Response to Nay Sayers on Interfaith Engagement

Vijaya Rajiva (like Sandhya Jain, on whom I’ve written before) has been around for a long time, so it is difficult for me to write what I write below. Like many others, I’ve been and hope to continue being an interested reader of her pieces, which often take up the cudgels for Hindus & Hindu issues in a few online media outlets. Her latest attack series is again something else though, where she targets a subject where she betrays more passion for her agenda than any real understanding.

That it comes out of some visceral angst seems clearer & clearer as one reads through the article. By the time she is done taking the hatchet to Rajiv Malhotra’s approach to dialogue with the globally dominant non-Dharmic cultures & institutions, one wonders why this so so personal that it’s become bereft of depth & background knowledge, and looking more like a hack job than the output of someone who seems to have enjoyed some readership based on her self declared credentials as a Western academic. These credentials also need to be examined more thoroughly under these circumstances, considering she is busy using them as a basis for trying to undermine others’ scholarship by calling them names.

Not knowing her motivations beyond my past impression of her as someone quite fiercely protective of Hindu interests, people like me are at a loss as to why she’s gone into such a vehement ‘attack mode’ towards other public figures who, to the best of my knowledge, are also very protective of Hindu interests, and have dedicated a good part of their adult lives in trying to provide desperately needed intellectual leadership to us common Hindus, the leaderless “Hindu Sheep” of today.


 

Response to Nay Sayers on Interfaith Engagement

 

INTRODUCTION

This is an attempt to put down thoughts on the key subject of what is commonly called Interfaith/Intercultural Dialogue. This issue seems to have popped up on a few Hindu activists’ radar with great force ever since they saw a certain video [Click here]. The main thrust of their stand seems to be that Hindus should not participate in any interfaith/intercultural engagement, period. To make their case, they quote various historical reasons & precedents as to how this has been, and will continue to be harmful to Hindus.

My contention is that this stand oversimplifies the issue greatly. For those interested, I’ve also put my personal experiences on these interfaith issues near the end of this piece. [See Refs 5 & 6 for much more scholarly & informed opinions on this subject, by Navaratna Rajaram & R Venkatanarayanan]

From my perspective, the issue is not whether Hindu have any choice about participation or lack thereof, in the “game” of cultural/religions encounters & representations. For a few hundred years now, sophisticated institutions with global spread have been & are heavily invested in the overall “game” of subverting & digesting cultures such as the Hindu Dharmic ones (even if for the best of motives per their own theologies & dogmas).

The issue is whether Hindus concerned about this can sit by idly watching as the “game” is in progress, and things move towards unsavory outcomes Hindus don’t seem to be even seriously attempting to influence. The facts on the ground are that this game is on in dead earnest with billions of dollars bet on specific outcomes; and sadly, most capable Hindus are missing in action; busy either watching from the sidelines, or worse, “having better things to do”. If you’re reading this, you are part of a very small number that is even concerned. In this subgroup, there is a growing number vigorously interested in engagement – I count myself as one of those; and then there is a specific few who are repeatedly yelling “hands off”, whose writings are being discussed here.

By now most activist Hindus agree that Hindus need to take control of their own representation at mainstream public forums, since this is crucial to how Hindu thought survives into the next generations as a coherent whole, in its uniqueness, relevance & full depth. This is impossible if Hindus, especially those who have intellect & influence, advocate sitting it out/”riding out the storms safely”, etc for whatever historical reasons.

Obviously, to jump into this “intellectual Kurukshetra” is not for the faint hearted, or the ill prepared. So in this write up, I’ll also make an attempt to put in context Rajiv Malhotra’s extensive & deep work, and why the least a critic should do is to offer serious criticism, & not trivialize the issues via shrill rhetoric & mind numbing repetition of scare mongering & propaganda points.

It is self-defeating for putative Hindus leaders/activists – as some are doing right now,  to reflexively jump up & down crying “Wolf”, or issue dire warnings of the “sky is falling because he did this” variety, without engaging in some serious work & debate. The current bunch of criticism of Rajiv’s approach falls far short of any serious understanding or engagement with the real issues, leave alone knowing & acknowledging the groundwork Rajiv has done leading up to his current engagements.

Without serious homework to show for and real issues to hang their loose talk on; these critics risk losing their own credibility at best, and also risk being seen as Vaitandi spoilers at worst, contrary to the great Indic traditions of debate they purport to be defending & upholding (see section “MUDSLINGING Vs PHILOSOPHICAL DIFFERENCE” below for more on Vada, Jalpa & Vitanda)

Now on to the story…

 

THE STORY

Over the past few weeks, I’ve gotten BCCed (as have many of you, surely) on emails [See end of the Reference section for samples] carrying public blogs/articles from Smt Vijaya Rajiva which, regardless of what the header is, are always about one thing: Her reactions to the video [ Click here ] of Rajiv’s Malhotra’s interaction with Francis Clooney at U Mass, Dartmouth during the end of the year 2011. And now she’s been also joined by a few others, including Smt Sandhya Jain who echoes the same refrain in a different way. Both approvingly quote each other to bolster their positions. The rest that I’ve read are mostly derivative of, or very similar to these two, so it won’t add much if we discuss them here. [See Ref 3 for her conspiracy theory which has no legs, & Ref 4 for an example of her idea of serious criticism, with my annotations]

So what exactly is their position? And what is the relevance of this to those interested in Hindu & other Dharmic affairs? 

I will attempt to frame the issues in a way that is both clarifying to the reader, as well as opens the possibility for more direct issue-based discussions. I start with laying out Rajiv’s work, which seems to be the object of their criticism; and move on to the critics & their criticism itself.


ON RAJIV MALHOTRA’S WORK

In my opinion, Hindus today just do not have the option of ignoring interfaith dialogue, even if the cards are stacked against them, such is the ground situation. Not a day goes by without us being made aware of how little Hindu thought & attitudes counts in society today, be it the West, or even India where many say it is worst doe to the post-colonial dispensation in control of the public domain. Under these circumstances, it is imperative we come up with a good working framework which allows us to represent the key strengths of Hindu thought, and also hopefully puts the aggressive proselytizing Religions, as well as other Secular Western ideologies that are equally aggressive, on a defensive if that’s possible. The key point is for us to find ways to give the Dharmic systems space to live & breath freely.

It is here, in the context as it exists now, that Rajiv Malhotra’s comprehensive work shows its unique strengths.

Let’s start with the obvious. As part of a multi volume summation of his work over the years, Rajiv Malhotra wrote the book “Being Different – A Hindu Challenge to Western Universalism“. In his typically direct way, the thesis of his book is quite clear in the title itself. See the website [Click Here] for details of the book if you aren’t familiar, and particularly the 8 pg brochure [Click Here] where he lays out his key audiences, his goals vis-à-vis the book, etc.

It is a big task to even summarize just my own personal take on Rajiv Malhotra’s vast amount of work, but I’ll try so that there’s better context to the issue at hand. This context is extremely important before anyone sits down to judge, as the critics are doing, whether he is or isn’t capable of giving Hindu thought a good representation in a high stakes interfaith dialogue.

We can just start by looking only at the book Being Different. In & of itself, its strength as a powerful tool for those of the Dharmic persuasion (Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, Sikhs & others) should be obvious to anyone who spends the time reading it & energy reflecting on the framework it constructs and illuminates in great depth & breadth. Simply put, the book itself makes a good enough argument and can stand all by itself, strong enough to convince a reader regarding it’s thesis, especially those who are genuinely concerned with the aggressive thrust of Westernization & other forms  of Abrahamism that are busy eating away at the vitals of traditional Dharmic & other organic indigenous societies all over the globe. Not only that, it also does it in the best traditions of “Purvapaksha”, in such a manner that it carefully and meticulously characterizes the opposing Western thought systems in a way that it’s adherents (the Westerners) have to, & do agree as highly accurate.

This admission by prominent Westerners that “Yes we agree, you have got it right” regarding Western systems, seems to have become a major problem for some of these critics, but more of that later.

With this basic foundation laid firmly and encapsulated in the book –incidentally published by a mainstream publisher Harper Collins which is a coup in itself; Rajiv has engaged, & is engaging Westerners & Dharmic adherents in extensive discussions & dialogue. Beyond just writing the book and promoting it, he is also on the ground, in the “kshetra” with well thought out public deployment of the idea of “Digestion”. This is a vital takeaway from the Being Different book which cogently explains why core Dharmic concepts & methods are indigestible by Western frameworks, but could be easily seen as a superior framework which can easily absorb western frameworks shorn of their Adharmic elements; making it imperative for all right minded people to help preserve the integrity of he Dharmic systems.

This design & execution of a multi pronged strategy should have convinced a reader that here we have someone who not only has intellectual acumen & committed heart, but also a strong will & ability to deploy this framework & test it in real life situations. The vigor & clarity with which the author is pursuing it in all his public engagements is highly visible, and miles ahead of anything else put out in public on behalf of Hindus. But sadly, these critics don’t seem to be convinced.

 

CRITICISM OF RAJIV MALHOTRA’S WORK

Currently it appears that those who have any criticism to offer on this are narrowly focused on only one thing, which is Rajiv’s engagement with Prof/Rev Francis Clooney, Harvard Jesuit. Even this narrow slice is further narrowed to perorations & pontifications based on one set of videos. Criticism of this approach & its lack of depth & meaning are taken up later in this write-up.

The important point throughout, not to be forgotten under any circumstance, is the following. Rajiv’s writings & other activities over a decade & a half; both as a public intellectual & as a Hindu Philanthropist; are too well documented & widely disseminated (internet & otherwise) to be ignored by anyone interested, be it critic or defender. This is even more true for those who take it upon themselves to characterize his activities as “dangerous for Hindus”. At least it should be if they take the issues seriously enough. Willfully ignoring this sends the message that they’d rather trample on facts just to make a momentary sensation.

Rajiv has been developing his theses under the full glare of public scrutiny all this while. He is also on record on innumerable blogs & comments/responses where he meticulously deals with critics, with pointed replies justifying his position. He is on record even with these critics, in trying to engage them on issues before giving up. So as long as issues are framed seriously and are front & center, he is usually more than happy to oblige anyone who wants to discuss. This is not just my personal experience, but that of many of those who may not share his viewpoints but still have engaged him in debate.

So for someone to decide to take exception to one action of his, and treat it in isolation, is an analytical mistake of the first order. The least one could do is to take their own view seriously enough to spend energy developing it, and then argue/discuss their developed thesis in opposition to his thesis.

Sadly what we see here are people who wish to debunk a body of work in some ill thought out public campaign based on personal hunches & mind-reading.

INSTITUIONAL MECHANISMS ARE KEY, NOT INDIVIDUALS

Demonizing one individual may be fun & easy, but gets us nowhere. The institutional mechanisms in place (Seminaries, Foundations, and innumerable organizations dedicated to “spreading the good news”, etc) can and do easily produce many more. How many does one “chase down” via personalized agendas, & what is the overall benefit for the Hindu cause?

Clooney is not doing this on his own or for pure personal gratification. He is doing whatever he does to advance the agenda as a respected member of a respected institution, one that’s part of the Western establishment. The analogy that most of us would understand would be of that of a Corporate employee who follows the rules of the Corporations, and forcefully implements it’s “Mission Statement”. What (s)he does for the Corporation is not the individual’s liability, but the Corporation’s liability, and the Corporation/State protects him/her as long as (s) implements its policies. So blaming/villainizing/demonizing him as an individual will be meaningless at best, and highly counterproductive at worst. It is the Institutions that train their Theologians (of which Clooney is just one among many) that need to be understood & contended with by Hindus & others being victimized.

It’s like the Puranic stories of the Rakshasa (the Abrahamic expansionism) whose drops of blood keep producing further rakshasas, until the source is challenged & hopefully taken care of.

Many Hindus (especially intellectuals like the critics mentioned here) miss this point entirely. A tiny few like Rajiv Malhotra have spent 15+ years deeply studying/engaging/exposing these Institutional agendas. Much of what others (like these critics) claim as “I have found out” is very properly documented publicly, often for the first time in this context, by Rajiv’s work, based on his solid research, both in the field, and his extensive literature surveys. Again, if you haven’t already, Please see the books’ websites at least: Breaking India (http://BreakingIndia.com ) & Being Different ( http://BeingDifferentBook.com ). Both pertain to issues of deep importance to Hindus, though the specifics are different. Needless to say, Rajiv has not stopped promoting the older BI book, and he demonstrates with great clarity to anyone who will listen, that they are both facets of the same overall thesis on Dharmic thought’s position in the world.

This piece of mine is in response to Rajiv’s critics who are spreading half baked articles over large email networks & confusing more Hindus. Perhaps Vijaya Rajiva may again want to reflect on the difference between targeting individuals (like Clooney, and via him targeting Rajiv) vs. seriously targeting the institutions behind them, as Rajiv is meticulously doing.

WRITE UPS OF CRITICS (Vijaya Rajiva, mainly)

And here is where one needs to call these critics to account. These pieces, almost all written over the past few weeks, are fixated on the individual personas of Rajiv Malhotra & Francis Clooney and this one public interaction regarding the BD book, one of many they’ve had.  Had the critics spent more time & energy with all the background, and dealt with issues rather than spinning highly personalized conspiracy theories, they would have realized their accusations just won’t fly.

Of course, in today’s fast paced world, people’s attention span is very low, and ability to stay on topic for more than a fleeting bit is pretty rare even for avid readers. This seems to have been taken advantage of by these critics’, where they seem to be churning out multiple articles mindlessly repeating the same narrow message with the same nebulous justification.

Here is the sum & substance of the accusations they’ve put together so far–  [See Ref 4 for some verbatim samplers from Smt Vijaya Rajiva]

-“He’s consorting with the Wolf  …He’s bringing in a Trojan Horse … look, look (at this video) .. we can’t have this going on. This is dangerous. We should just not engage in any  way with Christians & Westerners on these issues.

Rajiv’s initiative is dangerous because:

-It leads to promoting Inculturation/Acculturation of Hindus by Christianity

-Clooney is already known to be a Jesuit, look at what Jesuits have done throughout history to us.

-Clooney will use Rajiv to get into Hindu issues, maybe get into Rashtrapati Bhavan. (For what, we neither know not care!)

Evidence, what evidence? See how many blogs we have out, repeating the same thing again & again? That’s all you’re going to get.

One might as well also know, not very surprisingly in hindsight, that these critics just don’t find it worthwhile to bother reading the book. Vijay Rajiva has flippantly said so much more than once that she doesn’t need to do so. They’ve not even bothered to do the next best thing, which would be criticizing the thesis proper in the book. Even this is readily available to any mildly discerning mind on the book’s website in various forms (not to again mention the title which plainly says, “…A Challenge To Western Universalism“) And yes, this also includes the “infamous” Malhotra-Clooney interaction videos if looked at without preconceived biases as to who “won” or “lost” as if it were the gladiatorial combat to decide who rules the world. Instead they are using their personal take on the video, all wishful fantasizing about atmospherics, body language, their own background “knowledge” which is never spelt out in fast paced blogs, willfully ignoring the overall thrust of the video to reject it “on principle” as bad stuff for Hindus.

PERSONAL EXPERIENCES

It is very surprising, especially coming from the likes of Vijaya Rajiva who seem to have lived long enough in the West to understand, that they have created a narrowly defined straw man in the name of “Interfaith Dialogue”; and then proceed to tar any & every encounter of Hindus with non-Hindus by the same brush. Don’t they realize that ANY Hindu institution set up in the West (Temple, Dharmic/Vedic society, Ashram, & what have you) is a living example of “Interfaith Dialogue” in progress? So even a passing familiarity with how these Hindu institutions have to negotiate with local laws & attitudes (all of them heavily Judeo-Christian) ALL THE TIME; would have cooled the overheated rhetoric somewhat.

It is one thing for Sandhya Jain to sit in the comfort of urban India & arrogantly rant about “leave the Punyabhoomi, & you’re no longer authentic Hindu” and quite another for Vijaya Rajiva to join in. Rather hypocritical for a Hindu living in the West who will have benefited from these temples etc at least a few times, even if not regularly. Perhaps these two should have a chat about this.

To make this long piece more interesting, and also to let you know where I’m coming from, let me share my personal experiences in the context of these issues, especially whether they can be avoided at all unless one retreats into a ghettoized shell. I’ve been actively monitoring things for a while now, but this is only a snapshot of the past few weeks, from around the turn of the year 2011 to 2012. I’m using these to illustrate what many of us (especially those living in the West) are aware of on a day to day basis.

1. Interfaith Dialogue at our local temple (US Midwest)
Below is a typical interfaith discussion I attended. Why, one might ask. My answer is, because I try to attend these & learn whatever I can about their workings, and alert leaders on what the problems are when one doesn’t do one’s homework properly.

Like many similar ones, this effort was promoted by a group aiming for “Civilizational Transformation” via their “Light Of Light Ministries” (“Ministry” is a Christian term, for those unfamiliar, kind of like a Church/Mission). The pastor of this group seems to be in some indeterminate stage of her own U-Turn, since she betrays substantial Hindu/Buddhist influences, attends group bhajans of a local bhakti group, & also sang a Bhajan with all the Hare Rama/Krishnas mixed up with Allah, Jesus etc. all well intentioned, no doubt. For those not aware, the U-Turn phenomenon is another seminal contribution of Rajiv’s to understanding how Hindu thought & systems are used & sometimes abused and appropriated by others, primarily Westerners.

This interfaith event showed me another instance of well intentioned people appropriating dharmic concepts into their own local identities as Christians, since that is culturally what they are most comfortable with, and their culture does not have a meaningful history of respectfully acknowledging what it takes from other. The plus side is- they claim, they (U Turners)  are progressively loosening the hold of Abrahamic Theology/Cosmology on westerners by “bringing in Eastern Wisdom, but the minus side certainly is the Digestion issue that’s difficult to pin down without something like Rajiv’s book to give a context . [See Ref 1 for full details]

2. Interactions with well heeled Hindus who also have their hearts & wallets out for Hindu causes
I was at a meeting with quite senior level execs of a Hindu driven charity that does a wonderful job for educating kids in a Dharmic way in India. During lunch the conversation turned to Hindu issues vis-à-vis Christianity, conversions, etc. I saw the same confusion in identifying the “enemy” properly, beyond just knowing that “conversion to Abrahamism is bad, really bad” at a gut level. These people, who generously donate for Hindu causes, are like most Hindus in wanting to think with their hearts, and completely resist being told simple facts that it’s not all about the Vatican as they confidently seem to think, that the Protestants & neo Christian sects are worse & vastly more powerful (ref Breaking India for details on this – and incidentally, how can Vijaya Rajiva, the Political Philosopher Who Taught At A Canadian University, or PPWTAACU in short, miss/ignore this when making Clooney as some arch-villain, after claiming to have read & liked the book ??). Also, well to do Hindus easily align themselves with Western Conservatism (vs. Liberalism) without due thought to it’s deep Christian roots (Not that Western liberalism itself is totally Dharmic in any way). A kind of intellectual laziness outside one’s professional domain seems to be the hall mark of most Hindus, so that one just “adopts” a readymade position so one doesn’t have to think hard…(And we Hindus do think/work really hard to keep our families & businesses healthy! It just doesn’t seem something necessary for our own culture, sadly enough. )

3. Interactions with Hindu youth activists/leaders who do have their hearts & energy out for Hindu causes
I was at a meeting with young Hindu student volunteers, some of them even Phd candidates in the “hard sciences”. They are equally ignorant of Western thought & history (can our PPWTAACU please use some of her irrepressible energy to educate them please?). Like most Hindus, they were particularly confused about where Hindu thought stands in the Religion Vs Secularism debate, & which of these Western systems one needs to engage & how. I found them lacking knowledge of basic western(Christian & secular) history, full of sloganeering level rhetoric that just collapses vapidly when challenged as erroneous & lacking solid facts. They are crying to be educated, but all they would get is dramatic rhetoric from the likes of these critics (including the PPWTAACU), were it not for work such as Rajiv’s. I say this with all conviction I can muster, for I was in a similar state of confusion till I started following his, and work like his, about  6-7 years ago.

4. Interactions with Hindu 2nd Gen youth in US who have very little meaningful identification with their inherited Dharmic philosophy,   and look for “spirituality, not religion” in their search for meaning on life.
I’ve had numerous interactions with second Gen Indian-American youth and below is a typical example. They are happy to relegate Hindu practices that they grew up with to the background while they happily jump into the “I’m spiritual, not religious” bandwagon, all the while not realizing that the Jean Houstons, The Wayne Dyers, the Deepak Chopras they follow & go ga ga over, are only derivatives of original Dharmic thought & practices.

With this college kid, it was somewhat different, since he’s sporadically attended our temple school a few years ago, so he remembered tenuous connections between the Gita, swami Vivekananda, on one hand, and on the other hand all the slick “spiritual” products that so fascinate him today. Using the Being Different book, I was able to walk him through the whole thesis on the Dharmic difference, and how it’s the key source upon which New-Age thought has built itself up. Without Rajiv’s work, it would have been impossible for me to say this with any degree of credibility.

ARE THERE ANY ALTERNATIVES?

In criticizing Rajiv’s approach, Vijaya Rajiva has said “Our youth should not be further distracted by interfaith dialogue. Rather, they should be slowly but surely brought back to a rich and complex tradition without giving the enemy the opportunity to corner the market of ideas, so to speak.” I honestly think this vacuous high minded rhetoric shows how out-of-touch she is from ground realities.

An interfaith/Anti(Hindu)faith Monologue from the West is already something that all youth are inescapably dealing with, via Media/Academia. It is “In-Our-Face” and orders of magnitude beyond being a “distraction” as she dismissively opines. The Western position (both secular & religious) is already being beamed at them relentlessly, and young Hindus are too naive & unwary to know how to deal with this, except for “buying-in” and walking away from their traditions.

Rajiv’s approach is one (& really the only one I know that is framed comprehensively enough) that has given the Dharmic side appropriate ammunition to withstand what’s going on, and hopefully get the ball rolling for the Dharmic side.

Rather than cry Wolf & trying to scare Hindus without good solid reasons to back it up, critics like VR should at least try to suggest what they would rather do instead. Here’s where meaningful effort beyond a few articles attacking others’ approach is required. For that matter, how in real terms does one “
slowly but surely bring back youth ….. to a rich and complex tradition without giving the enemy the opportunity to corner the market of ideas,…” ?? What practical efforts has she even thought of making in this regard?

Slogans & platitudes do not an approach make.
One should try this for real with youth & see how much of a tough sell this is. I’ve been involved with youth like these over the past few years & have a feel for how difficult the ground reality really is.

We Hindus either get our act together (vis-à-vis making a proper case for Hindu thought), or continue petty thinking & pulling down others without due thought, while the problem grows in magnitude.

In sum, it’s not a pretty picture. Our Hindu thought is being thought by others and we are being characterized by others. In this atmosphere, ostrich in the sand won’t work, we have to engage with non-Hindus with confidence, so that our coming generations will be able to have Dharmic ways continually enrich their lives.

 

MUDSLINGING Vs DEBATING PHILOSOPHICAL DIFFERENCES

In classic ancient India, Dharmic debates were conducted at a high standard of rigor. The Nyaya sutras give a nice summary on kinds & levels of debate. The best is considered Vaada (debating sincerely in search of truth), and really the only mode considered worthwhile in the philosophic sense. Next comes Jalpa (debating to undermine the opponent’s doctrine using technicalities). At the very bottom comes Vitanda (undermining the opponent using any & every means just for the sake of victory).

Not only that, but from the Valmiki Ramayana onwards, the Vedic ethos has frowned upon debaters trying to undermine opponents while they themselves don’t have any worthwhile doctrine to defend. In other words, these type of debaters are at best frivolous, and at worst have hidden motives that may disqualify them from the debate. This is the tradition we Hindus are heir to. [ Ref 2 ]

Judging from what’s been appearing in public websites & mass BCCed emails, the Naysayers to Rajiv’s approach haven’t shown much evidence of looking for Vaada (vaad-vivaada that just may lead to samvaada, one might say). An utter lack of clarity on what their own approach is, and showing no evidence of having tried it, will force the observer to conclude this is more Jalpa & Vitanda, i.e. destructive reasoning for unknown (but easily inferable) motives.

If they are yet serious enough to thrash out the philosophical differences, they should at a minimum lay out their own approach in words & deeds, so that those interested can see these side by side & make an “apples-to-apples” type comparison.


NOTES & REFERENCES

1. (..contd from main article – “1. Interfaith Dialogue at our local temple …“)

The “state of play” is like this for the “digestible” culture.

The “Metaphysical Christian” gave an account of Christianity pretty much the same as the Being Different book has. For all his criticism of its theology/its Imperialistic politics, though, he’s gone back to the cultural comfort zone, to “reform from within” so to speak…

I went there armed with the Being Different book. Suffice to say that for westerners (Christians & Jews) & Muslims, secure in the defense mechanisms of their respective religions/traditions, they are comfortable in describing “this is us”, it is left to the Hindus to try & be intelligible to them, leading to much of the gross oversimplifications & wrong mapping the book talks about.

In my supplementaries, I did make the key points that are so well highlighted in the book-

One question was ” are there false prophets & gurus, and if so, how do you recognize them?”. In all the confused talk mixing up gurus with prophets (with the rep of Islam uncompromisingly stating that essentially “Mohd is the final prophet, and the once before are all there in the Koran, period.”), it was left to me to add that both the terms, as well as the actual processes involved, come from fundamentally different cultures & worldviews. I also took the opportunity to add that we need to be able to live with people/cultures that have irreconcilable differences with us, understand these differences, appreciate the differences respectfully, and then we can talk about living together happily etc.

The Imam & Jewish Rabbi (also a Law/History prof) both agreed with me that equating the guru to prophet was unjust to both traditions. The Christian pastor (who seems to be a “benevolent” U-turner from being a Baptist Seminary student, then, “practicing Hinduism/Kriya Yoga & Tai Chi for 4 years”, then understanding that all religions “lead to the same path”, to his current state as a pastor of a “Metaphysical Christian Church” influenced by J Krishnamurti, other Theosophists, etc.) wanted to still call the guru/prophet difference as “semantics” …. others wouldn’t agree, of course.

In this attempt, another side issue also was that while there was clarity on who/what a Prophet is, the guru was being downgraded into being described as a generic “teacher”, all done with the best of intentions to “move the dialogue forward”.

I intervened a few more times, clearly using Sanskrit words “atman”, “moksha”, “maya”, daana”, “bhiksha” etc in my answers, prefacing that I would like to give the audience of the real terminology, and also let them know that meanings get distorted in translation.

2. Philosophy in Classical India, An Introduction and Analysis, Jonardon Ganeri, Routledge, 2001

[Excerpt below is from Chapter 1, on Nyayasutra]

Let us first see that Vatsyayana shares the epic horror of aimless reason.

Reason, he says, can be used in one of three ways. One may employ it in a good and proper way (vaada), as one does when one’s goal is to ascertain the truth of the matter. One may employ it in a bad or improper way (jalpa), as when one’s goal is to defend one’s position at all costs, using any intellectual tricks one can think of.

Finally, one might employ reason in a negative and destructive way (vitandå). Here one has no goal other than to undermine one’s opponent. People who use reason in this way are very like the sceptics and unbelievers of the epics, and Vatsyayana disapproves. He claims indeed that to use reason in this way is virtually self-defeating:

A vaitandika is one who employs destructive criticism. If, when questioned about the purpose [of so doing], he says ‘this is my thesis’ or ‘this is my conclusion,’ he surrenders his status as a vaitandika. If he says that he has a purpose, to make known the defects of the opponent, this too is the same.

 

For if he says that there is one who makes things known or one who knows, or that there is a thing by which things are made known or a thing made known, then he surrenders his status as a vaitandika.

Vitanda is the sceptic’s use of reason.

Vatsyayana’s point is that someone who presents an argument against a thesis has at least that refutation as their goal, and so commits himself to the machinery of critical examination.

But a vaitandika who accepts this gives up his claim to use reason aimlessly, without
commitment. So the aimless use of reason is not just pernicious, it is self-defeating!
The salient point here is that reason must have a purpose, and the question is what that purpose should be.

3. Vijaya Rajiva Materializes a Rashtrapati Bhavan Encounter:
The “Rashtrapati Bhavan” point seems to be a pivotal issue for smt Vijaya Rajiva. Having no more knowledge about it than what Rajiv has already shared in public, I think I am right in concluding that there was no plan to connect Clooney in any way/shape or form to this event, even if it had really happened.

My recollection  on this issue is that some old school colleague of Rajiv’s had taken it upon himself to organize an “old boys meeting” type event at the RB inviting Rajiv to share a few minutes on the BD book, etc, and Rajiv mentioned it in passing in his group. Clooney was never remotely linked with this anywhere that I recall. Moreover, under that context, I fail to see how relevant or interested he would be in that atmosphere.

It is here that
smt Vijaya Rajiva’s heated imagination takes over, and I characterize her this way advisedly, since I’ve had numerous direct & indirect experience with her in how she conjectures wildly & jumps to conclusions which would be laughed off by any marginally competent person with background knowledge. This is not the first occasion where she’s made wild judgments which came to naught. She indeed constructs a potently disastrous scenario, and then promptly takes it to press, without any thought to it’s ramifications, even for the damage it will do to her own credibility.

The trouble is she takes herself extremely seriously and expects others to do the same automatically. After she makes her conclusions, they become “facts” to be played out in public as such, staking her entire credibility on such “facts”. Most people give benefit of doubt for a while (as I did) till things stop adding up. While in my interactions I’ve found here civil to the extreme, Personally speaking, I have persistently tried to interact with her on such issues (fact verification) & drawn a blank, while she clothes herself in her “Political Philosopher” robes and dismisses the concerns. I’ve stopped interactions quite a whole ago, realizing their futility.

While all of us have different flaws in our judgment, when we go public at such a a level, we are accountable for our conjectures & surmises. She is accountable for all the wild things she’s written.
And the collateral damage will build up the more she keeps repeating her unchallenged assertions, and others mindlessly take it upon themselves to keep the mill churning. This needs to be called to account, and this piece is my take on it.

I’d request any reader to reconsider this whole RB-Clooney connection independent of her surmises & see if it makes any practical sense. Hopefully the reader will take an objective look at the issues this raises on her credibility. As far as I’m concerned, PPWTAACU or not, I’m seeing less & less reason why she needs to be treated as someone who knows what she’s up to in Public discussions.

4. Representative Verbatim Samplers From Smt Vijaya Rajiva :

Since the numerous blogs are all repeating the same point, let’s pick the latest(which it wont be for long, at the rate at which she’s churning out these ..er.. bestsellers), where she ladles advice by the barrelful. Her article matter is in italics, followed by my reactions.

[WARNING: To really see how pathetically hard she has tried to criticize Rajiv, one must see the original video which is the main subject of this, ..er…criticism. The entire article below is probably in everyone’s inbox, or one can easily google it]

‘How Not to Engage in Hindu Christian Dialogue’

 

Dr. Vijaya Rajiva

Jan. 17, 2012


“At a Discussion at the University of Massachusetts (Dartmouth) Rajiv Malhotra, the author of the book Breaking India (2011) addressing a small gathering, presented a spectacle of retreat and submission before a known ‘adversary’ Jesuit theologian and scholar Dr. Francis Xavier Clooney. Malhotra’s co author Aravindan Neelakandan was not present and it is not known what his views are on his co author’s start of a new career in Hindu Christian Dialogue.


It was not so long ago that Breaking India had poignantly informed readers of the dangers facing India : terrorism, maoism, Inculturation from the Church and so on. And now we see the one of the authors of that book engaging with the self same Inculturation forces, under the rubric of Interfaith Dialogue, in this instance, Hindu Christian Dialogue. The present writer has explained in previous articles the reasons for this capitulation by Shri Malhotra. …..”

VR gets her facts mixed up right from the beginning: Neelakandan (his co-author in the previous book) is nowhere in the picture as far as this book is concerned. So why ask the fatuous question about what his views are? And what’s the point of calling Clooney an “adversary” within quotation marks … is it some clever insinuation that one’s own characterization is wrong, or done in jest? And what “capitulation” that only she can imagine, and no one else can see?

“At present Hindus should sit up and take notice of the fact that Shri Malhotra has further intentions of spreading his ‘message.’

During his recent visit to India for talks on his new book Being Different, Malhotra met three different groups. The first meeting was with academics in Delhi amongst whom was a professor from Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU, not known for its Hindu orientation) who informed Malhotra that he Malhotra is interested in ‘knowledge systems’. Shri Malhotra repeated this line at Dartmouth. In the video of the Discussion there he tells us that he is interested in knowledge systems, that he is not interested in the ‘politics’ of interfaith dialogue. This coming from the author of Breaking India is indeed precious !”

Again ‘message’ is in quotation marks. Does it convey anything other than VRs scepticism/contempt? Everybody who knows anything knows that JNU is not very “Hindu oriented”. So instead of acknowledging the achievement that a book like BD is being even discussed there, she willfully twists it around. For her to not to be seen as a foolish heckler, she needs to prove why the book shouldn’t be seen as a strong Hindu philosophical voice, instead of her blabbing out of context half truths about knowledge systems.  It is plain she doesn’t understand what the conversation on knowledge systems is about, just “knows” it to be something fishy!

“…… It is one thing for diasporic Hindus to keep themselves occupied with interfaith dialogue, quite another thing to help in the subversion of the aam admi Hindu and the traditional acharyas, gurus and maths by the Church. These have been the mainstay of our civilisation and we tinker with them at our own peril.


The present writer has explained why this is so, in a previous article  ‘ If a thing ain’t broke don’t fix it !’ (in Bharata Bharati, kalyanblogspot & Haindava Keralam). The central argument of that article is that the traditional acharyas are well versed in their own tradition and that should continue. Spreading the virus of interfaith dialogue amongst them is doing a disservice to them and to the Hindu Samaj.”

Oh that poor “aam admi Hindu” whose subversion she tries so hard to prevent via her blogs! And now dare Rajiv “tinker with all the aam admi, the acharyas, gurus & maths”! This seems to be her understanding of what Rajiv is doing when he very pointedly talks only about the gurus who compromise by using “sameness with Christianity” to get western & westernized disciples. What bizarre leap of conjecture by the PPWTAACU!

“Here, we want to briefly examine the shape of things to come by looking at the process by which the well trained Jesuit scholar Dr. Franics Xavier Clooney was able to exploit Rajiv Malhotra’s vulnerabilities, both the latter’s new found agenda of interfaith dialogue (and now quite openly Hindu Christian Dialogue) and his position as an autodidact. The ‘churning’ that Malhotra did in understanding the differences between Hinduism and the monotheistic faiths (specifically Christianity) is important to himself undoubtedly. He is taken in by his own involvement with this process and as with most autodidacts (self taught) though not all, he imagines this to be a world shaking event. This subjective illusion can be the basis of a fine adventure of ideas, even perhaps an autobiographical account of his personal evolution. But as a ‘scholarly’ attempt to tackle a well trained adversary it was bound to end in a debacle. “

Anyone who sees the video, and has a basic feel for the book being discussed would wonder how, pray, is it a “debacle” except in her own feverish imagination? Just because she describes him as “autodidact” & herself as PPWTAACU, how does it follow that she herself is capable of judging how well, or ill prepared he is?

“The present writer has pointed out on several occasions that Dr. Clooney is a soft spoken, well spoken, well trained scholar who does not appear before audiences with the words Inculturation and Conversion blazoned on his forehead. His modus operandi is intellectual discussion and the occasion at Dartmouth provided him with a ready venue. Both he he and Malhotra expect to continue these interfaith, Hindu Christian dialogues. This was clearly stated. These ‘dialogues’ will not benefit the Hindu Samaj. They will only offer opportunities for Fr. Clooney to open the door further into Inculturation while providing Malhotra with the ILLUSION that he is benefitting Hinduism by explaining the differences between Hinduism and the monotheistic faiths to a Western audience, even though he claims that he is addressing himself to Hindus.


After a 34 minute talk (approximately) by Malhotra on the themes of his book Being Different, Dr. Clooney took the podium and his talk lasted approximately 46 minutes. It has a 3 pronged approach and its subtlety and sophistication are all too evident, besides which Malhotra sounded amatuerish and unprepared.”

There is nothing that “the present writer” can point out that’s not obvious to a mildly intelligent person watching the video. What’s the special Sherlockian power that the PPWTAACU is displaying here, one wonders? Mouthing non sequiters with a dramatic flair doesn’t add any meaning to her case. She loftily pronounces “Malhotra sounds unprepared” …Huh ?  And how did she conclude that? Of course in her mind it seems like a gladiatorial combat where she’s already picked a “suitable winner”, perhaps.

………..

 

“…The present writer has already pointed out elsewhere that Shri Malhotra’s method Purva Paksha was fatally flawed. He truncated the ancient Hindu method of argument (Tarka Shastra) by omitting an important section of it : Refutation of the opponent’s arguments. He merely ‘gazed’ at the opponent but did not refute him. And the Hindu Christian ‘dialogue’ is set up just for that.”


The ancient method consists of (1) statement of the opponent’s arguments, (2) REFUTATION of the opponent’s argumenst, (3)Statement of one’s own arguments.

How silly to mix up technical points as if they’re of some substance. Has the PPWTAACU ever tried to get anyone (literally anyone) to debate her strictly according to the ancient methods? It won’t happen outside a traditional Intra-Dharmic contest today (if even that) so it is ludicrous to expect Rajiv to insist that others “debate according to Tarka Shastra”. The key point she misses by a mile in all her criticisms is that Rajiv has successfully understood & used the Tarka Shastra and done her  point (1) which is nothing but the Poorvapaksha that he takes such great pains to explain. She seems to take great pains to ignore this & mischaracterize what he’s doing as anything but. More of that next….

“Dr. Clooney, even as he praised his host,managed to show that Shri Malhotra did not really understand the West, especially Christianity. At least half a dozen examples were cited and it would be useful here to point out two or three of them. One of them was Malhotra’s incomplete understanding of the god of Christianity and his historicity. Another example was the ‘complexity’ of the synthetic unity of Christian thought, unlike Malhotra’s implied description of it as being inferior to Hindu integral unity.


“The third example is telling. Clooney pointed out that in using the periodisation of history as starting with Rome, followed by the birth of Christianity, followed by Renaissance & Reformation and then followed by Modern Science, the Enlightenment, and then Colonialism etc. Malhtora was using the West’s own model of itself. Hence, here again Malhotra was deficient in truly describing the West and especially Christianity.”

If Malhotra was “using the West’s own model of itself” then surely he was “truly describing the West, especially Christianity” in the West’s own terms, by Clooney’s own admission! Right ? That means his Poorvapaksha is acknowledged as correct, by her own logic! How can she so easily trip herself up & contradict herself ?

……


“All in all, the video shows a dismal lack of preparedness by Shri Malhotra on how to handle the Jesuit scholar. This is, ofcourse, where his lack of formal training shows up. What should alarm the Hindu Samaj is that the book Being Different is being considered (so the author informs us) for students at the Department of Psychology at the University of Delhi. One hopes that intrepid students and faculty can tackle the situation. Hindus do not need lectures on what atman or punarjanmam mean, nor do they need to seek for a place at the table of Western Universalism( which is Shri Malhotra’s stated aim).


Dr. Clooney has already done the rounds of institutions in Chennai, among college students in particular. Should he appear at classrooms in Delhi one can only hope that the door of interfaith dialogue is firmly shut. The book Being Different cannot be allowed to become the thin end of the wedge for Inculturation (although that may not be the author’s aim).


The chipping away at the aam admi Hindu and the traditional acharyas. gurus and maths has been the ancient dream of the Catholic Church. Hindus should resolutely show up these designs and above all reject Hindu Christian Dialogue. That exercise is intended to be a distraction. The real target of the Church are the aam admi Hindu and the traditional acharyas, gurus and maths, because the Church has understood that these are the backbone of our civilisation .


(Dr. Vijaya Rajiva is a Political Philosopher who taught at a Canadin university. Her academic training is in Philosophy, Political Science, Political Economy and History).”

One is tempted to dismiss the rest with “yeah yeah…whatever”, but one nagging question does present itself in the end. For all her repeatedly hammering on Rajiv’s lack of “training”, “credentials” (by repeatedly calling him “autodidact”), it severely begs the question regarding her own training & qualification to judge his work.

Merely calling oneself “a Political Philosopher who taught at a Canadian university. …academic training is in Philosophy, Political Science, Political Economy and History” is rather too vague to be really credible. Which University? What Timeframe? What has she published as an Academic ? (Sorry, fluffy op-eds in limited audience online publications don’t establish stature or ability). It’s time to make it public.

5. N S Rajaram On Interfaith/Intercultural encounters:
I can claim to know both Rajiv Malhotra and Francis Clooney and I support the idea of engaging with Clooney and others like him in an informed and civilized manner. It is not proper to compare Clooney with Bishop Caldwell (not a Jesuit, but a British accomplice) or Robert de Nobili nearly 400 years ago.

What we need today is sophisticated engagement so that the Christian side realizes that we know what we are talking about and will not swallow their sugar-coated versions of propaganda. This means studying them and debating them, not hiding from them. This was the attitude I learnt from Ram Swarup and Sita Ram Goel. Through them I got to know also the late Raimundo Panicker.

We should rid ourselves of the fear of Christian thinkers. We should be able to more than hold our own. My view is that it is not enough if we are strong– our adversaries should know we are strong and can defend ourselves. Avoiding them will send the wrong message.

As far as the Hindu religious leaders and the Hindutva group is concerned– my experience is they have not yet reached the point they can debate let alone defeat Christian theologians. So it would not be wise to depend on them. That at least has been my experience. They are yet to produce a Ram Swarup or Sita Ram Goel.

At the ground level, the danger is coming from what I call secular infiltration– infiltration of secular institutions like the government, public sector works, civil service, judiciary and the like by christian sympathizers with Hindu-like names. Aggressive prosetylization is mainly from protestant evangelical groups, nearly all of them manned by Indian mercenaries. I know this from first hand experience and we are meeting them by appropriate methods using force and the police. You can’t engage them in a debate.

Shankara did not shun dialog or debate, he engaged the Mimamskas. Dialog or debate sharpens intellect and analysis.

What is in it for Hindus? It forces us to study the adversary and assess its strengths and weaknesses– something the Hindus a thousand years ago failed to do when Islam came.

Above all it sends the message to Christians that we know what they are up to and are not afraid of them.

The Acharyas are insular and inward looking and easily duped by Christian sophists and their sugar-coated poison in the form of of flattery. It would be a mistake for us to depend on them to defend Hinduism. They didn’t do it for a thousand years.
Are we going to wait for another Shankara to appear in our midst or deal with the situation as it now exists? You can’t defeat by NOT engaging, by running away. And will Christians be willing play by the same rules as Mandana Misra did 1000 years or more ago?

(There is record of Christians, even an occasional missionary becoming a Vedantin and preaching it. I have myself lectured on Vedanta and the Gita at the Universal Unitarian Church.)

The rules of the game have changed and we cannot revive the past– real or imagined, more imagined than real of the situation of 1500 years ago.

When Islam came to India with its total war in the name of religion, Hindus failed to see that the rules of the game had changed. Where were the Acharyas then to study Islamic scripture and advice the rulers that this was a different kind of warfare?

Krishna saw through Karna’s sophistry and advised Arjuna that he had to fight in Kaliyuga by the rules of Kali, but these Acharyas were too full of themselves to see the reality.

That is why I feel that even if Prithviraj Chauhan had defeated Muhammad of Ghur a second time or even killed him, Hindus would not have prevented the onslaught of Islam. Their thinkers had failed them. There were many tactical victories to be sure, but no understanding of what islam was trying to do India and Hinduism.

I find that this revivalist mindset– that we can find solutions to the present by going back to the past has debilitated the Hindus. Each age must find its own solutions to its problems. Let us learn from the past without becoming prisoners to it.
-N.S. Rajaram

6. R Venkatanarayanan On Interfaith/Intercultural encounters:
Dr. Rajaram has hit the nail on its head. May I add a few points for calm consideration? :

1. Rev. Clooney is more likely than not a clever Missionary-cum-scholar trying to subvert and co-opt Hindu religious leaders and scholars. Acculturation is taking more and more enticing forms–Bharatanatyam on Bible stories; Jesus Saharanamam; dialogs with innocent Vaishnava religious savants.

But what should be the right response to each one of these? How will it help Hindus to  run away from confronting the Clooneys in well prepared debates? Given the open claim of Missionaries about accelerated conversion in India how can we Hindus demand that they shall not take recourse to insidious weapons of acculturation , a couple of which are mentioned above? Is it not better to (a) highlight in debates written or oral the shallowness of the acculturation manifestations; (b) engage in a campaign more vigorous than hitherto among HINDUS alerting them to these acculturation activities and asking them to oppose them at the grass roots?; (c) appropriately sensitize individual Hindu religious leaders and their collectives, in an organized manner on the need for good preparation before taking the dais with these wily missionaries and not sign any documents without thorough expert opinion and finally (d) do what Dr. Rajaram has mentioned at the end of his posting below?

Will Hindus denigrating and attacking each other help better than the above four suggestions, in safeguarding Hindu Dharma and Society?
-R.Venkatanarayanan

 

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