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Myth of Hindu Sameness - Essay by Rajiv Malhotra

nabadip - Thu, 18 Nov 2004 18:36:14 +0530
Myth of Hindu Sameness

Rajiv Malhotra

Published on Thursday, November 18, 2004
Accessed 165 Times


This essay examines the often repeated claim by Hindus and non-Hindus alike that Hinduism is the same as other religions. Some common factors that cause many Hindus to slip into sameness are as follows: Hindus arrogantly assume that other religions want to be the same as Hinduism, and hence they feel that they are doing these other religions a favor. Against this one may point out that the traditional Hindu teachings make a clear distinction between valid and not valid religious claims, by separating them as dharma and adharma, sat (truth) and asat (falsity), devika and asuric, etc.

Many Hindus misapply teachings about the Unmanifest when dealing with the diversity of the manifest, and the unity of transcendence in dealing with the diversity and conflict found in the worldly. Furthermore, they fail to distinguish between shruti and smriti. The unity of all shruti is assumed to mean that all smritis must be the same. In particular, Hindus fail to understand the critical history-dependence of the Abrahamic religions and the way their core myths and institutions are built around these frozen smritis. Often what Hindus really mean is that all religions are equal in the respect and rights they deserve, but they confuse this with sameness.

At the same time, there are strong arguments that religious differences lead to tensions and violence. Many Hindus have internalized these arguments, over simplifying the Hindu thought about there being one truth and all paths leading to it.

To address these and other issues, this essay presents a new theoretical framework for looking at religions and global religious violence. It classifies religious movements as History-Centric and non History-Centric. The former are contingent on canonical beliefs of their sacred history. Non History-Centric religious movements, on the other hand, do have beliefs about history, but their faith is not contingent on history.

The essay advances the thesis that non History-Centric faiths offer the only viable spiritual alternative to the religious conflicts that are inherent among History-Centric religions.

In analyzing the predominantly non History-Centric Hinduism through this framework, the essay looks at the two main Hindu responses in its interface with the predominantly History-Centric religions of Christianity and Islam. These are: (1) how Hinduism is trying to become History-Centric, and (2) how Hinduism is self-destructing under the Myth of Sameness, by offering itself as a library of shareware for "generic" spirituality.

The essay cautions that Hinduism runs the risk of becoming either (1) History-Centric itself, or (2) losing its identity and becoming digested into Christianity via the Sameness Myth.

Scenario #1 leads to a three-way jihad among three History-Centric religions – Christianity vs. Islam vs. Hinduism – in which Hinduism cannot win. Scenario #2 leads to the dissolution of Hinduism through a combination of hostile and friendly takeovers by Christianity, which, in turn, worsens the two-way jihad between Christianity and Islam. Therefore, both scenarios ultimately feed the clash of Christianity vs. Islam, i.e. between conflicting History-Centric positions.

To construct an alternative framework, the essay debunks the Sameness Myth, which reflects naïve Hindus' wishful thinking about how other religions ought to be rather than how they actually are.

The essay calls for Hindu scholars to develop a rigorous approach to purva-paksha (scholarly critiques of other traditions within the framework of the Indian darshanas); to highlight the Hindu history of constructions through its own smriti traditions; and to refute false presuppositions about Hinduism that have spread into many academic disciplines.

The essay recommends the promotion of equality-with-difference as a core Hindu principle, also referred to within this essay as difference-with-respect. This entails asserting a positive Hindu identity that is neither History-Centric nor dismissive of its distinctiveness.

I: Introduction

There are two current trends in Hinduism that were born of a perceived 'threat' to Hinduism. These are as follows:

1. There is a movement to focus Hinduism in terms of God's interventions in Indian history, most commonly associated with Avatar Ram's history and the related geography. Such a version of Hinduism is History-Centric. (See my earlier writings.) The term is also explained later in this essay.

2. The second trajectory is less formal and less institutionalized, but is far more pervasive and subversive. This is to unbundle (or break up) Hinduism into a set of separate generic ideas, practices, symbols, etc., that any religion or non religious worldview may appropriate in a modular fashion, assimilating what fits and rejecting (and demonizing) what does not. I call this the Sameness Myth because it is the result of the false premise that Hinduism is the same as any other religion, thereby making its parts individually available for appropriation.

Both these trends feed and are fed by a 'threatened Hinduism', i.e., the sense that Hinduism is facing pressures from within and without. However, this essay does not examine such threats or pressures. (I have other essays on geopolitics and Hinduism.)

History-Centrism (#1) provides any religion with an identity fortress, which is both defensive and useful for an offensive. It also tends to collapse internal differences and encourage homogeneity. I shall argue against the merits of this kind of essentializing of Hinduism, and will suggest alternative ways of bringing cohesion and identity that preserve difference.

After a brief overview of History-Centrism, the main purpose of this essay will be to explain the problems that Hinduism is facing because of #2, i.e., the false myth that it is the same as other religions. I shall show that the Sameness Myth suffers from at least three problems:

* Sameness with all other religions is incompatible with authentic Hindu dharma.
* Sameness is making Hinduism irrelevant and redundant. It is sliding Hinduism towards extinction by dilution and assimilation, in the same manner as Christianity's inculturation strategy made many pagan religions extinct. It positions Hinduism as a takeover target by History-Centric predators, with a friendly takeover of some components and a hostile takeover and/or outright cultural genocide of other components.
* In the aftermath of such takeovers the predators become stronger and the world less safe. Hence, sameness can at best be a short-term alternative and antidote to History-Centrism but it leads to unstable states of power that eventually feed more History-Centrism.

The opposite of sameness is difference. Many scholars have considered 'difference' to be the source of tensions and violence. Hence, they promote the sameness myth. However, this is a European view based on their experience with Abrahamic religions that are History-Centric. This view does not apply to non-European cultures such as the Indic traditions that have a worldview of difference-with-respect.

Difference-with-respect is an attitude that is practically unachievable through History-Centric religions, except in the form of artificial political correctness commonly referred to as 'tolerance'.

My thesis of difference-with-respect is at odds with both #1 and #2 poles above. Furthermore, each pole's frenzy feeds the other:

* Moderate Hindus recoiling against religious violence have tended to gravitate towards sameness in order to dilute their distinct identities, and hence absolve themselves of 'Hindu shame'.
* Conversely, many Hindus who are concerned about the way the Sameness Myth deconstructs (and eventually destructs) their faiths have jumped on the History-Centrism bandwagon for identity protection, in the form of Hindutva.

The following factors have contributed to the Sameness Myth:

* U-Turns and American Perennialism: Historically, sameness emerged out of 19th century neo-Hindu leaders' constructions of Hinduism that often mapped Indic categories on to Western ones[1]. For instance, Swami Vivekananda successfully popularized Hinduism in 19th century America. But later, many of his important Western disciples and sympathizers genericized Hinduism. Several of them eventually did U-Turns back into Western identity and Western thought. Perennialism and the New Age movement were by-products of such movements[2]. Meanwhile, the mainstream History-Centric Christianity did not dissolve itself or melt itself into sameness, but, on the contrary, it strengthened its positioning by appropriating from Hinduism.

* Opportunistic Hindu gurus: The Sameness Myth took a quantum leap in the 1960s when many Hindu gurus arrived in America. They attracted huge followings and piled up vast donations by playing the sameness game to appeal to the pop culture at the expense of authenticity. They lowered the bar for Westerners to enter into pop Hinduism, but this also lowered the bar to their exit once the fad had died and once enough components from Hinduism had been successfully appropriated into Western systems. (See details.[3])

* Postmodernist intellectualism: Postmodernism is the academic equivalent of pop Vedanta as an intellectual framework to deconstruct identity. (While Vedanta deconstructs the individual ego, postmodernism mainly deconstructs the collective cultural identity.) It has intellectually disaggregated Hinduism into a library of random clip art that may be clicked-and-dragged into any belief system under the control and discretion of the new owner. (For instance, postmodernist frameworks allow scholars such as Courtright to misinterpret Hindu symbols arbitrarily, and to sell their works successfully at the highest levels of the academy.)

* Politics of South Asianism: It is a glaring contradiction that the very scholars who attack Indian identity (where Hinduism is the core value system) as being 'chauvinistic', are the same scholars that, simultaneously, promote (i) the divisive sub-national/separatist identities of Dalits, Dravidians and minority religions, and (ii) the South Asian identity that pressures India externally. Furthermore, these scholars suffer from various conflicts of interest as their careers are in institutions of education and funding where Western identity and chauvinism rule. Meanwhile, Western supremacy remains unaffected by the fringe activities of its liberal scholars. Besides USA and European states, Russia, China, Japan and Arab states remain highly nationalistic. Therefore, as Ziauddin Sardar and others have pointed out, the criticism of nation-states and related identities has indirectly served to empower the very imperialism, which the intellectuals attack. Many trendy postmodernist theories are being exported to colonize third world intellectuals who use them to impress white liberals. Unfortunately, many Indian intellectuals have facilitated 'softening the prey' on behalf of the predator empires – in effect serving as sepoys[4].

* Popular Hinduphobia: Hinduphobia is systematically institutionalized through education systems, media portrayals and popular English literature, thereby pushing many Hindus into sameness as a safe harbor and a place of refuge. Modern Westernized Hindus are being pulled towards sameness as a way to appear less old fashioned. 'Secular Hindus' have made it cool to say things like, “Hindus believe in everything,” “All religions are the same,” etc. This is done either out of confusion or simply to project a public identity safely. The greater the Hinduphobia experienced in an environment the greater is the pressure towards sameness as a way to offload the liability of being associated with demonized Hindu symbolism.

The rest of this essay consists of the following three Sections: Section II defines History-Centrism, and explains its centrality in institutionalized Abrahamic religions and also explains why Hinduism has not depended upon History-Centrism. Section III refutes the Myth of Hindu Sameness, and explains the problems it causes. Section IV proposes a Constructive Hinduism project as the way forward in the 21st century, with the objective to build a positive Hinduism while avoiding the two competing pitfalls of History-Centrism and the Sameness Myth. (I am dissatisfied with the term 'Constructive Hinduism' for a variety of reasons and this is a tentative term only. See details[5].

It is my claim that non History-Centric faiths offer the only spiritual alternative available to the Darwinian clash among History-Centric religions, i.e., the clash between one religion's jihad and another religion's jihad.

Therefore, if the projects of the kind outlined in Section IV fail, one of the following two scenarios shall prevail: (i) Either Hinduism shall be forced to become History-Centric and this will result in a three-way clash of History-Centric religions: Islam vs. Christianity vs. Hinduism, which Hinduism cannot ultimately win. (ii) Or Hinduism shall get digested into Christianity via the Sameness Myth, in which case the two-way clash between History-Centric Christianity and History- Centric Islam shall worsen.

II: History-Centrism

Anecdotal background:

The critical difference between Indic and Abrahamic religions crystallized in my mind a few years ago, when I was giving an informal talk on Hinduism to a room full of attorneys in New Jersey, none of whom knew much about Hinduism.

I started by asking this intellectually sharp audience a set of questions which went roughly as follows: What would happen to your religious lives if, hypothetically, all history were voided or made inaccessible to you or somehow falsified beyond hope? In other words, imagine that due to some strange reasons, the details of which are irrelevant, you have to live your lives without having any knowledge passed down from God through any historical events whatsoever. What would you do? Would it be possible for you to lead religious lives, and if so, by what authority would you do so? In other words, can you discover the spiritual truth for yourselves without dependence on historical sources, or would you be lost if such historical sources were simply unavailable or unreliable?

To my surprise, these very highly educated Jews and Christians were stumped. Many felt that it would be impossible to be religious under such circumstances because man lacks the ability to know God's will directly without the historical prophets. Others felt that only Jesus' very specific personal sacrifice (a historical event) had made it possible for man to get redeemed, as man had no inherent capability to achieve salvation on his own. Some found the very discussion troubling and became disturbed by my thought experiment with a loss of history.

I then explained to my audience that as a Hindu, my spiritual advancement through yoga was independent of the history of Patanjali who wrote the Yoga-Sutras and of any knowledge about his life history. Furthermore, the effectiveness of the Vedic mantras was independent of the personal history of the Vedic rishis, and the Vedas were considered a-purusheya (authorless); the practices of Tantra were not contingent upon belief in the history of anyone; the effect of bhajans (devotional songs) was not based on any belief in the history of the bhakti saints or the histories of any deities. Finally, I explained that deities were not historical persons but were ahistorical forces and intelligences just like the gravitation force; also, that many Hindus had personified these forces through the poetic language of their praises, as they acknowledged their inter-dependency in Nature.

Therefore, if all the history of my religion were falsified, it would not make any difference to the effectiveness of my spiritual practice. Every human being comes endowed with what I call the rishi/yogi potential. There have been innumerable realized saints over time and across world cultures that rediscovered the highest knowledge. History was only 'nice to have', but not a 'must have'.

The audience was rather shaken up but also highly impressed by such a stance. Could I have uncovered a serious blind spot, or at least subliminal assumption, among Biblical societies about the necessary role of history in religion?

My audience's reactions reminded me of the withdrawal symptoms of addicts who are deprived of their substance dependence. I wondered: Had my thought experiment deprived them of their history dependence and triggered a sort of withdrawal syndrome? Why was their religiosity so contingent upon and hence dependent upon specific historical episodes? Are institutionalized Abrahamic religions in bondage to history? Over several days, my thesis of History-Centrism emerged.

This thesis got a further boost when I participated in a major world conference on science and religion in Bangalore. The Templeton Foundation had flown in scientific luminaries committed to various Abrahamic religions, including Nobel Laureates, to discuss how scientific their respective religions were. But these speakers largely used neo-Vedantin thought (without ever acknowledging any Indic influences whatsoever) as belonging to their own religion, no matter how much they had to stretch their canons to make their case. One was left thinking that all religions were scientific, and that they were virtually identical.

But I knew very well that the very same religions also have major conflicts in the real world. It occurred to me that these scholars had suppressed in their talks the History-Centric dimension of their religions, and it was this dimension, which made each religion distinct and also caused conflicts with others. My question became: Why do Abrahamic religions evade discussing their History-Centrism in scientific discussions, while this is at the very heart of their evangelical campaigns to claim uniqueness?

Overnight, I revised my talk that was scheduled for the following day. I highlighted that History-Centrism could not be slipped under the rug because (i) it was in violation of the scientific method, and (ii) it was the principle cause of world conflicts.

For taking this stance, I was attacked on the stage by a prominent Indian Christian scholar, who was working for Templeton. The conference was suddenly shaken out of the pretence that 'all religions are all the same'. Privately, many Indian attendees congratulated me for opening this door. I felt convinced that I was on to something big in the field of comparative religions. My talk is published in the conference proceedings.

Defining History-Centrism:

Most religions and (even non-religious philosophical systems) agree on some sort of upper limit of knowledge of humans in their ordinary state of mind. However, they disagree on man's potential to transcend this limit.

Hindus and Buddhists regard maya as being responsible for this limit to infinite knowledge, but believe that adept yogis and others can achieve states of self-realization or enlightenment in which ultimate truth is directly experienced.

Abrahamic religions believe that there is an infinite gap of knowledge between God and man, a sort of maya equivalent. But the vast majority of denominations believe that man can have access to the ultimate truth only when God sends a prophet with a message, and that man can never replace the role of the historical prophets. Without history, therefore, man is inherently lost in darkness.

The Indic approach leads to the experimentation and cultivation of human initiated self-realization processes, of which yoga/meditation are prominent examples. The Abrahamic approach leads to intensive studies of historical prophets' messages, because this knowledge can never be known by any other means.

The spiritual traditions based on self-realization hold that humans are born with infinite potential and their essence is divinity (sat-chit-ananda). Hence, if all historical records and knowledge were to vanish or become corrupted or inaccessible to humans for whatever reason, new self-realized living masters would be able to teach us the highest truths based on their own fresh enlightenment. Even though these masters are very rare, they have existed throughout history in many cultures. The result is that (i) knowledge of history is not necessary to be a religious person, and (ii) no culture has a monopoly on religious truth, although different cultures may have used or misused this knowledge in different ways.

The Abrahamic religions (according to the interpretations of most institutions) deny the existence of any such infinite human potential that, in effect, could make every human a potential prophet. They say, only God sends a few prophets with the message containing such critical spiritual knowledge. To abandon the history through which this prophetic knowledge has been passed down, or to lose the exact account of these historically transmitted canons would be catastrophic.

The latter approach to religion is defined as History-Centrism.

Every major religion has both strains -- History-Centrism from God initiated prophets, and also ahistorical human initiated self-realization. But in a given religion, one or the other tends to dominate and this characterizes religion and its society in profound ways.

For the Abrahamic religions, the history of religion is crucial; for Hinduism, the making of religious history via self-realization, etc., is what is important. This point is elaborated later[6].

What History-Centrism does not mean:

Historicity is not the same thing as History-Centrism, and this point deserves to be elaborated.

Newton had a personal history but his specific life events were not necessary for the gravitation laws to be in effect today. However, Jesus' personal life events are responsible for God granting man the ability to get saved from Eternal Damnation. Hence, there is a radical difference between these two examples of historicity. The first example does not make physics History-Centric, since gravitation would not get falsified if one falsified Newton's personal historical details or even proved that he never existed as a historical person.

Gautam Buddha emphasized that his enlightenment was merely a discovery about a reality that had always been there. He was not bringing any new covenants from any God. The history of the Buddha is not necessary for Buddhist principles to work. In fact, Buddha stated that he was neither the first nor the last person to have achieved the state of enlightenment. He also asserted that he was not God nor sent by any God as a prophet, and whatever he discovered was available to every human to discover for himself. This makes Buddhism not History-Centric.

A prominent theoretical physicist made the counter argument to me that the Big Bang was a unique event that physicists believe in, thereby making physics also History-Centric. However, this argument is flawed: Physicists believe in the Big Bang Theory not as a premise of physics (in the same sense as Christians believe in Jesus' historicity as the premise of Salvation). Rather, the Big Gang Theory is a conclusion that is scientifically derived based on physical laws and empirical evidence that is verifiable today. Hence, the Big Bang Theory does not make physics History-Centric: it is a result of physical theory and not a pre-requisite belief or cause of it. Those who regard it as evidence of History-Centrism are mixing causes and effects.

The following significantly characterize History-Centric religions:

1. God himself intervenes in History, and it is not merely the mundane history of humans such as Newton, philosophers, yogis, kings/queens, and other humans.
2. God's historical intervention in human affairs is unique -- i.e. non-reproducible -- and hence there cannot ever be a substitute to knowing the history. (On the other hand, if Newton never existed or if we dismissed his historical details, we could today derive the gravitation laws empirically from scratch.)
3. God's historical intervention resulted in new Laws and Covenants, and the events were not merely a discovery of pre-existing reality.
4. The past must be falsified, eradicated, subjugated or reconstructed to fit the new truth created by such historical events. Hence, the socio-cultural change brought about by the unique historical event is discontinuous. It does not simply add new knowledge to old, but must erase the old for it to be legitimate. It is God vs. God, as he alters and contradicts his own past laws and messages.
5. Because this history is about God, it is not falsifiable. History-Centric religions tend to have draconian laws on blasphemy.

Is Christianity History-Centric? [7]

The core Historical Grand Narrative of Christianity that is the minimum necessary belief required by the vast majority of denominations consists of the following:

* Adam and Eve committed Original Sin and violated God's orders. This single act brought upon all humans thereafter the condition known as Eternal Damnation. This is the condition into which every one of us is born. It has nothing to do with our individual deeds but is directly the result of the misdeed of Adam and Eve.
* God then felt sorry for us and sent his one and only son, Jesus, to suffer crucifixion on our behalf, so that we may get Redemption from Eternal Damnation. This is called being Saved, and requires that the individual must believe without question or doubt the History-Centric narrative about Jesus. It is not sufficient to live a good life, to do good deeds, to pray to God, etc. Belief in Jesus' historical sacrifice is necessary to get Saved.
* Evangelists are those who are committed to spread this History-Centric narrative to others around the world. (Presently, 40% to over 50% of all Americans classify themselves as Evangelicals, and this group has been rapidly growing over the past 25 years.)

Different Christian denominations also believe in other supplemental History-Centric and/or Predetermined-Future-Centric narratives in addition to the core beliefs listed above. These constitute beliefs that are non-negotiable in order for someone to be a member of the given denomination. Examples of prominent beliefs of this kind are as follows:

* The End-of-Time is coming, which is a precisely defined and predetermined event: Christ will return to Earth and will take back to Paradise all those who have Saved themselves as per the procedure indicated above. All others will suffer the most unimaginable atrocities from Christ, which are described in gory details in Biblical canons such as Apocalypse.
* Christian Zionists are those who believe that Christ will return only after man fulfills his side of the bargain in the Bible, which is that man must restore the Nation of Israel to its original state. (The borders of this original Israel include many lands now under the Arabs.) Many of the most powerful political leaders of the US believe in this doctrine.

On the other hand, non History-Centric Christianity has been taught by many Christian mystics using Indic adhyatmika techniques. But these mystics were typically persecuted by the mainstream Christian institutions, because they were seen as a threat to authority.

Generic ideals of loving others, doing seva or service to others, living moral lives, and being socially responsible are non History-Centric elements contained in Jesus' teachings. But contrary to many educated Indians' naivety, such ideals do not define Christianity, because such generic spirituality is also found in every world religion, and there would be no reason to convert people away from their native faiths into Christianity simply for these reasons. The differences between religions are to be appreciated by examining their theological premises and not by superficially looking at the ethical mandates.

Liberal Christians belong to certain denominations such as Unitarianism. Unfortunately, these denominations add up to much less than 10% of the US population. While the public diplomacy by Christians often emphasizes this face, it is not what is preached and aggressively promoted to 'Save the Heathens' in the third world. Indians have to deal with the aggressive proselytizing denominations, which are exported to them. Hence, Indians must understand History-Centric Christianity, and not base their purva-paksha on the views held by relatively few fringe liberal Christians, such as many liberal arts college professors. (See for statistics.)

Evangelical Christians have reacted to my thesis by confirming that their faith is founded on literal historical events, which I have termed History-Centrism, even though there is a mixed reaction to my use of this term. At the other end of the spectrum, liberal Christian academicians claim that this is not the 'real' Christianity: they find the hard facts about the growing institutional Christianity to be an embarrassment to their elitism.

Is Islam History-Centric? [8]

The minimum necessary condition to be called a Muslim is the History-Centric belief without question or doubt that the Koran is the exact and literal word of Allah who is the only God. This belief is not simply desirable, but is absolutely necessary in order to be a Muslim.

Furthermore, another required core belief is the status of the Kaaba, which is located in Mecca: It is a unique artifact that was historically placed in that specific spot by Allah. No replica of it is allowed. Muslims must point only to the Kaaba to pray five times daily.

If, hypothetically, the Kaaba was not History-Centric and hence unique, Muslims could build Kaabas in every mosque in the world and pray pointing locally towards those, and not towards Saudi Arabia. But this would devastate the Saudi royals' political capital over all Muslims, because the Saudis control the Kaaba.

Furthermore, if replicas of the Kaaba could be installed in Muslims' homes, they would be able to pray at home just as Hindus pray to a deity. This would decentralize the Muslim sacred geography, thereby decoupling Indian Muslims from Arabs, for example. It is the non-reproducibility of the Kaaba that differentiates it from being an idol, and hence the political emphasis to consider idolatry as blasphemous and punishable by death.

Sufi teachings, on the other hand, are very compatible with Indic traditions and also with the mystics of the Abrahamic faiths. But Sufis have been cruelly persecuted by Islam throughout their history. Furthermore, Islam's ideals and practices of egalitarianism and social justice are non History-Centric and are generic, but are not considered sufficient to be classified as a Muslim.

History-Centric Clash of Islam vs. Christianity:

To properly understand current geopolitics, the framework of History-Centrism is very helpful.

Muslim and Christian leaders both claim many similarities between their respective faiths: They worship one God, who is male, and both sides accept that he is the same God. They accept the long lineage of prophets of the Middle East desert, starting with Abraham. Most of all, in terms of moral values, both believe in universal love, brotherhood, prayer, compassion, avoidance of sinful living, and so on...

Then why is there so much conflict? I propose that intellectuals have simply failed to understand the deeply rooted History-Centric conflicts. Here are two examples of irreconcilable accounts of history, one issue from either side:

* Islam refutes Christianity: Muslims definitely accept Jesus as a prophet of great importance and respect him as such. But Muslims simply cannot accept the Christian claims that Jesus (i) was the Son of God, (ii) had a Virgin Birth, or (iii) was Resurrected. These Christian claims would make Islam irrelevant and contradict Islam's essential historical purpose. If Jesus made the supreme sacrifice by which humans may get redeemed, then why is there any need for Prophet Mohammed or the Koran? For Islam to be valid, the problem concerning the human condition remained unresolved despite Jesus' coming to Earth. Therefore, the three Christian claims about Jesus previously outlined must be false. The vast majority of Muslim clergy teach that he was a great prophet, as were many dozens of other Abrahamic prophets, but he was no Son of God, nor had a Virgin Birth and, most of all, he was not Resurrected after being crucified. Yet, these three claims of Christianity are necessary to the legitimacy of Christianity and are non-negotiable. Bottom line: Christianity's History-Centrism cannot be accommodated within Islam's History-Centrism.
* Christianity refutes Islam: Islam's claim that the Koran is the exact words of God, and hence is perfect and final, is simply unsustainable in Christianity. For if this were valid, it would make Christianity obsolete and superseded by Islam. Why would one need an older version of God's word if he has sent a new version specifically to replace the older one, as is claimed by Islam? Christian theologians do not accept Koran as the perfect record of the final word of God. Furthermore, Islam also demands (without room for negotiations or ambiguity whatsoever) that the Kaaba (located in Mecca) is absolutely unique, cannot be replicated, and is the only direction in which prayer must be offered five times daily. Clearly, this would undermine Christian institutions' authority to collect donations, interpret the canons, provide the 'true history', etc. Bottom line: History-Centric claims that are necessary conditions to be a Muslim are simply impossible for Christianity to accept.

There are many other inherent conflicts besides these, but the above two suffice to make my case. Any History-Centric system must falsify all others in order for it to be valid. Both Islam and Christianity, in their History-Centric forms – which have been the dominant forms of both through most of their respective histories – are inherently conflict-ridden.

Therefore, almost all the interfaith dialogs are mainly about public relations and diplomacy. Each of these religions uses the term 'tolerance' to describe its policy towards other religions. Rather than accepting this term as a sign of their greatness, one must probe the underlying problems.

To tolerate means that the other is illegitimate but we shall put up with him. Would you go to someone's house to dinner if his invitation says, “I shall tolerate you to sit next to me?” We must demand respect, not tolerance. But Muslim and Christian leaders often have great difficulty about openly and formally giving respect to other religions, especially non Abrahamic religions, since this would legitimize these other religions. And, the History-Centrism of Christianity and Islam forbids them from legitimizing any other religions. Respecting other religions would de-legitimize the proselytizing campaigns that are the life-blood of many institutions.

History-Centrism is the best framework I am aware of to understand the origin of religious bondage and the sustenance of religious conflicts.

Is Hinduism History-Centric?

There are many non History-Centric Hindu paths, such as the following:

* Shruti and Vedic mantras are a-purusheya or authorless. The Vedas do not claim to be sent by a Creator or to be about historical creation, but describe reality as rta which means patterns. Neither rta nor the mantras are in any way contingent upon history. In fact, very little is known about the history of the rishis, as this is considered unimportant except to Indologists who are disputing the political ramifications of the origins of Hinduism.
* Upanishads are the source texts for much of Hindu philosophy, and history has no relevance in them.
* The validity of the Yoga-Sutras of Patanjali or Samkhya of Kapila is not contingent on the historicity of Patanjali or Kapila, respectively. In fact, very little is known about these historical persons and nor have Indian yogis of the past been bothered by this issue.
* Bhagavad Gita, the most widely read Hindu text, preaches dharma that is not contingent on the historicity of the Mahabharata epic.
* Tantra consists of spiritual-physiological processes whose efficacy has no relationship with any history of anyone whatsoever.

On the other hand, the following aspects of Hinduism introduce History-Centrism. But overall, the historicity in them is positioned as being optional, and not absolutely necessary for the path to succeed:

* Puranas are narratives that are popularly used metaphors to teach morals, ethics, and cultural identities. While these are seen by many Hindus as historically literal, the believers do not consider their messages to be invalidated when someone treats them as ahistorical and purely metaphorical. On the contrary, when a History-Centric follower of the Puranas is offered the position that Rama is ahistorical and his domicile of Ayodhya is inside everyone's heart, most individuals respect the view as being spiritually advanced.
* Deities like Ganesha, various Goddess forms, etc., are not historical persons, although Hindus commonly personify them and relate to them as highly accessible persons.
* Living Gurus are continually bringing renewals in an endless flow, making any specific guru only of relative importance, and not of absolute status. Each guru re-contextualizes the spirituality for the appropriate cultural audience, and these messages are not considered to be History-Centric despite the veneration of the historical guru. Hinduism mandates its leaders to interpret for changing geography, time, and extenuating or particular circumstance.

The relative absence of History-Centrism or its weak status has enabled a vast array of conceptions of the Supreme Reality to emerge, including the following:

* Nirguna: The Supreme Reality may be formless and beyond all human conceptions. This resembles Islamic notions of Allah.
* Saguna: The Supreme may be personified and the individual may have a personal relationship with the Supreme. While many Hindu paths use humanized forms, others avoid forms.
* The Supreme may be conceptualized as feminine. Furthermore, this feminine may be represented in a vast variety of different forms that represent different aspects of the Goddess. There is no 'right' or 'wrong' way to represent just as one finds in the arts. None of the representations are considered to be the literal image.
* The Supreme may be conceptualized as masculine. Furthermore, this may be in a variety of Vishnu forms. Or it may be as Shiva with an entirely different conception and epistemology.

History-Centrism vs. Living Spiritual Masters:

History-Centrism also corresponds to Geography-Centrism, which means the uniqueness of the geography where the history allegedly occurred.

Furthermore, the geography privileges the specific culture of the place where these events occurred, and the inhabitants of these cultures tend to build institutions to control the history, geography and cultural norms as assets to preserve and to project their power. The politics of such a religion comes under the control of the institutions that emerge and win.

Living spiritual masters act as a counter balancing force to defuse institutional power. Therefore, History-Centric religions have considered living saints to be a threat. Such saints have the credibility to overrule institutional authority in matters of interpretation and practice, to de-legitimize the institution itself, and to take away its followers.

A religion with a continual supply of living enlightened masters has: (i) regular challenges to any established institutions of power and doctrine, (ii) fresh shruti (first principles) for the current time, place and context, and (iii) geographical (hence cultural) decentralization of the spiritual movements because spiritual masters emerge in unpredictable places and situations.

Therefore, History-Centric institutions only allow dead saints. For example, in the Catholic Church, to be canonized as a saint the person must have been dead for a certain number of years, thereby eliminating any threat from that person. The dead person becomes the property of the church, which controls the history and interpretations of the canonized saint's teachings, free from any of the risks associated with living saints.

As a result of the prominence given to living spiritual masters, non History-Centric religions evolve towards lineages of adhyatmika (inner science) practices. One may think of this kind of spirituality as embodied knowing as contrasted with discursive knowledge, which is a set of intellectual propositions, of which History-Centrism is one kind. Canons tend to be less powerful in traditions built on embodied knowing because of the emphasis given to living masters and their direct transmissions.

Centurion Archetype vs. Yogi Archetype: [9]

The two pivotal events that profoundly shaped the trajectories for Eastern and Western civilizations were the spiritual encounters of emperors Ashoka and Constantine, respectively. Indian Emperor Ashoka surrendered his entire military (centurion archetype) and became a Buddhist (yogi archetype). But the opposite took place in the case of Roman Emperor Constantine (centurion archetype) who captured and seized control over Jesus (yogi archetype) for his imperialist expansion.

In the former case, the yogi archetype prevailed over the centurion archetype, whereas in the latter case the centurion archetype prevailed over the yogi archetype. These two events characterize the dominant strains in Indic and Abrahamic religions, respectively. While both archetypes have existed worldwide, different ones have dominated in different traditions.

The centurion archetype is violence prone and extroverted. It is constantly uneasy with itself and, hence, with its environment. The peaceful introverted archetype of the yogi is embodied (adhyatmika) and at ease with itself and others.

The centurion archetype thrives on History-Centrism, heroism and control. Its priorities are worldly expansion and accumulation.

The yogi archetype seeks to ultimately transcend nama-rupa (constructs based on limitations). Its priorities are adhyatmika, purifying its gunas from tamas to rajas to sattva, advancing from lower to higher chakras, and evolving from the psychic body to the supra-mental body.

The centurion's belief system is founded entirely on God's historical interventions, proven by the prophets' miracles as reported in anecdotal accounts. The centurion controls this 'one true account of history' as his asset and source of personal identity. This account legitimizes his power, whether as the Catholic Pope or as an Evangelical Protestant Church. This canon combines both shruti and smriti into a frozen book. The yogi, on the other hand, is ever expanding his consciousness to discover more, has a massive library of texts that separate shruti and smriti, which is built cumulatively without purging the old.

Frozen canon and History-Centrism turn religion into a Darwinian game in which many strategies get deployed to expand, takeover, monopolize and plunder – all in God's name.

On the other hand, the creativity of new living spiritual masters is like an R & D lab using an open architecture that encourages fresh startups, and this threatens the orthodoxy in each era.

History-Centric religions advance very rarely, as it takes God's intervention using miracles as the proof of authenticity, and these advances are violent and kill the past identity, culture and history. On the other hand, open and free adhyatmika explorations are cumulative and do not impose on prior or competing worldviews. Such traditions are not boxed in the way that History-Centric religions invariably are.

The History-Centric approach demands conformity because it is membership oriented: You are either in or out, either one of 'us' or 'them', and this subliminally equates to 'we = good' versus 'others = evil'. Monotheism is more accurately described as My-Theism.
Buddhism has been called the export variety of Hinduism. Its peaceful spread from India across Asia for over a thousand years was achieved without any subversion of the various host cultures or languages or identities into which it was received. This stands in sharp contrast with the violent imperialism with which both Christianity and Islam have achieved their expansions.

Finally, postmodernists must undertake a serious study of Indic thought free from contemporary politics of the left and right, and from Eurocentric mis-portrayals of the past. They need to appreciate the Indic traditions' resources for deconstruction; that it seeks a positive state that is free from conflict rather than the nihilism and cynicism that often results from postmodern deconstructions.

III: Myth of Hindu Sameness

To evaluate the popular notion that Hinduism is the same as Christianity, let us consider some specific issues.

Shruti and Smriti:

One of the foundations of Indian thought is the separation between shruti and smriti as two different kinds of knowledge.

Shruti is authorless. It is heard as direct inner experience without any intermediary, not unfiltered through one's own conditioned mind. It is available only in high states of consciousness achieved by rishis and advanced yogis.

Smriti is constructed by persons in a historical, cultural context, and is conditioned by its authors. Hence, it must change with time and context.

Shruti is eternal truth, while smriti is meant to be changed and is to be applied like case law with great care taken for each context to determine its applicability and the required adaptation.

Shruti is the rishi's/yogi's present moment embodied experience of the ultimate reality. Smriti is disembodied knowledge that is objectified and discursive. Shruti is kept alive by living enlightened spiritual masters.

The Bible and Koran combine shruti and smriti into one. Furthermore, smriti prevails over shruti in these canons: Shruti was collapsed into smriti. All Shruti has been reduced to Smriti - unchangeable text rather than present realization. History became the supreme smriti of the institution as that enabled it to collect taxes, impose its police authority and to expand via imperialism. Shruti was sacrificed in the process. Therefore, the finality of canon forces a freezing and imposition of old smritis that were meant only for a given historical context. The key factor is that they regard History-Centric events as though they were shruti. This drags into the already frozen canons, many incidental historical details about the way Prophet Mohammed or Jesus or their respective followers lived.

Hinduism's and Buddhism's itihas (history) are viewed as smriti, and not as shruti. This separation allows changes in smriti as per human society's needs. But unfortunately, most of the condemnations of Hinduism cite smriti as though it were shruti. These critics mimic the colonial agenda to demonize native traditions and native identity. They use educational institutions and media to manufacture and/or distribute false interpretations. Hindu submission and acceptance leads to Hindus internalizing these falsities, and they often becoming pathological self-haters.

One may classify cultures as shruti centric or smriti centric. The yogi is shruti centric and seeks to ultimately transcend Nama-Rupa. Shruti refreshed by living spiritual masters prevents the fossilization of old smriti. But institutionalized religions drift away from yoga. Jihad (Islamic, Christian or Hindu), is a product of smriti that has taken over shruti.
People have asked me what is wrong with U-Turns. My simple response is that the appropriated shruti gets collapsed into History-Centric smriti.

Postmodernists rightfully deconstruct smriti, but they suffer in two ways: (1) They lack the yoga to be able to receive shruti and are stuck in disembodied intellectualism. (2) They de facto tend to use Western smriti, because their education, mentoring and career advancement are embedded in Western smriti.


The Biblical historical narrative is the essence of mainstream Christian denominations. When examined through the Indic lens, the core historical narrative of the Bible is incompatible with karma theory:

* Karma is not transmitted via biological reproduction: Adam and Eve committed Original Sin when they violated God's commands. As a result of their act, God cursed the entirety of mankind forever, i.e., Adam and Eve's children, grand children, and so forth, ad infinitum, were forever condemned by God. This is known as Eternal Damnation. However, the karma of Adam and Eve cannot be transmitted to their biological offspring, and Adam and Eve must pay for their karma in their own rebirths. A given person carries his/her own personal karma into his/her own next life, and one's karma does not get transmitted to one's biological children. I do not suffer from the karma of my parents and nor do my kids suffer from my karma. I brought my past life's karma into this world and will take this life's karma into my next birth. Rebirth is not in the form of one's biological progeny. A white Christian could have been an Iraqi Muslim in a prior life, General Musharraf could have been a Hindu, Shiv Sena's head could have been a Muslim, a man could have been a woman and vice versa, and so forth.

* Karma is always finite and its phala (consequence or fruit) cannot be infinite: Regardless of how bad Adam and Eve's misdeed was it could not cause eternal phala, which is what Eternal Damnation is. Every karma is finite and its phala is finite, even if it lasts a million years.

* Phala cannot precede the karma: Karma theory states that first the karma has to occur and only then can its consequences occur. Effect (phala) never precedes cause (karma). But Jesus is said to have suffered (the phala) 2,000 years in advance of our birth today, and his suffering was to redeem our karma of today. This implies that Jesus suffered in advance of our karma, but phala in advance of the karma is impossible. The claim seems to be that Jesus established a sort of 'phala bank' and deposited infinite amount of phala in advance, and all those who accept his offer may neutralize all their karmas by drawing against this 'phala bank' account. This is simply impossible in karma theory. [10]

These points do not necessarily falsify Christianity but point out the deep incompatibilities between the two systems. This is merely an example of the kind of engagement that would have to take place before any sameness could be stipulated. During the centuries of darshana debates in India among various schools, the above arguments would have been put forth between Hindu and Christian theologians. It is not un-Indian to engage in such discourse.

The tragedy is that by the time Christianity was taken seriously in India, the support systems and resources needed to do an adequate purva-paksha had vanished. Because of colonialism, Christians started dominating the discourse. Hundreds of Christians institutions exist that study Hinduism seriously, and thousands of Christians study it. Yet, we have few if any Hindus and Hindu institutions that systematically study Christianity. This is a necessity before an adequate purva-paksha can be done.

Meanwhile, we are left with nonsensical sameness talks by leaders who have failed to do an adequate purva-paksha of Christianity.


Biblical time is finite, with a specific beginning and an end. It is said to have begun a few thousand years ago only, and the End of Time is coming soon according to many mainstream denominations. [11] This finiteness of time boxes many Christians into haste, and eventually into terror that time is running out.

The peculiar combination of (i) Eternal Damnation (i.e. an infinite problem) and (ii) Finite Time has produced a state of desperation in Christian societies.

Every person is born into the infinite horror of Eternal Damnation, and the finiteness of time does not give enough opportunity to resolve this condition. Therefore, one must always be in a hurry and not waste time. The consequence of not getting saved is Eternity in Hell, and one simply cannot take any chances. This is why horrific images of Hell play a critical role in pressuring people to convert.

Reincarnation doctrine was banned in Christianity so as to raise this pressure, and this is especially effective as one becomes older. This is the one and only life that a person will ever have and Time is running out!

The reward offered to those who become members of this History-Centric belief is also infinite: Eternity in Heaven amidst God, along with one's family, friends and other 'good' people. The price of failure is unimaginable, the reward is too good to miss out, and the effort is trivial as one merely has to admit that the Historical Grand Narrative is true – and one is in!

This turns dangerous when it becomes extroverted and fuels the centurion-like militaristic evangelism.

Western linear progression in history:

After the Enlightenment in Europe, the Biblical linear historical narrative from evil to good became replaced by the linear 'progress' narrative from primitive to modern. Here, modern has a specifically European meaning. This is why the teaching of world history and civilization in America is unable to incorporate more than a limited amount about ancient accomplishments, as these refute the linear history, especially when these accomplishments are from non-Western cultures.

The self:

The Biblical notion of the soul gives it an individual essence, which easily gets conflated with one's Earthly identity in terms of gender, race, religion, and even Americans as having the unique Manifest Destiny. Hence, there are good souls and bad souls, with different places in the chain of being.

On the other hand, rebirth of the jiva-atman gives it experiences in living as different genders, races, cultures, levels of prosperity and so forth. This relativizes any Earthly identity formation as being only relevant for this one birth and not as one's atman's essence. [12]

Christ will return to restore all saved dead persons back to life, in their original bodies as of the time of their deaths. This helps the plastic surgery industry and also drives the fixing up of dead bodies prior to their burial: One must look forward to eternal life in this same body, and the specifics of the body's race, gender, height, weight, age, etc., are therefore critical priorities.

This sense of having one's physical body in heaven also encourages the youth industry and causes people to be in denial of aging. This is becoming a major factor in causing geriatric mental health problems, especially after the individual is forced to admit that aging has set and that s/he cannot fake youthfulness any longer.

Death and aging:

The ashrama system in Indian culture gives each life stage its own legitimacy and dignity, and its own dharma to follow. One is not measured by the norms of youth throughout one's life. The aged are respected, and regard their condition as being normal. Being old is not seen as an abnormality that one must cure or fight or be in denial of.

This respectful aging has enabled older people in traditional Indian societies to remain integrated in multigenerational families, until recent mimicry of Western lifestyles led to dislocated aging – ironically, the result of 'progress'.

The Bible's trauma of dealing with death and aging causes senility. The obsessive youth culture is the result of this fear of aging. It has been said that the West has a two-ashrama system: juvenile and senile. People invest heavily to remain young for as long as they can, forcing themselves into artificial extremes just to live up to the image. This is juvenile behavior, and it is out of the dread of eventually turning old and senile, and having a fearful death.

Property, privilege and entitlement:

In the Bible, God gives man ownership of all animals and nature, for man's own pleasure.

To support the plunder of other peoples, this supremacy was extended by Church theologians to argue in favor of the slavery of blacks and the genocide of millions of Native Americans, on the basis that they were heathens, i.e., not Christians. It was argued that the men who were given ownership of the bounty of nature were Biblical men and not the heathens.

Later, when these non-whites were converted into Christianity, this argument was replaced by a different approach to supremacy, namely, that the people of color were 'unfit to self-govern'. Therefore, it was declared the duty of Anglo-Saxon Christians to rule over others in the best interest of the others. Many criteria for 'fitness to self-govern' were established, including 'moral values', 'rationality', and so forth. Data was gathered to prove that non-whites lacked these qualities.

By the early 1800s America, this had evolved into the well-known doctrine called Manifest Destiny, which was the basis for the conquest of new territory (such as Texas) from Mexico, along with the territorial expansion Westwards by conquering the Native Americans. This doctrine explicitly gave white Americans the right to 'civilize' others by whatever means they considered appropriate, and to take over their lands, property and cultures.

In British India, the argument of 'fitness to self-govern' was very explicitly used to remove various native rajas and install the East India Company's governance. A prominent example was the removal of the Queen of Jhansi (who had led the war of independence against the British) on the basis that she was an 'immoral person' and that this made her 'unfit to rule'. The phrase 'regime change' that is so common in the media today was used in the 19th century by the British to force their rule upon Indians – argued on the basis that they brought 'freedom' and better 'human rights' than the local Kshatriya rulers.

Scholars in Whiteness Studies have developed a notion called 'white privilege', which refers to institutionalized and deeply rooted cultural privileges that whites enjoy, even when a given white individual is free from racial prejudices. Nowadays, the term has been replaced with 'American privileges', and refers to the superior rights and entitlements that Americans must enjoy in the world over and above other peoples.

The Bush Doctrine of spreading freedom and human rights has been called today's version of Manifest Destiny. It presupposes that America must impose its own social and political principles on others, in the others' best interests.

Any perceived threat to the status quo of privileges and entitlements that Westerners take for granted is sufficient provocation to trigger the revival of Christian fundamentalism. Post-9/11 is seeing the rise of this fundamentalism from its latent state.

One of the entitlements claimed by the West is in the field of knowledge production and dissemination, and this may be called epistemic privilege. This includes the right to select the topics for inquiry, the way issues are framed, who is qualified and certified as a scholar, the theories that are available to be applied, and so forth.

Individuals like me, who criticize the system, are deemed to be 'attacking' the scholars and the scholars are depicted as 'victims'. This diverts attention away from the real issues of substance that are being contested. Naturally, many Indians have joined such a system of privilege and protection, and have thereby earned the title, 'sepoys'.

Institutional authority:

The Church's institutional authority over all men lasted for centuries, and similar theocracies existed in the case of Islam. (In fact, the serious study Islam entails in large part a study of Islamic Law.) This does not have a parallel in Hinduism, where the raja was supposed to protect the diverse dharmas of every person and not impose his own personal dharma upon others.

The Christian and Islamic concept of enforcement of religious laws on people is different from the principle of voluntary dharmic compliance. The Gita is not a book of rules that any authority is supposed to enforce, nor was it ever the 'law'. It does not even say, “Thou shalt do this and not that...” It explains how the system of karma operates and what the consequences of various choices are on the individual choice maker. The individual remains with the freedom of choice and the knowledge of possible karmic consequences governed by the cosmos and not by human authorities/institutions. It is a description of natural rta/dharma, and not man-made laws. [13]

This is why Indian gays/lesbians do not need to have a parade in Delhi to 'fight for rights' (like the parades in major US cities), because no authority took away these rights from them in the first place.

Even the much maligned Manusmriti was never enforced as the law of the land, except under the British rule when it was enforced to prove that the colonizers were ruling in accordance with 'Hindu Law', a canon they constructed with the help of local pundits hired for the purpose.

A primary difference between Indian and Western approaches to institutional authority is that the living gurus are given a high status by Hindus, whereas institutions occupy the preeminent status in Abrahamic religions. (This is why Hindu gurus have now become a prime target of demonology, because Christian strategists realize that no destruction of physical temples or texts or institutions will erase Hinduism as long as its new gurus continue to appear and enjoy large popular followings.)

The institutionalization in Biblical societies has also brought about a culture of conformity with other members. Canonized knowledge leads to normative thinking and social standard for everyone to emulate.

Conformity is also the seed of social competition. Such a society is more vulnerable to advertisement driven consumerism.

Can sameness be one-sided?

If X is the same as Y, then Y must also be the same as X. [14] This gives us a reliable method to empirically test the sameness hypothesis in the real world.

How many Christian denominations would be willing to hold Vishnu worship ceremonies in their church? Besides a few relatively small denominations such as the Unitarians (who in combination have less than 10% share of the US Christian population), almost all mainstream denominations reject such proposals

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