The Clash over Coherence: Rajiv’s Response to Larson

The Clash over Coherence: Author’s Response to Larson

Recently, I was invited to the ashram of a prominent Hindu guru in the US, where a Jewish American professor of Hinduism at a US university was explaining what she considered to be bias against Hinduism in a popular American school textbook. The Hinduism chapter featured impressive pictures of all sorts of symbols, deities and rituals, and contained factually accurate descriptions of a random assortment of elements associated with Hinduism. The professor could not pin down any specific statement in the chapter that was incorrect, in and of itself. Yet, the chapter failed to convey any sense of what Hinduism actually meant; it would leave a student with the impression of Hinduism as a random montage of incoherent sensory overload. In contrast, the chapters on all other major religions started out by establishing coherent ideas of how those religions saw themselves, followed by details presented in an organized manner.


This incident sharpened my insight into the crux of the problem I confront in BD. It helped me identify the key questions upon which the present debate centers: Is Hinduism (and dharma in general) incoherent, as many Western representations assume? Or is it, in fact, coherent? If it is coherent, is it of a positive kind that offers something of value to humanity, or is it a scourge of abusive practices that ought to get erased through “progress”?


Implicit in Larson’s article is a view that enjoys currency among several Western scholars and serves as a template for much of their scholarship. By no means do all Western scholars share this view, but it is common enough to underpin a large body of Western writing on Hinduism, and sufficiently entrenched to command virtually unconscious application in the work of some authors. The central premise underlying this view is that dharma (and in particular, Hinduism) lacks coherence of any worthy kind. While this is not typically articulated in express terms, it remains a key refractive characteristic of the lens through which the West gazes upon dharma.


According to this premise, dharma can at best be “appreciated” as a mishmash of disparate, contradictory and mutually irreconcilable ideas and practices. Sociologists and anthropologists focus upon conflicts and oppression in modern Indian society, and project their findings upon old Indian texts to show that incoherence has always been an essential characteristic of India. Even those scholars of religion who might otherwise show appreciation for Hinduism often portray it as an exotic and unintelligible flea market of peculiar practices and strange impediments, reminiscent of other primitive societies that have already been encountered and superseded by the West. Chapter 4 of BD summarizes various Western imaginings of a “chaotic India” to illustrate this mindset, and offers an Indian response by reversing the gaze upon the West’s fixation for “order”.


There are several important consequences of this view through the Western lens:

  • Firstly, through its assumption of a lack of internal consistency and unity, the West is able to undermine any claim made on behalf of such an entity as dharma civilization. Any attempt to speak for such a civilization in positive terms can be debunked by asking, “which ‘dharma’ are you referring to?” and thereby characterizing any attempt to establish coherence as flawed, chauvinistic or even dangerous.

  • Secondly, coherent theories of India and its civilization are often dismissed by falsely alleging that any claim of coherence must necessarily imply an imposition of homogeneity. Larson makes this very allegation, but fails to acknowledge that BD repeatedly explains how the notion of unity in dharma is based on internal diversity and not on internal homogeneity. BD delineates, at great length, the features of dharma that enshrine such internal diversity. It explains the separation of smritis from shruti; highlights the fundamentally contextual nature of smritis (building a case supported with citations from Manu and A.K. Ramanujan, among others); notes the complete absence in dharma of a central corporate authority, equivalent to the Church; and finally, contrasts the credibility accorded to living enlightened masters of dharma traditions as against the Christian practice of restricting sainthood to persons already dead. Chapter 3 of BD refutes both extremes with which Western scholarship has tended to bookend its characterization of other civilizations: fragmentation/incoherence at one pole, and homogeneity/reductionism at the other. The middle ground of unity-in-diversity is what BD  terms “integral unity”;  yet, Larson seems to imply that such a middle ground is void, or at least, fails to acknowledge the existence of any approach towards it in classical sources. My response to Gier in an earlier chapter of this volume gives greater details on this.

  • As a corollary to the Western denial of a coherent common foundation among Indians, there is the conclusion that Indians simply ought to deny themselves a unified positive identity based on their own past, and must instead seek a common identity based on importing modern Western principles to an even greater extent than they already have. (The reader will note that this is hardly distinguishable from the “civilizing mission” of colonialism.) The very notion of a classical Indian civilization is seen as a disease, and the Western scholar is presented as a doctor to cure Indians from it.

  • My earlier book, Breaking India, shows how such discourse on fragmentation as the essence of India has been used to stir up internal divisiveness and conflict – ironically, in the name of “human rights”. (The jury is still out on whether attempts to impose Western Universalism upon Islamic nations will empower their citizenry with human rights, or simply destroy them through the incitation of infighting, while repositioning the West to better control their resources.)

  • Those who articulate Indian coherence must, therefore, be characterized as dangerous people by smearing them with allegations of fascism, identity politics, and supporting the perpetration of atrocities; or at the very least, by tagging them with such nonsensical labels used by Larson as “Brahmanical neo-Hindus”.


Moreover, the debunking of dharma as being incoherent has far-reaching implications for the protection of Western hegemony. The intellectual sophistication of Hinduism offers a unique vantage point from which to decenter the West and its claim of universalism. Since this would pose a grave threat to Western Universalism, it becomes important to undermine the legitimacy of dharma as a position where one can stand to gaze upon the West.


Islamic and Chinese scholars do reverse the gaze upon the West, from their own respective vantage points, far more persistently than dharma scholars have been doing; I contend that it is appropriate to allow every lens to gaze at every other on a parity basis. In this mutual gazing, dharma has many perspectives to offer that are distinct from Islamic and Confucian thought; thus, it also merits an equal place at the table of inter-civilization discourse. Attempts to discourage dharmic gazing upon the West should be seen as a hegemonic strategy to retain the supremacy of Western universalism; to remain the gazer and avoid becoming the object of other gazes. Considering the massive investments made since colonial times to “civilize” the Indian elite in Western Universal frameworks – a role now principally inherited by America from the United Kingdom – it’s hardly surprising that some should perceive my work as very threatening.


In addition, the argument of incoherence is used to justify the fragmentation and repackaging of dharma as a spiritual delicatessen: a buffet of disparate notions, from which Westerners can pick and choose individual elements to digest for their own purposes. In this regard, a major focus of my research is to document the variety of Western appropriations from dharma that become reformulated (without attribution) into Judaism, Christianity and/or Western science. Enterprising new “pioneers of Western thought” claim this digested Indian knowledge as the product of their original discoveries; subsequently, the Indian sources are erased and replaced with Western substitutes. I have written a series of case studies documenting digestion, in disciplines ranging across: philosophy of science, religion, linguistics, arts, medicine, botany, neurosciences, healing paradigms, and more. While many such digestions have merit because they offer novel enhancements to old ideas, many others cause distortions and limit the potential for dharma to make useful contributions on the world stage. In an effort to boost their status (and market value), scholars who serve as the facilitators of digestion typically map dharmic contributions onto the reductionist frameworks of Judeo-Christianity.


One of my reasons for writing BD was to sharpen our understanding of the differences between civilizational frameworks: differences which digestive transfers of knowledge typically fail to respect. I’ve pointed out the sleight-of-hand underlying many digestions that are even now occurring with alarming rapidity. On the one hand, we see frenzied efforts to develop and repackage ideas of dharmic origin: “Wilber’s Integral Theory”, “Non-dual/Integral Christianity”, “Integral Judaism”, feminine divinities in Western religions, sacredness of the earth, Christian Yoga, and the like. On the other hand, the arguments rehashed by Larson, which simply restate colonial-era formulations of dharma’s “incoherence”, serve only to divert attention away from the massive plunder that some of his cohorts have undertaken.


My project has been to constantly remind the “pioneers” behind these digestion movements of their appropriations, mis-appropriations, and occasionally blatant plagiarism. The articulation of difference, a centerpiece of BD, serves as a starting point in many such conversations. Were Larson to examine the trends of digestion that abound in his surroundings, he might better appreciate the importance of BD at this juncture. I wish to clarify here that I am not opposed to cross-fertilization and borrowing across cultures. On the contrary, I favor such transactions, while remaining mindful of the ethics involved, and exploring their implications for the sustainability of civilizational diversity.

As an illustration, I will contrast appropriations into Western thought from Greece and from India. The modern self-conception of Western civilization includes Greece as a subset and as a key source; this makes it unnecessary for Western scholars to replace Hellenistic sources with other Western substitutes.  Hellenistic sources have retained their identity and distinctiveness; when the thinkers are treated as source material by modern Western scholars, the originators receive proper attribution.


In contrast, India remains in Western eyes the non-Western other; India is too different, too far away, and too massive to be included intact within the West. The inclusion of India into Western self-conception on a comprehensive scale would threaten the very sense of what it means to be “Western”. Therefore, what India offers must be broken into smaller parts that can be separately consumed and digested into the West. To serve this purpose, the coherence of India must be challenged, and the fragmentation and incoherence of India must be asserted. This intellectual breakup of India is akin to a predator’s breaking up of its prey into morsels that lend themselves to digestion. It would not be practical to swallow the prey intact, or allow it to retain a distinctive and integral identity within the predator’s body. Instead, as it passes through the predator’s digestive system, the prey must be broken down systematically until every last protein and nucleic acid molecule has been processed by enzymes to yield raw-material as nutrients for the predator’s sustenance. Ultimately, no trace remains of the prey’s own DNA; meanwhile, the raw-material nutrients produced by digestion are reassembled into the predator’s cells, under the control of the predator’s DNA. The appropriation of non-Western sources into the West proceeds by a similar kind of digestion, so that the West may retain its selfhood while capturing whatever aspects of India it seeks to own.


BD uses this model of digestion to distinguish between Western modes of adoption applied to Greek and Indian thought, respectively. The Greeks are part of the West’s imagined selfhood while the Indians are not. This is why the mainstream Western academy does not teach Kapil, Bharat, Kautilya, Bharthrhari, Panini, Patanjali, Nagarjuna, Shankara, Ramanuja, Abhinavagupta, Kalidasa and dozens of other Indian greats on par with the great Greek thinkers. This double standard is hardly characteristic of a truly flat world, wherein classical thinkers of all civilizations would be incorporated into curricula based on their merit and current relevance.


The West should harvest the fruits of Indian knowledge, by all means; however, it must also nurture and respect the roots of the tree that bore them. This would entail developing a posture conducive to genuine and sustainable coexistence with other civilizations; one premised upon a relationship between equals, who offer one another mutual respect for whatever differences exist between them. Contrary to the wishful thinking of many cocooned liberal arts academicians, such a desirable shift in Western posture is not on the horizon today.


The West’s expansive collective self ascribes a teleological role to the process of maximizing its own coherence. Because it finds itself coherent, and views the other as incoherent, it seeks to digest the source of that perceived incoherence by breaking it into fragments and selectively mapping some of those fragments onto its own framework. Whatever it discards, ends up being ejected as the waste product of the digestion process. This is why the act of boosting one’s own coherence, while undermining the coherence of others, is so central to the game of civilizational aggression. Just as the individual ego is the nexus of one’s coherent narrative about oneself, so also does a people’s collective ego center upon their shared coherent narrative. Despite the fond hopes of postmodernism, the competition between collective identities is not blurring away; it is actively intensifying, as the global demand for material things outstrips their supply.


BD points out that postmodern thought has influenced some among the Indian elite to view their own heritage as incoherent and further to fantasize that all other nations also view themselves in the same way. They do not realize that the postmodern deconstruction of grand narratives has been vastly asymmetrical with respect to its effects on the West and the non-West.


With this backdrop, I shall turn specifically to Larson. In his 1995 book, “India’s Agony Over Religion”, he takes a stand on the issue of continuity and coherence in Indian civilization. He writes that,

“whatever continuity one finds in Indian history and culture is directly related to India’s basic discontinuities. Another way of putting the same point is to say that there is nothing like an abstract “essence” of Indian civilization. There are, to be sure, distinctive cultural presuppositions operating in each of the six historical periods (the Indus-Valley, the Indo-Brahamical, the Indo-Sramanical, the Indic, the Indo-Islamic and the Indo-Anglian) that we have examined. But there are no common features or presuppositions that hold overall. What emerges, instead, by way of continuity is a distinctive kind of on-going conversation or cluster of conversations about the salience of certain diverse, even contradictory, cultural values and who or what are the basic warrants or authorities fort those cultural values. […] The coherence, however, is not to be found in the specific contents of a given historical period or the authoritative utterances of this or that particular group.” (pp. 142-3)


Earlier in the same book, Larson lays the foundation for his theory of Indian civilization as a series of discontinuous “layers”, while alleging further that each such “layer” had foreign origins: “[I]t should be noted that in an important sense one can plausibly argue that all of the layers come from the ‘outside,’ as it were, that is to say, the layers are not indigenous to the subcontinent. This is obviously true for layers (2) through (4).” (p.53)


On the same page he defines layers 2, 3 and 4 as: Indo-Brahamnical (1500-600BC); Indo-Sramanical (600BC – 300CE); and Hindu-Buddhist-Jain (300CE -1200CE). Larson is very clear that Sanskrit and dharma derive from foreign “Aryan” origins, as illustrated in his following passage:

“What is reasonably clear is that some time in the early part of the second millennium (just after c. 2000 B.C.E.), semi-nomadic warrior tribes who had been living in the steppeland that ranges from Eastern Europe to Central Asia began to undergo extensive migrations. […] The tribes conquered local people as they moved, inter-married with the indigenous population and developed into a ruling elite. They were known as Arya-s or Aryan-s (meaning ‘noble ones’), and those Aryan tribes that reached Persia and India are known as Indo-Iranians or Indo-Aryans. … These Indo-Aryan nomadic tribes brought with them into India in the middle of the second millennium (c. 1500 B.C.E.) a number of cultural characteristics that were to prove determinative for the development of later India civilization…” (p.58)


Larson goes on to state that these foreign “Aryans” brought with them several institutional elements of dharmic culture: the Sanskrit language, the patrilineal system of social hierarchy that became the caste system, the practice of  conducting elaborate sacrificial rituals involving hallucinogenic substances called soma, and an entire pantheon of imported gods to propitiate thus.


Having presented such a wealth of absolutist assertions, it is interesting that Larson provides no shred of evidence in support of the dates he ascribes to these supposed  “layers” of Indian civilization; nor for his contention that each of them originated outside India; nor even to support his assertion that these “layers” are discontinuous and in conflict with one another. In fact, his assumptions about Indian history, which premise his entire thesis of an internal conflict within dharma, amount to no more than a re-formulation of old colonial Indology: itself a shaky edifice erected on “scholarship” of very questionable standards, but that is fodder for a different discussion.

It appears to have upset Larson that BD happens to reverse his thesis completely; that it shows the West to be a synthetic construct with many discontinuities and internal contradictions, built from assets imported through the colonization, genocide and slavery of others. Larson and I clearly hold opposite views on the question of which civilization is characterized by coherence and integral unity, and which one is a synthetic cut-and-paste collage that lacks coherence.


Even when (later in the same book) Larson explains Indian coherence in terms of karma, he stops short of using the perspective afforded by a karma-based worldview to reverse the gaze at Christianity. Had he proceeded in that direction, he might have better appreciated Chapter 2 of BD, in which I use the postulates of dharma (including karma and reincarnation theory) to examine the notions of Original sin, Virgin Birth, Crucifixion, Redemption, and the End Times. Considering how central these notions have been to the Nicene Creed, and hence to Christianity, it is most unfortunate that Larson eschews such comparisons.


I appreciated Larson’s book a great deal when I read it in the 1990s, and learned much from it. Still, I could not help noticing that he clearly delineated the limits of his appreciation of the Hindu view, and chose not to examine Christian claims from a perspective through a Hindu lens. His evident discomfort with BD, then, may well reflect his realization of where such an analytical path might lead. It is hardly surprising that Larson’s critique centers primarily on the outmoded Indologists’ claim that there has never been such a thing as a unified notion of dharma.


Proceeding from this premise, Larson further contends that any assertion of dharmic unity must suffer from the problem of imposing homogeneity upon dharmic traditions. My response to this latter claim is as follows:

  • BD’s Introduction chapter addresses this challenge as something inherent in any such exercise. It does not treat dharma as one homogeneous idea, but as the crucible whence arose various civilizational movements that share distinct attributes; an umbrella beneath which these diverse traditions have resided, continually enriching one another through a dynamic exchange of ideas. Dharma traditions have sustained much churning and debate amongst themselves, and yet coexisted without losing their distinctiveness from one another. Dharma is a family characterized by internal diversity, and this is how BD addresses it.

  • The classical texts of India use a common vocabulary. Across the millennia, diverse traditions of dharma have debated one another using Sanskrit categories whose meanings are widely accepted across this diversity of traditions.

  • BD offers a novel approach in demonstrating that sharing a distance from Western Universalism is itself a quality common to most schools of dharma, and can serve as a starting point for defining many characteristic of dharma traditions. This is similar to applying the ‘neti neti’ method (of who the self is not) to one’s collective selfhood. BD sequentially examines many specific aspects of the West, and illustrates how dharma does not equate to them. In so doing, it consciously avoids essentializing dharma into any categorical definition in absolute terms, and thus remains cognizant of the open-architectural approach that has always been a key strength of it.

  • BD explicitly declares that, in order to fulfill its stated purpose – i.e. articulating a non-Western critique of Western Universalism – a coherent foundation is essential. Unsubstantiated allegations of incoherence must therefore be rejected.


Larson charges me with reluctance to admit that some aspects of Indian religion go beyond the idea of integral unity which I have set forth in BD. This is simply untrue. At no point do I claim that the family resemblance between dharmic traditions is sufficiently elastic to encompass every school of Indian thought, even as I readily admit that the notions of Western Universalism do not necessarily command strict adherence in every school of Western thought. I do, however, see these sets of characteristics as being applicable in enough situations that they serve as useful reference points for comparison.


Exceptions are to be encountered wherever there is complexity, and their existence does not furnish reasonable grounds for dissolving dharma into an inchoate jumble of particularities.  The uniqueness of BD’s approach derives from its chosen level of abstraction, and from its selection of characteristic features as a basis for drawing comparisons between dharma and the West. BD stands clear of the infinitely-regressive trap of postmodern nihilism; it does not permit outlying exceptions to negate the overwhelming salience of characteristic features in either dharma or Western civilization. Studies that treat either dharma or the West as incoherent groups invariably fall into this trap, crippling any further efforts to understand the intended objects of their gaze, and ultimately reinforcing the status quo of Western domination.


Another of Larson’s claims is that BD presents a “Neo-Vedanta” or “Brahmanical Neo-Hindu” perspective as representative of dharma in general. He asserts that, in the process, real differences that exist within dharma become subsumed and digested into a homogenous representation. For example, he argues that the refutation of permanent substance by Buddhist cosmology undermines the notion of integral unity.


On the contrary, Appendix A of BD rigorously elaborates on the applicability of certain dharma tenets across a variety of traditions, including Madhyamika Buddhism, Jainism, Tantra, and Kashmir Shaivism, among others. The very definition of integral unity in BD has been formulated to be in compliance with Buddhism. Considering his objection, Larson seems to have assumed that integral unity is a theistic notion; thus, he appears to have ignored my conscious definition of the term for consistency with either theistic or non-theistic contexts. Moreover, in the course of his critique, Larson attempts to bolster his argument by proffering an interpretation of Nagarjuna that verges on nihilism; in so doing, he illustrates precisely the sort of reductive trap that BD deliberately avoids stepping into.


A principal complaint of Larson’s may be summed up in his following statement: “The arguments which are used to show that other traditions cannot simply be reduced or ‘digested’ for one’s own purposes, also apply, alas, equally to one’s own position. He eliminates all the important ‘differences’ that make Indic thought truly distinctive set of divergent intellectual views that could well have significance in contemporary intellectual life.”


Here again, Larson’s recurrent misinterpretation of integral unity as homogeneity (or the “elimination of difference”) betrays his poor understanding of the concept. Furthermore, he fails to appreciate that the concept of “digestion” does not apply to neutral or mutually beneficial cross-fertilization, but only to a malignant process that involves active destruction of the party being digested. A tiger does not benignly adopt a deer as part of his household; he consumes the deer in a manner that terminates the very existence of the deer. This analogy is by no means applicable to the cross-fertilization between different Indian traditions of Hindu, Buddhist, Jaina and Sikh thought – all of which have retained their existence, and their distinctiveness, for a very long time.


I agree wholeheartedly with Larson’s assertion that BD does not attempt to make a neutral comparison between Indian and Western civilizations, but rather articulates difference from an explicitly dharmic position. This is, in fact, the book’s stated purpose; one that informs the methodology employed in writing it. Given the conditioning to which all human beings are subject and susceptible, I do not believe that a truly neutral position is a genuine possibility, let alone a practical consideration. The real world compels us to choose between an explicitly stated vantage point as BD adopts, and the pretense of neutrality that some scholars choose to claim. Bias is necessarily inherent in any “gaze from somewhere”, as opposed to a “gaze from nowhere” (a position claimed by many postmodernists that I reject as infeasible).


Larson complains that BD fails to criticize social disharmony and oppression in dharma societies: caste discrimination, communal violence and so forth. These issues have been discussed across a wide range of forums, and I myself have addressed them elsewhere. The purpose of BD, however, is to de-center Western Universalism. Cluttering this particular text with scripted tropes of little or no relevance, would only have diverted attention from its primary purpose of reversing the gaze upon the West. BD avoids the standard academic politics that scholars are expected to adhere to.


Another of Larson’s charges is that some of the ideas I use to characterize dharma were propounded by elite thinkers (the “neo-Brahmins”) who comprise a mere 3.5% of the Indian population. Were Larson to apply this same criterion to testing the validity of prominent Western ideas, he would have to confront the fact that fewer than 1% of all Christians have been theologians who made any degree of impact upon Christianity; indeed, that fewer than 1% of Westerners have been sufficiently gifted and adequately positioned to formulate ideas which significantly influenced the course of Western science or philosophy. Regardless of culture or discipline, it is only a tiny fraction of influential thinkers in any society who nucleate long-term change, and who are equipped to propose the concepts that wider segments of the population may eventually absorb and institutionalize through a process of selection. One does not question the legitimacy of theoretical physics, for instance, based on the fact that less than 1% of the population has participated in formulating its precepts. Larson needs better arguments to support his conclusions.


Larson’s critique lists some Indian thinkers who, evidently, serve as his role models for scholarship on Indian civilization. ”Only the ‘solution of synthesis’,” he writes, “was able to prevail in the work of such figures as Rammohan Roy, Sayyid Ahmed Khan, Swami Vivekananda, V. D. Savarkar, Muhammad Iqbal, Rabindranath Tagore, M. K. Gandhi, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Jawaharlal Nehru, and many others.”


With reference to these luminaries, Larson espouses a scholarly approach that highlights what he characterizes as the irreconcilable but fascinating “differences” between various Indic traditions, and proposes that unifying solutions must be derived primarily from India’s interactions with the West. Unfortunately, his recommendation is pre-empted by a key conclusion of the analysis set forth in BD: that such approaches invariably generate unstable synthetic unities, which are ill-suited to serve as workable foundations in the Indian context.


In terms of understanding and representing India, Larson advocates the approaches followed by Westernized Indian thinkers, such as Amartya Sen or V.S. Naipaul. Typically, however, such individuals lack grounding in classical Indian traditions, and are themselves primarily influenced by a worldview rooted in Western Universalism. Their critique of the West tends to be largely the West’s own self-critique replicated through brown-skinned luminaries (who are propped up by Western awards).


I myself do not see BD as residing within the same category as works by these modern Indian writers. I prefer to locate it alongside the works of serious Christian theologians, such as Raimondo Panikkar and Jacques Dupuis, who have drawn imaginative and substantive comparisons between the Hindu and Christian views of the world. The works of Pannikar and Dupuis compare and contrast the same entities as BD addresses; nonetheless, these scholars are not alleged to have essentialized dharma, or to have ignored the existence of social problems within Hinduism (or Christianity which is their faith), or to have put forth a reductionist representation of Christianity for that matter.  Nor have they made any attempt to conceal the explicitly Christian standpoint from which they address the comparison. Their scholarship has never been impugned on the basis that they did not maintain a pretense of neutrality in this regard.


Having studied Pannikar and Dupuis closely, I recognize that they faced the same challenges as did I, in terms of determining an adequate but precise level of abstraction with which to frame their arguments, and in selecting characteristic features of Hinduism and Christianity that were sufficiently wide in application as to underpin a meaningful comparative exercise. I sincerely laud the efforts invested by these men, undertaken from their avowedly Christian perspectives; and I understand that the methodology they employ is a necessary aspect of such pioneering work. Furthermore, I expect that similar exercises conducted from an explicitly Hindu perspective, and employing a parallel methodology, should be actively encouraged in an intellectual environment that claims balance and fairness.


Finally, Larson issues the magisterial declaration: “Malhotra allows himself to get caught in what might be called the self-referential problem (sometimes also called ‘self-referential paradox’)…” By this, I understand him to mean that the tables could be turned on me through my own arguments; that my concept of digestion, for instance, could be reversed to characterize my own alleged imposition of homogeneity on a number of distinct individual dharma traditions. Alas, this is simply one more instance of Larson confusing integral unity with “homogeneity”; and of his persistently ignoring the difference between mutually beneficial cross-pollination and aggressive, destructive digestion.


Indeed, Larson appears blissfully unaware that, throughout his critique, he himself falls victim to this very “self-referential paradox”. To wit, he insists upon seeing the four dharma traditions of Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism as disparate enough to defy categorization under a single umbrella; clearly, this is because his own theological and missionary grounding compels him to look upon these entities through the lens of “religion.” Given the nature of Abrahamic religions, it is unconsciously assumed by most of their scholars that a faith must be principally defined by the most history-centric (and hence, the most exclusivist) of its precepts. This unfortunate assumption blinds Larson to the existence of a shared sanskriti (of culture and categories) underlying all four of the dharma traditions. The mistranslation of dharma as religion has been responsible for a very large number of the errors in the scholarship on India.

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