[Advaita-l] Inter Religious Dialogue - Part 1

Omkar Deshpande omkar_deshpande at yahoo.com
Tue Nov 22 17:19:37 CST 2011

Dear Sri Rajaram, 

<<<There are also public domain informationavailable, which I posted earlier.

I read the above article, but could not find anything more than ad-hominem attacks on Francis Clooney in it. Please point to the exact words in it which provide objective evidence (not the author's personal feelings) that Prof. Clooney is personally having an anti-Hindu agenda. The author's own subjective feelings are of little value, unless such evidence is provided.

I too had cited an actual interview of Prof. Clooney in Frontline earlier, some other excerpts of which may be relevant here:

Fr. de Nobili was a great pioneer. Coming to Madurai in 1606, 400 years back, he was trying to figure out what to do to be a Christian in Indian society. And there was no book, no guide. So he was inventing as he went along. To some extent I think he does show the way, trying to argue that we should not overwhelm India with European culture, and that European culture is not better than Indian culture. And that is why he dressed like a sanyasi and did not eat meat and did not drink alcohol, learned Tamil and wrote books in Tamil. He was trying not to be a colonialist or an imperialist nor, once you read his writings, can you say that he was hiding his identity.

But when you go to the next step - what did he learn from the Hindu traditions? - he does not show great openness to learning from Vaisnavism or Saivism or Vedanta. He was a missionary very much aimed at ultimately converting people. I think that in today's world people still need to witness to their own faith. But we need a more positive attitude to other people's religious traditions than Fr. de Nobili showed. In his time, his solution was to argue: find a Brahmin, sit down and argue about which is the true religion. Today that is very hard to do, and I think it is much more necessary that before you argue, you first begin to understand. I think he is a model to some extent, against colonial imperialism. But when it comes to true religious openness we should go much further than he did.


Here, he explicitly says that one needs to go much further in openness and positive attitude towards learning from Hinduism than what earlier Christians with a missionary agenda had. It is a clear statement of criticism of such an attitude. In contrast to this, the article you pointed to is targeting Clooney by attacking the earlier Christians and/or the earlier forms of their institutions. If you followed the same approach with a dvaitin today, it wouldn't matter how genuine his interested in learning advaita would be -- the very fact that he identifies himself as a dvaitin, and belongs to an order that had acharyas who wrote unmentionable things about Shankaracharya would be sufficient to damn him/her, even if he/she were to express a disagreement with earlier acharyas on those issues. Would that be fair?

How do you strike a balance between the demands of dialogue and evangelisation?

That is a hard question. John Paul II kept saying in his papacy that both are important. At least I can say that preaching the gospel, witnessing to Christ, and dialogue, both have to be the work of Christians. Some people, possibly even Pope Benedict XVI, will say that dialogue is only a part of evangelisation. But I do not agree with that. I think both are important in themselves. So too, when I say "evangelisation" I mean that I have to be honest about what I actually believe. I have to be able to speak to people about what is most important to me. So to bear witness to Christ means that I should be able to get up in an assembly and talk about why Christ is important to me. I do not believe that one has to go further and say the main thing is to figure out how to get Hindus or Muslims to become Christians. The person I keep converting is myself, not the people I meet.

I realise some people will disagree with me. But the main thing is to be honest about the riches of Christ, the beauty of Christ in today's world. But if that turns into a programme of getting more members for the Church, I am not eager to do that. 
Preaching the gospel should not overwhelm the importance of being in dialogue with other people. But it is very hard to keep the balance between the two because it may seem to people who are not Christian that all you really want to do is make them Christians. I think to some extent they are right in being suspicious; there should be some suspicion in the light of the long history of Christians trying to convert people. But my job is to convert Christians, to open their minds and hearts to learn from the other traditions. In a sense, I am evangelising the Christian population.


He explicitly says above that he does not agree with the Pope that inter-religious dialogue is a part of evangelisation. He also says that the anti-Christian suspicion is to some extent justified in the light of the long history of Christians trying to convert people. I find these to be very forthright statements, very different from what the article you pointed to is alleging. In fact, the author of that article freely speculates on his own:

At a later stage, which I predict with much confidence, Clooney would take out his “Christ’ from his pocket and overwhelm the Hindu with the supposed “uniqueness” of Christ, which he would say is the “only way” to salvation, which he will address at that time as “moksha”, regardless of the qualitative difference.


Can such statements be considered scholarly by any standards? You can bring down any person that way. 

Regarding your other point that Western academics do not differentiate between Hindu traditions, that is again completely wrong. In fact, I have on record the words of Prof. Grant Hardy where he "exactly" mentions what you did - that grouping together all Hindu traditions as one (ignoring their mutual differences) would be like grouping Judaism, Christianity and Islam as one. I will quote his exact words later when I'm back home. You can also browse the first chapter of Mark Muesse's textbook on "The Hindu Traditions" (on amazon) which also does the same, with significant clarity. I will repeat that you're continuing to make generalizations that are totally contrary to what many academics today say. Please quote the exact writings and statements of the people who you're attributing such views to. There was a time earlier when Indology had overt religious biases, but things have changed a lot since then. There is obviously a lot of scope for improvement,
 which will require more people from a Hindu background to join the ranks of academia, but things are not as bad as you are claiming. Obviously, academic writers are not a substitute for traditional gurus - the problems and goals are quite different in both cases, but allegations of academics showing Hinduism wrong with a motive to promote Christianity are quite immature. The problem that Sri Raghav Kumar pointed to (one faculty teaching introductory Islam with a sympathetic phenomenological perspective, and another faculty teaching introductory Hinduism from a psychoanalytic perspective) is a valid one, to the extent that it exists, but I see no evidence that an anti-Hindu Christian prejudice is a problem in Western academia today,



 From: Rajaram Venkataramani <rajaramvenk at gmail.com>
To: A discussion group for Advaita Vedanta <advaita-l at lists.advaita-vedanta.org> 
Sent: Tuesday, November 22, 2011 9:50 AM
Subject: Re: [Advaita-l] Inter Religious Dialogue - Part 1
On Tue, Nov 22, 2011 at 2:57 PM, Vidyasankar Sundaresan <
svidyasankar at hotmail.com> wrote:

> > RV: CAPEEM and other law suits were based on discriminatory and
> derogatory
> > treatment of Hinduism in the US schools and colleges. If you are
> interested
> > in the evidence for discrimination, Kalavai Venkat will be happy to walk
> > you through that.
> >
> I am perfectly aware of all of these. However, to quote your own words,
> when
> dealing with a complex subject, much care has to be taken to not group them
> and generalize! Your blanket assertions and reiterations clumping all and
> sundry
> together are a clear case (to me) of unwarranted generalizations.

RV:  If you agree that there is discrimination and ploy against
Hinduism but argue that Dr. Clooney is an exception, Kalavai Venkat has
offered to discuss that with you. There are also public domain information
available, which I posted earlier.
> RV: I agree that Brahman transcends even the Vedas. But the term Sabda
> Brahman for the Vedas is used by the Lord in Bh. G. 6.44 to the
> Vedas. Madhusudana explicitly says Sabda Brahman refers to the Vedas.

The gItA reference to Sabda brahman has not made the pUrva mImAMsA
> tradition accept an idealized picture of eternal existence of Sabda
> brahman.
> What they mean by nityatva of the veda is quite different from what the
> grammarians accept as eternal existence of Sabda brahman. And what
> vedAnta says about it is also quite different from both pUrva mImAMsA and
> vyAkaraNa. You are clubbing nityatva and apaurusheyatva together, which
> is not the case for vedAnta at all.

I am at a loss to know what exactly your position is. Perhaps as you develop
clarity on it yourself, you will be able to articulate it better.

RV: Please correct me if my understanding is incorrect. I said Vedas are
eternal and unauthored. I did not say they are eternal and hence unauthored
or vice-versa. An eternal text can be authored by an eternal person. An
unauthored text could have been manifest at a point in time like svayambhu
linga. My understanding of Vedanta position is : 1. Vedas are on apaureshya
because they are not created even by Ishwara. 2. They are eternal because
they are Brahman specially conditioned by Maya (vishistopadhi). As Maya is
eternal being the causal factor of time itself, the Vedas also exist as
long as Maya does. They are eternal also because their statements are
eternally valid. I am happy to be corrected if my understanding is
incorrect.  My understanding of Purva Mimamsa position is that 1. Vedas are
eternal because this world and karma are eternal. 2. They are apaureshya
because they are eternal. My understanding of Vyakarana position is that 1.
Vedas are eternal because the word and its meaning are eternal (also
accepted by Mimamsakas). 2. Vedas are apaureshya because they are eternal.

For example, is your point that Western academic scholars mis-represent
the apaurusheyatva of the veda? There are exceptions to this generalization.

RV: There is infiltration of the academia by religious fundamentalists with
political agendas, which is well documented in history. I agree that there
are quite a few exceptions to the rule. There are many genuine modern
scholars of different nationalities who study a subject genuinely with
respect for the profound teachings without any ulterior motive. I am not
convinced why Dr. Clooney is an exception because a strong faith in
Christianity requires exclusivity and Inter-Religious Dialogue is a Vatican
ploy for incluturation.
My simple proposition is that the school and college texts on different
Hindu traditions should be written by traditional scholars in Nyaya to
Vedanta. Modern scholars, western or eastern, should not club all the
traditions in to Hinduism and get someone who is not a Hindu or anti-Hindu
to write it.

Or is your point that eternal existence of Sabda brahman should be accepted
by every human being on the face of this earth? Then you would differ from a
whole list of illustrious advaita vedAntins.

RV: It is up to an individual to look at the facts and draw a conclusion.
Practically speaking, I do not think every one will accept any thing even
their own existence!
Or is your point merely that if one
accepts Sabda brahman as eternally existent, then apaurusheyatva of the
veda necessarily follows? Not necessarily. Only nityatva follows, but not
in the
sense meant by mImAMsA.
RV: Agreed.
Or is your point merely that you absolutely do not
want to read what academic scholars from a contemporary university setting
have to say about it (which was your reaction when I made a suggestion about
what you could read)? If so, then a fundamental requirement would be to get
a very solid grounding in Sanskrit, its grammar and pUrva mImAMsA in a
traditional manner, before venturing on opinions.

RV: My position is that it is okay to pick up a reliable secondary source
to get the gist of a complex work as long as the secondary source has done
it in accordance with the tradition (e.g. Prof. Lance Nelson's work on
Madhsududana). In the case of Dr. Clooney, his motivation is suspect not
only because he is a Jesuit Priest, whose faith demands missionary zeal but
also because his works aim to help Vaitcan agenda of Inter-Religious
Dialogue for conversion and inculturation. Leaving that aside, I do not
think he has learnt Mimasa from traditional scholars or published any work
on apaureshyatva of the Vedas accepted as authentic by traditional
scholars. So, what is his qualification that I should read him?


>  Vidyasankar
> _______________________________________________
> Archives: http://lists.advaita-vedanta.org/archives/advaita-l/
> http://blog.gmane.org/gmane.culture.religion.advaita
> To unsubscribe or change your options:
> http://lists.advaita-vedanta.org/cgi-bin/listinfo/advaita-l
> For assistance, contact:
> listmaster at advaita-vedanta.org
Archives: http://lists.advaita-vedanta.org/archives/advaita-l/

To unsubscribe or change your options:

For assistance, contact:
listmaster at advaita-vedanta.org

More information about the Advaita-l mailing list