[Advaita-l] Interesting URL

Ramakrishnan Balasubramanian rama.balasubramanian at gmail.com
Tue May 13 10:48:05 CDT 2008

On Mon, May 12, 2008 at 4:25 PM, Gerald Penn <gpenn at cs.toronto.edu> wrote:
> > As far as I know, the Western academic Paul Hacker used the term
> > "Neo-Hinduism", see "Philology and Confrontation", edited by Halbfass.
> > Some academics started using the allied term Neo-vedanta to modern
> > masters such as Vivekananda, et. al, who claimed to be advaitins, but
> > who THEY felt were not true to "actual vedanta".
> ...
> > The problem which at least Vidyasankar and I have with what we
> > sometimes called "neo-vedanta" has nothing to do with Western or
> > Eastern teachers, or with Western academic notions.
> Then it isn't neo-vedanta/advaita.  I can disagree with the Neo-vedantins
> without accusing them of being confused megalomaniacs who force their
> students to drink poisoned kool-aid.  That doesn't seem like too much
> to ask for.  This is a serious philosophical school, by the way.  They
> may be at odds with traditional advaita, but the works of these people
> are well worth reading, IMHO.

I second Ramesh's request on what you mean by neo-advaita "which are
useful works".  I went back to Andrew Fort's book on Jivanmukti and he
does mention the term neo-advaita, but says that he prefers
neo-vedanta. So I agree with you that we need to get terminology
straight here.

Personally, the terms neo-vedanta, neo-advaita, etc., used by Western
acedemics have no meaning to practioners such as myself. Either
someone is an advaitin or not. It was Paul Hacker, a Westerner, who
first heaped his scorn on Vivekananda for being "neo". Read his book
and you'll see scorn dripping out the pages. No one in India called
Vivekananda neo. It seems that Indians can never do it right. If they
"innovate" based on current situations, but hold to core tenets (as
seen in advaitic tradition) they are not true to tradition and are
"neo". But on the other hand Indians also lack originiality, since
they are keen on this tradition thing (an Italian indologist actually
made this statement and claimed that Indians have not produced any
genius like Michalengelo as proof in an open forum!).

My problem is that there is a group of people who advertise their
"traditional lineage", but go against core teachings of advaita such
as the 4-fold qualifications. Further it is all based on wishy-washy
"I came up with this when staring at some picture", etc. They also
never cease to advertise that their teaching is the same as Sankara.
This is wrong!

>   In fact, ignoring the traditional referents of these terms for the
> moment, I'm not sure that "neo-advaita" in Mr. Jacob's use even has a
> denotation.  There's an interesting paragraph near the end of his essay,
> in which he demures on the question of whether his remarks apply in their
> entirety to any single teacher, insisting nevertheless that the basic idea
> of his remarks is "generally applicable."  Have another look at this
> essay - there's as much cultural subtext here as factual objection, if not
> more.
> > Some academics started using the allied term Neo-vedanta to modern
> > masters such as Vivekananda...
> > The teachers who are classified as neo-vedantins by
> > Western academics - Sivananda, Chinmayananda, etc., actually emphasize
> Try Kokileshvar Bhattacharya.  Sw. Vivekananda, maybe.  Sw. Sivananda,
> actually, no, I don't believe so.  He wrote in English at the beginning
> of the 20th century, but to my knowledge the similarity ends there.
> Actually, it's interesting that you should bring this up, because writing
> in English to the acclaim of Western audiences seems to be enough on
> this list to qualify as a "neo-advaitin" under the careless/disparaging
> use of that term.  Sw. Chinmayananda I know a great deal less about.

More comments later when I get more time. However you seem to be
talking about the "list" as if it were a monolithic entity. I doubt if
anyone sees writing in English as a problem. Why, Sri
Satchidanandendra Saraswati was a prolific writer in English and is
well respected in the advaita tradition. Mahasannidhanam of Sringeri
himself asked his disciple to write a book specifically in English
(Sri Subbaramayya) to make it accessible to the modern readers (a
superb work IMO).

> > But rest assured, I doubt if any Indians here
> > think Westerners are not qualified to be advaitins! Re: the
> > brahma-sUtra itself admits people outside the four-fold varNa system
> > are qualified.
> This is somewhat unrelated, but as a matter of fact, it's unclear to
> me that Westerners (as an intension) necessarily fall outside the
> four-fold varNa system.  I have yet to find a Hindu scriptural authority
> to attest to that.  Do you know of one?

Per mImA.nsA shAstra authorities are required only for what is not
accessible to perception and reasoning. When a society does not have a
concept of varNa system, why would this question arise? As per the
smR^iti texts varNa is determined by birth, as you well know.


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