Table of Contents
- 1 Standards For Different Religions
- 2 The Method of Modern Academics
- 3 The Philosophy of Three Aspects
- 4 The Dominant-Subordinate Principle
- 5 Misinterpreting Aspects as Oppositions
- 6 Ancient Debates in the Vedic System
- 7 Medieval Debates in the Vedic System
- 8 Vedic Methodology of Progressive Debates
- 9 Vested Interests of Colonial Academics
- 10 Outcomes of Colonial Academics
- 11 Vested Interests of Postcolonial Academics
- 12 Outcomes of Postcolonial Academics
- 13 Continuing the Work of the Vedic System
- 14 The Role of Academics in the Vedic Tradition
Standards For Different Religions
My criticisms of other religions are sometimes dismissed not by a counterargument but simply by calling it an outsider’s opinion, different from the believer’s viewpoint. The critic says: Believers have an orthodox view of their religion while academics have a heterodox view of the same religion.
The divergence between the orthodox and the heterodox views, it is alleged, is a universal pattern of division between the believers and the academics, found even in the case of the conflict between the academic criticism of the Vedic system and the viewpoint held by those who believe in the system. Since the followers of the Vedic tradition disregard the academic view of their tradition, they should apply the same standard to others, and disregard the academic view of other traditions. By upholding the academic view of monotheism, while rejecting the academic view of the Vedic tradition, the followers of the Vedic tradition are guilty of following a double standard.
In this article, I will sketch the difference between the academic work on the Vedic system and that on monotheism. Both types of works originated during the colonial periods in the West, but the academic work on monotheism was sympathetic to monotheism while the academic work on the Vedic tradition was antipathic to the Vedic system. This basic difference between the goals of academia has created methodological differences in how the academia approaches monotheism vs. the Vedic system.
The Method of Modern Academics
The goal of academia is to construct a story of how a religion came to be what it is today. There must have been some people who created that religion. There might have been people opposed to their views. There could have been conflicts between these views. The religion might have evolved through those conflicts. Thus, we should find evidence of origin, deviancy, conflict, and change over time.
The evidence in front of the academic is historical records—inscriptions, texts, imagery, references to such inscriptions, texts, and imagery, and so on. I will simplify all these things to “texts”, which in the present context, are representative of a wider category of historical artifacts. Academicians collect these texts, date them, and analyze them. The dating is meant to establish precedents and antecedents. The analysis is meant to construct a plausible story of how the precedents led to the antecedents. Nobody can claim that this is the only way things happened, but it is the most plausible explanation. You can measure plausibility by probability. So, if the probability of something happening is low, then we reject that explanation in favor of an explanation that relies on the occurrence of high-probability events. The essence of the academic method is to find differences between texts, presume a deviancy, anticipate a conflict, and predict subsequent evolution. This is where the role of sympathy and antipathy comes in.
The sympathetic evaluation of the historical texts allows the orthodoxy to explain the differences between texts. Naturally, orthodoxy will explain things consistent with their present view of the religion. If the orthodoxy can explain the text differences, then their view can be considered the correct view because it explains the text differences without any violence to the orthodoxy. If, however, the orthodoxy cannot explain the text differences, then the academic will provide a plausible heterodox explanation of the text. Thus, in the sympathetic view, the orthodoxy gets the benefit of the doubt and is given a chance to explain the diversity of texts before adopting an alternative heterodox view.
The antipathic evaluation of the historical texts does not consult the orthodoxy to explain the difference between texts, before advancing a heterodox explanation. The question of giving them the benefit of the doubt does not arise. If the orthodoxy says that an orthodox explanation will better explain the same discrepancy, they are ignored. Thereby, the antipathic evaluation (a) does not consult the orthodoxy to check if they can explain any discrepancy, (b) advances a heterodox explanation even when an orthodox explanation is equally good or better, (c) forces the model of origin, deviancy, conflict, and evolution on the tradition, and (d) disregards the protestations of orthodoxy in the name of free speech and academic independence when that freedom and independence are not used indiscriminately upon the other religions.
Everything comes down to the power structures at play in academia. The followers of the Vedic traditions are either absent, not powerful, or not inclined toward using their power to undermine someone’s academic career even if they are ignored. The followers of other traditions are present, quite powerful, and will most certainly use their power to undermine someone’s academic career if they are ignored. The most evidence-driven academics, therefore, tread with trepidation while criticizing Western religions. The least evidence-driven academics shoot at will while criticizing the Vedic tradition. The discrepancies between the two are attributable to the presence and the use of power.
All historical approaches to religions begin with a Hegelian model of history that describes changes over time through the thesis-anthesis-conflict-evolution method. Some academics use more aggressive Marxist techniques where the plurality of viewpoints is a virtue and the unity of thinking is a vice. They will automatically attribute the unity of thinking to an oppressive structure that is hindering freedom of thought, and the plurality of viewpoints to freedom of thinking. Any unity will be criticized and any plurality will be appreciated. The premise underlying such methods is the same: If you see a difference, it implies the antithesis of a thesis, which leads to conflict, which results in evolution. The academic method is deeply influenced by Hegelian-Marxist ideas and it is used both in sympathetic and antipathic ways.
The sympathetic use brings in the Hegelian-Marxist method if the orthodoxy cannot explain the text diversity. The antipathic use brings in the Hegelian-Marxist method at the outset without giving the orthodoxy a chance to explain the text diversity. At the dawn of the academic method during colonial times, Western religions received sympathetic treatment and the Vedic tradition received antipathic treatment.
The Philosophy of Three Aspects
Everything in the Vedic system is described in terms of three categories called sat-chit-ānanda. There are no English equivalents for these words, so I use many trichotomies to express some aspects of these three categories. These include—(a) truth, right, and good, (b) universal, contextual, and individual, and (c) logos, ethos, and pathos. These trichotomies are not identical to the above three categories, but by using many trichotomies we come closer and closer to understanding the above three categories.
In this article, I will use another expression of the three categories—practical, rational, and emotional—not because the previous ones are inadequate, but because new ways of describing these categories can bring us closer to grasping sat-chit-ānanda. A general pattern of these descriptions is that two of these three categories are masculine personas while one of them is feminine. The same category is not always masculine or feminine. That designation especially changes in the material and spiritual worlds.
In the topmost spiritual realm called Goloka, emotional is represented by a feminine persona, while rational and practical are represented by masculine personas—these are called Hara, Kṛṣṇa, and Rāma, and constitute the three bīja-mantras of the Hare Kṛṣṇa Mahāmantra. But in the material world, the emotional aspect is represented by Shiva, the rational aspect by Viṣṇu, and the practical aspect by Śakti. A similar tripartite representation is Jagannatha, Baladeva, and Subhadra, which are also two masculine and one feminine. In the Gaudiya tradition, Hara and Kṛṣṇa (emotional and rational) are merged into Chaitanya while Rāma (practical) is divided into four aspects called Nityānanda, Advaita, Gadādhar, and Srivās.
The explanations of these personified trichotomies, along with their divisions and combinations, constitute what we might loosely call “Vedic theology”. It is the study of how divinity is many non-contradictory, inseparable, and mutually-defined aspects, in which the whole is just one aspect, although more primordial. It is the philosophy of the elephant and the five blind men, where the term “blind men” refers to those who cannot see the inseparability, or the unity and diversity, while the “visionary man” sees both unity and diversity, by alternately seeing the whole, and then seeing what each blind man sees. The five blind men see one thing, but the visionary man sees six things.
This gives rise to two ways that we can interpret the word “monotheism”. First, we can say that it refers to the limited vision of blind men, who cannot see the other parts of the elephant or the whole elephant. Second, we can say it refers to the limited vision of the whole elephant, without knowing the parts, which naturally leads to a conflict with the men that see the leg, tail, trunk ears, and stomach. The second category of blindness isn’t better than the first because the conflict between five blind men expands to six blind men. Something can be called visionary only if one person can see six things and describe them as inseparable, mutually defined, and non-contradictory aspects.
The Dominant-Subordinate Principle
The rational, emotional, and practical aspects exist in everything. Nobody is devoid of these three traits. But each person is predominantly in one of these traits. We can say—”you are emotional”. It doesn’t necessarily mean you are irrational and impractical (although in the material realm, if one aspect is dominant then the other aspect goes subordinate). It just means that right now, emotions are dominant. Thus, to say that Śakti is practical in the material world is not to say that She is irrational or unemotional. It is to say that practicality is dominant and rationality and emotionality are subordinate. Likewise, Shiva is prominently emotionality and Viṣṇu is prominently rationality. We can also say that Viṣṇu represents universality, Shiva represents individuality, and Sakti represents contextuality. We should not see conflicts between them, we should not call one superior or inferior, and we should equate these three personas.
These three personas are presented all over Vedic texts, but each persona is more prominently described in one text over another. For instance, Viṣṇu Purāṇa is mostly about Viṣṇu, Shiva Purāṇa is mostly about Shiva, and Devi-Bhāgavata Purāṇa is mostly about Sakti. Sometimes, the Purāṇa are also classified by the three modes—called sattva, rajas, and tamas—representing the same three traits of each person. There are accordingly different methods of uplifting a person that sometimes rely more on rationality, at other times more on emotionality, and at yet other times more on practicality. The karma-kānda section of the Vedas emphasizes the practical, the jñāna-kānda section emphasizes the rational, and the upāsana-kānda section of the Vedas emphasizes the emotional. There is no conflict between these three systems, but for some time, place, context, and person, one method is emphasized over the others. Those who know the philosophy of sat-chit-ānanda, will not conclude any conflict between the varied systems.
Misinterpreting Aspects as Oppositions
However, the academics don’t understand the philosophy of sat-chit-ānanda. They see many diverse deities—Viṣṇu, Shiva, and Sakti. They see many diverse texts–Viṣṇu Purāṇa, Shiva Purāṇa, and Devi-Bhāgavata Purāṇa. They see many diverse systems of practice—karma-kānda, jñāna-kānda, and upāsana-kānda. And they see many permutations and combinations of deities, texts, and practices, all rooted in the same principle of rational, emotional, and practical, but combined to create enormous diversity. They interpret this diversity through a monotheistic lens to imagine the existence of thesis, antithesis, conflict, and evolution, which means that the Vedic tradition is—(a) either many diverse systems, (b) or it has evolved from one system to another, (c) due to conflicts between the previous ideologies.
Western academics, for instance, coined the terminology of Vaishnavism, Shaivism, and Shaktism as three divergent schools emphasizing different deities, texts, and practices. The use of the suffix “ism” means that it is the viewpoint of some people, quite like realism, idealism, socialism, and capitalism. Western academics cannot reconcile these isms. They cannot understand the unity between them. They cannot see that these are simply three aspects of the same reality. Instead, they conjure diversity, deviancy, conflict, and evolution because their lens of perceiving the world is thesis-antithesis-conflict-evolution.
Due to the widespread use of terms like Vaishnavism, Shaivism, and Shaktism in the Western world, even the sincere followers of the Vedic system are compelled to use these terms while speaking to Western audiences because in the Western mind conditioned by the Western lexicon of isms, Vaishnavism, Shaivism, and Shaktism are mutually exclusive traditions, deities, texts, and practices. Western audiences always interpret the emphasis on one aspect of sat-chit-ānanda to be the exclusion of the other two aspects. They disregard the philosophy of “distinct but inseparable”—called Bhedābheda—under which everything is rationality, emotionality, and practicality, they are always defined mutually and not independently, and yet, one of these three is currently emphasized over the others.
Ancient Debates in the Vedic System
There is a long tradition of debate within the Vedic system, which was always about which of the three aspects of sat-chit-ānanda should be emphasized for which time, place, situation, or person. Different stalwarts advanced different deities, texts, and practices. Through such debate, each deity, text, and practice was understood better precisely due to contrast to the other deity, text, and practice.
We can liken these debates to that between the relative importance assigned to rationality, emotionality, and practicality. For instance, one can say that rationality is about the truth. Then, someone can say that rationality must also be about our duty. Then, someone can say that rationality must also be about happiness. Someone can say that rationality about happiness is more important for this time, place, situation, and person than the rationality of truth. Others can say that the rationality of duty is more important for this time, place, situation, and person than the rationality of truth. In this way, they would understand everything better by comparing and contrasting different things during a debate. The goal of that debate was to improve everyone’s understanding, rather than defeat the opposing party. This type of debate was factually not conflictual, although they go back and forth to enhance each other.
Medieval Debates in the Vedic System
The debates in the Vedic tradition changed somewhat in the last few thousand years. This debate took the form of conflict between tamas, rajas, sattva, and transcendence. The three qualities of material nature—called tamas, rajas, and sattva—are mutually defined oppositions. That is, we cannot define sattva except by saying that it is not-rajas and not-tamas. The same is true for others. Then for the person in the material realm, we cannot define transcendence except by saying that it is not-tamas, not-rajas, and not-sattva. But if one has transcended these three modes, then we can define transcendence intrinsically. Thereby, transcendence is non-intrinsically defined from the material perspective and intrinsically defined from the transcendent perspective. These perspectives are called duality and non-duality. That means: In the material realm, being more emotional is being less rational and practical. In the transcendent realm, being more emotional is being more rational and practical. This understanding of material and transcendental was lost due to the rise of materialism and then recovered over time through debate. The debates of the past few thousand years pertain to this process of loss and recovery.
- Materialism is a philosophy in tamas. It claims that the world is meaningless, there are no laws of nature, there is no purpose of existence, and there is no such thing as morality. All discussions about meaning, laws, purpose, and morals are human attempts to see meaning, order, purpose, and justice in a world that is otherwise devoid of these. Everyone says that a different meaning, law, purpose, and moral applies to a different time, place, situation, and person, and too much time and energy is wasted in these debates. Instead, we should stop talking about meaning, order, purpose, and justice, and simply enjoy our life. The closest equivalent to this philosophy in modern times is postmodernism. It says that meaning, order, justice, and purpose are man-made constructs, and too much time has been wasted in debating these issues, but since those debates haven’t been settled, hence we should be open-minded liberals and permit everyone to believe in whatever meaning, order, justice, or purpose they want to choose in life.
- Ritualism is a philosophy in rajas. It says that the world is meaningful, it is meaningful because the world is qualities and meanings are created by their combinations, that there is order in nature created by the demigods, who are themselves the purest representation of some quality combination. These demigods accord their respective qualities based on the judgment of right and wrong. The experience of these qualities is enjoyable but different people may prefer different qualities. Thereby, to lead a meaningful and purposeful life in this world, we have to accept qualities, the pure form of those qualities in demigods, understand the science of how they impart those qualities, and lead a life of morality to acquire those qualities. The laws of nature are universal, the principles of morality are contextual, and one’s purpose in life is individual. We have been debating these things for ages because morality is contextual and purpose is individual. Therefore, after knowing the universal laws of nature, we have to also identify the contextually important duty subject to a type of individual purpose in life.
- Impersonalism is a philosophy in sattva. It says that the pursuit of material enjoyment always comes with the inevitability of suffering. Every rise leads to a fall. Pleasure and pain are simply dualities, and one cannot avoid the side of duality we dislike while pursuing the side of duality we desire. To get some happiness in the future, we have to sacrifice happiness in the present. Happiness in the future then follows unhappiness in the future beyond the future. In this way, a person keeps cycling through the dualities of life and death, pain and pleasure, and likes and dislikes. The solution to the problem of cycles is salvation to attain a non-dualistic state in which the self is the ultimate truth, liberating the self from the cycles of duality is the ultimate duty, and attainment of happiness—distinct from the cycle of pain and pleasure—is the goal.
- Personalism is a philosophy transcendent to tamas, rajas, and sattva. It says that the world has order, morality, and purpose and thereby rejects materialism. It rejects the temporary pursuit of material pleasure because it comes in cycles of pain and pleasure—just like the impersonalist. However, it also rejects the impersonalist doctrine that everything in the world is simply the cycle of duality. It recognizes the presence of non-duality in the world by which a person can attain a transcendent world devoid of the cycles of duality and imbued with eternal progress. Thus, non-dualism is not merely the cessation of cycles but also the attainment of eternal progress. The impersonalist is accepted in the sense that non-duality is not cycles of birth and death. The impersonalist is rejected in the sense that the self develops, expands, and progresses over time. This development, expansion, and progress is called non-reducing. Thus, non-dual eternity can be either static or non-reducing; the latter is clearly better than the former.
The debates in the Vedic tradition over the last few thousand years have been about four different ideologies—materialism, ritualism, impersonalism, and personalism. I’m using the term “ism” carefully. I’m identifying the fact that these were not universally accepted, and that the debate between the two was not about mutually enhancing rationality, emotionality, and practicality, as was the case before. It was rather a genuine conflict between isms claiming to be something better than something else.
However, this conflict wasn’t just a battle between many competing opinions because rajas is better than tamas, sattva is better than rajas, and transcendence is better than sattva. Those who know Vedic philosophy can climb the steps of this ladder easily. Hence, the debates were never left unresolved. They were resolved by ritualism replacing materialism, impersonalism replacing ritualism, and personalism replacing impersonalism. If someone stuck on to a defeated ideology, it wasn’t because the debate was unresolved. It was simply because a person chose to delay the ascent to a higher step on a progressive ladder to a future time or life. People might say: Let me do rituals in my youth and become impersonalist in old age. Or let me be a ritualist in this life and be an impersonalist in the next life. These are choices despite a conclusive debate. Since there was progress on this ladder, precisely due to the incremental progression on a ladder from tamas to rajas to sattva to transcendence, therefore, a debate was also never a controversy within Vedic philosophy. It was simply a controversy within Indian society.
We have to separate the controversy in Indian society from the controversy in Vedic philosophy. A society sometimes becomes materialistic. It can then progress into ritualism. It can then progress into impersonalism. It can then progress into personalism. Once personalism replaced impersonalism within Indian society, there was further progression within personalism through the successive doctrines of Viśiṣṭādvaita, Dvaita, Śuddhādvaita, Bhedābheda, and Achintya Bhedābheda. The next step in this ladder, I have argued in the book Conceiving the Inconceivable, is to go from Achintya to Chintya. Those who understand the historical evolution from materialism to ritualism to impersonalism to personalism, and the progressive doctrines that enhanced personalism, can also see the next step in the ladder. The next step in the ladder is about seeing rationality, emotionality, and practicality as aspects of one thing. If we can get there, then we will revive the traditional style of debate which mutually enhanced rationality, emotionality, and practicality. We need the Chintya philosophy even to get back to the tradition.
Vedic Methodology of Progressive Debates
The Vedic system is diverse because it involves many deities, texts, and practices. A new understanding of the Vedic system is accepted when it reconciles more deities, texts, and practices as aspects of the same system, reality, and tradition. Any new understanding that ignores, derecognizes, or separates some deities, texts, and practices from others is rejected. The criterion for a new understanding of the Vedic system is that it should bring greater unity in diversity, and not destroy or reduce the unity.
We can understand the pursuit of greater unity by an analogy from modern science. Newton’s mechanics unified terrestrial and celestial dynamics. Maxwell’s electrodynamics unified electricity and magnetism. Boltzmann’s thermodynamics unified theories of mechanics with those of heat. Einstein’s theory of special relativity unified classical theories of motion and light. Einstein’s theory of general relativity unified gravitation with the theory of light. Quantum mechanics tried to unite particle and wave theories but succeeded partially. A quantum theory of gravity is yet to be formulated. The criterion for scientific progress is finding a theory of reality that unifies more phenomena with one theory.
For the historian of religion, religious texts are the phenomena. Ideally, the correct understanding of these texts is that which unifies all presently known texts into a single coherent understanding—if there is a single coherent understanding. This is why, ideally, the orthodoxy should be given a chance to unify the diversity of texts into a single coherent understanding. If the orthodoxy fails to produce such unity, then the heterodoxy can postulate an evolution in the understanding of religion through the ages.
The Vedic methodology of debates is the same. When two people debate, the better understanding is that which reconciles more deities, texts, and practices into a single cohesive understanding. The worse understanding is that which separates, ignores, or disparages more deities, texts, and practices. More and less are objective criteria. Hence, there is an objective method to improve the understanding of the Vedic texts. The debate on religious understanding simply treats the Vedic texts as phenomena and the interpretation of these texts as the theory that explains all these diverse phenomena collectively. Thus, the Vedic method of interpreting texts is the same methodology as followed in modern science. The interpretation that creates greater unity is better and that which creates greater disunity is worse.
Vested Interests of Colonial Academics
When colonial academics undertook the study of the Vedic texts, they aimed to divide the Vedic system into pieces—as part of an overall “divide and rule” strategy—to portray it as a disunited, conflictual, evolving system rather than as a unified, coherent, and singular system that progresses through successive interpretations that establish greater unity within the diversity. The divide-and-rule method was and is fundamentally opposed to the Vedic method of establishing greater unity. Thus, the colonial academics followed a method of interpretation whose goal was contrary to the Vedic system.
Colonial academics did not consult the Vedic orthodoxy on how to understand or interpret text diversity. It assumed—under the Western lens of monotheism and the Hegelian-Marxist paradigms of thesis-antithesis-conflict-evolution—that the Vedic system was polytheistic, fragmented, conflictual, and evolutionary. The same colonial academics afforded the Western orthodoxy a chance to explain the textual diversity without a conflict; heterodox interpretations were added only after the orthodoxy had failed to provide a consistent, coherent, and unified understanding of the diversity. Thereby, colonial academics adopted a double standard with regard to Western religions and the Vedic system.
Under a Hegelian-Marxist method of evolutionary studies, evolution is not always a bad thing because we can get greater synthesis as a result of thesis-antithesis-conflict over the course of time. Evolution becomes a bad thing if you do not get greater synthesis, the system keeps fragmenting, the conflict between the divisions grows over time, and the system is eventually destroyed by divisions. The goal of the application of the Hegelian-Marxist method to the Vedic system was to portray growing divisions, conflicts, and fragments over time, to portend a future collapse as a result of the increasing internal divisions. The application of the Hegelian-Marxist method to Western religions was meant to portray increasing synthesis over time. As one system is continuously fragmenting, it would be eventually replaced by one with increasing unity.
Outcomes of Colonial Academics
The results of academic effort were completely contrary to the originally envisioned outcomes. For the Western religions, instead of increasing unity, academics revealed an increasing number of divisions, sects, views, variations, and changes. For the Vedic system, academics revealed the continuity of all the diversified views through antiquity along with greater unity being established through the historical steps of materialism, ritualism, impersonalism, and personalism. The academic effort found that thesis and antithesis were not producing greater synthesis in Western religions; rather, the antithesis was being banned, buried, and burned to maintain a thesis by fiat. Conversely, the academic effort found that the thesis and antithesis were producing greater synthesis in the Vedic tradition, via greater dialogue and successive interpretations, without banning, burying, or burning any thesis or antithesis by fiat.
There is a famous saying—”He who digs a hole for someone will fall in it himself”. Western religious academics tried to dig a hole for the Vedic system but instead fell into the same hole. They could not digest this fact. But they had normalized the academic tendency to see history through Hegelian-Marxist lenses, so they could not put an end to it. Despite many efforts, they could not find unity in Western religions; they instead found continuous changes to texts and doctrines, the splitting of a unified tradition into ever more sects, and constantly growing conflicts between these sects. Likewise, despite many efforts, they were not able to fragment the Vedic tradition into separate religions despite deriding the existence of many deities, texts, and practices, because they can be traced to antiquity, and people following these traditions are dialoguing and debating but never participants in violent conflicts.
Vested Interests of Postcolonial Academics
After the comprehensive failure of Hegelian-Marxist theories to justify the emergence of greater unity in Western history, in the post-WWII era, Western academics took a turn to foist an alternative set of “liberal” values of openness, democracy, globalization, and the free movement of resources, people, and ideas across cultures to shape the world in the image of the West. The game plan was that if people accept Western-style liberal democracy, then they will accept Christianity too because liberal democracy is a Christian value system.
This required the summary rejection of the past as ignorant, mythical, and sectarian and announce the arrival of modernity as enlightened, rational, and unified. Post-WWII academics began deriding all traditions, cultures, and religions, including the Western ones, to shape the world in the Western image, by judging everything in the past adversely.
It is important to understand the difference between the past and present academic approaches—unlike the colonial period where Western religious traditions were better than all other traditions, in the post-colonial period, all religious traditions—including Western and Eastern—are worse than modernity. Liberals invent new methods to critique the past—(a) lower status of women, (b) persecution of lower classes, (c) hegemony of higher classes, (d) exclusive control of religion in a few hands, (e) the absence of liberal democratic and egalitarian values, and (f) the presence of imperialistic oppression and warfare.
The accusation is no longer that Eastern religions are “mythology” because the same charges apply to Western religions too. The accusation is that the people of the past—both in the West and the East—did not uphold the recently discovered liberal democratic values. By elevating the liberal democratic values to the status of universal and eternal values, the academic system judges the past as illiberal and undemocratic, and hence devoid of moral virtues, pronouncing it as morally disgraceful. By calling all history and tradition disgraceful, the academics hoped that people will abandon their religious traditions and coalesce into a homogeneous modernity. Every modern man or woman would abandon their traditional values and accept the modern liberal democratic values.
This is far more Marxist than Hegelian because under Hegelian thinking we should have seen greater unity being created through history but in the absence of such unity being produced over history in the Western world, academics have to sow the seeds of social conflict by portraying religion as an oppressive, illiberal, and undemocratic ideology, that led to the marginalization of women, oppression of native populations during slavery and colonialism, and the economic, social, and political persecution of minorities. Once the seeds of conflict are sown in a society by judging the past as morally disgraceful, then women, enslaved, and marginalized people will rebel against the traditions that had previously oppressed them to establish a new “religion” called liberal democracy, and the world will finally be a happy place.
Outcomes of Postcolonial Academics
Just as the colonial academic system hoped to dig a hole for non-Western societies but eventually fell into it more than non-Western societies, similarly, the postcolonial academic system that hoped to dig a hole for all religious traditions has primarily affected the Western religions and traditions. For example, the academic critique of the Vedic tradition sent Indians in search of the history of their tradition, they began discovering previously concealed greatness in their history and realized that the academic criticisms were mostly lies. This brought them closer to the tradition to become more traditional. Meanwhile, the academic critique of Western religions sent Westerners in search of the history of their traditions, they began discovering previously concealed problems in their history, and realized that the academic criticisms were mostly true. This sent them farther from their traditions to become more liberal.
Postcolonial academics has united Indian society while it has divided Western society. We have now reached a point where Indian conservatives look forward to postcolonial academic attacks so that it will send more people in search of their past, find greatness in that past, and become more traditional than before. With every attack, Western society gets more divided and Indian society more united. The basic reason is that there is greatness in the Indian past and problems in the Western past. The West sees its past problems and abandons its tradition. India sees its past greatness and embraces its tradition.
Thus, Indians at once love and hate postcolonial academics. They hate it because it spews venomous lies. They love it because those venomous lies are progressively pushing India toward its tradition. People are now asking: If this claim about our past was a lie, then what other claims about our past are lies?
Through this awakening, everything coming out of the West has become suspect by default. People no longer trust famous news outlets like The Washington Post, New York Times, or the BBC. Then why would they trust some obscure claim made in some obscure journal by some obscure academic? In fact, mere association with anything “mainstream” is equivalent to smearing your face with tar, and mere association with something “alternative” is equivalent to decorating your chest with medals. The very things that were previously the reason for prestige are presently the causes of disrepute.
Continuing the Work of the Vedic System
The history of India is unknown to the world and to the Indians. They don’t know how debates in the distant past were continuously enhancing and nuancing the understanding of Vaishnavism, Shaivism, and Shaktism or karma-kānda, jnana-kānda, and upāsana-kānda. They don’t know how debates in the recent past were advancing the understanding of reality from materialism to ritualism, to impersonalism to personalism. They don’t know how personalism has been advanced in the recent past through the doctrines of Viśiṣṭādvaita, Dvaita, Śuddhādvaita, Bhedābheda, and Achintya Bhedābheda. They don’t know how infinite diversity is created by combining the three categories of emotionality, rationality, and practicality, and how these, in turn, are just one of many manifestations of sat-chit-ānanda. Finally, they don’t know how each person is also an instance of sat-chit-ānanda and can understand all this seeming complexity and diversity simply by revitalizing the sat-chit-ānanda nature through a spiritual practice.
To preserve the Vedic tradition for the future, we have to increase the unity in the Vedic tradition by demonstrating how the different Purāṇa, Tantra, Upaniśads, Samhitas, Itihāsa, and Darśana are not talking about contradictory things, but different aspects of the same thing. The Vedic tradition is called nigama-kalpa-taru or the “desire tree of knowledge”. The property of a desire tree is that it gives whatever you want. Hence, the different texts in the Vedic tradition are different branches that fulfill different desires. Since our desires are varied, hence, the desire tree of knowledge is varied.
Establishing unity in the Vedic system needs showing how this system is a desire tree of knowledge. It is one tree, with many branches, twigs, and leaves meant to fulfill many desires. It is not a jungle of many trees or many jungles. It is one tree. Colonial academics tried to portray the Vedic system as a jungle of jungles. Postcolonial academics are trying to portray this tree as fruitless. But it is neither fruitless, nor a jungle, nor a jungle of jungles. It is one tree, that can fulfill every single desire in everyone. Of course, we recommend everyone to take the galitam-phalam or the ripened soft fruit of this tree, which is the conclusion of all knowledge given in Śrīmad Bhāgavatam. But we don’t want to deny the existence of the other branches, twigs, and leaves on this tree. Fruit is the best, but other things are not irrelevant. This is because people have many desires. If they had only the desire for ultimate truth, then the fruit suffices.
I have been trying to establish this “unity” for the Six Darśana because they are the highest intellectual treatises in the Vedic system. Many people hear about this and don’t understand its necessity. That is because they may not understand how knowledge advances by establishing greater unity. You don’t understand a text unless you can prove that your understanding is consistent with all other texts. Your theory of reality is not true unless you can prove that it is also the Theory of Everything. The correct theory must explain all known phenomena. Otherwise, that theory is a falsifiable tentative theory.
Many people think that the Vedic system is schools such as Vaishnavism, Shaivism, and Shaktism, many sub-schools that deviate from each other based on their views, and due to this diversity and variation, we can never accept all traditions or reconcile them. This is because they never heard of “the desire tree of knowledge” or its “ripened fruit”. They have cut off the fruit from the tree, and rejected the tree’s branches, twigs, and leaves, to concoct a falsehood inconsistent with the rest of the tree. In their imagination, an apple fruit is growing on a mango tree. Or worse, the apple fruit has appeared without a tree.
The tree exists to produce the fruit. But when a book is that fruit, then we have to check whether we understand that book consistent with other books—i.e., the branches, twigs, and leaves on the tree. If our understanding of the book deviates from the rest of the books, then we are imagining that an apple fruit is growing on a mango tree. If we don’t check our understanding against the other books, then we are imagining that the fruit has appeared without the tree. In either case, we have discarded the process by which the understanding of the Vedic system has been enhanced over the ages in the past.
The Role of Academics in the Vedic Tradition
Therefore, the process by which we establish the unity of the Vedic system is also the process by which we improve our understanding of the Vedic system, the process by which we are able to accept more and more branches, twigs, and leaves within the same tree, strengthen the entire tree by mutual affirmations of its parts, fulfill all the desires of people seeking various types of knowledge, and make the tree impervious to attacks from its modern adversaries such as colonial and postcolonial academics.
We are not antipathic to academics per se. We are antipathic to people cutting down the tree into many pieces, claiming that they don’t belong to a single tree, or that the various parts of the tree are separate trees, that they don’t produce any fruit, or that we need other trees to get all the fruits we want. All of these claims are simultaneously rejected by the use of one term—”the desire tree of knowledge”.
We want to eat the ripened fruit of the tree of knowledge. But that fruit won’t exist without the rest of the tree. Religion may be limited to the ripened fruit. But logic, mathematics, physics, cosmology, biology, sociology, economics, psychology, and many such subjects are required to confirm that what I consider to be religion is also the Theory of Everything. If my religion deviates from some or all of the above subjects, then I will always have a science-religion conflict, which will eventually destroy religion.
If we don’t have a tree then we don’t have a fruit. But if we have a tree and do not eat the fruit, then the purpose of the tree has been defeated. Hence, the tree must exist along with its ripened fruit. Religion may be the fruit. But science is all the other branches, twigs, and leaves. They are distinct but not contradictory. Factually, they are defined by each other, confirmed by each other, and advanced by each other.