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Sookta Sumana

Fr iday, Apri l 27, 2012


Intemperate Defense of Bei ng Di fferent by the Author Mal hotra
by
Dr. Seshachal am Dutta
Much is said about the recent book tour and debates on the publication of 'Being Different' by
Rajiv Malhotra. Some of the observations may not be valid, but the most recent three part article
on www.sookta-sumana.blogspot.com and one previous article on the same blog are excellent
critiques by G.P. Srinivasan outlining several factual blunders and logical inconsistencies.
This book, "Being Different," has also been reviewed objectively from academic view point by the
present author in www.sookta-sumana.blogspot.com covering a wide spectrum of issues with
particular emphasis on historical, theological and philosophical inconsistencies. Malhotra has
indulged in constant rhetoric in his book tours in the U.S and India that he had no problem with
Western audience but had great impatience with Hindus of Diaspora. It might be true that some
Hindus are not as knowledgeable like him but many more Hindus have more than superficial
knowledge of the subject at hand. Their observations and, particularly, well meaning criticisms
have met acerbic and vitriolic abuse by the retorting author, Shri Rajiv Malhotra.
Unfortunately some well respected people have defended him in this exchange; Dr. Balaram
Singh of U-Mass being one of them. I agree that Rajiv Malhotra has his own right to write his
books, speak and debate as a free agent, and nobody should criticize his activities, much less
attribute motives. Whether he succeeds in debates with his Christian opponents or gets a black
eye is up to him. In as much as he has a right to publish and propagate his views, his critics also
deserve and reserve the same rights. If he is so sensitive to criticism, he should neither write and
publish, nor undertake public appearances.
Dr. Balaram Singh's admonition that the critics of Rajiv Malhotra should not be guided by
"emotional outbursts and should exercise rationality" is one sided and it may wisely be
addressed as well to Malhotra. Whether the author of "Being Different" has achieved a grand
inning for Hindus after a 1000 years of entry into Western academia, as commended by Dr.
Singh is another matter, subject to further deliberation. I shall briefly address it here and have
already addressed it in detail in my previous article in www.sookta-sumana.blogspot.com (2011).
It is Malhotra who called his critiques "half baked intellectuals," "new entrants into field", called
them "sour grapes" and described some as "jealous" (of his achievement presumably), although
he has not published a best seller yet nor achieved the recognition of Deepak Chopra at least!
He called Hindu Gurus and Acharyas "incompetent" to conduct what he mistakenly calls "purva
paksha" with adversaries. At the same time he carries his own baggage that runs afoul. He is the
man who defended the charlatan Nityananda, in allegations of sex scandals, describing him as
a great spiritual leader and concocted the story that the latter was defamed by some Christian
conspiracy. Then he called Vijaya Rajiva, his former collaborator in activism as a hero. He
gracelessly attacked Dr. Vinekar, who expressed his admiration for Malhotra's learning many a
time. He advised that the latter should leave his job and go around the world for 20 years to
learn Hinduism! Dr. Vinekar, professor of psychiatry, has done relentless service to the Hindu
community for 40 years in a variety of ways, guided young generations of Hindus and is highly
regarded for his scholarship. Malhotra also sets a qualification for his critiques and criticizes that
they did not publish any books in 20 years and so they were not qualified to critique his book.
He forgets that even criminals from prisons in the U.S. published books, some of which are
widely read. It is, therefore, appropriate to address the unfortunate invective and appeal
Malhotra to accept criticism with calm and dignity. The mark of true scholarship is humility. After
decent interregnum of cooling of tempers one would have expected him to apologize for his
remarks by now. That has not happened.
Coming to his oft repeated refrain that people should buy his book and read before criticizing, IT
IS NOT EVEN NECESSARY THAT EVERYONE READ HIS BOOK TO BECOME AWARE OF
THE PROCESS OF ENTERING INTO INTER-FAITH DIALOGUE THAT HE STARTED
RAJ IV MALHOTRA'S INTEMPERATE DEFENSE OF "BEING
DIFFERENT" - CRITICAL ANALYSIS
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PROPOSING IN POPULARIZING HIS BOOK "BD". From the speeches of Malhotra one can
glean nothing substantial as he seems to be inclined to market the book rather than explain his
positions. But for those watching the discourse at U. of Mass presented as a dialogue/debate
between Malhotra and Fr. Clooney, it revealed nothing substantive. Fr. Clooney, who was
somewhat generous towards Malhotra, said that he was troubled by the third chapter (what is
the third chapter for the audience?) in which the author made a distinction between Western
synthetic approaches to Hindu integral approach. Then Clooney went on to say that when God
said "let there be light there was lightand there is nothing synthetic about it. In answer to the
author's position that Hinduism is Dharma not a religion and shall be addressed so to be
linguistically correct, he defended saying that one day Dharma may enter lexicon and treated
with the distinction which is for now quite trivial. If he wished to be stronger in his argument, he
should have posed the question as "what is the Sanskrit word for religion?" The author
presented no rebuttal or response in the debate-no poorva paksha. Fr. Clooney did not further
press for what he meant by integral vs. synthetic for he was not a scientist. If we synthesize
copper sulfate is sulfur not integral to the copper sulfate? The argument is plainly like
"tweedledum-tweedledee."
The author indiscriminately flings expressions like integralknowledge" and endowed
"knowledge", "anxiety (angst) of being different" among Hindu scholars. He speaks of cultural
digestion of Dharma by Western universalism, none of which have foundation in any systematic
study. Hinduism is not monolithic as he narrowly conceives even as much like an esoteric occult
practice of Yoga. Hindus are best defined as the original people of Bharat, just as J ews are
original people of Israel. Hindus may be atheists like ancient Charvaka, polytheists, monotheists,
monists, ultra Orthodox who view Vedas as God given (apourasheya), agnostics like Nehru or
modern atheists like Savarkar, the great Hindu Nationalist... But they are all children of one
civilization that survived for millennia not amenable to cultural digestion. They are inheritors of
an ancient culture, tradition, ethnicity and love of land they call sacred.
The authors ideas of Western Universalism are derived from the popular, but, flawed work of
Samuel Huntington, Clash of Civilizationswhich is essentially racist and imperialistic as
reviewed by current author (www.sookta-sumana.blogspot.com (2011). Greatness or nobility of
Hinduism is in its immense charity to people who worship any symbol or lesser God, so long as
their conduct is commendable and if they are engaged in divine conduct. This is beautifully
expressed in Gita in two verses;
Na buddhibhedam janayed Ajnanam karmasanginaam
Yojayet sarvakarmani vidwan yuktah samaacharan Chapter 3 verse 26
A wise man should not unsettle the mind of ignorant man engaged in (just) action, implying that
he may not get any wiser by abandoning the proper action he is engaged in and in fact may lose
in both ways. Instead, a wise man is engaged in balanced (good) actions, all organized wisely,
while remaining not overly attached.
Prakruter Gunasammoodaah sajjante gunakarmasu
Taan akrutsnavido mandaan krutsavid na vichaalayet Chapter 3: verse 29
Deluded by the gunas (qualities) of Prakruti, ignorant man is engaged in actions arising out of
nature in an imperfect way and a wise man should not confuse such people (so long as they
perform right actions) just because they (the wise) are in possession of the knowledge of Karma
(krutsavid). Thus, Hindus take a charitable attitude towards spiritual individuals following all
religious or spiritual persuasions, whether they worship J esus, Mary or a village Goddess.
This statement was made prior to the onslaught of proselytizing religions with political agendas
directed at destroying Hindu Society.
Unfortunately Malhotra adopts the stance of Wendy Doniger (author of Alternate History of
Hindus) in characterizing Hindu Holy texts as supporting situational ethics. It is not surprising
that Wendy Doniger can take that stand as she finds nothing of merit in Hinduism and its
literature other than the sexual gymnastics of Kama sutra. But it is sad that a Hindu activist like
Malhotra admires her and falls in line with her. It is already becoming self-effacing for Hindu
youth in colleges in the U.S to accept such a claim as illustrated in a recent article by Hindu
students of Wharton School of Management, who published in an article that Hindus dont have
ethical standards like Westerners have, arguing on the same lines as Malhotra and Wendy
Doniger. The first generation Hindus may become like J ews of 1930s in U.S who were afraid to
identify themselves as J ews.
It was not too long ago, only in 1950s that if a J ewish Rabbis wore Yarmulke in public he would
be ridiculed, as narrated by Charles Silberman in his history of American J ews-A Certain
people. J ewish children were told in 1930s not to talk in public of their J ewishness and asked to
remove Yarmulke when they go out. They were told that it was not Nice meaning that they
should be like others. There are parallels to Hindu immigrants in some ways. Hindu women are
afraid to wear Hindu dress in public or wear a tilak (bindi) being afraid of dot busters in certain
areas. We even truncate our names for the convenience of Americans, Shyamala as Sam, Arun
noki ddi ng---
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as Aron and Gowardhan as Gordon. Being different and claiming so has no value and does not
necessarily command respect... Young Hindus may be embarrassed or even feel ashamed to
identify themselves as Hindus, when they are told that their country of origin is not only corrupt
but even their Gods are liars and cheats!
The author of Being Different advances an argument, as if it is an an original invention of his,
that Hinduism is not a religion but Dharma. What then is the religion of Hindus? Hinduism is a
religion with its own epistemology, soteriology and philosophy. Dharma is the code of life as
elaborated by scriptures. (Dharayate lokaaniti dharmah. Also Dhiyateevaajaneeriti dharmah.
Dharmo dharayate prajaah.) There are several meanings of Dharma, but in the context of
religious life of Hindus, it refers to code of life in accordance with the scriptures, but not
independent of religion. The term Hindu religion was always used by all modern Hindu leaders
from Tilak and Aurobindo to S. Radhakrishnan and Gandhi. Of late, it became Talmudic and
trivial exercise of dwelling on the correctness of the translation of Sanskrit words into in English
to describe Hinduism; for instance debating whether Caste is a correct word for Varna or Kula
and Dharma is different from Religion and Atma is different from soul! Every one knows what
Caste, which is ripping the society, means without going into its etymology, still we want a
debate on its etymology, a Talmudic exercise, to use a J ewish term, where the form of argument
is more important than its substance. The real debate is either to search for the differences or
alternatively look for the commonalities in the world culture. VHP advocated, (World Order of
Ethics, Vishwa Dharma, whereas V. S. Naipaul recognized the world as progressing toward
Universal culture and Gandhiji spoke of Sermon on the Mount and Bhgavad Gita on the same
pulpit taking the best of both cultures. There is Christian Universalism, Muslim Universalism,
nondenominational Universalism based on scientific humanism such as advanced by J ulian
Huxley and especially Carl Marx who based it on the philosophy of Epicurus.
But there is NO SUCH THING AS Western Universalism" that Malhotra keeps drumming about.
When Hindus talk of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam or advocate Krunvanto pruthviraaryam, it is Hindu
Universalism. Probably it is this Hindu Universalism that appeared threatening to Western
Culture that Alan Patton in his monograph on South Africa refers to saying that Hindus are
regarded as a threat to their culture.
Greatest challenge to Hindus has been to consolidate their Hindu identity bringing into one fold
all Hindus, Sikhs, J ains and Buddhists, emphasizing that they are all children of Bharat, of same
heritage and bound by common thread of history and Culture calling them as religions all
encompassed in Dharma tradition. When the British East India Company suppressed the Indian
Liberation movement for Freedom (1857), it was the Sikh regiment that was effectively used to
suppress it. Sikhs of that time did not feel that they were of the same blood as Hindus. Eighty
five years ago Dr. Keshav Baliram Hedagewar took the mission of uniting all Hindus (indigenous
cultures of Bharat) by making them overcome their differences. He dedicated his life to that
mission and countless others followed him and sacrificed their lives in that effort. Yet this task
inspired by Swami Vivekaananda is unfinished to this date. The call of the times is to seek
unifying principle of all Hindus and not dwell on differences.
We discern parallelism with J ewish history to the plight of Hindus in many lands when we
examine pogroms in Pakistan, appropriation of properties and exile of Ugandan and Kenyan
Hindus, of Hindus in Burma (Myanmar), massacre of Hindus in Sri Lanka and even in India
expulsion of Hindus from their own land of Kashmir. It took holocaust to unite J ews; one
wonders what magnitude of atrocities towards Hindus (Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists and J ains) it
would take to unite all "Hindus" meaning the original children of Bharat. There is much work to
be done for the uplift of Hindu Society. It is appropriate to emphasize their own uniqueness and
assets of Hindu culture to the children of Hindus. But when with others, they need to seek
commonality.
So we say E Pluribus Unum and not to go on endlessly debate how different we are. The
attitude of J ews is very instructive in this aspect. They never tried to debate, for instance, they
never make an issue that there is no Hell in their religion in contrast with Christianity! By keeping
their distinct identity and conforming to the universal culture of humanity, they survived for 2000
years in extremely hostile cultures. Moses Mendelssohn, regarded as German Socrates, when
once asked to convert to Christianity replied "why should I leave the true religion".
Sadly all his children, except one and their grand children converted to Christianity. Some of
them became great celebrities in Germany. Neither conversion nor great recognition did sadly
save them from Nazis. My advice to Hindu activists is not to go around debating how great our
religion (Dharma?) is or how it is different from others. Mere difference does not command
respect. They should remember Enoch Powell, whom British Prime Minister called a
Parliamentary Leper, not only learned Hindi but also became familiar with Hindu traditions, and
then campaigned to kick out all Indians from Britain!
So, in summary Rajiv Malhotras campaign is not likely to be fructuous but may even be harmful
to Hindu Society and Diaspora. He may as well redeem his honor by apologizing for his
intemperate attack on his critics. He should be reminded that Hindu Dharma is unique in
regarding and respecting freedom of thinking and freedom of worship as "essential" for
Hinduness; the essence of democracy too is criticism and dissent. .
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Posted by nokidding--- at 9:09 PM
Replies
Repl y
2 comments:
Fami l y November 15, 2012 at 11:43 AM
Dear Dr Dutta,
I was reading your blog. I do not know much about Mr Malhotra. J ust starting to know
him. I will soon have my opinion about him.
But reading your blog...."Being different and claiming so has no value and does not
necessarily command respect... Young Hindus may be embarrassed or even feel
ashamed to identify themselves as Hindus, when they are told that their country of origin
is not only corrupt but even their Gods are liars and cheats!"
--- I was reading along and when I hit the above statement, your character is revealed
totally. So referring to the above statement, just take Mahatma who was different and won
India freedom. It has been completely proven that "Being different is very much all right". I
read about you for few minutes. You lack clarity for sure. So, I do not have to read Dr
Dutta. Thanks to internet, it took just few minutes to throw you in trash. Ciao!
Thanks
Venkat
Reply
noki ddi ng--- November 18, 2012 at 12:15 PM
Venkat:
I thank you Venkat for reading my article and for your comments, fulfilling the
purpose of my writing which is to initiate and encourage a dialogue. I agree I
could have been clearer by diligently placing others' opinions and views I was
critiquing in quotation marks.. As regards the quote pointed out by you Venkat, I
was not expressing my opinion but what I had in my mind was the position
taken by the students of Wharton School of Business, University of
Pennsylvania who had recently published an article characterizing "Indian
people as corrupt and unethical, whose ethics are based on the religious culture
wherein Gods act without moral scruples." Malhotras position also is very
similar in his notorious statement that Krishna encouraged unethical behavior to
win the war in Mahabharata, a line of thought that is in consonance with Wendy
Doniger's; and both Rajiv Malhotra and Wendy Doniger may be precursors to
the article published by the students of Indian extraction at Wharton School of
Business. I would like to make it clear that it is not my opinion but that of
Malhotra about Gods acting unethically. I subscribe to the line of thinking
advanced by Shrinivas Tilak that Hindu religious texts should be understood
hermeneutically, not by picking isolated strands. When faced with an
insurmountable obstacle, even great men would depart from everyday ethical
principles in the cause of greater good or higher purpose. Venkat, as a student
of history you might know that Abraham Lincoln allowed Maryland to keep the
slaves at the time of civil war, which did not make him a dishonest leader. That
said, unethical or sinful behavior is not excusable or to be ordinarily condoned
and it is subject to the inexorable law of karma, as we witnessed in even Lord
Krishnas nirvana. I respectfully disagree that Mahatma Gandhi was merely
"different." He did not want to be different from the rest of the poor people in
rural India. He wanted to be known as Daridra Narayana and thus he was quite
"unique" and not just "different." As regards the comment on corruption
prevalent in Indians of all backgrounds or even among the British in old days, I
own what I have stated as my position. Robert Clive did not win Bengal and
Bihar in great valor, but simply by bribing military general Mir J affar. By the
efforts of Baba Ram Dev and Anna Hazare the Nation woke up to corruption
after a long slumber.
Seshachalam
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