By Yogi Baba Prem Th. D, Yogacharya, Veda Visharada. (@YogiBabaPrem)
The once expansive Bharata (India) is shrinking. What was once a great cultural land mass extending possibly from near ancient Persia eastward to Southeast Asia and possibly as far south as various South Pacific islands is literally becoming smaller as a geographic land with the emergence of or partitioning of India exemplified through the creation of Pakistan and Bangladesh. But something different is slowly manifesting–the partitioning of knowledge. The shastra’s and shad dharshanas are being carved up, especially yoga. This is a replay of the 1800s and appropriation of teachings within India.
Among the last of ancient dharmic traditions, Hinduism within India has faced assaults from a variety of inimical forces, among the most notable in modern history (circa the last two thousand years) being Islamic invaders of geographic India. But this process started much earlier, initially occurring in the region of Persia, as the Persian’s began to migrate away from their rootsi, possibly the Vedic tradition, and eventually converting to Islam. Islamic invasions of India have had a most notable effect, in essence decimating northern India. One of the most notable is the Mughal Empire which expanded from circa 1526 to circa 1700. While the Mughal Empire is becoming praised by modern scholars for its ‘harmonious relationship’ in India, it forever changed the face of India. It was Shivaji that began a powerful movement that is credited by some as the beginning of the India Independence movement.
With time, the British came to be viewed as an occupation, with the British managing most of the industry within India. During this time period, something more insidious was becoming well established within India. It was a more expansive introduction of Christianity; which manifested as a strong establishment of Christianity within India and most notably a strong connection between Christianity and Indian education. It would be correct to say that missionaries of the 1800s used the new tools of translations of the Rg Veda for purposes of conversion, as they referenced H.H. Wilson’s translation in their writings.ii Missionaries were quick to note that Brahmans were not familiar with their texts anymoreiii, allowing them to capitalize upon the management of information. While the Islamic occupation of India had a profound impact upon the culture, eventually resulting in India relinquishing land for the formation of an Islamic state—Pakistan, and the partition in 1947 forming Bangladesh which is currently a rapidly growing Islamic state. Christianity would manifest a newly modified model or certainly improve upon an old model within India, one that Hinduism had not seen or encountered previously to the degree in which Christianity would manifest it. The Christian movement would begin to study the sacred texts of the Hindu’s through the assistance of Hindu’s themselves. While it would be correct to say this was not a new concept. As Islam had invested considerable time in translations of texts, and it would be correct that this was often in order to prove the superiority of Islam over Hinduism relative to the Hindu texts. One such example was the translation and commentary of the Bhagavad Gita, referred to as Mir’?t al-h aq ?’iq by Abd al-Rahman Chishti, who believed that the Bhagavad Gita contains portions that were truth, but argued that these portions were Islamic in nature.iv Christianity was emerging with their translations at a period that would further complicate and solidify foreign translations of Hindu spiritual texts—the birth of the western scholar. As most scholars of this time period clearly had a Christian bias; armed with a new agenda, resulting in translations of numerous sacred texts to English, not for the benefit of humanity, but rather so missionaries could use the sacred teachings as a vehicle for conversion. This process was insidious and clever as the English began to financially support the funding of traditional schools. And life repeatedly teaches that–those who control the ‘purse strings’ of education, control education. Some may argue that this simply is not true, but in reality what was true in the 1800s remains true today, as schools are limited and controlled by funding. This was evidenced in 1835 with the English Education Act, which cut funding to traditional schools. The reversion of 1839 reestablished funding to traditional schools and maintained funding to other schools leading to the ‘twin tracks’ of 1841, but this issue goes back to 1833 at least, when Thomas Macaulay in the House of Commons argued that the natives of India were under Religious Tyranny. This simple statement paved the way for an unfolding of a most deviant plan, namely to restructure the Indian educational system into an English Scholar system, and not just an English Scholar system but one that was largely based on Christian educational institutions. v Scholars will argue that no Gurukulas were closed by the English, but to speak relative to their terms, control of funding simply allows a government or any group to manage any educational system. Revealing a cleverly disguised system designed to appear to be helping gurukulas while laying a track for an English based model of education. Regrettably, the Hindu was too innocent and trusting in the face of a cunning and experienced tradition that had almost 1500 years of experience at conversion.
In our current age, the latest manifestation of these religious/scholarly bias scenarios have manifested with claims that Aurangzeb was more of a ‘friend of India and Hindu’s’, evidenced by the copious translations that were made during this period, while ignoring that at least some of these translations were made for the purpose of citing Islam as more superior, as in the case of the previously referenced Mir’?t al-h aq ?’iq. One must always remain mindful that history is often recorded from the view of the victor. The most recent manifestation of the ‘Friend of India’ policy would be Sheldon Pollocks argument that liberation philology should be applied to the dharmic teachings. The strategy suspiciously appears to include what Christianity noted was needed in the 1800s–a workaround the Vedas. Though one cannot speak as to what is within the heart of the scholar.
The western mindset has often been that the native people were in reality too ignorant to understand their own teachings. Therefore, the British in this case, were willing to explain to the native population what their religion really taught. This manifested several significant issues for India: 1) Hinduism lost control over the interpretation of its own teachings. In reality, it is still struggling to regain control over interpretation of its sacred teachings. 2) Hinduism began a cycle of looking to westerners to explain the teachings often ignoring its own traditional teachers. 3) India began to parrot western society. 4) Hinduism receives no respect. Let’s examine each of these.
Hinduism lost control over the interpretation of its own teachings.
To date the most easily accessible texts are in English. The most common versions of the Rg Veda accessible are from English translators from the late 1800s.vi Of course there are numerous copies of the Rg Veda in Sanskrit, but in reality the average Hindu does not read Sanskrit. There are numerous grass roots efforts to bring some of the sacred texts to a larger Hindu audience, but these are relatively small compared with their English equivalents. Few people recognize the fantastic amounts of monies spent by missionary groups for paid positions and the creation of and distribution of materials. Few recognize that in 1877 Methodists were spending nearly 5 million dollars on foreign missions.vii That is equivalent to over 99 million dollars in today’s dollars, which is a rather unimaginable number for that time period. In reality, what was the greatest compendium of spiritual literature the world has ever known has been reduced to the suggestion of making one book the primary book for Hinduism-namely the Bhagavad Gita. While there is little doubt the Bhagavad Gita is an important text, such action goes against the spirit of Hinduism which is comprised of many traditions, and is more akin to ‘fitting into an Abrahamic model’ of one primary book that is favored by western civilization. This clearly illustrates the degrading understanding of the spirit of Hinduism within India. Additionally, there is an egregious lack of online historical information that can be easily accessed regarding the history of India, and representation of Indian/Hindu history from the view of the tradition is almost nonexistent or very limited at best. Yet, Hinduism boasts a population of almost 1 billion members. One must ask, ‘Why?’ The result of loss of control over texts has become a model of Hinduism looking to westerners to explain the teachings often ignoring its own traditional teachers and even teachings.
Hinduism began a cycle of looking to westerners to explain the teachings often ignoring its own traditional teachers.
India’s value of traditional scholars has waned in the modern age. Even modern Indian academic models continue to embrace western ideals such as the Aryan Invasion Theory (AIT) and Aryan Migration theories (AMT) that have no evidence to really support them, and even in light that the AIT has even been abandoned by most western scholars, too many impressions remain in the mind of India. Yet, these theories continue to be embraced as they are western. This following of the west illustrates a deep psychological scare culturally that presently afflicts the Hindu mind. This has resulted in a paradox of embracing the teachings while ignoring the teachings. Meaning the teachings are more valued when presented from the western view, and devalued from the tradition. This became apparent nearly a decade ago, when I attended a meeting of ‘Vedic Scholars’ at Swami Dayananda’s ashram in Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania. This was a meeting on preserving the tradition for future generations of Hindu’s. During this meeting, I suggested that Hindu’s must reclaim their yogic heritage before it is too late. After all, yoga is one of the shad darshanas of Hinduism. I was immediately told ‘Let them have yoga!’ by a gentleman. And let them have yoga we did. Today, yoga is overseen not by Swami Orders, not by Rishi’s, not by Guru’s, not by Yogi’s and often not by anyone within the tradition. Rather it is overseen as far as authorization by the ‘Yoga Alliance’, the current major certification organization for yoga globally. But in all fairness, the conflict goes further back then the appearance of the Yoga Alliance. The roots to this go back much further, with some of the greatest damage coming from within Hinduism itself.
Many Hindu based groups have sought to align Jesus with Krishna. This is concerning as it does not match the documented incarnations of Vishnu within Hinduism. Therefore, one must ask, ‘Is this rooted in truth?’ Or is it more aligned with western Christian samskaras and creates a new doorway into the western mind? Possibly an unintended consequence of this is the creation of a hybrid system that combines elements of Christianity and various sects of Hinduism. This may have numerous unintended consequences as well, as an examination of the history of Jesus reveals numerous issues and areas of concern that are commonly known to scholars. At times it appears that Jesus was a Roman creation or at a minimum heavily influenced by a Roman agenda and that the imagery associated with Jesus pulls, in an uncomfortable manner, from many older traditions, especially those oriented toward sun worship. It appears the Roman influence was to try to influence the Judaic resistance of the time and foster a more pacifist attitude. This is evidenced in Mathew 5.41, ‘If a [soldier] demands that you carry his gear for a mile, carry it two miles…’ Another example, while presented as way to avoid a conversation of entrapment on the part of Jesus, Jesus said, ‘Give unto Caesar what is Caesars…’ Mathew 22.21 Likewise John 14.6 states, ‘Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man the Father, but by cometh unto me.’ This is contrary to the basic philosophy of Hinduism as the doorway to divinity is not limited any one person. My personal theory is that the Romans recognized it was more economical to control large geographic regions through religion rather than through military. As the Roman Catholic Church appears to modeled after the Roman political structure with the college of cardinals akin to the Roman senate and the Pope akin to Caesar. The Roman government evolved into a cycle of proclaiming the reigning Caesar as Divine, which is in essence the election of a Pope. The primary modification is that the Roman Empire following family lines and the Catholic Church does not.
Strangely, in the modern era, the inability to address some conflicts academically, intellectually or emotionally has birthed the ‘proto-image’ religious dogma. The ‘proto-image’ system is one that ignores comments, attributes or lifestyle attributed to Jesus or spiritual teacher/leader while manufacturing an independent religious narrative or image that fits ones particular mental proclivity. The proto-image is likely one of the most dangerous aspects confronting India and Hinduism, as well as the world at large, as it generates an unbalanced approach to divinity and an unclear understanding of divinity. A common manifestation is the ‘rule of feel good’. This has become a popular position, especially among western yoga teachers. The rule of feel good is the view that if it feels good it must be correct or truth. A modern era term has been coined as Truthiness, defined as ‘The quality of seeming to be true according to one’s intuition, opinion, or perception without regard to logic [or] factual evidence‘.viii In other words it often more based in fantasy then truth. While certainly ones intuition may be correct at times, it is questionable if it is a reliable gage for everyone and at all times.
Ironically, the Christian teachings attempt to modify the Hindu mind into a more pacifist mentality, removing the Kshatriya (warrior), intellectual Kshatriya or traditional Hindu mindset of inquiry. Once the pacifist mentality is established and the former Hindu is indoctrinated into Christianity, the system begins a well developed process of rekindling the Kshatriya in order to convert other members into the religion. Ironically, the true intellectual Kshatriya does not become awakened in the Hindu/Christian model, as often those attempting to convert have little understanding of the teachings and/or simply parrot the dogma which they have been taught. These often stimulate a joyful Kshatriya or ‘loving desire’ to save one from the lies of the world and to share the only real truth. With the most insidious attempts being to state that Jesus is the Vedic Prajapati, which in reality violates the dogma of Christianity and 10 commandments of the Old Testament, but it appears that any violation of dogma is acceptable if conversion is a possibility. Ironically, the polar opposite is true of fundamentalist Islamic conversion which focuses upon ignorance. An example would the cleric who recently taught the earth was a stationary object and the Sun revolved around it.ix
Additionally, the concept of looking to the west is further compounded by a process understood within India for thousands of years-Samskara. As samskaras start from a young age and are influenced by school. An excessive amount of the Hindu educational system is rooted in Christian schools. Years within this Christian school system generates powerful samskaras or impressions within the mind. Once established within the mind, these samskaras cannot be truly removed until one has achieved enlightenment, though the strongest and bravest of Hindus can use the intellect or techniques from Yoga to reduce or minimize these influences. Of all the assaults upon Hinduism, this is clearly the most powerful and insidious.
India began to parrot western society.
This is a most concerning, as India is no longer looking to its traditional teachers and traditional scholars; rather it apparently values western teachers. Indian “intellectuals” are too often betrayed by their own samskaras and the desire to obtain prestigious positions, committees or forge alliances with western organizations. While there have been a handful of westerners that have taken up the tradition and work to preserve it. Most notable would be David Frawley, D.litt (Acharya Vamadeva Shastri), in my opinion. It should be noted there are a growing number of western teachers that are more studied in the tradition, regrettably the traditional teachers within India often remain silent and somewhat noncommittal in preserving the traditional teachings globally. Though certainly there are those such as Swami Dayananda, Baba Ramdev and others that have become outspoken about the importance and value of Hinduism. While the proto-image faithful would argue that we are entering into a ‘new-age’ of spiritual realization, and are moving beyond the teachings of Hinduism. In reality, from the position of the tradition, we are only moving further into the Kali Yuga, as humanity generally and falsely equates technology with spiritual expansiveness.
Hinduism receives no respect.
This became obvious to me while watching several discussions regarding religious pluralism on CNN. I cannot say I have ever seen Hinduism represented in any discussion on religious pluralism, though it is possible I simply missed one of the few times it occurred. This is simply not the case for the other major religions of the world, as the Abrahmic faiths are always represented especially Islam and Christianity. It appears, at times, as if Hinduism simply does not exist.
In a sense, Hinduism is the fastest growing religion globally via yoga, yet, the majority of yoga practitioners don’t really know anything about Hinduism, despite using Hindu terms such as Namaste and OM, having icons in their yoga centers and chanting of short mantras to Devas. A concerning reality is that a very small number of yoga practitioners self-identify as Hindu. This mentality has birthed a ‘spiritual but not Hindu’ mentality among groups in the west, which is somewhat concerning as the reality is they are simply practicing one or two branches of Hinduism. But the issue extends beyond mere self identification or news acknowledgment of Hinduism. In the United States, Steve Harvey hosted a panel discussion on the deep religious divide within the U.S., ironically it featured a Catholic, Islamic, Rabbi, and an Evangelist commentator. x Where was Hinduism? There simply was no representation of Hinduism, how can we have a religious dialogue without representing all the religions. A dangerous message is being presented to the world, namely that only violent religions or religions with a known history of violence are worthy of representation and having a voice. This requires that Hinduism cultivate inroads to make sure the religion is represented in the media globally in a fair and equal way. According to Hinduism Facts:
24% of U.S. citizens believe in reincarnation and 1/3 of all deaths now chose cremation.xi
According to Statistics Brain Research Institute:
Over 15 million people practice yoga in the just the United States.xii
CNN estimates this number is more like 30 million as of the international yoga day. xiii
Given the fact that yoga is a shad dharshana in Hinduism, the reality is that Hinduism could be one of the fastest growing religions, and should be close to the largest religion in the world, especially when combined with Buddhism which was based in Hinduism and is a dharmic tradition as well. xiv Despite this impressive number, one still sees a relative small number of Hindu oriented books at book stores and a disproportionate number of Buddhism and Christian/Islamic books. The problem remains that most practitioners of yoga are not educated about the Hindu roots to yoga, and that Hindus on the world stage do not ‘flex their buying power’ with corporations.
A lesson for Hindu’s is literally the ‘squeaky wheel get oiled’, a conundrum for Hinduism. As Hinduism largely favors a more pacifist position now regarding religious issues, which furthers the difficulty of manifesting a resolution. Yet, as Hinduism attempts to lay claim to its heritage, a long line of scholars are quick to criticize any pro Hindu beliefs. It sometimes appears that nothing can be credited to Hinduism, as it would be considered vile to do so. Even within India, teachers that are pro Hindu are sharply criticized for little more than thinking highly of Hinduism. Yet, Hinduism is likely the only known mother to the world’s religions, and the last among the world’s dharmic traditions. Hinduism will need to change strategy in addressing the information that is largely against Hinduism. This births many important and concerning questions, ‘Will Hinduism continue to be pacifist or will it give rise to a militant Hindu?’ The answer to this question has far reaching consequences and could completely change Hinduism as it is known today. Or will Hindu birth a new type of teacher, one that is willing to stand up for Hinduism and will a Hindu voice emerge demanding equal representation on the global stage and among the global media?
There are efforts with the movement called the Intellectual Kshatriya, which mediates between the pacifist and violent extremes. To the best of my knowledge this was first suggested by David Frawley (Acharya Vamadeva Shastri) in 1996.xv This concept has been embraced by Rajiv Malhotra or is certainly embraced by his followers. This no doubt will introduce conflict and partitioning within Hinduism as Gandhi generally rejected the idea of Kshatriya. Yet, some have suggested he was a type of intellectual Kshatriya, though quite different from the modern models of intellectual Kshatriya that are emerging, and far removed from the kshatriya’s of the Bhagavad Gita.xvi Frawley’s model for the intellectual Kshatriya is, “They should be skillful in language, dialogue and debate, not apologetic or compromising; satyam eva jayate. They should emphasize the power of viveka or yogic discernment as their guiding force.”xvii The intellectual Kshatriya model is supported in the ancient tradition but should be combined with political powers, as the ancient tradition did support the political/warrior groups together.
As Hinduism is an expansive word, encompassing many different traditions, it has elements of describing a culture and important Spiritual/dharmic elements as well. The great diversity of Hinduism may prove to be its weakness, as unity is necessary in facing the challenges to Hinduism while maintaining distinction and diversity within Hinduism as well. If unity can be achieved while maintaining diversity, Hinduism can become globally recognized and respected. We stand at the precipice of a potentially great moment, one which could prove to be one of the great moments in the history of Hinduism, or it will become a great challenge for Hinduism to overcome. At this moment, the future is in the hands of the practitioners of Hinduism, yet it seems that has always been the case.
References used: Bible (KJV)
i David Frawley, ‘Gods, Sages and Kings’ p. 94
ii ‘The Indian Missionary Manual: or, hints to young missionaries in India’ Murdoch, Madras:1864
iii ‘The Church Missionary Intelligencer’ monthly journal 1872 ‘The Primate on Heathenism in England’ p. 291
vi Note a new translation of the Rg Veda has recently been published by Oxford Press.
vii ‘The Gospel in All Lands’ p.377 Editor Rev. Eugene Smith:Missionary Society of Methodist Episcopal Church 1889
viii Dictionary.com accessed 3/23/2016
xiv This estimate is based upon Hinduism currently estimated upon 1 billion followers, subtracting follows from other religions that practice yoga and adding Buddhism. Numbers of yoga practitioners for other countries were not available, but certainly this would be a significant number as well.
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