Monday, June 17, 2013

Tantra for the practitioner


 


Christopher D. Wallis, Oxford graduate in Comparative Religion and assistant professor of Sanskrit in Berkeley, treats us to a very well-written book: Tantra Illuminated. The Philosophy, History and Practice of a Timeless Tradition (Anusara Press, The Woodlands TX, 2012). It is academically sound yet stands out among the dry academic works by being very engaged with the theme of the book.

The writer defines himself as a scholar-practitioner, initiated while a teenager. First off, he goes through a lengthy exercise of defining his subject, drawing on external and internal understandings of Tantra. The word, literally “weaving-loom”, means “system”, “handbook to a system”, and then simply “book”. It is a class of scriptures written in the second half of the first millennium and the beginning of the second. Its topic is how to achieve liberation and other things besides.

A necessary explanation here is that Tantra has nothing to do with the Kāma Sūtra and very little with sexuality. (And to the extent it has, it teaches intercourse with retention of semen, so what most men look for in the sex act is the one thing to be avoided.) Of course, New Age channels and the internet are full of disinformation on the matter, and for some more time we will have to live with the Western conception of Tantra as related to sex. Sometimes workshop on Tantra are announced by teachers unconnected with the legitimate tradition: “If you feel like testing them, you can ask them what Tantra [scripture] they are drawing on (…) and which Tantric mantra they use in their daily sādhana [regular spiritual practice].” (p.432) But at least this gives the writer the opportunity to unchain his devils against the internet, an endless source of false claims about Indian religions.

At the end of it, he clarifies that he will limit himself to one specific tradition within Tantra, one that he knows intimately by practice: Śaiva Tantra as (once) practised in Kaśmīr.  

 

A priceless compendium

The book contains a number of appendixes detailing the master-pupil lines of the different branches of Shaivism and Tantra. The height of this tradition was in the 10th century, with the Kashmiri polymaths Utpaladeva and Abhināvagupta. A quarter of the book (p.191-320) consists of a necessarily incomplete but already very detailed history of Kashmiri Shaivism and its offshoots in South India, Indonesia and Tibet.

To get a vivid picture of this tradition and of Indian asceticism in general, these biographical glimpses of its major figures are unsurpassed. Nine different traditions within Śaiva Tantra are described. Opposite poles are the orthodox or right-hand path, now still known as Śaiva Siddhānta, and the deliberately transgressive left-hand path of Kaula Tantra.  Some of its schools were imposing institutions, but “like [the Buddhist university of] Nālandā, they were destroyed in the Muslim invasions”. (p.196) However, Shaivism’s loss of ascendancy was not only due to Islamic destruction: there was a spontaneous shift to the devotional Bhakti movement (which teaches surrender to the deity rather than autonomy through techniques) and the rise of the Nāth Yogis with their simplification of Shaivism known as Haṭha Yoga.

Another quarter (p.321-420) is devoted to the practice of this path. At length the writer explains the concepts and actual performance of initiation (dīkṣā) and transmission of energy (śaktipāta), and all the other practices, including the devotional ritual before a likeness of the deity and the meditative visualization (dhyāna) that is so typical of Tantra. Ideally, one pictures the deity in detail, with all the iconographical information depicted nowadays on dog-posters, and then identifies completely with the chosen god. We also learn that Abhināvagupta already taught what we know as “affirmations” of “positive thinking” under the name of śuddha-vikalpa (“pure resolve”): if you are dogged by a negative thought or self-image, carefully formulate its opposite and then repeat it mentally as a mantra.

But first the author gives us an enlightening summary of the philosophy of Śaiva Tantra (p.45-191). The teachings are at once related to lived reality. Thus, the four states of consciousness (waking, dreaming, sleeping and meditation) are not only explained, as they are in many books, but their occasional combinations are elaborated on: dreaming-in-waking, meditation-in-dreaming etc. Everything east of the Indus is counted, so we get the 36 Tattva-s (“substance”, “thatness”), the 12 goddesses or Kālī-s, the 4 levels of language, etc. But the overriding feature of this worldview is the couple Śiva and Śakti, and what they signify.

 

Theism

Like the devotional tendency (Bhakti), Kashmiri Shaivism is quite popular with Indophiles from a Christian background, because its God-centredness feels so familiar. The fourth-highest of the 36 Tattva-s, “substances”, in the Kashmiri Shaiva system is Īśvara, “the Lord”. Wallis holds it equal to the monotheistic Deity, meaning Yahweh or Allah, but also Kṛṣṇa or Avalokiteśvara, “the Lord who looks down (on the people below)”, the Buddhist personification of compassion. “Īśvara is a generic, non-sectarian form of God”. (p.142) He also equates idam aham, “this I am”, with the Biblical Ehyeh asher ehyeh, “I am who I am”.

 “This I am” encapsulates the Upanishadic worldview in which everyone is a drop in the ocean of Brahma, and as such also related to one another. Thus, I am equal to the one in the sun: “Him am I”, So’ham. It has nothing to do with the Biblical concept of one jealous God. By contrast, “I am what I am” is what Moses imagines God answers to him when he asks for God’s name. The way the expression was used in similar contexts, it really means: “I don’t need to answer you, I can be anyone I want”. Many Christian theologians falsely translate it is “I am that I am”, which can be understood philosophically as “my essence is the fact that I exist”, at once an instant proof of God’s existence. They, and the Bible context itself, link it with a folk-etymology of the name Yahweh as “the being one”, “He Who is”, related to the verb form ehyeh. We have to get away from these exegetical concoctions and submit to the scientific approach of these texts. A century ago already, the Orientalist Julius Wellhausen showed that Yahweh comes from a Semitic root still preserved in Arabic and means “the blower”, “the storm”.

According to Wallis, the pre-Tantrik “Śaivas of the Atimārga were complete monotheists, some of the earliest monotheists in Indian ‘religion’.” (p.200) Well, no. It is already questionable whether they really worshipped strictly one God; but even if they did, it would not make them “monotheists”. The prefix mono- does not mean “one”, it means “alone”, and that is why Biblical scholars chose this term to describe the worship of a “jealous God” who tolerates no one beside Himself. No Śaiva text is quoted as calling on its readers to smash the idols of Viṣṇu. Moreover, we learn: “Some of them believed that Śiva had many lower emanations, called the Rudras, divine beings that ruled the various dimensions of reality.” (p.200) So, by Biblical standards, they were still polytheists. Note that many fashion-conscious anglicized Hindus claim that Hinduism is monotheistic, quoting the Ṛg-Vedic phrase: “The wise ones call the True one by many names.” This too will fail to satisfy Biblical monotheists, but it proves that Wallis only follows a widespread trend when he claims monotheism for his cherished tradition.

Kashmiri Shaivism is profoundly different from the Biblical religions, yet it has at any rate the element “theism” in common with them. But even this is not certain: a few scholars consider Kashmiri Shaivism as an atheistic system at heart. At any rate, the substance “God” is only number 4, and is crowned by three higher essences: Sadāśiva, “always/still Śiva”, Śakti, “energy, power”, and the highest, Śiva. Strictly, Śiva means “the auspicious one”, an apotropeic euphemism with which to flatter the terrible Vedic stormgod Rudra, “red (in the face)”, “angry”. But “Śiva is not the name of a god. Rather, the word is understood to signify the peaceful, quiescent ground of all reality.” (p.144)

At most, Śiva is a deus otiosus, “less likely to attract worship in a spiritual system that is focused primarily on the empowerment of its adherents.” Therefore, “it is usually Śakti who is worshipped as the highest principle”. (p.145) The role division is: “While Śakti is extroversive, immanent, manifest, omniform and dynamic, Śiva is introversive, transcendent, unmanifest, formless and still. Śiva is the absolute void of pure Consciousness.” (p.144) Typically, Śiva is depicted as masculine, Śakti as feminine. In some schools she totally eclipses her consort and acts as the first principle; this is called Shaktism.

 

God and Her Son

One thing is insufferable about this book, and another one deserves to be noted because it is not so innocent. Firstly, the politically desirable use of “she” when a person of unspecified gender is meant, and where proper English would require “he”, e.g. “each individual must decide for herself” (p.433), is already bad in general. Regularly, even for the Supreme Being “She” is used. Thus, in the middle of a discussion on Śiva, he speaks of “Her power”, and how we can “realize Her as formless”. (p.187)  By contrast, the goddess Kālī is properly described as “She”. (p.189) Sometimes, the writer seems to realize the awkwardness of this practice of his (hers?), so we suspect some self-irony in a sentence like: “merely a temporary part He played, a dance She danced”. (p.162)

If anything, tinkering with God’s gender should take the Germanic etymology into account, which used the word God, meaning “worthy of worship”, “the sacred” (corresponding to Sankrit huta), as a neuter noun. Christianity made it masculine, as a translation of Deus/Theos. The Bible, both in its Hebrew and in its Greek parts, and every known religion that pays respect to it, exclusively uses the word “God” as masculine.

The role reversal with God as feminine is especially inept in the present context. Tantra sets particular store by sexual symbolism and counts God/Śiva as male, his manifestation and energy/Śakti as female. If I hadn’t read that elsewhere, I could have learned it in this very book. In India, Śiva is always indicated as “He”, eventhough he is the god who sometimes appears as one with his consort, Ardhanarīśvara, “the Lord who is half woman”. Here, at any rate, we see him in another appearance: Śiva as the perfect male united with his female counterpart. He gives a signal, she carries it out. It is like in procreation, where the man performs ten minutes’ play while the woman goes through all the motions of pregnancy, childbirth and suckling. Or if you prefer, it is like in ballroom dancing, where the man indicates the moves and directions while the woman does a lot more of the actual moving.

Overruling a venerable Indian tradition thousands of years old, with a profound symbolic structure, just to be on the safe side of a contemporary American fad, does not show much respect. Serious practitioners of that same tradition will doubt the writer’s assurance that he himself has hands-on experience of it. Rather, he is one of those Westerners who stays in his comfort zone when tasting at elements from an Indian tradition, which he adapts to his own (or his culture’s) idiosyncrasies.

 

Hatred of Hinduism

Secondly, many readers will overlook it, tucked away as it is in a half-sentence on p.112, and otherwise not realize its broader ideological significance: “In mainstream Hinduism – which incidentally has almost nothing to do with Śaiva Tantra except that it has sometimes been influenced by the latter – destruction is considered the special purview of Śiva when He is placed on a par with Viṣṇu and Brahmā.”

Most non-academic readers will be surprised to hear it, but the ruling convention among India-watchers is to have and express a fierce hatred of Hinduism. “South-Asian Studies” is one of the rare disciplines where the so-called experts actively work for the destruction of their major object of study. So, the one and only way of making the study of Śaiva Tantra respectable, and to be seen practising it, is to distance it as far as possible from “Hinduism”.

The statement that “mainstream Hinduism has almost nothing to do with Śaiva Tantra” is ridiculously untrue. The general Tantra and Yoga tradition is thoroughly Hindu, and most of Kashmiri Shaivism’s concepts existed before in Hindu scripture and still exist in other Hindu traditions. For instance, the central concept of the 36 Tattva-s (“elements”, “substances”) fully incorporates the older Sāṁkhya system of 25 Tattva-s without altering anything about it. The remaining Tattva-s too are familiar from other branches of Hinduism: rāgā (non-specific desire), māyā (manifest reality as the magic power of the deity), vidyā (systematic knowledge), Īśvara (Lord), Śakti, Śiva. Of māyā, he claims that “in other tradition, māyā means illusion” while in Tantra it means “”the Divine’s power to project itself into manifestation” (p.140). In fact, “illusion” is the meaning specific to Śaṅkara’s Advaita Vedānta, while the general Vedic or “Hindu” meaning is “a conjuror’s power to take any form”, and more precisely the alleged Tantric meaning of “the Divine’s power to project itself into manifestation”.

From the various definitions of Tantra which Wallis gives (p.33-34), the elements “theism”, “kuṇḍalinī yoga”, “mantra-science”, “yantra-s/maṇḍala-s”, “the gurū”, “bipolar symbology of god/goddess”, “secret path”, “initiation”, “ritual, esp. evocation and worship of deities”, “analogical thinking including microcosmic/macrocosmic correlation”, “mudrā-s”, “linguistic mysticism” and “spiritual psychology” will be familiar to practitioners of other Hindu traditions than Śaiva Tantra. Most of these components are already attested in the Veda Saṁhitā-s, the Upaniṣad-s or the Mahābhārata. Similarly, the four levels of understanding language and scripture, discussed at length on p.163-174, are already part of the Vedic tradition. When Śaiva Tantra became a distinct school, it simply continued most concepts and practices that it found. If Tantra must perforce be non-Hindu, fact remains that it borrowed just about everything from Hinduism.

 

Disparaging Hinduism as non-existent

A very common expression of this officially-sanctioned anti-Hindu attitude is the denial that Hinduism even exists. This writer pretends to be very original when he, predictably, takes this same position. For the benefit of the ignorant reader he starts “clarifying the biggest misunderstanding: there is no such thing as ‘Hinduism’”. (p.37) 

Of course “Hindu” is a foreign word not used by Hindus referring to themselves in the classics. But it is not a “European” or “colonial” (meaning Portuguese or British) term. This Persian geographical term, meaning “people living at or beyond the Indus river”, was introduced by the Muslim invaders and already used by the Muslim scholar Albiruni in the 11th century. It meant every Indian Pagan, i.e. every Indian who was not a Jew, Christian or Muslim. That same negative definition is used in the political definition by Vināyak Dāmodar Sāvarkar in his influential book Hindutva (1924) and in the Hindu Marriage Act (1955). Practitioners of Śaiva Tantra will therefore commonly be designated as “Hindus”, whether they like it or not. And they like it enough when they solicit donations from the Hindu public, though (like the Hare Kṛṣṇa-s) they claim to be non-Hindu before a Western academic or Christian audience.

Moreover, modern scholarship has acknowledged Hindu attempts at defining a common ground since at least the 13th century.  The several compendia of philosophies, typically treating Buddhism on a par with Sāṁkhya and other schools, served to see a common ground and aim in the different schools of what is now called Hinduism.

It is not necessary to espouse a common belief or ritual to share a common culture. Wallis uses a Christian definition of “religion”, viz. a common truth claim regarding the ultimate questions, and applies it to the Indian situation where it has no relevance. This assumption of Christian categories is typical of “Nehruvian secularism”, the state ideology in India and in the South-Asian Studies departments of the West. It does profound injustice to the Indian traditions (pantha) which share a common respect for the sacred (dharma) and a “live and let live” attitude to each other.

 

Conclusion

So, if the writer is a man of honour, he will apologize for these two cases of abject conformism. He will also correct them in a future edition. For, in spite of these mistakes, it is still to be hoped that this pleasant book about a momentous and little-known subject will go through many reprints.

20 comments:

Karigar said...

Thanks Dr Elst, for the incisive review.

This author apparently hasn't read Sir John Woodroffe's authoritative (and authorized) translations of many Tantric texts, based on his also being a practitioner of sorts. Either that, or he quietly ignores it to serve the agenda of the "South Asian Studies" cabal in Academia.

Rita Narayanan said...

I remember growing up having all sorts of negative connotations to the term "Tantra", frankly even mainstream Hindus(many fervent believers in occult) stray clear of this.

Mr Elst said:

Most non-academic readers will be surprised to hear it, but the ruling convention among India-watchers is to have and express a fierce hatred of Hinduism. “South-Asian Studies” is one of the rare disciplines where the so-called experts actively work for the destruction of their major object of study.

I find a number of elite Hindus and social activists who are "scientific" & "secular" find the Dalai Lama and Tibetan Buddhism fascinating but they regularly deride Hindusim.It is only when I started reading a few books on Tibet that this secular hypocrisy really hit me. The oracles of Tibet operate openly in India but similar happenings in local Hindu worship would invite derision. Fascinating indeed!

Thanks.

webasura said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
webasura said...

A good review. However, Elst may note that the Hare Krsnas no longer go out of their way to portray themselves as non-Hindu. That was a phase soon after the death of their founder Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. The cabal that steered the organization then soon disgraced itself and has since been sidelined by the more traditional disciples. They have gone on to root themselves in the general Hindu milieu in India. The Hare Krishnas now define themselves, rightly or wrongly, as Hindu monotheists.

ysv_rao said...

Too much damage has been done to the word Tantra in Western countries due to its association with sexuality.

Tantra simply means practice or action.

To paraphrase Rabbi Hillel Hinduism is Tantra,Mantra(recitation,prayer,pronunciation) and Yantra(technique,illustration,machine,drawing) .Everything else is commentary

ysv_rao said...

Somewhat OT question for Dr Elst: I forgot to ask it in an earlier more relevant post(whose header I forget)

What did you think of the late Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh YSR Rajashekar Reddy who was a Christian?

Was it a bit disingenuous of him to bank of caste politics by using his influential caste name(Reddy) to gain power rather assume a name such as Samuel Vincent?

OTOH he had a Nixon goes to China moment when he ended Christian missionary activity of Tirupati.
Something the closet Hindutvadi TDP supremo Chandrababu Naidu would never do.

Furthemore despite being a Christian, YSR claimed to be devout worshipper of Lord Venkateswara at tirupati?

I dont think this is merely a matter of Christian or Hindu politicians visiting mosques and hosting Iftar dinners ala George W Bush,Obama and Manmohan Singh but a genuine belief in the efficacy in a god outside of his belief system.

Is there a parallel to this elswhere in the world ie overlap between Biblical and Dharmic religions

Cross pollination between Dharmic/Oriental religions (Hindus worshipping Taoist gods or vice versa) is just another dog bites man story

Karthikrajan said...

Sir,
the explanatin for "Ehyeh asher ehyeh" was really good. To put it better , the god meant : “I don’t have a name, you name somebody and i will become him/her”, and this joker Moses misread it as : “I don’t have a name because there is none like me”. This is where the separation and isolation of his god happened. Is this the handiwork of his subconscious mind or the conscious one? I don’t remember whether it is Ram swarup or Sita ram goel who put it so beautifully : “Banishing the gods from their hearts to the skies, they are quarreling with the idols at the altar” !!!!!
It still beats me why the westerners are so obsessed with monotheism when they are simultaneously championing the cause of multiculturalism and pluralism. What is the psychology behind it ? Hope you would come out with some analysis on this.

अश्वमित्रः said...

[It still beats me why the westerners are so obsessed with monotheism when they are simultaneously championing the cause of multiculturalism and pluralism.]

This is like saying "It still beats me why Indians worship Krishna, Rama, Shiva, Hanuman, Ganesha, and all those others when they are simultaneously saying that there is no god but Allah and Muhammad is his prophet." The problem in both cases is an umbrella term so vast that it can only produce absurdities.

Karthikrajan said...

@ अश्वमित्रः :[This is like saying "It still beats me why Indians worship Krishna, Rama, Shiva, Hanuman, Ganesha, and all those others when they are simultaneously saying that there is no god but Allah and Muhammad is his prophet." The problem in both cases is an umbrella term so vast that it can only produce absurdities.]

Surprising !, which joker Indian is saying that? It is only Indian muslims and pseudo-secular Indians who say this, and even these haven’t understood islam or religion in general . Rama , Krishna , etc are all theories, likewise islam is also a theory which can exist side by side, doesn’t mean that Indians have accepted all. In fact it is Indians who have diluted islam when ghulam ahmed staked claim to Islamic prophethood and created a separate muslim sect which has been excommunicated by mainstream sunni islamists. Therefore every rigid theory has been analysed by Indians (hindus) and diluted at opportune times. It is quite the opposite with westerners. They are championing the cause of multiculturalism which simply means providing space for all theories, yet they are desperately trying to prove that Hinduism started off with monotheism and it is hindus who have wrongly diluted it as if some kind of grand truth exists in monotheism. This, in spite of knowing very well that prophetic monotheistic religions try to get rid of polytheism at the very first opportunity. So, this is neither an umbrella term , nor do I see any absurdities resulting out of it.

CDW & CPT said...

I thank Koenraad Elst for his review and, as the author, I have some corrections and discussion to ofter. First, my use of shifting gender pronouns was not an attempt to be fashionable but to reflect two things about the tradition I'm writing about: that it included female practitioners, and that its conception of deity included fluidity of gender (as expressed in the Ardhanarīśvara image). In fact, Śaiva authority Kṣemarāja writes, parā-śakti-rūpā citir eva bhagavatī śiva-bhaṭṭārakābhinnā which means "The Supreme Goddess, the Lady who is Consciousness, is non-different from Lord Śiva", clearly indicating that they are two names for one Divine. Abhinavagupta too talks about the paramam padam as Śiva in more exoteric contexts, and Devī in more esoteric contexts. Anyway, such shifting of gender, which after all is only a metaphor for these writers, is mimicked in my book, to Mr. Elst's dismay; and perhaps it doesn't work so very well. Thank you for the feedback on that.

Christopher Wallis said...

Secondly, and more importantly, Koenraad Elst wrongly and unfairly uses the incendiary phrase "Hatred of Hinduism" in response to something I wrote in my book. To explain my views, I here post a conversation I had with a professor of political science from India on the topic of "Hinduism." He began with comments similar to Dr. Elst, and I responded:

CHRISTOPHER WALLIS:
As I explain in the book, Hinduism is not a concept that was known during the period of Shaivism that I cover, and no Shaiva during that period self-identified as Hindu. I would also say Hinduism as I experience it in India today is very dissimilar to classical Shaivism. As you may know, nondual Shaivas did not go to temples or celebrate the holidays that we now associate with Hinduism (not because the disapproved of them, but because the tradition encourged them to realize that nothing could be gained from temples and pilgrimages that could not be gained in inward practice). Also, the key concepts of Hinduism were not really a part of Shaivism: the earning of merit (punya, which Shaivas did not believe had anything to do with liberation), conformity to brahminical dharma, and belief in karma (though Shaivas did believe in karma per se, they held that all one's karma was destroyed in the diksha ritual [except the karma already fructifying in/as the current life] and therefore karma became a total non-issue in their spiritual lives). I could go on and on about the dissimilarities, but I will just say that the more I go deep into the study of Shaivism, the more dissimilar to Hinduism it seems to me. In certain ways it constitutes a radical deconstruction of the brahminical/Vedic worldview, though I don't talk about that in the book. Furthermore, I also don't see modern Hindus performing any of the practices of Shaivism. Of course Hinduism is flavored by the Shaiva teachings, but that is very different from undertaking a tantric practice.

Having said all this, I should clarify that I have nothing against Hinduism. Konraad Elst's review wrongly characterizes me as hating Hinduism. In fact I've done a conversion ceremony and have a certificate that says I am a Hindu, which I use for getting into temples in India that otherwise forbid Westerners.

My studies at Berkeley, which were purely Sanskrit, had nothing to do with how I wrote the book. I may alter the section on Hinduism to avoid misunderstanding, but everything I'm saying here about the issue is solid, provable fact.
Anyway there are some thoughts. Since nondual Shaivism entirely repudiated the Veda as a source of spiritual information, its safe to say that that part of the tradition was not Hindu. --And brahminical authorities at the time said so as well, calling it Veda-bahya (outside the Veda and therefore, to them, invalid).

continued in next comment....

Christopher Wallis said...

PROFESSOR FROM INDIA:
Thank you for writing. The word Hindu is of later coinage and is Persian in origin, as is well known. This does not mean that what we call Hinduism today did not exist in pre-Muhammadan era. The term “American Indian” is of European coinage. This does not mean that American Indians did not exist prior to Columbus, although they were not known by that name.

Hinduism is a pluralistic religion and includes Vaishnavism, Shaivism and Shaktaism. Even atheists are part of Hinduism. The Charvaka school and Lokayats represent the agnostic and atheistic traditions.

The term Hinduism has in the recent decades acquired a negative flavor, due in part to the works originating in the West. Many wish to distance themselves from Hinduism. This includes members of the Ramakrishna Mission, Sikhs, and Kabir Panthis. Swami Vivekananda, the Founder of Ramakrishna Mission, proudly declared that he was a Hindu. Sikh Gurus advocated reform but did not think of themselves as not-Hindu. Your book has an anti-Hindu flavor.

Other than that, your book is meritorious. As I said in my email, I learnt much from your exposition of Tantra which is misunderstood in the West.

CHRISTOPHER WALLIS:
"I am a philologist by training and by nature, which means in part that I do not use terms to refer to a people who do not use that term for themselves. But aside from this issue, there is no reason to lump together those religions that you name under the rubric of Hinduism other than the fact that they are now lumped in that way. In fact, the Buddhist tradition was much more influential on Shaivism than say Vaishnavism was, so if you speak of a Hinduism in the medieval period you must include Buddhism in it as well. If you do not wish to include Buddhism because it repudiates the Veda, well the nondual Shaivas also repudiated the Veda and were thus called Veda-bahya by brahminical authorities just as much as the Buddhists were. The only difference is that Shaivism had a sampradaya (the Siddhānta) that did accept the Veda, while Buddhism did not. I personally wouldn't want to define Hinduism in terms of the Veda, but that is how people define it.
I'm a bit surprised that as a professor, you simply assert that my book has an anti-Hindu bias without bothering to take up any of the arguments I present.
By the way, Sanderson has now shown that Shaivism specifically began as a way to free people from the brahminical worldview and its varnāshrama-dharma. Since it its origins, and later as well in the nondualist camp, it specifically deconstructed and stripped away the Veda-determined identity, it is at the very least problematic to call it part of Hinduism in the period in question. To become part of Hinduism as it later did, it had to strip itself of all its doctrines that were repugnant to brahminical authorities (post 1200), which is part of why you think Shaivism is not so dissimilar to mainstream Hinduism as it really was."

continued in next comment...

Christopher Wallis said...

the PROFESSOR RESPONDED:
Shaivism and Hinduism have important differences, as you point out. From the perspective of world religions, Shaivism and Hindu Vedanta are similar. Both posit non-dual reality. The entire universe is nothing but consciousness (Chiti). We are nothing but Chiti. The goal is to remove our ignorance. Shaivism posits ultimate reality as Parashiva. Parashiva is beyond description. He is in all, unborn, undying, knowledgeable and full of bliss. This is Brahman of Vedanta. In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna has a similar description of indwelling Godhead: Ajo Nityaha shasvato yam purano (2:20).

Catholics are different than Protestants. Thousands were killed in denominational warfare during the Thirty-Year War (1615-1648). Yet from a global perspective, both belong to Christianity. Both posit a single God, a single Savior, a single life and a single pathway to salvation. Both posit the idea of original sin.

Sunnis and Shias have killed each other in thousands in history and continue to do so presently. Yet both Sunnis and Shias are required to recite the same faith statement 5 times a day: “La ilaha il Allah, Wanna Muhammad Rasul Allah”-- “There is no God, but Allah. And Muhammad is the Prphet of Allah.” Other gods are false and even demonic. Both groups believe that Muhammad is final and the Seal of the Prophets. Salvation is possible only for Muslims; kafirs (non-Muslims) will be assigned to hell. Therefore, both Sunnis and Shias, although different in many ways, are Muslims.

Similar argument applies to Shaivism, Vaishnavism, Vedanta and several other branches of Hinduism. There are differences among them, yet these are of one piece. What label would you place on this family: Indic Traditions? Hinduism?

CHRISTOPHER WALLIS RESPONDED:
I would turn it around and say that the correct analogy is this: if people were to give a single name to Judaism Christianity and Islam, because they have so much in common--they share sacred texts, they spring from the same geographical region, and were practiced by the same general ethnic group originally (Semitic), that would be much like the constitution of the term Hinduism. people don't call those three religions as "Semitism," because that would be overly reductive of their differences, and the same problem of over reduction applies in the case of Hinduism, in the medieval period, which is all I am arguing for. perhaps you can open to the idea that you are projecting the present on to the past. Shaivas did not see Vaishnavas as co-religionists in this period, any more than they saw the Buddhists as co-religionists. Since you are not a scholar of religion and I am, at least be open to the idea that the bill of goods you have been sold vis-a-vis Hinduism is not what it seems to be. The main error in the first 75 years of Western scholarship on India was back projection of the present on to the past. this error was passed on to Western-educated Indians who became the founders of modern India. Only recently is scholarship coming to grips with how very different India's religious past was from what it is now. of course there are many common themes you can point to, but the term sanātana dharma misleads by implying changelessness, which is far from the truth. these are the problems you start to run into when you insist on using a word to designate a people that they did not use to refer to themselves, and further ignore evidence that contradicts your back-projection of the term.

hopefully I have nuanced the question for you somewhat. you continue to side step the central points in my argument, which does make me wonder if you are in fact open to learning something new about something that you think you already know. understandable, since the concept of Hinduism that has become the norm is very much a part of national identity for Indians. people don't like having that challenged but that is certainly part of what Tantra wants to do. Deconstruction."

continued in next comment....

Christopher Wallis said...

So that was the conversation with the professor, which hopefully will serve to establish some of my views on the topic. Why Dr. Elst and others insist on calling people (like the medieval Shaivas) Hindu that did not think of themselves as Hindu, remains a mystery to me, explainable only by a desire to serve a modern agenda of Hindu identity. Dr. Elst says "Hindu" was not a colonial term, but colonial does not only denote European rule, it denotes foreign rule. He himself admits the term started to gain currency after the Muslim invasion. The first people to use the term Hindu in reference to themselves lived in the 14th-15th centuries, and they only used it when distinguishing themselves from the Muslim "Other". So the term and concept of Hindu as something other than a geographical designation is one that formed due to, and in relation to, Muslim rule. Before this date, the term Hindu would have to simply denote "all Indian religion and culture" and include Buddhists and Jains. (See my point above about Shaivas being equally Veda-bahya as the Buddhists.)

If this discussion convinces some that the question is more complex than they previously understood, then wonderful.

But I feel these comments are probably all a waste, since in Indian culture, whatever you learned as youngster from respected elders is not ever to be questioned in later life, and in India therefore I confront hermetically sealed closed-mindedness on this issue, and an absolute refusal to question one's opinion. It's an ideological and conceptual wall that I can bang my head against until I bleed without making a dent. This makes me sad. I have spent far more time reading Sanskrit texts that almost any Indian-born person I meet, and yet my opinion counts for nothing where it diverges from what they were programmed with at a young age. So if anyone reads this who is open enough to question what they've been told, the evidence is there. Don't take my word for it; cast aside what you think you know and learn to read the sources with a fresh eye, with beginner's mind, without assuming anything. You may reach very different, and rather more liberating, conclusions. It's hard, very hard, but worth it. Thank you.

Christopher Wallis said...
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Christopher Wallis said...

p.s. the Indian scholars I know who have done that, i.e. read the sources independently of modern Hindu discourse about them, have similar views to my own. I don't mean in any of these comments to insult those who self-identify as Hindus -- being invited to question what you know is a part of the spiritual process regardless of your nationality. Tantra invites the deconstruction of your cultural identity, and that is hard for anyone. It strikes where we are most woundable -- our self-image. But, this philosophy says, only through such deconstruction can you truly realize your deeper identity with timeless spirit, that by definition has no race, caste, religion, nationality, etc. Hope that is clear and that no insult is intended. I was just pointing out this challenge in the context of modern Hinduism -- but it applies to anyone who undertakes the practice and the serious search for a truth beyond words.

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Raman Sehgal said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Raman Sehgal said...

One flaw in Christopher Wallis reasoning : As per him (and also the fact) Shaivas existed before the word Hinduism was coined had difference with Vaishnavas philosophy - so he should have mentioned Vaishnavas or Veda instead of Hinduism - since the term did not exist at that moment. Hinduism was a later day word and it includes all traditions (including Shaivas) that existed in India - as Dr. Elst says.