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II.6. The Spiritual Divide in Vedic Scholarship

Part II.6

The Spiritual Divide in Vedic Scholarship

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������ The Vedas are part of a great spiritual-religious tradition that includes many great saints, sages, yogis, rishis, swamis and sadhus from ancient to modern times. Naturally, those who follow the Vedic tradition will interpret the Vedas very differently than those who don�t. Vedic texts are mainly concerned with spiritual issues; the relationship of human beings with the cosmic powers and the higher Self (Paramatman). Historical, economic and cultural factors are incidental, as much as they would be in any religious or poetic texts. The greater Vedic concerns are karma, rebirth, liberation, ritual worship of the Gods and Goddesses, self-purification, mantra, pranayama and Yoga practices of various types.

 

������ Most of the terms that came to characterize Indian civilization and yogic spirituality can be found in the Rigveda itself. These include dharma (natural law), karma (ritualistic or repeated action), dhyana (meditation), mantra, satyam (truth), Yoga and even Atman (the Self). Special Vedic terms for higher principles also exist like ritam (cosmic law) and brihat (the vast). Many spiritual and psychological terms exist as manas (mind), dhi (intelligence or buddhi), chitta (heart), kratu (will), daksha (skill), manisha (inspiration) and medha (wisdom). Such terminology indicates more spiritually to the Vedas than nomads, rituals or primitive poetry.

 

������ Most Western Indologists, not having a connection to the Vedic spiritual tradition or its terminology, cannot appreciate the spiritual-religious views of the Vedas. They have a different view of the world, history and progress�that of western civilization and its values�which colors their perception in another direction. They do not practice the mantras and meditations of the Vedic tradition so that they can know these at an intimate level. They are at best detached observers from the outside, at worst hostile critics with an agenda to denigrate or eliminate the Vedic tradition that they see as wrong or obsolete according to their own values. The result is that Western Indologists look at the Rigveda on an outer level only, not as a sophisticated system devised to develop a higher consciousness that transcends time and space but as primitive poetry or crude philosophy of unsophisticated tribes that should has little real value.

 

������ There are some exceptions to this rule. A few western scholars do have a background in various yogic paths and the teachings of different Hindu gurus. They have a deeper view, more sympathetic to the tradition. Unfortunately, they remain a minority and often keep their views hidden in order to protect their positions or because there is no real forum to air them.

 

Not surprisingly, most current Indologists reject the scholarship of spiritual Hindus on principle as being irrational, unscientific or politically incorrect. They give little credence to the Vedic scholarship on a spiritual level like that of Sri Aurobindo or Swami Dayananda of the Arya Samaj, even when such figures had a high level of Sanskrit training.

 

������ Older western Indologists like Max Muller followed a western view of religion evolving from primitive polytheism to monotheism, which was applied to India, with Vedic polytheism giving rise to Vedantic monism. However, this has little to do with the Vedic, Puranic and Tantric view in which monism and pluralism exist together in harmony, which idea we find from the Rigveda itself, with the One manifesting itself through the Many. Similarly, Marxist scholars look at the Vedic tradition in terms of a caste struggle that is simply a modification of the class struggle of Marxist theories. The Marxist view of history as moving towards a classless society and materialistic utopia is also quite foreign to Vedic thought that is trying to take us beyond our human limitations, organizing society toward the goal of Moksha or spiritual liberation.

 

������ Therefore, spiritual and religious Hindus must be careful in accepting interpretations of the Vedic tradition put forth by those who do not honor Hindu spirituality. Those who are not spiritual Hindus can perhaps offer something of value about the outer dimension of Vedic texts through historical studies or archaeology, but are likely to miss the main thing, the spiritual dimension. Even when they comment on outer political or historical dimensions of the Vedic tradition they are prone to misinterpretation, being unable to perceive the sophistication of Vedic civilization through its spiritual roots.

 

������ There are many examples of this problem. The Vedic war between the powers of light and darkness gets turned by modern scholars into a war between light and dark-skinned people. Vedic rishis like Vasishta and Vamadeva, regarded as Self-realized yogis, get turned into primitive shamans. The Vedic view of the universe as a series of oceans gets turned into the imaginings of nomads in Central Asia who never saw the sea! Soma, which is a symbol for Ananda or bliss in the highest spiritual sense, gets reduced to some primitive intoxicant.

 

The Example of Ramakrishna in Western Indology

 

������ There is a very glaring example of the scholarly divide about the Hindu tradition relative to modern teachers. Paramahansa Ramakrishna is regarded in India as a God-realized yogi, who mastered all religions and all Yoga paths, a saint and a bhakta almost without peer. Recently, a western Indologist, Jeffrey Kripal, came out with a study of Ramakrishna called Kali�s Child. The book tries to expose Ramakrishna as a repressed homosexual who indulged in child abuse, with all of his spiritual experiences being little more than neurotic fantasies. Ramakrishna�s entire practice of the many paths of Yoga and perhaps the entire tradition itself are reduced to little more than a delusion! In one fell swoop all the yogic knowledge and experience of Ramakrishna gets dismissed as fraudulent. The Hindu view of a many levels of consciousness from the human ego to the Absolute gets reduced to a sexual neurosis and compulsion. Ramakrishna�s experience of all the seven chakras gets all kept below the belt!

 

Such a Freudian interpretation of great personalities is, of course, nothing new or surprising, since Freud himself, though a Jew, identified Oedipus with Moses and turned one of the founders of his own religious tradition into a sexual neurotic! It is almost embarrassing that western scholars have not gotten beyond such sexual obsessions. This reduction of a person or a subject to a sexual deviation is another form of negationism and stereotyping. It is a form of intellectual weakness and character assassination for those who cannot debate the deeper philosophical and spiritual issues that a figure like Ramakrishna evokes. The magic of the Goddess Kali, the beauty of temple worship, and the vision of the Atman are all effaced by a cynical pop psychology. Kundalini and the chakras, samadhi and Self-realization, which Kripal probably thinks is all neurosis of one form or another, is all forgotten.

 

Such sexual charges are nothing new for westerners that compulsively read sexuality into the Hindu tradition or any other native, indigenous or pagan groups. Anything foreign, exotic or beyond ordinary western culture becomes sex, largely because of the sexually saturated nature of western civilization. Islam similarly, which is hardly an ascetic religion with its polygamy, also imagined eroticism in Hindu temples and needed to destroy them accordingly. I recall recently hearing a western Christian speak of the eroticism of the Bhagavad Gita. That the Gita is an ascetic text with no eroticism was lost on the person, whose mind was still working on the Hindu equals pagan equals erotic equation regardless of the Hindu tradition of yogic detachment and withdrawal from the senses.

 

Hindu Avoidance of the Historical Debate

 

������ Some Hindu scholars have ignored the outer dimension of the Vedas and focused on the spiritual meaning only. Some traditionalists have insisted that there is no historical dimension to the Vedas at all. They use the Vedas being eternal and apaurusheya (impersonal) to reject any historical interpretation of Vedic texts, though Itihasa-Purana (history) was one of the main traditional methods of interpreting Vedic mantras. When spiritual or religious Hindus do make a contribution on the historical side, it is often rejected out of hand because of their religious background and so they are reluctant to continue in the debate.

 

������ In this regard, we should recognize that spiritual and religious Hindus can add much to the historical study of Vedic and Indic traditions, whatever background we may have. There are obviously many Christian, Jewish and Islamic scholars, who are quite staunch or even conservative in their beliefs, active in the scholarship in their fields. To reject spiritual and religious Hindus on any issues of history is a religious prejudice. To quote their spiritual views of higher consciousness (or their belief in astrology) as proof of their poor scholarship on historical matters is also inappropriate.

 

Other Hindus have ignored the historical debate and emphasize promoting spiritual Hinduism through Yoga and Vedanta instead. They have found that the western mind is more open to these spiritual teachings and will accept them, even when holding to the western view of history or various anti-Hindu stereotypes. These teachers may not call themselves Hindus and emphasis a universal path uniting all religions. They consider that in the long term people will change their views on outer cultural issues, once they have adopted a Hindu-based spiritual way of life and values. For this reason many Hindu gurus shun social or political issues, even if they may inwardly sympathize with Hindu causes.

 

While such an approach can be helpful, we cannot ignore cultural and historical issues in the long run. There are ways of dealing with these without abandoning a spiritual view or without unnecessarily offending seekers in the West. In fact, such Hindu cultural critiques may appeal to seekers in the West, affording the Yoga tradition a greater intellectual sophistication and social relevance, and draw in those who otherwise would not be attracted to it.

 

Two Levels of Vedic Scholarship

 

������ We must recognize two levels of Vedic scholarship. The first is a spiritual level, which will be honored more by those who practice the Vedic teachings. The second is an historical level. This is what modern academia honors�particularly when it follows a standard of political correctness that it can agree with. We are faced with a contradiction between these two views, a gulf that is wide, though not entirely irreconcilable.

 

Individuals regarded as true Vedic scholars and pandits in India will not be accepted as true scholars by western academics because they don�t follow the rational and materialistic methodologies that the West honors. This is why figures like Sri Aurobindo will not be read relative to ancient India. Similarly, those regarded as important Vedic scholars by western academia will be not be honored by spiritual Hindus because they are not inwardly connected to the Vedic tradition. No Hindu will look up to western academicians since Max Muller as spiritual gurus in the Vedic tradition! We should remember Upanishadic injunctions about who can really learn the inner truth of the teachings and the dangers of giving it to those who are not really qualified. �This Vedantic teaching should not be given to one who is not peaceful, who is not a son or a disciple. Who has the highest devotion to God and guru, these spoken truths become clear to that great soul (Svetasvatara Upanishad VI.21-22).� Clearly no good western academician would accept these values. Their path is not discipleship in the tradition but a view from the outside that is often misinformed.

 

������ However, it is possible to balance the spiritual and historical interpretations of the Vedic tradition. Spiritual scholars can acknowledge the historical dimension and seek to bring clarity to it. Historical scholars can acknowledge the spiritual dimension as being there, even if they are in no position to really comment on it. However, while students of Hindu spirituality can acknowledge history, academics that deny spirituality will be less likely to bring it into their discussions.

 

������ Certainly spiritual Hindus must address historical issues. To do this they must create a new Vedic historical methodology. They need not ignore Hindu historical sources but must combine these with a multidisciplinary approach linking literature, astronomy, archaeology, geology and other factors.They should also aim at a scientific approach to communicate to a modern audience. On the other hand, scholars who are not Hindus must recognize that much of the Vedic teaching will be lost on them as they are unfamiliar with the religious and spiritual factors involved. The key is for Hindus to take the lead in interpreting their tradition. Indology must return to India and encounter the full force of the Bharatiya tradition. This will occur when the Indian homeland of the Vedas is once more honored.

 

Devic and Asuric Civilizations and Scholarship

 

������ All ancient mythologies speak of the war between the Devas and the Asuras, the Gods and the anti-gods or titans, which is also the battle between the forces of light and darkness. This is the dominant image of the Rigveda and the Zend Avesta, but has traces everywhere in ancient thought, whether in the Greek, Egyptian, Jewish, Babylonian or Native American traditions. Following this model, we can postulate two types of civilization in the world as the �Devic� or spiritual and the �Asuric� or materialistic. In the Upanishads (Chandogya VIII.7), the main difference between the two groups is that the Asuras believe that the body is the Self or the true reality, while the Devas look beyond the body to pure consciousness.

 

������ Clearly, modern civilization, which is primarily western in origin and leadership, whether of the political left or right, is Asuric or bodily-based. Obviously modern commercialism is sensate and bodily-based and modern communism projects an entirely materialistic utopia. The dominant view of western religions is of heaven or paradise as a glorified physical realm, which requires the resurrection of the physical body to achieve. This means that both the religious and secular sides of western culture are bodily-based. Western civilization reflects the outer values of the ego, with its emphasis on famous personalities in all domains of life (including those of scientists and scholars). It is assertive, militant and greedy, not only in the political and economic spheres, but also in religion.

 

������ The western obsession with physical history as the real truth is another bodily-based compulsion that is arguably Asuric in nature. Its emphasis on physical remains for interpreting history, as with archaeological ruins or skeletons, demonstrates a bias for physical reality. It has no spiritual, dharmic or Devic view to balance this out. Western Indologists believe that their physical/outward-based view has given them the real keys to ancient India and Vedic civilization. They are like the Asura Virochana in the Upanishads who is content with the idea that the body is the Self. Their main concern in Vedic texts is dissecting the grammar, which is an emphasis on the outer aspect of language that misses the spirit or meaning encased within it.

 

Western linguistics has a similar physical bias that ignores the spiritual basis of language. Their prime focus is physical indicators in some proposed Proto-Indo-European language, which they are constructing as if ancient languages were physically based forms of speech. They forget the obvious fact that ancient languages and cultures were ritualistic in nature, with a primary concern for the sacred, not our modern obsession with physical reality! Following this materialistic line, linguists have tried to determine common geographical and animal terms in Indo-European languages in order to identify the original homeland of the Indo-Europeans, oblivious to the spiritual focus of ancient Arya culture which was never geographically limited. This reflects the same concern for form over content that characterizes modern commercial culture. They glorify the husk and lose the edible fruit within it!

 

However, there have been Devic or spiritual elements hidden in western culture, whether in the Celts, Greeks, Christian mystics, or New Age aspiration. Similarly, there are Asuric forces in India that are quite powerful today, like its leftist intelligentsia that has dominated the country since independence. Even in the Devic or yogic field are gurus that are Asuric in nature, seeking to accumulate wealth and power for themselves. Today the Asuric forces are on the ascendancy all over the world, unleashing powerful technological and mechanical forces threatening the very life on the planet. Therefore, Devic forces must unite and cross over any geographical barriers in order to once more defeat the Asuras.

 

The Devas are slowly awakening again. Reclaiming the Vedas�which preserve better than any text the spiritual heritage of humanity�is the key to bringing the Gods back. This means reclaiming the Vedas from Asuric (physical or body-based) scholarship back to a spiritual and yogic view. The Asuras always try to destroy or capture the Vedas in order to keep humanity spiritually in the dark. Just as the Asuras stole the Vedas in previous Yugas and the Gods had to win them back, Western Indologists are the modern Asuras who have tried to capture the Vedas in the contemporary world. It is time for a new group of Devas to win them back. This requires a spiritual and intellectual battle, for which a new power of Vishnu or higher consciousness is necessary. The Vedas contain the keys of mastery for humanity and the essence of our global spiritual heritage. Like the secrets of science they need to kept in good hands and used for our higher evolution.

 

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