Rajiv Malhotra responds to Andrew Nicholson’s charges of plagiarism. See this post for more context.
Dear Andrew Nicholson,
I am glad you have entered the battlefield so we can get into some substantial matters. Since this is an extended article, I want to go about it systematically, starting with the following clarifications: I used your work with explicit references 30 times in Indra’s Net, hence there was no ill-intention. But I am not blindly obeying you, contrary to your experience with servile Indians; hence your angst that I am ‘distorting’ your ideas is unfounded. My writing relating to your work can be seen as twofold:
- Where I cite your work.
- Where it is my own perspectives.
You are entitled to attribution for ‘A’ but not for ‘B’.
Regarding ‘A’, I am prepared to clarify these attributions further where necessary. But, as we shall see below, I am going to actually remove many of the references to your work simply because you have borrowed Indian sources and called it your own original ideas. I am better off going to my tradition’s sources rather than via a westerner whose ego claims to have become the primary source. This Western hijacking of adhikara is what the elaborate Western defined, and controlled system of peer-reviews and academic gatekeepers is meant to achieve, i.e. turning knowledge into the control of western ‘experts’ and their Indian sepoys.
Regarding ‘B’, let me illustrate by using the very same example you cite as my ‘distortion’ of ‘your’ work. You wrote in your book that Vijnanabhikshu unified multiple paths into harmony. This is correct. That comes under ‘A’. But I add to this my own statement that Vivekananda does the same thing also. This is important to my thesis that Vivekananda built on top a long Indian tradition, and not by copying ideas from the West as claimed by the neo-Hinduism camp. This is ‘B’ – my idea. Your complaint is that by asserting this about Vivekananda, I am distorting you. You fail to distinguish between ‘A’ and ‘B’ because you assume that you are the new adhikari on the subject and anything in addition to or instead of your views amounts to a distortion. I see this as a blatant sign of colonialism.
You are carrying the white man’s burden to educate the Indians even about our own culture. Please note that Vijnanabhikshu is an important person in our heritage and there are numerous commentaries on his work. Yours is not any original account of him. You got this material from secondary sources. But by complying by the mechanical rules of ‘scholarship’ you got it into western peer-reviewed publications, and hence you claim to be the new adhikari. Furthermore, nor was Vijnanabhikshu the first to unify Hinduism. I have sources of the unification of various Hindu systems that go back much further in time and you do not seem to be aware of these. My point is that Vivekananda stands on the shoulders of many prior giants within our own tradition. I cited you to the extent it worked for me but did not stop there; I took it further than you have.
Sir Williams Jones started this claim to be the ‘new pandit’ in the late 1700s when he was a top official for the East India Company. Today that enterprise is dead in one sense, but has revived and reincarnated into new forms. You do not seem conscious that your position is not only arrogant but also puts in the parampara of Sir William Jones.
I re-examined your book lately and find too many ideas taken from Indian texts and experts that are cleverly reworded in fancy English. Let’s take a look at bhedabheda Vedanta. My teacher of this system has been Dr Satya Narayan Das, head of the Jiva Institute in Vrindavan, who spent considerable time with me while I was writing Being Different where I first explained my understanding. He is considered one of the foremost adhikaris today in this system, and adhikar in our tradition is not a matter of producing publications (with lots of quotation marks and obedience to other rules), but mainly requires actual experience of what is being said. Without the inner experience of the states of consciousness being discussed, it is at best secondary knowledge.
This experience is not a simple matter for western Indologists who spend hours going through other western interpretations and Sanskrit dictionaries. By complying with the procedural requirements of citations, etc. they suddenly claim to have become the new original and primary source. This system needs to be questioned, and I have written extensively about the syndrome I call the peer-review cartel. (You can read my debate on this a decade back on Rediff.com)
Therefore, I intend to delete most of the references to your book for bhedabheda, because it is clear that you lack the adhikara as per our system. I do wish to credit you in some respects but nowhere close to what you demand. It amazes me that there is nothing original in your explanation of bhedabheda, as your knowledge is obtained from reading Indian texts, western interpretations and sitting at the feet of Indian pandits to learn. Unfortunately, western Indology does not recognize what the pandit teaches you as his work, because it is oral and not written in a peer-reviewed (hence western supervised) publication. So the whole protocol of claiming something to belong to you as the author is a sort of technology of thievery. Fortunately, Indians have started claiming back their bio-heritage such as Ayurveda from such thievery that is being done by westerners claiming that Indians never filed patents as per western rules. It is time to also claim our intellectual heritage back.
Indian pandits know their materials by heart and it is orally transmitted, and they do not have the ego to claim authorship. They are very humble and hence get taken for a ride. They are duped by any ‘good cop’ from the west who comes in Indian dress to talk to them nicely and bamboozle them into believing that he is a friend of the tradition. Westerners can pick their brains freely, without which you would not be able to learn; but then you go back to the West and have the arrogance to call it yours. As per your Western protocol, you thank the pandit in some preface once, and feel that it suffices. But if you want that my 30 references to your work fall short then by the same token, please note that you, too, ought to be acknowledging your pandits and Indian textual sources in every single paragraph, if not every sentence.
Only that portion of your work which you feel gives truly original thoughts can become yours and make you its adhikari. If you would be kind enough to send us a list of what you consider original thoughts in your book, and that I have used these because they are not found anywhere else except in your work, then I would gladly bow to you and thank you profusely. But whatever portions (which is almost the entire book) are merely your rehashing the Indian materials in fancy English, over those I do not grant you the status of ‘ownership’.
Poetry and art are different than this. There, the originality is not in the substance but in the presentation. However, you are writing analytical works and there the originality would have to be established in the content and substance of the work, and not based on the ‘form’ of language gymnastics. Much of Western Indology is a factory to copy-paste and distort Indian materials, and process it through an industrial machinery called ‘academic knowledge production’ controlled by the Western institutions, journals, funding agencies, archives, gatekeepers, standards and rules, and so forth. Its requirements of idiom, the toolkit of theories to be used, language standards, etc., are such that 99% of the Indian traditional pandits (the true keepers of adhikara) are unable to participate.
My forthcoming book examines these mechanisms of exclusion in detail, which is why the war against it has started already. (This attack by you out of the blue comes 1.5 years after Indra’s Net, not as some remarkable coincidence, but because your peers are rattled at the thought that they are about to be exposed as the continuation of Sir William Jones.)
I challenge you to disclose all your Indian teachers – these are not ‘native informants’ as your system calls them but the true adhikaris of our heritage, and whose services you purchase to be able to do your work. What frightens your colleagues is that my book will educate our traditional pandits about your methods of exploitation. Let me frighten you even further: All my books are in the process of being translated into Sanskrit, specifically for the purpose of education of young pandits about the issues I raise. So my target reader is not folks like you, but our own pandits and others who claim this as their heritage and practice. I am especially interested in those who did not sell out to western sponsorship, foreign tours, etc. These will comprise my home team. I am only doing a humble service to inform them about the issues and remedies.
This is why more and more Indologists will be asked to come out of the woodwork and defend the old fortress. In the process they will also expose themselves. But that fortress is crumbling and my work merely accelerates the process of India once again becoming the center of Indology and not a subservient satellite of it.
Indian authorities should demand the return back to India of the 500,000 Sanskrit manuscripts that are lying outside India in various Western universities, archives, museums and private collections. These are our heritage just like old statues and should be returned since they were mostly taken by theft during colonial rule. I consider these more precious than the Kohinoor diamond. Right now, it is western Indologists like you get to define ‘critical editions’ of our texts and become the primary source and adhikari. This must end and I have been fighting this for 25 years. Now we finally some serious traction, thanks in part to people like you who attack and give me a chance to make my case more openly. Please note that what happens to me personally is irrelevant, and I am glad if attacks like this awaken more people.
My response to you is nothing personal, but serves to educate my own people. You are a glaring example of what I have called a ‘good cop’, i.e., one who goes about showing love/romance for the tradition. But at some time his true colors come out when he does what I have called a U-Turn. You would make an interesting case study of the U-Turn syndrome, for which we ought to examine where you got your materials from, and to what extent you failed to acknowledge Indian sources, both written and oral, with the same weight with which you expect me to do so.
To suit their agendas, westerners have pronounced theories like ‘nobody owns culture’ and ‘the author is dead’. Our naïve pandits are too innocent to know any of this, but I wish to inform them. The claim that nobody owns a culture makes it freely available to whosoever wants to do whatever they choose to do with it. Hence, Indian cultural capital is being digested right and left. The contradiction is that the west is ultra-protective about its ‘intellectual property’ and your obsession to squeeze more references/citations out of me illustrates this.
By declaring that the ‘author is dead’, the West says the contexts and intentions of the rishis are irrelevant. They are dead and nobody knows what they meant. So ‘we’ (the Western Indologists) must interpret Indian texts by bringing our own theories and lenses. This has been the basis for the Freudian psychoanalysis of Hinduism, and all other Western theories being applied. If the original author is dead, the material does not belong to anyone. It is public domain. So whoever has more funding and powerful machinery will determine how it is interpreted. However, the same ‘nobody owns culture’ principle does not apply to what you consider as your ‘property’. Indians need to wake up to this game.
They need to stop funding Western Indology and develop Indian Indology. The ‘make in India’ ideal should also be applied here. Expecting Indologists to change because you dole out money is like feeding a crocodile expecting him to become your friend. For the first 10 years of my work in this area, I gave away a substantial portion of my life savings in an unsuccessful attempt to fund and change the Indologists’ hearts. But they play the good/bad cop game with skill. I learned a great deal because I was acknowledged as the largest funder of western Indology at one time. Then I stopped and became their harshest critic. I have on file a lot of grant correspondence with Harvard, Princeton, Columbia, to name just a few. Naturally, they worry that I am exposing their secrets. One day I will get someone to organize all that material into a publication.
Before I close, I wish to address one of your points – that I lack the competence in Sanskrit to be able to do my work. I will address in a separate article my background and experience and how it fits the specific type of work I have focused on. But meanwhile let me inform you that, just as Western Indologists work in teams of collaborators consisting of specialists in different domains, so also I have been building my team of collaborators whose combined strength on Indology far exceeds anything you can possibly match. I bring a specialty they lack, and vice versa. But I am unable to get into further details at this time.
Welcome to the battlefield! I hope we can avoid personal acrimony and deal with the multiple issues I have raised above in a professional and mutually respectful manner. I give back as hard as I get. (Dr. Swamy’s slogan, being acknowledged without need for quotation marks…)
= Rajiv Malhotra