Being Different

A Defense of Meritocracy

India is more than a nation state. It is also a unique civilization with philosophies and cosmologies that are markedly distinct from the dominant culture of our times – the West.

India is more than a nation state. It is also a unique civilization with philosophies and cosmologies that are markedly distinct from the dominant culture of our times – the West.

HarperCollins; 2013th edition (30 May 2013)
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Paperback, Hardcover
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About the book

India is more than a nation state. It is also a unique civilization with philosophies and cosmologies that are markedly distinct from the dominant culture of our times – the West. India’s spiritual traditions spring from dharma which has no exact equivalent in western frameworks. Unfortunately, in the rush to celebrate the growing popularity of India on the world stage, its civilizational matrix is being digested into western universalism, thereby diluting its distinctiveness and potential.

This book addresses the challenge of direct and honest engagement on differences, by reversing the gaze, repositioning India from being the observed to the observer and looking at the West from the dharmic point of view. In doing so it challenges many hitherto unexamined beliefs that both sides hold about themselves and each other. It highlights that unique historical revelations are the basis for western religions, as opposed to dharma’s emphasis on self-realization in the body here and now. It describes the integral unity that underpins dharma’s metaphysics and contrasts this with western thought and history as a synthetic unity. The west’s anxiety over difference and fixation for order runs in contrast with the creative role of chaos in dharma. The book critiques fashionable reductive translations and argues for preserving certain non-translatable words of Sanskrit. It concludes with a rebuttal against western claims of universalism and recommends a multi-civilizational worldview.

The discussions and debate within the book employ the venerable tradition of purva-paksha, an ancient dharmic technique where a debater must first authentically understand in the opponent’s perspective, test the merits of that point of view and only then engage in debate using his own position. Purva-paksha encourages individuals to become truly knowledgeable about all perspectives, to approach the other side with respect and to forego the desire to simply win the contest. Purva-paksha also demands that all sides be willing to embrace the shifts in thinking, disruptive and controversial as they may be, that emerge from such a dialectical process.

Being Different highlights six distinct and fundamental points of divergence between the dharmic traditions and the West. These are as follows:

  1. Approaches to difference: The West’s pervasive anxiety over personal and cultural differences have resulted in the endless need for the appropriation, assimilation, “conversion” and/or digestion and obliteration of all that does not fit its fundamental paradigms. The roots of this anxiety lie in the inherent schisms in its worldview. Dharmic traditions, in contrast, while not perfect, are historically more comfortable with differences, both individual and collective; they are not driven by mandates for expansion and control.
  2. History-centrism vs. Inner Sciences: The Judeo-Christian religious narrative is rooted in the history of a specific people and place. Further, the divine is external rather than within and guides humanity through unique and irreplaceable revelations. The dharmic traditions, in contrast, emphasize a series of sophisticated techniques of meditation and related inner sciences to achieve higher states of embodied knowing.
  3. Integral unity vs. synthetic unity: Since the time of Aristotle, the West has assumed an atomic partitioning of reality into distinct and unrelated parts. The Judeo-Christian worldview is based on separate essences for God, the world and/ human souls. Additionally, there is an unbridgeable gap between Greek reason and religious revelation. The result has been a forced unity of separate entities, and such a unity always feels threatened to disintegrate and remains synthetic at best. In dharmic cosmology all things emerge from a unified whole. In Hinduism this integral unity is the very nature of Brahman; in Buddhism there is no ultimate essence like Brahman, but the principle of impermanence and co-dependence provides unity. Dharma and science are enmeshed as part of the same exploration. Every aspect of reality mirrors and relates to every other aspect in a web of interdependency.
  4. The nature of chaos and uncertainty: The West privileges order in its aesthetics, ethics, religions, society and politics, and manifests a deep-rooted fear of chaos, uncertainty and complexity. The dharmic worldview see chaos as a creative catalyst built into the cosmos to balance out order that could become stultifying., and hence it adopts a more relaxed attitude towards it
  5. Translatability vs. Sanskrit: Unlike Western languages, in Sanskrit the fundamental sounds have an existential link to the experience of the object they represent. This makes Sanskrit a key resource for personal and cultural development. It also implies that the process of translation and digestion into Western schemas is unavoidably reductive.
  6. Western universalism challenged: In the “grand narrative” of the West, whether secular or religious, it is the agent or driver of historical unfolding and sets the template for all nations and peoples. This book challenges this self-serving universalism. It contrasts this with dharma’s non-linear approach to the past and multiple future trajectories.

The very openness that makes dharma appealing, however, often makes it vulnerable to invasion, appropriation and erosion by a more aggressive and externally ambitious civilization. The book uses the metaphor of digestion to point to the destructive effects of what is usually white-washed as assimilation, globalization or postmodern deconstruction of difference. For complex reasons, which are analyzed at length, the dharmic traditions have been a particular target of digestion into the West, and Being Different challenges the uncritical acceptance of this process by both Westerners and Indians.

About the Authors

About the Editors

Rajiv Malhotra

Rajiv Malhotra

Rajiv Malhotra is a researcher and public intellectual on civilizational studies, world religions, and cross-cultural encounters. He was trained initially as a physicist, and then as a computer scientist specializing in Artificial Intelligence in the 1970s. After a successful corporate career in the USA, he became an entrepreneur and founded and ran several IT companies across twenty countries. Since the early 1990s, as the founder of his non-profit Infinity Foundation (Princeton, USA), he has been researching civilizations from a historical, social sciences, and mind sciences perspective. He has authored several best-selling books that have impacted many leading intellectuals worldwide. Rajiv also serves as chairman of the board of governors of the Center for Indic Studies at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, and is on the advisory board of the Indian Institute of Advanced Studies, Shimla.

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Written Endorsement


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Being Different is a highly successful attempt in exploring the major differences between Indian and Western worldviews, metaphysics, cosmologies and philosophies which have not previously been adequately appreciated by scholars and spiritual seekers.

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Director, Sri Aurobindo Foundation for Indian Culture, Pondicherry
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With stunning honesty, Being Different alerts the reader to the grave dangers of a difference-negating “sameness” that is marketed worldwide by secular and religious streams in Western culture. This is a very important and highly accessible book in the discourse on the interaction between civilizations.

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Executive Director, Confluence School of Faith Studies; co-editor, Hermeneutics and Hindu Thought: Towards a Fusion of Horizons
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What I found particularly informative and original in Being Different is the discussion on the positive role of chaos in the Indic world as compared to the West’s abhorrence of it. The book explains Hegel’s deep-rooted fear of chaos and uncertainty. He privileged order in Western aesthetics, ethics, religions, society, and politics and classified Oriental traditions into “pantheism”, “polytheism”, and “monotheism” as “world historical categories”. Hegel developed a system of equivalences to assign relative meaning and value to each culture, thereby defining the contours of the “West” and the “Rest.’ These became the conceptual tools for epistemic subjugation of the non-West in the name of order. The dharmic worldview is more relaxed about chaos, seeing it as a creative catalyst built into the cosmos to balance out order that could otherwise become stultifying.

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Independent scholar, Montreal
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Rajiv has revealed the Rupa of what the world is going to be. He has performed seminal public service for those who believe in the sovereignty of an individual human being. We thank you for that. Throughout history, the greatest crime against a human being has been organ harvesting. But Rajiv has explained that the most dangerous organ harvesting that is going on is the harvesting of our mind and it is happening unconsciously without us realizing it. I predict that this book will be the most talked-about in 2021.

Rakesh Kaul
Vice Chairman – Indo-American Arts Council
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Let me compliment you for writing this book at this stage of the game and discussing this very important question in the context of Five battlegrounds. I think it is a great contribution and I am sure it will trigger very important conversations in society. Certainly, the battlegrounds which you have defined are actually a lot of food for thought for several stakeholders in society, and I do hope that a lot of debate gets triggered as a result of this book which will be good for humanity at large.

Dr. Anil Kakodkar, Padma Vibhushan
Chairman of Atomic Energy Commission of India, Retired
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I think various forces are at play. Anyone who understands this, it becomes his Swadharma. So I think it is your Swadharma, it is my Swadharma, that we talk about it, we do what we can and unless we begin with the dystopian view, we will not be galvanized into action. So I salute you for raising the alarm by stating those 5 battlegrounds, catching hold of people and telling them and saying that you got to do something, not because the world will necessarily go bad, but because it is a real risk and we must fight with all our might to resist it.

Vallabh Bhanshali
Chairman, ENAM, Philanthropist and Spiritualist
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I have not seen any previous book on this subject written in the world context and of course in the context of India, China, America, and other nations and what impact AI will have on other societies. I think it will be very well-read as your other books. I appreciate and admire it. Also, there will be many critics arguing on both sides. So this will generate a good discussion for society, for many people. I am very happy that while we are getting so many advances in Artificial Intelligence, you are taking the challenge of thinking about what the battlegrounds of the future will be, and how nations will perform. We have seen in the World Wars and other previous wars, that it is always the technologies that contribute to the win or loss. We see a similar thing happening now. And you are taking this issue in this book head-on, as usual very head-on in this kind of a thing. You have raised the five battlegrounds that are very important to see from the perspective of Technology, Geopolitics, humanity, and what impact AI will have on them. I'm sure that this book will raise many questions to our social scientists, our thinkers, our economists, and political scientists. They should understand the great impact that AI will have on all sectors, and you have taken five battlegrounds to look at them from a holistic perspective, which has not been done before. I am sure that this book will inspire, particularly policymakers, and people like me to take up larger issues. We must create tomorrow's frontier organizations.

Vijay Bhatkar, Padma Bhushan
Father of India’s Supercomputer. Chancellor of Nalanda University
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This is a long-overdue and credible analysis of AI technology and its impacts on socio-political systems, as well as the future of civilization, especially the nations striving to prosper. Rajiv Malhotra's resilience, hard work, and sincerity deserves our collective appreciation for giving us a book that is truly eye-opening, and one that bares the follies of unfettered obsession with technologies that can disrupt or endanger large sections of humanity.

Yogacharya Dhananjaya Kumar
Economist, Author, Educator
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This book is not only an interesting take on the pros and cons of broad topics related to AI and assisting technologies but very thought-provoking from a human psychology perspective. The book is the first of its kind that I am aware of discusses many facets of AI's impact, such as behavioral changes, social media manipulations, socio-political influence, world domination, and its effects on developing nations like India in great depth. Being an AI practitioner, I like the fact that the book has been written for both the non-experts and inquisitive technologists alike!

Dr. Uday Kamath, Ph.D.
Chief Administrative Officer at Digital Reasoning and author of several AI Books
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Rajiv Malhotra’s brilliant book spells out for the first time the biggest Pavlovian subjugation that humanity has been trapped within. The clear and present danger to India and Indians has been enunciated lucidly. A 2021 must read for the public and policy makers alike.

Usha Chaudhary
Corporate Executive, COO, CFO, CTO, Board Member and Senior Advisor
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The most difficult type of game is the one you don't know you are in. AI and the Future of Power: 5 Battlegrounds allows you to understand that there is an AI-driven game already underway and that you are in the game.

Ken Harvey
Former NFL Player, Businessman, and Changemaker
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Like most scholars in the Social Sciences, and just like most Hindu activists, I have been jolted into the world of tomorrow by Rajiv Malhotra's latest book on Artificial Intelligence. His prior books on Sanskrit or the Breaking India forces contained new insights on familiar topics, but this here is, for us, a totally new frontline.

Koenraad Elst
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This book takes the battle for Sanskrit into the territory of the English-speaking public. It makes a convincing case that English is deficient in its ability to express the profound meanings of the shastras for which Sanskrit words are necessary. By following the authors’ advice, English will become enriched with key Sanskrit terms that are non-translatable. As English has assimilated non-translatable terms from virtually all major world languages, and takes pride in doing so, there is no reason why it should hesitate to do so for Sanskrit, a Classical language very much alive today. I congratulate the authors for their innovative thinking and bold initiative.

Swami Govindadev Giri
Trustee and Treasurer, Shri Ram Janmbhoomi Teerth Kshetra
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As an avid student of Rajiv Malhotra’s combative intellectual journey, I was anticipating this book. In the characteristic Indian Dharma Rakshak Parampara – defending Indian civilization over millennia by both shastra and shaastra - in the lineage of shhastra exegetes such as Yaska, Adi Shankara, Guru Gorakhnath, Ramanujacarya, Hemacandracarya, Gyaneshwar, the Sikh Gurus, Sri Aurobindo and Swami Vivekananda, Rajiv Malhotra is a one-man army to take on Western thought. After the 19th century honeymoon with Sanskrit-Hindu intellectual heritage, Western thought has had the political agenda of subverting Hinduism and Hindu culture by the Macaulayised assault on its texts and thoughts. Like a seasoned strategist, Malhotra began from the outer circle and has moved into the conceptual garbhagrha of the Western methodology with this book, Sanskrit Non-Translatables. This comes after his earlier works articulating the Hindu Civilization as the alternative (Being Different), exposing the adversary’s agenda of fracturing this alternative (Breaking India), counterpoising it with Hinduism’s deep conceptual integrity (Indra’s Net), dispossessing the adversary of the ‘weapon’ they had tried to appropriate (The Battle for Sanskrit) and now the heart of the matter – the counterattack on the studied subversion of the conceptual frame of Hindu civilizational thought by ‘Christianising’ the core categories through motivated interpretive translations. This book takes fifty-four indisputably foundational concepts, arranges them in a fourfold typology that moves from terra firma to terra cognita to the cosmos, and contests the irrationality, the untenability and the ‘design’ of their widely employed English equivalents. The demolition of this conceptual subversion sets free the autonomy of the Indian thought and mind. With its well-thought out prefatory essays, this is a book that every English-educated Indian must read to further ‘decolonise’ his mind and stand up to the hegemony of Western thought.

Dr. Kapil Kapoor
Chairman, Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla
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Rajiv Malhotra carries his battle for Sanskrit a step further in this book. Short of having Sanskrit itself as the language of pan-Indian intellectual discourse, we must insist that as long as English continues to play this role, Sanskrit words should be used in English on account of their unique semantic valence so that a whole culture and an entire worldview is not lost in translation.

Prof. Arvind Sharma
McGill University
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Sanskrit Non-Translatables by Rajiv Malhotra and Satyanarayana Dasa central concepts of Sanatana Dharma, and brings attention to the many errors and distortions that have been introduced by the use of English words that do not quite do justice to the Sanskrit originals. It makes a powerful case for what it calls the Sanskritization of the English language by introducing key Sanskrit loanwords into English vocabulary and keeping them untranslated. This is a bold and innovative approach that deserves to be pursued in parallel with teaching Sanskrit itself. It is nothing short of spreading Vedic sanskriti into the English-speaking world by penetrating their minds with powerful Sanskrit terms.

Dr. Subhash Kak
Author of Matter and Mind, The Gods Within, and other books
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This is an indispensable book addressing the difficult situation today that Sanskrit terms pregnant with meaning cannot be translated into any foreign language; yet we have to make them understandable to people of other cultures who want to learn Sanskrit from the point of view of jigisha rather than jijnasa. The authors have worked hard to collect relevant material from various sources to prove that the English translations of many Sanskrit terms are false and misleading.

Dr. Korada Subrahmanyam
Author of Theory of Language: Oriental & Occidental, and other books
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This book is an eye-opener and argues a highly original and audacious thesis to enrich the English language by adding Sanskrit words that have no English equivalent. These unique words bring profound meanings discovered by the ancient rishi-s. For English language speakers, it will not only enhance their vocabulary but also introduce them to entirely new concepts for understanding of reality.

Dr. Vijay Bhatkar
Chancellor, Nalanda University
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At a time when Hinduism studies are under the full and tight control of Western Indologists (via their university courses and libraries, and journals and conferences), this book comes as a timely reminder of the extensive damage being wrought by this coterie, none wherein is a practising Hindus, after all. Ransacking the vast and hoary Hindu legacy, vital concepts of Yoga, Vedanta, and kindred fields are taken over by them, and exploited without compunction for crass commercial ends, labelling them first with fancy nomenclature, coupled with a denial/dethronement/desecration of their very sources. Caricature translations that divest the Sanskrit words (dharma and saṁskāra, for instance) of their sanctity and nuances are rampant. By calling out the Western games of systematic sabotage and subversion and insidious inculturation leading to cultural genocide and digestion (e.g., "Christian Yoga"), Rajiv Malhotra (in collaboration with Sri Satyanarayana Dasa) has laid bare the damages wrought by such dilution, decontextualisation, and distortion through vapid English translations thatdo violence to the subtleties, rich content and technical nature of over 50 key Sanskrit vocables. The work Sanskrit Non-Translatables exposes how facile and popular equations - such as Om = Amen, Svarga = heaven, saṁskāra = ritual, Hanumān = monkey god, dāsa = slave, śāstra = scripture, and dhyāna = meditation - are by no means full and faithful renderings. There was a desideratum to alert alike the lay and the scholarly Hindu, and this book effectively accomplishes the task it has set out for. More writings of this genre are indeed the need of the hour. All Indian libraries - public as well as private - must possess a copy of this book.

K S Kannan
Sant Rajinder Singh Ji Maharaj Chair Professor, IIT-Madras
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This is a bold book, daring to take up some of the basic but unexamined assumptions of modern Western Indology.

Arvind Sharma
Birks Professor of Comparative Religion, McGill University
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For the past sixty years my primary activity has been to interpret Sanskrit and sanskriti. Indeed, Malhotra and I are sailing in the same boat. This book provokes a debate between the ‘insiders’ and ‘outsiders’ of our heritage. It exposes that many outsiders pretend to be insiders, but their hidden agenda is to convince ignorant Hindus that the Vedas are myths and that the traditional claims are nonsensical. They pretend to know our traditions even better than our highest exponents. Unfortunately, most insiders are either blissfully unaware of these subversive projects or are living in isolation and afraid of debating them. Malhotra’s work is designed after the traditional method of purva-paksha and uttarapaksha which makes it very interesting and thought provoking. I strongly recommend this work to all Indologists, traditional pandits, historians, philosophers and ordinary seekers.

Recipient of President’s Award, former Head of Department of Sanskrit and Dean of Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, University of Jodhpur; presently Chairman, J.R. Rajasthan Sanskrit University, Jaipur.
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This book calls upon traditional scholars to get out of their silos, and calls upon opponents to join the conversation as interlocutors. It is a remarkable work of systematic argumentation that provides a forceful defence against the onslaught of Western scholarship. Serious scholars will benefit from its remarkable insights, boldness and uprightness. I highly recommend it as a preparation for strategic debates.

Chairman, Indian Council of Philosophical Research, HRD Ministry, Government of India; Former Head of Department of Philosophy, Delhi University.
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Rajiv Malhotra belongs to that rare breed of Indian scholars who have been working in the area of Indic civilization for a long time. In this incisive and exhaustive work he brings forth the critical role of Sanskrit, and ignites a meaningful discussion on a long neglected area. I wish the book all success.

Professor, Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore.
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This book makes excellent reading and uses an analytical method to compare the rival positions of Western and traditional Indian camps. The author has done a yeoman’s service by exposing the scholars who are hijacking the pristine glory and contemporary utility of Sanskrit language, literature and culture.

Member of Central Advisory Board of Education, Government of India; former President, Association of Indian Universities; former Vice-Chancellor, Kavi Kulaguru Kalidas Sanskrit University, Maharashtra.
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This book rips through the fortress of American Indology and its insinuations that Sanskrit traditions are socially abusive and are driven by the political motives of the elite. The author is devastatingly impressive in the way he exposes the prevailing hegemonic discourse of the West and the role of the large army of Indian sepoys who have been recruited as mercenaries. Rajiv Malhotra has been one of the most effective kshatriyas in the intellectual kurukshetra of today. Every traditional scholar and practitioner of Vedic traditions must read it and join his home team.

Former Rector and Professor of English and Sanskrit Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University; Chief Editor, Encyclopedia of Hinduism; Chief Editor, Encyclopedia of Indian Poetics.
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Westerners consider themselves very progressive when meddling in Indian affairs. The values they now defend, such as egalitarianism and feminism, are different from what prevailed in the West during the colonial age, but the underlying spirit of “civilizing the savages” is the same. They now try to wrest control of Sanskrit studies from the “oppressive, reactionary” traditionalists, and increasingly succeed with the help of native informers eager for the status and money that Western academics can confer. Once upon a time, the colonizers brought prized artworks to museums in the West, claiming that these were safer there than in the care of the irresponsible natives. Now, their successors try to carry away the adhikara (prerogative) to interpret Sanskrit texts, so as to make Hindus look at their own tradition through anti-Hindu lenses. For the first time, Rajiv Malhotra analyses the stakes involved for Hindu civilization, which risks losing control over the backbone of its historical identity, and the power equation in the production of knowledge concerning Sanskrit and the dharmic tradition. He proposes a research programme that Hindus will need to carry out if they are to face this sophisticated onslaught. This path-breaking book maps a battlefield hitherto unknown to most besieged insiders.

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This book provides extensive ground work for traditional scholars, sadhaks, writers and awakened minds to understand the serious threats against Indian civilization. The author’s fearless exposition is driven by his indomitable will, persistence and vigour, long swadhyaya, and cool and patient mind. Works of this calibre appear rarely in a generation. Future scholars will be grateful to Rajiv Malhotra for this wakeup call to retain the sacredness of Sanskrit and its association with Indian life.

Filmmakers of History of Yoga
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Rajiv’s work is a timely response to the discourse by western academics, and exposes the need for Indian scholars with a deep understanding of our languages and culture, working with original texts, to counter the flawed narrative and create an Indian narrative.

Chairman, Aarin Capital Partners
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Having gone through the pages of this book, I highly recommend that every traditional scholar and Western Indologist should study it and engage the issues it raises. The author provides a solid response to the prejudices against Indian civilization, and his remarkably systematic approach is commendable.

Vice-Chancellor, Shri Lal Bahadur Shastri Rashtriya Sanskrit Vidyapeeth
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While an army of Western scholars has been hurling criticisms and throwing challenges against Indian heritage for two centuries, there has hardly been a commensurate response from the heirs of our heritage. This is largely due to gaps in knowledge at our end: the Sanskrit pandits are often ignorant of nuanced English and the Western frameworks and paradigms; and the modern westernised Indians are culturally illiterate and lack the competence to respond. This book bridges the gaps and enables traditional pandits as well as the Indian literati to comprehend Western Indology from an Indian perspective. It also exposes how westerners have manoeuvred by capturing Indian resources to perpetuate their biased verdicts. The book makes it possible to have dialogues as equals. The responsibility now lies squarely on traditional Indian scholars to take on the issues between insiders and outsiders which this book has framed. Rajiv Malhotra’s contribution consists of this valuable role as a prime initiator of this dialogue.

Former Director, Karnataka Samskrit University, Bangalore
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The Battle for Sanskrit has immense potential to equip and arm Vedic insiders with the required knowledge not just to battle the outsiders but, more importantly, to preserve their own sanskriti based on its indigenous principles. I humbly request all Sanskrit lovers, scholars and practitioners of Vedic traditions to read this book and join the suggested ‘home team’ for serious intellectual exchanges on the issues concerned.

Director, Sri Aurobindo Foundation for Indian Culture, Sri Aurobindo Society, Pondicherry
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The Battle for Sanskrit wrests open a main gate to the predominantly western constructed citadel known as Indology. Who can remain silent or, worse, collaborate, in the face of groundless allegations that Indian elites are promulgating Sanskrit and its traditions for political gain, thus perpetuating a so-called Sanskrit-born social abuse? As the linguistic key to the highest wisdom of humanity, Sanskrit studies must escape captivity enforced by academic guardians who over-zealously wield the club of Western theoretical methods. The author, besides exposing the colonial baggage still colouring the western approach to India’s Sanskrit heritage, also shines his torch, in fairness, upon the large platoon of Indian sepoys colluding as mercenaries to help keep the Sanskrit potentiality in check. A salient point this book offers us is that the Western approach to Sanskrit is often weighed down by “political philology”—cultural biases, hegemonic filters. Superbly presenting the positive correction to this imbalance, the author advocates our seeing through the lens of “sacred philology.

Spiritual Leader and Author of Searching for Vedic India
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This is an important book to ignite the much needed conversation on Sanskrit, its past and its future. Rajiv Malhotra opens a new ground by evaluating what Western Indologists have been writing about our traditions. It is time for the scholars to wake up and give responses impartially. I commend the author for arguing against the view that Sanskrit is oppressive or dead. Every serious scholar of Indology should read this book and join the intellectual discourse on our heritage.

Chair, Special Centre for Sanskrit Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi
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Rajiv Malhotra deserves kudos for his insightful book, The Battle for Sanskrit, which is a much-needed intervention that gives insiders a seat at the table as equals. Rather than Western Indologists and their Indian supporters becoming defensive, they should welcome this book as an opportunity for honest exchanges. The issues raised here are too important to be ignored any longer. The direction that this battle takes can have far-reaching consequences on approaches to science, technology, social studies and economics. The pompous edifice of Western Indology that has been built over a long time will not crumble overnight. It is now up to the traditional scholars and practitioners to heed the author’s call and develop solid intellectual responses (uttara-paksha) to the challenges.

Chairman, Arvind Mafatlal Group of Companies; Chairman, BAIF Development Research Foundation
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This book’s meticulously gathered information, and its coherent arguments presented in a lucid and engaging style, will easily make our traditional and modern scholars realise that they can no longer rely on Western scholarly endeavours, however profound and painstaking they may be, for achieving a resurgence of Indian civilization. A book that absolutely must be read, by anyone who cares for the resurgence of Bharatiya-samskriti, which is deeply embedded in Sanskrit!

Professor, IIT Bombay
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Sanskrit can no longer be the concern of only the traditional pandits. Modern methods of analysis, interpretation and communication have to be brought in and we have to rebuild our own universities – inspired as much by Nalanda as by Cambridge – with science, philosophy, humanities, in fact all knowledge, created, pursued and taught on the same campus. As an unabashed lover of Sanskrit, I welcome this debate that Rajiv Malhotra has brought out into the open about the status of Sanskrit studies in the world, including in particular its homeland, India. This book should trigger a discussion on the scientific qualities of Sanskrit, in particular the tradition’s emphasis on empiricism, and on the similarities and differences between Indian and Western approaches to knowledge.

Eminent aerospace scientist and recipient of Padma Vibhushan
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The knowledge system which has developed in relation to ancient India since the middle of the eighteenth century was (and still is) dominated by Western scholarship. The so-called consensus in this field was essentially a matter of agreement among Western scholars, with Indians playing only a subsidiary role. The situation should have begun to change in the light of the new power equations since the mid-twentieth century. The fact that it has not yet significantly done so is due to several factors operating in the background, the most important of which is the deplorable unwillingness among Western scholars to take note of the viewpoints of an increasing number of Indian professionals. It is basically a confrontational situation, if not that of war. The Western academic institutions dealing with India are full of ‘experts’ who are basically anti-India. Rajiv Malhotra, a well-known independent scholar, has long been known for his deep perception of this problem and his clear, well-argued analysis and criticism of it. I have always been an avid reader of his columns and books. In this volume he throws new light on the power network behind Sanskrit studies in the West. This is a book which will long be cherished by the rational elements among the Indian and Western Indologists.

Emeritus Professor of South Asian Archaeology, Cambridge University
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Rajiv has given us a new pair of spectacles through which to understand and see our own traditions. He has done this with meticulous scholarship. With devastating bluntness he has smashed the distorted lenses which were fabricated by so called scholars abroad and here, and through which to our shame we had been seeing our religions and traditions. So it is a dual contribution he has played. The book is full of facts and documentation. But even more so, it is suffused with very important argumentation. It is not citation mongering, just quotation from here and there or just alleging conspiracy theories. It is an argument that he gives us as to why a certain proposition which you and I have taken innocently is being advanced. Many scholars say things in complicated ways; very often they say it in such a soft way; they are still looking for careers or acclaim in the very circles that need to be exposed. Rajiv told me that his formula and attitude in this matter was that we must be, to use his word, ‘un-ignorable’. It is a wonderful word. But this does not mean abuse or just a torrent of strong words. It means that the kind of scholarship and documentation which he has provided. An important reason why he is an example to us is that he is truly independent. He is not dependent on any institution. He is not dependent for acclaim from an audience. Such true independence of any individual scholar is an example which we should always bear in mind because too often in India I find that too many of us look for institutional purchase from which to do some work. But the great work that has been done by scholars has often been by individual scholar working absolutely alone, unaided and often unrecognized on both sides. So we should take heart and follow the example of a person like him who laboring alone has been able to make a big impact. I know from scholars in the West that they are apprehensive if he walks into a room in a conference on philosophy or religion or Indic studies. This book shows that many scholars have really been sort of missionaries and muftis, and how they have been insinuating certain notions in us. Rajiv documents their tendentious scholarship and the length to which they did go. He documents so well the echo effect they create. “Woh kuch likhenge, yeha quote hoga, kyunki ab Indians bhi wohi kehe rahe hai, ya Hindu scholar bhi wohi kehe rahe hain, to woh Hindu scholar ko quote kar kar apni cheese ko aur bhi reinforce kar lete hain.” The book was a particular education for me because I always focused only on the Marxist historians and felt that they were regurgitating or swallowing or vomiting what had been written by some Soviet historians. But I now realize after reading Rajiv’s books that actually they were swallowing and vomiting what many of these so called Western scholars in America, Austria or Germany had written with a purposeful agenda. Rajiv has explained that Hinduism and Buddhism are the closest religions to the spirit and substance of science. Just as the goal of science is the understanding of outer reality, its methods is experimentation and peered review, its means is the laboratory, so also Indic religions are the science of the inner world. Their means is personal direct experience, and their peer review is unending. That is how they keep evolving. This method is the scientific method of empirical verification through direct personal experience. Here a very good phrase Rajiv uses is that our ongoing evolution is through the living laboratory of these sages. They looked inside their own mind and came up with great insights. So time is on our side and we should work on this matter and practice our religion with great confident. If something requires reformulation, we should reformulate and say yes, we have reformulated it because this is the formulation required for this time. If we need to endow old words with new meaning we should do that with confidence. I am sure after reading Rajiv’s book you will have a little contempt for these tendentious scholars. The main thing to do is to succeed. Nothing succeeds like success. Not one of these scholars will fabricate and propagate about China the type of nonsense that he does about India. China has become strong, and these scholars know if they write things about China they will lose their livelihood because they will lose their access to their sources. So the important thing is to succeed and then everything else will follow. One final reason for being confident is that because of the work of Ram Swarup, Sitaram Goel, Koenaard Elt, David Frawley, and Rajiv Malhotra the corpus is now reaching a critical mass. So, that we can think that within few years we will have a library for India and a library of India. The prerequisite is that we should be like Rajiv Malhotra, we should know our tradition, we should know our religion. The reason on account of which this kind of fabrication has prevailed for so long is that we have not known our tradition, we have not known our religion and we have seen only through the distorted lens which was fabricated by these tendentious scholars, missionaries and muftis. This book is a must for every Indian. We must see our tradition through the spectacles that Rajiv Malhotra has constructed for us.

Arun Shourie
Author, intellectual and political leader
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Hinduism in the 21st century is a global religion like at no other time in its past. To some extent, this phenomenon is itself a consequence of India’s recent history as a British colony and the challenges faced by the adherents of its various Sampradayas. In particular, the ancient tradition of Advaita Vedanta, with its twin legacy of scholastic philosophizing and experiential teaching, has come to the forefront as one that speaks for the broadest spectrum of Hindus. This is in no small measure due to the activity of Swami Vivekananda and those who followed and extended his work. In turn, this poses severe challenges to academic scholarship and its disciplines that are rooted in an intellectual tradition that is rooted in European history. The world of academic scholarship is confronted with a religion that has no one historical founder, yet has a central body of scripture, which has been interpreted and experienced by multiple people through history. It often seems that academia struggles to come to terms with the Hindu phenomenon, both in India and abroad, because it lacks categories to adequately describe the fluid boundaries that exist between distinct traditions in this eternal Dharma. It is against this backdrop that Rajiv Malhotra’s work gains tremendous importance. As in his previous publications, Rajiv does not hesitate to examine the academic output with a critical eye and to ask scholars very tough questions. Some of these have probably crossed the minds of thinking Hindus in the past, but have not been articulated well or with the same force for various reasons. The moment has come, however, when Hindus need to reclaim their own agency, in order to think and speak for themselves, defining their own terms and bringing their own rich cultural heritage to the table, rather than remaining satisfied with the limiting and often distorting lens of academic descriptions. Rajiv has taken on one of the key distortions prevalent in academia today. This is the supposedly critical scholarly view that completely divorces Advaita Vedanta from Yoga, casting their close relationship as an illegitimate marriage affected only in recent times, and largely due to Swami Vivekananda’s “neo-Vedantic” vision. It has always been a matter of surprise to me that such views are championed by scholars like Rambachan, who ought to know the history of Advaita thought better, in both pre-Sankaran and post-Sankaran times. Rajiv’s work needs to be taken seriously both by those whose profession lies within academia and by those Hindus who are interested in the future of their Dharma Indeed, anyone who considers a sustainable future for human civilization to be desirable, needs to read through Rajiv’s work carefully.

Vidyasankar Sundaresan
Vedanta scholar
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Indra’s Net strongly opposes the work of a prominent group of scholars in the academy and beyond who claim 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. Paul Hacker, Malhotra explains, was the first academic scholar to develop the thesis of ‘neo-Hinduism’ charging that ‘neo-Hindus’ had disingenuously adopted Western ideas and expressed them using Sanskrit. He saw Advaita Vedanta as a world-negating and impractical worldview but contended that Vivekananda saw this flaw in Vedanta and intentionally re-engineered Advaita Vedanta to make it look world-affirming and hence attractive to Westerners. Malhotra is quite justified in calling Hacker the father of the subversive thesis of ‘neo-Hinduism.’ Indeed, it was Hacker who first proposed that the practical attitude toward non-Christian religions should consist mainly in what the Church Fathers called chresis, meaning theological utilization. Utilization connotes: (1) that the assimilated elements are made subservient to an end different from the context from which they were taken, (2) that they can be taken over because some truth is contained or hidden in them, (3) that they must be reoriented in order that the truth shines forth unimpeded (see Mehta, J.L. 1985. The Will to Interpret and India’s Dreaming Spirit. In India and the West: The Problem of Understanding, 179-201, Chico, CA: Scholars Press). Hacker used Indology as a field of specialized research (Wissenschaft) for investigating alien Indian texts for any useful material they might contain. An Indic text, Hacker claimed, does not answer us like a partner in a conversation because irrespective of what question the interpreter approaches it with, it always says the same; making the encounter a ‘static’ affair. Dynamism is introduced into it, he told Raimundo Panikkar, only when the interpreter takes up a stand vis-a-vis the text, outside its heathen context, exposes its ‘demonic’ ambiguity and barrenness in that soil and then, by an act of chresis, transplants any grains of logos-seed he may pick up there into the [Christian] soil where alone they can blossom and bear fruit—in the garden of the Church (Mehta 1985: 183-184). Such a quest for universality, completeness, and self-sufficiency in the West goes back to, and would seem rooted in, the thinking of the Church Fathers and in the explicitly formulated principle of chresis, which Hacker commended as the central motivating principle in a religious hermeneutics of the non-Christian ‘other.’ For this reason, Malhotra’s very original contribution lies in demonstrating how many of the precious ideas and concepts have been systematically removed from Hinduism (using the concept of chresis) and securely lodged in Western garb leaving the original Hindu sources to atrophy or making them appear obsolete. He has coined the term “digestion” for this syndrome. Chapter 12 and the Conclusion of IN articulate this syndrome with pertinent examples and discuss the existential danger this poses to Hinduism. The internet now offers potential for the dissemination of the ageless wisdom as recorded in Hindu philosophical teachings in an unbiased and creative way that will appeal to the moderns spread across the globe. Malhotra explains with great acumen how the Vedic metaphor of Indra’s Net first traveled into the very heart of Buddhist philosophy and then on to the West. Using two age-old Sanskrit terms viz. astika and nastika in a novel way, Malhotra shows how persons of different faiths can interact in mutually rewarding ways. He believes that those ‘surfing Indra’s net’ will find an open space in which adherents of all faiths can examine each other’s basic tenets and make any necessary adjustments in order to share the multi-civilizational ecosystem in which we moderns live.

Shrinivas Tilak
Independent research scholar based in Montreal, Canada
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Dear Sir Rajiv Malhotraji Thank you for giving me a copy of Indra's Net. I have been going through your book Indra's Net where you have put stupendous effort to assemble information from a variety of sources to defend the philosophical unity of the various schools of thoughts of Hinduism against the sustained onslaught of some misinformed and some malicious academics both from the west and from within India. These academics create an unhealthy and hostile environment wherein sincere students get confused with these superficialities parading as scholarship'. Dr. Rambachan and people of such schools of thought lack the depth and understanding of an honestly striving mumukshu and a saadhaka to experience and comprehend the universal truths of Sanatana Dharma.Your efforts should be commended for having brought out the underestimation of (and possibly undermining of) the reality of how deeply Swami Vivekananda was rooted in and aligned with traditional hinduism in its varied forms found in many Adhyaatmic centers across India. These academics seem to retrofit their interpretations of Hindu thought into their deeply entrenched notions of an inferior civilization implicit in western mindsets. The dangers of such so called scholarship which has colonized many academic centers within India as well as societal decision makers is that it continues to perpetuate a dishonest intellectual enquiry in Indic studies. These formulations of so called Neo-Hinduism are bogus given that they go against the reality of the continuity of these practised Dharmic traditions over the ages across the country and therefore, seek to only serve vested interests. In addition, these are continuing to damage and threaten the very survival of varied Hindu Dharmic traditions across our country. In this context, your book Indra's Net is a very impactful contribution to counter the insidious attacks on the philosophical unity of Sanatana Dharma apart from laying bare the falsehoods of the pernicious arguments against Swami Vivekananda. I fully appreciate your efforts as well as those of others in strongly defending the integral unity of the various schools of thoughts within the broad fabric of Hindu Dharma the understanding of which comes out clearly as experiential validations only for the practicing travelers along the path: and such academics who care to understand it with all honesty. Yours in the service of the Lord,

Swami Harshananda
Ramakrishna Mission
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This highly original book leads its reader on an epic journey of self-discovery especially for those of us in the West. A fitting and major response to Samuel Huntington’s position on “who are we” as the West; one that can perhaps best be provided by someone reversing the gaze on the West through a non-Western lens. This deserves to be one of the defining books of the age.

Author of The Eurocentric Conception of World Politics; Professor of Politics and International Relations at the University of Sheffield
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This is a memorable book asking us to put aside modernity’s tired categories and lazy comparisons, and at last to take seriously the Indian perspective on history and our world today. Being Different is here a necessary virtue, essential to understanding our neighbours and ourselves. Much reflection and many a good argument should follow upon Malhotra’s unique achievement.

Society of Jesus, and Parkman Professor of Divinity, Harvard University
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This is the first book of its kind looking at the West from India’s dharmic standpoint, and is certain to provoke a major debate for years to come. Rajiv Malhotra’s writings have established him as a “different”, extremely original and robust thinker of our times. In the present volume, he forcefully challenges what he terms the West’s “self-serving universalism” which has been superimposed as a “template” for all nations and peoples. He succeeds in stimulating the mind, stirring the thinking and making readers sit up and join him in his alternative approaches.

Emeritus Professor of History, University of California, Los Angeles
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Being Different is a provocative and important book for two distinct reasons. First, the book is one of the few attempts by an Indian intellectual to challenge seriously the assumptions and presuppositions of the field of India and/or South Asian studies tout ensemble, including not only the work of European and American scholarship but as well the neocolonialist, postmodernist and subaltern ressentiment so typical of contemporary Indian intellectuals. Second, and perhaps of greater significance, is Malhotra’s attempt to analyse the meaning and significance of Indic culture from within the indigenous presuppositions of India’s own intellectual traditions, including the ontological claims of Indic cosmology, the epistemology of yogic experience, the unique Indic appreciation for complexity, and the nuances of Sanskritic expression. The book will be controversial on many different levels and will undoubtedly elicit rigorous critical response.

Rabindranath Tagore Professor Emeritus, Indiana University, Bloomington, and Professor Emeritus, Religious Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara
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Malhotra writes with passion from within an avowedly dharmic stance, undermining the attempts to domesticate and expropriate Indian traditions in a process of interreligious dialogue that is ultimately based on a Western cosmological framework. This book is essential reading for Western scholars. It espouses an “audacity of difference” that defends the distinctiveness of Indian thought and reveals the chauvinism of much Western thought in its encounters with other cultures.

Professor of Divinity, Trinity College in the University of Toronto
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This book is a “must read” for those who care about India and its future.

Professor of English, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi
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Honest, provocative and wide-ranging, this book gives us (westerners) a rare opportunity to see ourselves through the lens of another worldview. It cuts to the heart of the problems created by Christian beliefs about unique historical revelation, and by the West’s consistent investment in a set of linear historical narratives purporting to offer universal salvation but fuelled by particular western needs and anxieties. Informed by postmodernism, but moving beyond it, the book levels the playing field for a genuine encounter between East and West and raises issues that any serious revision of Christian theology must address.

University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, and Infinity Foundation
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Rajiv Malhotra’s insistence on preserving difference with mutual respect – not with mere “tolerance” – is even more pertinent today because the notion of a single universalism is being propounded. There can be no single universalism, even if it assimilates or, in the author’s words, “digests”, elements from other civilizations.

Independent scholar and Member of Rajya Sabha
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Many Indian spiritual leaders, lacking a profound knowledge of their own culture, and feeling inferior to the West, try to respond to the Western challenge by showing how Indian and Western religions are the same. Rajiv Malhotra’s work is a kind of yajna that reverses the gaze upon the West through the lens of Indian categories. This process is traditionally called purva paksha, and in Rajiv’s work it is given a new mission. Rajiv has devised the very interesting metaphor of digestion to explain how the dharmic traditions are being disassembled into parts for digestion into the belly of Western culture. Being Different shows how the West’s history-centrism drives it into claims of exclusiveness; this causes anxiety over differences which it seeks to resolve through projects of digestion in order to obliterate whatever seems challenging.

Founder of Jiva Institute of Vedic Studies, Vrindavan
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What I found particularly informative and original in Being Different is the discussion on the positive role of chaos in the Indic world as compared to the West’s abhorrence of it. The book explains Hegel’s deep-rooted fear of chaos and uncertainty. He privileged order in Western aesthetics, ethics, religions, society, and politics and classified Oriental traditions into “pantheism”, “polytheism”, and “monotheism” as “world historical categories”. Hegel developed a system of equivalences to assign relative meaning and value to each culture, thereby defining the contours of the “West” and the “Rest.’ These became the conceptual tools for epistemic subjugation of the non-West in the name of order. The dharmic worldview is more relaxed about chaos, seeing it as a creative catalyst built into the cosmos to balance out order that could otherwise become stultifying.

Independent scholar, Montreal
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With stunning honesty, Being Different alerts the reader to the grave dangers of a difference-negating “sameness” that is marketed worldwide by secular and religious streams in Western culture. This is a very important and highly accessible book in the discourse on the interaction between civilizations.

Executive Director, Confluence School of Faith Studies; co-editor, Hermeneutics and Hindu Thought: Towards a Fusion of Horizons
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Being Different is a highly successful attempt in exploring the major differences between Indian and Western worldviews, metaphysics, cosmologies and philosophies which have not previously been adequately appreciated by scholars and spiritual seekers.

Director, Sri Aurobindo Foundation for Indian Culture, Pondicherry
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'Snakes in the Ganga is a path-breaking book. I urge every Indian with a genuine concern and love for the country to read this breathtakingly original book and organize a countermovement in response to these Breaking India forces. Being pro-active is more important than re-active.'

Prof. R. Vaidyanathan
Professor of Finance(Retd.), Indian Institute Of Management Bangalore
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'Once in a generation, a book comes along that has the possibility of changing the course of a civilization. Snakes in the Ganga is that book. It offers profound insights on the dangerous trajectory of Critical Social Justice theories and untested moral orthodoxies born in the West when exported to other cultures. Snakes in the Ganga is our best hope of pushing back on illiberalism, re-centering truth as our North star, and changing the course of our civilization.'

Prof. Peter Boghossian
Founding Faculty Fellow, University of Austin
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I encourage every IITian to understand these attacks on our institution, meritocracy (excellence) and its serious implications. This is an important book for us to help publicize the greatness of the IIT system. The authors deserve commendation for illuminating the issue of the growing criticism against the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), with clear and persuasive language. It is crucial for us to take action against any attempts to tarnish the reputation of these esteemed institutions.’

Ron Gupta
President, PanIIT USA, an umbrella organization of all 23 IITs
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"The changing times and challenges for the Ten-Headed Ravanas — a must study for all those interested in the contemporary issues of India's history/society and politics."

R. Vaidyanathan
Prof. of Finance (retd.), IIM Bangalore
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"This anthology is special because most of these young scholars have been mentored by Rajiv Malhotra over a long period. Thankfully, a new generation of scholars is ready to carry forward the pioneering work in civilizational studies."

Author, Founder-Manushi
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A unique change worth taking note of is that humans are becoming machine-like in an endeavor to make machines human-like. Soon both would compete and this combination would dictate global behavior. Threats devoid of emotions in hu-machine (a combination of human and machine) would need careful responses and regulating mechanisms. Those who do not care to adapt shall be first recipients of such intimidation. … the greed for speed will encounter a pushback by nature. Humans need new definitions of … hope, compassion, and happiness to program machines of the future.

Lt. Gen. P.J.S. Pannu


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


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Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  • #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

Introduction/ Preface


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.

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.

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Question: Can you tell us more about the first few prominent books that made you aware of the problem?

Besides Kali’s Child, another book that caught my attention was ‘Ganesa: Lord of Obstacles, Lord of Beginnings.’ Its author, Paul Courtright, describes the trunk of Ganesa as a limp phallus, his broken tusk as castration, and even the staff of a brahmachari during the sacred thread ceremony as a ‘detachable penis.’ There is a wholesale distortion of Hindu texts. For instance a blatantly false claim is made that Daksha raped his own daughter Sati, an avatar of the Devi.

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