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The Western Educationalists'
Perspective on the Vedic Tradition

 

Rasamandala dasa

NB. The footnotes for this article are linked to a separate footnote page.

Rasamandala dasa has offered us this article to help clarify some of the concerns and reservations that many of us may have with educational approaches to Vedanta and Hinduism. He reassures us with his positive treatment of the subject and with his obvious experience in the field of teaching Hinduism and Vaishnavism in British schools. He has systematised our objectives very well and marries this to the difficulty in interpretation experienced between members of the tradition and those non-practitioners who attempt to teach the tradition to others. This article is essential for those in our society engaged in the religious or academic fields.

 In my last article1, I applied modern communications theory to explore how presentations to school audiences can improve public perception of ISKCON. We also discussed how, within the statutory educational framework, there may be legitimate scope for teaching about Krishna Consciousness. We also heard how, in Britain, our Society has been fortunate to enjoy both these benefits.

However, right from the start, there were a couple of notable challenges. Firstly we were assumed, and required, to represent one of the principle world religions2, namely Hinduism. This raised pertinent, and sometimes controversial, theological questions about the identity of ISKCON and its members (we'll come back to this later). Secondly and subsequently, this also meant that ISKCON Educational Services staff were required to make presentations not just on ISKCON and Gaudiya Vaishnavism, nor on broader Vaishnavism, but on the whole spectrum of Hinduism itself. I began to question whether this supported our Society's aims or was even consistent with them. As I pondered, and read more school textbooks on Hinduism, I considered and noted down some of the possible benefits of speaking and writing about the subject. However, I also noticed in many school textbooks room for considerable improvement.

This concerned me. We were, whether we liked it or not, strongly identified with the broader tradition and any misrepresentation of that could reflect badly on ISKCON. On a positive note, it was evident that a large percentage of our presentation material on Hinduism per se was congruent with Krishna Consciousness, giving us ample scope to redress such errors. In other words, I concluded that the reputation of ISKCON, at least within the educational world3 , depended significantly on public perception of the broader tradition, which we had ample opportunity to influence.

What I intend to do here, therefore, is to discuss the educationalists perspective on the Hindu tradition, identifying areas of apparent misunderstanding or misrepresentation. This subject is presented mainly through the experience of our schools programme in the UK, though it naturally has implications on higher academic levels. Indeed, I hope this article, presented here principally for Krishna devotees, will form the basis of an extended study of interest to scholars (in both Religious Education and Religious Studies). My comments here are not intended to be a criticism of the educational and academic worlds, where there is increasing sensitivity towards multi-cultural issues. I hope, though, that by identifying possible shortcomings, in methodology, this article will be constructively challenging.

The subject is discussed in terms of the ten objectives which ISKCON Educational Services has formulated in teaching about Hinduism. Each objective (in bold type) is followed by a brief explanation including practical information for devotees making presentations in the educational sphere.

1. To promote an understanding of the universal and axiomatic principles of Sanatana Dharma and Varnashrama Dharma as revealed through the Vedic scriptures and as particularly embodied by Vaishnavism, and to explain how these relate to the tradition generally called Hinduism.

This first objective serves two main purposes: 1) To clarify the meaning of the term 'Hinduism'. and 2) To clearly establish ISKCON's identity in relation to it.

ISKCON's relationship to Hinduism is contentious for some devotees, and the Society's often ambivalent stance has been noted by both devotees4 and academics5. For most people (and why not for devotees?) it is convenient, if not necessary, to explain ISKCON's roots in relation to the world we know. With this, however, are theological implications, as explained in the Science of Self Realisation:

    When attempting to place the Krishna Consciousness movement within a conventional historical-cultural context, many people identify the movement with Hinduism. But this is misleading. Srila Prabhupada 6 disavows connection with the pantheism, polytheism and caste consciousness that pervades modern Hinduism. Although Krishna Consciousness and modern Hinduism share a common historical root-India's ancient Vedic culture-Hinduism has become... a sectarian establishment, whereas Krishna Consciousness is universal and transcends relative, sectarian designations. (SSR. Ch.3. Article: 'Krishna Consciousness: Hindu Cult or Divine Culture?')

From this statement, it is not quite clear whether the author7 is suggesting that ISKCON refute any connection whatsoever with Hinduism. Still, ISKCON devotees well understand the thrust of this statement. The Vedas establish the soul's identity as distinct from the body. Consequently designations such as Hindu, Muslim and Christian are ultimately no less illusory and divisive than discrimination on the grounds of age, race or gender. Srila Prabhupada confirms this:

    Thus the most dangerous of the dirty things within our hearts is this mis-identification of the body as the self. Under the influence of this misunderstanding, one thinks, 'I am this body. I am an Englishman. I am an Indian. I am an American. I am Hindu. I am Muslim'.8

Nevertheless, in the context of school and college teaching, the simple aphorism 'I am not a Hindu', though doctrinally correct, may need further explanation and may otherwise lead to problems!9 I'm not suggesting that devotees resort to pragmatic duplicity, pretending to be Hindus whilst inwardly considering otherwise. Rather they have a genuine connection with that tradition and this needs careful definition.

Srila Prabhupada elaborates:

    It (the word Hindu) is neither a Sanskrit word nor is it found in the Vedic literature. But the culture of the Indians or the Hindus is Vedic and begins with the four varnas and asramas... Our Krishna Consciousness Movement is preaching these four varnas and asramas, so naturally it has got some relationship with the Hindus. (Letter from Srila Prabhupada to Janmanjaya and Taradevi, 9th July 1970)

As well as confirming 'some relationship', Srila Prabhupada makes a couple of important points:

  1. The culture of the Hindus is Vedic (i.e. derived from the Vedas and their supplements).
  2. The word Hindu is not found in Vedic literature.

Considering this second point, the question naturally arises, 'Where then does the word come from?' Scholars suggest that it was used as early as the eighth century CE by Persian invaders to refer to the people on the far side of the River Sindhu (now the Indus in Pakistan). It's early connotations were not specifically religious, but social, cultural, political and geographical. Though the terms 'Hindu' and 'Hinduism' are now in common use, their exact meanings remain unclear and somewhat arbitrary. Hinduism is not, therefore, necessarily synonymous with Vaidika Dharma (the religion of the Vedas) nor with Sanatana or Varnashrama Dharma. Not all Hindus believe in the pervasive doctrines of karma and rebirth, nor is it clear whether Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists are included in their ranks10. However, it is universally accepted that Hinduism was a name given by foreigners, and generally accepted by insiders since the early nineteenth century. They too had difficulties with its exact meaning, as Eleanor Nesbitt explains:

    'The term Hinduism... is essentially a Western construct. It was the introduction of the concept of Hinduism, and the presence of Westerners talking, writing and asking about Hinduism which led Hindus to try to define true and false Hinduism, which they did (and still do) in different ways. Thus, for example, Bankim Chandra Chatterjee (1838-94) distinguished between 'false and corrupt Hinduism' which Europeans denounced and 'true Hinduism' which, in his case, involved devotion to God and a humanistic ethic (King 1978). For Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902), on the other hand, true Hinduism was the monistic philosophy of Advaita Vedanta, which Bankim has rejected as part of false Hinduism. Many more examples could be cited. For our purposes 'Hinduism' is an umbrella term for a great number of practices and beliefs each of which belongs to some of the millions of people who for historical reasons are called Hindus.

    Despite countless differences of region and language, these practices and beliefs bear a family likeness. There may be no one founder and no overarching credal statement but there are modes of worship and ways of thinking which appear like a recurrent motif.11

 Despite the lack of clear definition and consequent confusion, Srila Prabhupada clearly favours the meaning of 'the followers of the Vedas' (Vaidika Dharma, as mentioned above). This is the definition which ISKCON Educational Services uses with British schools. The following quotes from Srila Prabhupada may further elucidate:

    You may call the Vedas Hindu but Hindu is a foreign name. We are not Hindus. Our real identification is Varnashrama. Varnashrama denotes the followers of the Vedas.12

    Formerly, the people of India (now misnamed as 'Hindus') followed Varnashrama dharma or Sanatana Dharma...13

Here Srila Prabhupada is equating Vaidika Dharma with both Varnashrama Dharma and Sanatana Dharma .14 It may of course be incorrect to say that modern Hinduism is Vaidika Dharma, or Sanatana Dharma, since many members of the tradition are not practising scriptural tenets.15 Nevertheless, accepting this definition of 'genuine Hinduism', there remains diversity which begs cohesive explanation. ISKCON's relationship to the tradition also requires clarification. I list below several points, some or all of which may be useful when giving school presentations:

  1. Hinduism is a foreign name...
  2. Though the meaning is somewhat arbitrary, we could say that Hinduism means 'those who follow the Vedic scriptures', and that's the definition we'll use. The words 'Hindu' and 'Hinduism' are not found in Vedic literature...
  3. The Vedic literature favours the term Sanatana Dharma (explain in terms of the eternal soul free from designations, whose natural function is to serve God).
  4. Hindus believe in Varnashrama Dharma, which was originally determined by qualification rather than birth.
  5. The Vedas, though ultimately promoting liberation and love of God, accommodate different levels of spirituality, according to the three principal stages of karma, jnana and bhakti.16
  6. There are six main philosophical/ theological17 systems, which are progressive18 and culminate in Vedanta.19
  7. Within Vedanta there are two main schools of thought-monism (impersonalism) and monotheism (personalism). ISKCON is monotheistic. (Explain both schools in relationship to 'the many gods').
  8. Within Hinduism today there are three main focuses of worship: Vishnu, Shiva and Shakti (Durga). The Shaivites and Shaktas are more disposed towards impersonalism whereas the Vaishnavas are generally personalists.
  9. Members of ISKCON are Gaudiya (Bengali) Vaishnavas following in the footsteps of Lord Caitanya...

The subject is obviously complex! Taking into account the issues of migration and acculturation, modern Hinduism becomes highly enigmatic, particularly for teachers. It is understandable that many school texts misrepresent the tradition through over generalisation. It cannot be accurately represented without appreciation of its great diversity. And yet it needs to be presented, as far as possible, as a unified whole, a comprehensive picture. Explaining its roots in terms of Sanatana Dharma and Varnashrama Dharma, as based on the Vedas, and with particular reference to the self's distinction from the body, can significantly help in this respect.

Our first objective then, as discussed above, may help educationalists in untangling the web of religious, social and cultural phenomena which we call Hinduism. Referring back to my doubts about teaching the subject, Srila Prabhupada confirms ISKCON's intended role:

    Srila Prabhupada said it was certainly a fact that we are the authorities when it comes to teaching what is 'real Hinduism'. It is just and proper that the educational circles of Sweden should accept us as such. (Letter from Tamal Krishna Goswami to H.G. Vegavan Prabhu, 22nd August 1977)

2. To counteract the portrayal of Hindu theology as either (a) exclusively impersonal or (b) impersonal at best (i.e. monistic, polytheistic, anthropomorphic, but never monotheistic).

In teaching about the Vedic tradition this is perhaps ISKCON's principal aim, particularly in consideration of Srila Prabhupada's desires20. He writes:

    With reference to your article in the Los Angeles Times dated Sunday, January 11,1970, under the heading 'Krishna Chant', I beg to point out that the Hindu religion is perfectly based in the personal conception of God, or Vishnu. The impersonal conception of God is a side issue, or one of the three features of God.21

Despite this, almost all authors, teachers and lecturers in Religious Education fail to acknowledge the existence of a monotheism doctrine within Hinduism. A recently available two-volume publication suitably illustrates this point. The first book, covering the Semitic religions-Judaism, Christianity and Islam-is entitled 'Believers in One God'. Implicit in this is the notion that monotheism is absent from the other major traditions- Hinduism, Buddhism and Sikhism.22

Text books abound with similar inaccuracies, suggesting that all Hindus ultimately believe in the 'Universal World Soul' (Brahman). Note for example:

    ...frequent use of statues of 'gods and goddesses'. Although these are merely 'pointers' to that which defies full description...23

or again:

    It is essential to realise that the images are not worshipped but can be used for the focus of worship as symbols of the One God.24

Why then this inordinate leaning towards impersonalism? I'd suggest several reasons:

  1. Teachers in schools are usually sensitive and, in trying to rationalise the multiplicity of deities (without resorting to polytheism which is unquestionably heretical to the Western mind) find monism a convenient explanation. One textbook illustrate the tension:
    'Hinduism is full of stories of hundreds of gods and of goddesses and lesser celestial beings who people the heavens and earth. Yet most Hindus believe that God is one. Westerners are often baffled by this apparent contradiction or paradox.' And continues: '...but it can be simply explained. Ninian Smart of Lancaster University has likened this [impersonal] idea to that experiment you may have done in Science where a single beam of white light is refracted into many colours by a prism. For most Hindus, their many gods and goddesses display 'aspects' or 'refraction's' of Brahman.' 25
    The personalist, however, can also reconcile 'God is One' with the multiplicity of lesser deities26 though it may be more complex in the classroom situation.
  2. Teachers are often eager to dispel any preconception that Hinduism includes idolatry, clearly a heresy to the Western psyche. Monism conveniently but inaccurately explains the use and function of the murti (as illustrated in the quotes above).
  3. The influence of Vivekananda and other advaitins in promoting Hinduism in the West.
  4. The natural predisposition which academics have for the path of jnana.27
  5. The discomfort which some Christians experience in meeting another tradition in which adherents claim a unique, personal relationship with God.28

Room does not permit us here to explore these reasons at length. What is important, though, is to mention that countering the impersonal concept is not easy, even in those whose commitment is only educational! One problem is that bhaktiis (ostensibly) accepted, but again akin to the monist, as a means to an end (mukti or liberation)29. Personalism is also apparently accommodated but again in a monistic sense, often mentioned in connection with one's chosen deity (Ishtadev). We may note here the egalitarian connotations! Feminism also has its influence with authors suggesting that God (or Brahman) should be called 'It'-a term that sensitive people wouldn't use for their cat or dog! The subject is complex and I've spent many hours with educationalists, locked in theological discussion; not without some success, but often left considering 'How do we succinctly explain the personalistic conception to teachers and how can they deliver it in a way accessible to pupils?' This remains for us quite a challenge!30

Fortunately, help is coming from above! Scholars are beginning to recognise that Vedanta is not the monopoly of the advaitins. For example, Dr. Julius Lipner writes:

    Many Westerners also believe-alas, this is true for too many of the modern Indian intelligentsia as well-that the great Advaita Shankara is representative of Hindu religious thinkers. Now this belief strikes me as manifestly indefensible... There are other religious thinkers who deserve more than a courteous look in... Ramanuja is one of them. (The Face of Truth, Macmillan 1986)31

3. To counteract the general portrayal of the Vedic tradition as primitive and superstitious.

The perception and portrayal of India (and indeed the third-world generally) as primitive and superstitious is not confined to the academic or educational world.32 It is endemic, I suggest, in broader society, with roots in empiricism, hedonism and the quest for affluence. The 'standard of living' is the predominant measure of merit and morality. Simple living, devoid of car and computer, is identified with our cave-dwelling forefathers. Fortunately, ecological and environmental concerns are now challenging many widely held assumptions-the Darwinian construct, for example, by which evolution is external and unidirectional, and God and the soul redundant, relegated to the role of secular religion.

And what then is the role of that religion? Could certain elements of Christianity with its world-confirming-or more precisely, world-improving-ethic have helped foster the idea that the third world has little to offer but opportunities for missionary work abroad? Charity advertisements, inadvertently perhaps, reinforce the image of a parched land yielding little to scantily clad natives. More ominously, though, there are school texts, produced by so-called33 Christians, which intentionally focus on aspects of the Vedic lifestyle predicted to evoke disgust. One book on ISKCON, for example, claimed that members drank cow's urine34. Fortunately, most Christians in the RE world these days are far more charitable! Credit must certainly go to such organisations as the CEM (Christian Education Movement), and many RE advisers, teachers and so on, for their valuable efforts in promoting multi-cultural education.

Nevertheless, some branches of Christianity, particularly the evangelical, strongly oppose, apparently on moral grounds, the teaching in schools of anything remotely 'supernatural'. Astrology may be branded as the 'work of the devil' and meditation condemned as 'demonology'. The Vedic tradition tends to view subtle phenomena 35 with far less suspicion and without resorting to unsubstantiated accusations of superstition. (Superstition may be prevalent, in India and elsewhere, but this does not imply that all notions of the paranormal are such, nor that such superstition is completely groundless.) In studying the Western world view then, from both secular (or 'scientific') and religious (or 'faith') perspectives, there seems great commonality in their reluctance to accept anything beyond that which we can see, hear, touch, taste or smell. This we'll discuss further in the next section.

How then do some school texts reflect and project a distorted, primitive image of India, its culture and heritage? This will be discussed, somewhat implicitly, in future sections of this article (including objectives 5, 6 and 8) Here a couple of examples will suffice. The first is text, describing the 'Aryan tribes' led by 'feudal chieftains'.

    Originally they were nomadic cattle herdsmen and hunters. The Vedic Aryans worshipped deities who controlled the forces of nature... and domesticated the horse and the cow and used tools of iron, copper and bronze. Their gods were flattered through prayer in order to gain favour.36

Notice the connotations which may reflect poorly on modern Hinduism (e.g. the reference to deity worship). It must be acknowledged that other religions have similar accounts of a tribal past (e.g. Judaism and Christianity37) but according to Hindus this portrayal of their heritage is erroneous (as we'll discuss later) and, additionally, there's often the assumption that India hasn't evolved as much as elsewhere.

My second example refers not to text, but to illustration. In this case of the Hindu pantheon of gods and goddesses, whose forms too often are depicted as bizarre or comical. Whilst recently reviewing material intended for school use I made the following comments: 'Brahma looks more like Attila the Hun with two or three extra heads' and 'Nataraja's anatomy doesn't quite reach human standards what to speak of divine. Besides a general stiffness, his right foot seems to have ended up on the end of his left leg'. Such drawings, had they been published, would have further undermined the integrity and dignity of the Vedic culture. Again this reinforces the need for educationalists to consult faith members who can 'see with the eyes of devotion'. Fortunately the professionals in Religious Education are increasingly eager to receive such feedback. We are optimistic that the sophisticated and theologically-based worship of the arca vigraha (murti or image) will no longer be mistaken for the anthropomorphic 38 worship of tribal man!

4. To promote the study of religion in general (and Hinduism in particular) from the experiential and faith perspective as well as from (or in preference to) the empirical and academic point of view. (Exclusive adherence to the latter approach, which views beliefs and practices only in response to external factors, may undermine the philosophical integrity of a faith).

Modern preference for empirical knowledge my lie at the root of any misrepresentation of Vedic tradition. According to Vaishnava thought, exclusive reliance on empiricism suggests lack of faith in the authority of the Supreme. The Bhagavad-gita confirms that scholarship without such faith falls within the category of mayaya pahrita jnana-knowledge stolen by illusion. In other words, pride in experimental knowledge to manipulate39 the world for selfish purposes, concentrated or extended, results in illusion and neglect of spiritual welfare.

Such statements may appear to be those of the unsophisticated literalist. Indeed, academics have often interpreted Gaudiya Vaishnava philosophy, with it's concept of achintya40 (inconceivability), as being anti-intellectual, opposed to the use of rationale, or just downright irrational. In actuality the systematic search for knowledge is not rejected but subsumed to the process of bhakti. Lord Krishna confirms that the ultimate result of knowledge ( jnana) is surrender to the authority of the Lord (B.G. 7.19). Devotees further explain this, claiming that acceptance of the inconceivability of God, and a subsequent understanding of the need to accept revelationary knowledge to know Him, is in itself rational. This has sometimes been termed 'reasonable faith' as opposed to 'blind faith'.

The apparent dichotomy between belief (derived from faith) and knowledge (derived from empirical science) is a particularly Western construct41-and a biased one. In both cases, for the empiricist and the revelationist, it is a question of faith; specifically, faith in authority, whether it be to guru or orientalist, scripture or scientific thesis. Dr. Kim Knott argues in favour of this:

     'Faith in the origins of revealed scripture is important to most devotees; dependence on historical 'facts' is important to most scholars of religion. To some extent the issue, both for the devotee and the scholar, becomes one of 'authority'.42'

This discussion is not to condemn academia but to demonstrate the shortcomings of empiricism within the domain of revealed knowledge. The opinions of those with commitment (so necessary for subjective realisation and effective transmission) may well compliment the objectivity of the dispassionate scholar, provided he or she can maintain objectivity43 . The problems arise however when the scholar:

    (a) is biased (as we'll discuss later with regards to the early Indologists.)
    (b) accepts as canonical facts theories presented by others whose methodology is flawed.
    (c) tries to fit a religious tradition into a predetermined conceptual model, often based on philosophical or religious predilections.

I'd also add (from the other side, as it were) that the devotee benefits from interaction with the scholar. Such contact encourages reflection and reassessment and prevents complacency, blind literalism and unquestioning allegiance. The RE world in Britain is already appreciating the benefits of mutual interaction between the two communities-professional and confessional. In the recent development of national Model Syllabuses for R.E.44 representatives of the six principal faiths drew up individual reports, identifying what they would like to see taught in schools. Many consider this a significant watershed, the result of many years development in the philosophy of Religious Education and the methodology of Religious Studies. The phenomenological approach to religion, initiated in Britain in the late '60s by Dr. Ninian Smart, proposes that religion cannot be understood devoid of objectivity and empathy. Religion should not be studied with preconception and bias, nor divorced from the people behind it-their values, attitudes and personal experiences. Particularly significant is the development of 'ethnographic' research, using data obtained from religious practitioners through participant observation, informal chats, focused interviews and so on. Many current schools texts feature quotes from faith members, particularly children45 . Above all, teacher and pupil alike are taught to respect the integrity of all faiths. The emphasis on experiential learning, including visits to faith communities, is an integral part of this positive process.

How then does adherence to empiricism still visibly colour the presentation of Hinduism? For examples we can refer to standard texts. Conspicuous to devotees is the presentation of theology as a product of social, political and other external forces. Lets consider a couple of passages from The Sacred Cow by A.L. Basham46 :

    'Evidently the theistic Vaishnava cult had not long existed at the time of this part of the Bhagavad Gita and was meeting some opposition: 'The deluded world doesn't recognise Me as unborn and changeless', says Krishna (7.25). 'Fools scorn Me', He says elsewhere 'because I have taken on human form'.'

Basham here implies that the author is using philosophical texts as a sophisticated way of name-calling. Furthermore, he adds:

    '...It is quite clear that the text (of the Gita) is a defence not only of the warrior's duty to wage righteous warfare but also of the whole brahminical social system. This also suggests a date... when Buddhists and other were strongly criticising the doctrine of the four classes and declaring that birth made no difference to a person's fundamental merit and value'.

Besides the fallacious nature of this argument, (as evinced by the Gita itself47) attributing political motives to the author is unsound both morally and academically. The ultimate result is the undermining of the text's theological credibility-the author's statements are no more respectable than the rhetoric of partisan politicians. Though true revelationalist is not opposed to the appropriate use of rationale, empiricism without faith in the Supreme, or without respect for the opinions of these with such faith, may compound error with offence. Satsvarupa dasa Goswami has written:

    'Today many scholars continue to minimise the existential and transcendental validity of the Vedas, often without so much as an explanation why empirical knowledge should take preference over sabda, knowledge from authority'.48

 Fortunately with the swing towards more appropriate methodologies, both within religious studies and anthropology, some scholars are beginning to appreciate this, i.e. that there may be profound spiritual forces at work in the development of religion. Dr. Malory Nye writes:

    'Furthermore, the sociological forces helping to shape such communities are themselves shaped by other factors such as the desire to reproduce religious traditions and the wish to express devotion '.49 (italics mine)

5. To demonstrate the influence of the British on Hinduism, especially with reference to the reform movements, and how this may still colour our comprehension of the tradition.

Here I'd like to examine how the relationship between Britain and India still colours the Westerners impression of Indian culture. At first British government was careful not to impose any religious constrains upon the Indian people. Indeed the zeal for abolishing 'human ignorance' rested not with church leaders or politicians but more with rationalists like Hume and Berkeley, whose influence was significant (as we'll later discuss). Racism, it seems, also played its part. Thus upon his arrival in India in 1813, the governor general marquis of Hastings wrote:

    'The Hindoo appears a being merely limited to mere animal functions, and even to them indifferent... with no higher intellect than a dog'.50

This may help us understand the prevalent attitudes of the time. It was only at the beginning of the nineteenth century that, without governmental sanction, the Christian evangelists came 'to India to proselytise and undermine the superstition of the country'51. H.H. Satsvarupa dasa Goswami writes:

     'They did not hesitate to denounce the Vedic literature as 'absurdities' meant 'for the amusement of children'.'52

When, at around the same period, the first Indologists appeared, considering themselves the 'bearers of Christian light', some grew to admire the Vedic culture. Despite this, stalwarts such as Wilson, Muller and Monier-Williams frankly admitted their preference for European values (often including Christianity) and hastily dismissed Vedic philosophy and 'mythology'. Today's scholars are different, though still a bias remains -not evangelical but empirical-as Satsvarupa dasa Goswami notes:

    'Vedic scholars... still, largely out of academic habit....give tacit approval to many of the first Indologist's conclusions'.53

Thus their questionable opinions, still quoted as time-honoured facts, remain as cornerstones of the academic world's misconception of Vedic thought.

The other significant impact of British rule was on Hindu intelligentsia. To win them over to Euro-centric thought was a deliberate policy instigated by Thomas MaCauley, backed from 1835 with government funds. Jackson and Killingley comment on the effect of British rule in India:

    'From the beginning of the nineteenth century printed books, periodicals, public lectures and educational institutes began to replace the guru-pupil relationship as ways of transmitting ideas. Hindu ideas were also influenced by contact with the West, especially in Calcutta, which at that time was the main seat of British power in India'.54

Ironically enough, rather than resorting to Christianity, may Hindu intellectuals turned to rationalism. The most notable developments were the establishment of the Brahmo Samaj by a Bengali, Ram Mohan Roy, and the Arya Samaj by Dayananda. Both attempted to combat degenerate forms of Hinduism but in so doing indiscriminately rejected principles axiomatic to Vaidika-Dharma including worship of the arca-vigraha and acceptance of the devas (demigods).

Bhaktivinoda Thakur, the great Gaudiya Vaishnava acharya, comments on another effect of rationalism:

    'Amongst the scientific beliefs that have come to India along with the British rule, the metaphysical inference that the Deity has no form has been accepted as one of the most philosophical acquisitions that man has ever obtained. The current of the abstruse idea of a formless Brahman, which has invaded thought and worship in India since the time of Pandit Shankaracharya has, with the existence of the European idea of a formless God55, become so much extended, especially in the minds of the youngsters of this country, that if an attempt is made to establish the fact that God has external56 form, it is hooted down as an act of stupidity'.57

These effects, particularly the bias towards advaita, are still being felt, as Lipner has noted in his introduction to 'The Face of Truth' 58 (in the previously quoted passage). Hindu intellectuals, as well as denying the personal conception of God, also disputed the previously unquestionable validity of the scriptures - and still do. For example, Mathoor Krishnamurti, Executive Director of the Bhavan Centre in London, wrote recently in the Gujarat Samachar 59 :

    'I must share with my friends and readers .... the knowledge that I have gleaned from years of research which brought me to the conclusion that Sri Rama ruled 4000 to 5000 years ago.'

The letter prompted vehement replies. The secretary of the National Council for Hindu Temples, Mr. Vipin Aery accused the writer of ardha kukkuti nyaya-half-hen logic60, referring to the rationalists' habit of picking and choosing which scriptural tenets to accept and which to reject. Aery also attempted to explain the necessity of revealed knowledge over and above the empiric.

    'While recognising the folly of irrational belief and behaviour, reason itself compels us to accept the inconceivable nature of the Supreme. Our search for truth necessitates us going beyond (though not necessarily against) our limited powers of perception and conception-the very tools of empirical research'.61

This statement strikes a remarkable resemblance to the arguments directed against Ram Mohan Roy. Lipner confirms:

    'In debate, his Hindu opponents claimed equally to have used reason to demonstrate reason's rational limitations in defence of many of the so-called superstitions'.62

It can be safely concluded that many Hindu intellectuals use reason. not only to analyse or interpret Vedic texts, but to deny their statements and to denigrate the apparently superstitious aspects of their own faith. In one Hinduism textbook, for example, the author opines:

    'In Hinduism, pollution means ritual impurity and has little or nothing to do with actual physical or chemical contamination's.'63

Caste abuse notwithstanding, is there not valid reason behind some concepts of purity and pollution? Why, for example, does the relative of a recently deceased Hindu undergo a predetermined period of 'impurity'? Scholars may well benefit by seeking to understand the theological/ philosophical principles underpinning these practices. These topics, though, are difficult to comprehend without understanding the science of the soul and the process of transmigration. This may be the crux of the matter.64

6. To redress the exclusive adherence to modern empiricism to date the history and development of Hinduism, neglecting to mention the opinions of the tradition itself

This objective is closely related to number four, which we've already discussed at length. Here, though, we'll focus on the history of Hinduism and how it's presented in schools. Most texts propound standard theory, including mention of the Indus Valley Civilisation, (largely based on archaeological evidence from two walled cities, Mohenjo-daro and Harappa) and the subsequent Aryan invasion. Whether or not there is truth in these hypothetical claims, the general portrayal of progressive evolution from tribal status to modern Hindu runs contrary to the Vedic paradigm of eternal, cyclical and degenerative time. What has concerned Hindus has not been so much the inclusion of empirical theory (usually termed historical facts) but the exclusion of any mention of the tradition's own opinions.

It is encouraging to note that the recently published Model Agreed Syllabuses for RE, included in the Hinduism Working Party report, a section on 'The Nature of Time', recommending study of 'traditional views relating to the four yugas' and 'the nature of the present age'65 . This is perceived by many as a significant step in the right direction.

About the influence of early British scholars, Satsvarupa dasa Goswami has written:

    'Sir William Jones... drew fire from the eminent British historian James Mill for his 'hypothesis of a high state of civilisation'. Typically, Mill believed that the people of India never had been advanced and that therefore their claim to a glorious past (which some of the early Indologists supported) was historical fantasy.'66

Some Hindu intellectuals, though, have tried to establish the validity of their claim, using empiric techniques. They have countered the more recent dates which scholars generally attribute to scriptural compilation and historical events. Shri Kshitish Chandra De, for example, has authored one dissertation aimed to determine the period of the Kurukshetra war.67 In his book 68, he cites scriptural, archaeological and astronomical69 evidence to conclude that the fratricidal war was fought in 3137 B.C.E., only two years at variance with the traditionally accepted date. Some scientists have also claimed to have found evidence of nuclear blasts occurring thousands of years ago. These arguments may be somewhat tenuous but interesting in the light of Srila Prabhupada's commentary on the Srimad Bhagavatam:

    'The brahmastra is similar to the modern nuclear weapon manipulated by atomic energy... but the difference is that the atomic bomb is a gross type of nuclear weapon, whereas the brahmastra is a subtle type of weapon produced by chanting hymns'.70

Shastra thus confirms the claims of these scientists, (whose research, however, remains highly speculative). Still, the hypothesis of cyclical time, suggesting previous high levels of civilisation is not unreasonable. On the contrary, it seems that the notion of linear time, and other corollaries, are central to the Westerners general difficulty in grasping Vedic knowledge-and, indeed, spiritual life at all.

7. To establish understanding and appreciation of the principles behind the original caste system, i.e. Varnashrama Dharma.

Caste-as used in the terms caste-system-is a word derived from the Portuguese71 and is equivalent to the Indian vernacular term jati. It refers to 'structurally distinct hereditary communities, differentiated not only by occupation but by their degree of ritual purity in relation to one another'.72 It does not specifically refer to varna, but to sub-divisions, though it is naturally related to it on the basis of its hereditary and hierarchical structure. In delineating objective seven above, I've equated caste-system with Varnashrama, both for the sake of brevity and because colloquially the term is used to refer to the system of both varnas and jatis.

The caste system is understandably notorious, not least for the work of Gandhi in protecting the interests of the untouchables, whom he called 'Harijans'73 . It is therefore a struggle, particularly with the popular egalitarian ethic, to establish the validity of Varnashrama. However, taking into account modern sentiment, ISKCON devotees would be expedient in explaining the subject with reference to Lord Caitanya's defiance of the rigid and perverse caste system. ISKCON's often predominantly non-Asian (and hence 'untouchable') membership is a powerful living example of opposition to hereditary and exploitative caste consciousness. As mentioned earlier, Srila Prabhupada defines ISKCON's tradition in terms of Sanatana Dharma and Varnashrama Dharma. To establish the integrity of the original system is therefore crucial in promoting the Society's reputable heritage. One way that we may do this is by promoting the use of the term 'non-caste brahmin', as applicable to ISKCON's initiated priests.

8. To abolish other misconceptions about practices which fall under 'dismissive designations' such as untouchabiltiy, ritual purity / ritual pollution, child marriage, sati, image worship, the Hindu pantheon, the sacred cow, etc.

The above mentioned 'dismissive designations' are so called since they often evoke immediate rejection, without consideration of any underlying principle. One reason for this is widespread malpractice. Although it is fallacious to reject a practice wholesale on account of its degeneration, this often seems the case74 . In 1991, members of the National Council for Hindu Temples expressed to me the desire that in British schools less attention be given to such contentious issues as mentioned above. Their response, though understandable, reminded me of the reaction of the Reform Movements. It would be better, I suggested, to address these issues and, where appropriate, explain the rationale behind them. Devotees making presentations to schools should also be prepared to address these issues.

I believe there is a second reason for which malpractice, though factual in itself, serves as a convenient smokescreen. It is the issue of our world view, our model of reality, that which discerns what is acceptable and what to reject. A short anecdote would be in order here. One evening whilst showing a couple of teacher friends around our new cowshed at Bhaktivedanta Manor, the cowherdsman kindly offered us some fresh milk. We politely consented. As we stood there holding the warm liquid in stainless steel bowls, we glanced at each other, somewhat nervous, but sensing the profundity of the moment. We explored our emotional and cognitive responses. 'What! It came from where? Hasn't it been pasteurised? It's still warm! Does it have lumps in?' After enjoying what turned out to be a delicious drink, we realised not only where milk originates (including the stuff in bottles) but how much we were out-of-touch with nature. Moreover, though, we had the direct experience of the inadequacies of trying to appreciate practices of one culture through the eyes of another.

In this light, let us consider one of the above issues -child marriage. There have undoubtedly been unspeakable social aberrations, sometimes to secure sizeable dowries. Despite this there is within Vedic dharma a system of betrothal75, often from an early age. Actual marriage would never take place till shortly after puberty. Even then we Westerners are usually abhorred. Teenage girls freely mixing with boys, with every possibility of premature pregnancy and so on, poses little problem, but marriage (what to speak of arranged marriage) appears unmistakably barbaric. There are, Vaishnavas claim, sound socio-theological reasons for early marriage, as Srila Prabhupada explains in one lecture76 referring to his mother, wife and daughter, who were all married at an early age. It must be noted, though, that any practice cannot be literally translated or transposed in its entirety from one milieu to another without considering the principles underpinning it.77 For this reason, educationalists often stress that 'religious beliefs' and 'religious practices' should not be taught as discreet units but constantly interrelated throughout the learning process.

9. To promote the prominence of certain historical figures. These would include Madhva, Ramanuja and Caitanya, perhaps mentioning the latter's contribution as a social reformer (though He appeared well before the modern reform movements of the 19th and 20th Centuries). In more recent history we could include the names of Bhaktivinoda, Bhaktisiddhanta and Srila Prabhupada.

I originally included this point after reading one school text book78 which stated:

    'There is no one messenger, or even a group of men, to whom Hinduism can look with any certainly and identify as the people through whom God revealed Himself. Seven rishis or wise men are mentioned in the ancient myths of Hinduism, but no details of their lives are known...'

Thereafter the text refers only to 'Brahmins' and 'Gurus', without mentioning specific names. After explaining their roles, it continues:

    'Perhaps because these [current] guides can be so important in the everyday life of a Hindu, historical figures of the past have never acquired the significance of men like Moses, Siddhartha or Jesus'.

This latter statement seems quite contentious, raising several pertinent questions. In this case, though, I don't doubt the co-author's intentions as both are well-respected, sympathetic towards multi-religious education and experts in the underlying methodology. What is important to note is that, despite their credentials, this section of the book is inadequate, highlighting the unique challenge which Hinduism presents. The tradition has neither a definite starting point (if indeed one at all) nor a single founder. What's more, by mentioning leaders significant to one tradition one may omit these revered by another. In addition, as hinted in the text above, one needs to choose between ancient seers, more recent leaders and the current proliferation of gurus and swamis. The often amorphous divide between human and immortal further complicates the issue. And yet, accounting for local variations of worship and sampradayic affiliations, it's not an impossible task, though one which certainly requires more research.

In the above mentioned list, I have not mentioned Shankara, although naturally he should be included in any in-depth study of Hinduism. I have already mentioned the natural leaning towards impersonalism, and thus Madhva and Ramanuja should be included alongside him. In connection with the great Gaudiya Vaishnava acharyas, as mentioned, I anticipate that as ISKCON develops, they will naturally receive the attention of academics and scholars, particularly if we can offer them assistance in their studies. Meanwhile, in schools and colleges we can mention their significant contributions in preserving and promoting the Vedic religion.

I have omitted Lord Krishna from this list as He shouldn't be regarded as simply a historic figure. Still, amongst the great, His person cannot be overlooked-not only from the Vaishnava theological stance but in terms of popularity amongst the Hindu community (particularly in the U.K.79) His exalted position is confirmed by Dr. Harvey Cox:80

    'Someone once called India the 'land of a million gods'. But if there's one divinity who excels all others in pre-eminence and beauty, it is surely the sky-blue Lord Krishna, the bejewelled flute player....'

10. To demonstrate the relevance of the Vedic scriptures to personal, social and moral education and the issues it raises such as health, the environment, violence etc

This last objective presents perhaps the greatest challenge to ISKCON, not just to departments involved with schools81 or colleges, but to the Society as a whole. As ISKCON evolves from mainly monastic (and somewhat wary of the world) to more congregational (and judicially affirmative) its predominant role will become supportive rather then prescriptive. 82 This necessitates development of a pastoral theology, translating doctrine into positive and practical action. In this vein, for the Communications Department Mukunda Maharaja83 has established a 'Universal Mission Statement' which begins:

    'The Hare Krishna Movement benefits the individual and society by offering practical solutions to today's material and spiritual problems.'84

The Asian population faces its own challenges. In the West, largely through tensions created by acculturation, the Hindu community is questioning its collective identity. In the context of British Hindus establishing their own communities, Malory Nye has written:

    'Also the notion of a shared religion-that is, Hinduism itself-is being constructed in this process'. 85

Many Hindus are questioning and reassessing their own tradition. There are indications, particularly with its work amongst the Asian youth, that ISKCON may become the predominant voice for post-modern Hinduism86 . It is certainly a possibility which devotees cannot ignore. Nor are scholars unaware, as Basham confirms:

    'Hinduism is once more becoming - quietly perhaps, but very definitely-an expansive missionary religion taking in people from all over the world....Now, the culmination of this process so far, is that represented by the followers of the Hare Krishna Movement. Here for the first time since the days of the Roman Empire, is a new Asian religion-that is to say, an Asian religion new to the Western world-being practised by people of Western race and Judeo-Christian background. It arose out of next to nothing in less than twenty years and has become known all over the West. This, I feel, is a sign of the times and an important fact in the history of the Western world'.87

References

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