Each of my books tries to provoke a new kind of conversation, the goal of which is to confront some specific prejudice against Indian civilization. Established biases covering a wide range of issues need to be exposed, especially when they are unsubstantiated. The objective of every book of mine 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. The success of any such book may be measured in terms of how much challenge it generates against the incumbent positions. If my counter-discourse can become established in the minds of a sufficient number of serious thinkers, then it will assume a life of its own and its effects will continue to snowball without my direct involvement. This is the end result I seek. To be effective, a book must resist straying from its strategic priorities and must avoid arguing too broadly.

For example, I developed the strategy, overall thesis, and much of the content of Invading the Sacred so as to take aim at the Freudian psychoanalytical critiques of Hinduism. This hegemonic discourse was being propagated by a powerful nexus in the heart of the Western academia, and had spread as a fad among Indian intellectuals. Invading the Sacred gave birth to, and incubated, a solid opposition which cannot be ignored today. It spurred the Indian diaspora to recognize the syndrome and audaciously ‘talk back’ to the establishment of scholars.

My subsequent book, Breaking India, focused on demonstrating how external forces are trying to destabilize India by deliberately undermining its civilization. Such efforts are targeted at confusing and ultimately aborting any collective positive identity based on Indian civilization. The book exposed the foreign interests and their Indian sepoys who see Hinduism as a random juxtaposition of incoherent and fragmented traditions. Many watchdog movements have sprung into action because of that book. It has triggered a domino effect with other researchers now exposing more instances of the same syndrome.

My most recent book, Being Different, presents a coherent and original view of dharma as a family of traditions that challenges the West’s claim of universalism. Because Western universalism is unfortunately being used as the template for mapping and defining all cultures, it is important to become conscious of its distorted interpretation of Indian traditions. Being Different is prompting many Indians to question various simplistic views concerning their traditions, including some that are commonly espoused by their own gurus and political leaders. It is a handbook for serious intellectuals on how to ‘take back’ Hinduism by understanding it on its own terms.

The present book exposes the influential narrative that Hinduism was fabricated during British rule and became a dangerous new religion. The central thesis which I seek to topple asserts that Swami Vivekananda plagiarized Western secular and Christian ideas and then recast them in Sanskrit terminology to claim Indian origins for them. Besides critiquing this nexus and defending Vivekananda’s vision, this book also presents my own vision for the future of Hinduism and its place in the world.

Hence, the book has two purposes: to defend the unity of Hinduism as we practise it today, and to offer my own ideas about how to advance Vivekananda’s ‘revolution’ to the next stage.

This volume introduces some new vocabulary. Readers will learn the metaphor of ‘Indra’s Net’ as a poetic expression of deep Hindu insights which subsequently became incorporated as the most central principle of Buddhism. They will understand Vivekananda’s system of ‘tat tvam asi ethics’ as an innovative social theory premised on seva (service to others), but firmly grounded in Vedic thought. They will also become familiar with the ‘neo-Hinduism camp’, which is my name for the group of scholars who have developed the thesis aimed at undermining Vivekananda’s innovations and de-legitimizing contemporary Hinduism.

The book introduces and explains such ideas as ‘open architecture’ and ‘toolbox’, which are critical to my insights on Hinduism. While openness has always been characteristic of Hindus, too much of a good thing can be dangerous. I argue that this very quality of openness has made Hinduism susceptible to becoming ‘digested’. Digestion, a concept introduced in my earlier books, is further elaborated in these pages.

In the Conclusion, I stick my neck out and introduce a set of defensive strategies for safeguarding against digestion. I call these strategies the ‘poison pill’ (borrowing from corporate jargon) and the ‘porcupine defence’. I hope this provocative proposition will trigger debate and controversy.

Some of the new vocabulary that was introduced in Being Different—such as ‘history centrism’, ‘integral unity’ and ‘embodied knowing’—will be further sharpened in these pages. I will also ascribe new meanings to the old Sanskrit terms astika and nastika, and utilize them differently than in the tradition.

As an author, I am often asked who my target audience is. This is not an easy question to answer. Clearly, I wish to influence mainstream Hindus who are often seriously misinformed about their own traditions. But if I were simply dishing out what they want to hear, appealing to their ‘feel-good’ sensibility, I would be doing them a disservice; I would also be failing in my goal to radically change the discourse. Bombastic books that present Hinduism in a chauvinistic manner are counter-productive and a recipe for disaster. My hope is to spur the genesis of what I call a ‘home team’ of intellectual leaders who would research, reposition and articulate Hinduism in a responsible way on important issues today. Therefore, my writings must be rigorous to withstand the scrutiny of harsh critics.

This means I must also write for the secular establishment and the old guard of Hindu leaders, both of whom will be provoked by this book for different reasons. The secularists will attack it as a defence of Hinduism which to them is synonymous with ‘communalism’. The Hindus with tunnel vision will complain that it deviates from their narrow, fossilized lineage boundaries. While trying to educate the mainstream readers in the middle, I also wish to debate both these extremes.

Let me confess up-front that I have made some compromises for practical reasons. For instance, I use the term ‘philosophy’ to refer not only to Western philosophy but also, at times, to Indian thought, even though the latter would more accurately be called darshana. In every book I like to introduce a small number of non-translatable Sanskrit terms which I attempt to explain deeper than merely providing a reductive English equivalent. This book contains several such non-translatables, but ‘darshana’ is not one of them. I use the word ‘philosophy’ even where ‘darshana’ would perhaps be more appropriate. I apologize for this pragmatic simplification because I do not wish to overload my reader.

The difference between philosophy and darshana is significant. Philosophy resides in the analytic realm, is entirely dis-embodied, and is an intellectual tool driven by the ego. Darshana includes philosophy but goes much further because it also includes embodied experience. Traditionally, Indian thought has been characterized by the interplay of intellectual analysis and sadhana (spiritual practice), with no barriers between the two. Hindu practices cultivate certain states of mind as preparation for receiving advanced knowledge. In other words, darshana includes anubhava (embodied experience) in addition to the study of texts and reasoning. The ordinary mind is an instrument of knowing, and its enhancement through meditation and other sadhana is seen as essential to achieving levels of knowledge higher than reasoning alone can provide. Western philosophy emphasizes reason to the exclusion of anubhava and thus consists essentially of the dis-embodied analysis of ‘mental objects’. Such a philosophy can never cross the boundary of dualism.

Another discomforting choice I make is to use the term ‘contemporary Hinduism’ to refer to Hinduism as we know it today. Hinduism is an ancient tradition that has been adapted many times, most recently for the present era. In the context of this book, the term simply denotes a new variation of something that is not exactly the same as it was previously. The very existence of smritis—texts that are written and rewritten to fit the context of each specific period and place—indicates that our tradition has never been frozen in time. It has evolved in step with the needs and challenges of each era.

My choice of this term, then, is intended to make the mainstream ‘contemporary Hindu’ readers comfortable. By the end of the book, I hope to have convinced readers that Hinduism cannot be pigeon-holed into tradition, modern and post-modern straitjackets in the way the West sees itself, because Hinduism has always been all three of these simultaneously and without contradiction.

The book focuses on toppling a specific, well-entrenched line of discourse that tries to isolate tradition in order to create conflicts and contradictions. My challenge is to help general readers undergo some serious mental shifts. Accordingly, I prefer not to overburden them by introducing too many unfamiliar terms. My hope is that most of my readers will be comfortable with such terms as ‘philosophy’ and ‘contemporary Hinduism’, and not be bothered that some theoreticians might find them problematic.

Additionally, in the interest of reader friendliness, an editorial decision was made to avoid using diacritic marks for Sanskrit pronunciation. Most Sanskrit terms are being italicized when they appear for the first time, and this may be repeated in some situations. A Sanskrit term will often be accompanied by a brief phrase in parentheses, giving its approximate meaning in English. Many Sanskrit terms are spelled in more than one way depending on the source— for instance, ‘Shankara’ is also spelled as ‘Sankara’. Vivekananda is frequently mentioned without the ‘Swami’ title. I anticipate purists in Indian scholarship to raise issues with some of these compromises. But, as explained at the very beginning, I must pick my battles carefully and in a focused way, and this means making practical accommodations.Summary of the major propositions and arguments in the book:

The following is a list of major propositions being explained and argued in this book. I furnish this list so the reader knows what to expect and can target his or her reading better:

The openness of Hinduism: The metaphors of ‘Indra’s Net’, ‘open architecture’, and ‘toolbox’ are among the devices I use to explain that Hinduism is inherently an open system and that its unity and continuity are different from that which is found in the Abrahamic religions.

The Introduction, Chapter 11 and Conclusion explain the concepts behind these metaphors. I also explain how the Vedic metaphor of Indra’s Net has travelled into the very heart of Buddhist philosophy, and from there into contemporary Western thought and culture. Hindu and Buddhist dharma is the art of surfing Indra’s Net. The ‘neo-Hinduism’ allegation against contemporary Hinduism: I strongly oppose the work of a prominent school of thought which claims that contemporary Hinduism, as we know it, is artificial and Western-generated, and that it was constructed and perpetrated by Swami Vivekananda for political motives.

Chapters 1 through 7 explain the details of this subversive thesis (called the ‘neo-Hinduism’ thesis), the backgrounds of its main proponents, and the history of how it came about. All of this lays the groundwork for my rejoinder that follows. My defence of contemporary Hinduism: Not only are the charges against contemporary Hinduism refuted, point by point, in chapters 6, 8, 9, 10 and 11, but a countervailing view crystallizes, seeing contemporary Hinduism as unified, coherent and rooted in tradition.

Chapter 6 explains the serious consequences of the ‘neo-Hinduism’ thesis in the form of popular literature and media biases in India. Digestion and fake liberalism: Many of the precious ideas and concepts in Hinduism have been systematically removed and placed in Western garb. Meanwhile, the original Hindu sources are allowed to atrophy and made to appear obsolete.

Chapter 12 and the Conclusion articulate this syndrome with examples and discuss the existential danger this poses to Hinduism. The ‘porcupine defense’ and ‘poison pills’: With these I present my own strategy for safeguarding Hinduism from getting digested and thereby made to disappear. This defence entails the use of certain Hindu philosophical elements and practices which the predator cannot swallow without ceasing to exist in its current form. Such protective devices can help gurus free their Western followers from bondage to their religion of birth, such as claims to unique historical revelations, hyper-masculinized ideas of the divine, and institutionalized dogmatic beliefs. This is explained in the Conclusion. The future of astika and nastika: Using these age-old Sanskrit terms in a novel way, I propose how persons of different faiths can demonstrate mutual respect for one another.

This will result in an open space in which adherents of all faiths can examine their tenets, and make whatever adjustments are needed to comply with the multi-civilizational ecosystem in which we live. Redefined for this new purpose, the astika-nastika categorisation can become a powerful weapon to defend Hinduism and reposition it as an important resource for humanity. This, too, is explained in the Conclusion.

Preface by Satyanarayana Dasa Babaji

The Ancient Indian Psyche

The thinkers of ancient India, the rishi-s and muni-s, had a deep understanding of the fact that the universe functions on some basic principles of rhythms of the cosmos known as ritam, and to this end, human life was organized at two levels: individual and social. Further, at the individual level, human life was considered in four parts: brahmacharya, grihastha, vanaprastha, and samnyasa. Considering a life span of one hundred years, twenty-five years were allocated to each stage of life. In order to be in harmony with ritam, an individual, as well as a society, must strive for the four pursuits known as purushartha-s: dharma, artha, kama, and moksha.

Each individual possesses unique characteristics, known as his/her prakriti or nature. According to ideal dharmic social thought, an individual functioned in society in line with his prakriti and was provided with appropriate education. At the collective level, society was organized into four broad categories called varna-s: brahmana (teacher/educator), kshatriya (warrior/king/ queen), vaishya (manager/business sector), and shudra (service sector). The varna was not birth-based but was dependent on the individual’s acquired prakriti. Every society, which functions as an organized unit, comprises these four unavoidable categories for its sustenance, propagation and prosperity. While these categories have emerged unconsciously all over the world, ancient Indian thinkers recognized it and provided a theory supporting the four varna-s to consciously organize society. Indian society was based on this template and functioned peacefully for thousands of years, scaled paramount heights and attained much glory.

Historically, many great personalities appeared to rectify the situation whenever balance was disturbed. Bhagavan Shri Krishna himself proclaims that He is the propagator of the varna system (Gita 4.13), and He appears to restore dharma whenever it is challenged by adharma (Gita 4.7).

This ancient system, however, started crumbling when Indian society was invaded by Western forces, primarily with Alexander around 324 BCE. Thereafter, it explained a downward spiral though its resilience was not completely eliminated. Even when India came under foreign rule, around 1192 CE, and later, under the prolonged rule of the Mughals, its education system was not tampered with and the varna-s survived. The fatal blow came in 1854, when the Indian education system was callously destroyed by the British. It was replaced by the Western education structure to produce clerks to help them control the vast empire. Unfortunately, Western education has no such insight into human life, leave alone the cosmic ritam. Tragically, even post India’s independence in 1947, no efforts were made to reclaim the millennia-old heritage. Instead, what continues to this day are the borrowed education system and the constitution of the West, which are a complete mismatch for the Indian psyche.

The Modern Indian Psyche

Modern-educated Indians are a confused lot. Not only have they lost faith in their own traditional values, they are also unable to embrace a Western lifestyle in totality. Most educated Indians portray a Western demeanor, yet in their private lives they practise several beliefs that emanate from ancient tradition, especially at times of birth, death, marriage and festivals. However, they are untrained in their ancient beliefs because nothing in the modern education system fosters them. They may know of and practise certain traditions but have forgotten and surrendered the true meaning and perform them out of a sense of ritual. The lack of sufficient knowledge about one’s own sanskriti, and training under the Western education system, has resulted in Indians developing an inferiority complex with regards to their rich sanskriti and dharma. Many derive pleasure in deriding the ancient sanskriti, revealing the unfortunate situation and reality of the modern Indian psyche. Furthermore, dharmic terminology has been inadequately translated into English. Terms such as atma, moksha, dharma, and prakriti are profound concepts in themselves; they are not mere words that can be translated into a single English word. The terms have to be understood and applied as they are; when translated naively into English, the terms lose their original deeper meaning, which has further led to devaluation of Indian sanskriti. To compound matters, a massive effort has been made by missionaries to digest Indian sanskriti into Christianity. The modern Indian psyche thus has to bear a great misfortune in losing its civilizational heritage.

The Torch Bearer

Several Indians are aware that Indian sanskriti is in peril and is being attacked by forces from within and outside. A handful of them are highlighting and being vocal about the danger of it getting lost and are making efforts to revive it. Rajiv Malhotra and Infinity Foundation are leading this resistance and revival. I first heard Rajiv at a WAVES conference in Florida in the US and was taken in by what he spoke. I was teaching a summer course in Hinduism at Rutgers University, and I was eager to meet Rajiv before returning to India.

When I arrived at Rajiv’s home, he was working on a manuscript. Even before I sat down, he shot a question at me, “Do you know how keen he was to know about achintya-bheda-abheda siddhanta I was instantly taken aback because studying and teaching the in fact, I founded an entire institute named after him. I had been working on a mammoth project for over two decades of translating and commenting on the magnum opus of Jiva Gosvami titled Shat Sandarbha. I never imagined I would make such a deep connection with an Indian living outside India, and one whose intense focus is on Hinduism. Rajiv Malhotra is an Indian intellectual warrior, who is fully absorbed in saving Indian sanskriti and fighting the breaking-India forces. I knew for certain that it was only by the will of Shri Krishna that we met. And although I did not know how, I understood that Rajiv and I had an important mission in common.

I left after our first meeting, excited to share my work and to hear Rajiv’s penetrating questions that would go on to refine my thinking with the pinpoint accuracy that he demanded. The first document I shared with him was a paper on achintya-bheda-abheda. He relished the paper, adding that it would be of immense help for his book. He invited me to help him in his work Being Different: An Indian Challenge to Western Universalism. I gladly obliged, as I felt life would be breathed back into Mother India. Our friendship cemented and we would meet during my teaching assignments at Rutgers. Over the years, we have recorded several videos on a variety of subjects. Three years ago, the idea of recording Sanskrit non-translatables arose. Rajiv had already introduced this concept in his book, Being Different. He proposed that we create fifty-four episodes on Sanskrit non-translatable words. I was very excited with the idea and over the next two years, we made video recordings at his residence in New Jersey, as well as at our center, Jiva Faridabad, in India. Jessica Richmond co-ordinated our recording sessions and organised the required material.

In the midst of the recordings, Rajiv suggested we write a book based off the content of the videos and I immediately agreed. With the fifty-four video episodes and this book, we are taking a big step forward to actualizing Rajiv’s mission. Just as Western terminology has entered the Indian psyche, Indian terminology should also enter not only Western, but also the modern Indian’s mind. This will be a great step towards reclaiming our sanskriti. I give my blessings that Rajiv Malhotra’s vision be realized.

Preface by Rajiv Malhotra

Since twenty-five years, Infinity Foundation has been challenging the prevailing narratives with groundbreaking research and provided original perspectives on dharma and its rightful place in the world. An important book published by the Foundation, Invading the Sacred: An Analysis of Hinduism Studies in America, in 2007, took aim at the Freudian psychoanalytic critiques of Hinduism being propagated by a powerful nexus in the Western academia and being spread among Indian intellectuals. The book gave birth to, and incubated, a solid and entrenched opposition that cannot be ignored today. It spurred the Indian diaspora to recognize the pattern of attacks on Hindu dharma under the garb of academia and audaciously ‘talk back’ to the establishment of Western scholars. This ‘reversing the gaze’ on Western intellectual elites found its way rapidly to India where it shaped a new generation of self-confident Indians. The term ‘Hinduphobia’ was adopted by Infinity Foundation to turn the spotlight on to a serious issue and it has now entered the everyday lexicon of serious thinkers worldwide.

Infinity Foundation’s next pathbreaking book, Breaking India: Western Interventions in Dravidian and Dalit Faultlines, detailed Rajiv Malhotra’s twenty years of research, talks, and writings on how external forces are trying to destabilize India by deliberately undermining its civilization. The book proved how such efforts are targeted at obfuscating, and ultimately aborting any collective identity of the present-day Indian, based on a positive view of his/her civilization. It exposed the foreign nexuses and applied the term ‘sepoys’ to refer to their Indian accomplices. The book highlighted that the project to intellectually fragment, or ‘break’ India targets Hinduism because it is seen as the robust foundation cementing its diversity. Several watchdog movements have sprung into action because of the book, Breaking India. It has triggered a domino effect with a plethora of researchers associating themselves with this genre of scholarship to expose more instances of the same syndrome. The theories and vocabulary introduced in the book are now used widely.

The next authoritative work by Infinity Foundation, Being Different: An Indian Challenge to Western Universalism addressed the central question: who we as Indians are, and what distinguishes us from others, especially from the West. It presents an original and coherent view of dharma as a family of traditions and unabashedly challenges the West’s claim of being the universal lens for studying world cultures. Western Universalism is unfortunately still used as the template for mapping and defining all cultures and therefore, it is vital to be conscious of its distorted interpretations of Indian traditions. Being Different has prompted a wide section of Indians to question various simplistic views and interpretations of their traditions, including some that are commonly espoused even by their own guru-s, family and political leaders. It is a beacon for serious intellectuals on how to ‘take back’ Vedic heritage by understanding it on its own terms.

Indra’s Net: Defending Hinduism’s Philosophical Unity, exposes the widely held thesis in Western academia that Hinduism is a recent invention. This fallacious and ludicrous argument was fabricated during British rule over India in the latter part of the nineteenth century, resulting in dangerous consequences even in post-independent India. The central point of this thesis asserts that Swami Vivekananda, one of the most renowned votaries of Hindu philosophy of the nineteenth century, plagiarized Western secular and Christian ideas and then recast them in Sanskrit terminology to claim their Indian origin. Besides critiquing this thesis, the nexus behind it, and defending Swami Vivekananda’s vision, the book puts forward a vision for the future of Hinduism.

The Battle for Sanskrit: Is Sanskrit Political or Sacred, Oppressive or Liberating, Dead or Alive? challenges Sheldon Pollock, arguably the most influential contemporary Sanskrit scholar in Western academia. The consistent theme underlying his entire work is to characterize Sanskrit as the root cause of all of India’s current social problems. This thesis attributes to Sanskrit a range of negative issues including social disharmony and lack of innovation. Arguments deeply damaging to the Indian civilization have been formulated by Pollock based on questionable assumptions and interpretations.
The Battle for Sanskrit addresses these issues head-on with a vigorous purva paksha or argument of Pollock’s Neo-Orientalist school of thought – an influential school that has spawned new adherents and created a lineage of Western scholars and Indian sepoys today. The book led to multiple conferences of Swadeshi Indology and triggered a greater awareness of the deep and insidious goals of Western Indology and the broader academia. The Battle for Sanskrit was precipitated by the proposal of an Adi Shankara Chair at Columbia University sponsored by the Sringeri Peetham (one of the four important peetham-s established by the philosopher Adi Shankara), whose Academic Committee was to be headed by Sheldon Pollock. The effect of the book and the awareness it created has discouraged sponsors from pursuing the establishment of such a chair. After the Shankaracharya, head of Sringeri, was personally approached and briefed on the contents of the book, he was convinced not to proceed with the proposed Chair. This created a huge controversy among Non-Resident Indians in the United States who had championed this Chair as a vehicle for popularizing themselves and advancing their own business interests. Infinity Foundation, however, has never shied away from controversy or risks when required for the sake of protecting the wider interest of dharma.

Infinity Foundation has also formulated, funded and implemented numerous major interventions which have affected the civilizational discourse in positive and non-trivial ways. The Foundation became widely acknowledged as the leader in influencing the way scholars are approaching their work on India’s civilization, history, archaeology, social sciences, arts, and other fields. Besides intellectuals, its work has deeply influenced people from various walks of life, not just Indians and people of Indian origin, but all
those who have an all-abiding interest in these matters.

The Foundation has been producing videos on several subjects that showcase the use and application of a dharma-based lens to study our civilization. This has resulted in a new awakening: to promote the use of our drishti (i.e., the ability to look through the dharmic lens). It has adopted the term kurukshetra or battlefield, to describe the present-day encounter of civilizations. The Foundation has expanded beyond the mode of pure research, and engages with the general public, providing new insights into the social and political dynamics at work in this kurukshetra.

The Foundation’s books have a common approach: to present an analysis of distorted theories and their effects, and to expose the falsities and assumptions, of these theories. The target readership is the serious intellectual in support of the Foundation’s aim to develop Intellectual Kshatriyas. These kshatriyas are using the Foundation’s core ideas and vocabulary to aid in the thinking, analysis, dissection, and strategic response to the attacks on dharma, thus providing new perspectives. Any coherent body of thought or knowledge system assumes a powerful impact as a thought carrier and a tool of change, in pragmatic and intellectual ways, if it is supported by its own consistent vocabulary. The histories and progress of a civilization can be seen as an evolution of its conceptual framework and vocabulary in understanding itself and the world.

The theory of Sanskrit Non-Translatables is one such powerful framework and has its own vocabulary of terms. It was introduced for the first time in the book, Being Different. The theory elucidated that Western scholars and Westernized Indians are accustomed to translating and mapping dharmic concepts and perspectives onto Western frameworks, which is a form of digestion of Vedic civilization into their civilization. Being Different argued that this practice is highly problematic. Dharmic traditions are compromised and some elements even atrophy once it becomes acceptable to substitute them with Western equivalents, even though the substitutes do not accurately represent the original Indian idea.

While this problem exists to some extent in all inter-civilizational encounters, it is particularly acute when dharmic concepts in Sanskrit are translated into Western languages. Not only does Sanskrit, like all languages, encode specific and unique cultural experiences and traits, but the very form, sound, and manifestation of the language carries effects that cannot be separated from their conceptual meanings. The non-translatable nature of Sanskrit and its deep meanings are compromised by the cultural digestion of dharma into the West through the inadequate translation of vocabulary. In the course of this digestion, crucial distinctions and understandings are lost, important direct experiences of the rishi-s sidelined, and the most fertile, productive and visionary dimension of dharma eradicated and relegated to antiquity. This loss is often carried out under the guise of modernity.

The current book takes these ideas forward and launches a new movement using Sanskrit Non-Translatables as a device for protecting key ideas from getting distorted, plagiarized, or allowed to become obsolete. The role of Satyanarayana Dasa Babaji has been critical as the subject-matter expert to explicate the nuances of meanings of the important Sanskrit words used to illustrate their non-translatability.

This book is not meant for teaching Sanskrit. It undertakes to explain the inadequate translation of many Sanskrit terms into English, which is commonplace. It spotlights several Sanskrit terms that are loosely and unthinkingly replaced with English translations and shows how the deep and profound implications of these words get lost.

Though primarily meant for the English speaker/reader, many of these discussions are also relevant to resist the usage of these English terms in native Indian languages.

Chapters 1 and 2 cover the rationale and need for Sanskrit Non-Translatables and ingeminate key ideas on the subject from Being Different. The discussion on the origins and unique nature of Sanskrit lays the foundation. The Non-Translatables will play a critical role in the kurukshetra as carriers of deeper ideas and embedded cultural assets, and in the encounters between dharma and adharma.

Chapter 3 through 11 discuss several specific non-translatable terms that are being carelessly translated. For each term discussed, careful and deep thought has gone into explaining why the common translations are inadequate and how they create distortions and confusion. The goal is to lay a strong foundation for readers to start using these Sanskrit words when speaking or writing in English. The aim is to instill confidence that the non-translatable words can be used effectively in everyday engagement in English, enriching the language with new ideas and experiences from the Indian traditions.

To ensure reader friendliness, diacritic marks for Sanskrit pronunciation have only been used in the notes. Most Sanskrit repeated in some cases. A Sanskrit term will often be accompanied provisional meaning in English. Many Sanskrit terms in the source – for instance, ‘Shankara’ and ‘Sankara’. Purists in Indian scholarship may raise issues with some of these compromises. But our battles are selected carefully and with focus, and this means making practical accommodations.

At certain places in this book where multiple interpretations of the shastra exist within our traditions, the Gaudiya Vaishnava sampradaya’s viewpoint is used as the basis for illustrating the non-translatability. This choice is not to preclude other traditional views. Satyanarayana Dasa Babaji belongs to that tradition, hence we use that view. However, we invite collaborations with experts from other dharmic traditions so that the full richness of each Sanskrit concept can emerge from various perspectives. The focus is to explain that various Sanskrit terms are not translatable to English words. Using a particular Dharmic tradition serves to illustrate this point.

This book is about how India differs from the West. It aims to challenge certain cherished notions, such as the assumptions that Western paradigms are universal and that the dharmic traditions teach ‘the same thing’ as Jewish and Christian ones. For while the Vedas say, ‘truth is one, paths are many’, the differences among those paths are not inconsequential. I will argue that the dharmic traditions, while not perfect, offer perspectives and techniques for a genuinely pluralistic social order and a full integration of many different faiths, including atheism and science. They also offer models for environmental sustainability and education for the whole being that are invaluable to our emerging world. The book hopes to set the terms for a deeper and more informed engagement between dharmic and Western civilizations.

In making these arguments, I may be accused of using broad definitions, generalizations and extreme contrasts. When I speak of ‘the West’ vs ‘India’, or the ‘Judeo-Christian religions’ vs the ‘dharma traditions’, I am well aware that I may be indulging in the kind of essentialism that postmodern thinkers have correctly challenged. I am also aware that such large categories comprise multiple traditions which are separate and often opposed.1 I view these terms as family resemblances and guides, not as reified or immutable entities. Furthermore, most people do understand them as pointing to actual entities with distinct spiritual and cosmological orientations, even if they can only be defined in opposition to one another. The terms can thus be used as entry points for debate and as foils to contrast both sides, which may help deepen our understanding.

To be more precise, ‘the West’ is used in this book to refer to the cultures and civilizations stemming from a rather forced fusion of the biblical traditions of ancient Israel and the classical ones of Greece and Rome. My focus here is on American history and culture, because they are most exemplary of the Western identity today. I investigate European history primarily to uncover the roots of the West’s self-understanding and approach to India, and I give special attention to the role of Germany in shaping the Western approach to dharma.

‘India’ here refers both to the modern nation and to the civilization from which it emerged. For reasons to be discussed at length, I do not follow the current fashion for ‘deconstructing’ Indian identity into its constituent parts, or for ‘breaking India’, as I have called the process in my previous book.

As for the term ‘Judeo-Christian’, it is a hybrid which does make some Jews and Christians uncomfortable, because it lumps together very different and often sharply opposed religions. I try to avoid using this hybrid where a distinction is important. Nevertheless, this term is useful in designating a religious paradigm that is common to both, particularly with regard to the central importance given to historical revelation. (This paradigm is also found in a different form in Islam, but I do not deal with Islam in this volume.)

‘Dharma’ is used to indicate a family of spiritual traditions originating in India which today are manifested as Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism. I explain that the variety of perspectives and practices of dharma display an underlying integral unity at the metaphysical level which undergirds and supports their openness and relative non- aggressiveness. Dharma is not easy to define, and a good deal of this book is devoted to explaining some of its dimensions. The oft-used translations of dharma as ‘religion’, ‘path’, ‘law’ and ‘ethics’ all fall short in substantial ways. Suffice it to say that the principles and presuppositions of dharma are available in classical Sanskrit terms that often have no exact translation in English; dharma encompasses a diversity of lifestyles and views that have evolved over many centuries.

As I have just noted, Western foundational concepts and values stem not from one source but from two: Judeo-Christian historical revelations expressed through prophets and messiahs, and Greek reason with its reliance on Aristotelian logic and empirical knowledge. I will argue at length that the resulting cultural construct called ‘the West’ is not an integrally unified entity but a synthetic one. It is dynamic but also inherently unstable, leading to restless, expansionist, and often aggressive historical projects, as well as anxiety and inner turmoil. This instability has had a devastating effect not only on non-westerners but on westerners themselves. The cultural constructs of India are, by contrast, relatively more stable, flexible and less expansionist. Additionally, the dharma substrate (not without tension and experimentation) obviates the West’s conflicting claims of historical revelations and science-versus- religion conflicts.

As will be obvious, my exploration of these two different worldviews does not arise from a neutral, disinterested position (which would be impossible in any case) but from an avowedly dharmic one. However, I am not suggesting that we must return to the kind of imagined golden past often implied by this kind of advocacy. I am simply using the dharmic perspective to reverse the analytical gaze which normally goes from West to East and unconsciously privileges the former. This reversal evaluates Western problems in a unique way, sheds light on some of its blind spots, and shows how dharmic cultures can help alleviate and resolve some of the problems facing the world today.

India itself cannot be viewed only as a bundle of the old and the new, accidentally and uncomfortably pieced together, an artificial construct without a natural unity. Nor is she just a repository of quaint, fashionable accessories to Western lifestyles; nor a junior partner in a global capitalist world. India is its own distinct and unified civilization with a proven ability to manage profound differences, engage creatively with various cultures, religions and philosophies, and peacefully integrate many diverse streams of humanity. These values are based on ideas about divinity, the cosmos and humanity that stand in contrast to the fundamental assumptions of Western civilization. This book explores those ideas and assumptions.

Some of this analysis is highly critical and will perhaps raise hackles not only among westerners but also among Indians who value Western culture (as I do myself). They will point out that Western culture’s self- critique is its hallmark and stock-in-trade. However, that self-critique invariably takes place within Western categories and institutions of knowledge production and, as a result, is blind to many of its shortcomings.

There are two extremes that I wish to avoid in positioning dharma vis-à-vis the West. On the one hand, over-emphasizing dharmic wisdom and its precedents can lead to chauvinism (and give rise to some of the same problems that exist in the ‘arrogance’ of the West) and even to isolationism and a failure to engage globally. On the other hand, if dharma is put forward merely as an eclectic collection of disparate ideas, it will lack the cohesiveness necessary to function as a force for change.

With these concerns in mind, I offer four areas of difference between dharmic and Judeo-Christian traditions:

  1. Embodied Knowing versus History-centrism
  2. Integral Unity versus Synthetic Unity
  3. Anxiety over Chaos versus Comfort with Complexity and Ambiguity
  4. Cultural Digestion versus Sanskrit Non-Translatables

These areas of contrast are summarized below and discussed at length in the subsequent chapters.

Embodied Knowing versus History-centrism

Dharma and Judeo-Christian traditions differ fundamentally in their approaches to knowing the divine. The dharma family (including Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism and Jainism) has developed an extensive range of inner sciences and experiential technologies called ‘adhyatma- vidya’ to access divinity and higher states of consciousness. Adhyatma- vidya is a body of wisdom and techniques culled from centuries of first- person empirical inquiry into the nature of consciousness and undertaken by advanced practitioners. These accounts and the individuals who have embarked on these quests are highly regarded, but they are not reified into canons, messiahs or absolute statements of an exclusive nature. They are neither a code of laws nor a history of past revelations but guides for replicating and retransmitting the experience and its transformational powers. Their truth must be rediscovered and directly experienced by each person. I have coined the term embodied knowing to refer to inner sciences and adhyatma-vidya.

The Judeo-Christian traditions, in contrast, depend on the historical revelations of prophets who speak of the collective destiny of whole peoples and of humankind. The human condition stems from an act of disobedience or ‘sin’, beginning with the ‘original sin’ of Adam and Eve, the forbears of all humanity. Every individual is born a sinner. For this reason, humans are unable to achieve union with the divine (at least not in the dharmic sense); the spiritual goal instead is salvation that can be achieved only through obedience to God’s will as understood through a particular set of prophets and historical events. Hence the historical record of that intervention must be carefully maintained, and its truth must be taken forward and aggressively asserted. The goal of this record is to bring humans collectively to obey a specific ‘law’. This history must be considered universal, however particular and fallible its agents (both individual and collective) may be. Humanity’s collective destiny will be determined and judged at the End of Time.

Such an absolute status of history weakens the authority of individual spiritual explorations (hence, mystics have been regarded with suspicion in these traditions) and becomes the basis for competing claims to truth that cannot be reconciled. Furthermore, those without access to these historical revelations must remain, by definition, in the dark, lacking the most elementary means to make contact with God. I have coined the term history-centrism to refer to this fixation on specific and often incompatible claims to divine truth revealed in the course of history. I regard this historical fixation as the major difference between dharmic and Judeo-Christian paths and as a problem which can breed untold psychological, religious and social conflict.

Integral Unity versus Synthetic Unity

The idea of underlying unity in the dharmic traditions differs radically from how unity is understood in the Judeo-Christian traditions. All dharmic schools begin by assuming that ultimately the cosmos is a unified whole in which absolute reality and the relative manifestations are profoundly connected. Western worldviews, by contrast, have been shaped by a tension between the absolute status of Judeo-Christian historical revelations on the one hand and the knowledge produced by a highly dualistic and atomistic Greek metaphysics and Aristotelian binary logic on the other. As a result, the West’s sense of unity is profoundly troubled, first by the split between revelation and reason (or between Hebraism and Hellenism, as this divide is sometimes described) and secondly by the inherently fragmented quality of the reasoning and speculation produced by the latter. I will discuss in Chapter 3 how the dharmic traditions draw on a sense of integral unity whereas the Judeo- Christian one is based on various synthetic unities which are inherently unstable and problematic.

The various dharmic schools, despite some profound differences in theory and practice, all attempt to account for some form of unity. Even though ordinary people find this difficult to experience, the resources for its realization are built into the various spiritual disciplines. The sense of an underlying unity is strong and allows for a great deal of inventiveness and play in understanding its manifestations. As a result, there tends to be a great diversity of paths and philosophical understandings without fear of chaos.

Western worldviews, whether religious or secular, begin with the opposite premise: the cosmos is inherently an agglomeration of parts or separate essences. The debates on this subject are not about how and why multiplicity emerges but about how unity can emerge out of the multiplicity. Such a unity is not innate; it must be sought and justified again and again, and the resulting synthesis is always unstable. The Judeo-Christian faiths begin (with some qualifications) by viewing the divine as profoundly separated and infinitely far from the world and the human, each side of the divide entirely distinct from the other. Classical Western philosophy and the science that emerged from it (again, with some qualifications) begin with the premise that the universe is composed of atomic entities or separate building blocks. Science and religion are both faced with the need to discover or invent a unity, which they do with some anxiety and difficulty. Furthermore, the starting points and conclusions of Western religion and science are in great mutual tension and even contradiction, which essentially makes Western civilization an uneasy and tentative synthesis of incompatible building blocks. Chapter 3 analyses this difference at length.

Anxiety over Chaos versus Comfort with Complexity and Ambiguity

Dharmic civilizations are more relaxed and comfortable with multiplicity and ambiguity than the West. Chaos is seen as a source of creativity and dynamism. Since the ultimate reality is an integrally unified coherence, chaos is a relative phenomenon that cannot threaten or disrupt the underlying coherence of the cosmos. Sri Aurobindo, the great Indian yogi and philosopher of the twentieth century, said that since unity in the dharmic traditions is grounded in a sense of oneness, there can be immense multiplicity without fear of collapse into disintegration and chaos. He went on to say that nature can afford the luxury of infinite differentiation, since the underlying immutability of the eternal always remains unaffected.

In the West, chaos is seen as a ceaseless threat both psychologically and socially – something to be overcome by control or elimination. Psychologically, it drives the ego to become all-powerful and controlling. Socially, it creates a hegemonic impulse over those who are different. A cosmology based on unity that is synthetic and not innate is riddled with anxieties. Therefore, order must be imposed so as to resolve differences relating to culture, race, gender, sexual orientation and so on.

Dharmic traditions, as a result of their foundational texts, epics, archetypes and values, depict order and chaos as belonging to the same family and weave multiple narratives around this idea of cooperative rivalry. The popular myth of Samudra-manthana, which tells of the churning of the ocean of ‘milk’, illustrates this concept, as we shall see in Chapter 4.

Cultural Digestion versus Sanskrit Non- translatables

Western scholars and westernized Indians are accustomed to translating and mapping dharmic concepts and perspectives onto Western frameworks, thereby enriching and perhaps even renewing the Western ‘host’ culture into which they are assimilated. Chapter 5 will argue that this approach is highly problematic. One does not say of a tiger’s kill that both tiger and prey are ‘changed for the better’ by the digestion, or that the two kinds of animals have ‘flowed into one another’ to produce a better one. Rather, the food of the tiger becomes a part of the tiger’s body, breaking down and obliterating, in the process, the digested animal. Dharmic traditions and wisdom are compromised or even obliterated once they can be substituted with Western equivalents which are not capable of accurately representing the dharma.

While this problem can be a danger in all inter-civilization encounters where the balance of political power is unequal, it is particularly acute when it comes to translating dharmic concepts in written Sanskrit into Western languages. Not only does Sanskrit, like all languages, encode specific and unique cultural experiences and traits, but the very form, sound and manifestation of the language carry effects that cannot be separated from their conceptual meanings.

The sacred sounds that comprise the Sanskrit language were discovered by India’s rishis of the distant past through their inner sciences. These sounds are not arbitrary conventions but were realized through spiritual practice that brought direct experiences of the realities to which they correspond. Numerous meditation systems were developed by experimenting with these sounds, and thus evolved the inner sciences that enable a practitioner to return to a primordial state of unity consciousness. Sanskrit provides an experiential path back to its source. It is not just a communications tool but also the vehicle for embodied knowing. Employed by the spiritual leaders of India, South-east Asia and East Asia for many centuries as a language, Sanskrit became the medium for expressing a distinct set of cultural systems and experiences.

Sanskriti is the term for this cultural framework. It is the lore and repository of philosophy, art, architecture, popular song, classical music, dance, theatre, sculpture, painting, literature, pilgrimage, rituals and religious narratives, all of which embody pan-Indian cultural traits. It also incorporates all branches of natural science and technology – medicine (including veterinary), botany, mathematics, engineering, architecture, dietetics, etc.

Although the Judeo-Christian faiths also have their sacred languages– Hebrew and Latin – and although the claims made for them are sometimes similar to the ones made for Sanskrit, these languages have not served as the basis for unified civilizations in quite the same way. This distinction will become clearer in Chapter 5.

Furthermore, Christianity, from the beginning, was not transmitted through a sacred language but through the vernacular – first the Aramaic that Jesus spoke, then the everyday koine Greek of the Mediterranean Basin. The New Testament, in its numerous translations, promulgates not a direct experience of the divine but a message or ‘gospel’ (meaning ‘good news’) about the divine. The emphasis here is on the meaning of the words and the historical deeds they recount and not on their sound or resonance or the embodied response they elicit. Christianity does not have a spiritual tradition similar to mantra, and prayer is a petition, conversation or thanksgiving to an external deity, where the conceptual meaning is far more important than the sound or its empirical effects on the practitioner.

The non-translatable nature of Sanskrit and all that this implies are compromised by the cultural digestion of dharma into the West. In the course of this digestion, crucial distinctions and understandings are lost, important empirical experiences foreclosed, and the most fertile, productive and visionary dimension of dharma eradicated and relegated to antiquity.

I want all the cultures of all lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any. – Gandhi

This book has emerged as a result of several experiences that have deeply influenced my research and scholarship over the past decade. In the 1990s, an African-American scholar at Princeton University casually told me that he had returned from a trip to India, where he was working with the ‘Afro-Dalit Project’. Upon inquiry, I found that this US-operated and -financed project frames inter-jati/varna interactions and the Dalit movement using American cultural and historical lenses. The Afro-Dalit project purports to paint Dalits as the ‘Blacks’ of India and non-Dalits as India’s ‘whites’. The history of American racism, slavery and Black/White relations is thus superimposed onto Indian society. While modern caste structures and inter-relationships have included long periods of prejudice toward Dalits, the Dalit experience bears little resemblance to the African slave experience of America. Taking its cue from the American experience, the Afro-Dalit project attempts to empower Dalits by casting them as victims at the hands of a different race.

Separately, I had been studying and writing about the ‘Aryans’, as to who they were, and whether the origin of Sanskrit and Vedas was an import by ‘invaders’ or indigenous to India. In this context, I sponsored numerous archeological, linguistic and historical conferences and book projects, in order to get deeper into the discourse. This led me to research the colonial-era construction of the Dravidian identity, which did not exist prior to the nineteenth century and was fabricated as an identity in opposition to the Aryans. Its survival depends upon belief in the theory of foreign Aryans and their misdeeds.


I had also been researching US church funding of activities in India, such as the popularly advertised campaigns to ‘save’ poor children by feeding, clothing and educating them. In fact, when I was in my twenties living in the US, I sponsored one such child in South India.

However, during trips to India, I often felt that the funds collected were being used not so much for the purposes indicated to sponsors, but for indoctrination and conversion activities. Additionally, I have been involved in numerous debates in the US with think-tanks, independent scholars, human rights groups and academics, specifically on their treatment of Indian society as a sort of scourge that the west had to ‘civilize’. I coined the phrase ‘caste, cows and curry’ to represent the exotic and sensational portrayals of India’s social and economic problems and their interpretation of these as ‘human rights’ issues.

I decided to track the major organizations involved in promulgating these various theories as well as those spearheading political pressure and eventually the prosecution of India on the grounds of human rights violations. My research included following the money trail by using the provisions of financial disclosure in the US, studying the promotional materials given out by most such organizations, and monitoring their conferences, workshops and publications. I investigated the individuals behind such activities and their institutional affiliations.

What I found out should sound the alarm bell for every Indian concerned about our national integrity. India is the prime target of a huge enterprise—a ‘network’ of organizations, individuals and churches—that seems intensely devoted to the task of creating a separatist identity, history and even religion, for the vulnerable sections of India. This nexus of players includes not only church groups, government bodies and related organizations, but also private think-tanks and academics. On the surface they appear to be separate and isolated from one another, but in fact, as I argue in this book, their activities are well-coordinated and well-funded from the US and Europe. I was impressed by the degree of interlocking and cooperation among these entities. Their resolutions, position papers and strategies are well-articulated, and beneath the veneer of helping

the downtrodden, there seem to be objectives that would be inimical to India’s unity and sovereignty. A few Indians from the communities being ‘empowered’ were in top positions in these Western organizations, and the whole enterprise was initially conceived, funded and strategically managed by Westerners.

However there are now a growing number of Indian individuals and NGOs who have become co-opted by them and that receive funding and mentorship from the West. The south Asian studies in the US and European universities invite many such ‘activists’ regularly and give them prominence. The same organizations had also been inviting and giving intellectual support to Khalistanis, Kashmir militants, Maoists,and other subversive elements in India. So I began to wonder whether the campaigns to mobilize Dalits, Dravidians and other minorities in India was somehow part of the foreign policy of certain Western countries, if not openly then at least as an option kept in reserve. I am unaware of any other major country in which such large-scale processes prevail without monitoring or concern by the local authorities. No wonder so much has to be spent in India after such a separatist identity gets weaponized into all-out militancy or political fragmentation.

About three years ago, my research and data had become considerable. Moreover, many Indians are simply unaware of the subversive forces at work against their country, and I felt that it ought to be organized for wider dissemination and debate. I started working with Aravindan Neelakandan, based in Tamil Nadu, to complement my foreign data with his access to the ground-reality in India’s backwaters.

The book looks at the historical origins of both the Dravidian movement and Dalit identity and the current players involved in shaping these separatist identities. It includes an analysis of the individuals and institutions involved and their motivations, activities and desired endgame. While many are located in the US and the European Union, there are an increasing number in India too, the latter often functioning like the local branch offices of these foreign entities.

One may ask how can innocent research end up in ethnic violence?It has happened in Sri Lanka, where manufactured identities had made the civil society of the island nation go into one of the bloodiest civil wars and had resulted in one of the ugliest ethnic violence in the very backdoor of Indian mainland. It has happened in Africa where it erupted as the worst ethnic genocide ever witnessed by humanity after the Holocaust of the Second World War. And the brutally true answer, to the question which we often try to dodge, is that it has already started happening in India. Even as this book was going to press, a detailed cover story appeared in the January 2011 issue of the magazine Geo, titled ‘Unspoken Tongues: Why are so many Indian languages on the brink?’

The article states:

... Meanwhile as the state chooses to look the other way, other interested parties have stepped in. Christian missionaries have emerged as the largest group of non-state protectors by far. Ethnologue, a language encyclopaedia that has documented 7,358 languages worldwide in its sixteenth edition, has become a veritable linguist’s Bible. It is published by SIL International, an American Christian linguistic organization. Leading the charge on the ground though is the US-based Wycliffe Foundation and its army of Bible translators, who along with partners like the New India Evangelic Association, are very active in India. A video on the latter’s website claims the imminent release of the scriptures in six languages in Bihar: Bhojpuri, Maithli, Maghi, Angika, Surajpuri and Panchaparganiya.  

On the global level Wycliffe aims to translate the Bible into every language of the world by 2025. With the launch of 71 new language-documentation projects every year for the past 9 years, Wycliff wants to spread Christianity to the remaining ‘2,393 language groups representing 200 million people’ who do not yet have access to the scriptures.  While it is indisputable that Bible translators contribute significantly to saving languages by giving them scripts and documenting them in books and audio recordings, there is little doubt that Christianity, which they introduce, overwhelms the local religions and cultures that these languages represent.  

For many linguists and anthropologists, saving these traditions is as important as protecting the associated languages. ‘I believe that scientists of language should stick to the language,’ says Anderson, who has seen some of the ‘less than ideal consequences’ despite ‘obvious tangible benefits’ from the missionary linguists. . . . The official neglect of many tribal languages in India has also pushed the Maoists to embrace them in order to win disaffected tribals.

This shows how, what is often termed as linguistic research is actually a highly political and often foreign-funded project where forces not favorable to Indian unity and overtly hostile to Indian culture and harmony come together and create identities which can be later used to subvert Indian nation and state. The basic theme of the book is the request it makes to the educated Indian to be conscious of these forces subversive operating in his/her country, and to counter it intelligently and collectively, setting aside the divisions of caste, creed, language and political identities. If as Indians we do not do this, our posterity may well end up in refugee camps in humiliating sub-human living conditions. Kashmiri Pandits, Jamatiyas of Tripura, Reangs of Mizoram and Tamil refugees from Sri Lanka are living examples as reminders to what may happen toour own posterity if we do not act now, intelligently and collectively as a nation and civilization.

The goal of this book is not to sensationalize or predict any outcomes. Rather, it is to expand the debate about India and its future. Much is being written about India’s rise in economic terms and its implications to India’s overall clout. But not enough is written on what can go wrong, given the rapidly expanding programs exposed in this book and the stress they put on India’s faultlines. My hope is that this book fills this gap to some extent.

Rajiv Malhotra

Princeton, USA

January 2011