An Indian Renaissance

By Christopher Shannon, President of the Samprajña Institute

[This post is part of a roundtable discussion on the new book Being Different: An Indian Challenge to Western Universalism by Rajiv Malhotra, now featured at the Patheos Book Club.]

Civilizations endure because they are able to repair the deterioration that age and complacency bring to them. In a cultural context such repair is called a renaissance. Although on account of globalization one could hardly expect to witness a renaissance of any kind, some will be pleased to know that a new renaissance in Indic thought and culture is gathering force, and Rajiv Malhotra’s latest book, Being Different, is at this the forefront of this renaissance.

Being Different speaks to us about a revolutionary change in thought that is in motion within Indic civilization, because it demonstrates how some of its most thoughtful members are breaking with a long-standing tradition of Western colonialist thought and scholarship. The objective is to establish as legitimate an understanding of Indic civilization and culture on its own terms, not on the West’s terms.

As the word renaissance implies, a civilization’s “re-birth” begins when its most thoughtful members re-examine the history of their culture for clues that might bring about such a revival. European Renaissance humanist scholars, for example, re-discovered the value of Latin and Greek classics and, inspired by their re-discovery, embarked not only upon an ambitious effort to recover all that could be found from monasteries and private collections, they also  made those classics the basis of a new, reformed system of education. From art, to education, to science, much in Renaissance Europe was influenced by the attempted revival of ancient Greek and Latin literature.

In a similar way, Malhotra early on in his book introduces his readers to the concept of purva paksha, the “traditional dharmic approach” that ancient, rival schools of Indic thought have used to establish their own conclusions (siddhanta) in defiance of all other opposing schools. Malhotra’s proposition, which he also informally dubs “reversing the gaze,” is that this method of purva paksha should be used as a corrective measure against Western universalism. Indeed, the concept of purva paksha runs through the book to connect many other ideas, as a sutra, a thread, might hold together a string of pearls.

Some other original ideas that are unmistakably Indic in character include Malhotra’s Gandhian-esque notion of “mutual respect” as a replacement for “religious tolerance.” His point is that one would be offended if one were merely tolerated by one’s colleagues instead being offered mutual respect. “Embodied knowing,” the Indic tradition’s “extensive range of inner sciences,” versus “history-centrism,” are concepts he uses to describe and explain the pursuit of unity by way of religious, cultural, and economic homogenization and why this is harmful. Malhotra also offers an alternative.

These and some of the other ideas Malhotra develops in his book have the character and freshness of an emerging renaissance. They are clearly derived from the Indic civilization’s ideological and cultural past. And they have been developed and advanced through the process of purva paksha in order to defend the rightful claim of that civilization’s members to exist and, as the book sets out to demonstrate, to be different.

Christopher Shannon is president of the Samprajña Institute (http://samprajna.org), is a researcher and essayist, and holds a BS in Statistics from the University of New Mexico. He has been a missionary and active member of ISKCON for the past 22 years, and he has been an Information Technology professional for the past 14 years.

 

  • स्त्री शक्ति

    “He has been a missionary and active member of ISKCON for the past 22 years”

    22 years eh? Rajiv Malhotra argues that homosexuality was never a taboo in India. What does your founder acharya, Prabhupada, himself an Indian hoping for a “renaissance”, say about that?

    • http://digestingveda.blogspot.com/ Digesting VEDA

      Share what you know, or what you *think* you know!

      • स्त्री शक्ति

        Prabhupada on what he refers to “homosex”

        http://www.harekrsna.org/gbc/black/hridayananda.htm

        • http://digestingveda.blogspot.com/ Digesting VEDA

          ha! ha! aka Howard Resnick

          The West is obsessed with Sex! So this guy wants homo sex along with KrushNa. What a pervert! This is the problem with fly by night “swamis”. Read following item and you will see more such crappy phenomenon.

          —————–

          Rajivji

          Perhaps you are already aware of these western gurus of non-dualism as they should perfectly fit your U-turn theory.

          http://www.adyashanti.org/
          http://www.adyashanti.org/index.php?file=mukti_bio
          http://www.thechocolatebuddha.org/event/greg-marian-seattle-satsang/
          http://pamelasatsang.com/
          http://nevernothere.com/solane-verraine
          http://freewatersangha.org/introfreewater.htm

          These people come about once a year in the town where I reside.I participated in one of these satsangs and it was quite interesting. Generally these are conducted in someone’s house or at times they rent a hall.A lot of the participants have either serious emotional ( like hating their parents etc) and physical ailments. Some participants are genuinely open to learn about eastern traditions. These westerners sit like Hindu Gurus of great equanimity and after the initial talk by the western Guru, the participants approach the guru with
          their question. There is a donation plate on the front lobby and most times the participants can put whatever they can afford.

          In the Satsang I participated, I said that I am not interested in learning about non-dualism as I believe non-dualism is not a view or a doctrine to be upheld in society but is a highest spiritual reality that one experiences by perfecting
          the Sadhana that one learned at the feet of one’s Guru.

          I asked the Guru to explain “duality” to me. I was given the most common answers like “night & day”, positive & negative” etc. I further asked whether there is duality within one’s own body. This question confused them. I tried to explain
          about “nirguna” and saguna”. By then I had supposedly taken too much of the Guru’s time and was labeled as a trouble maker.

          Rajiv comment: Yes I have a whole laundry list of such persons and it keeps growing faster than I can keep up.

          The move to accuse Indian gurus went hand in hand with installing new white gurus. Some examples:
          1) Yogi Amrit Desai was suddenly replaced by his all-white closest followers whom he had trusted with legal control of everything. So Kripalu Center now run by these white gurus is a new age spa. In fact, even Amrit Desai’s own tapes,
          books are copyright owned by Kripalu and not him.
          2) Likewise after Osho died it was found that 20 Western disciples had control over the Bahamas trust that owned all the property worldwide. This includes billions of dollars worth of real estate, all intellectual property and his brand name. I will show how large this scam has been.

          Yet, most Indians go gaga over these Western gurus, and all it takes is some Westerner to complement Hinduism and the desis dance like fools and shower their money on them. I saw a line of Indian women in the 1990s in queue to touch the
          feet of Eckhart Tolle. At that time he was a non entity claiming the same experience as Ramana Maharishi. He used to read the Indian gurus and then started to become one.

          • स्त्री शक्ति

            Digesting Veda, the point is, some Indians like Rajiv and Karthik wish to present India as more “open” than “the West” to homosexuality. Rajiv has even said that it was never a “taboo” in India.

            Prabhupada clearly disagrees with their views.

          • http://samprajna.org Christopher Shannon

            At the link provided by svi-shakti (a website I do not endorse at all), the files by Krishna Kirti are authored by me. Dr. Resnick was at one time my guru, but I eventually gave him up on account of his aggressive pursuit of the Western gay agenda. I would have tolerated my relationship with him (in the pejorative sense that Rajiv M uses it, he also “tolerated” me in the same sense on account of our differences over this) had he not actually gone ahead and conducted an actual gay marriage.

            Although he toned his preaching on this angle down after ISKCON’s Governing Body Commission reprimanded him, he still quietly stands by his position on the matter. From his own website: http://www.howardjresnick.com/articles/essay_moral_theology_&_homosexuality.pdf , which I think is pretty much in line with progressive Christian views on the matter.

          • स्त्री शक्ति

            Christopher, my moniker is stri-shakti, not svi-shakti.

            What do you think about Rajiv’s attempt to paint Indic civilization in a more liberal light wrt homosexuality than it actually is?

          • http://samprajna.org Christopher Shannon

            Sorry, stri-shakti. The type on the devanagari is small. The tra looked like a va.
            As to Rajiv’s outlook, it just goes to show that Indic civilization has a diversity of viewpoints.

          • स्त्री शक्ति

            “As to Rajiv’s outlook, it just goes to show that Indic civilization has a diversity of viewpoints.”

            As does any civilization. Homosexuality may not be taboo to Rajiv, but to suggest that it is not taboo in India, or has never been, is disingenous.

  • John the (Closet) Hindu

    Christopher has done a great job here.

  • http://samprajna.org Christopher Shannon

    One more thing I wanted to say but didn’t have room for in my reflection: the intended audience for Being Different is that of the literate members of Indic culture and civilization. Most reviewers who are not a part of that intended audience are at a higher likelihood of focusing on details they are arguably experts in but that may only be marginally supportive of Rajiv’s position.

    Just something to keep in mind.

    • स्त्री शक्ति

      “the intended audience for Being Different is that of the literate members of Indic culture and civilization”

      Did Rajiv state this himself? Our impression is that he wants Western people to read the book and understand how Indian civilization has influenced its own and how that influence has been downplayed or not given credit at all.

      • http://samprajna.org Christopher Shannon

        No, Rajiv didn’t state this.

        But to me it is self-evident that the model (or implied) reader is already sympathetic to Indian civilization. The great bhashyas on the Brahma-sutras were also intended primarily for insiders and meant to be “overheard” by outsiders. In that sense Rajiv’s book follows in that tradition.

  • http://samprajna.org Christopher Shannon

    As regards to homosexuality in India being “taboo”, I agree that it is. It might surprise you to know that Howard Resnick himself, on numerous occasions has told homosexuals, face-to-face that society has a legitimate interest in treating it as taboo (I heard him say this personally – my conjecture is he can get away with saying that because he is well-known for his pro-gay stance.)

    As regards to Rajiv being disingenuous, I don’t think so. I don’t get that from his writing.

  • http://samprajna.org Christopher Shannon

    Hs taboo: I think this video at 2:35 is right: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IdK1vbO2qcY&feature=youtube_gdata_player

    • स्त्री शक्ति

      That’s nothing. I know gay Desis who’s parents are sending them to psychiatrists and arranging their marriages – to opposite sex partners! But the black dude in the first part of the video is hot. ;)

  • http://samprajna.org Christopher Shannon

    Just in case there is some misunderstanding from my last comment, by “right” I meant in the empirical sense, that the reaction would probably be typical.

    • स्त्री शक्ति

      Believe me, the reaction in real life is much, much, much more dramatic. You know how Desis love drama – moms threatening suicide and the whole nine yards of sari. Wait, they do that even if their kid is hetero and wants to marry a gori/gora. LOL! Gotta love ‘em.

  • Sang

    People who are deeply rooted in Vedantic studies know that one needs to stop going outwards (i.e. sense fulfilment). One needs to go inward and finally abide in the “Self”. Once established in this state, the person will not see any difference and will not have any hatred for anything. Such a person will advise (only if asked for) to stop all sex indulgence (hetro/homo). But this advice will be only for people who are capable of doing it. It should not be suppression, because this suppression will eventually come out with greater strength. One who is able to give up running after of sensual pleasures through understanding and conviction can progress in realizing the “Self”, rest cannot. From a “Realized/Liberated” person’s point of view everyone is foolish, because they are running after finite happiness instead of running after the Infinite Joy

    Now the degree of sexual activity (from best to worst) is [celibacy (best) -> only after marriage -> pre-marital but marry same partner -> Multiple marriages -> multiple partners without marriage -> with child -> gay/lesbian -> animal (worst)] [order may vary based on your taste]. For a celibate all sexual acts are BAD. For a person who had sex after marriage only, all pre-marital sex is BAD. So the degree of acceptance varies based on where one stands. Basically it is based on what color glass one is wearing. If wearing black glass, everything appears black and so on. But everybody is wearing a colored glass except the “Realized” person. Now we all are fighting saying my glass color is right and yours is wrong.
    A “Realized” person will not get affected by anything that happens outside. Because such a person knows that a person’s KARMA will have unavoidable KARMA PHALAS too. (i.e. every ACT has its own FRUITS). So the person will pay the price either in this life or in next life. By unnecessarily reacting to such acts one will also come into the KARMA and KARMA PHALA law. Your reaction will have some fruits, It could be instance anger/frustrations or able to change the mind of the targeted person and feel happy about it.
    A normal person (say a today’s Hindus in India) is not deeply rooted into Vedantic studies (99% don’t even know anything about it. They mechanically go through some routine worship, without understanding.). Such people will act based on where they stand on the degree of sexual scale (as mentioned above). This will be same for all religious people. If you look naturally, gay/lesbianism is an act of entertainment and sensual pleasure driven. Marriage is supposed to be for keeping the generation to continue. But today even the marriages are more of an act of entertainment and fulfillment of sensual pleasure. So everybody is in glass house, who as right to throw the stone? The whole environment is so much bombarded with sexual images and acts that everybody is brain washed and sex has become more prominent than the duties of a person based on age, profession, etc. Everybody talks and wants his/her rights but don’t want to fulfill their duties. Everybody wants bonuses irrespective of whether company’s profit grows or shrinks. I think reaction to such matters is mostly based on individual’s perception (based on where they stand on the sexual scale.). You will see all kinds of reactions in every society. There is no point in finding fault in one particular society.
    A truly believer in God will leave it to God. A true Vedantist will leave it to law of KARMA to take care of it. If you look from Dharmic point, a person from the age of 8 until 18 or until he/she finishes education (which ever is higher) is supposed to fully concentrate on studies and not let the mind divert on anything else. But today kids at age of 12/13 are indulging in sexual talk/viewing/acts. And this is supposed to be advancement and progress in human culture. And everyone wants to elongate the life span of sexual act till they die (80/90 years) by means of medical technology. We just refuse to abide by law of nature and respect the natural limits of the body. We create distortion or interference in the nature and claim it progress (one has to pay for, this based on law of karma, which cannot be avoided and that is belief of a true religious person.). They don’t know what’s the purpose of life is. They think enjoyment is the only thing that matters. They think selfishness is the only thing that needs to be focused.
    Remember,
    Nature is Supreme, it knows when to eject the human being from this earth, just the way it took care of the Dinosaurs. We are on lease on this earth, when we mess too much, the owner knows how to eject the tenant.

    • स्त्री शक्ति

      “For a celibate all sexual acts are BAD.”

      Says who?
      I’m celibate and do not think all (or any really, as long as they are between consenting adults) sexual acts are bad. What exactly is “bad” about sex?

      • Kartik M.

        You have (quite typically) quoted a line out of the context that would render it perfectly sensible in the original post.

        Celibacy is a moral choice, is it not? If one chooses to be celibate, then by definition, one places the sex act beyond the strictures of one’s own, self-defined morality. That is what I understand from Sang’s statement: “For a celibate all sexual acts are BAD.”

        That does not mean that a celibate necessarily takes it upon himself/herself to denounce sexual behaviour in other people. Only that the celibate considers sexual behaviour as morally or otherwise detrimental in himself/herself.

        Extending one’s own particular sense of morality as absolute, and imposing its template on all other people, is a typically Judeo-Christian response to Difference Anxiety. It is quite telling that you choose to do this with the very idea of celibacy. Try looking at everything without those Westernized lenses.

        • http://samprajna.org Christopher Shannon

          Kartik M

          Given that stri-shakti in a former post wrote, “the black dude in the first part of the video is hot”, and given that he/she claims to be practicing celibacy, I would say that you are never going to get back the five minutes or so of your life you spent on your reply.

          Don’t throw good money after bad.

          • स्त्री शक्ति

            You think celibate people don’t have eyes? We can’t tell the difference between a physically attractive persona and an unattractive one?

            ISKCON sanyasis do a pretty good job of singling out the pretty women, (and in some cases handsome men and cute children), so why should the rest of us be any different?

            Your own “founder acharya” made comments about peoples’ level of attractiveness, so you should have no issue with a regular peon finding someone “hot”.

        • स्त्री शक्ति

          “Extending one’s own particular sense of morality as absolute, and imposing its template on all other people, is a typically Judeo-Christian response to Difference Anxiety. ”

          Tell that to Sang. He’s the one who wrote, “For a celibate ALL sexual acts are BAD.”

    • स्त्री शक्ति

      “But today kids at age of 12/13 are indulging in sexual talk/viewing/acts. And this is supposed to be advancement and progress in human culture.”

      Today? Child marriage has been going on in India and many parts of the world since ancient times, and still is in some places.

      Gandhi was 13 when he got married and began his sex life, according to his own autobiography.

      Having sex at puberty ain’t new.

      • Kartik M.

        Child marriage is not prescribed or sanctified in any Dharmic text. Just like homophobia… the practice of child marriage in India is something that was instituted, and reinforced, by the Indian experience of Islamic and Western colonialism.

        In Indian villages where foreign Muslim marauders would raid, plunder and carry away women… the local belief was that Islamic injunction did not allow the abduction of women who were already married. So villagers sought to marry off their daughters as soon as they achieved puberty, or even earlier, as a means to protect them from abduction.

        The immense economic privation that resulted from British colonialism (with its artificially imposed famines and rampant epidemics of disease) compounded the problem. It increased the overall mortality rate, and especially the child mortality rate to appalling levels. As a means to preserve the family line, children were married early in the hope that at least a few of them would survive long enough to produce heirs who also survived… a matter of maximizing probability. Associated with this, there developed folk superstitions to the effect that children who were betrothed in marriage stood a better chance of surviving than children who were not.

        So, no, there is nothing traditionally Dharmic about having sex at 12 or 13.

        • स्त्री शक्ति

          “So, no, there is nothing traditionally Dharmic about having sex at 12 or 13.”

          Oh really? Ask Mr. Shannon what his “founder acharya” had to say about it. He was very Indian, very Bengali and presumably very Dharmic as well.

          You might also ask him about the name his sect gives sex between a legally married husband and wife that is not specifically and only for procreation. That idea is also supposedly “dharmic”.

  • http://samprajna.org Christopher Shannon

    A big takeaway from “Being Different” is that some concepts of dharma and religion are better at managing differences in culture and world view than others. RM’s book with its discourse on what he calls the West’s “history centrism” is unmistakably making the point that he thinks the Indic civilization’s notions of religion not being tied to history make it better able to manage difference.

    Varnashram, a notion of social organization that is part and parcel of the Vedantic world view (and much maligned by Western theologians and secular scholars), is a social system premised on the idea that men and women in society have *different* natures and that social and occupational rank is best prescribed according to those natures.

    A pragmatic outcome of that kind of matching of the vocational and fundamental nature (svabhava) is an optimally efficient society. The day-to-day mundane affairs are looked after so nicely that the pursuive of higher, spiritual objectives becomes not only possible but a natural inclination.

    • स्त्री शक्ति

      “A pragmatic outcome of that kind of matching of the vocational and fundamental nature (svabhava) is an optimally efficient society. ”

      Where are the examples of such a society as a model to replicate?

  • http://samprajna.org Christopher Shannon

    Sang wrote: “And everyone wants to elongate the life span of sexual act till they die (80/90 years) by means of medical technology.”

    What to speak of increasing the time range for sexual activity, what about life-span increases itself? Can medical advances in longevity really be considered progress?

    From an ecomonic point of view, an elderly population that stays around longer than it would otherwise creates a significant drain on social resources, like medical care, jobs, etc. Such medical advances are not necessarily advances at all. It may in fact be an undesierable condition. But we nevertheless think it desirable.

    Thus here is a Sanskrit non-translatable that would be good to remember: ajnana does not translate to ignorance. You can think of it as something like what anti-matter is to matter. It is knowledge of “something”, but not what we think it is. Instead of freeing us from the world, ajnana binds us here.


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