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HVK Archives: In defence of Hinduism - a book review

In defence of Hinduism - a book review - Bhavan's Journal

Prof. Uma Erry ()
15 October 1996

Title : In defence of Hinduism
Author : Prof. Uma Erry
Publication : Bhavan's Journal
Date : October 15, 1996

A review of "Arise Arjuna" a book by David Frawley.

David Frawley in his book "Arise Arjuna" has fortunately
included in the last section of the book an autobiograph-
ical note, 'An American Discovers The Vedas'. Who is this
American writing on the Vedas? one may ask. We are accus-
tomed to reading about our yogis and godmen in this
jetset age flying off to U.S.A. to teach Hindu religion,
culture and yoga to the Americans. But who would have
thought that an American and that too born of orthodox
Christian parents and brought up as a Roman Catholic
would take so naturally to Hindu religion and a study of
the Vedas like the proverbial duck to water?

It is not just a unique event, but the circumstances
leading to this are highly dramatic and unique in them-
selves. He has briefly and beautifully summarised the
highlights of his early life in this section. Author of
ten books and several articles, he is at present Director
of the American Institute of Vedic Studies. His area of
interest is largely the Vedas, Hinduism and the modern
world, Vedantic Philosophy, Yoga, Vedic Astrology and
Ancient Vedic wisdom. His dedication to the Vedas is
clearly evident from an even cursory reading of the book.

Born with a serious bent of mind and inquisitive by
nature, he found that his own pursuit of knowledge which
he carried out systematically from the age of sixteen,
was more interesting and rewarding than the academic
studies at school. Having broken away from the Catholic
Church at a very young age, he found a "spiritual reali-
ty" in Nature, particularly in the high mountains. "This
spiritual reality I felt was an inner experience quite
divorced from churches and creeds." After examining the
spiritual teachings of Hinduism, Buddhism and Taoism, he
found a common truth in all the three religions, that
consciousness is the Supreme Reality and meditation is
the way to realize it. This caused a turning point in his
life, and the rest of the essay records the stages of his
spiritual growth - which meant frequent trips to India
and long years of religious and philosophical search.
The last few pages of the book are a lyrical outpouring
on the Vedas which coming from an American and taken in
the context of the state of the Vedas today in the coun-
try are worth reading twice over.

"Arise Arjuna", and several other books are the outcome
of years of dedicated study. The present book first
published in 1995 is not a history of any country, it is
an attempt to "go beyond the superficial views held on
India by many historians." The book covers four major
topics, namely social, religious, historical and Cultural
issues. The readership of the book, according to the
writer, is mainly the Indian audience, as "few people in
the West understand India or Hinduism enough to under-
stand the book or appreciate its seriousness." Its essay
form and easy style free of didacticism and its unassum-
ing and frank manner are well adapted to these serious
issues. What are the writer's reasons for writing this
particular book which he says deals "with the mundane
side of Hinduism"? The writer is pained to find the whole
world a (spiritual) shambles and in need of a spiritual
upliftment and guidance. Where is this guidance to come

from? Where is the spiritual force which is an urgent
need of the hour? He has been struck by the great spirit-
uality of Hinduism, it is a perennial and an undying
source of strength. He has experienced and felt the
great beauty and truth of this religion, but he is also
disheartened at the state of culture and religion in the
country. The sheer neglect of Vedic traditions by the
modern westernized Hindus who pride in living a false
life of imitative values, who are caught in a whirlpool
of western materialistic tendencies has shocked and
dejected him. Where is the soul of India? Where is her
will? he asks pointedly. But perhaps all is not lost.
Deep down, he feels, there is still hope. Hinduism can
still provide the living force required to reconstruct
the world. India "still holds the torch no matter how
feeble". "Let India awaken and for this the true spirit
of Arjuna must arise". The book indeed bears a very
imaginative title.

Why one may ask, does the writer think that Hinduism
alone has the capacity to guide the world? It is not a
matter of just faith, he is not even a born Hindu. He
studied the major religions of the world that is Chris-
tianity Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism; he analysed them
from the point of their spirituality and ethical practic-
es, and found them wanting in their spiritual goals and
practices. He also experienced through meditational
methods of Hinduism the higher states of consciousness.
There are other reasons too. In the second section of
the book, the writer analyses Islam and Christianity from
the Hindu perspective, and presents his views on 'Ram
Swaroop's Hindu view of Christianity.'

Hinduism is the only religion that considers Self-Reali-
zation or Communion with God as the highest goal of life.
"Yogic spirituality" is the essence of Hinduism, it is "a
voice of Truth.... and Truth is greater than ail beliefs,
authorities, books and institutions", says the author.
He concedes that all religions have some 'Spiritual
Reality' but they have different goals. Neither do all
the religions follow the same ethical practices, the
"yogic and meditational practices are rarely found in
predominant western religions'. They do not recognise
Self-Realization as the goal or teach methods to achieve
it. In Self-Realization there is a total change of con-
sciousness, which is freed of ego-bound existence, and
which cannot by achieved by ritual, or dogma or ethical
practices. "Outward moralistic or ritualistic" practices
necessary for beginners at the earliest stages "must be
replaced with an inner way of meditation to free the mind
from its conditioning and realize our true nature". This
is the quintessence of all search for Self or Truth.

The writer finds Vedanta the most practical way to real-
ize Self or Unity of Truth, it is a science of the high-
est order which teaches how there is only one truth
governing the entire universe of mind and matter. "if
there is only One Reality can we be other than it?" His
arguments in this essay on Vedanta, Unity and Universali-
ty are clear logical and convincing. Vedanta can be
practised by living "a life of peace permeated by the
practice of meditation". The great Vedantic teachers
like Swami Vivekananda, Swami Ram Tirtha, Ramana Maharshi
and Sri Aurobindo are the true leaders, for they embodied
and practised the highest ideals. If Indian culture has
endured and has not been destroyed by forces of time, it

is because it recognises and is based on Self-Realization
as the highest and the noblest ideal of life. Some of
the interesting essays, are: Swami Vivekananda's Practi-
cal Vedanta; The Unity of Religion and the Unity of
Truth; and "The Unity of Religion and Religious Toler-
ance". He is critical of people who glibly talk of all
religions as being different paths to one and the same
Reality "All water is also one but not all water is fit
to drink". If a religious path does not take us to the
highest goal, then that path must be abandoned. In this
respect "the organised religions of the world may be more
mistakes than paths to enlightenment" he asserts.

The third section of the book deals with the historical
issues, namely, the Aryan Invasion of India, the Aryan-
Dravidian Divide; India and Hinduism in the Mahabharata,
and the Unity of Vedic and Shaivite Religions. Some of
these have been discussed by the author in his earlier
book and have also been discussed by Navaratna S. Rajaram
in his recent book "The Aryan Invasion Theory". What
disappoints David Frawley is that Indian historians have
failed to respond positively to the recent archaeological
findings which have amply proved that the Aryan Invasion
Theory is a myth. Why haven't the history books in India
recorded this new information and rectified the situa-
tion? It is not from India but from the west that ques-
tions have been asked about the validity of this theory.
Professor Klaus Klostermaier, a Roman Catholic Priest in
his book "Survey of Hinduism" has noted important objec-
tions to this theory and suggests, "that the weight of
evidence is against it". He states, "Both the spatial
and the temporal extent of the Indus Civilization has
expanded dramatically on the basis of new excavations and
the dating of the Vedic age as well as the theory of an
Aryan Invasion of India has been shaken. We are required
to completely reconsider not only certain aspects of
Vedic India, but the entire relationship between Indus
Civilization and Vedic culture....."

The certainty seems to be growing that the Indus Civili-
zation was carried by the Vedic Indians, who were not
invaders from Southern Russia but indigenous for an
unknown period of time in the lower Central Himalayan
regions. "Klostermaier quotes from other Vedic scholars
and archaeologists; the new data from different sources
is now compelling even Western academicians to pay atten-
tion to all this. But what about the Indian intellectual
elite and historians? "If textbooks in the West can be
changed in regard to the Aryan Invasion Theory, why
cannot textbooks in India be changed, particularly as the
theory has frequently been used to discredit the culture
of India and the Hindu Religion?" The intellectuals in
the country must look at "its ancient history, in the
light of the collapse of the invasion theory".

Akin to this Aryan Invasion Theory is the idea of the
Aryan-Dravidian Divide which is, [discussed in the next
Essay] again an invention of the European intellectuals
and scholars. They declared that India was a land of two
races and used this idea of racial theory maliciously to
divide the North from the South, to uphold their superi-
ority and to denigrate Hindu culture and to convert
Hindus to Christianity. The Sanskrit term Aryan means
noble or spiritual - it never has been equated with
colour or physical characteristics. Arya Dharma could be
followed by any race as no race was barred from following

the teaching of noble people. It is wrong and futile to
think of Aryan or Dravidian culture. In the light of the
new evidence it is more appropriate to think of one Vedic
culture dating back to more than 7000 B.C. with its many
phases, and the Indus Civilization not only a continua-
tion of the Vedic culture but a "climax, a fitting,
crowning glory of the early Vedic culture. The orthodox
in India have always been of this view. This culture
flourished not on the banks of the Indus, but on the
banks of the Saraswati river of Vedic fame. The author
thinks it should be renamed "Saraswati Culture".

He further discusses the issue of the Dravidians. Bio-
logically both the north and the south Indians belong to
the same Caucasian race, there is no such thing as Dravi-
dian or Aryan race. Who were Dravidians, and why were
they so called? Some Vedic texts like the Aitareya Braha-
mana or Manu Samhita have looked at the Dravidians as
people who have fallen from Vedic values and practices.
As a matter of fact whoever deviated from the Vedic
culture was considered a heretic. The Dravidians cannot
permanently be labelled as Non-Aryans. Today the best
Vedic chanting, rituals and other traditions are pre-
served in South India. Because of historical reasons,
South India became the home of Vedic culture. It is
indeed ironic to think that "the best preservers of Aryan
culture in India have been branded as non-Aryans."

Finally, it is not the label that counts. It is the act
of preserving this precious culture for the sake of the
whole world that is of utmost concern and significance to
the writer. With his world-vision and world-view he
disregards the boundary between East and West. Western
culture which has stemmed from different sources is,
neither original nor pure. It is a product of Judeo-
Christian religious and Greco-Roman intellectual values.
The Western scientific background originates from the
pre-Christian Greeks, who like the Hindus were accused of
being pagans. Christianity had no real philosophy or
science or intellectual culture of its own, but in due
course of time it adapted the pagan philosophies of the
Greeks, along with Greek medicine, science and other
cultural forms. On the contrary, Indian culture has had
its own tradition of rational philosophy much like the
Greeks as we can see in the Upanishads, Sankhya, Nyaya
Vaiseshika and the Buddhist schools combined with ethical
and meditational disciplines." Thus Western science has
more in common with the oriental religions and with Hindu
and Buddhist than the Judeo-Christian tradition. The
basis of Western science is to be found in the free
inquiry of the Greeks. It is to be noted that oriental
mysticism is not unscientific or irrational. Hindu and
Buddhist teachings "are not filled with dogma and super-
stition but with various methods of inquiry and experi-
ments in consciousness." Hinduism is not an "irrational
or emotional belief-system", it helps to clear the mind
of its preconceptions and prejudices, so that truth can
be perceived directly. Again Hindu thought does not
hamper free inquiry, it is the most individualistic in
the world, it helps one to seek and realize the truth and
understand one's true nature. Freedom and real freedom
transcends time, is the very goal of Hindu thought.
Since this is true, the writer is convinced that the
Western mind can gain much from Eastern spirituality and
culture. In return East can learn from the West "the
more humane and practical way to organise outer life and

society."

What is the value of culture in the spiritual life of an
individual? Or does culture have any relationship with
spirituality is what the writer focusses on in the next
section - "The value of Hindu culture for the world."
Generally culture and spirituality are inseparable but
particularly Hindu culture with its diversity of ritua-
listic and devotional forms cannot be divorced from Hindu
spirituality. As a matter of fact, it is the ritualistic
and devotional forms that have given rise to the growth
of spirituality and philosophic thought. Icon precedes
idea. Cultural forms are the basis of a spiritual life
and Indian culture more than any other culture of the
world can provide the world with a proper basis for a
spiritual life. But it is a matter of deep regret that
the Indian yogis and godmen have not carried much of
Hindu Culture to the Western world. Their main thrust has
been on yoga and meditation. Not many Westerners have
ever entered a Hindu temple or seen a puja being per-
formed. Hindus instead of hiding their culture ought to
glorify its many forms, namely the rituals, chants,
festivals and images, which means that the meaning and
significance of all this should be explained. Westerners
do not have much idea about Ayurvedic system or Vedic
Astrology. "Sanskrit poetry, drama and aesthetics, the
most extensive, intricate, profound and spiritual in the
world is little known or appreciated". The author is
severely critical of the Hindu attitude towards their own
culture. In his opinion the Westerners who have genuine
spiritual aspirations are generally at a toss and feel
deprived of "deeper spiritual nourishment". This is
where Hindu culture and spirituality could show them the
way.

He rightly points out that there is no conflict between
Vedanta and Hindu ritualistic and devotional forms. The
two are an integral whole and support "the complete
unfoldment of the spirit or the inner Self". How the
Western world could benefit from being exposed to these
ritualistic and devotional forms is explained in this
section. Most people can take to spiritual life only
through a spiritualized culture; the forms of Hindu
culture - dance, music, drama and philosophy are spiritu-
ally oriented and are highly developed and are so broad
based, that they can appeal universally D. Frawley's book
is intended to serve the cause of Hinduism in its compre-
hensive form, and it does this extremely well. But
Hindus need to awaken, arise and act. It is not the
voice of a theoretician that calls the Hindus to save
their religion and culture; it is the voice of an experi-
enced individual who has felt the yearnings of the spirit
within him and who had the courage to break away from the
Catholic Church, had the determination and spirit to
study the Vedas and Sanskrit all on his own initiative.
Of the Vedas and particularly the Rig Veda he writes:
"The Rig Veda is the doorway to the mind of the Rishis,
to the cosmic mind itself, the very heart of creation.
The Vedic vision is a universal mantric knowledge that
integrates all aspects of human knowledge including yoga,
philosophy, poetry, psychology, mythology and ritual.....
For me the Vedas are a living teaching and the Vedic
rishis are living teachers... The Vedas transcend time.
They are the very fabric of the cosmic intelligence that
works inside us and in all the universe upholding the
great beauty and harmony of life. "Inspite of all the

deficiencies in Hindu culture, the Vedas have great power
and must be preserved and cherished.



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