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Vedacharya from the West (Interview)

Vedacharya from the West (Interview)

The Times of India
March 30, 2000
Title: Vedacharya from the West (Interview)
Publication: The Times of India
Date: March 30, 2000

David Frawley, 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:

Q: What do you find unique about India and Hinduism?
A: 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 monolithic pillar.

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.

Q: Hinduism comprises of a multiplicity of sects and philosophies. Do you think such diversity is a cause for confusion ?
A: 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 spiritual quest.

Q: Can one be rational and scientific and yet be religious and spiritual?
A: 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 religious belief.

Q: Why are the ancient scriptures today seen by many as mythical and fantastic?
A: 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.

Q: You are a former Catholic. What is your view of the recent incidents of violence against the Indian Christian community?
A: 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 secret.

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.

Q: To what extent are India and Indian culture misrepresented in the Western media?
A: 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.

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