[Advaita-l] The Evolution of Advaita from Sankara till Date

Jaldhar H. Vyas jaldhar at braincells.com
Fri May 16 22:10:31 CDT 2008

On Fri, 16 May 2008, Siva Senani Nori wrote:

> Sri Jaladhar Vyas, a few years back, very evocatively captured this 
> difference by saying that he was a fundamentalist (not in a broad sense, 
> but in a narrow sticking-to-what-the-SAstra-says sense); if I am less 
> fundamentalist, and you even lesser so, I think we should not be 
> apologetic. For instance it is my considered stance that if a woman is 
> truly interested in learning the vedas, and is sincere about it, she 
> should be taught.

Hindu women have not been sitting on their thumbs waiting for men to 
permit them to be spiritual.  In fact they have their own traditions and 
rituals they have passed down through the years.  Because they are not 
written down in Sanskrit are they worth any less?  The orthodox person 
doesn't think so.  In fact her duty to follow her historic disciplines is 
as ennobling and capable of the purification of the ego (which may I 
remind you is the sole point of dharma in Advaita Vedanta) as his Vedic 
traditions.  Who is more broad-minded, he who treats womens as spiritually
equal or the reformer who can only conceive of women as copies of men?

The universalists often claim that that the goal of Advaita Vedanta is 
beyond the "dogma" of it or indeed any other religion.  At best this view 
can lead to tolerence for others.  However, it can also lead to ignorance 
of the actual tenets of ones own religion and obtuseness concerning the 
tenets of others.  Take for example Judaism, a religion I have quite an 
interest in.  It is not uncommon to find Indians who will cherry pick a 
few Torah verses to claim it is "essentially the same" and "all is one" 
while completely misrepresenting what Judaism actually believes in. 
Whereas as I, precisely because I have no ideological axe to grind, can 
approach Jewish thought on its own merits.  If you were a Jew, who would 
you consider to be more narrow-minded, the person who didn't share your 
beliefs but could understand them or the one who gave you platitudes but 
didn't actually understand what you believed in?

The same is true of another contemparary obsession, quantum physics.  An 
orthodox person would shy away from such comparisons not just because it 
leads to a distortion of dharma but because it also leads to junk science.

One more scenario.  You are the child of Indian immigranta in some small 
town in the US where there are no others like you.  You can travel 50 
miles to hear some old guy explain weird concepts in a language you barely 
understand or you can go to the local church which all your friends attend 
where you will taught in English ideas which permeate your everyday life. 
Do you take the advice of the universalist and go to the Church because 
"all religions have the same goal" and you you can still "be a Hindu in 
your heart" or take the advice of the fundamentalist and make the effort 
to learn about Hinduism because "it is the highest truth" and Indian 
culture has an intrinsic value even if you have to work harder to learn 
it?  Which path do you think will make it more likely that your 
grandchildren will remain Hindus?

Let's not debate these scenarios.  I bring them up only to illustrate a 
point which is that orthodoxy or orthopraxy or fundamentalism, whatever 
you want to call it, need not result in "narrowness" and universalism or 
pluralism or reform etc. does not necessarily result in greater knowledge. 
In fact it is more often the other way around.  That is why I sometimes 
use the provocative word fundamentalist because "everyone knows" 
fundamentalists are dumb.  What everyone knows is wrong!

Jaldhar H. Vyas <jaldhar at braincells.com>

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