Monday, September 17, 2012

The Parapsychological Conference in Leiden

Yours truly attended the Parapsychological Conference in Leiden, on 15 September 2012, organized by Prof. Hans Gerding and his colleagues at the Parapsychologisch Instituut of the Netherlands.

Prof. David Lukoff spoke of the understanding of religion and spirituality by psychologists and psychiatrists in their bible, the DSM-4 and -5. After an introduction to his youthful experiences as a hippie, when he took LSD and briefly saw himself as a religious prophet, the professor came to the point. It took a long time, but now the mental-healthcare professionals are increasingly taking religious/spirituality seriously. Especially military psychologists use the DSM category of religious or spiritual problem in their diagnosis. Many people think that their mental disorders are the result of sins they have committed. Conversion of oneself or on a family member is another frequent cause of mental problems.

This is by no means self-evident. Because of their training, clinicians are programmed to be wary of this. From the 1930 till the 1970s, psychologists used the term “catatonia” frequently when describing meditation. Indeed, meditators are inward-looking and therefore insensitive to outside stimuli, a feature they share with catatonia patients. But meditators choose to turn inwards, while catatonic patients have no choice in the matter, their behavior is compulsive. Today, this crucial distinction between normal and sick human beings is widely recognized. Indeed, psychologists now devote serious research to near-death and mystical experiences.

Prof. Liane Hofmann of the Institute for Frontier Areas of Psychology and Mental Health in Freiburg, Germany, spoke of the relevance of religion and spirituality to psychotherapy. She had a high focus on the therapeutic context, and typically she started out by asking the psychotherapists among the audience to identify themselves. There were many.

What struck me is the conventionality of the goals set by therapists, the total absence of the need and search for enlightenment (or its religious equivalent, salvation). The theologian Hans Küng once said it during an invited speech before the American Psychiatric Association: religion is absent in psychotherapy, it is the big taboo of the profession. Even our professor only spoke of religion and spirituality, but never of their natural goals. These are still treated by psychologists as private pet issues, not taken seriously. Nevertheless, from her European angle, she confirmed what the American professor had observed: that psychotherapists increasingly value religion and spirituality and are gaining expertise in this field. But it should be noted that, while this time she spoke before a friendly audience, she clearly was used toskeptical or hostile audiences, which is why she took cover behind otherwise unnecessary statistics and investigation reports.

Prof. Hein van Dongen from the host university spoke of “energy”. It has a vague meaning, like Chinese “qi”, for an atmosphere is a room or a circle of people, but otherwise we use it in its literal meaning. Aristotle already used it, Paul used it for God’s working, and there is already a difference, for to Aristotle, energy was inherent in things, whereas to Saint Paul, it was inherent in one Supreme Being. Paul influenced the use of the term in a religious sense till the 18th century. It also meant “spiritual force”. Poets used it for landscapes, which also have an energy, and its organ was called “imagination”. According to William Blake, reason is sublimated energy, while pure energy is vitality emanating from the body, including eroticism. He also mentioned Herbert Spencer, John Ruskin, to whom qi also the basis of an esthetic (call it “energy stream”) and the Dutch Sinologist Bourel who said some hundred years ago that the origin of all qi is the sun.

Prof. A. van der Braak (from the Calvinist Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam) read a paper on the Christian mystic Meister Eckhart and the Zen master Dōgen. It is now common to give a Zen interpretation of Meister Eckhart. Schopenhauer already used Eckhart to understand Zen. Daisetz Suzuki introduced Zen to Westerners beginning with Eckhart. His interpretation follows the common one: a  rebellious mystic who goes against established religion. Suzuki only sees differences between Christianity and Buddhism as a waste of time. The rebellious and mystical image of Zen was counterfeited in Tang China and sold to the West by 20th century Japanese scholars.

“There is nothing mystical about Zen.” Here I am not sure the speaker was quoting someone or speaking for himself. I do know, however, that this viewpoint of denying a mystical dimension to Zen is quite popular among Christian missionaries. They may even be right, depending on how “mysticism” is defined. If mysticism is defined theistically, then of course, Zen is not mystical while Christian mysticism is. But in speaking of “mysticism”, most people think of meditation, emptying the mind, and in that sense Zen is mystical par excellence. Anyway, the speaker explained himself: “Zen is a body practice, to embody the Buddha nature, not to understand it.“ Oh, well. But I agree with him when he laughs at the New Age simpletons who say: “Zen’s emptiness = Eckhart’s nothingness.”

Meister Eckhart wrote his mystical works in German, his serious works in Latin. Eckhart writing in Latin was just a scholastic philosopher. Both Martin Heidegger and Hans-Georg Gadamer say: our understanding of a text is based on our pre-understanding, it determines what we notice (or not) in a thinker. Givenness is never neutral or objective. Thus, the reading of Eckhart as an anti-Church mystic is determined by some people’s Romantic premises. Objectivity should be pursued, but we should remain aware of our pre-understanding and explicitate it. For Eckhart, mysticism is always tied to reading the Bible. He believed in Biblical revelation.

Dōgen Zenji was the founder of the Soto tradition of Zen (as opposed to Rinzai, from Lin Ji). Zen here is not about a mystical transcendent experience, but about permanently realizing the Buddha nature. Dogen: “Buddhism s to study the self. Studying the self is to forget the self …” Could Eckhart have said that?

Conclusion: rather than saying that mystics meet one another and transcend their own tradition, their going deeper in their own tradition seems more like it. Maybe it is time for a second wave of Zen to the west. Eckhart and Dōgen entered their own tradition more profoundly. They were not universal and didn’t think of trying.

Prof. Anna Bosman of Radboud University, Nijmegen spoke on sensitivity, a perfectly normal condition, even a component of spriirituality, that professionals have long misdiagnosed as a symptom of a disease. Included in the definition of spiritual crisis is that it “reveals itself by extraordinary experiences”. The speaker said: “I found it absurd till this morning, when my colleague [David Lukoff] told of his LSD experience. Hey, I have one of those, I thought. I had space cake and an out-of-the-body experience.”

Sensitivity has as its original meaning: to find your way. In a source of 1400, it meant “interpretation”, in 1526 the “external sense organs”, in 1816 an “extreme physical experience”. Only in 1900 did it start to mean what we understand as sensitivity.

She also protested against the tendency of professionals to treak people as statistical averages. Thus, they say: ”Autistic people have a lower memory”, and proceed to expect that of every single autistic patient. We treat people like that, projecting statistical data on averages onto individuals.

                Afterwards, I heard several other therapists complain that this is what is being said for the last several decades. Nothing new, they said. It reminded me of the presence of too many therapists working on people’s normalcy and too few yogis working towards enlightenment.

Pim van Lommel spoke about “non-local consciousness”. He wrote a book about the near-death experience (NDE) and its life-changing effects. Is it possible to speak of a beginning of our consciousness and will it ever end?

He said: we were happy in 1967 for resuscitating a patient, it was new then; but he seemed disappointed at coming back to life, so good had his NDE been. NDE raised a number of questions. How does the content of an NDE come about? Why does it change life so radically?

And first of all: what is an NDE? For most physicians it is  incomprehensible. During cardiac arrest, anoxia (lack of oxygen) in the brain sets in and the patient must be resuscitated within 5 minutes. During this time, some report having had an NDE. We investigated this with a control group who did not report an NDE. We found no effect from duration of cardiac arrest, of unconsciousness, the administering of drugs, gender, religion, degree of education.. The effect of an NDE was no more fear of death, compassion, acceptance, increased appreciation of life, enhanced intuitive sensibility. But an NDE is also traumatic, both at the inter- and intrapersonal level: integration of the experience, loneliness, homesickness, nostalgia after forced return to the body, and fear of rejection.

Only 18% of anoxia or cardiac arrest patients reported an NDE. Psychological, pharmacological, physiological explanations all fail. There have been four investigation, all had a similar result: 11% to 23% have an NDE. Patients also report similar sensations during an NDE. Thus, many report a holographic life review: thet had remembered every action, even every thought. They also report Importance of love, causation, etc. Many also saw their future life, e.g. someone saw his wife’s future death.

There are just too many proofs of the reality of NDE and no sussessful skeptical explanations. So, it seems functions like a TV or mobile phone: it receives and transmits information, but does not produce it.

                Prof. Pim van Lommel concluded by showing us two quotations. UN general secretary  and Nobel peace prize winner Dag Hammerskjöld said: “Our ideas about death define how we live our life.” And Johann Wolfgang von Goethe said in Faust 2 to a skeptic:
“I see the learned man in what you say!
What you don’t touch, for you lies miles away;
What you don’t grasp, is wholly lost to you;
What you don’t reckon, you believe not true;
What you don’t weigh, that has for you no weight;
What you don’t count, you’re sure is counterfeit.”

                So, between the extremes of believing anything and disbelieving anything (skepticism), there is an attitude of investigating the mysterious and sometimes upholding it when it proves to be consistent and surviving any attempts to explain it away.

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Monday, September 10, 2012

Proving reincarnation


Michiel Hegener is a Dutch journalist who has kept his personal memories of reincarnation to himself for many years. He immediately sensed , and is now in a position to confirm from his own and his interviewees’ experience, that openly expressing a belief in reincarnation can damage one’s career. His book Leven op herhaling (in Dutch: “Living in repeat mode”) started as a journalistic search into the truth of reincarnation which the leading Rotterdam daily NRC refused to publish.

The writer looks at the existing proof for reincarnation. This proof is mainly the spontaneous testimony of children, the testimony of adults brought into trance by regression therapists, and the procedures of the Tibetan Tulkus and others who consciously deal with reincarnation. He does not hesitate to map out their weak points, but concludes nonetheless that what remains is still very persuasive: memories from past lives are a fact, and reincarnation is this fact’s most credible explanation.



Persuasive proof is for instance provided by the case of James Feininger, an American child of Christian parents who at first set out to disprove his reincarnation “fantasies”. He reported many facts, which were all verified, about the life of fighter pilot James Huston, shot down by the Japanese in World War 2. His parents Bruce and Andrea Feininger devoted the book Soul Survivor to the long and tortuous process of verification and their conversion to reincarnation belief. Many cases of children reporting past lives have been studied by Ian Stevenson and his successor Jim Tucker, and by the Indian woman researcher Satwant Pasricha. Adult cases of regression have been tested and largely or fully verified by the Australian researcher Peter Ramster, such as the case of the Australian housewife Gwen McDonald who reports having lived in 18th-century Britain, by the Icelandic researcher Elendur Haraldsson, and a few others. US police inspector Robert Snow documented how he discovered and fully verified how he lived in the 19th century as the painter Carroll Beckwith.

No two people remember the same life, which would have been an argument against reincarnation and for a lesser paranormal explanation such as telepathy. Two large samples of adults both show an almost equal division of past lives as man or as woman, which is an argument for their testimonies’ veracity.



The writer also cites some Tulkus (consciously reincarnating Lamas) such as  Gyalwang Karmapa, Dutch regression therapist Lowie de Bie, and researcher Titus Rivas. Finally, he crosses swords with the skeptics Steve Hales (student of reincarnation researcher Robert Almeder) and Rob Nanninga.

In particular, he reports rather negatively on an article on reincarnation research by the leading Dutch skeptic Rob Nanninga. Skeptics have this knee-jerk reaction of alleging fraud. They are paranoids living in a world full of deceivers eager for money. Indeed, they are very money-oriented. They will say, for instance, about natural diets that “they don’t make you lighter, except your wallet”. From my experience in the New Age world, I have found there are far more deluded people than outright frauds, who don’t believe what they say but make others believe it. At any rate, the allegation of fraud is a serious affair, and should only be made if you can provide positive proof, not as an automatic alternative when a real explanation of unexplained facts is lacking.

But the good side of the hostile attitude of the skeptics and of the Western establishment is that nothing but the best evidence is good enough. The sloppy evidence common among internet Hindus, who claim to have “proven” reincarnation where it turns out that from their armchairs they have only argued that it is more rational and just than Christianity’s eternal afterlife (which plays upon the fond expectation that the world is just after all), will not do. Here, the anomalies are so strong that a explanation other than reincarnation becomes very unlikely. The interpretation of a karmic connection between lives, already disputed and practically undiscussed in this book, is much harder to prove, and is at any rate very different from the mere fact that we reincarnate. The Hindu-Buddhist belief in karmic reincarnation is now perhaps the best-known version of the reincarnation theory in the West, but is by no means universal. Some peoples believe that reincarnation is desirable, not something that must be ended (as Buddhists believe), or that it is simply a fact of life.

One thing that strikes me, as an Orientalist and decennia-long student of Hindu-Buddhist traditions involving reincarnation, is that this book, like every regression therapist or reincarnation researcher that I have heard lecture or with whom I have talked, treats reincarnation without encountering any fact that points to karma. There seems to be a continuity between lives, e.g. birthmarks are at the spot where the earlier incarnation suffered wounds, and an obvious tendency is reported to be reborn in roughly the same neighbourhood, family or circumstances. But there seems to be no evidence of reward or punishment, of being born blind as a punishment for past sins.

There is only little reference to existing ethnic beliefs about reincarnation. The Tibetan Tulkus are merely cited for their practice of “recognizing” new incarnations, not for their doctrines. Even the selection of interesting cases strongly discriminates against people from nations that already have a widespread belief in reincarnation. This is done on purpose: the numerous cases reported in India would be shot down by skeptics as cases of encouragement by the environment, which applauds recognized cases of reincarnations as prestigious or at least as welcome. In the West, and especially in atheist, Muslim and militantly Christian circles, claims of reincarnation are resolutely disbelieved, so cases are reported which were actually discovered by people who were at first out to disprove reincarnation.



Among the implications of reincarnation are a far greater attention to children’s rights. We are our children or grandchildren. Thus, children should not be given lifelong bodily interventions such as circumcision. They should not be forced into a religion. Of course, if reincarnation is recognized as a fact, it will be very harmful for the religions that deny it. So, this research has an inherent bias against Christianity and Islam, unless it concludes negatively.

Meanwhile, the belief in reincarnation should also stimulate interreligious tolerance. Those against whom we now fight on the streets (or otherwise hate), might be a community to which we once belonged ourselves. In India, 19 cases of reincarnation in a sample of 387 turned out to have changed religion between lives. But again, such a scenario is anything but religiously neutral: it confirms a widespread (though not a defining) Hindu belief and refutes the official Muslim position.

Another implication is ecology. We must leave the earth in good condition to future generations, because we ourselves are the future generations. A related issue is animal welfare, to whom Hindus and Jains pay so much attention:. That cow you see on the streets, or in the meadow, may (at least according to some reincarnation researchers) be the temporary abode of a soul normally incarnated in humans.

The writer is inclined to the oft-heard position that we shall never fully know, but that is to be doubted. Isaac Newton formulated the law of gravity, which became just another line in textbooks, then died in 1727. Two centuries later, people were applying his finding by flying in airplanes. Later, they set foot on the moon, and now satellites form an important and irreplaceable part of our telecommunications. If reincarnation proves to be true, our gaining of knowledge will be accelerated by more generous funding (the main problem so far) and a larger focus on this line of research. Even without those, we will soon investigate such questions as: what is the relationship between successive lives (maybe there is karma after all)? Is reincarnation in non-human life forms possible? What is the beginning of this cycle and how does it end? Know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.  


Michiel Hegener: Leven op herhaling. Bewijzen voor reïncarnatie, Ten Have 2012.

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Hindus and outsiders

Prof. Vijaya Rajiva thinks that I as an outsider cannot really help the Hindus. So far, so good: if Hindus don’t help themselves, there is indeed no outsider who can save them. However, she also says (indeed it is her chief message) that Hindus don’t need outsiders because the traditional Hindu way is good enough. But is it?


A diagnosis of the Hindu situation

Yes, the traditional Hindu way has some remarkable achievements to its credit, no one should deny that. The very existence of a Hindu civilization after more than a thousand years of Islamic battering and a few centuries of European colonization is indeed not so evident. Hindus have fought, and there was something invincible in the Hindu social structure.

However, the losses were also staggering. A part of the Hindu biomass, i.e. Hindu people, went over to the Islamic enemy. They secured an Islamic territory in 1947 as well as legal, constitutional and de facto privileges in the Indian republic. Christianity tried several strategies to win converts, at first rather unsuccessfully, but now with increasing results. At last, the climate is right, with a defenceless Hindu society offering little resistance against the conversion wave.

Meanwhile, the world has changed. As I have argued in my article about missionary anti-racism, the Christian Churches and the missionary apparatus have adapted admirably, crossing the floor all the way from association with colonial racism to a Dalit-Dravidianist discourse which borrows fromanti-racism. They have many successes to show for it. Though the Indian Churches have cooperated with the governmental goal of reproductive self-restriction, they have still made demographic gains, with the reality being far more impressive than the official figures, which are already impressive enough. Indian Islam too, for all its looking back to a medieval Prophet, has adapted sufficiently to make and consolidate its gains. After winning a separate territory in 1947, it gained a promising foothold in the Indian Republic, secured a partisan anti-Hindu section of the Hindus (“secularism”), made the media and academe toe an anti-Hindu line, and gained enormously in numbers both through a consistently high birthrate and through immigration.

Hinduism, by contrast, is losing constantly. It is fragmented along caste and ethnic lines (worsened by the “secularist” regime) but also along ideological lines, chiefly secular against Hindu activist.  It is divided against itself. There is a Hindu nationalist movement, but it is warped by the “Western” nationalist viewpoint and deliberately unable to wage the ideological struggle against Hindu society’s non-Hindu besiegers. Its recent help to the people from the Northeast is commendable, but proves also how formidable the problems inside India have become. Traditional Hinduism is losing its grip even among nominal Hindus, who learn the government version of culture and history in their schools and watch TV-programmes on stations owned by foreign or Indian (but either way anti-Hindu) magnates. That is why the Hindu historian Sita Ram Goel concluded his diagnosis with the observation that the death of Hinduism is no longer unthinkable.

There is very little sign of Hindu forces adapting themselves to the new realities. A few individuals show a remarkable sense of initiative, like Swami Dayananda Saraswati (who patronized the Jerusalem declaration), Subramaniam Swamy (the convert to Hindu nationalism), Prof. Yashwant Pathak (convenor of the Elders’ conferences) or  Swami Vigyananda (VHP general secretary); but over-all, this seems too little. The main representative of the Hindus in politics, the BJP, has completely abandoned its Hindu agenda, showing not just the weakness of character of people in the party concerned, but the weakness of the Hindu spirit to which they respond. The Hindu masses haven’t got a clue, though they react healthily whenever they have to deal with hostile subversion or violence. They long for leaders, but most leaders disappoint them. Hindus are mostly stuck in the past, and I interpret Vijaya Rajiva’s article as a defence of this tendency to live in the past.

The good thing about being an outsider is that, while one may not see what goes on inside the black box of Hindu society, one can see the input and output all the better. From the outside, it seems that Hindus are not dead yet, but are losing ground all the time. So, from my vantage point, I can see very clearly that there is no reason for the smugness emanating from Vijaya Rajiva’s article. One can argue about the methods proposed by “alarmists” like N.S. Rajaram or Ashok Chowgule, but their diagnosis that threats to India and to Hindu society are looming large, is only realistic. One does not have to be a foreigner to see what those Indians see, but suffice it to say that in our own way, we can see it too.




The Professor thinks that I am not in a position to say that the Vedas are apaurusheya, “impersonal”, often interpreted as “supernatural”, “of divine origin”, because there I would not be talking about my own heartfelt tradition. Well, exactly. That is indeed a point on which I have waged many discussions with internet Hindus. Let me reword my considered opinion a bit differently. I am in a position to say: no, the Vedas are not divinely revealed. This is not the viewpoint of “Western” or “Orientalist” scholarship, it is the Vedas themselves that say so: they are composed by human seers who address the gods.

The Vedic hymns naturally contain in passing many data about the age and region in which they were composed, as well as the genealogy and the circumstances of their composers. The gods figure in them in the second or the third person, the seers in the first. Bhargo devasya dhimahi, “let us meditate on the god’s effulgence”, or Tryambakan yajamahe, “Let us worship the three-eyed one”, or Agnim ile, “I praise the fire”, all have the human seers as their subject, the gods as their object. This is in sharp contrast with the Quran or the 10 commandments, which are deemed to be revealed by God through his conduit, the prophet.

What Vijaya Rajiva represents, is the Hindu tradition, which over the millennia has come to differ considerably from the Vedic inspiration. Hindu tradition has turned the Vedas from a human composition into a divine revelation, the seers and poets into prophets. In fact, it has turned the Vedas into a kind of Quran. It is unclear whether this is cause or consequence, but the Hindu mentality seems to have evolved since the Vedic period. Whereas an unencumbered outsider sees the greatness of the Vedic poets as creators, Hindu tradition reduces them to conduits of the gods. Or worse even, to conduits of the single monotheist God, who created the timeless Vedas along with the world. If that’s what the Vedas said, we wouldn’t have bothered to give up the Bible, for it says much the same thing.



Post-Vedic Hinduism

In particular, the introduction of the notion of “liberation” or “enlightenment” (absent in the Vedas) created an absolute, a steep inequality between people deemed enlightened and the rest of us. Hence the veneration of gurus, see e.g. the “Vedic” (but in fact Puranic, medieval) mantra in which the guru is equaled to Brahma, Vishnu and Maheshvara. Rama never venerated his guru Vasishtha as a quasi-god.

Another novelty is the belief in reincarnation. It is not in the Vedas, no matter how internet Hindus look for it there. The Upanishadic Brahmins Uddalaka and Shvetaketu came to know about it from a Kshatriya (not coincidentally the caste to which the later Buddha and Mahavira belonged), and explicitly acknowledged it as a novelty, not implicated in the central Upanishadic doctrine of the Self or in the liberation from the false identification of the Self with the non-Self. In recent centuries and today, most Hindus are crypto-Buddhists to whom reincarnation is a central belief and liberation is even defined as the escape through meditation from the cycle of rebirths. That is not the original Upanishadic view. I have seen many internet Hindus get angry for my making these factual observations, but hey, that’s what scripture itself says. It just goes to show how tradition may differ from real history as laid down in the Vedas.

This is not to say that reincarnation is untrue. Post-Christian Westerners with their matter-of-fact approach have investigated testimonies of reincarnation (spontaneous testimonies by children, provoked testimonies by adults in regression trance, and Tibetan tulkus) and are inclined to conclude in favour of reincarnation. Incidentally, they found no proof of the concomitant Hindu-Buddhist doctrine of karma in the sense of reward or punishment for deeds from a past life, a doctrine unknown to other reincarnation believers. But reincarnation may be a fact, and those much-maligned Westerners would not say: “I believe in reincarnation because Lord Buddha or the Shastras tell me so”, but: “I believe in reincarnation because research findings confirm this hypothesis”.

This is also not to deny that the belief in reincarnation is old. It certainly existed in Vedic times, indeed it existed before the Amerindians left Northeast-Asia for America, so that they could take it with them. But those who composed the Vedas did not hold this belief, in fact they had a ritual for the dead in which they pointed to a specific part of the heavens where the deceased went. In the European world, the belief in an afterlife (Valhalla) coexisted with the belief in reincarnation (taught by the Druids, or in Virgil’s Aeneis). Others, who contributed to the non-Vedic part of Hinduism, may have held this belief, and later it was accepted by the successors of the Vedic seers. Hinduism is a confluence of Vedic and non-Vedic traditions, just as the Paurava Vedic tribe coexisted with other tribes, and just as the Vedic Sanskrit language coexisted with other Indo-Aryan, other Indo-European and totally other languages.  

Another example of how Westerners may see what Hindus don’t, was given to me by a reviewer of my 1997 book BJP vis-à-vis Hindu Resurgence. Like Vijaya Rajiva, he hoped to be delivered from those non-Hindu busybodies trying to defend Hinduism. Apart from myself, he also directed his ire against David Frawley, namely for writing in his autobiography that he was a self-taught Sanskritist who had read the Vedas all by himself. In the reviewer’s opinion, Frawley should have been initiated into the Vedas by a recognized Vedacharya. Well, then he would have studied the Vedas through the eyes of Hindu tradition, which captures and transforms the message of the Vedic seers, whereas now, he accepted the face-to-face encounter with the Vedic seers themselves. It has not kept him from becoming far more Hindu than myself, but I note that to some Hindus, he has remained an outsider nonetheless.

So, a Westerner, or indeed a globalist, may miss certain things, but conversely, they see things which Hindu nationalists fail to see. That is why I am not apologizing for being an outsider.



Hindu survival

However, I have no quarrel with Hindu tradition. For me, everyone is free to practice religion as he likes (within the usual confines of morality). There may be something to living Hinduism which I cannot feel, and what I do see and feel is already glorious enough. So, by all means, go ahead with it. Only, I am curious to know what those traditional methods of survival are. Among them is certainly the continuation of Hinduism as a living religion. In that sense, I have no quarrel with Hindus forgetting about politics and taking part in religious activities such as rituals and festivals.

It’s just that I think this is not enough to survive. Many people have practiced their religion but turned out to be no match for the “asuric forces”. So, on top of continuing Hindu tradition, I’d like to see what strategies are being deployed to outwit these asuric forces. Don’t tell the details to an outsider like me, but then at least show me the results. Show me how the Hindu percentage in India is increasing again. Show me your victories.


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Hinduism and race


Swami and writer Ishwar Sharan, whom I know from contributing to his book on Saint Thomas, has republished on the Bharata Bharati website a text I wrote in 2007, on how the Churches have repositioned themselves vis-à-vis racism, and how, in contrast, Hindus choose to live in the past and keep on using the language appropriate for the colonial age. Shrill tirades against “white Christian nations” will not do to counter the missionary effort in India, now mostly carried out by natives. Christianity has changed races several times in its history and its association with white racism was only a phase, long gone now and kept alive only in some Hindus’ fevered imagination. Even the odd expressions of white racism, like the recent attack on Sikhs in the US probably was, are typically condemned by the Churches.

In reaction, Mrs. Radha Rajan has written on 28 August 2012: “Swamiji, why this renewed attack against Hindu intellectuals now? And permit me to be blunt, none of this will deter me from always looking out for Sonia Gandhi even in our religious domain.”


Well, go ahead and criticize the Italian bar-maid who became the de facto “empress of India”. I don’t think she is all that important, but I agree that the Churches can put pressure on Christian politicians to facilitate their operations. I don’t think any country should have a foreigner as its most powerful politician, but native Christian politicians are more dangerous to Hinduism, and a few have more conversions to their credit.


But more serious is that my article gets perceived as an “attack against Indian intellectuals”. Well, to the extent that Indian intellectuals identify the Churches with “foreign” and “white”, I think indeed that they are anachronistic and wrong. That is just my dissenting opinion, which I don’t conceive of as an “attack”. I find differences of opinion quite normal, the very stuff of intellectual life, and those who can only see them as attacks are not intellectuals.



Hindu racism?


Radha Rajan says: “I don’t want to be told how to fight my  battles and what weapons to use.” My knowledge of ground realities in India is very limited, but through my journeys, through the writings of Hindu activists and now through the internet, I get the impression of Hindus suffering defeat upon defeat. There are some signs of light, some local Hindu gains, but over all, the evolution is not good. Just look at the demographic gains of Christianity and Islam, and the confused and weak stand of the Hindu’s main political representative, the BJP. So the weapons being used do not seem to be very effective. I think they could use a reality check, hence my article. 

Radha Rajan also wrote: “Now this is once again white intellectual elite attempting to define the parameters and idiom of racism. Racism is as much about race as it is about politics as done by the white race. The white race, as a political category is despised by its victims for the political instruments it devised and used to subjugate non christians and non whites.”


The age in which the white race dominated the world lasted only a few centuries. Indeed, Hindus never tire of telling us that in the premodern age, most world trade was in the hands of the Asian powers India and China, so Western dominance was only a brief intermezzo. It is quite unhistorical to base essentialist pronouncements on such a short episode. Don’t Hindus think in ages, Westerners only in centuries?


But I agree that here, Radha Rajan represents a very large Hindu opinion. That section of Hindus claims to engage with Christian missionaries but is in fact fixated on “whites”, a vanishing minority among them. But it is so much easier if you can recognize the enemy by his skin colour instead of by a complicated thing such as his religious ideology. And Hindus, just like most people, like to take the easy option. Moreover, this reduction of complex ideological issues to race is highly secular, so there is a premium in secular India on preferring the Christian or Muslim race-follow to the differently-coloured ideological friend. That is why the fearful BJP will prefer to say that, for instance, Bangladeshi intrusion on Bodo lands is not a religious but a foreigners’ problem, even while Mumbai Muslims express their solidarity not with their Bodo fellow-countrymen but with their foreign fellow-Muslims.


According to Radha Rajan: “To now say that this dislike and expression of dislike of the white race is also racism is to say a rape victim's natural revulsion of the male species is sexism. The white race either wants to be ring master with the rest of the world playing circus animals or it wants us to look up at it helplessly while it assumes a paternalist role.”


It is not clear whether she (and some other Hindus who have reacted) differentiates between my view and my description of the Churches’ view, but since we’re all deemed white, I guess it’s all the same. This undisguised expression of anti-white racism may earn her some popularity but is misconceived.


I will not bother with the moral issues in her explicit defence of racism. Maybe she can show its successes, and they would justify it, who knows? What I want to explain, is that this is not about “natural revulsion” against the white race, but just the reverse. As US-based Communist Vijay Prashad once explained, Hindus in the US pretended to be white when being white was fashionable (basing their own claim of whiteness on the Aryan Invasion Theory) but changed over to a non-white identity when being non-white became more gainful. So, in this construction of things, which Chennai-based Mrs. Radha Rajan must know through the similar discourse of the Dravidianist parties, she is a lot whiter than she pretends.


Caste discrimination is presented by the Churches and their Dalit wardens as precisely a case of white racism against natives, viz. by the Aryan invaders who became the upper castes (including Radha Rajan’s own Aiyangar Brahmins)  against the aboriginals, who were turned into the lower castes. This is not about the British colonizers resenting the Indians’ anticolonialism and therefore criticizing anti-white racism, but about the anticolonialism of the lower castes resenting the earlier colonization by the Aryan invaders, the ancestors of Radha Rajan. To the British back then, and to the Dalit and Dravidianist spokesmen now, upper-caste imperialism is of the same kind (essentially foreign, though far more thorough) as British imperialism. Whether there was an Aryan invasion may be disputed, but I merely observe that the Churches are successfully building on that scenario.


The art of making enemies


This is also an occasion for me to express my amazement at Hindus’ propensity to see and make enemies everywhere, even among Hindus. In the Panchatantra, where a teacher has to instruct some princes through fables in the art of statecraft, one of the five books is devoted to the art of making friends. But today’s Hindus seem better at the art of turning friends into enemies.


Radha Rajan and other Vijayvaani authors have earlier attacked the Hindu Dharma Acharya Sabha for its 2008 “Jerusalem Declaration”, a remarkable diplomatic victory for the Hindus. The underlying theology may have been unsophisticated, if only because the event was rather improvised, and criticism is allowed, but hey, Jews have common interests with Hindus (the defence against Muslim terrorism and against Christian missionary subversion being most acute), so this building of bridges deserved some applause.


They have also criticized and antagonized the NRIs in general, Rajiv Malhotra in particular. US-based ex-businessman Mr. Malhotra has built an enormous database of highly relevant information, and developed pro-Hindu and pro-India arguments in his books. While fighting Christianity, he is attacked in the back by envious Hindus. If it can be any consolation, Malhotra is no better than Radha Rajan when it comes to making friends. I have witnessed how he antagonized many Hindus through his sharp and unforgiving (but truthful) language, even some people who were allies only a year ago. At any rate, at a time when the situation of Hindus in India and Hindus abroad is ever more similar, wisdom dictates that these two categories refrain from antagonizing each other.


And now, Radha Rajan also wants to antagonize Hinduism’s Western allies. When I first came to India, the Ayodhya movement was gathering strength, and what I, as coming from the country where most EU institutions are housed, got to hear all the time from Hindu activists, was the theme of a “Western-Indian alliance against Islam”. Back then, Hindus were vaguely aware of a similarity between the West and India. Thus, colonialism started as a way of by-passing the Muslims, who threatened Europe for a thousand years and conquered parts of it. As late as the early 19th century, Europeans and even American seafarers were victims of enslavement by Muslims, just like the Hindus. (Of course Europe and the Islamic world also cooperated, though problematically: the European slave-trade, of which the abolition’s 200th anniversary occasioned my article, started as a Portuguese subcontractor’s operation in a far larger and centuries-old Muslim slave-trade.) Today, European worries about Islamic encroachment remind one of what India is going through. So, among other things, we have that in common.


But now, Christianity is seen as more of a threat than Islam, and it gets identified with the West. Indeed, Westerners who have explicitly broken with Christianity are routinely dismissed by Hindu internet warriors as “Christians”. At the same time, recent interventions by America and/or NATO, made possible by their victory in the Cold War, have made the West seem very unsympathetic. Attacks on India’s old NAM ally Yugoslavia, on Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya (with the French and British leaders shaking hands there and looking very neo-colonial) are not liked by a people that remembers foreign invasions too well, albeit that these came from its Chinese and Pakistani neighbours. These Western interventions were criminal and mistaken, but it’s not to me that our governments will listen. At any rate, this development doesn’t change the earlier anti-Islamic equation, but it has changed the Hindus’ focus.


So, some Hindus invent reasons to treat “whites” as the enemy: the Partition of India back then and the persecution of Hindus in Bangladesh today is blamed on the British (The Empire’s Last Casualty is the secular-sounding title of a recent Hindu book on Bangladeshi persecution of its minorities), not on its real Islamic perpetrators; the Pakistani and otherwise Islamic terror attacks on India are blamed by Vijayvaani on covert American influence. It seems that some Hindus are white supremacists: for something meaningful to happen they always have to find a white hand behind it.


Well, suit yourselves. I only tried to sharpen the Hindu perception of how the Churches function today, and therefore to correct some misperceptions. But I would never want to tell Hindus how best to face their self-declared enemies. If you prefer to live in the colonial past or in a delusional world of your own creation, do your worst. If your weapons are more effective than mine, show me the successes you achieve with them.

Only, I hear laughter in the background. It must be by brown Christians who go on converting Hindus all while Hindu activists have their gaze fixed on “white racist Christian missionaries”.


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