Debate on inter-Faith dialog in the context of Rajiv Malhotra’s book, “Being Different” and his discussion with Rev. Clooney and others.
Rajiv’s book, “Being Different” no doubt broken a vast new ground. The terrain traversed by it is primarily the philosophical and metaphysical. An overwhelming number of those who have read it in full or in part are appreciative of the author’s research, original thinking and structured presentation. A few activists and scholars have, however, found little to appreciate. But it is Rajiv’s efforts to engage ‘outsiders’, particularly those who profess Christianity, in discussing in the public domain some of the issues raised in the book, that seems to have attracted some strident adverse reaction. This Note deals only with the latter aspect.
One or two well meaning Hindu intellectuals have questioned the very necessity and even desirability of any such discussion or inter-Faith dialog. Some have critiqued specifically the Rajiv-Rev. Clooney discussion on the book, ‘Being Different’.
The argument of the former, summarized, runs somewhat as follows: (i) Hindu intellectuals and religious leaders should focus on educating, enthusing and mobilizing Hindus and should not waste their time on inter-Faith dialogs; (ii) Inter-Faith dialogs are not desirable because the other parties—in the present context, Christian theologians and missionaries—are wily characters with the sole agenda of ingratiating themselves with a few Hindu religious leaders or scholars and using the links forged thus, to subvert the Hindu religious leadership and society, destroy Hindu Dharma and convert Hindus at large still more vigorously.
I do not see why bringing more awareness to Hindus at large about missionary machinations or the kernel features of strength of Hindu Dharma and debating the authentic essentials of Hindu Dharma with non-Hindus on a scholarly platform should be mutually exclusive. Both are important in defending Hindu Dharma and in invigorating the Hindu society. Refusing to recognize forces that are inimical to Hindu Dharma and Society is sheer foolishness. Ignoring to engage them is dangerous. Of course such engagement would have to be in different modes in different circumstances. For instance when a local Church-led mafia tries to construct a new church on a public land it must be opposed vigorously on the ground with local Hindu activists at the grass roots and by invoking law. This is engagement. On the other hand, it is also engagement to debate with a Christian theologian on his misconceptions or false interpretations about Hindu Dharma or on issues which do not appeal to Hindu rationality. Leaving missionaries to speak and write whatever they wish to without confronting them in a cordial and sufficiently informed debate is not going to strengthen Hindu Dharma or Society. The ‘desirability’ argument mentioned above is also highly flawed and baseless. The wilier your opponent is the more is the need for you to keep engaged with him to discover the chinks in his armor and the details of his strategy. It is absurd for a good Hindu to bury his head in the sand on the ground that the adversary is too sly or insidious. Is it not a historical fact that Hindu subjugation took place repeatedly in the past because the invading forces discovered the former’s weaknesses and exploited them? If your adversary has a hidden agenda the way to tackle it is not to run away from him but to discover that agenda and counter it. How can this be done without engagement and debate? In the intellectual domain what are the other options available to the Hindu?
Coming to the Rajiv-Clooney debate, Clooney has been described as a ‘Trojan horse’; one or two critics have also felt that Clooney has had the better of Rajiv in the debate. I watched the audio-video of the debate more than once and am among the numerous persons who felt that Rajiv did a very good job. I did not find any Trojan horse in Clooney. The Jesuit is no doubt wily and may have some agenda of his own in agreeing to the debate. So what? Someone had mentioned that the ‘body language’ of Rajiv indicated that he was trying to cozy up to Clooney. I consider it as plainly absurd conclusion. Anyone who knows Rajiv well enough will agree that he is not an innocent and ill-informed Hindu who can be co-opted or subverted, whether he or she agrees or not with all that Rajiv says or writes and whether he or she is happy or not with how Rajiv reacts to even cordial suggestion or criticism. Of course there could be varying opinions on how well the debate went and how Rajiv could have done better etc. Such legitimate criticism or reservation should not be condemned.
I heard an argument that inter-Faith dialog is a Vatican strategy to entice some Hindu religious leaders and efforts by Missionaries in this regard have a political agenda. I entirely agree. But I think it is unwise to refuse to enter into any debate with them on this ground. What is, however, necessary is calculated steps to thwart individual Hindu religious leaders or scholars getting enticed or misled into making unacceptable joint statements or singing the meaningless song of “all religions are the same” etc. Rajiv has forcefully brought up this point in his book and in his interaction with commentators on the book. In doing so he may have used words which may not be entirely appropriate, particularly in respect of highly respected Hindu religious leaders but this is a separate issue.
An academician seriously concerned about rejuvenating Hindu Dharma and Society has said that Rajiv has not used Purva Paksha in the right sense of the term. The argument here is that Purva Paksha-based debate must result in the “defeat” of the opponent and not in some sort of compromise. There is some confusion here. Purva Paksha is only a technique in serious debate. Debate is of different types according to our ancient seers, namely, vada, vivada, vitanda and jalpa. It is these types of debate that have different objectives and Purva Paksha is applicable to all of them.
Our ancient Seers and revered religious leaders may have worked in different ways to defend and strengthen our Dharma. But it is wisdom to recognize that times have changed considerably. In countering our Dharmic adversaries what worked in the past may not work equally effectively in the present. Our adversaries are constantly changing their techniques. Should Hindus not adapt to the changing times and to the changing modes of the adversaries? Terms such as conquest, defeat etc belong more in the lexicon of Christianity and Islam; our objective in inter-Faith debates must be to persuade the non-Hindu adversary and Hindu fence-sitter who may be open to be persuaded, and kindle interest and raise awareness of the ignorant Hindu.
In evaluating the Rajiv-Clooney debate let us not get pushed into blind alleys—what was the hidden motive of Clooney in mentioning the names of the great Vivekananda or Edward Said and such others; whether or not Rajiv is the first to adopt the Purva Paksha technique in inter-Faith debate; whether Clooney was puffing up Rajiv to co-opt him in a subtle manner as his (Clooney’s) future warrior against innocent Hindu intellectuals and so on. At best these are peripherals. Let us not fail to recognize that this is perhaps the first time a wily Jesuit has allowed himself to be seriously engaged in the public domain on truly philosophical and metaphysical strengths of Hindu Dharma. Ignoring the peripherals, let us therefore evaluate the need, mode and impact of an open debate. Once we accept that such debates have an important role in what we Dharmis wish to do for our Dharma we could utilize Rajiv’s effort as a learning experience and improve upon it. It is wisdom to see the value in the core and not the weakness in the peripherals.
Ultimately and in a profound Hindu sense Dharma rests on the shoulders of the Dharmi though without Dharma there will be no Dharmi. It is for the Dharmi to defend, protect, rejuvenate and strengthen Dharma in the exercise of this symbiotic relationship. In this regard, learning the core aspects of our Dharma, raising the awareness on these aspects among the indifferent or the ignorant in the Hindu society, producing scholarly works seeing things through the Hindu prism, engaging adversaries on appropriate planes and toiling at the grass roots among the under-privileged and poor Hindu families, are all important and necessary—equally. Making a wily Christian missionary move a few steps forward in admitting implicitly or explicitly error in his interpretation or claims is as important as firing up the enthusiasm of the already-converted. It is for Dharmis to choose the arena suitable to their capability and inclination in their effort to support and strengthen Dharma. It is not wise to decry one or the other arena or the Dharmi who chooses one or the other arena for his contribution. To do so is to be as unwise as to declare that for a human being the pair of hands is more important than the pair of legs or that eyes are not as necessary as the ears and so on.
Finally a word or two for those Dharmis who find the revered Hindu religious leaders at present and lay leadership deficient and unequal to meet the challenges facing Hindus—Please be careful in what and how you say things in this regard in the public domain; for those who criticize the critics—please avoid harshness. Let us be charitable and considerate internally to each other. Let us not internally hurt ourselves in our enthusiasm; we have a lot to do to prevent damage from external sources.
January 11, 2012 R.Venkatanarayanan