Untangling The False Knots In Rajiv Malhotra’s Indra’s Net
In his recently published book, Indra’s Net, author Rajiv Malhotra describes Professor Anantanand Rambachan as the foremost and most influential exponent of what Malhotra describes as the Neo-Hinduism thesis. This thesis, according to Malhotra, argues that Hinduism was fabricated during the British rule and that Swami Vivekananda plagiarized Western and Christian ideas. He accuses Professor Rambachan of working to fragment the Hindu tradition. In the essay that follows, Professor Rambachan contends that Rajiv Malhotra distorts and misrepresents his work. He identifies and responds to some of Malhotra’s principal allegations.
It is highly unusual for me to begin an essay, discussing my scholarly work, with biographical details. I am doing so, however, because the author of Indra’s Net has repeatedly questioned both my commitment and loyalty to my Hindu tradition as well as my scholarship.
I was born on the island of Trinidad, West Indies, the grandchild of Hindu priests. I am a fourth-generation descendant of impoverished Indian indentured laborers. They were recruited under British colonialism to take the place of freed African slaves on sugar plantations in the mid-nineteenth century. Isolated, and thousands of miles away from India, they resisted constant pressures to give up their religious heritage. Almost half of a century before Swami Vivekananda spoke at the Parliament of Religions in Chicago (1893), Hindu sacred texts were read, mantras chanted, Diwali celebrated and pujas were performed in the western world.
In high school, I read avidly the available writings on Hinduism and especially the collected works of Swami Vivekananda. In the context of colonial Trinidad and claims for Christian superiority, Swami Vivekananda spoke powerfully to a young Hindu mind.
Reading Swami Vivekananda deepened my religious inclination and interest. After completing my undergraduate studies, I traveled to India to study Advaita with Swami Dayananda Saraswati, a teacher of tradition.i
With the blessings and encouragement of Swami Dayananda, and after completing three years of traditional gurukulam education, I returned to graduate study in religion at the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom. I wanted to research and write about, in an academic setting, classical Advaita epistemology and, in particular, the significance of the śruti as a source of valid knowledge (pramāṇa) in Śaṅkara. Since 1985, I have taught in the Department of Religion at St. Olaf College, Minnesota, USA, and continued my research and writing on Advaita, the Hindu tradition in a global context, Hindu ethics, Hinduism and contemporary issues and interreligious dialogue.
In Indra’s Net, I am described as the “foremost exponent of the neo-Hinduism theory today,” with an influence that goes beyond the scholarly academy. Readers of this book will note quickly that Mr. Malhotra’s concern with my work goes beyond the usual matters of scholarship. There is an undisguised attempt to question my commitment to the Hindu tradition and it’s flourishing. Hindus are wrongly described as assuming that I am a “sympathetic voice,” “representing their views and aspirations.”
I am described condescendingly as one who was brought to the University of Leeds by my dissertation advisor, Professor Ursula King, and “groomed” to be one of the “main proponents and expositors,” of the “neo-Hinduism” thesis. The author characterizes me as the person who the Vatican regards as “its Hindu expert.” Such characterizations reveal ignorance of my personal history and have no place in any work that seeks to be regarded as serious scholarship. In addition, with the insinuation of passivity and manipulation, it is a demeaning denial of my agency and self-determination.ii It relies on unsubstantiated conspiracy theories and not fact.
Although this ad hominem dimension of Mr. Malhotra’s writing is troubling for its effort to homogenize discourse about Hinduism by calling into question the religious commitment of alternative voices, I do not focus here on this issue. I concern myself with his portrayal of my scholarship.iii In this essay, I offer an appraisal of the author’s representation of my work in relation to his argument for a “neo-Hinduism,” dominant narrative. iv
Indra’s Net: Overview
Author Rajiv Malhotra, begins his discussion with a statement of his objective. His aim, as he states it, “is to pick a particular dominant narrative which is sustained by a nexus of scholars specializing in that theme, and then target it to effectively subvert it.”v The narrative that the author seeks to subvert in Indra’sNet is one that he labels the “neo-Hinduism” thesis.
Neo-Hinduism, as represented by Malhotra, claims “that Hinduism was fabricated during the British rule and became a dangerous new religion” (xiv). It alleges that “Swami Vivekananda plagiarized Western secular and Christian ideas and then recast them in Sanskrit terminology to claim Indian origins for them”(xiv). The “neo-Hinduism” narrative, according to Malhotra, is not a neutral thesis. It has the explicit aim of generating conflict and divisiveness, balkanizing India, and disempowering Hinduism.
This bookis divided into two parts. In Part 1 (Examination of My Opponent’s Position) Malhotra describes the history and assumptions of the neo-Hinduism myth and discusses the views of those regarded as mythmakers or principal proponents of its premises. In historical order, these are listed as Paul Hacker, Agehananda Bharati, Wilhelm Halbfass, Ursula King, and Anantanand Rambachan (48-49).vi In Part 2, (My Response) Malhotra offers his rebuttal of the neo-Hinduism myth that he constructs in the first section of his work and expounds what he regards as the core elements of a unified Hindu tradition.
There are references to my work throughout Indra’s Net, but the principal discussion occurs in Chapter 6, provocatively and emotively titled, “Rambachan’s Argument to Fragment Hinduism.” There are also several citations of my work in Chapter 10 (“Harmonizing Vedanta and Yoga”). In this response, however, I am constrained to be selective since his distortion and misrepresenting of my scholarship are pervasive. In what follows, I use Mr. Malhotra’s terminology and organize this essay around thirteen of his “myths” about my work. I can easily double this number.
(1) The Myth that my Scholarship Originates from Western Assumptions
The genesis of my dissertation and the principal sources of influence on my work are not matters that I leave for speculation. My dissertation begins, unusually, with my religious autobiography, a fact glaringly overlooked by the author of Indra’s Net. vii
In this introduction, I describe in detail my birth and the early formation of my Hindu identity. I write about my initial impressions of the writings of Swami Vivekananda, from which I imbibed the idea that the authoritative source of religious knowledge in Advaita and in the Hindu tradition was a very special experience (anubhava) which alone revealed the nature of self (ātman) and reality. Vivekananda presented anubhava as having a self-certifying quality. All sources of knowledge were subordinated to anubhava.
I also detail my three years of intensive study in India with Swami Dayananda Saraswati, in which we read the commentaries of Śaṇkara on the principal Upaniṣads, the Bhagavdgītā and the Brahmasūtra. This study was integrated with training in relevant religious practices (sādhana). It is my years of study with Swami Dayananda Saraswati that made me aware of a sharply different understanding of the nature and role of the śruti in relation to the gain of liberation (mokṣa). This understanding is centered on Śaṅkara’s regard for the śruti as a source of valid knowledge (pramāṇa). Śaṅkara does not dismiss other sources of knowledge. He, in fact, commends the necessity and value of these in their appropriate spheres. In relation to the knowledge of brahman, however, he argued that all other sources were subordinate and supplementary. Unlike Swami Vivekananda, who contended that the teachings of the śruti had a provisional validity and required verification from anubhava, Śaṅkara describes the śruti as a self-valid source of knowledge. Śruti will not be a pramāṇa if it fails to independently engender liberating knowledge (pramā). There is no evidence in the commentaries of Śaṅkara that he argued for experience of any kind as a pramāṇa with the same status as śruti. viii
I discovered also that many commentators uncritically identified Swami Vivekananda’s interpretation of the significance of the śruti with Śaṅkara, and Śaṅkara was described as affirming experience as a pramāṇa. Śaṅkara’s Advaita was classified as a form of mysticism on the basis that he proposed mystical experience as the highest source of knowledge. I undertook my doctoral research to examine and account for these differences between the classical tradition and its foremost contemporary exponent. I focused on how Śaṅkara and Vivekananda understood the source of liberating knowledge (brahmajñāna) and the process of its attainment.
I describe the origin and history of the question that is central to my research to correct the palpably false claim of Mr. Malhotra that my work has its genesis in western representations of Hinduism. In fact, I also located my methodology in Hindu approaches and explained that my “research is undertaken in the general spirit of philosophical inquiry as sādhana. In the specific context of the Advaita Vedānta system with which it is concerned, this study is an exercise in manana or rational reflection on its fundamental propositions. “ix
This brief delineation of my personal religious history and the history of my dissertation question is required for several reasons. As already noted, it is necessary to give the lie to Mr. Malhotra’s account about the sources of my work. It is also important to discredit the view that scholars are bereft of religious commitment. The purpose of this is to suggest a sharp dichotomy between scholar and practitioner with the aim of discrediting the former.x Mr. Malhotra cites the sweeping and unsubstantiated generalization of one Vidyasankar Sundaresan to support this unfortunate claim. It is one example of the kind of unscholarly and reckless proclamations that are common in this book. “With all due respect to Anantanand Rambachan, the difference between one who does an academic study of Śaṅkara’s works and the one who lives and breathes Advaita Vedānta is the following. The former thinks that Śaṅkara was like a university professor of philosophy and thinks that both the traditional and neo-Vedāntins have deviated from Śaṅkara” (122). The reader does not have to speculate about the category in which Sundaresan places me!
(2) The Myth of Paul Hacker’s Influence and my Role as Neo-Hinduism Protagonist
Mr. Malhotra begins his treatment of my work by describing me as “the leading scholar in the myth of neo-Hinduism.” He identifies me as Paul Hacker’s heir and as deeply influenced in my work by Hacker and Wilhelm Halbfass (96-99). My dissertation, according to Mr. Malhotra, is the foundation of all my subsequent writings. A reader of Mr. Malhotra’s book will understandably come away thinking that my dissertation is profoundly indebted to the work of Paul Hacker and focuses substantially in an exposition of the “neo-Hinduism” thesis.
My Ph.D dissertation is 526 pages in length and I do not have a single citation from the writings of Paul Hacker or Wilhelm Halbfass. Their works do not appear in my bibliography. The reason is very simple. Contrary to Mr. Malhotra’s insinuations, their work was not significant for my research. The term “neo-Vedanta” appears once in my dissertation. This is in the introductory chapter where I use it to describe my reading of contemporary Vedānta writings. xi My employment of the term in this single instance, contrary to what the author suggests, is never to “imply something artificial, untrue, or unfaithful to the original”(30). I have never used the term in this sense. Contrary to what the author claims, I have never “branded” Vivekananda’s synthesis of the Hindu tradition as “neo-Hinduism.” Similarly, the writings of Prof. Ursula King, described by Mr. Malhotra as the person who groomed me to be a principal exponent of the “neo-Hinduism,” do not appear in the body of my dissertation. I cite two of her articles in my notes, without comment.xii
There are no references to Paul Hacker or to Ursula King in the body of my book, The Limits of Scripture: Vivekananda’s Reinterpretation of the Vedas. Malhotra attributes the influence of Hacker and Halbfass on me on the basis of a single reference to Halbfass in my introduction (97).xiii In this reference, I express agreement with Halbfass in his call for more historical studies of Swami Vivekananda and for clarification of his hermeneutics. Mr. Malhotra, it appears, does not see the value of such historical analysis. A single reference of this nature hardly constitutes the overwhelming proof of influence that Mr. Malhotra so strongly adduces.
I make mention of the absence of these scholars in my work not because I agree with Mr. Malhotra’s judgment about their scholarship but to highlight his disingenuous representation of the sources of my scholarship.xiv He ignores evidence in order to fit me into a narrative that he is concerned to advance. The burden is on Mr. Malhotra to prove the influence of Paul Hacker on my work; assertions do not constitute proof.
(3) The Myth that I Accuse Vivekananda of Plagiarizing Western and Christian Ideasxv
Let me begin my response to this myth by noting that Swami Vivekananda was never hesitant to admit the benefits and necessity of learning from sources outside of India. On the contrary, he encourages and speaks in favor of mutual learning and enrichment. In remarks following a lecture by Sister Nivedita in Calcutta on March 11th, 1898, Vivekananda spoke of learning from the West. “If we want to rise, we must also remember that we have many things to learn from the West. We should learn from the West her arts and her sciences. From the West we have to learn the science of physical nature, while on the other hand the West has to come to us to learn and assimilate religion and spiritual knowledge.”xvi
We should not interpret this last sentence to mean that Vivekananda believed that Hindus had nothing to learn about religion from others. Vivekananda’s first published work was a Bengali translation of 6 chapters of The Imitation of Christ, a work attributed to the medieval Christian monk, Thomas Kempis. The Imitation of Christ engaged Vivekananda’s attention and it was the only text, other than the Bhagavadgītā, that he kept with him during his years of travelling around India after the death of his revered teacher, Sri Ramakrishna. He made a special plea to Hindus to be attentive to this text, arguing that religious wisdom is not the privilege of one special community.xvii
On the night when a group of Sri Ramakrishna’s young disciples resolved to become monks, Vivekananda spoke to them of Jesus and his example.
In a biography published in 1912, ten years after his passing, his disciples described this moment.
The meditation lasted a long time. When a break was made, Naren began to tell the story of Lord Jesus, beginning with the wondrous mystery of his birth through his death on to the resurrection. Through the eloquence of Narendra, the boys were admitted into the apostolic world wherein Paul had preached the gospel of the Asian Christ and spread Christianity far and wide. Naren made his plea to them to become Christs themselves, to aid in the redemption of the world; to realize God and to deny themselves as the Lord Jesus had done. xviii
This is a remarkable example of the interreligious learning commended by Vivekananda in his final address at the World’s Parliament of Religions,1893. He spoke of the need for each tradition to preserve its unique insights while receiving the spirit of the other traditions. xix I emphasize Vivekanada’s openness to learning from other traditions since he does not exemplify the aversion to acknowledging this that is obvious in Indra’s Net.
Mr. Malhotra simplistically caricatures my nuanced discussion about the influences on Vivekananda:
Rambachan is quick to assume that it was the attempt to impress Unitarians in the West (for reasons of personal and national pride) that induced Vivekananda to downgrade the scripture and upgrade experiential realization (103).
In my dissertation and in The Limits of Scripture, I discuss the history of the Brahmo Samaj, and focus on controversies within the organization centered on the authority of the Vedas. It was a significant and influential urban reform movement in Bengal in the nineteenth century. xx It is in this context that I consider the well-documented relationship between Brahmo Samaj leaders and the Unitarians.xxiSwami Vivekananda was active in the circles of the Brahmo Samaj. He was a member of Keshub Chandra Sen’s Band of Hope and acted on stage with Keshub.xxii Brahmo Samaj discussions and concerns certainly influenced the young Vivekananda in his formative years. xxiii
Although Mr. Malhotra shoddily represents me as arguing only for a Western influence on Vivekananda, the reality is different. I distinguish Vivekananda’s approach from that of the Brahmo Samaj. “The Brahmo Samaj,” I wrote “openly ridiculed many of the doctrines and practices of Hinduism and was not generally concerned to preserve a Hindu identity. Keshub Chandra Sen, in fact, consciously sought to terminate links between the Brahmo Samaj of India and the wider tradition. The influence and example of Ramakrishna distinguished Vivekananda’s approach to Hinduism from that of the Brahmo Samaj.”xxiv
In my discussion of the sources of Vivekananda’s emphasis on anubhava, I cite several possible influences.xxv Mr. Malhotra perplexingly ignores my analysis and accuses me of attributing this solely to western influences. I identify, among others, Sri Ramakrishna and the bhakti-poets of Bengal. I discuss, extensively, the significance of Yoga in Vivekananda’s thought. xxvi The monomania with western influences lies with the author of Indra’s Net. It is not my obsession.
(4)The Myth that I Censure Vivekananda for Illicitly Reinterpreting ‘Tat Tvam Asi’
In the category of fabrication belongs also what Mr. Malhotra presents as my most severe charge against Vivekananda.
Rambachan’s harshest allegation is that Vivekananda did an illicit reinterpretation of the famous dictum of Vedanta, tat twam asi or ‘that thou art’, as the basis for the Hindu social ethic. Its original meaning, he argues, had nothing to do with social ethics and was strictly about private mystical unity (54).xxvii
One would expect references from my published writings to establish that this is indeed my view of Vivekananda’s exegesis of tat tvam asi. Not surprisingly, the author provides none. The reason is the same; there is no evidence in my work to justify this fiction. Mr. Malhotra, in a similar way, and without any scholarly ground, describes me as “claiming that Vivekananda’s emphasis on ahimsa as social non-violence differed from its traditional meaning” (54).
Careful readers of my work know that the word “mystical” is not one that I employ in my discussion of Advaita. I am wary of its uncritical use in relation to the tradition. I have never written, as Mr. Malhotra claims, that the original meaning of tat tvam asi has to do with “private mystical unity.”xxviii I do not argue anywhere that deriving social ethics from tat tvam is an imposition on this text. On the contrary, I have also argued that the implied identity of self (ātman) and the infinite (brahman) taught in this great Upaniṣad sentence (mahāvākya) provides a powerful intrinsic justification for social ethics based on compassion.
The vision of the self in all beings is articulated in the Upaniṣads as an outcome of brahmajñāna in the expectation that such a perspective enriches and enhances the meaning of being human and will be warmly embraced as a truth that enables us to overcome alienation and estrangement. …It challenges attitudes of uncaring indifference toward the suffering of others with whom we do not normally identify. It enables us to see living beings as constituting a single community and provides a philosophical basis for a compassionate and inclusive community where the worth and dignity of every human being is affirmed and where justice, at all levels, is sought. xxix
It would be inconsistently odd for me to accuse Vivekananda of illicitly reading social ethics into tat tvam asi and then doing the same in my own work! The social ethics implied in tat tvam asi are, in fact, a cornerstone of my most recent work on Hindu liberation theology. xxx
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(5) The Myth that I Censure Vivekananda for his Liberal Views on Eligibility to Study the Vedas
According to Mr. Malhotra, I picked up from Paul Hacker the issue that “Vivekananda adopted the position that there was no bar of sex, race or caste to realization.”xxxi The author’s assertion that this reflects the influence of Paul Hacker is, to say the very least, as mystifying as it is unsubstantiated. It is obvious in any reading of the works of Vivekananda.
In this section of my work, I am contrasting the views of Vivekananda and Śaṅkara on the topic of adhikāra.xxxii I note Śaṅkara’s support for the view that only the three upper caste members are entitled to study the Vedas. I discuss Vivekananda’s criticism of Śaṅkara, who he accuses of harboring fanatical brahmin pride. xxxiii I highlight Vivekanada’s liberal position that there should be no bar of sex, race or caste to liberating knowledge. There is not the slightest hint in my discussion that I am critical of Vivekananda on this issue and yet I am represented as blaming Vivekananda for his liberal position! I am, in fact, supportive of Vivekananda’s liberal position and I argue for it passionately in The Advaita Worldview.xxxiv I find Malhotra’s representation of my views here, and elsewhere, baffling and inexplicable. One may be forgiven for misreading a text, but making accusations against an author when there is not a shred of evidence is inexcusable.
(6)The Myth that I do not Examine Vivekananda’s Ideas as Philosophical Truth Claims
According to Mr. Malhotra, I treat Vivekananda’s ideas “as mere projections of and masks for social and political agendas of nationalism” (102). My methodology, he claims, is a reductive one that I apply unequally to Vivekananda and not to Śaṅkara. The genesis of my doctoral research, as I explained above, lies in differences that I saw between Vivekananda and Śaṅkara regarding the status of the śruti and its role in the attainment of liberation. Vivekananda’s views were uncritically identified with those of Śaṅkara.
It was more important, therefore, for me to seek to account for Vivekananda’s views and I discuss the historical influences that may help us to better understand his position. It was less important for me, in this work, to account historically for Śaṅkara’s view of the śruti. Mr. Malhotra wrongly accuses me of essentializing Śaṅkara and treating him as above questioning. Again, such spurious accusations result from his failure to closely read my writings and especially those parts that do not conform to his own thesis. In my constructive study, The Advaita Worldview, I do exactly what the author accuses me of failing to do. I call for and offer more critical readings of Śaṅkara. xxxv
In The Limits of Scripture, I devote a single chapter to Vivekananda’s historical background. The rest of my discussion (six chapters) is dedicated to a philosophical analysis and assessment of Vivekananda’s thought. This is certainly not evidence of ignoring Vivekananda’s philosophical contribution. This philosophical inquiry is conducted in relation to the classical Advaita tradition to which Vivekananda professes his allegiance. Examining and evaluating his synthesis with an eye to this classical tradition is certainly a worthwhile project. I do not question Swami Vivekananda’s or anyone’s right to propose a new epistemology for Advaita. It is appropriate, however, to examine the coherence of any such claim and its relation to the earlier tradition.
(7) The Myth that I Represent Śaṅkara as Rejecting Yoga
Throughout his discussion, Mr. Malhotra represents me as arguing that Śaṅkara rejected yoga. I am accused of not appreciating Śaṅkara’s positive view of yoga (208).This allegation goes to a central concern of this book about the relationship between śruti and experience (anubhava). I have discussed this matter extensively in my books and my positions are well known. There is no need to repeat all of my arguments here.
Stated briefly, I understand Śaṅkara to teach that the words of the Upaniṣads constitute the valid source of knowledge (pramāṇa) for knowing brahman. This teaching, given the nature of the fundamental human problem as one of ignorance (avidyā), is necessary and sufficient for liberation. Given the nature of brahman as a non-object, other sources of knowledge, such as perception and inference may be employed in a supplementary manner, but are not themselves direct ways of knowing brahman. In a similar way, religious disciplines such as the practices of yoga, and the performance of rituals have great value in the development of mental purity (citta śuddhi) that enhances the student’s ability to assimilate the teachings of the Upaniṣads. They have utility also in facilitating rootedness in knowledge gained from the Upaniṣads. The critical point is that these disciplines are not regarded as sources of knowledge.
Mr. Malhotra is making an argument for “superconscious cognition” as a pramāṇa. This is a view to which he is entitled; my point is that this is not Śaṅkara’s position and it is not one to which I personally subscribe. I see no reason why disagreement on this is not possible without attributing the most devious motives to those who differ.
On the basis of his commitment to the Upaniṣads as the pramāṇa for brahman, Śaṅkara exercises a careful discernment in his treatment of other sampradāyas. He commends Yoga for the value it gives to detachment and Saṅkhya for its understanding of the self as free from definable qualities.xxxvi He admits that extraordinary powers are attainable through yoga practice. The dividing issue, as I have tirelessly discussed, is what constitutes the source of brahmajñāna. Mental disciplines are commended, but are not sources of valid knowledge. After identifying his agreement with some insights of Yoga, Śaṅkara explains where he has to part ways and he returns to the critical issue.
Their refutation centers only round this false claim that liberation can be attained through Sāṅkhya knowledge or the path of Yoga independently of the Vedas. For the Upaniṣads reject the claim that there can be anything apart from the Vedic knowledge of the unity of Self that can bring about liberation, as is denied in “By knowing Him alone one goes beyond death. There is no other path to proceed by” (Śvetāśvatāra Upaniṣad 3.8). But the followers of Sāṅkhya and Yoga are dualists and do not perceive the unity of the Self.xxxvii
Interpreters are free to disagree; but Śaṅkara’s views are clear and consistent.
(8)The Myth that I Describe Jñāna, Karma, Bhakti and Raja Yoga as Lacking Coherence and Consistency.
This charge is an over-simplification of a complex analysis in my work. I examine these paths in relation to the Advaita diagnosis of the human problem and the remedy it suggests. I do not discuss the coherence of these mārgas intrinsically or in relation to other Hindu traditions such as the Vaiṣnava sampradāya. In relation to certain ultimate ends, these paths are coherent. The paradox here is that my theological analysis is exactly what the author accuses me of not doing in relation to Vivekananda! Interestingly, Malhotra takes strong issue with Vivekanada’s argument that “all religions are paths to the same goal” (39). One of his arguments is that traditions offer different eschatological goals and this fact cannot be overlooked. My argument, that he denounces, is, in essence, not different. His difficulty is that I apply it intra-religiously and he sees this, unfortunately, as negative. Mr. Malhotra artificially superimposes a fragmentation agenda on my work.
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(9) The Myth that Swami Dayananda Saraswati Endorses Mr. Malhotra’s Positions.
Earlier in this essay, I spoke of my study with the teacher of Advaita, Swami Dayananda Saraswati, and acknowledged his profound influence on my understanding of the tradition. I often cite his writings in my published works on Advaita. xxxviii
Mr. Malhotra attempts to prove that my representation of Śaṅkara and the Advaita tradition diverges from Swami Dayananda Saraswati. According to Mr. Malhotra, I ignore the fact “that Swami Dayananda Saraswati had devoted his life to promoting all the elements that Rambachan alleges are incompatible – jnana, bhakti, karma, meditation. Swami Dayananda Saraswati heads the Hindu Dharma Acharya Sabha whose very purpose is to promote the unity of the Hindu lineage across the board” (320).
First, I do not represent Śaṅkara as saying that these ways are incompatible. Śaṅkara’s view is that all actions are preparatory and indirect aids. Knowledge (jñāna) is the direct means to liberation. This corresponds to Swami Dayananda’s teaching, as all his students know very well.xxxix Mr. Malhotra is making a most significant claim about the teaching of a very distinguished preceptor of the tradition and does not cite a single work of Swami Dayananda to support his argument. Swami Dayananda is one of most prolific writers in the modern history of the Advaita tradition. Mr. Malhotra is, in reality, representing Swami Dayananda as teaching a version of what is known in the Advaita tradition as the doctrine of jñāna-karma-samuccaya, or the necessity of combining ritual action and knowledge for liberation. Śaṅkara decisively rejects this and so does Swami Dayananda Saraswati.
Swami Dayananda is the convenor of the Hindu Dharma Acharya Sabha and a strong advocate for Hindu unity. He does not describe himself as the “head” of this organization. Leading an umbrella organization does not suggest, as Mr. Malhotra implies, that Swami Dayananda endorses the theological positions of every member represented. Unlike Mr. Malhotra, Swami Dayananda is comfortable with intra-religious diversity. Acknowledging diversity is not divisive.
The second argument adduced by Mr. Malhotra is that Swami Dayananda has lectured on the Vivekacūḍāmaṇi, a disputed work attributed to Śaṅkara. Vivekacūḍāmaṇi, according to Mr.Malhotra, advocates for “direct experience” through samādhi as necessary for liberation. Swami Dayananda, we are to infer therefore, supports this position. What Mr. Malhotra fails to do again, and repeatedly,is to provide sources. Swami Dayananda’s interpretation of the text is just as important as the fact that he has lectured on selected verses. At the very beginning of his commentary on Verse 1, Swami Dayananda addresses firmly the matter of experience and knowledge.
If the Lord is apremaya (not an object of the senses and the mind), then how am I going to know him? The modern Vedantins commit a mistake here. They say, the Lord, the vastu is a matter of experience and not of knowledge. If the Lord is a matter of experience, one should set oneself up for that experience, why should one study the śāstra? ….The paramānanda is not a matter of experience. It is to be recognized, for which you require a means of knowledge, pramāṇa. When it is said that Govinda is agocara, it means it is not available for the means of knowledge at your disposal, but at the same time it is available for Vedanta, sarva-vedānta-siddhānta-gocara. Vedānta is upaniṣad.xl
Swami Dayananda’s meaning is unambiguous and directly refutes the position attributed to him by Mr. Malhotra.
(10) The Myth that I Ignore New Scientific Paradigms
In Indra’s Net, Mr. Malhotra repeatedly accuses me of ignorance about new scientific paradigms without providing any background or context to the serious epistemological issues involved. Again, I need to reiterate that my approach to this matter is grounded explicitly in the Upaniṣads and in the Advaita tradition as expounded by Ṡaṅkara.xli It is not about modern scientific models and I am certainly not rejecting these as Malhotra suggests.
The central issue here is the knowledge of brahman. Brahman is not an object among other objects in space and time and cannot be known in the manner of sense objects. It is also not available for objectification in the mind, since it is the awareness that illumines the mind. To observe brahman as an object in one’s mind will require another illumining awareness. In Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad (3.4.1), the teacher, Yājñavalkya, instructs his student about the nature of the self by emphasizing the impossibility of knowing it as an object of the senses or mind. In the words of Yājñavalkya, “one can’t see the seer who does the seeing; you can’t hear the hearer who does the hearing; you can’t think of the thinker who does the thinking; and you can’t perceive the perceiver who does the perceiving. The self within all is this self of yours.”
In spite of texts like these, Śaṅkara is not skeptical about the possibility of knowing brahman through the words of the Upaniṣads. Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad (4.4.19) says that the self is to be known through the mind alone (manasaivānudraṣṭavyam), and Śaṅkara explains that the mind “purified by the knowledge of the supreme truth, and in accordance with the instructions of the teacher,” is the instrument of knowledge. We are still, however, faced with an epistemological challenge. How could knowledge of brahman occur in the mind without the suggestion that brahman becomes a mental object?
Śaṅkara’s resolution is a distinctive method of instruction, rooted in his understanding of the nature of valid knowledge as corresponding to the object one seeks to know.xlii This occurs when the thought form in the mind (vṛtti) corresponds to the object. In the case of the ātman, ignorance takes the form of an erroneous thought that misconstrues its nature and identifies it with the limited nature of the body, senses and mind. This is Śaṅkara’s classic discussion of superimposition (adhyāsa) in his introduction to the Brahmasūtra. Incorrect thought forms must give way to valid ones that correspond to the nature of the self and which are derived from the Upaniṣad pramāṇa. The mind is the locus of the error and right knowledge is a process occurring in the mind and not transcending it.
For knowledge to occur, a special disposition of the mind is necessary, and this is associated with the cultivation of tranquility, detachment, faith, and self-control. In the still “mirror of the mind,” free from distractions, caused by greed, anger and hate, and with the help of the teachings of the Upaniṣads and the guru, one comes to know the truth of oneself. Valid thought forms that correspond to the nature of the ātman, and do not objectify it or contradict its nature replace invalid ones generated by ignorance (avidyā).
It is most important to emphasize that the cultivation of virtues such as humility, detachment and contentment does not replace the need for the Upaniṣad pramāṇa. These virtues do not constitute a valid source of knowledge. It is possible that the thought forms, which eliminate ignorance, may be resolved in the mind, resulting in a non-dual condition. This would be a state in which the distinctions of knower, object known and process of knowing do not obtain. If such a state follows the gain of knowledge of the self from the teachings of the Upaniṣads, then ignorance is already overcome and all experiences, non-dual or otherwise, would be understood and interpreted in the light of the Upaniṣad teachings. If a non-dual state, however, does not follow the teachings of the Upaniṣads, such a state would not, in and of itself eliminate ignorance since the problem of self-ignorance is not one of revealing or attaining the self, but of knowing the truth of its nature. From such a state, one returns with ignorance. Śaṅkara could not be clearer on this issue in his commentary on Brahmasūtra.
As in natural slumber and samādhi, though there is a natural eradication of difference, still owing to the persistence of the unreal nescience, differences occur over again when one wakes up, similarly it can happen here.xliii
There is, in other words, no destruction of false knowledge in a non-dual state and ignorance persists unless removed by right knowledge. Elimination of thoughts from the mind is not equivalent to right knowledge, since ātman is not covered or concealed by thoughts.
Swami Dayananda Saraswati, described by Mr. Malhotra as “arguably the pre-eminent interpreter of Shankara today,” makes the same argument.
The confusion has arisen, at least in part because there is a word in Sanskrit, ‘anubhava,’ which has been translated in English simply as ‘experience.’ Such a translation causes the expectation of a ‘happening’, not a ‘seeing’. I would rather translate ‘anubhava’ as immediate knowledge. Gurūpadésam anusṛtya bhavati iti anubhavaḥ. That which in keeping with the teaching is called anubhava. For the qualified student, that which comes after the teaching is knowledge in keeping with the teaching. But instead, anubhava is translated everywhere as ‘experience’ which does not bring the correct understanding that what is indicated is immediate knowledge. …Knowledge requires a pramāṇa, an instrument of knowledge and someone to wield that instrument. Śruti, the scripture is the pramāṇa and the teacher wields the pramāṇa, unfolding the words of śruti until the student sees the fact of them whole and knows, “ That whole I am.”xliv
Contrary to what Mr. Malhotra states, I do not deny the non-dual “experience,” and I nowhere describe these as “inauthentic.” The critical question is whether this constitutes an independent pramāṇa. Mr. Malhotra advances an argument for what he calls “superconscious cognition,” or “superconscious perception (114),” as a special mode of gaining knowledge of the self, and describes this mode of knowing as having a scientific character (251). He seems to equate this with non-dual experience (116) and expresses support for those Vedāntins who understand samādhi as sufficient for liberation (232). Clearly, Śaṅkara and Swami Dayananda Saraswati hold a different view of significance of non-dual experience and Mr. Malhotra should be explicit about his disagreement with these leading lights of the Advaita tradition.
I believe that the epistemological dilemma of knowing the knower, described earlier, has led many commentators to suggest that knowledge of brahman is gained through a special experience that transcends the normal mental processes and equated, as Mr. Malhotra does, with samādhi. This position is also uncritically attributed to Śaṅkara. The author certainly has every right to make an argument for an alternative pramāṇa. In arguing for this, however, he will have to do much more than make an uncritical appeal to the authority of science or accuse me of ignorance. If his work is grounded in the tradition of Advaita, he will have to establish how a non-dual experience becomes a valid source of knowledge independent of the Upaniṣad pramāṇa. He would have to demonstrate how the two core teachings of the Advaita tradition, (the identity of ātman and brahman and atman-brahman as constituting the truth (satyam) of the universe), may be established from a non-dual experience.If the meaning of the experience depends on śruti, then Mr. Malhotra’s position is not significantly different from my own and he exaggerates the differences for ideological ends.
Swami Dayananda Saraswati repeatedly cautions about the characterization of the Vedānta as “scientific.”xlv This caution is not because of any problems with the scientific method but because of an appreciation for the limits of science and in order to emphasize the distinctive subject matter of the Vedānta. Vedānta does not meet the traditional criteria of being a pramāṇa if its subject matter (viz. brahman) is known or knowable through other means. As a pramāṇa, Vedānta is certainly obligated to demonstrate that its teachings are not in contradiction to valid knowledge about the world gained through science. Advaita affirms that the conclusions of valid ways of knowing ought not to contradict each other. In the case of contradictions, the advocates of religion must make earnest efforts to resolve these through further inquiry. Advaita encourages dialogue with science but all this is very different from saying that the methods of Vedānta are scientific. Religion, according to Advaita, must not claim authority in those fields of inquiry where its methods and sources are not appropriate. At the same time, the Advaita tradition calls for a similar acknowledgement of the limits of scientific modes of inquiry. Humility is a virtue for both religion and the empirical sciences.
Typical of Mr. Malhotra’s unscholarly tendency to describe my views in ways alien and disconnected from my actual arguments is his charge that I represent Yoga as making people “less rational and intelligent (117).” It is another puzzling example of intellectual simplification to distort and alarm. In the Limits of Scripture and elsewhere, I argue that Hindu theology developed and flourished, when the Veda was regarded as a pramāṇa. Liberation (mokṣa) itself was the gain that followed the right inquiry of the meaning of words. Sophisticated exegetical methods were developed to arrive at meaning, and the study of etymology was valued.
Doctrinal differences were treated very seriously, carefully outlined and engaged energetically. Reason had an important role in deciding among interpretations, reconciling conflicting passages, and in demonstrating that the claims of the pramāṇa are not inconsistent with what we know about the world and ourselves from other pramāṇas. There was an appreciation for scriptural scholarship.When scripture is no longer seen as a pramāṇa, its study, exegesis and interpretation are not very important. The intellectual disciplines that aid interpretation are also less valued. The championing of experience (anubhava) over scripture and the failure to articulate a proper relationship between these two are primary reasons for the decline of Hindu theology in contemporary times. The decline of a vigorous theological tradition in contemporary Hinduism is one of the reasons, I believe, why, with a few notable exceptions, there is little study and engagement with Hindu theology in theological schools, colleges and universities. Very few in the academic world are familiar with the tradition of treating the Upaniṣads as pramāṇa and the vigorous scholarship associated with this approach This is the core of my argument and it has nothing to do with an argument about Yoga making people less intelligent! It is most unfortunate that Mr. Malhotra, in his presentation of my work, violates a fundamental requirement of the Hindu intellectual tradition – care and accuracy in representing the opponent’s views. There is no practice of pūrva pakṣa without honoring this practice.
(11) The Myth that I am Fixated on Christian Assumptions
Mr. Malhotra, accuses me, of wanting “to reduce the Vedas to the same status as Biblical revelation by denying that every human being is endowed with the rishi potential” (114). He represents me as “projecting a Christian bias,” in my reading of Advaita.
My work, as my writings make transparent, is rooted in the Advaita tradition as interpreted by its foremost classical exponent, Śaṅkara. I make no claim to be speaking for all of the Hindu traditions (sampradāyas). The author of Indra’s Net seems to have a difficult time grasping this and it is not at all clear from which sampradāya he speaks. Śaṅkara clearly understands the śruti to have its origin in brahman. He affirms Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad 2.4.10 text, “Those that are called the Ṙg Veda (Yajur Veda, etc.) are but the exhalation of this great Being,” and interprets this to signify that it is an eternally existing Veda that is manifest like a person’s breath.xlvi Brahmasūtra 1.1.3 (śāstra yonitvāt) identifies brahman as the source of the śruti and Śaṅkara elaborates on why the omnipotent and omniscient brahman alone can be the source of the Veda. xlvii Śaṅkara also reads this sūtra to mean that the śāstra is the means (pramāṇa) to know brahman (śāstram yoni) In the Bhagavadgītā (4: 1-3), Krishna speaks of himself as the first teacher or as the initiator of a teaching tradition and traces a lineage of teachers and students. Muṇḍaka Upaniṣad 1.1.1, speaks of God (Brahmā) as the creator of the universe (viśvasya kartā) and as the first teacher of the knowledge of brahman (brahmavidyām) to Atharva. The text goes on to describe the flow of this knowledge in a succession of teachers and students.
I have discussed these texts in detail in my writings and will not summarize further. xlviii Advaita understands itself as a teaching tradition, preserving, transmitting and interpreting wisdom about the nature of the universe initiated by Īśvara (God). It is appropriate, therefore, to speak of this as a revealed teaching, even though it does not coincide in all respects with the understanding of revelation in other traditions. The understanding of this teaching as a valid source of knowledge (pramāṇa) is a distinguishing feature that I emphasize in my writings. I do not concede, however, like Mr. Malhotra that the Christian tradition alone has a teaching about revelation. Identifying the unique Hindu understanding of revelation is not the projection of a Christian bias. It is not inappropriate to use terms widely employed across traditions as long as one does so mindfully and critically. The Vedas suggest that the mantras of the text were imparted as a teaching received by the ṛṣis, who initiated a succession of teaching. The synonym for Veda is śruti (that which is heard) and this is suggestive of both this original reception and subsequent mode of transmission. The teaching is received by the ṛṣis as words. xlix
(12)The Myth that I Equate Hinduism with Political Hindutva
Although I could understand the mischievous purpose underlying Mr. Malhotra’s strained labors to erroneously link my work with Paul Hacker and others, too many of his descriptions of my scholarship belong appropriately to the realm of fiction and are disconnected from reality. One such example is his claim that I equate Hinduism and political Hindutva (106). In a work that offers itself as serious scholarship, the reader will expect at least a single citation to justify such a serious and consequential judgment. The reason for the absence of any citation is simple-there is no basis in my scholarship for this conclusion. It enjoys the same fictive status as his claim that I trace contemporary conflicts in India back to Swami Vivekananda or that I attribute only a national political purpose to Vivekananda’s teachings (99).
On the contrary, there is overwhelming evidence in my work that that I distinguish Hinduism from Hindutva and I attribute this distinction also to Swami Vivekananda! In one of my many essays clarifying this distinction, I highlight the differences between V.D. Savarkar, the advocate of Hindutva, and Swami Vivekananda.
Savarkar narrowly identifies Hinduism with nation (rashtra), race (jati) and culture ( Sanskriti). A Hindu is a practitioner of the religious traditions originating in India, but also one who shares ties of blood, culture, and veneration for India as holyland with other Hindus. Although he was a passionate nationalist and great lover of India and her people, Swami Vivekananda treats Hinduism as a distinctive world-view with a relevance and appeal that transcends ties of nationality, race and culture. In his lectures to western audiences, he presented the Hindu tradition as one that universally addresses the human condition and predicament and as a real option for people who do not have ancestral or cultural roots in the Indian sub-continent. He was the earliest to envisage and articulate that possibility. We may say that, today, being Hindu, for Swami Vivekananda, was not the same as being Indian.l
(13) Conclusion: The Myth That I Am “Using Śaṅkara To Shoot Down Vivekananda”
Let me turn, finally, to a matter thatis central to the author of Indra’s Net and which is obvious from the title of Chapter 6 of his book, “Rambachan’s Argument to Fragment Hinduism.” His opening subtitle, “Using Shankara to shoot down Vivekananda,” goes to the same issue, even in its violent imagery.
I am a scholar of Advaita and also an Advaitin by commitment. I find that the classical Advaita tradition, articulated by Śaṅkara and which I had the opportunity to study intensively at the feet of Swami Dayananda Saraswati, to be intellectually rigorous, coherent, consistent, and reasonable. It offers to me a persuasive account of the human predicament and its resolution. While embracing its core insights, I also interrogate its hierarchical social assumptions. I do not regard these as central to its core claims. My work, as a Hindu theologian, is devoted to critically expounding and defending these core claims.
In professing my commitments, I am aware that I belong to a larger Hindu tradition with multiple sampradāyas. There is much that is shared, but there is also a rich history of intrareligious debate and discussion. I share the author’s value for Hindu unity, but do not agree with him that this can be pursued only by overlooking our rich internal diversity and the unique theological commitments of our sampradāyas. The author wrongly equates serious theological engagement within a tradition with its fragmentation. I do not share his discomfort with difference or discussing internal differences. I am certainly not the first to discuss these debates and it is misleading to hold me responsible for what he perceives as Hindu disunity. It is a flattering but simplistic and alarmist exaggeration. If he accuses me of wanting to fragment Hinduism, then the same accusation applies lito our great ācāryas who exemplified special care in accurately summarizing views different from their own and engaging such views from their normative locations. We have much to learn from their example. Hindu unity that is predicated on the premise of a homogenized tradition will be superficial. A unity that is grounded in mature and respectful acknowledgment of diversity and difference, open to mutual learning, and rejoicing in all that we share, is a credible one that Hindus can fearlessly and confidently pursue.
It is unfortunate that I had to expend most of the words in this essay clarifying, correcting and contextualizing my scholarship on Śaṅkara and Swami Vivekananda. There is a rich ancient tradition of intra-religious debate in the Hindu tradition in which participants understood the implications of theological differences and took these seriously. Accurately describing the views of one’s opponents ensured that such debates occurred at a high level of philosophical engagement. Participants were not burdened with having to correct misrepresentations of their arguments. Discussions could center on exegesis, coherence, logical flaws and contradictions with mutually accepted pramāṇas. Malhotra’s misstating of my arguments does not allow for such constructive traditional engagement.
Malhotra’s accusation that I focus narrowly on mokṣa in my dissertation and his belittling characterization of mokṣa as a technical issue is puzzling. It is also a contradictory accusation in the light of the time he expends in making arguments for “superconscious experience” as a means of attaining mokṣa and justifying this method as “scientific.” After describing the central goal of the Hindu tradition as a technical issue, Malhotra certainly owes his readers a clarification about his understanding of the meaning and relevance of mokṣa. Mokṣa, after all, is the solution in the Hindu tradition to life’s fundamental predicament that liberates us from greed and enables us to live fully and freely with active compassion and generosity in this world. What is religion about if it not, at its core, concerned with this process of freedom from self-centeredness and awakening us to greater identity with others in suffering and in joy? By sidelining the centrality of mokṣa, we run the risk of reducing the meaning of Hinduism to group identity and a political agenda. If contemporary Hindus are not interested in the meaning of mokṣa, as Malhotra claims, this is no matter for complacency. It reflects a failure on the part of Hindu teachers and interpreters to properly articulate its enduring meaning in our contemporary context. We should not trivialize mokṣa but demonstrate how it is relevant and vital to the enrichment of human life individually and socially. This is a special focus of my more recent writings.
I urge readers to review critically the issues raised in my essay by reading the works of Śaṅkara and Swami Vivekananda, the Upaniṣad and Bhagavadgītā commentaries of Swami Dayananda Saraswati, the teacher who most profoundly influences my understanding of Advaita Vedānta, and my writings on Śaṅkara and Swami Vivekananda. Readers should form their own judgments on these profound matters of exegesis and religious meaning. Diverse interpretations are a part of the rich heritage of our tradition.
Although Malhotra focuses on my 1984 Ph.D dissertation, my scholarship on Advaita is not limited to this work The epistemological foundations that I clarified in my dissertation and published in Accomplished the Accomplished: The Vedas as a Source of Valid Knowledge in Śaṅkara form the basis of the constructive theological work that I undertake on Advaita in The Advaita Worldview and in A Hindu Theology of Liberation. As a Hindu scholar and Advaitin, I invite and I am always open to competent critical and careful discussion of my work.
ii This discourse has affinity to the tendency among some Hindus to treat Dalits like child-like individuals who are unable to exercise choice and self-determination.
iii The dangers of denigrating those with whom we disagree must never be underestimated. It is a short step to branding them as “traitors” to the tradition and deserving of the treatment accorded to one so-called.
iv For the purpose of his description of my work, the author relies principally on my Ph.D dissertation, “The Attainment of Mokṣha According to Shankara and Vivekananda with Special Reference to the Significance of Scripture (Sruti) and Experience (Anubhava),” University of Leeds, 1984, and The Limits of Scripture: Vivekananda’s Reinterpretation of the Vedas (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1994). My dissertation is hereafter abbreviated, “The Attainment of Moksha.” While contesting my reading of Śaṅkara, he does not engage in any noteworthy way with my major discussion of Śaṇkara in Accomplishing the Accomplished: The Vedas as a Source of Valid Knowledge in Śaṅkara (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1991), or my more recent constructive discussion of Advaita Vedānta in The Advaita Worldview: God, World and Humanity (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2006). These are significant omissions.
v See Indra’s Net: Defending Hinduism’s Integral Unity (India: HarperCollins Publishers, 2014), xiii. Page numbers in body of text refers to this edition.
vi Malhotra identifies other Western and Indian scholars who, he claims, perpetuate the “neo-Hinduism” myth. These include, Brian Pennington, Brian Hatcher, Gerald Larson, Sheldon Pollock, Jack Hawley, Romilla Thapar and Meera Nanda, among others.
viii I have discussed this matter in great detail in Accomplishing the Accomplished, and do not want to summarize further. Interested readers who want a shorter discussion may look at my chapter “Where Words Can Set Free: The Liberating Potency of Vedic Words in the Hermeneutics of Śaṅkara,” in Jeffrey Timm ed., Texts in Context: Traditional Hermeneutics in South Asia (New York: State University of New York Press), 1991.
xiv In The Limits of Scripture, I cite the same two articles of Prof. King in my notes. See, 149-150. In the notes of this work I cite, on a few occasions, Halbfass’ books, India and Europe (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1988) and Tradition and Reflection (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1991), for the reader who may wish to pursue his discussion of specific topics. This is what scholars do; a citation is not always indicative of approval of an author’s viewpoint.
xviThe Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda (abbreviated CW), 8 Vols., Mayavati Memorial Edition (Calcutta: Advaita Ashrama,1964-1971), CW 3, 443.
xviii Eastern and Western Disciples, The Life of Swami Vivekananda (Mayavati: Advaita Ashram, 8th edition, 1974), 159. Also Swami Nikhilananda, Vivekananda: A Biography (Calcutta: Advaita Ashrama, 3rd edition, 1975), 71-72.
xx See David Kopf, The Brahmo Samaj and the Shaping of the Modern Indian Mind (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1979).
xxi See The Brahmo Samaj and the Shaping of the Modern Indian Mind, 15-26. Also Sivanath Sastri, History of the Brahmo Samaj (Calcutta: Sadharan Brahmo Samaj, 1974). My own discussion occurs in The Limits of Scripture, 35-40.
xxii See S.N. Dhar, A Comprehensive Biography of Swami Vivekananda, 2.vols., (Madras: Vivekananda Prakashan Kendra, 1975-76), Vol. 1. 66.
xxviii I have discussed the meaning of “tat tvam asi,” in Accomplishing the Accomplished, Chapter 3.4.
xxix See Anantanand Rambachan, The Advaita Worldview: God, World and Humanity (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2006),110-111.
xxx Anantanand Rambachan, A Hindu Theology of Liberation: Not-Two is Not-One (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2015).
xxxiv See Chapter 2, 27-29. See also my discussion of caste in A Hindu Theology of Liberation, Chapter 8. Malhotra, on the other hand, subscribes to an idealized version of caste and avoids any discussion of its social realities.
xxxv See The Advaita Worldview, 1-5. I continue this critical work in A Hindu Liberation Theology. Readers of Indra’s Net may come away with the impression that the author does not critically treat Vivekananda. In so many ways, Malhotra essentializes my own position through failure to understand the focused nature of a doctoral dissertation and his ignoring of the range of my published works.
xxxviii Readers should distinguish my teacher, Swami Dayananda Saraswati, from the founder of the Arya Samaj, a Hindu reform movement in 1875.
xl Swami Dayananda Saraswati, Talks on Vivekacūḍāmaṇi:One Hundred and Eight Selected Verses (Rishikesh: Sri Gangadharesvar Trust, 1997), 3-4. Mr. Malhotra’s failure to cite this published work, while citing it to support his position, is revealing. For a summary of Swami Dayananda’s view of the authority and necessity for the śruti see Anantanand Rambachan, “ ‘The Eyes Must Be Opened to Find Out if They See’: Swami Dayananda Saraswati’s Universalization of the Veda as a Pramāṇa” The Journal of Hindu Studies, (2014) 7 (1) 25-53. In offering a critique of experience as a pramāṇa, Swami Dayananda certainly has in mind the popularity of the experience argument in contemporary Hinduism championed by Malhotra and others.
xli Mr. Malhotra accuses me of advocating a Hinduism that is frozen in time, because of my value for the classical Advaita tradition and the legacy of Śankara. While I agree that religious traditions must adapt dynamically to new contexts, they must do so on the basis of core normative commitments and insights. There are core Advaita claims that do not change because contexts change. Any process of adaptation has to ensure that such insights are not lost.
xlii The reader will appreciate that this is a complex issue requiring considerable explication. Here, I can offer only a brief discussion. See The Advaita Worldview, Chapter 4.
xliiiBrahmasūtra Bhāṣya 2.1.10, 319. Neil Dalal’s Ph.D dissertation is cited by Mr. Malhotra to support his position. Careful reading of Dalal’s work, however, reveals his agreement with Śaṅkara. According to Dalal, “ it is prudent then, in order to follow Śaṅkara, to restrict the primary meaning of anubhava in his usage to self-knowledge rather than some form of mystical experience, and to understand it as depending on the Upaniṣads rather than as an independent source of knowledge. See Neil Dalal, “Texts Beyond Words: Contemplation and Practice in Śaṅkara’s Advaita Vedānta,” (Unpublished Ph.D dissertation, University of Texas at Austin, 2009), 303.
xliv See Swami Dayananda Saraswati, Dialogues with Swami Dayananda (Rishikesh: Sri Gangadhareswar Trust, 1988), 32-33.
xlvi See The Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad: with the Commentary of Śaṅkarācāra, translated by Swami Madhavananda, 5th edition (Calcutta: Advaita Ashrama), 2.4.10, 251.
xlvii See Brahmasūtra Bhāṣya of Śaṅkarācārya, translated by Swami Gambirananda, 3rd edition (Calcutta: Advaita Ashrama, 1975), 1.1.3,18-19.
xlix This is the process that I have described in my writings, even though Mr. Malhotra claims that I have never addressed this question. See Indra’sNet, 252-253. The author accuses me of translating mokṣa as “salvation” without noting that this occurs in the section of my dissertation discussing Vivekananda who employs the term. I do not use “salvation” in my discussion of Śaṅkara.
l See “Hinduism, Hindutva and the Contest for the Meaning of Hindu Identity: Swami Vivekananda and V.D. Savarkar,” in S. Sengupta and M. Paranjape eds., The Cyclonic Monk: Vivekananda in the West (Delhi: Samvad India Foundation, 2005).
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