Friday, March 8, 2019

Interview to Hindu Post

1.      Interview in Hindu Post

 (1st part, 25 June 2017)

Introduction by interviewer Adity Sharma

In keeping up with my advocacy of the Hindu cause, last summer, I wished to write on Hindu issues. But I wanted to write on something new, something I had not argued previously, and something that validated convictions I have held for a long time. I wanted to get a learned opinion concerning the ideological challenges that Hindu Dharma confronts today, and what its adherents and well-wishers are doing to address these challenges. So, I contacted Dr. Elst, and he graciously agreed to answer my questions. The topics of this interview span diverse areas of concern. The common thread that binds these topics however, is the need to recognize the grave ideological challenges to Hindu Dharma.

While many Hindus unabashedly decry media bias, academic predominance of a particular persuasion, or ethnic cleansing of the Hindu population in Pakistan, in Bangladesh and in Kashmir, these same Hindus often choose to remain irritatingly silent about exploring ideological root causes of these problems. Identifying the problem, but failing to exploring its underlying causes, will not yield the desired outcome. Perhaps this fear, or reticence, or hesitation to frankly name the culprit, stems from centuries of struggle with violent imperialist ideologies and subsequent decades of dominance of the anti-Hindu fascistic forces in all important spheres. Hence, I was very keen on learning Dr. Elst’s opinions on various issues. Aside from the brilliant late historians Ram Swarup, K.S. Lal, and Sitaram Goel, Dr. Elst is one of the few historians who has boldly identified Hindu Dharma’s ideological foes, and offered pragmatic solutions on confronting and possibly defeating these formidable foes. Now, of course, I am certainly not suggesting that all challenges to Hindu Dharma have ideological causes; some of these challenges can be ascribed to innocent ignorance and/or laziness. But Hindus absolutely cannot afford to continue ignoring the ideological angle.

Who is Dr. Koenraad Elst? (Adity Sharma)

Koenraad Elst is a self-described “Orientalist” from Belgium. That still is the neutral continental-European term for a graduate in “Oriental philology and history”, in his case both the Chinese and the Bharatiya section. He also studied philosophy, which explains his keen eye for ideological developments. His doctoral dissertation was about Hindu Revivalism, the ideological tendency from which the party sprang that is currently in power in Bharat, the Bharatiya Janata Party (“Indian People’s Party”, BJP). When he started his research, this was a marginal and vilified movement, its leaders even had to spend the winter of 1992-93 in prison. But when he defended his thesis, in 1998, the BJP had just come to power.

More recently, he surprised Bharatiya political observers by making the pro-Hindu case against the Hindu movement, and started focusing on ancient history and its relevance for modern politics. The Aryan Invasion Theory proved a much harder nut to crack than Hindus thought, but is nonetheless discredited among those few who have really studied the matter. Further, the ethnic components of early Hindu Dharma, the Mahabharata chronology, the genesis of Buddhism as an integral part of Hindu Dharma, etc.

The problem of “real” Islam

Adity Sharma: There are those (both intellectuals and lay-persons), who vociferously condemn Islamic terrorism, and the doctrine of “armed Jihad”. These individuals openly claim that countries such as Pakistan and Saudi Arabia should be disbanded. But these same individuals fiercely affirm their Muslim identity, and aggressively assert that the terrorists have nothing to do with Islam. Do you believe that these individuals actually create hurdles in identifying Islam as the root cause of Islamic terrorism, because a devil’s advocate view can contend that the good Muslim has already identified and condemned the problem area in Islam? Hence, why denounce the entire belief system?

Koenraad Elst: They are the “good cops”, complementary with the IS “bad cops”. The other hand is a clenched fist striking, and this hand is preventing any defence against that strike. Whatever illusions these “moderate Muslims” may indulge in, they are but instrumental in the strategy of the radicals.

They make no difference to the truth of the matter, we can check the source texts for ourselves and see with our own eyes that the Jihadis strictly follow Mohammed’s precedent, which is the basis of Islamic law. No Islamic court can sentence them unless it has been bribed or forced to do so. So yes, these so-called moderates blur the picture and are eagerly believed by the non-Muslims, for reassurance about Islam is in great demand. Their personal interpretation, even if they mean it, makes no difference whatsoever to the contents of Islam.

From a human point of view, they present a special problem. There is a minority that simply practices religious dissimulation (taqiyya) and says anything strategically useful vis-à-vis the Unbelievers. But a very large group of born Muslims simply believe what they themselves are saying. They don’t know the source texts very well. From their parents and schoolteachers they have only learned a very selective and idealized image of Mohammed. They cannot imagine a conflict between the religion they have inherited from their beloved parents and the morality they have come to share with their Unbeliever neighbors. So when they hear the truth, it comes as a shock. At first they won’t believe it and react furiously. But a deeper crisis will set in once they start believing it and doubting their Islam.

But then, on the bright side, a change of religion is possible. Me too, I have come to doubt the religion of my childhood, Roman Catholicism. After some mental churning and internal struggle, and after half-way station of the type you just sketched (“the orthodox have misunderstood the founder!”), I have repudiated it altogether, as have millions of Europeans of my generation. I am not asking anything from the Muslims which I myself haven’t been through. And I can reassure the Muslims who come to doubt Islam: there is life after apostasy.

AS: In your talks and writings, including the Goa ‘India Ideas’ conclave in 2014, and a webinar with indiafacts, you suggested that Islam should be made unappealing to Muslims.  The question then arises, as to how exactly can Muslims be made aware of the true nature of their beloved faith?

KE: Yes, that is the million-dollar question. Some creative thinking and some practical initiatives among the younger generation will be needed. But I can already say this – brave ex-Muslims are showing them the way: people like Ibn Warraq, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Wafa Sultan, Taslima Nasreen, Hafid Bouazza etc. At least the latter two, independently of each other, and no doubt others, have said: “What we need now is not moderate Muslims, but ex-Muslims.” So, Muslims will have to do it themselves, nobody can change their mind for them, but they already have a number of examples from their own ranks to follow.

The internet can greatly accelerate this process of increasing insight and liberation from Islam. You might object that today it is still successfully used by the orthodox to spread their beliefs and popularize Islamic teachings to a level unheard of in premodern days (when many nominal Muslims only knew a few rituals and Arabic phrases). But let me make a comparison from my own country. In the late 19th century, freethinkers set up the Boy Scout and Girl Guide movement. The Church was against this, considering it a crypto-worship of Nature, a form of Paganism. But seeing it was irresistible, it took control by founding the Flemish Union of Catholic Boy Scouts and Girl Guides. The “godless Socialists” set up trade unions, and seeing trade-unionism as unstoppable, it co-opted the movement and set up its own trade-union. So the Church remained in control even when new social phenomena arose, and by the 1950s, Church penetration into all layers of society was greater than ever.

Yet, they could not stop it when most members lost the faith and walked out of the Church. Their youth movement and their trade-union still exist, but have not been Catholic anymore since decades, and don’t even call themselves Catholic anymore since ten years or so.

Similarly, the Muslims succeed nicely in capturing the internet and use it as an instrument to keep their flock together, but in the long run it will be their undoing. The proper scientific information about Islam is now readily available, and soon it will have more influence on the Muslim mind than the orthodox rearguard actions.

Another promising factor is material: the shift in energy winning and energy cost. The oil wealth is running out. I hesitate to highlight this factor, because it usually triggers two deplorable reactions. One valid for every optimistic sound concerning Islam, is passivity: “See, we don’t have to do anything, it all takes care of itself.” The second is that a frequently heard escapist explanation of the Islam problem is seemingly vindicated: “See? It’s all about the money. Religion has nothing to do with it, only the money.” Barroom philosophers feel very clever when they pontificate like this, but history has numerous cases where people act out of conviction against their monetary interests. Billionaire Osama bin Laden gave up a life of comfort and pleasure with his five wives in order to live as a fugitive in an Afghan cave because of religion.

Nonetheless, his convictions would have been less harmful if he hadn’t had the finances to support his terrorism. Islam has been punching above its weight because of all the free money it could invest in supporting Islamic causes the world over. This also ensured it of Western support, especially to Saudi Arabia and its cat’s paw, Pakistan. Being flush with money but not very creative, the Muslim world became an excellent market for Western products. Contrast this with Bharat: not rich but creative and development-oriented, and therefore seen as a rival.

Since the US has to displease the Muslims with its support to Israel, it compensates this by support to Islamic causes elsewhere: the Bosnian and Kosovo wars, the Turkish bid to enter the EU, or the Pakistani claim on Kashmir. Barack Obama even won the Nobel Peace Prize for his pro-Islamic speech in Cairo 2009. But with all this dwindling of the oil wealth, the political stature of the Muslim world is diminishing, and probably the pampered Saudis will rather use their bottom dollar to keep their fast-growing population happy than to finance mosque-building or terrorism.

Falling without natural resources need not be a drama, see South Korea. But the Islamic states’ record in creativity and inventiveness is such that they will probably have no answer to this inevitable impoverishment. So, most young Muslims will understand that Islam (as opposed to American imperialism or the “Zionist world conspiracy”) is keeping them back. Well, at least let’s hope so, for if everything continues as it now is, including the demographic differential between Hindus and Muslims, Islam will be Bharat’s majority religion by the end of the century. And what that would mean, you can ask the Hindus in Bangladesh.

AS: Late historians such as KS Lal, Ram Swarup and Sita Ram Goel have made invaluable contributions to understanding the threat posed to Hindu Dharma by the monotheistic belief systems. Aside from your own outstanding analysis on the subject, are there any Hindu scholars who have followed in the footsteps of these historians?

KE: Yes and no. The work of a Bharat Gupt, Meenakshi Jain or a Michel Danino is more technical, more academic, less disruptive or visionary, but also much harder to ignore. SR Goel’s work was formidable, but easy to pigeon-hole: he was an MA of History alright, but not holding an academic post, making his living as a publisher, and he was a “Hindu communalist”. The corpus of scholarly work that is not anti-Hindu is growing, but it is still marginal.

Being an academic isn’t everything. If you are ideologically on the wrong side, your status is not going to help you. KS Lal was a proper academic, but at the end he was boycotted by all other publishers than Voice of India, and among academics, nobody quotes his work, though it was path-breaking. A towering personality in Bharatiya history-writing was of course RC Majumdar, and for long his work was required reading in all History Departments. But as the Marxist dominance became deeper, even this icon was challenged and boycotted as a fount of communal views of Bharatiya history. So the taunt that “you’re not an academic” is only a first, forward line of attack, made possible by a systematic policy of exclusion of non-Nehruvian viewpoints. Once you have manage to cross that hurdle, the real concern comes out: “You’re a communalist!”

I currently see better equipped young Hindu intellectuals come up, availing of the opportunities generated by the internet and creating alternative Hindu quality media, thus getting around the boycott of pro-Hindu views still observed by the mainstream media. But I can see as yet no reason to report that this welcome tendency has already percolated into the History Departments.

(2nd part: 4 August 2017)

The second part of my interview with Dr. Koenraad Elst, focuses on how Hindu Dharma has been defined when compared to other religions, and highlights a crucial mistake made by its adherents/well-wishers when attempting to represent an accurate picture in the face of a hostile and well-funded academe.


An Accurate Depiction of Hindu Dharma

AS: Hindu Dharma is often viewed as being incoherent, disjointed and scattered. When Hindu Dharma (also called Hinduism by Western Indologists, a term which unfortunately has gained currency even with practicing Hindus) is explained, it is often portrayed as being so undefined that it is difficult to call it anything at all. Some have even said that it is not really a religion, but a way of life or a hodgepodge of different rituals and philosophies. In your opinion, can Hindu Dharma be defined in a way that it can be portrayed as diverse but still united?

KE: The historical definition of the term “Hindu”, brought by the Muslim invaders[1], does not define a specific worldview and practice, as the definitions of Christianity and Islam do. “Hindu” is a geographically defined slice of Paganism, viz. all Pagan (=non-Christian, non-Muslim) traditions coming from Bharat (India). This means every possible belief or practice that does not conform to either Christianity or Islam. It includes the Brahmins, the upper and lower castes, the ex-Untouchables, the Tribals, the Buddhists (“clean-shaven Brahmins”), the Jains, and many sects that didn’t even exist yet but satisfy the definition: Lingayats, Sikhs, Arya Samaj, Ramakrishna Mission, ISKCon. I am aware that many now refuse to be called “Hindu”, but since they satisfy the definition, they are Hindu, period. Elephants are not first asked whether they agree to being called elephants either.

Hindu Dharma is much discriminated against by the Indian laws, and the secularists and missionaries have worked overtime to give it a bad reputation. It is disadvantageous to be seen as belonging to it, and is perceived as a sinking ship. So, honourless rats hurry to abandon it. Whatever else you may be, Adity, by merely being a Hindu, you do at least prove that you are not a rat.

To outsiders, those traditions are especially Hindu which are typical for Bharat. Sun-worship or ancestor-worship are pretty universal and hence not that stereotypically identified as Hindu, though Hindu Dharma includes them too. But belief in reincarnation and karma (not the same thing), or Vedic fire rituals, or Vishnu and his Avatars, or Ganesh etc., and their temples, are. The Vedic tradition could be considered the backbone of Hindu Dharma, though this is a historically acquired position and not a necessity. Hindu Dharma existed before the Vedas. But it is one of the commonest manipulations to speak of “Hinduism” when specifically the Vedic tradition is meant, or vice-versa.

When you are looking for a tradition that can bring you the truth, no less, you have to go beyond the negatively defined category of Paganism or “Hinduism” and opt for a member of the Hindu commonwealth with a specific doctrinal content: Sankhya-Yoga, Vedanta, Kashmiri Shaivism etc. It is here that the investigation of ideas becomes important. While between Sankhya dualism and Vedanta monism there is ample room for discussion, there can, among rational human beings, be no discussion about the founding myths of Christianity or Islam being true. Once you apply your mind to them, they are obviously false. No, Jesus was not resurrected and did not deliver mankind from sin; and no, Mohammed did not communicate God’s word.

What is more obvious to an outsider than to a Hindu (though best articulated by Shrikant Talageri) is that today’s mainstream Hindu Dharma is a mixture of several historical contributors. One is the Vedic tradition embodied in the Brahmin caste, to the extent that Bharat as a punyabhumi (“land of spiritual merit”) coincided for some two thousand years with all the regions where Brahmin communities had settled. It originated among the Paurava tribe in Haryana along the Saraswati banks, and gradually “conquered” all of Bharat, i.e. kings who wanted their part of the Vedic civilization’s prestige invited Brahmin communities to settle.

With the fratricidal Mahabharata war in the -2nd millennium (my guess is ca. -1400), the Paurava expansion as a kingdom came to an end, and the Yadava tribe became dominant in the West. The episode where Krishna tells the villagers in Vrndavan to stop their preparations for celebrating the Paurava god Indra’s festival and worship the mountains, trees and cows instead (and where he holds up the Govardhan mountain as an umbrella against Indra’s wrath), encapsulates an important evolution within Hindu Dharma, viz. the shift from the Vedic gods to the Hindu pantheon we now know. Or to be more precise, the entry of already-existing non-Vedic strands of Hindu Dharma into the Vedic tradition. It also emphasizes the importance of nature-worship among Hindus, with its circumambulation of the Narmada, or its the pilgrimage to the river Ganga, the Kailash mountain, or the ice lingam in Kedarnath.

A third important contributor was the Bihari culture. I once knew a girl of the Dutch Hindu community (from Surinam but ultimately from eastern UP and western Bihar) who was a bit shy about her family name Bihari, because she had heard that Bihar was the most backward part of Bharat. So we went through Bihari history together. It turned out to be extremely glorious. Not only did the first great empires originate there, Kapila was from there – the founder of one of the two defining philosophies of Hindu Dharma, viz. Sankhya-Yoga, and venerated as the philosopher par excellence in the Gita. The first Upanishadic seers, starting with Yajñavalkya, ultimately the originators of the other great philosophy, Vedanta, developed their ideas at king Janaka’s court in Videha, i.e. northwestern Bihar.

Also from Bihar was Mahavira, leading light of Jain Dharma (Jainism). Finally, from the Sankhya tradition sprang Bauddha Dharma (Buddhism), with Shakyamuni himself growing up in Kapilavastu, which had been built next to Kapila’s hermitage. To a large extent, all these visionaries perfected and systematized ideas that had already been present in the local Bihari culture, such as the idea of reincarnation and the practice of renunciation and meditation. Today Bihar is undergoing a bit of a dip, but it is the cradle of what has been called “the greatest achievements of the human mind”.

There are more contributors, but you get the idea with these. And to be sure, they had each its own emphasis but the characteristics overlapped, e.g. the Pandavas, who were Pauravas, equally went on pilgrimage to the Ganga, the Buddha ordered his followers to maintain the existing pilgrimages, etc. All of them were mixed in Hindu culture. And peacefully mixed, I dare to add. Non-violence is not this silly Gandhian fad of willingly offering oneself to one’s killer. No, it is a profound philosophy of allowing everything to be itself, of assuming that everything in existence has a reason for existing. So, Hindu Dharma is allowing each of these components to flourish.

AS: Would it indeed be more accurate to describe Hindu Dharma as a way of life rather than a religion? Does classification matter at all?

KE: Calling it a “way of life” is really mental laziness, or utter ignorance. “A” way of life it certainly is not, for it includes many ways of life. And ways of life automatically follow from believing in any given doctrine. Islam is a religion, but it is very much a way of life, recognizable from afar. If you see someone praying five times a day, holding a fast during the month of Ramadan, and going on pilgrimage to Mecca, you can safely bet that he is a Muslim.

But alright, what is meant by the phrase is that Hindu Dharma is not a belief system. There are a number of beliefs available, such as a more philosophical orientation towards the Colourless Absolute versus a more devotional attitude towards the Absolute with a specific face, i.e. the different gods. Yet, in practical life, there is a common ground between all these viewpoints. No Hindu is going to disrupt the Night of Shiva (Shivratri) only because he worships Krishna instead. By contrast, we frequently hear of Muslims disrupting Durga Puja in Bangladesh or even West Bengal.

Hindu Dharma is a commonwealth of beliefs and practices. The common ground for all of them is a respect for the sacred, an awe of the divine. Hindus know they can’t be followers of every deity under the sun, life is too short for that, but they pay their respects to every emanation of the sacred that they come across. Pious Hindus tend to greet every temple they come across, regardless of sect or deity. Muslims only greet mosques and Christians only greet churches, but Hindus greet all of them.

Naïve Hindus, silly New-Agers and “moron Swamis” assert that all religions say the same thing, which is brazenly untrue. But the core of truth in that statement is nonetheless that sacredness is present wherever human beings hold something in awe.

When Mahatma Gandhi said: “Ishwar Allah tere naam” (“Both Shiva and Allah are Your names”), he meant to sell the silly untruth that Islam and Hindu Dharma are equally valid; but nonetheless this much was true, that the worship of Shiva and of Allah stem from the same piety. If anything is wrong with Islam, it is due to Mohammed. As for Allah, He was this pre-Islamic deity, to the Meccans a moon-god comparable to Shiva, with three phases or “daughters”, the three goddesses Allat, Manaat and Uzzah.

Mohammed cannot be saved, at least not as a Prophet, but Allah is quite alright. I used to be a fan of the Grateful Dead song “Blues for Allah”, and I retained a soft corner for Allah even after dismissing Mohammed. Similarly, any Hindu who reads what Mohammed did to the Arab Pagans, or what his followers did in his name to fellow Hindus, will firmly reject him; but Allah is just another face of the divine.

AS: The California textbook controversy has been simmering for more than ten years now. This can be contrasted with success rates of other religious groups in being able to have school textbooks reflect their beliefs and history. Where in your assessment, are the Hindu organizations going wrong in history rectification?

KE: Recently, there was another review of the textbooks, where the Hindus scored a small success. The “South Asia scholars” wanted to systematically replace “ancient India” with “South Asia”. Yet, the name “India” itself is ancient, and was used by the Greeks. Moreover, names are freely projected into the past elsewhere, e.g. “China” did not exist prior to 230 BCE, and even later was only used by foreigners, yet we call the Xia dynasty of ca. 1800 BCE “ancient Chinese”. “Africa” historically referred only to its northern coastal zone, and was again not used by the Africans, yet we speak of the dawn of mankind hundreds of thousands of years ago in “East Africa” as the “African dawn”. So, this zeal to obliterate “India” (Bharat) clearly sprang from this special anti-Hindu animus. Fortunately, enough scholars saw reason, and this proposal was scrapped.

Note however that “Hinduism” has still been replaced with “ancient Indian religions”. They don’t want to give any quarter to Hindu Dharma (Hinduism), not even its very existence. So, that is the battlefield you have to deal with: a seething hatred of Hindu Dharma among an academic vanguard, partly seconded and partly passively accepted by the rest of academe.

But in 2005-6, we saw the lowest ebb of the Hindu self-defence against this aggression. Hindus suffered an ignominious and wholly unnecessary defeat because of their own confusion. The cause was this animus among the relevant academics, and the smug contempt for or ignorance of the (very consequential) outside world among the American Hindus. A single proposed edit mobilized all relevant academics against the Hindus: their claim that the Aryan Invasion Theory had been debunked and laid to rest. When I saw that, I predicted at once that this would be defeated, and would prevent any meaningful progress on any other topic. And so it happened.

The common Hindu had been heavily misinformed by a few Hindu writers who had pioneered this counterfactual claim that the Aryan debate was all over and had been lost by the AIT. Though the anti-AIT evidence had indeed been accumulating, the dominant received opinion is still the same. Had the AIT been discarded, US Hindus would not even have needed to take a stand on this. Fact is that the battle remains to be won, and you really have to be a sleepwalker not to see this.

The Hindu parents then went to Court to challenge their defeat, and were defeated again. But Hindus are apparently so attached to their fantasy world, that my own reporting on this repeated defeat earned me angry mails from Hindus who actually claimed victory. Well, if the result had been victory, why did they go to court to challenge it? If you don’t even recognize the difference between victory and defeat, you’d better stay away from the battlefield. Fortunately, this time around they put up a more realistic performance. And if they scout and prepare the terrain well, they will achieve a real breakthrough next time around.

(3rd part, 15 September 2017)

This third instalment of my interview with Dr. Elst discusses whether Yoga has fallen victim to cultural appropriation, useful suggestions about what can be done to prevent such an occurrence, and why certain Hindu Gurus in US have delinked their teaching from Hindu Dharma & packaged it as universal.

Adity Sharma: The West has built up a large and lucrative industry that sells yoga to millions of people. But more often than not, this is dressed up as a universal practice, and Hindu Dharma rarely finds a mention. Some Hindus view this as a harmful tactic that is a blatant example of cultural appropriation.

Koenraad Elst: Most yoga practitioners I know here in Europe, personally or through the specialized media, don’t do any appropriation, and never hide its Hindu origins. Already the Sanskrit name of the exercises serves as a constant reminder of its exotic origins. They usually have a much idealized image of Bharat in their minds. Often you see them at the Pre-Paid Taxi stand outside Delhi Airport taking a cab straight to Rishikesh, never seeing anything of Bharat except the Ashram scene. But then they call their activity “yoga” and regularly invite experts from Bharat, e.g. at the annual retreat of the European Yoga Union in Zinal, Switzerland, a mountainous scenery looking like Manali or other places in the lower Himalayas.

On the other hand, I am aware that all kinds of psychotherapies, neuro-scientific theories and the mindfulness industry borrow heavily from Hindu traditions without acknowledging their source. Hindus are often so naïve as to think that the West has “also” come up with theories and practices similar to yoga (when in fact the West has been borrowing from the East since at least Pythagoras), or even to look in awe at Western “inventions” and “innovations” that really are not Western at heart. It is not impossible that traces of meditation practices originated in the West, such as the “staying in the now” practiced every day by the Greco-Roman Stoics, but there is very little of it, or it has been destroyed during Christianization. So, let’s be practical and accept that if we want to study meditation, we will have to borrow from Bharat.

AS: But perhaps the appearance of concepts such as yoga or meditation could potentially lead to a yoga practitioner embracing Hindu Dharma later on?

KE: That is a very common trajectory: people start with Hatha Yoga for health reasons, and then gradually they discover the deeper dimensions. But even the posture stage is only rarely disconnected from Bharat and Hindu Dharma, which already makes its presence felt through the Sanskrit names of the practices (postures, breathing exercises, meditations). But only in a minority of cases does this lead to an embracing of Indian local idiosyncrasies like dress, names etc. outside the strict yoga activity. And that is as it should be. Just as Indians should not ape the West by wearing Western dress etc. As they do now.

AS: Do you think Hindus can strike a balance between denouncing cultural appropriations, while simultaneously, reaping the benefits of Hindu Dharma entering into Western culture piecemeal?

KE: Frankly, I am not really busy with that question. Neither were the Rishis. I acknowledge the importance of the question, and it is a good thing that, in the wake of Rajiv Malhotra, more people are aware of this dimension and think twice before being flattered by Western interest in their culture. But life is short and my interest goes out more to issues of history and thought history, which happen to be important to Hindu Dharma’s present and future as well.

However, I don’t want to leave your question unanswered. So yes, I do think that Hindus can strike this balance with a relatively small intervention, viz. setting the record straight whenever Westerners are appropriating Hindu heritage, and seeing to it that their presentation of this Hindu contribution gets corrected.

AS: The 1960s and 1970s were marked by rebellion against the establishment in the US. This was also the time when Hindu gurus got rich on propagating certain Hindu philosophies to an eager and rebellious American public. And yet, Hindu Dharma itself remains a somewhat tolerated enigma in the U.S. Hindu Swamis/Gurus have done precious little to change this perception, and rarely, if ever, acknowledge the Hindu roots of the philosophies and practices they package as universal.

KE: They have played to the gallery, trying to satisfy the supposed expectations of the Western public. Thus, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi simplified his teaching to essentially a one-size-fits-all mantra meditation, thinking this was what the Western public wanted – seemingly unaware that such a simple thing was what beginners wanted, but ignoring the fact that after the initial stage, they also wanted to grow and progress. His fad about “hopping” and then “flying” would only evoke general skepticism if not laughter, and give yoga in general the bad name of flakiness and incompatibility with a normal sober outlook. Could no one have briefed him about this?

America has centuries of experience with weird cults, like the Unitarians, the Shakers, the Mormons etc. The good side of this in the present context is that the damage done by some Gurus’ weirdness remained fairly limited. Their sex scandals, too, were only an echo of what Americans had been through with Jimmy Swaggart and all those other Evangelical Christian preachers.

On the other hand, in 1970, Hindus could still benefit from a background atmosphere of sympathy for Hindu Dharma. By contrast, all  American kids growing up today have a deep hatred for Hindu Dharma instilled in them.

Some Swamis say themselves that yoga is not Hindu, and that they themselves are not Hindu, since they are “universal”. This is a form of hubris. It is humble as well as just practical to say where you come from. All that has made them what they are, is Hindu. The entire message they have to sell, and that Americans feel they need, is Hindu.

AS: Why has this delinking occurred? Moreover, do Hindu Gurus/Swamis deliberately delink these philosophies and practices from Hindu Dharma, because of an inferiority complex? (An example that comes to mind is Deepak Chopra).

KE: In the case of Chopra, our analysis need not be very profound: he is a spiritual businessman, and will never take a principled stand if it comes in the way of his business success. A soft and conformistic stance gives him easier access to the Western audience, as well as to a large chunk of the Hindu diaspora. The factor “inferiority complex” plays a part too. It makes Hindu Gurus suddenly feel superior when they have exchanged Hindu Dharma for the American mainstream. But mainly it is a pragmatic calculation. They don’t expect most of the kind of people they attract, to be very interested in the intricacies of philosophy. Most of them have run away from Christanity, which is not just irrational, it is also demanding, morally and to an extent even intellectually. So they want something that is not too complicated nor too demanding. What they ultimately get is what they had wanted upon entry: an easy, watered-down version of Hindu Dharma.

(4th part, 15 January 2018)

Adity Sharma: In a blog post dated [December 14, 2014], titled: How I did not become a Hindu,  you mention the lack of enthusiasm you were shown when you expressed your interest in becoming a Hindu. This is quite regrettable, and you go on to give possible explanations. Given the professional zeal with which new converts are welcomed into Christianity and Islam, do you think the lacklustre Hindu attitude towards welcoming newcomers will impede Hindu Dharma’s growth in the long run? What next?

Koenraad Elst: Looking back on it, I don’t think it is a bad attitude. Belonging to Hindu Dharma is not a superficial thing, Hinduness has roots, and those you cannot acquire. It is different when you marry into a Hindu family and really come to share their lives. But a mere desire is not sufficient as an entry passport. In Europe, we know of a similar attitude among Jews: they shake their heads when they see someone who wants to throw in his lot with them, and they do a lot of enquiry and testing before they let an outsider in.

Only, today you have a situation with a heavy competition for converts. The Christian missionaries have penetrated far deeper into Hindu society than during the British period, and their psychological techniques have been perfected and are more differentiated towards every single community. They have done the hard work of what Rajiv Malhotra calls the Purva-Paksha, the study of the adversary as well as of the battlefield. Against that, Hindus are just babes in the wood. So, in changed circumstances, traditional attitudes may stand in need of change.

A very healthy and historically correct phenomenon is the Ghar Wapsi movement: living among Christianized villagers, winning their trust, and making them see how deep down, they are still Hindus and can re-awaken their Hinduness.

As for Indian Muslims, most are converts from Hindu Dharma under duress, and in this age of people rediscovering their roots, it is only normal that they go beyond the outer layer that was imposed on them. In fact, on present demographic trends, it is the only thing that can save Hindu society. Hindus will be a minority before the end of the century, unless enough Muslims quit Islam.

Then again, Hindus may get saved by circumstances that are not their own doing. Maybe all their yajñas are having an effect on macro-evolutions seemingly beyond our control, who knows? But again: I don’t like to say this because in practice it will only encourage laziness.

AS: Hindu temples have been found in China, Japan and as far north as Russia. Hindu Dharma was at one time a more universal religion which stretched beyond the borders of modern Bharat and encompassed diverse racial groups.

Today, Hindu Dharma is often portrayed as an “Indian Religion”, especially by many Indians themselves. How can Hindus work on transforming Hindu Dharma to a universal religion without offending the sentiments of those who take pride in the “Indian” nature of Hindu Dharma?

KE: There even is a movement, the RSS, that claims “Hindu” is merely a synonym for “Indian”. And that Indian Muslims are just “Mohammedi Hindus”. So, in that view, if strictly applied, all these PIOs are lost to Hindu Dharma, while all those Owaisis and Quraishis and Iqbals are Hindus. Once the RSS wanted to be a militantly Hindu movement, and the Hindu-bashers still describe it as that, but now it has degenerated to the point of denying that there even exists a separate category of “Hindu” at all. That is why the Narendra Modi government has never shown the least sign of being even aware of a “Hindu agenda”. Hiding behind safely secular-sounding “development” concerns, the Nehruvian agenda par excellence, they feign to ignore the specifically Hindu (not “Indian”) need to weed out the legal and factual discriminations against Hindus (as distinct from “Indians”). Very often, references to “India” rather than “Hindu” are a sign of cowardice, of trying to get into the sunshine of the reigning secularists.

Yes, “reigning”, for the BJP may be in power politically, but it still hurries to play by the rules laid down by the secularists. (However, I am happy to note that, even in the name of “India”, at least the security apparatus is given a freer hand than under Congress, and that crackdowns on Jihadi circles in places like West Bengal and Tamil Nadu are no longer sabotaged.)

But back to your question. “Hindu” in the sense of “Dharmic” was at one time not confined to the Subcontinent, just like now. Manu says that the Greeks and the Chinese were at one time Aryas, but fell from that status by not observing the Arya practices. Disregarding the historicity of that statement, its point is that it doesn’t link Dharma to Indianness. Which is correct. India has been overemphasized by the objective circumstance of the freedom movement (but that was long ago) and then by Hindu eagerness to replace Hindu Dharma with an unassailably secular term.

AS: What advice would you give to young Hindu activists in the West, wishing to take up the Hindu cause? What issues are important; which ones are trivial/symbolic?

KE: I do not relate to Indian ethnic advocacy, because in that respect their history is not mine. But I venture to question it also on another ground: it gives them the chance to feel like activists all while forgetting the specifically Hindu agenda. They, inside and outside the RSS, are being led by the nose to “India” advocacy by the Nehruvians. You can feel brave fighting the long-dead colonialists, as re-enactors of the long-concluded Freedom Struggle. You can then dine out on the moral high ground that the Freedom Fighters enjoyed in their struggle against colonialism, and feel very smart (and assuredly popular among secularists) by telling blatant lies such as: “The wily British imposed Partition on India.” The result is that some Hindus are proud of successes scored by Bobby Jindal, a convert to Christianity. Well, if Jindal shows the way, go and convert to Christianity.

Those, by contrast, who want to take up the Hindu cause, would do well to distinguish between the Indian couleur locale and the essence of Dharma that can meaningfully be transplanted to a new environment. They would also do well to study the different strands in the host society, some of which are quite amenable to treating Hindu Dharma as an ally. What stands between Hindu Dharma and the millions of ex-Christians in the West is mainly the ugly reputation that the secularists and their Western allies have given Hindu Dharma. And the emphasis here is really on the Indian secularists, who in this case lead the dance with their Western dupes. On the other hand, Westerners are useful by tailoring new academic and mediatic techniques to the struggle against Hindu Dharma. But their motive is now largely, to live up to standards of hatred set by Indians and Indo-Americans.

There are of course Western sources of hate for Hindu Dharma too, esp. the Christian missions. But there again: they do not hate India, they only hate Hindu Dharma. With the nationalistic RSS analysis, you would have to welcome the missionaries. I hear many of these nationalists say that the many anti-Hindu Indians or PIOs are only “kissing the white a..” (their words, not mine). Well, they are completely anachronistic. There is no such thing today as a “white” animus against “India”, and if at all you could find one example in some barroom, it certainly has no political consequences. But there is a Christian animus against Hindu Dharma.

KE: I do not want to leave this subject without mentioning the sterling work of Vishal Agarwal. By profession a medical engineer, he is also a qualified Sanskritist and a volunteer in community work in Minnesota. In Sunday classes for children and youngsters, he teaches them all about Hindu tradition. All those circles preserving your Tamil or Konkani language are fine, but your grandchildren will be speaking English anyway, so it is better to get ready for a Hindu Dharma in English (or Spanish or whatever). The central thing to be maintained is not the language, these things come and go, but the Dharmic contents.

AS: This is a personal observation, so it may be slightly exaggerated. While a liking for the arts is certainly healthy, high school and college-age Hindus in the West however, seem overly obsessed with the latest mediocre Shahrukh Khan movie or holding elaborate Bhangra competitions. Hindus have these Desi and South Asian clubs/societies that hold frivolous events high on Bollywood dance numbers, and extremely low on presenting and promoting any genuine understanding of Hindu Dharma to fellow students. This is in sharp contrast to the activities of other religious organizations on campus. The Muslim Students Association for instance, not only lures people with free food, but often holds events aimed at dispelling common misperceptions about Islam. What could be the reason(s) for this lackadaisical attitude?

KE: Let us first of all face the fact that this lackadaisical attitude exists. Many Hindus either do not realize that they are on a battlefield, attacked by hostile forces, or try to forget this with an artificial attitude of carefreeness signalled by a silly preoccupation with Bollywood. This voluntary superficiality reminds me of African chieftains giving up their land for some cheap trinkets the European traders gave them. The Europeans found that in Bharat (India) this approach didn’t work: the natives there did know the value of things, having in fact been the very originators of jewelry. But when it comes to the world of ideas, anglicized Hindus do settle for trinkets, like the Gandhian muddle-talk about all religions saying the same thing.

Some factors make it worse today than in the past, though. It is precisely because there is a conflict, an attack on Hindu Dharma requiring Hindu alertness to it, that Hindus are rewarded for being supercilious or lackadaisical, and punished for being politically conscious.

Another scene I am reminded of, is the beginning of Steven Spielberg’s movie Empire of the Sun. In 1937 in Shanghai, the Westerners in the Anglo-American concession are busy with celebrating carnival and cultivating a frivolous attitude, while the Chinese are all tense and up in arms about the incoming Japanese attack. The Chinese care about their country and what happens to it, while the Western expatriates are trying to look away from it. Well, the “Hindu fanatics” care about their Dharma (which by the way implies caring about India too), while the “moderates” and “secularists” with all their Bollywood frivolity are trying to look away from it, even from the needs of their ancestral country, besieged by various anti-Hindu “breaking India” forces, the very India behind which they take umbrage to sound secular.

Consciousness-raising is the only thing you can do against it. This will not come ramping up from some event, like an Islamic terrorist attack on Hindus or on American targets. Experience teaches that people accustomed to looking away from a problem, keep on looking away even when they themselves get impacted.

AS: Notwithstanding his anti-immigration stand, could the present Trump presidency bode well for Hindu-Americans?

KE: I am not aware of structural problems for the Hindu-Americans, except that any sign of Hinduness is attacked by the authoritative India-watchers in academe and the media. Or, yes: in case you hadn’t noticed, the Hindu community itself is targeted for elimination. Not that anyone will get killed, but conversion and “love jihad” may do the job. Both only have a chance with Hindus who have essentially already left Hindu consciousness even if sheer inertia still makes them belong to a Hindu family. In the short run, some timely paternal advice may save the day, but the only meaningful thing you can do against it in the long run is to revitalize a consciousness of the Hindu traditions.

Trump has made some anti-Muslim statements, and this has endeared him to many Hindus. Keeping the war-monger Hillary Clinton out of the White House was certainly desirable, but Trump’s views on Islam are crude, a bit like the view of the more radical strands in the Hindu movement. I admit he is showing a capacity for learning, and on Islam too, he has advanced. But then he has to come from far: when Jihadis made a murder attempt on Islam critics Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer, he said it was the critics’ own fault. I suppose he is the lesser evil. His statement that we should stop Muslim immigration until we find out what it is all about, is typical for an uneducated anti-Muslim attitude that many Hindus share: they vaguely feel that something with Islam is not right, but have no clue what it is.

To be sure, it is to be welcomed that the next President will not repeat Obama’s soothing lies about Islam. But if he does not handle the issue well, he may discredit Islam criticism, which has already been slandered and criminalized so much.

AS: What books/authors would you recommend to Hindu activists to better advocate for Hindu causes?

KE: One book I will summarize for you: the Sunzi Bingfa, “The Method of Warfare by Master Sun”. It says that those who know themselves as well as their adversaries, are bound to win. That describes the Christian missionaries, and to some extent the Muslims. The latter’s knowledge of Hindu Dharma is not very deep, but at least they know everything that is strategically important: that many powerful Hindus can be bought, or are eager to curry favour with the Islamic bullies (and the more bully the latter are, the more eager the Hindus are to please them), or are unwilling to defend Hindu causes and tangible Hindus such as the Kashmiri Pandits. It also says that those who know neither themselves nor the adversary are assured of defeat. That mostly describes the Hindus. Their knowledge of their own traditions and situation is poor and, among decision-makers, only sliding further backwards. Their knowledge of their enemies (the “Purva-Paksha”) has always been poor.

Master Sun also speaks of the art of spying. To gain knowledge of the insides of the enemy camp, there is no alternative to infiltrating it and directly getting that knowledge. It cannot be had by divination, he says, or translated to the present: it cannot be gained by empty rosy assertions about them, nor by pontificating metaphysical claims such as that “all religions say the same thing” – not the result of an actual study of all religions, but a smug and lazy projection of Hindu views onto the other religions. If you go on like this, you will be defeated.

However, an important positive trend must be noted, though not thanks to any purposeful Hindu action: the internet. It is amazing how the internet has changed the situation to the advantage of the Hindus. It has broken through the enemy monopoly on the spread of information and opinion. When they attack you, you can defend yourself on social media, your statement can reach all those interested, and mainstream media find it hard to ignore your stand. Secondly, it is highly visual and validates the strong visual component of the Hindu worldview. Thirdly, it replaces reading culture by oral culture, with which most Hindus are more comfortable. The usual RSS retort to a book presentation, “Can’t you summarize this into a small brochure?”, bespeaks not just the lack of intellectual culture among the RSS people themselves, but is in fact a realistic assessment about the limited reading culture of the Hindus in general.

On books, the Voice of India authors’ list is already a good start. We’ll talk again when you are done with those. Thank you.


Adity Sharma: I would like to conclude by expressing my deep gratitude to Dr. Elst, for not only agreeing to the interview, but also for providing detailed answers. Dr. Elst’s anecdotes, his vast reservoir of knowledge, and the sincere advice, cultivated from decades of study of Hindu Dharma and observation of the Hindu movement, are all invaluable to the Hindu cause, and indispensable tools for any Hindu activist wishing to earnestly work for the Dharmic cause. These straightforward observations should not merely be relegated to the intellectual realm, but if applied to the problems Hindus are currently confronting, can go a long way in preserving, protecting, and propagating Hindu Dharma.


avatar dpavatar said...

Excellent analysis with his in depth understanding of the current situation in India. Thank you. Hindu faith, I must say, is equally in danger from evangelicals in the present era. Tens of thousands of poor and the gullible hindus from cosmopolitan cities to remote regions have been cunningly getting converted pretty easily on an annual basis. This tectonic shift in demographics doesnt bode well for hindus. Ever growing muslim population combined with the christians will tilt the balance against hindus in coming decades. Entire India will be a magnified version of Kerala.

Gururaj BN said...

I am overwhelmed by the content of this interview. I wonder how many Hindus who are generally intellectually lazy would read and assimilate your message to the Hindus? It is despairing.

Unknown said...

A good article on Dr BRA rejecting Aryan invasion theory ( no genetics, but very good logic)
Dr. B. R. Ambedkar on the Aryan Invasion and the Emergence of the Caste System in India
Author(s): Arvind Sharma
Source: Journal of the American Academy of Religion, Vol. 73, No. 3 (Sep., 2005), pp. 843-870
Published by: Oxford University Press
Stable URL:

Unknown said...

The above paper " The Aryan invasion rejection" by BRA must be placed in your twitter.