Being Different Without Rancor

By Jagdish Chandra Pant

[This post is part of a conversation on the new book Being Different by Rajiv Malhotra, now featured at the Patheos Book Club.]

The book Being Different authored by Rajiv Malhotra, provides a refreshing perspective of of the panorama of ideas relating to the inner most concerns of human kind, since times immemorial in the whole world. The vast number of readers of the English prose based in India have perhaps, never been exposed to such a comprehensive comparative study of knowledge systems of different civilizations, in one go. The novel idea of gazing at the West instead of aping it, which educated Indians have doing been since a few hundred years, seems to have shattered the world view of a large number of the young readers of the English language in India, who appeared to have been brainwashed into believing that the ancient Indian Culture was no longer relevant in the Globalized World, that had been ushered here since the decade of nineties of the last millennium.

For the older generation of Indians, which was just about gathering their wits when India became free from the British yoke in 1947, “BD” was like a breath of fresh air, which echoed their deeply felt perceptions & feelings about the importance of India as a land, which had still a great deal to give to the rest of the world. To a reader like me whose working life as a civil servant in India for over thirty five years, had exposed him to the machinations of external forces, working their devious ways to manipulate the prevailing fissiparous social tendencies, dedicated to “Breaking India”, confirming to me the validity of the thesis of a book of a similar title by the same author, “BD” was an astonishing feat of scholarship which had been invested in crafting it, to elaborately explain the importance of being different without rancor.

The enormity of the magnitude of insidious appropriation of Indian knowledge systems by the West for the last five hundred years, without even the decency to acknowledge their sources, was indeed a revelation to many Indians, which “BD” has since exposed, with such professionalism that would be difficult to emulate. It is earnestly hoped that the noble mission of “BD”, to generate free & honest debate between the East & the West, would be understood by the latter in its proper perspective & jointly, the two civilizations which otherwise compliment each other so beautifully, would now get down to charting a road-map, to work together as equal partners for the larger good of humanity in the years to come. The देवासुर संग्राम - the motif on the cover page of “BD” signifies just this joint enterprise between the forces of “Inner Sciences” & the “Physical Sciences”.

  • Christopher Shannon

    It is an interesting that the mukhya vritti of the devaasura sangrama is that it was an opportunistic truce between the the asuras and the devas to produce the amrita that would give the strength and longevity. Because the asuras at that time had the upper hand against the suras, Lord Vishnu advised the suras to follow the policy of the snake and mouse, which, as the story goes, a snake and a mouse were by chance trapped in a basket. The snake made a deal with the mouse that he would let the mouse live if he would use his teeth to gnaw through the basket so that both could escape. But the snake’s real plan was that as soon as the mouse made the hole, the snake would eat the mouse AND escape. So this is ultimately what happened: The nectar was produced, the asuras stole it from the suras (the gods) and then began to fight among themselves as to who would drink the nectar. Lord Vishnu in His form of a woman, Mohini-murti, then appeared before them and, bewildering the asuras with her womanly charms, took the nectar from them and gave it to the suras.

    In a very significant sense, the “mukhya vritti”, or direct meaning, of this pastime, as it is narrated in the Bhagavat Purana, is probably the most apt metaphor for interfaith than any other.

  • Srinivasan Bharath

    Although this has nothing to do with topic of BD, I would like to add, the point on the Deva-Sura Samgrama that it is more deeper. That samgrama actually takes place in the mental canvas. On a Tattwic level the explanation is as follows. As one deeply meditates and churns the mind the deeply embedded Daivic and Asuric forces are constantly tugging against each other. At the initial stages all vile and poisonous stuff residing in the mind are thrown out and mind gets a first level of purging. Then successively as one progresses in Sadhana wonderful experiences happen. In fact corresponding to each of the items that come out of the ocean churning story there is a corresponding connect to the siddhis explained in yoga sutras. Also such practitioners also acquire special siddhis which is correlated to the jewels which emanate from this churning. There are many more secrets hidden and only a yogi can understand this

  • Jagdish Chandra Pant

    The two responses are both unique and significant and I dare say very relevant to the motif of Samudra-Manthan, which figures on the cover of the book “Being Different”. To me, one reason why “BD” is a “must read” book for all, is the dispassionate professionalism displayed by the author in presenting it as a lucid study of nearly all the better known knowledge systems in the world, enabling every one to reflect on their deepest held beliefs and prejudices. Its beauty lies in the fact that it appears to hold a mirror to every one to see for oneself, without reservations.
    A remarkable feature of the book is that it posits no political agenda, though it may upset the political agenda of quite a few extreme so called left and right dispensations.
    It is worthwhile to quote the second para from page 5 of the book, which reads as follows:-
    “There are two extremes that I wish to avoid in positioning dharma vis-a-vis the West. On the one hand, over-emphasizing dharma wisdom and its precedents can lead to chauvinism (and give rise to some of the same problems that exist in the ‘arrogance’ of the West) and even to isolationism and a failure to engage globally. On the other hand, if dharma is put forward merely as an eclectic collection (as the West seems to be doing – ‘this is my modification’) of disparate ideas, it will lack the cohesiveness necessary to function as a force for change.”
    The first extreme which the author seems to fear could lead to “chauvinism”, otherwise demonized in the West as “Hindutwa” has been skillfully skirted by him. However, it would be worthwhile to examine the real meaning of the Sanskritized Hindi word “Hindutwa” which has been wrongly translated as “chauvinistic Hinduism” to demonize it in the West. This really means “the essence of Hinduism” also described by the author of “BD” as dharma in another context, which stands for tolerance and mutual respect for all the faiths in the world, in sharp contrast to what it seems to have been wrongly painted in the West.

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