka Upanishad.


This passage of 27 sentences settles the ostensible discord between bheda and abheda shrutis while maintaining the validity of both. It explains that all sentient and non-sentient beings relate to Brahman in the same manner as the body relates to the indweller; a relationship it calls pradhana pratitantram. Ramanuja emphasizes Brahadaranyaka Upanishad chapter 3, passages 3 to 22 in order to establish the true nature of the three tattvasIshvara (“Lord”), cit (“consciousness”) and acit (“matter”) – that form an integral unity called sarira-sariri (“body-indweller”). The final passage of this series concludes: “Brahman is in all, dwells in all, rules from within all, but the all know Him not, and the all constitute His body. Brahman is the indweller (sariri) of all cit and acit, the latter as his body (sarira).”


The essence of sarira-sariri doctrine is that, while sarira (body) and sariri (indweller) are real, sarira depends inseparably on sariri. Just as the physical body (sarira) inseparably depends on cit (sariri), similarly, cit depends inseparably on Ishvara for its existence. Brahman alone is ultimately independent. Integral unity, therefore, is clearly established and upheld in the precepts of Vishistadvaita.


Therefore, the systems of Shankara and Ramanuja are each characterized by integral unity, albeit in different ways. Shankara’s system proposes the integral unity of reality and mithya, explaining that mithya is not a separable, self-sustaining entity, but depends on underlying Brahman for its existence. Ramanuja, likewise, posits the integral unity of Brahman as antaryami; a foundational quality inherent within all that exists.


All of this is apparently lost on Gier’s understanding of Indian traditions. In one particularly abstruse passage, he writes: “Malhotra notes that Buddhism understands unity ‘in a radically different way than in Vedānta.’ If this is so, then Buddhism cannot be considered a ‘constituent or component’ of Vedānta.” In fact, nowhere in my writing have I ever attempted to construe Buddhism as a constituent or component of Vedanta.


To support his claim that Patanjali’s system is synthetic and not integral, Gier cites statements by a couple of Western authors who claim that the meditation techniques it employs are Buddhist.  However, several Buddhist scholars affirm that Buddha himself used numerous techniques practiced by Sanatana Dharma, as stepping stones to achieve his nirvana.


Evidently, all such contentions are intended to bolster Gier’s thesis that cross-borrowings among Indian schools are of the same synthetic variety as the cross-borrowings that occurred between Hebraic and Hellenistic systems. This, of course, completely ignores the bitter legacy of historical tensions and philosophical contradictions between Hebraism and Hellenism: a syndrome characteristic of synthetic unity. BD has devoted an entire section to discussing this point of difference at length.


The principal difference arises from the following processes, distinctively characteristic of cross-borrowings between Indian schools, which have played little role in the formative history of the West:

  • The role accorded to meditation as a method of discovery and/or validation in dharma is virtually absent from the methodologies by which cross-borrowings between Hebraism and Hellenism occurred. This is because the West did not develop maturity in yoga, and lacked a rigorous emphasis on yogic first-person empiricism: a deficiency which it is now busily trying to remedy by appropriating from Indian thought. Meditation in the Indian sense has traditionally been regarded with suspicion by Western philosophers, and even now remains in the closet for much of the academy.

  • The role played by Sanskrit non-translatable words, with very specific and technical meanings, in facilitating organic transfers of ideas is a topic covered extensively in the longest chapter in BD. It would seem that Gier has chosen to skip this entire chapter, which highlights the centrality of Sanskrit’s role in supplying a vocabulary employed across a vast diversity of Indian traditions. Moreover, it describes the Indian notion of the mantra as inherently embodied, which underpins a distinctively dharmic view of the body as the repository of ultimate unity; this conception utterly defies collapse into such Western frameworks as the logocentric unity in Plato’s heaven.


Seeking again to present Indian civilization as fragmented, Gier writes, “Contrary to all the Indian schools, Buddhism…” as if to imply that Buddhism is somehow non-Indian. Indeed, it is common among certain Western scholars to emphasize a de-Indianized representation of Buddhism, and to focus on the mutual tensions, rather than the overwhelming synergy, between Hinduism and Buddhism.


On Sikhism, Gier falsifies an alleged position of BD that my book never espouses.  He writes: “The opinion that Guru Nanak had a special revelation exclusive of Sikhs is false…” However, BD makes no such statement regarding Guru Nanak. In fact, its only assertion on Guru Nanak is as follows: “Guru Nanak never claimed to be God, or an avatar, or the son of God, or his prophet. He claimed to have recovered the divinity through devotion without recourse to orthodoxy, dogma or historical narratives of any sort. The same discovery awaits every human, according to his teachings.” (p.76)


Clearly, Gier has not properly understood integral unity as that term is extensively defined and used in BD. Indeed, his inability to comprehend it only reinforces my contention that the Western lens is programmed to look for incoherence in Indian civilization. When dharmic coherence is presented with clarity, the effects are evidently troubling to many observers wearing that lens.


Other miscellaneous criticisms by Gier

There are many other points, some minor, some less so, on which I would want to take exception either to Gier’s representations of my arguments or to his comments on them.  Here following are a few of some importance.


Gier attacks a straw man argument to the effect that BD claims an Indian universalism.  He writes: “An Indian universalism would be just as problematic as the Euro-American variety has been.”


However, BD does not propose an alternative universalism; in fact, I clarify at the outset that BD employs dharma as a foil against which to pose its external view of Western Universalism. The mere fact of the other gazing back, does not necessarily imply that the other makes its own claim to universalism. I would reject any universalism, be it of an American, European or Indian variety.


Gier appears confused about the notions of first-person empiricism and embodied knowing as they are described in BD. His statement, “[Malhotra] contrasts the yogi’s experiential knowledge from what he calls a ‘first person’ science of consciousness, with a scientist’s detached methods of viewing allegedly objective data in the third person” reveals a profound incomprehension of my explanation of first-person empiricism. Had Gier read the section entitled “How Embodied Knowing Works,” beginning on Page 70 of BD, he would have encountered an explanation of “Adhyatma-vidya as First-person Empiricism” on the very next page. This portion elucidates how, far from drawing a contrast between these ideas, my book equates them. Adhyatma-vidya is the traditional term by which I denote the concept of embodied knowing; and “first-person empiricism” describes how this concept fits into contemporary scientific discourse. Piet Hut, a prominent theoretical physicist at Princeton’s Institute of Advanced Studies, has written extensively on first-person empiricism with the involvement of Infinity Foundation, as has Alan Wallace.# Interestingly, Dr. Hut was dismissed from that prestigious institute for having extended his research into the inner sciences, and was subsequently reinstated only in response to strenuous lobbying and public outcry. It is easy to forget the immense prejudice that mainstream institutions until very recently exercised against ideas deemed to be heretic imports from the east. Lately, however, it has become very fashionable for Western thought to assimilate those imports, while erasing their “heretic” sources and substituting Western sources instead.


Gier misunderstands the way I deploy references to current physics in my argument. In describing integral unity, I cite several prominent writers of modern physics whose own ideas were inspired by Hinduism and/or Buddhism. I tend to agree with him that most such scientists had limited knowledge in this area. But in any case, nothing in my book relies upon the correctness or extent of their ideas of mysticism. It is their understanding of the philosophy of physics that I am concerned with. However, because Gier says that he “sides with Stapp’s idea” on quantum mechanics, it is important for me to point out that I knew Henry Stapp in the 1990s, and that before he wrote his seminal book, Mind, Matter and Quantum Mechanics, he had extensively studied the Vaishnav interpretation of quantum mechanics with the help of Vaishnav scholars in California and Mumbai. He had written a book on this research, titled, A Report on the Gaudiya Vaishnava Vedanta Form of Vedic Ontology, in which he explains that Gaudiya Vaishnava Vedanta provides an internally consistent and complete interpretation of known quantum phenomena whereas Western thought at that time does not.# He was not alone in this assessment till the 1990s among Western scientists, and only years later were these ideas gradually digested into Western frameworks and the original Indian sources were retired into oblivion, replaced by “Western pioneers”.


Thus, Gier puts himself in the middle of various Western theorists who borrowed heavily from Indian sources when he writes that “contemporary physics does not support the idea that the universe is a cosmic mind, and both theory and empirical data point to a radical pluralism of discrete entities rather than an undifferentiated divine entity.” First of all, my position has never been to support an undifferentiated divine entity. That is a straw man made by Gier to target his attack. Secondly, even if we assume that his position reflects adequate knowledge of physics, it makes no difference to my thesis – which is about Indian influences, regardless of whether or not a given Western borrower was accurate in his borrowing. An inaccurate borrowing is also an influence, and many influences do travel in this manner.


Gier takes exception with my critique that Western violence conquered and then synthesized selective items from other civilizations. He cites violence by Tibetan Buddhists to make his case in reverse. But the worldviews of Tibetan Buddhism did not originate as a result of armies bringing back intellectual property from conquered peoples. Hence the Western and Tibetan instances of violence cannot be equated. The same applies to his examples of intense debates among various schools: he equates Indian debates with European military invasions into far flung continents thousands of miles away from home.


Gier’s article also fails to acknowledge the book’s central idea of history centrism, even though it is positioned very explicitly as the basis for my contrasts. He tries to refute that Christian history gives far greater importance than dharma to its martyrs, by claiming that martyrdom existed in India in a comparable manner. He cites that millions of Indians were killed by Muslims, and that various other individuals such as Gandhi died as martyrs.  Of course, every nation and people has had numerous examples of people being killed for their principles, but my intention was to highlight the importance given by Christian military expansion for honoring martyrs in God’s name and for encouraging martyrdom as a religious act. While many people were made saints specifically for their martyrdom, the criteria for being a great yogi, rishi or guru was not getting killed in military action. The theological difference here is that saints in Christianity are not living jivanmuktas or living nirvana. This cannot be slid under the rug by citing that there is killing in all religions.


My book illustrates the difference between mere tolerance and the superior posture of mutual respect, by citing several examples. One among these is an event at Claremont over a decade ago in which speakers representing various religions had prepared a resolution to tolerate each other, and I suggested that this be replaced by the term “mutual respect”. Gier is “deeply puzzled by Malhotra’s account of the Claremont conference.” He gives great importance to the Claremont example and his refutation of my position is rather strange. It hinges on one theologian at Claremont, named John B. Cobb, whose position has been one of “fidelity to Christ with unqualified openness to other faiths”. He goes on to describe the curriculum at Claremont and various other details none of which is relevant to my point. The fact that Claremont held such an event involving representatives of many faiths does not mean that all such speakers would reflect the positions held by one or more Claremont scholars – after all it was an interfaith event with speakers unaffiliated with the university. Gier’s view is from the Ivory tower, i.e. that a few scholars on campus are representative of society at large, and that merely writing a book changes the real world..


I would also like to note an apparently minor point, because it illustrates a profound problem with postmodern rhetoric, if not postmodern scholarship: the quick assumption of guilt by association when a give figure or position in history is under discussion. Gier writes: “It is ironic that Malhotra praises Dharampal, because he joined Colonel Henry Steele Olcott in promoting ‘Protestant’ Buddhism that fueled Sri Lankan nationalism and religious fundamentalism.” Gier confuses between observation and praise. I mention Dharampal specifically in the context of noting that William James was influenced by several Indic sources including Swami Vivekananda, Dharampal, etc. My statement is not any appraisal of Dharampal’s life and ethics. It is simply about India’s influence upon the formulation of Western psychology via various intermediaries like Dharampal. It is naïve of Gier to assume that in order to adopt certain elements of a view it is necessary to adopt the entire worldview of the messenger who delivered it. That James was influenced by Dharampal as a source of Buddhist knowledge is not impacted regardless of how bad Gier considers Dharampal’s character as Sri Lankan nationalist or religious fundamentalist.


Finally, let me say that I do not wish to deny the important contributions by Western thinkers to philosophies that resemble Indian thought, and I certainly advocate that cross-cultural borrowings ought to be further encouraged. However, BD takes exception with the fact that Indian sources get sidelined and replaced by Western ones with retroactive effect; i.e. through the dubious backward projection of knowledge newly borrowed from Indian sources onto supposed Western equivalents of antiquity.  BD’s sections “Digestion and Assimilation” (pp.36-38) and “The Templeton Project to Re-invent the West” (pp. 141-144) address this syndrome in explicit detail, demonstrating how it leads to distorted accounts of both civilizations. What I seek is a level playing field – parity between Greek and Indian sources in the manner in which they are recognized, respected, referenced, taught in the academy, and considered equally part of “our” collective ancestry. That Western scholarship continues to accord a higher stature to Greek classics than to Indian classics largely reflects a cultural double-standard whereby Greece is regarded as part and parcel of the West while India is viewed as the “frontier out there”.



Teilhard de Chardin, Christianity and Evolution, Harcourt Brace Janovich, New York, 1971.

Letters to Two Friends, 1926-52, The New American Library, New York, 1968.

Toward the Future, H.B. Janovich, New York, 1975.

The Hymn of the Universe, Harper and Row, New York, 1972.

Lubac, Henri de, The Religion of Teilhard de Chardin, Doubleday, New York, 1968.

Amal Kiran (K.D. Sethna), Teilhard de Chardin and our Time, The Integral Life Foundation, Waterford, Conneticut, 2000.

Anne Hunt Overzee, The Body Divine, Cambridge University Press, 1992.

King, Ursula, Towards A New Mysticism, Collins, London, 1980.

Brutreau, Beatrice, Evolution Towards Divinity, The Theosophical Publishing House, Wheaton, Illinois, 1974.

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