On May 3, 1955, India’s first President Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan wrote a foreword for the book The Philosophy of Truth or Tatvagnana, a collection of speeches and writings by V. Subrahmanya Iyer. He said, “We live in an age of intellectual confusion. In the past, there were thinkers who repudiated religion but the difference is that today skepticism has penetrated the people. We find a general secularisation of thought, a naturalist atmosphere, a concentration on a strictly intellectual explanation of experience, abandonment of traditional beliefs. In his different essays, in his correspondence with thinkers in India and abroad, Subrahmanya Iyer has been insisting on the essential rationality of religion. Science repudiates religion as magic and superstition, but it confirms religion as apprehensive of reality, brahmanubhava.”
Iyer, former registrar of the University of Mysore, was also counsel to Mysore Maharaja Krishnaraja Wodeyar the fourth and travelled the world with him. The Maharaja sent him to Europe, including England, Austria, Germany, France, and Switzerland. “Vedanta cannot be accepted at once. Sow the seeds. It may bear fruits in a hundred or a thousand years. Let the West know it now. It will reap in due course. I am not expecting you to come out with laurels immediately. Let truth come out,” the king said.
One such meeting was the International Philosophical Conference in Paris in 1937. There, Iyer met physicists and mathematicians, astronomers and sociologists among others and they discussed history and civilizations, nation-states, military science, commerce and industry in their search for truth. During this visit, he also met the Pope and Max Plank. An overview of my great-grandfather’s works and thoughts can be found here.
Mixing family and work is not my wont, but as I read reams about Hindu phobia in the ‘West’ I think it is time for people who have a different understanding of Hinduism, who live and work including in Europe as I do, to speak up. There is no Hindu phobia in the ‘West’. It exists in the minds of people who seek acceptance in Washington, London, and New Delhi either because nobody knows them in their own lands or they don’t know themselves. Narrow minds love ignorance and fear. In recent months, these irrational minds have hitched their horse to any politician who sees a ‘conspiracy’ against Hindus to fuel a personal goal, mostly a political one. They feed off each other in their free fall towards mediocrity. I am appalled to see the depths to which some are willing to sink for a crumb, a quote or a book fest invite.
When the United States (US) Representative Tulsi Gabbard (D- Hawaii) referred to Hindu phobia, paroxysms of joy followed as if God had spoken. Her taking oath of office on our sacred text- the Bhagwat Gita is celebrated as divine denouement. What better sign of deep self-loathing? The comical corollary to this is the recent “I didn’t speak English till I was 30” competition! Self-respecting human beings are not self-conscious about their inability to speak a foreign language.
The stupidity continues. The ‘Hindu Phobia in the West’ lobby has managed to muddy the waters about Abrahamic religions as well. Read and watch about how easily they point fingers at Islam and Christianity but leave Judaism out. The three book religions that make up the Abrahamic texts and scriptures include Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. This editing is not innocent. There is a fear of Islam in Europe and it is linked more to joblessness than to religion the seeds of which were sown after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1991 and the bogey of globalisation that followed. The break up of Yugoslavia, the turmoil in the Middle East and the decline of democracy in Turkey further fanned these fears. An employed peaceful is a peaceful person.
By aligning today with parts of civilizational struggles framed elsewhere when it suits us, words like ‘radicalisation’ and ‘alienation’ ‘holy war’ and ‘civilization war’ have entered the language of a young Indian nation making its way in ways that can only hurt genuine dialogue. Proponents of Hindu phobia in the ‘west’ hate so much selectively that they have metamorphosed into the very hate they claim to destroy. While it is important to engage with political systems in London and Washington, it would be foolish to think solutions to India’s problems will come from other countries whose only interest is India’s markets. Till such time that we do not become a strong economic or military power, we can run around in circles hoping to be noticed.
Dialogue, not diatribe is important in nation-building. No fan of the often biased reporting New York Times, Washington Post, BBC, CNN, The Economist, and The Guardian, I read and listen to them regularly. I was weaned in the BBC and The Economist’s stylebook is a prized possession. What they do, they do well. None of these publications can fan any ‘phobia’ without eager Indians.
In pursuit of his non-existent Hindu phobia in the ‘West’, I am sorry to see how influential members of the Indian media, as well as star commentators, have fallen into a trap of their own making. Some are even begging to for column inches. If 1.3 billion people are worried about their voice, the problem is with the voice, not the medium and it would be wise to keep Hinduism out of it because India’s voice is rational and its gearbox is democratic. Unless of course if you want to want to tumble into traps set by fools whose meal ticket is to align with the Christian dominance of the international narrative that sees radical Islam and sword-wielding Hindus everywhere and a Vladimir Putin under every rock. If you need others to define you, then who are you? Read the Bhagwat Gita where knowledge is unfurled in a battlefield, a metaphor for life, a spectacular stage for dialogue, where duty is saluted and vengeance is discarded.
The Hindu phobia in the ‘West’ lobby also claims to represent India’s right-wing. There’s no right-wing in India because there is no left-wing. We are an agrarian society and these concepts are foreign (west) to India’s thinking. People want India to succeed. I speak from experience. I live and work in Europe when I am not in India interacting with people from all walks of life. All, without fail, want India the world’s largest democracy to lift itself up and go. In our success is theirs to stave off China.
Unfortunately, people seeking attention in the ‘west’ have as much access to the levers of power in London and Washington as they do in New Delhi. True power rarely speaks. The sound and the knowledgeable are rarely shaken by life’s occasional storms and turbulence. Unlike instant experts, they are eternal learners and they weave politics and statecraft, science, national ambition and economic struggle with equanimity. This was on the minds of Indian thinkers and their interactions with their friends in Western Europe and beyond. Today, we need bold and ambitious thinkers who are at once philosophical and practical. This concept is not fully appreciated in western thought (except among the Greeks) where philosophy is seen speculative, even digressive. Through the works of Shankara and Gaudapada, Iyer showed how critical thinking and analysis is the science of reality.
Human beings continuously seek comfort in herds of thoughts and voices, some ancient and others new. “But it is not possible to find out what all men past, present, and future think of any term or experience, the first necessary condition to be fulfilled in this quest is that the item of experience, knowledge of which is sought, in itself excludes all possibility of difference. This condition can only be fulfilled by non-duality,” he wrote. There is no other and we are the inheritors of this knowledge.