Thursday, December 27, 2018

Shaktatantra conference in Sanchi

Buddhism was far away at this sacred place of Buddhism, where the very different approach of Shaktism was in focus. Very interesting conference, esp. for those who know little about Srividya and related esoteric subjects. No time for a export, but  I may niet down the questions or remarks that were triggered in me.

1/ When a question was raised about the contrast between the "patriarchal" Vedas and "woman-centred" Tantra, the panelists correctly said that positing such a contrast was already an interiorization of a purely modern prejudice. While correct, what was missing from the response was the only thing that can really put down such misconceptions, viz. an argument of authority. In support of this mistaken but populair claim, Wendy Doniger had been cited as authority, a prominent case of "underinformed but overopinionated"; against that, I volunteered a reference to Prof. David Gordon White, who in his book Kiss of the Yogini argues that the claim is wrong and that the Vedas already contain many Tantric themes. Mind you, Hindu activists tend to locate him as much in the enemy camp as Doniger, but he happens to know the Tantric material and so his conclusion is fairer to Hindu tradition, true to the data rather than to the lens of (a fashionably applied) psycho-analysis.

2/ When Prof. Lorilia Biernicki discussed  texts where the usual Tantric role division was reversed, with the male pole being likened to the body and the female to consciousness, I remarked that this answers to a social reality. Traditionally, women were seen as immersed in time-consuming worldly pursuits like preparing food and looking after children and other needy people, while men had a more regular life with time for yogic pursuits. But a common fact of life in Western yoga circles is that it is women who engage in yogic practice whereas their men pooh-pooh these "flaky pastimes" to focus on material pursuits instead.  So male ~ material, female ~ spiritual.

3/ When Prof. Jeffrey Lidke discussed the neuroscientific research about certain brain areas and mechanisms corresponding to certain states of consciousness, including synesthesia ("hearing smells", "seeing sounds"), I admitted that this was exciting and innovative stuff, but perhaps not so relevant. In the Samkhya worldview, which has permeated Hindu philosophy in general to some extent, there is a strict separation between Purusha, pure consciousness not immersed in the objects of consciousness, and on the other Prakrti, nature, which includes every single instance of object consciousness, both sensory perception and its digestion (Manas), and the awareness and elaboration of mental objects like memories and imaginings (Buddhi), which even includes synesthesia and other altered states of consciousness. The goal of yoga is not an altered state of consciousness, it is only a zero state consciousness: Purusha, "the seer resting in his own form", as Patañjali says. The Pofessor agreed in essence, but pointed out that this concerns Shaktatantra, not Samkhya-Yoga or Vedanta.

4/ A similar remark was provoked by Prof. BVK Sastry's discussion of some of Tantra's many complicated categories, like the ten Mahavidyas, the six or seven Chakras, the six Kañcukas or veils between the individual and the universal planes, etc. The oldest known definition of yoga, in the Katha Upanishad, simply says that it consists in closing the senses and stilling the mind, yielding the highest state. It was and is all so simple in the beginning. Hasn't Hindu civilization made an unnecessarily complicated, huge detour? Same answer: this is the Tantric view, which is a different one.

5/ Prof. Shubhada Joshi related the whole Shaktatantra topic to Indian Marxism. As an honorary member of the Kumarila Bhatta Samiti, i.e. the Indian society of ex-Communists, I listened attentively to her rattling off a whole string of Marxist names, who happened all to be Brahmins. This included Debiprasad Chattopadhyay (philosopher specialized in ancient Indian materialist worldviews), CPI leader SA Dange and a few more, and could have included prominent names like Communist Party founder MN Roy, Kerala CM EMS Namboodiripad, Bengal CM Buddhadev Bhattacharya, Nepal PM Pushpa Kamal Dahal (Prachanda) and many other leaders and ideologues of the various Communist factions. This made me wonder, and ask her (alas, no time for much of an answer), if there is not something congenial between Marxism and Brahminism. Original Brahminism was austere, and very different from common Hinduism with its sentimental moralism and its idol-worship in temples, as autobiographically testified by RSS Sarma in the Telugu novel The Last Brahmin. Contrary to popular devotional Hinduism, philosophies like Samkhya and Mimamsa were godless in their own way. Wasn't it somehow natural that of all Hindus, it was specifically the Brahmins who felt disproportionately attracted to Marxism?

6/ Chinese-American Prof. Robin Wang expounded on the female principle in Daoism, and compared it to goddess worship in India. But more starkly than even she had outlined, the two views are quite different. In Hinduism you get assertive and combative goddesses, like tiger goddess Durga killing the demon, or Kali chopping off heads. They are the type over whom Western feminists go ga-ga. But Chinese goddesses like Nüwa, Xiwangmu or Guanyin are more traditionally feminine, somewhat like Our Lady in Catholicism. The whole lore of Yin and Yang, the female and male principles, does not say the two are interchangeable, nor that Yin is something like Yang as feminists would wish. On the contrary, the Yin principle is celebrated as submissive and following and soft (e.g. in Laozi's famous veneration of "the spirit of the valley" cited by Prof. Wang), as the opposite of the Yang principle. The whole Yin-Yang dichotomy is sexist par excellence, and there is nothing bad about that.

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Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Even more on Hinduism

 (written in January 2018, published in the forthcoming issue of the ICHR bulletin)

What does American academe think about Hinduism nowadays? Well, just like in questions about God, the answer “depends on what you mean by that term”. Geoffrey Oddie, general editor of the series including the present collective book, Hinduism in India, thematizes the term in the first chapter. The original geographical meaning of Hindu as “Indian” remained in use into the late 19th century, when native converts called themselves “Hindu Christians”. Yet since the entry of the Muslims in the Middle Ages, it had acquired a second meaning which gradually became standard, viz. an Indian non-Muslim, a Heathen. Today, it has become quite unacceptable to describe an Indian Muslim or Christian as Hindu, and RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat draws a lot of flak when he asserts once more that “every Indian is a Hindu”.

Just like e.g. Greek philosophy, divided in different mutually antagonistic schools yet understood as a single project when looked at from the outside, Hinduism was heavily conscious of its divisions in Shaivas vs. Vaishnavas, Sankhya vs. Vedanta, etc., until confrontation with an outsider made it realize its relative unity. From at least the 13th century, doxographers like Madhavacharya see a pan-Hindu essence, able to compete with the creeds defining Islam and Christianity. In this book, unfortunately, while this is correctly enunciated, it remains only a sociological nod to a human reality but without any ideological flesh: no attempt is made to analyse just what this core could be contentswise.  

This book is, after all, more focused on contemporary Indian sociology than on religious contents through classical or vernacular sources. The latter are featured mostly in the chapters on folk Hinduism (with the “little traditions” contrasting with the Sanskritic “great tradition”), the religious role of ghost-possession, and the modern guru movements. Really existing Hindu society is studied more closely in chapters on its economics, healing traditions, the impact of modernity and specifically of the media, transformations in the institute of marriage, Hindu law, and of course the caste system. The latter chapter is not the usual litany against Hinduism as “nothing but caste religion, the religion that decrees inequality between people”, but juxtaposes that view with its opposite, that “we are so embroiled in understanding caste system that the other salient aspects of caste has been relegated to the back seat” (p.272).

This way, some papers approach scholarly objectivity; but truth to tell, most contributors do show their bias to a limited degree, as they drink in this default position during their Indology studies. Contrary to their Arabic or Chinese counterparts, the Indian Studies departments have been structurally anti-Hindu for decades, so the absorption of this bias is no surprise. Mercifully, it is mostly insinuated here in small doses so that only the expert will notice.

Thus, the Moplah violence during the Khilafat movement was directed against “Kerala landlords” (p.109) as if was merely a social and not a religious struggle, a negationist thesis promoted by the Communists. This way, Hindus are spirited away from the “victim” category and turned into exploiters who only deserved what they got. Likewise, the not-so-innocent Saint Thomas legend, unhistorical (he never set foot in India) anti-Brahmin blood libel (they never murdered him) but profitable to the Christian mission, is uncritically taken for granted (p.103). The Hindus are accused of being “discriminatory” (p.17) because caste-based reservations are (or rather, were) limited to the broadly defined Hindu category, not extending to Christians or Muslims. In fact, this is a logical corollary of Christian and Muslim propaganda that their religions know no caste and that any Dalit convert ceases to be a Dalit. Indeed, when establishing the first caste reservations in 1935, the British expressed willingness to extend this privilege to the missionaries’ flock, but those missionaries refused. They still had a sense of consistency and honour.

In most cases, no malice need be involved: the Indology departments typically attract India-lovers who innocently swallow the uniquely hostile bias without really realizing it. In the section of “secularism”, however, Timothy Lubin makes claims (or merely repeats them, as most authors do) that can’t stand scrutiny at all. Unfocused outsiders may have swallowed them, but to actually prepare a paper on that very subject and then still calling India a “secular state” (p.50), admitting that this claim is criticized yet remaining silent on the prime reason for this criticism, viz. the constitutional as well as the effective discriminations against Hindus and Hinduism esp. in education and temple management, is either blindness or bad faith.

It is the most eminent among the contributors, Robert Eric Frykenberg, who goes the farthest in expressing his bias. He shudders to think what an “absolute majority” for the BJP would do (p.116). Well, since 2014, the party does have an absolute majority, and what calamity has befallen India? To explain the BJP’s policies in the 21st century, he has nothing better to show than the same two worn-out quotes from the RSS leader-to-be, MS Golwalkar, penned down in 1938 (p.116). He likens the Hindu Nationalist organizations to Fascism, in the US the single gravest allegation you can possibly make, and calls them “totalizing, if not totalitarian” (p.116). He slanderously alleges that Hindu leader VD Savarkar was complicit in the Mahatma Gandhi murder, against the police findings and the judicial verdict. Short, the same tone you routinely find in India’s dominant anti-Hindu media, apparently the uncritically swallowed source of his view of Hinduism.  

When I first met him, at Wisconsin University’s Annual South Asia Conference in 1995, the India-watching community was filled with foreboding about an imminent BJP breakthrough to power. The experts were outdoing each other in predicting how terrible BJP rule would be: “They will come down on Dalits and women”, “They will abolish democracy”, “They will throw all Muslims into the Indian Ocean”. None of those academics has ever publicly recanted or apologized, yet the BJP has been in power now for ten years (1998-2004, 2014-18, and even for thirteen days in 1996) and nothing of the sort has happened.

Or has it? Not if you live in the real world, but the parallel world which the Indologists have created for themselves is different. Frykenberg claims the post-Godhra riots (the anti-Hindu Godhra pogrom itself, trigger of what followed, remains unmentioned) resulted in “10,000 Muslims killed”, i.e. reality times ten (p.115). He thinks the Vajpayee government went all out with an “authoritarian agenda of ‘saffronization’ aimed to ‘Hinduize’ all institutions and to bring minority people ‘into the Hindu fold’ by whatever means necessary” (p.115); in reality, the few Hindu Nationalist intellectuals were desperate at the party’s lackadaisical treatment of the cultural frontline, where it left the power equation untouched and proved to have no higher ambition than an ever-elusive pat on the shoulder from the secularists. The term “saffronization” mainly referred to Vajpayee’s creation of a chair for Indian Studies in Oxford, that ended up being given to a vocal enemy of Hindutva.  

It has been the same thing under Narendra Modi: no “draining the swamp”, no overhaul of key educational or research posts, only an inconsequential bias towards Hindutva-reputed artists in the awarding of prizes, and doling out posts to useless gerontocrats as reward for their lifelong service to the party. “BJP secularism” proves to be a very enduring doctrine, the maker of government policy, yet it is steadfastly ignored by the India-watchers. So, next to some informative chapters, a few mainly just tell us what is wrong with present-day Indology, or rather, with “South-Asian Studies”.  

Will Sweetman and Aditya Malik, eds. (under general editor Oddie, Geoffrey): Hinduism in India: Modern and Contemporary Movements (Sage, New Delhi, 2016). Pp. xviii+312. Rs 795/-. ISBN: 978-93-515-0099-5

Dr. Koenraad Elst, Visiting Professor at Indus University, Ahmedabad

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Tuesday, December 18, 2018

The European view of the Indo-European Homeland

The European view of the Indo-European Homeland

 (Pragyata , December 2018)

The present publication is an English translation of Alain de Benoist’s book The Indo-Europeans. In Search of the Homeland, brought out by Arktos, London 2016. It has to be understood from the outset that the French original’s second and last edition dates from 1997, and no attempt has been made to provide an update. The most recent Indo-Europeanist trend discussed here is the briefly popular Anatolian Homeland Theory by Colin Renfrew, thoroughly refuted here and by now also gone out of fashion among professionals.

Out of India

Even more conspicuous by its absence is the Out-of-India theory (OIT). At this point I declare my interest: the 2001 issue of de Benoist’s yearbook Nouvelle Ecole carried an article by myself presenting the Out-of-India Theory (OIT), a complete first for its readership. It was at once gainsaid (some would say “refuted”) in articles by leading Indo-Europeanist Jean Haudry and also by editor de Benoist himself. Of course I don’t mind the expression of rival opinions, not even when they articulate the readership’s own sensibilities. But at least it is undeniable that since then, he knows about the OIT. Therefore adepts of the OIT, or more generally of any responsible search for the Homeland, may object with indignation that the OIT is passed over in silence in this book.

This criticism is misplaced, for there is a perfectly honourable explanation: this book dates back to 1997, when India as Homeland candidate did not figure in de Benoist’s horizon. If criticism is persisted in, it should be directed at the publisher, who chose to republish a book from a past stage of an ongoing debate without providing an update.

There is only passing mention of the (not yet thus called) OIT in its earlier European version, ca. 1800. It has only been called OIT since 1996, and many watchers of the Homeland debate have only gradually learned about it. Even then, they have mostly misunderstood it: while most Hindus reject a more westerly Homeland, it is not true that they therefore subscribe to what Westerners would consider its opposite scenario, viz. an emigration from India. Once you accept the linguistic kinship of Europe and India, you have to assume either an immigration into India or an emigration from India; but most Hindus have never fully interiorized this kinship.

Thus, most Indian archaeologists state authoritatively that the Harappan area shows no sign of an invasion of immigration that could be identified as IE or “Aryan”; but this doesn’t imply that they have explored or even just affirmed a reverse migration from India. Their horizon usually stops at the Khyber Pass and they have no notion of, nor interest in, what has happened in Central Asia and Europe. I find this situation deplorable, but something similar exists on the Western side, that stonewalls any Indian contribution to the debate.     

The New Right

Alain de Benoist can rightfully be called the mastermind of the New Right, or in the French original, the Nouvelle Droite. This is a European continental phenomenon, to be distinguished from the Anglo-Saxon Thatcher-Reaganite New Right. The latter was anti-socialist, pro-capitalist, sceptical about communal identity issues, and in the US mostly Christian. The Nouvelle Droite, by contrast, is decidedly against Christianity (one of its icons is the late Lithuanian Indo-Europeanist Marija Gimbutas, much discussed here, who was cremated with Pagan rites), pro social security, against the ongoing post-socialist precarization, against the pursuit of “ever more” brought on by Capitalism (as contrasting with the “nothing in excess” of the Greek philosophers), against unlimited growth, against one-dimensional economic man with his “rugged individualism”.

What makes it “rightist” is its favouring of ethnic and communitarian identities against homogenizing globalism, and its scepticism of the Social Justice Warrior’s ideal of equality, favouring “differentialism” instead. What makes it “new” is that, as against the old monarchists and followers of a leader/dictator, it has nothing against democracy, often even favouring forms of direct democracy; and against the old nationalisms with their cramped emphasis on homogeneity, it favours European unity (official motto: “unity in diversity”) in a federal or confederal form, with ample space for regional identities.

A part of the Nouvelle Droite’s construction of the European identity is not to identify Europe with Christianity, as conservative Christians (and many non-Christian non-Europeans) do, but to bring in the somewhat older Indo-European (IE) identity. The Christian argument is that tribal Europe only became a self-conscious unit by acquiring a common Christian identity: the first time “Europe” (from Phoenician Ereb, “evening, west”, used by the Greeks for the lands west of the Aegean Sea, roughly greater Greece minus Ionia) got used in its present meaning, was in the reporting about the Frankish Christian victory against the Moorish invaders in the battle of Poitiers/Tours in 731. But the New-Rightists look deeper, at the IE cultures of most of Europe before Christianization was imposed.

This is a bit strange, because the oldest European language, Basque, is not part of the IE family; and even Basque is an immigrant language, or at least from the absolute rim of Europe, the Caucasus. This Northwest-Caucasian origin, dating back 8,000 years or so, has been demonstrated by the late Georges Dumézil, who otherwise remains a reference point for the Nouvelle Droite.

The Uralic languages (Finnish, Estonian, Hungarian, Sami/Lapponic, and a dozen more languages in Russia on both sides of the Ural mountains), similarly have immigrated, viz. from Central Asia. They are not IE either, but the settlement of their part of Europe happened in parallel with the great IE trek westwards. This reached the Atlantic coasts of Portugal, Ireland and Iceland, but where exactly did it start?

The Homeland

The currently prevalent theory put this Homeland (or Urheimat) somewhere near the Volga river, again on the eastern rim of Europe, in what the Russians call the Yamna or Pit-grave culture, beyond 3,000 BCE. In the centuries after 3,000 BCE, this Yamna population spectacularly broke through Central Europe, leaving a deep archaeological and genetic footprint. Next it filled up or assimilated the remaining pockets of Western Europe, with some non-IE or “Old European” languages holding out in parts of Italy and Spain well into the Roman period, possibly in Scotland even beyond.

As for the Indo-Europeans, they too are immigrants. Either they came from India, as Europeans thought ca. 1800 and many Indians think today: or, according to the presently dominant position, they came from the rim of Europe, from Pontus, the area north of the Caspian and Black Seas. That is the mainstream hypothesis, but Alain de Benoist sets out to amend it slightly.

First he goes over the entire history of this debate, starting with Willian Jones’s famous 1786 speech before the Asiatic Society of Bengal. Or rather, starting earlier: though not having similar dramatic consequences, the announcement of a kinship between the Indian and European civilizations had already been made just years before the announcement of a linguistic kinship between India and Europe, by Voltaire, Immanuel Kant, Johann Herder and others. Insufficient attention is paid to the little-known fact that in the first decades, the Out-of-India Theory was deemed natural in Europe.

Next, de Benoist gives a good factual overview of the march of IE linguistics, deemed to have started with the first book on Sanskrit grammar by Franz Bopp in 1816. He introduces the main episodes, such as the controversy since ca. 1870 between the Genealogical Tree model and the Wave model, which pay too little c.q. too much attention to the influence of neighbouring languages upon one other. This factual presentation of the history of the Indo-Europeanist discipline is certainly the greatest merit of the book for laymen.

Gradually, the linguistic distance between Sanskrit and the reconstructed ancestral language (Proto-Indo-European, PIE) was theorized to become bigger, and in proportion with this, the geographical distance between India and the putative Homeland. In much of the 19th century, Bactria remained a candidate, favoured e.g. by Friedrich Max Müller. From the 1920s onwards, the needle pointed more and more stably to Southwestern Russia. But before that, it had pointed to most regions west of India, including the Balkans, the Baltics, Germany, Scandinavia, Belarus, and even Atlantis. In the 1990s, Anatolia was also briefly in favour, but the consensus among Western Indo-Europeanists reverted to the East-European steppe lands. To explain the language family’s actual presence in India, the only explanation was the Aryan Invasion Theory (AIT). This is assumed here, though without any ado because it is not deemed to be the object of controversy. The only controversy is between different Homelands in Europe: East or Central.

The point of this book, except for giving an overview of the Homeland debate’s different phases, is to reopen the debate and relocate the Homeland more to the West, in Central Europe. This way, the IE-speaking tribes no longer carry the “odium” of being immigrants, interlopers into an earlier but long-disappeared Old-European culture. Instead, they become the undisputed core of Europe, the real native Europeans. To anchor the language family even deeper in Europe, the stage of Proto-Indo-European unity is pushed back beyond the Neolithic to the end of the Ice Age in the Mesolithic (more than 10,000 years ago, rather than the usually assumed 6,000), all on the strength of already existing hypotheses by legitimate scholars. This would satisfy the Nouvelle Droite’s identity project, viz. with IE as the backbone of Europe.

In 1997, one could still, narrowly, plead ignorance about the revived OIT. But to republish the book two decades later as if nothing had happened in this eventful period is a bit bizarre. It is but an extreme of an attitude common among Indo-Europeanists, viz. to stonewall any arguments for the OIT and ignore it as not worth mentioning.


The book’s frontpage sports an imaginative action picture of Ötzi, the 5500-year-old “Iceman” found in the melted ice of the Ötztal in South Tirol. He has become something of a mascot of the Euro-Nationalists. Back then it was not known yet, but today we know that he constitutes a formidable pointer to Indian origins.

Prof. Subhash Kak (Was the Indian Sub-Continent the Original Genetic Homeland of the Europeans?”, Swarajya, 16 Jan. 2016) reports: “Researchers at the European Academy of Bolzano (EURAC) (…) picked on the stomach bacterium ‘Helicobacter pylori’, which is found in all human populations, with two major strains that are Asian and African. The modern Europeans have ‘H. pylori’ that is a hybrid between Asian and African bacteria. In research published in the 8 January, 2016 issue of the Science Magazine, the EURAC authors announced that the Iceman’s stomach has ‘H. pylori’ that is of Indian origin (but now extinct) and not related to the hybrid variety of the modern European ‘admixture’. This means that Indians as migrants were present in Europe in 3300 BC.”

For good measure, he extends this suspicion of an Indian origin to another European icon: “The Gundestrup cauldron found in a peat bog in Denmark and estimated to have been made about 2000 years ago has images of Indian deities on it (including, most strikingly, that of a goddess worshiped by two elephants, Gajalakshmi), and thus may have been done by craftsmen of Indian origin, perhaps in Thrace. Trade between India and the West has been traced back to the third millennium BC. Such continuing interaction must have led to diffusion of art and culture.”

Euro-nationalists are, even more than most academic Indo-Europeanists, blind to the input from India. De Benoist has later informed himself a little about this Indian element, but many of his followers still stonewall this information. And even he was ignorant of it back in 1997, a moment in time perpetuated by the present book.

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