Indian civilization through Western Lens

Does Indian civilization need a new look from within?

Does Indian civilization need a new look from within?
Does Indian civilization need a new look from within?

This is the concluding part of this series. Part 1 can be accessed here.

Asymmetry II: Western Scholar of Texts Dominating the Pandit

[dropcap color=”#008040″ boxed=”yes” boxed_radius=”8px” class=”” id=””]T[/dropcap]he use of pandits is another method by which the west re-maps Indian culture. Many pandits are simple and straightforward, not aggressive compared to many western scholars, not into power games or concern for royalty or intellectual property rights, and are trusting of western intentions. The misappropriation of basmati rice and other intellectual property may be used as an analog to appreciate that the Indian ethos does not emphasize personal ownership of know how (including spiritual knowledge), and that some of what the west does is unethical and exploitative as per the traditional Indian system of professional ethics. One must inquire whether the publish-or-perish syndrome and personal egos cause some scholars to try to own pre-existing knowledge and to reduce pandits to native informants, whereas in their own tradition they deserve respect as great humble teachers.

Even comparative religion is often framed in a paradigm of western superiority. Is it that scholars see pandits as not having western PhDs, and hence as not legitimate experts of their tradition?

Furthermore, since pandits are rarely invited as respondents or co-authors when the work gets presented, they do not always find out what finally gets published, and their interpretation sometimes gets distorted along the way. For instance, when scholars write that Ganesha symbolizes the limp phallus, or when they over-interpret sati as a defining feature of Hinduism, should the reader not be told what the insider has to say also? Sanskrit terms that deserve thick descriptions often get reduced to simplistic Eurocentric and Abrahamic representations [14]. Even comparative religion is often framed in a paradigm of western superiority. Is it that scholars see pandits as not having western PhDs, and hence as not legitimate experts of their tradition?

Asymmetry III: Cognitive Scientist Dominating the Yogi/ Meditator

[dropcap color=”#008040″ boxed=”yes” boxed_radius=”8px” class=”” id=””]T[/dropcap]he laboratory measurement of higher states of consciousness achieved by advanced yogis and meditators is at the cutting edge of transpersonal and humanistic psychology, mental health, neuroscience, and phenomenology. And some Indic theoretical models are at the center of the philosophy of quantum physics based emerging worldviews. But many ancient Hindu-Buddhist inner science discoveries are being misappropriated and/or plagiarized:

‘Mindfulness Meditation’ is Jon-Kabat Zinn’s repackaged and trademarked vipassna.

‘Lucid Dreaming’ is the western name for Indo-Tibetan nidra yoga, and Stanford’s Stephen LaBerge is nowadays the acknowledged discoverer.

‘Mindfulness Meditation’ is Jon-Kabat Zinn’s repackaged and trademarked vipassna.

Herb Benson repackaged TM into his ‘Relaxation Response’ and now runs a multimillion dollar business based at Harvard, claiming these as his discoveries. Numerous spin-offs in mainstream stress management and management consulting theories came from this source.

Rupert Sheldrake recently ‘came out’ in an interview acknowledging that his famous theory known as ‘Morphogenic Resonance’ was developed while researching in India’s ashrams.

Ken Wilber started out very explicitly as an interpreter of Sri Aurobindo’s philosophy for the benefit of psychologists, but now places himself as the discoverer on a higher pedestal.

Esalen Institute appropriated J. Krishnamurti and numerous other Indic thinkers into what its contemporary followers regard as it own ‘New Worldview’.

[dropcap color=”#008040″ boxed=”yes” boxed_radius=”8px” class=”” id=””]T[/dropcap]homas Berry, Father Keating (in the footsteps of Bede Griffiths), and others have constructed the New Liberal Christianity, using Indic appropriations. Jewish scholars have likewise constructed the ‘non-dualistic Kabala’ based on Vedanta. While these pioneers recognize and admit the source, there followers are often ignorant and see these innovations as emerging entirely from Judeo-Christianity.

Does this remind us of the way America is said to have been ‘discovered’ in 1492, as though the millions of Native Americans who lived here for thousands of years did not matter? It became a bona fide discovery only when Europeans registered it as such.

This is only part of a long list: the core of the emerging ‘western’ worldview and cosmology involving physics, cognitive science, and biology is being rapidly built upon recycled Indic knowledge, but too frequently the source is being erased and over time. Yogis and meditators, who should be regarded as co-discoverers, usually remain anonymous ‘laboratory subjects’ and native informants.

Does this remind us of the way America is said to have been ‘discovered’ in 1492, as though the millions of Native Americans who lived here for thousands of years did not matter? It became a bona fide discovery only when Europeans registered it as such. Because land owned by the natives had not been recorded in European registration systems, their ownership was declared illegitimate. Much of the Renaissance and Enlightenment of Europe was based on the appropriation of Indic and Chinese civilizations, and yet these civilizations were demonized to justify colonialism [15].

I have been told in private by some of the cognitive science misappropriators that they respect Indic traditions greatly and personally know them as the sources, but that in public the distancing is good for book sales and for securing research grants, and that the stamp of ‘western science’ is what legitimizes these traditions. Their position, stated quite openly in many cases, is that discovery occurs only when the west appropriates something. This appears to be a racist theory of knowledge, one that denies agency and rights to non-westerners. Also, while plucking the fruits, there is no attempt by these appropriators to nurture the roots of the source traditions.

A plausible theoretical model for this is: The west plagiarizes from Hinduism-Buddhism with one hand (e.g. cognitive science), while another western hand stereotypes the source as ‘caste, cows, curry’ exotica and worse (via anthropology/religious studies). The academic arson referenced here is merely a continuation of the age old ‘plunder while you denigrate the source’ process at work. It is a continuation of the paganization of pre-Christian religions while at the same time appropriating many central elements from the pagans into Christianity.

Asymmetry IV: Who Speaks as Insiders of Indian Culture?

[dropcap color=”#008040″ boxed=”yes” boxed_radius=”8px” class=”” id=””]I[/dropcap]n contrast with science, technology, business, and other professions where Indians now routinely occupy many high positions, Indology remains perhaps the last holdout of colonialism. However, Indians in the above mentioned fields, with successful experience in dealing with westerners, are seldom included as dialog representatives. The Diaspora that identifies with Indic traditions publicly and positively and the non-Indian Hindus in yoga-meditation centers are often not the ones who the western academe dialogs with as spokespersons for the tradition.

In the case of Indians, such persons are commonly referred to as Macaulayites, after Lord Macaulay, who developed this strategy in 1835 as a way to create Indian intellectual sepoys serving the British rule.

Instead, it is a layer of elites from within the colonized culture who are groomed to become proxies for the tradition. Frantz Fanon explains:

“The colonialist bourgeoisie… had in fact deeply implanted in the minds of the colonized intellectual that the essential qualities remain eternal in spite of all the blunders men may make: the essential qualities of the West, of course.” [16]

In the case of Indians, such persons are commonly referred to as Macaulayites, after Lord Macaulay, who developed this strategy in 1835 as a way to create Indian intellectual sepoys serving the British rule. The program was highly successful and has now assumed a postcolonial life of its own. Eurocentric representation systems have been installed into the minds of elite Indians, who now function as the internal agents working from within Indian society, typically remote controlled by a western incentive system – of visas, jobs, foreign travel, grants, and various forms of career advancement. The Eurocentric mental representation is commonly applied subliminally, and often there is only slight self-awareness that this is being done. Many westernized Indians are radically convinced that the indigenous tradition is a backward one, and that their mission in life is to uproot it and replace it with a superior western import – often done with a passion as though to earn a ticket to neo-white status. They often consider biases against Indic traditions as a great compliment to their own sense of modernity, and also as a great western gift to the Indians, and volunteer as partners to facilitate this process. When this mental colonialism is pointed out to them, it often evokes severe anger and defensiveness.

Richard Crasta, a Goan Christian now living in New York, is rather blunt about the obsession to become a Macaulayite by trying to imitate the image of the dominant culture,

“…whether we be Bombayites trying to put on Oxford accents and fake a knowledge of cheeses and wines; or whether we be Delhi literati striving to make a favorable impression on Delhi’s western diplomats – minor potentates who have, either by their power to throw parties and patronize locals and soak’em up with Scotch and grant them visas, favors, or cultural junkets, or by their personal charm, become resident reminders of the superiority and the power of the white race.” [17]

He explains that the end result is a dislocation from the roots:

“…ethnic shame is a phenomenon that is particularly intense among Indians abroad… Ethnic shame is the opposite of ethnic pride… and it is a sublime example of the success of colonialism in co-opting us in our own subversion, and in our alienation from our culture and our earth, and ultimately the extinction of our own culture… [I]t contributes to our collusion with the forces that tend to make us invisible in a foreign society.” [18]

Eventually this turns into hate for the tradition as a way to assume superiority by proving one’s alienation from it:

“The India Haters Club is growing larger and larger, and its largest contingent is probably the millions ofIndians for whom a few bitter experiences of betrayal have pushed them over the edge into self-hatred:Yes, my skin is brown, but my soul is white.” [19]

Yet, the Macaulayites remain second class in the western space, notwithstanding whatever financial success and even prestigious positions they attain:

“This Western carrot of acceptance and riches is accompanied by a stick: Do not cross the boundaries. Always remember your place…the carrot and stick are so discreetly transferred by Third World writers onto their internal censor that they are often unconscious of their own self-censorship.” [20]

[dropcap color=”#008040″ boxed=”yes” boxed_radius=”8px” class=”” id=””]A[/dropcap]long with Macaulayites, Indian Marxists — born again as ‘progressives’ after the Cold War — dominate India’s academe, and often power broker as strategic allies of western academicians. But there are many contradictions in these ‘experts on India’:

  1. Such Indian scholars, despite their Subaltern studies, are often alien to the masses and culture of India, and disrespect and caricaturize Hinduism in a reductionist Eurocentric way.

  2. They know mainly western thought and hermeneutics. Few have education in Sanskrit or the Indian Classics, which were abolished in post-Independence India in the name of ‘secularism’ and to promote ‘modernity’ by eradicating ‘intellectual backwardness’. (By contrast, in the west most experts in the western humanities have a grounding in Greek Classics.) To get a good PhD in Sanskrit, Indology, or Religious Studies, one must go to a university in the west, as India’s own education system abolished these disciplines.

  3. Yet, their personal careers are based on being proxies for the very tradition that they regard as a scourge.

The phenomenon of South Asianizing, which has emerged from this confluence of excessive ethnography and Indian Macaulayism, has subverted Hinduism’s universal truth claims. Contrast this with other world religions — for instance, Christianity is not defined in terms of Middle Eastern ethnography, although it is studied also in sociological terms. Furthermore, the Diaspora feels that the ethnographies of South Asia get superimposed as their image.

It is the ethnography of elitist anti-tradition Indians that would make a fascinating field of research. Defensive about their awkward position, these elitists often brand anyone speaking assertively for Indic traditions as Hindutva, saffronist, fundamentalist, fascist, fanatic, neo-BJP, nationalist, or equivalent [21]. In fact, the only way to be a good Hindu in the eyes of some is to behave in accordance with Orientalist images. This name-calling has now been picked up by many western scholars as well.

Asymmetry V: Politics of Representation and Power

[dropcap color=”#008040″ boxed=”yes” boxed_radius=”8px” class=”” id=””]T[/dropcap]here is asymmetry also in the license to criticize: western scholars control the vyakhya (i.e. hermeneutics, right to criticize, what is deemed important and interesting, etc.), manage the adhikara (i.e. appoint those in charge of gate-keeping the academic channels), and sometimes even field the persons who represent Indic traditions. When criticized by truly independent Indians (i.e. those who do not seek visas, PhDs, jobs, tenure, etc.), some academic scholars have resorted to intimidating name-calling to affect censorship. This attack on the messenger serves to deflect from the message.

Many culturally proud Indians feel disenfranchised and outcast in the academic study of their traditions, perhaps because of a smaller presence of the practitioner-scholar than in the case of Buddhism, for instance.

Crasta’s reaction is an outburst:

“We refuse to perform monkey-dances for your pleasure. And what makes you think we cannot be spiritual and sexy at the same time? That is your own hang-up. We’ve become prisoners of your ideology. We are invisible to you. Either we are what you want to see in us, or we don’t exist.” [22]

Many culturally proud Indians feel disenfranchised and outcast in the academic study of their traditions, perhaps because of a smaller presence of the practitioner-scholar than in the case of Buddhism, for instance. Until two years ago, there was one-directional name-calling, only by the ‘licensed’ scholars. But then Hindus started several Internet forums which scholars could not control, and these have become vehicles to mobilize and develop counter name-calling, returning in kind the ad hominem used by scholars. Frankly, this is unproductive, and the time has come to move beyond rudeness and name-calling in either direction.

My survey shows that representation systems and power are mutually interdependent. Many Indians blame the current world power structure, but that part is self-evident. It is simply a statement that there is a problem, but one must understand the mechanisms behind this power imbalance and how to alter them. Here is my model: Ross Perot pioneered ‘facilities management’, a field wherein the supplier takes over the entire ‘burden’ of information management on behalf of the client, including and especially the staff, the infra-structure and the total responsibility for results. As times goes by, the supplier gains greater control over the client, and the client loses freedom, independence, and even the know how to be able to get rid of the supplier at a future date.

[dropcap color=”#008040″ boxed=”yes” boxed_radius=”8px” class=”” id=””]I[/dropcap]n an analogous manner, the British did facilities management for India’s Nawabs and Rajas — operated their armies, collected taxes on their behalf, educated their citizens as they deemed fit, operated the courts, etc. — who had already become nominal second tier rulers under the Mughals. These local rulers were the ‘clients’ and the British East India Company (later to become the British Empire of Queen Victoria) was the facilities manager. Under the revenue sharing arrangements, the local ruler received a tiny fraction (usually under 10%) of the taxes collected by the British (often involving draconian tax rates). Additionally, the massive profit margin on trade between India and Europe was also Britain’s to keep, besides the transfer of textiles, steel and other essentials of the Industrial Revolution from India to Britain. The Indian ruler was a nominal figurehead in the arrangement, so as to preserve the appearance that the British were in fact there to help upgrade the level of civilization on his behalf. This facilities management was the greatest transfer of wealth between one place and another ever in human history.

Hindus are co-opted as Macaulayites to make the kangaroo court seem legitimate, and there has been no shortage of such opportunistic Hindus.

As part of this facilities management ‘contract’, the British also became trustees of the scholarship and hence the intellectual representation systems of India. They researched Indic traditions, translated and interpreted the texts. They constructed the famous interpretation of the Manusmriti so as to be able to say that they were in fact enforcing Hindu law in ruling India. The sophisticated technique, still in use, has been to first master Sanskrit texts, so as to understand the native representation system; then to map Indic texts and re-interpret them using the western meta-narrative discreetly and invisibly, while maintaining the aura of authenticity by using enough Sanskrit terms. Hindus continue to accept a de facto facilities management arrangement by letting outsiders control Indic intellectual know how and identity. There is no other major world tradition so abandoned intellectually by its own people. Remedy: both the insider and the outsider view of a tradition must be represented in a balanced way.

The criticism of Hinduism in academe is done in a fashion that it appears to be fair. The evidence is presented as authentic Hindu understanding, and the motive is claimed to be the well-being of the oppressed Hindus — to save them from themselves. Never mind that no defense side is often practical given the above asymmetries, and evidence is often exaggerated. Hindus are co-opted as Macaulayites to make the kangaroo court seem legitimate, and there has been no shortage of such opportunistic Hindus. The trial of Sri Ramakrishna in absentia, with no defense side allowed except by way of a reaction against the verdict, is a recent example. [23] Most seriously, the representation system in which the discourse takes place, and in which modern Indians have been programmed to think, is of the west and by the west, and under the intellectual, financial and political control of the west.

Nicholas Gier used “Titanism” to describe Hindu gurus who are larger than life and assume unquestionable authority. But in the Indian mind, the West has a Titanic presence. There are western Scholar Titans now dominating Hinduism Studies, who have usurped the ultimate authority that traditionally belonged to the Vedas — a sort of colonialism.

The Gandhian Response

[dropcap color=”#008040″ boxed=”yes” boxed_radius=”8px” class=”” id=””]G[/dropcap]andhi’s innovation in reversing the massively asymmetric power that the British enjoyed was based on two profound insights: (1) The British self-identity was built on the deeply rooted belief that the British were highly civilized (and hence the White Man’s Burden to go around civilizing others.) (2) The British depended upon the Indians as consumers, having appropriated India’s centuries of supremacy in textiles and steel exports, and reduced Indians to poor consumers. On #1, Gandhi continually challenged them by taking the moral high ground, compelling them to respond as civilized people, which they could not refuse to do, until the moral standard he set became too high for the British and their system imploded. On #2, he initiated successful consumer boycotts and indigenous production.

Many western scholars have already been very sympathetic, have devoted their lives to positive and fair scholarship, and have had the courage to step out of the orthodoxy of scholarship.

Learning from #1: When asked what he thought of British civilization, Gandhi is said to have replied, “That would be a good idea.” I would have to give the same assessment of western objective scholarship. Being seen as objective is to the academicians of Indic traditions what being civilized was to the British. Hence, by compelling them to be objective — in receiving criticism, in acknowledging falsities that they have perpetuated, in re-examining the asymmetries — we have our best chance to change the very system of objective scholarship that they control. Since sat-chit-anand is everyone’s inherent nature, western scholars will of their own begin to distance themselves from their abusive cohorts.

Learning from #2: A growing number of students in class nowadays are Indian Americans. Once these and other consumers of the scholarship de-legitimize the instances of abusive scholarship, the scholars will have to change.

Many western scholars have already been very sympathetic, have devoted their lives to positive and fair scholarship, and have had the courage to step out of the orthodoxy of scholarship. We need more truly independent scholars to stand up:

“It is indeed high time that independent, unattached scholarship… shed the constricting crutches of corporatist paradigms, tied to the newest fashion of academic respectability, to perform the simple, but signal, intellectual service required of a scholar — of thinking for oneself.” [24]

References:

[1] The Colonizer’s Model of the World: Geographical Diffusionism and Eurocentric History, by J.M. Blaut. The Guilford Press, New York, NY. P.11.

[2] The Invention of the Americas: Eclipse of “the Other” and the Myth of Modernity, by Enrique Dussel. Translated by Michael D. Barber. The Continuum Publishing Company, New York, NY. Pp. 44; 64-67.

[3] Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth. P.120.

[4] Cross-Cultural Conversation, Edited by Anindita Niyogi Balslev. The American Academy of Religion. Pp.23-24.

[5] India and Europe, by W. Halbfass. First edition, Delhi, MLBD, P. 44.

[6] Harvard Divinity Bulletin. Spring 2001. P.2.

[7] Cross-Cultural Conversation, Edited by Anindita Niyogi Balslev. The American Academy of Religion. Pp. 24; 37-38.

[8] For instance: (i) I have criticized the introduction of astrology as a ‘science’ into the academic curriculum, and the notion that there is a ‘Vedic Science’. (I have argued that Newton’s Laws of Gravitation are not ‘English Laws’ or ‘Christian Science’). (ii) I have expressed concern that the Aryan theory controversy is overdone in its significance, at the expense of more serious issues. (iii) I do not subscribe to the literalist interpretation of the Puranas – neither to claim hi-tech accomplishments (that the Hindutva claim), and nor to literally interpret the verses suggesting social abuse (that westerners like to rub in). (iv) I have written about the general intellectual shallowness in many instances of Hindutva scholarship, at least in its current stage. (v) I am against the demolishment of mosques, even when there is compelling evidence (including from Muslim sources) of some of these having being built by destroying Hindu temples.

[9] Karen Brown, the anthropologist of religion, speaking at the World Conference on “Gender and Orality” — May 2001, Claremont CA.

[10] Representing the Colonized: Anthropology’s Interlocutors, by Edward W. Said, Critical Inquiry, Volume 15 Winter 1989. Pp. 217-224.

[11] Representing the Colonized: Anthropology’s Interlocutors, by Edward W. Said, Critical Inquiry, Volume 15 Winter 1989. Pp. 213-214.

[12] White Mythologies: Writing History and the West, by Robert Young. Routledge, London. 1990. P.4.

[13] The Conquest of America, by Tzvetan Todorov P. 175.

[14] Examples of terms deserving better treatment include: murti, deva, varna, lingam, tantra, agni, sati, atman, etc.

[15] See for example, J. J. Clark’s book, Oriental Enlightenment.

[16] Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth.

[17] Impressing the Whites: The New International Slavery, by Richard Crasta. Invisible Man Books. Pp. 10-11.

[18] ibid. Pp. 100-103.

[19] ibid. P. 107.

[20] ibid. P.15.

[21] As one example only, those adopting a literalist interpretation of Indian texts are deemed fanatics, nationalists, and fundamentalists. But in Bible Studies, literalist interpretations are a well-respected hermeneutical approach. George Gallup’s book of surveys of Americans’ religious beliefs says that over 50% of all Americans believe in the literal interpretation of the Bible. Yet, we don’t denounce the majority of Americans as fundamentalist-fanatics. In the case of Islam, the Koran is viewed as the literal history and not metaphorically by the mainstream. Personally, I prefer the metaphorical interpretation of all religious texts, but feel that literalist interpretations are a person’s right without facing abuses.

[22] Crasta. P. 79.

[23] See Swami Tyagananda’s criticism of the book, Kali’s Child posted at: http://www.infinityfoundation.com/mandala/s_rv/s_rv_tyaga_kali1_frameset.htm

[24] Breaking With The Enlightenment, by Rajani Kannepalli Kanth. Humanities Press, New Jersey, 1997. P. xv

 

5 COMMENTS

  1. Sir ,please dont re- invent the wheel, japanese already did study a lot of what u are saying, please read through this twitter handle & blog https://vajrin.wordpress.com/ https://archive.org/details/AntiForeignismAndWesternLearningInEarlyModernJapan this person very clearly points out how gullible people will buy into western acceptance, take pride and whole chain continues. @Rjrasva

    https://twitter.com/Rjrasva/status/660989955032813570

    we must also begin our missionaries, have schools, philosophy, must also teach sankhya/nyaya/vaisheshika for rational thinkers spectrum.
    Also must take over our temples/institutions/ teach social anthropology, predators study the prey, not other way around. we must also evangelize to bring parity. Without competition, there is no parity.

    • west secularises meditation/yoga from their religious sources so as to please their christian/jew/muslim works. This begins all the way with panchatantra, they have to strip everything off that in order to make it easy, say its ok to use it as stress buster without having to confront their religion. Without having to realize they dont need to believe in jesus for salvation. or believe that everyone else will burn in hell forever.

      These are main points and tools of our belief. U take away all the good parts and make it secular then what shall we have left?.

      • They did the same with philosophy, made it tame. Entirely. philosophers like socrates, epicurius were building ashrams, not living isolated lives, their philosophy was about living in community at large.

        Present day so called philosophers have been tamed and made feeble by christian paradigm. They are basically theologians doing arcane work, monks even. Not of the people, not competing with Christianity among the popular public. So they have no convictions in their own work. Merely using the greeks work for intellectual masturbation. And happy & contented with that.

        They have tamed philosophy.

  2. sir please dont reinvent the wheel. Please study from japanese, through this blog and this twitter handle, please follow, u shall see all that u are doing, was done by japanese for survival. They did this already sir.
    https://vajrin.wordpress.com/ @Rjrasva
    they are polytheists,like us, we have to learn from them. Also they give a success stroy. we can use to prove that indian intellectuals failed, but japan is our model, they succeeded. Because people follow successful model, not uncertain paths as they see u proposing.

    Also we shud bring parity, only possible through competition, evangelism. Our temples /institutions must be brought back. our gurus/pandits must be first educated in social anthropology first, that is most important, training compulsorily. Predators study the prey, not the other way around. We must begin our study.

    https://twitter.com/i/moments/801406604956483584

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