I will start with a powerful analogy. Imagine, hypothetically, that the streets in your neighbourhood are very dirty. This is because garbage was being dumped by people who did not live in your neighbourhood, but were in cahoots with some neighbours of yours. You appealed to these outsiders to stop, but they kept on dumping the filth. Also, the authorities in charge of cleaning your streets were not being responsible. Garbage piled up and the resulting problems were so serious that you decided to get personally involved. You started out by wanting to work with anyone appearing to be concerned, even funding their projects. However, they took your money but did nothing.
You became so disgusted that you quit your thriving business and profession when you were at your peak, in order to devote your full-time efforts and financial resources to address this problem. You put your personal savings into an NGO which you set up for this cause.
Imagine further, that you encouraged the local authorities to stop the outsiders from dumping garbage. But they did nothing.
You tried to involve various other neighbourhood organizations that ought to be concerned – such as political and civic groups, temples, and so forth. After all, don’t they all like to claim how they were helping society, and always loudly seek credit? Unfortunately, however, all such groups either ignored the problems or gave you some lofty advice like: ‘our neighbourhood is strong and can handle this garbage’; or ‘this problem has always existed’; or ‘it is not your job to worry about this’; etc. There were also many who encouraged you privately and thanked you profusely, but in concrete terms they did nothing of consequence.
So finally, you decided to start cleaning the streets by yourself. You see it as a yajna to fulfil your sva-dharma or personal duty. The term ‘yajna’ as used here means an effort for a higher purpose with nothing desired in return for the effort. It is service done with the best of intentions. The results do not determine its success because the results are left to the divine; what matters is how much tapasya you put into the yajna.
Many of the outsiders, seeing you are alone, started mocking you. They branded you with names and said you are not ‘qualified’ or ‘authorized’ to do this work. They did not recognize your sincerity or acknowledge your right to keep your neighbourhood clean. They complained that you are not a member of their powerful labour union with members all over the world. But you refused to stop. So they started accusing you of overstepping your boundaries, making the absurd allegation that you are trespassing on their turf. But you are not intimidated by their aggressiveness and have still refused to quit.
Gradually, many other individuals from the public have started joining your activities and a ‘home team’ is being born. Now there is a groundswell of public opinion in your favour. People have become loud and clear in making demands. Common citizens are expressing the right to get involved and expose the system. It has become clear that some outsiders are aligned with a few corrupt neighbours, and are engaged in underhand activities. It is time to overhaul such a system.
This public support of course has made you even more unpopular amongst the powerful individuals you have exposed, and they are trying to bring you down under one pretext or another. Some corrupt media people have also become co-opted to defame you.
Dear reader, I want you to know that the above scenario very closely parallels my 20+ years of experience in intervening in the field of Indology (the study of Bharatiya civilization). The garbage being dumped is the nonsensical material that distorts Bharatiya sanskriti (our civilization). The neighbourhood in my case is our shared mental space of ideas.
I, too, started out with many years of close engagement with some of the most elite academic centers of Indology. Eventually, I understood that many of those scholars have not only failed to remedy the problems within their field, in fact they have added further pollution in the intellectual space.
I was inspired by my guru to see this work as my sva-dharma. I transformed my life into a yajna to raise public consciousness to the best of my abilities, by actively writing within the limits of my mental, physical and material resources. This is called giving one’s ‘tana, mana, dhana’ (body, mind, material resources) as a yajna to achieve a higher purpose.
I have earlier written that I first went through a 10+ year phase of giving away a substantial part of my life-savings in order to try and win over the Indology establishment. I am reminded of Gandhi’s struggles: first he tried to work within the framework of the British Empire to negotiate a fair deal for Bharatiyas under foreign rule. Eventually, he started his ‘Quit India Movement’ when he understood that Bharatiyas must attain swaraj or self-rule and not expect justice under a system run by the colonizers.
Gandhi’s Swadeshi movement intended to help Bharatiyas regain dignity, self-sufficiency and freedom. Here I present to you another analogy. Gandhi recognized that Bharat had abundant raw cotton and a flourishing cotton weaving industry (thanks to the richness of our sanskriti, civilization). The British had begun to suggest that Bharatiya cloth was not of good quality and in order to kill Bharat’s cotton industry, they began sending the raw cotton to England to manufacture textiles which they then brought back to sell at exorbitant prices in Bharat. The garments made in England and sold in Bharat were in the Western style and not Bharatiya style. This fit the strategy to convey that Bharatiya dress, culture and language were inferior and even oppressive, and therefore should be rejected. Gandhi decided to organize the mass burning of these Western imported clothes and began a popular movement to spin khadi (Bharatiya made) cloth and garments in Bharat. In the case of my yajna, the message is that Hindus need to regain pride in our sanskriti and become the producers of knowledge rather than consumers of imported knowledge about us. Stop believing those who say that our own scholarship in Indology is inferior to Western Indology.
I have also studied the way American blacks won their swaraj. When the American Civil War was won and slavery ended, at first the blacks let the whites lead the efforts to bring racial integration. There was a period in American history called the Reconstruction Era during which it appeared that blacks were making sustainable headway. There was even a black senator, and many blacks got good jobs. Many opportunistic whites, for whom the term ‘carpetbaggers’ was coined, went to black towns as missionaries, teachers, social workers, etc. claiming to help them. But they were manipulators who wanted to keep control of the mechanisms of power, while letting backs believe they were being helped.
Blacks learned the hard way that they should not have outsourced this leadership to whites. When there was an economic downturn, new groups like the Ku Klux Klan emerged to push the blacks down. There were widespread white movements claiming that blacks had to be ‘put in their place’. It was one thing to free them from slavery, they said, but that did not mean they had become truly equal. This is the era when Jim Crow Laws were officially enacted to keep blacks under the glass ceiling.
Finally, over a period of several decades, the blacks developed their own leadership, and no longer depended on whites to lead them. This is what led to Martin Luther King Jr’s emergence. His Civil Rights Movement brought blacks into their own political power without having to compromise their distinct identity. There are important lessons here.
My ‘Indology Swaraj Movement’ started in a fashion similar to Gandhi’s movement. Gandhi did not want the British individuals to leave Bharat; they were welcome to stay. But the colonial system of governance would have to leave, and the principles and framework of dharma put in its place. The British ways had to be thrown out and replaced by Bharatiya traditions. Everyone would be welcome to participate in the new system, he said.
In a similar fashion, my swaraj movement is not meant to throw Westerners out of Indology. Rather, I want to adopt Bharatiya frameworks and let Bharatiyas and Westerners who respect sanskriti to participate in correcting the mis-information that is being developed. The African-American movement teaches us that we better have our own leaders, and all well-intended Westerners are welcome to work in such a system. So it is about having our own adhikara (authority) over who, what and how we study our culture. We do not need to apologize to Western Indologists for Bharatiya approaches being different. We offer them mutual respect; and this ‘mutual’ clause is critical.
Just as you, the reader, may or may not be the best street cleaner (in the above analogy), I may or may not be the best Indology scholar. But just as your yajna compels you to help keep the streets clean, mine compels me to do my best in developing and spreading our own discourse about our civilization.
Just as you did not evaluate your progress based on whether your activities complied with the norms of the official street cleaners, so also I evaluate myself only by the quality and quantity of public awareness I am creating. My scholarship is not meant to convince Western Indologists. Rather, my purpose is to wake up our people who are ignorant or apathetic. Gandhi’s famous ‘Hind Swaraj’ book was not any kind of academic, ‘peer-reviewed scholarship’, but his way to inform his own people on complex issues in a very simple, reader-friendly manner. I write my books with the same intention.
As in the case of Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., when the authorities I oppose think they are winning by beating me up, actually the reverse is happening: my support base grows and many who were sitting on the fence begin to understand the injustice. I have received thousands of emails telling me how the persistent attacks on me have convinced them of the civilizational ‘kurukshetra’ (battlefield) I have been engaged in. I am personally paying the price; but I decided to sign up for this yajna as my life’s calling. I have always been inspired by the Chinese student in Tiananmen Square who stood alone in 1989 in front of the long line of Chinese tanks. Nobody knows what happened to him, but he started a youth revolution.
In US politics, the public often supports someone who can say, ‘I am not a career politician mixed up in Washington, but an outsider to the political establishment.’ Similarly, I can say: I am not a career academician mixed up in a corrupt Ivy League liberal arts system, but an outsider to that establishment.
Given my goals, it is vital to be non-ignorable. I know that this subversive strategy brings attacks against me. An intellectual kshatriya (warrior) must face attacks to do his job. Being provocative, controversial and confrontational have been the hallmarks of those who brought much needed changes. We can cite numerous examples.
This need for audacity and personal risk-taking is why I decided long ago not to focus on institution building, because that requires a certain amount of conformity and compromises. I did my institution building in business, but did not enjoy that even though I made lots of money. I would rather be the chief scientist (building provocative ideas) than the chief executive (building institutions).
I came to the USA with a meagre $50 back in 1971. My simple parents are from the economic middle-class, with high education, and even higher dharmic ideals. I achieved more professional success than I had dreamed of and made more money than I wanted, needed or felt that I deserved. So I have spent the second half of my adult life giving my resources back to society as my personal yajna. This type of yajna that fills one’s entire life for so many years, or at least the dominant portion of one’s life, is not easily understood by many people.
I wish to set the record straight on what my yajna is, and what it is not. First, let me state what is outside the scope of my yajna:
– I am not trying to solve all problems – like cleaning all the streets better than formal institutions ought to be able to do. I am setting in motion a movement that will, with the help of numerous others, lead to that kind of public institution one day.
– I am not building any institution. I want others to build institutions. I am happy to provide paradigm-changing ideas and guidance.
– I do not see myself as ever being a big shot in some formal capacity leading any large group. My work demands greater adhyatmik (inner) efforts as I explain below.
Following are the main things that are central to my yajna:
– Primarily I am performing the yajna as I promised after some profound experiences transformed my life.
– This yajna is mostly at the adhyatmik level. Only after many years of practice did my guru allow me to start external activities. Our tradition calls for inner transformation first, which is different from the path being followed by Western Indologists.
– The primary readership for all my writings is me. I learn by the process of inner meditation and outer investigation, and by writing and rewriting. My research methodology combines three modes: inspiration from meditation, reading others’ works, and public encounters as a laboratory to get feedback and test new ideas. As long as this work helps my evolution, I am being successful. I have about 20 more books in the pipeline in various stages of development, each very different than the rest, and each a major yajna.
– The yajnas in Indology are only one small part of my overall yajna which encompasses many dimensions of life. The Indology facet just happens to be the way most people know of me, but it is not the most important one.
– In my overall life yajna, the inner and outer are integrated, and the former must serve as the foundation for the latter.
Those who share similar ideals and wish to pursue a similar sva-dharma can join my efforts and make this a collective yajna. It is important to be clear that you would not be doing me any favour. You would be pursuing your sva-dharma aligned with my sva-dharma, and therefore we would be fellow-travellers on the same path. This is my vision of collective yajna in de-polluting the field of Indology.
This article originally appeared on the site www.speakingtree.in We are grateful to the author, Shri Rajiv Malhotra, for granting permission to reproduce it on HinduPost.