from the West
By Gaurav Raina
a grand-disciple of Ramana Maharishi, is widely acknowledged as a Vedacharya.
Also known as Vamadeva Shastri, he was conferred the title of `Pandit' for his
pioneering research work in Vedic studies, yoga, ayurveda and jyotish in his
institute in New Mexico, USA. Author of several books on Hinduism, his writings
seek to contrast the generally flippant and dry academic presentations of
western Indologists. During a recent lecture-tour of India, David Frawley spoke
to Gaurav Raina:
What do you find unique about India and Hinduism?
India is a greatly favoured land in terms of cosmic
beneficence according to the Vaastu aspect of its geographical location. The
Himalayas, or Meru Parvat, oversee the whole of India in the likeness of the
prime sahasrara chakra in the human body. The tapas of so many
yogis and mystics and the timely appearance of avataras and saints over
thousands of years have greatly accentuated this spiritual potency. The Hindu
religion is like a gigantic banyan tree with its refreshing, ever ramifying
growth, change and variegation, which is a contrast to Western religion as a
In the Indian ethos the pursuit of consciousness has
traditionally been given priority over the need to understand the visible
material world. There are various yogic systems for realising this higher
consciousness. There is also evidence of a yogic methodology in India's every
sphere of learned activity such as in music, dance, poetry, architecture,
astronomy and medicine.
Hinduism comprises of a multiplicity of sects and
philosophies. Do you think such diversity is a cause for confusion ?
The Indian tradition is pluralistic and has always
offered freedom of worshipping the divine in the name and form of one's choice
and according to one's individual samskaras. It is pluralistic both at
the level of religious practices as well as philosophical teachings. For this
reason we find more religions inside Hinduism than among all of the world's
religions put together.
Pluralism means freedom. It means that we should accept
religious differences as a fact of life, like other natural variations. We need
freedom to arrive at the truth. The pursuit of dharma, the urge for self-realisation
and desire for liberation are common to all paths. Rather than as a cause for
confusion, I see Indian pluralism as constructively facilitating an individual's
Can one be rational and scientific and yet be
religious and spiritual?
Unlike in the West, Indian sages never perceived
science and religion as incompatible. Religion was viewed mainly as a way of
knowledge -- vidya or veda, as a way of seeing, a philosophy.
Knowledge is of two types. Apara vidya or lower knowledge is necessary
for our practical functioning in life and deals with the outer world of name,
form and causation. The second, para or higher knowledge is concerned
with consciousness and the Absolute Reality.
Indian sages regarded higher knowledge as more
important, but did not regard lower or outer knowledge as wrong or
disharmonious. The science versus religion dichotomy that became dominant in
Europe in the nineteenth century, never really existed in classical India. The
Indian model therefore seeks to resolve rather than perpetuate the Western
conflict between an immoral science versus an irrational religion. Even the
different systems of philosophy in India were more like scientific theories
meant to be debated rationally or explored and experienced through meditation.
Religion can thus be seen as a higher form of science. Anyone who systematically
practices prescribed ritual methods, meditation procedures and mantras, can
experience higher states of consciousness and thereby validate his or her
Why are the ancient scriptures today seen by many as
mythical and fantastic?
The Vedas are composed in an ancient language of
mantra, myth and symbol and utilise a rich poetic and imagistic expression. The
modern mind being conditioned by contemporary thought and language lacks the
necessary empathy and insight into the ancient texts. What we tend to regard as
mythological in the puranas and itihasas was never meant to
portray the actual state of things in time and space. These texts include not
just the visible world in their scope but also the invisible worlds belonging to
subtle and astral dimensions of existence.
If there are some apparent chronological inaccuracies
in the scriptures, it is because sacred history takes into account the
relationship between the temporal and the eternal and is less concerned with the
actual dates of various events. This is in sharp contrast to the linear view of
time held by contemporary historians who are ignorant of the relationship of
time with the eternal. We should not approach the scriptures from the primarily
academic standpoint of a historian, archaeologist or linguist; we should
exercise an intuitive and meditative insight.
You are a former Catholic. What is your view of the
recent incidents of violence against the Indian Christian community?
I do not consider the missionary form of Christianity
an enlightened religion. Conversion activity is an assault on intellectual
freedom and destroys native cultures as we have seen in Asia, Africa and the
Americas. It is more like a sales gimmick which targets the poor and uneducated.
Then there is also the history of the missionaries having sub-served European
colonisers by providing a justification for their brutalities. The Catholic
Church chose to be silent on the excesses of the Nazis and its tacit
understanding with Mussolini, and more recently with Chile's Pinochet, are no
Violence against Christians has been exaggerated a
great deal by the Western media. Such backlashes have occurred throughout
history all over the world. Missionary zeal tends to offend the religious
sensibilities of people by denouncing their native religions as false and pagan.
To what extent are India and Indian culture
misrepresented in the Western media?
Firstly India is greatly under represented in the
Western media. Whatever little news we have emphasises poverty, social problems,
human rights abuses and alarmist reports of military and nuclear policies. The
entertainment and advertising aspect of the media is on the other extreme and
treats everything Indian as ``exotic and erotic''.
Indians have failed to learn the lessons of effective
media articulation. Hindu organisations have been labelled fundamentalist and
often end up with a far worse image than they deserve. The Indian government too
has failed to promote Indian culture and to lobby its case with the Western
governments. In fact India's gurus have done much a better job than its
politicians and diplomats, in projecting the country's image abroad.
I am concerned at the absence of a dharmic
intelligentsia in this country. It is imperative that Indians free themselves
from colonial, Marxist and missionary distortions of their culture. They need to
stop playing apologist for the genuine cultural and spiritual aspirations of
their people. They should reverse their blind and obsequious adulation of the
West. The great spiritual traditions of India will be lost if its intellectual
kshatriyas fail to wake up to the call of the information war and lay siege to
the false apostles of religious freedom.