[Advaita-l] Interesting URL

Vidyasankar Sundaresan svidyasankar at hotmail.com
Sun May 11 20:04:37 CDT 2008

Dear Gerald,

I certainly did not think I'd hit a raw nerve with my short note about this article by Alan Jacobs. Here are my comments and clarifications about why I posted that link.

> "Neo-advaita" may very well be the most misused philosophical
> term of our time - right up there with "ontology" and "karma." This is
> actually an Indian school of philosophy, not Western, and it dates back
> over 100 years. It is not a "Western phenomenon," though arguably an
> Eastern reaction to Westernization, and it has absolutely nothing to do
> with cults of personality. What this article says to me is that Mr.
> Jacobs simply does not understand the term. I'm not sure he's ever even
> read a neo-advaitic philosophical treatise, from the general way that

I think you will find that what you are referring to is not usually called "Neo-Vedanta" or more generally "Neo-Hinduism" - a term coined by academia in the West to describe the thought of primarily Swami Vivekananda and secondarily, a few others who came after him (e.g. Swami Sivananda, Swami Chinmayananda, Swami Dayananda). Whatever academic scholars may think of the Neo-Vedantins, it cannot be denied that they maintain strong links to the classical Advaita tradition and have developed enviable traditions of Sannyasa, learning and scholarship, along with their commitment to non-traditional goals like social service.

On the other hand, the term "Neo-Advaita" is relatively new, especially in the sense that Mr. Jacobs intends. He is using it to refer to a phenomenon that has been emerging only during the for the last few decades. The article does make it clear that he is referring to an entirely different group of people from those that academia has come to call neo-Vedantins. To make things a bit more explicit, these are teachers who offer instant nirvANa, so to speak, to highly successful professionals, in language that ultimately makes a parody of Atma-vicAra. These are not the monks of the Ramakrishna Math or the Chinmaya Mission or the Arsha Vidya Gurukulam, 

> he's carrying on. Perhaps it's also worth noting that his article begins
> with a quote from the Book of Matthew, which, though appropriate to his
> topic, hardly recommends his own brand of reasoning as any more
> classically advaita than the schools he is criticizing.
> I've seen "neo-advaita" used on this list with a similarly condescending
> sneer. At best, it appears to connote that "my guy is more authentic
> than his guy." At times, I suspect that what it's implicitly saying is
> that Westerners are somehow racially unqualified to study Hinduism. In
> either case, as students of philosophy, don't you think it's time that you
> set a higher standard for yourselves than this? At least be honest and
> just state your prejudice. Or if there is a legitimate philosophical

Oh, there is no racial/nationalistic prejudice at all. There are many serious Westerners who are drawn to vedAnta whom I can respect. Also, do rest assured that when I made a comment about people who claim some relationship with Ramana Maharishi or Nisargadatta Maharaj, I had quite a few Indian teachers in mind as well. However, the main theater of operations for even those Indians who set themselves up as such teachers remains Europe/America and they gain fame and prestige in India only after making their name abroad. The reasons for that phenomenon are a complex topic of debate in themselves, which I'll avoid here.

> objection to be made, don't confer a label on it, as if that's somehow the
> end of the debate, let alone a label that simply doesn't apply. Advaita
> has a very long and respected tradition of dialectic in which this sort of
> monkey business would never be mistaken for a satisfactory or convincing


> rebuttal. It's embarrassing to see the level of discussion on this
> list sink to this level.

I respectfully disagree that the level of discussion has sunk to any low. I merely posted a link to Jacobs' article and only because I thought he had a legitimate criticism to make, which I thought at least some list members would find useful.

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