A must read for Indian secularists
By M.V. Kamath
Hinduism and the Clash of Civilisations by David Frawley, Voice of India, 247 pp, Rs 180.00
Dr David Frawley is one of the few Westerners recognised in India as a Vedacharya, or teacher of the ancient Vedic wisdom. Though he is a resident of Sante Fe, New Mexico, in the United States where he heads the American Institute of Vedic Studies, his travels have frequently brought him to India. A scholar in the great tradition of Max Mueller, he is one step ahead of most Western scholars of India'sancient heritage and an eloquent protagonist of Hinduism in its purest form. He has written extensively and this work is a continuation of his earlier works, such as Awaken Bharata: A Call for India'sRebirth. No respecter of the corruption of Hindu social customs, nor an apologist for what is obviously wrong with them, he has a more futuristic vision and his writings have a constructive as well as critical side.
This book is divided into three sections. The first surveys the challenges that India and Hinduism face today. The second examines the clash between Western intellectual culture and the intellectual and spiritual culture of India and the third suggests principles and main lines for the development of a new Vedic school of thought. Frawley'sargument is that Hinduism is the most enduring religion and culture in the world and has endured against great odds because of its ability to adapt to time-changes and to reinvent itself in a dynamic way in successive eras. He attributes this to the fact that the Hindu tradition is not based upon any specific saviour or prophet or historical personality; but that it recognises many sages and seers, known and unknown, both inside its tradition and outside of it.
No respecter of the corruption of Hindu social customs, nor an apologist for what is obviously wrong with them, he has a more futuristic vision and his writings have a constructive as well as critical side.
He notices that less than two hundred years ago, Hinduism seemed to be on the verge of complete collapse, having remained under siege by colonial and missionary forces. If it withstood the siege and has now become more active than ever before, his reasoning is that within its broad embrace are to be found monotheism, polytheism, dualism, monism, pantheism and even atheism. As Frawley sees it, the unique feature of Indian or Bharatiya culture is unity in multiplicity or what he is pleased to describe as ?Vedic pluralism?, or a recognition of a unity that transcends name and form.
What saddens the author, however, is the fact that over the last fifty years, ever since Independence, India has not discovered its real roots or reclaimed its true soul as a civilisation. According to him, ?a new vitality and creativity is necessary for India that honours the spirit of the country'svenerable traditions but does not restrict itself to previous outdated forms.? Such a new India, he says, would combine science and spirituality in a global perspective, combining the wisdom of ancient rishis with that of modern creative thinkers. Frawley does not hedge. He writes: ?We cannot look to politics to change the world, but to spirituality to change politics. Hindus should not try to remake Hinduism according to current images of political correctness, but should connect the world to a greater idea of humanity than political concerns.? That might be taken as a directive to Hindutvavadis.
At the same time Frawley comes down heavily on ?the elite of India?, which he avers, suffers from ?a fundamental alienation from the traditions and culture of the land? and how right he is! Says Frawley: ?There is probably no other country in the world where it has become a national pastime among its educated class to denigrate its own culture and history.?
?When great archaeological discoveries of India'spast are found?, the author notes, ?they are not a subject for national pride but are ridiculed as an exaggeration, if not an invention, as if they represent only the imagination of backward chauvinistic elements within the culture.? And for good measure he adds: ?Outside people need not pull Indians down. Indians are already quite busy keeping any of their people and the country as a whole from rising up.? No truer words have ever been said. Don'twe all know how petty conflicts in India are blown out of proportion in the foreign media, not by foreign journalists but by our own people, fellow-Indians, out to use the media to score points against their own opponents in the country!
Frawley wonders whether, given such a twisted and self-negative national psyche, there can be any hope for India, which he describes as ?a nation without nationalism or at least without any national pride? or with ?any real connection to its own history?. Watching the Indian scene, all that the author sees is the negative side of globalisation and the continued projection of Western and European civilisation and its values, just as in the colonial era. The problem, he says, is that academic institutions have been created in India based on Western models and so he asks: ?How is it possible to transform Western institutions into appropriate forums for the new Indology?? How, indeed. But let anyone try and he will be damned by our intellectuals and so-called elite as Hindu fundamentalists, if not fascists. But Frawley, the outsider, is not afraid to air his views freely.
Indian intellectuals, he says, should embark on a new seeking of indigenous solutions to modern problems in the country, calling upon the national genius and native shakti of the region, insisting that ?India need not look to the West for the keys to revive its civilisation, though Western ideas can be helpful, particularly in the context of an Indian vision?. As he puts it: ?Only by reclaiming its own cultural mentality and spirituality can the country really go forward. True scholars of the Indic tradition need not go to Harvard, Oxford or Heidelberg to gain credibility or expertise in their own traditions.? How sad that we need a foreigner to say that!
Many of the author'sutterances will be attributed to his being brainwashed by, who knows, the RSS, perhaps! Frawley points out that India has not faced its past in order not to offend certain minorities in the country but actually the distortion of history has been done intentionally by many modern Indian historians, particularly covering the historical wrongs against Hindus. Hitting out strongly against such historians, the author says: ?If a nation does not face its true history, it has no future and its present remains confused.? So well said.
Condemning constant references in the English media to the ?Hindu right?, the author avers that the whole idea ?is a ploy to discredit the Hindu movement as backward and prevent people from really examining it.?
This is a book for our ?secularists? to read. It may help them understand their own country and its values better. Indeed, it may help them do some honest introspection and self-examination which they need so badly to do. Frawley is provocative and rightly so. He has said things that few have dared, in the past, to say and it is precisely for that reason that he needs to be read-NOW!