Oversimplification – A Grave Dharmic Blunder

This is a rebuttal to Devdutt Pattnaik’s recent interview to The New Indian Express – “There is no harm in simplifying mythology.” As a disclaimer, I have no personal contact or animosity with Devdutt, but am deeply offended by the grave misinformation campaign he has been on for several years. It is pertinent that the flaws in his logic be shared, so the reader is educated to unravel the mischief with such a line of thought.

Hindu Dharma is not evangelical, but Devdutt is, especially if one were to track intensity and ferocity behind hawking untruths. We will parse each message of Devdutt in the interview impartially and impersonally, to showcase the danger in such a mischievous outlook and campaign.

Devdutt Pattnaik (DP): What is the harm in over-simplifying? I make mythology available to people who do not understand it. It’s like the Brahman and the Shudra traditions. Brahmans believed in keeping knowledge to themselves, Shudras believed in wisdom for all. You can say I follow the Shudra tradition.

Satchitananda (S): It is very critical to understand the roots of DP’s wrong arguments. They lay centered in the mythical and malicious Aryan Invasion Theory (AIT). AIT was as hare’s horn invented by the west to explain their shortcomings to explain Bharat. This theory has been proven wrong, though it holds pockets of resistance only due to its political clout.  To make the reader a smart one, reader must be educated to the truths about the barrage of falsities peddled about Brahmin elitism. Whether it has a sinister western plot, we may not be sure, but the backers of this false theory will never want to see the light of truth. DP is a firm believer in Brahmin elitism, when the idea of AIT itself is false.

He has the habit of peppering words to sound erudite, but where is this Brahmin-Shudra point relevant to the question that was asked by the interviewer. Let us see how DP himself violates his own position.

First of all, anyone who is interested in Brahma Jnana, can acquire it. The only primary qualification required is Brahma jignasa (very intense zeal to know Brahman). Varna is not caste as misunderstood popularly, including DP (read Varnas – a journey to its roots). Simple evidence from Aitreya Rishi (who composed Upanishad and vedic Brahmanas) to Gora Khumba (a potter who was considered to be more jnani than contemporary great saints) prove that Brahmans were neither retaining knowledge only to themselves nor were the sole custodians.  This would begin with Vishwamitra and Ved Vyas himself. On the contrary, one of the prescribed mandatory jobs of a Brahmin is to teach everyone who are willing to discipline themselves. Several rishis of the yore and even in recent history had no Brahmin origins/parentage.

DP deliberately concocts a baseless idea of Shudras believing in wisdom for all. Shudra literally stands for ‘Pain Avoidance’, which implies all of us. That is why Ved Vyasa says:

“ janmana jayate sudrah samskarat dwij uchchte
veda pathnat bhavet viprah brahma janati iti brahmanah”

which means that by birth all are Shudras. Only by samkaras (one can read it as rituals or as their vasana baggage) they become dwija – twice born. Veda adhyayana makes one mere wise or scholarly but does not fetch self-realization and the one who knows BRAHMAN is a Brahmana.

So by this definition we are all still Shudras, including DP.  One must note the deliberate marketing and cheap twist to project Shudra as the warehouse of wisdom. This shows that not only DP’s over simplification is deliberate and malicious but also with the sole intent of spreading lies and a poor attempt to politicize with horrible wrong interpretations to spread mistrust in the society.

Over simplifying is not an issue, provided there is no distortion. But having a legacy of deliberate misinterpretation, DP is not qualified to even simplify. Let us take an analogy, of studying average human body temperature. If we put a person’s head in the oven and his lower part in a deep freezer and claim, his average temperature is still 98.6o F, will it make sense? Will it not constitute travesty? But DP claims exactly the same. He wants us to believe that not only over simplification (read in his perverted way) is correct, but also argues that it is the actual representation of Ved Vyasa.

Oversimplification leads to distorted interpretations as the pathway for next level of understanding gets obstructed. Also, arguing that distorted oversimplification is the only correct way and all the others are wrong goes against the grain of DP’s own argument.

DP: There is nothing original about mythology. It is all about Sanatan—timelessness. In layman’s terms, mythology deals with the market of the times. Each age has its own stories—its own mythology. As for writers, everyone is free to interpret mythology in his or her own way. It is not an easy genre, but it offers a vast scope for interpretations. There is nothing right or wrong.

S: DP claims there is nothing original about mythology. Then why is he making a living by cooking falsities on what is not even original. Note the deliberate use of the word ‘Sanatan’ to suit his absurd logic. If it is Sanatana, how can it not be original? What got started originally is not original? What a lousy pathetic absurdity in logic. We can only expect alert readers parse and read, else the snake oil salesman in such motivated players can easily pull the wool over the eyes of the largely illiterate mass when it comes to our past or scriptures.

Note how he blends his idea calling mythology with what is traditionally called as Itihaasa and Purana. Itihaasa literally means – Iti haasa – someone lived it and is usually written by a contemporary. Valmiki was Rama’s contemporary and Ved Vyas was Krishna’s. Puranas on the other hand are compilations long after the incident. We have only Ved Vyas who did all the compilation.

DP tries to reduce this to a bunch of ridiculous, over simplified, illogical reductions. A bhakta has the latitude to absorb it based on his vasana baggage on his spiritual journey. DP misconstrued this as his privilege to misinterpret for making a career. This is patently wrong. If he wants to write his own interpretations, he can write his own stories. But will anyone buy his books then?

DP: I do not believe in the idea of religion as propagated by a political party, or a sect. My idea is my own—my personal Hinduism. It is within us, not outside. The Hindu religion is not an evangelical one. It does not believe in converting others. People who are doing it today—like trying to force the religion on Tribals—do not understand what Hinduism is.

S: Hindu Dharma is not evangelical, but DP is. He is busy canvassing for his misinterpretations. He is trying to convince others that his illogical baseless arguments are the correct version. What DP is talking has nothing to do with Hindu Dharma. He applies a post-modernist approach to dharma.

It is true that Sanatana Dharma allows varied interpretations. Sanatana Dharma has six traditional DarshanasSamkhya, Yoga, Nyaya, Vaisesika, Mimamsa and Vedanta. They all give a different perspective to the same consciousness. Vedanta itself allows such varied interpretations that we have dualism in Dvaita to absolute monism in Advaita. Anyone who can present their case with valid interpretations of the Vedas, Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita has the platform to establish a new line of thought.

While DP keeps spinning concocted theories of Puranas, I would expect a serious challenger like he aspires to be to present his arguments in the light of Vedas. Having fake twitter handles like ‘@VedicWisdom’ that have no connection to Vedas, only highlights the paucity of original ideas and absolute limited understanding. Even if it is not a Sanskrit treatise, for someone pedaling ideas like these, one must be up for serious discussion.

While DP keeps spinning these distorted versions of Hindu Dharma, I have never seen him talk about evangelical religions. Is he lacking the knowledge or the intestinal fortitude to write about the manipulations of the Vatican and their sordid saga? Are these excursions only aimed at destroying Hindu Dharma?

DP: Every single character in Ramayan has the power to change the story. For example, Sita manages to slay a demon 100 times more powerful than Ravana, but she asks Ram to keep it a secret. We have to allow others their stories. We cannot impose our stories on others.

S: Ramayana was originally called Sitaayas Charitam Mahat just to highlight Sita’s central role. The tragedy of making such hit and run statements without even bothering to explain has been the central strategy of DP. It sounds like there is wisdom flowing, but on a careful glance, one can see the shallowness and motive behind. SriVaishnava Sampradaya of Ramanujacharya constantly highlights the central role of Sita. In fact, this traditional interpretation allows the easy resolution of so many controversial incidents in Ramayana that are twisted by modern scholars. Sita is a far more strong character, according to Valmiki. It will take many lifetimes to even begin to comprehend her strength. Yet DP wants to oversimplify by bringing a western narrative of women’s rights and feminism of this century. This anachronistic juxtaposition for a cheap economic profit is not only absurd but also despicable.

DP’s approach is akin to the practices of the western pharma and food industry. First make someone sick and then give them a pill which will have more side effects.

But when such pseudo authors want to insert twisted stories or harp on a side story, one central point is deliberately overlooked. Of the hundreds of variations of Ramayana available, Valmiki Ramayana is still the ONLY ORIGINAL and AUTHENTIC. Remember, this is ITIHAASA, someone contemporary was recording. Retelling slightly from a bhakta’s viewpoint is the latitude enjoyed ONLY by a bhakta. This is not transferable to people who make a living by distorting it.

DP: People who are propagating Hinduism today forget that the concept is mellifluous. Unlike the West where combat is the keyword, in India, religion and evolution are mellifluous. But we tend to do things the way the West does. We want to be combative, violent. Both Hinduism and Buddhism have influenced each other in many ways.

S: I have to agree with DP that Hindu Dharma is always mellifluous that is why when incongruent artificial ideas are plastered by folks like Wendy Doniger or even DP, it stands out so clearly and shines on the motives of such interpreters. Being apologetic to violent interpretations is as adharmic as the interpretations themselves. Hence when DP places such views, the silent masses that are either ignorant to these deliberate twists or too selfish to not register their dissent are the only ones to be blamed. Every time a baseless idea is being marketed as ‘@VedicWisdom’ as if someone was personally coached by Ved Vyasa, it needs to be challenged in a scholarly way. We must ask such people to quote the Vedic Sloka or ask for Pramana (proof).

Traditionally, without pramana no one’s statements are accepted in dharmic religions. People who follow some desert religious ideas which rely on ‘follow this or perish’ only will be afraid of asking questions. In fact, no Upanishad exists without a question and answer format. So if DP wants to propagate these theories, first he must have realized Brahman. If not then the first qualification to talk about Brahman is missing. If the topic is not Brahman but only a religion like he peddles then it lacks the foundation.

Any Atma Pramana (personal realization or experience) has to be validated by Shastra Pramana (Vedas and Upanishads) and Apta Pramana (experience of other realized sages). If there is no validation, concocting fictitious arguments holds no sanctity in Hindu Dharma.

I would love to listen to DP’s arguments if he can give Shastra Pramana for any of the arguments he has peddled. It may be doubtful to access the Apta Pramana, especially if one is not in a highly realized state. But it is easy to follow how much they really know when they quote Shastra Pramana, something DP has never done. Again one must make note of a big difference between Shruti (Vedas/Upanishads) and Smriti (Itihaasas/Puranas). If there is a seeming conflict, the words of Shruti are always final.

Will Devdutt be able to furnish Shastra Pramana? Only he can answer that question.

But as far as others are concerned, we have a bigger task on hand:

  • Can we take time to get more rooted in DHARMA by daily introspection?
  • Can we try to emulate the characters of Rama or Lakshmana or Sita? Can we try to read more of the ORIGINAL texts? Even though they are in Sanskrit, a tongue not natural to most of us, our bhakti and jnana will provide for the lacuna in our language skills. Why not set a goal to learn Sanskrit, albeit slowly?
  • Can we regularly study (not read or peruse) Bhagavad Gita? It is okay to follow any parampara, just do not follow the fake ones from western scholars. No book has so many commentaries in the history of human writing.
  • Listen to more traditional scholars. We have given large part of our lifetime, so far agreeing or arguing to the westernized interpretations from modern scholars or their sepoys. Can we atleast give some chance by listening to traditional scholars, who already have good logical responses to the shallow arguments?
  • Can we raise the standards we set for our character and action? Can we get over our procrastination (pramada) and laziness (alasya) in learning more from our scriptures and applying it in our daily lives, so our life will be actually meaningful?

ॐ तत्सत्


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About the Author

Satchitananda

Sanatana Dharmist. Endeavor is to share the little I have learnt along this Cosmic journey with my fellow travelers. Sincerely interested in raising awareness of Hindu Dharma, especially to Hindus.