[Advaita-l] Inter Religious Dialogue - Part 1

Rajaram Venkataramani rajaramvenk at gmail.com
Sat Nov 19 16:36:40 CST 2011

Dear Shri Omkar,

This is not a forum to discuss the ongoing religous politics but Kalavai
Venkat is happy to hold private discussions on the topic. If you are
interested, I will connect you both.

Here is a link on Francis Clooney that may be of interest.
http://www.vijayvaani.com/FrmPublicDisplayArticle.aspx?id=2057  If it is
not wrong, very good. If it is right, we have to be careful so that our
traditional institutions are not attacked.

I will be focussing future posts on apuareshyatva and learning
methodologies because I think that is what is important.

My brief response to your points inset. I am doing it as I promised to do
so and only to keep the vow. I have no intention to continue that
discussion on this forum.

Best Regards
Rajaram Venkataramani

On Fri, Nov 11, 2011 at 3:24 PM, Omkar Deshpande
<omkar_deshpande at yahoo.com>wrote:

> <<<True to their masters, they see Vedas as a historical development of
> religiousconcepts. I have not seen anyone daring to take a strong position
> in favour
> of apauresyatva or even revelation while they dont have problem in taking
> position of revelation in the case of  the Bible or the Quran.>>>
> Dear Sri Rajaram,
>  I'm not sure what sort of contrast you're referring to above. I have
> taken academic classes in both Religions of India and the History of the
> Bible, and if anything, I found the latter to be more critical of the
> Bible's authority than the former was critical of the Vedas. I have a
> feeling that your opinions are not coming from firsthand sources in
> academia. A few points I would like to make are:
> 1. Academic courses in Hinduism do refer to the Vedas as apauruSheya, as
> much as they would refer to the Bible/Quran as revealed texts or words of
> God. I quote here from the introductory undergraduate textbook on 'The
> Hindu Traditions' written by Mark Muesse, also educated from the Harvard
> Divinity School:
> "The Vedas are the oldest and most sacred of Hindu scriptures. According
> to traditional belief, the Vedas have no author and existed prior to the
> world's creation. They were revealed by Reality itself to certain ancient
> rishis, or seers, who were extraordinarily skilled in the practice of
> meditation and the use of language."
> Now, you may object that the above quote does not imply that the author
> personally believes the Vedas to be apauruSheya. He is just describing what
> the traditional belief is. Well, the same can be said about those who say
> the Quran or Bible are revealed texts. In academic writing, one cannot pass
> off their revelation as an undisputed truth, even if one mentions (to be
> descriptively accurate) their revelation as "traditional belief". There is
> plenty of work done on the historical criticism of the Bible and the very
> diverse early Christian sects. I would recommend the works of Prof Bart
> Ehrman or the Open Yale courses on the Old and New Testament if you want to
> experience firsthand a historical analysis of the Bible.
> RV: To call apaureshyatva a belief system is reflective of the tendency to
reduce sanatana dharma to the level of religious beliefs of Christians,
Muslims, Gypsies and Aborigines. Our system has been traditionally defended
using logic.

2. Naturally, academics (even those outside of Indology) will in general
not accept apauruSheyatva of Vedas insofar as it goes completely against
the scientific accounts of the origin of the universe, the evolution of
species (including humans), and the origin of civilizaton. I, for one, am
quite sceptical of a literal stand on apauruSheyatva for this reason, not
because some Vatican-sponsored Christian academic is studying the Vedas and
trying to prove the Bible as superior. This still does leave room for one
to consider the Vedas as revealed texts from a few thousand years ago. But
a conflict with academics on this issue is inevitable, as much as a
conflict with those Christians who say the world was created 6000 yrs ago
is inevitable.

RV: Then schools should not teach that Bible or Quran is a revelation. They
should teach that religions are a big bluff because we have scientific
evidence about the origin of the universe, life and humans.

I have shown that apaureshyatva is not dependent on our conception of the
origin of the universe because history of when a rishi hears the mantra.
For apaureshyatva to be true, we only need sabda brahman to exist

3. One cannot become the Director of the Centre for Study of World
Religions at Harvard unless one's views are extremely tolerant. It is a
very diverse place, and any intolerance from there would tarnish the
reputation of Harvard. Globally speaking, the political conflicts of
Christianity today and in the past have been much more intense with Islam
than with Hinduism. Yet I have never come across a criticism of Islam among
academics at Harvard Divinity School, and if anything, I found them overly
anxious to promote goodwill with Muslims. If this is how they treat Islam,
what then to speak about Hinduism and Buddhism?

RV: Christian and Islamic world invests in grroming scholars. ISKCON,
following the evangelical model, has infiltrated Harvard, Oxford etc. We
should be intolerant towards tolerance and call for sincere debate.

4. Someone said that Prof. Clooney "may be eating beef". Please see his
article titled "Vegetarianism and Religion" in the book "Religious
Vegetarianism: From Hesiod to the Dalai Lama" where he positively advocates
vegetarianism if one wants to lead a life of spirituality even as a
Christian. Furthermore, even if someone is not a vegetarian, in what way
would that undermine a philosophical analysis by the person? You may say
that such an analysis can at best be theoretical, but are there concrete
examples of realized individuals who are offering the same knowledge in
English? If not, then theoretical knowledge is still a better option than
no knowledge at all.

RV: It is not possible to understand a view point clearly and not practice
it. If one understands, ahimsa paramo dharma or ma himsyat sarva bhutani,
he cannot practise himsa. If a person practices himsa, he cannot claim to
understand the point of view of the teacher.

5. As Sri Vidyashankar said, it's best to take each person on a
case-by-case basis. Prof. Clooney and Prof. Witzel are two different
people. The former is part of the Harvard Divinity School, the latter is
not (he's a linguist in a separate school at Harvard). About Prof. Witzel,
whatever be the drawbacks you find in his approach, do you have evidence
that he is "well-funded by the church to achieve a specific agenda"? As far
as I have read his works and posts on online forums, he has no greater
tendency to believe (religiously) in the Bible than in the Vedas. His
approach, to the extent it is hostile to a traditional understanding of the
Vedas, would be hostile to any religious scripture in general. I see no
evidence that he objects to a historical criticism of the Bible. In that
sense, calling him an agent of the Church would have no more validity than
calling Bart Ehrman an agent of the Hindus. Both use historical analysis,
with a focus on two
 different religions. Neither is selectively criticizing tradition from one
religion with a motive to proselytize some other in its place.

I understand that there may be a lot of politics behind missionary work in
India, but when it comes to academia in the US, gone are the days when one
can use it to actively proselytize for one religion and undermine another.
To the extent that any historical criticism from there undermines the
authority of one religion's texts, the same principles would make it apply
to every other religious text as well. The ground reality in India may be
different, and considering the strongly negative feelings towards
Christians one comes across among Hindu traditionalists, I suspect it must
be vice versa as well. I'm not referring to Christians who may be involved
in that kind of politics, nor do I think such people would produce any
academic works of substance. At the same time, I don't find any evidence
about the allegations from the other side made about Prof. Clooney (or even
Witzel's being funded by the Church). I would appreciate if you can back up
your claims
 with some direct evidence,

RV: Oxford was set up to promote Christianity - at least one of the
objectives. Both at Oxford and Cambridge, there is no serious publication
on pre-christian religions. In the architecture of the churches and
palaces, I see the symbols of pagans such as their stars and crosses. But
the English are denied access to their ancestry and forced to adopt the
cult of an Arabian (Jesus).

In short, it will be naive to think that the Vatican has no strategy for
the academia. Hindu traditions do not have the organisation or willingness
to have such strategies.


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