This article is a response to Meera Nanda’s article in Frontline magazine titled “Hindutva’s science envy.” In this rebuttal I expose, deconstruct and debunk the Hinduphobic ideology that appears to drive Nanda’s work and then unpack some specific (mis)understanding and (mis)representation of Vedic knowledge that she proposes.
Nanda merely repeats her pattern of denigrating Hindu Dharma using the guise of scientific inquiry, albeit with a crudeness that should be beneath someone with her academic credentials. Or, perhaps, it is a true reflection of the attitude and intent of the school of Indology that pays for, nurtures and promotes her work. Her disdain for the Bharatiya reader is obvious when she provides no references for her direct quotes.
While I concede that some of the claims of Vedic science, such as on Pushpa Vimana, appear unsubstantiated, these instances should not be used to dismiss legitimate claims of the existence of Vedic science and its potential to offer solutions for a sustainable environment and world peace. I argue that Vedic science deserves recognition and Bharat should conduct more scientific research on it. For example, the Infinity Foundation has published eight volumes on different aspects of Vedic science and there are thoughtful scholars such as Subhash Kak who have written substantively on the subject, including on its spiritual aspects
In the article Nanda suggests that Rajiv Malhotra is a proponent of a Hindutva ideology. This is completely false as Malhotra has publicly stated that he eschews such political or ideological linkages. In fact, the term Hindutva is being used by American Orientalists and their sympathizers as a code word to signal to each other the topics or persons that need to be trashed or knocked down because they stand for Hindu unity and pride.
Nanda misinterprets and misrepresents Malhotra’s idea of difference when she refers to Malhotra’s “exhortation to Hindus to assert the ‘difference’ (read “superiority) of their dharmic tradition”. In fact, in his books Being Different (2011) and Indra’s Net (2014) Malhotra discusses how dharmic traditions are different from the Abrahamic religions in order to dispel the harm caused by “the myth of sameness” of all religions that many Hindus have bought into. Instead, he asserts that Bharat has “its own distinct and unified civilization which has a proven ability to manage profound differences” (2011, p. 1). In the process of doing this, he challenges the western academic hegemony over Bharat’s grand narrative, or rather the lack thereof, and he exposes the systemic issues of western appropriation and denigration of the traditional knowledges which is indicated by the likes of Nanda. Malhotra seeks to create a positive grand narrative for Bharat that is inclusive of all faiths. His call to action is for Swadeshi scholars to do purva paksh of western Indology and to expose the misinterpretations of dharmic traditions. His patriotic and noble goal is to generate a more positive grand narrative of Bharat that is rooted in the numerous positive aspects of its ancient Vedic civilization.
Driven by Hinduphobic ideology
Like in her previous articles and books, Nanda pretends to be writing about what she views as the conflict between modern science and Vedic science in order to perpetuate the myth that Vedic science is a pseudo-science and therefore irrelevant in modern Bharat/world. The article appears to perpetuate the American Orientalist ideology which uses a racist, colonial and imperialist gaze to denigrate Vedic civilization. Accordingly, Nanda is scornful of Hindus for having a sense of “spiritual superiority which makes us think we are untitled to the status of jagatguru” while she glorifies western civilization as the birthplace of modern science. For example, she refers to the “great Darwin” and calls Pythagoras a “mystic-mathematician”. But she uses no such fancy prefix for Baudhayana, the geometry genius of Bharat whom she refers to merely as a “priest craftsman”. Similarly, Vivekananda (not Swami Vivekananda) is relegated as one of the Hindu “propagandists”.
Interestingly, as indicated in the foregoing quote, Nanda appears to be addressing a Bharatiya audience and she refers to herself as “we” to assert a Hindu identity. How is Nanda a “we”? I want to call out the hypocrisy of her including herself in the ‘circle of trust’ of Hindus who have some semblance of respect, bhakti or Shraddha towards Hindu Dharma. In her academic biography, she has clearly identified herself as an atheist. Given her Hinduphobic rhetoric, her atheism cannot be seen to adhere to the Charvaka tradition described in the Hindu tradition. Malhotra refers to such leftist, atheist HInduphobic scholars as Charvakas 2.0. The Charvakas of the Hindu tradition rejected the sacred realm and espoused a strictly materialistic view of the world. The Charvakas 2.0 also reject the sacred realm but then their academic work is dedicated to denigrating Hindu civilization and culture.
I point to Nanda’s background not as a judgement against her personal belief – she has every right and freedom to practice and privacy. I only point it out because I assert that research is always subjective. In the west it is well recognized, especially from decolonizing perspectives, that there is no such thing as objective research. “While there are some people who chose to hide their particular reasons for doing research, the possibility of impartiality and objectivity has been thoroughly interrogated and found wanting when one takes context into account” (Haig-Brown, 2012, p. 84). So what is the context for Nanda’s work? She is, using Malhotra’s terminology, a Sepoy – loyal to her American Orientalist heritage and its creators towards the political and academic goal of denigrating Hindu Dharma (what they label as Hinduism). This is evident in her callous depiction of Hindu scholars and icons such as Swami Vivekananda and others, as described earlier.
There are other indicators of the influence of American Orientalism on Nanda. The choice of the title “Hindutva’s science envy” is a page out of Wendy Doniger’s school of Indology fiction based on her use of Freudian psychoanalysis. Nanda’s title is a spin-off of ‘penis envy’ from psychoanalysis and is a nod to Doniger for her inspiration in such works of fictional Indology. Just as Paul Courtright invented the idea of penis envy to analyse Lord Ganesh’s trunk as a limp phallus, Nanda has invented the idea of “Hindutva’s science envy” towards puncturing what she refers to as Hindu ‘pride’ in the “spiritual superiority” of Vedic knowledge. From a decolonizing perspective, which Wendy Doniger’s parampara (teacher-disciple tradition) resents, Nanda’s attack on her own Hindu heritage reflects her own inferiority complex that comes from an internalized racism of a colonized mind. Like the “enemy within” (Nandy, 1997) there are numerous Sepoys such as Nanda who seek, and are conferred, grants by American Orientalists. They are being used to do the dirty work of attempting a re-colonization of Bharat and the destruction of her rich and valuable culture and civilization.
Nanda’s blind spots
Nanda’s ideological agenda is to denigrate Vedic knowledge and it blinds her from acknowledge basic facts such as that Vedic knowledge does not have a conflict with modern science. This is because Vedic knowledge is based on first-person empirical experimentation which in fact is far superior (yes) to western scientific method of third-person empirical testing of a null hypothesis which gives no definitive answers. Moreover, the Vedic tradition speaks of seeking pramana or empirical proof in order to gain concrete experiential knowledge. Rishi Patanjali lists three kinds of proof-seeking mental activities that provide experiential knowledge. The first type of proof one seeks is in the form of solid experience or pratyaksha. For example, only when one sees, touches, feels, tastes or hears it, one believes it. The second type of proof one seeks is called, anumana or inference, which is related to guessing when things are not so obvious. The third type of proof is called agamaha or that proof found in the scriptures, the Vedic shrutis.
Vedic knowledge asserts that without being grounded in spirituality and valuing the sacredness of existence, science can be used for improper purpose. There is no such grounding in spirituality in modern science based on Christianity. This is why the modern science of eugenics, as developed in the west, was used to exterminate Jews, along with the disabled, mentally challenged and gays, during the Jewish holocaust by the Germans. The Jewish horror of eugenics did not happen because, as Nanda proposes, of influences of the knowledge of varnas and gotras in Vedic Knowledge. Here we see the influence of the Sheldon Pollock school of American Indology, which has made similar claims (Pollock, 2006), on Nanda’s ideology. What neither acknowledges is the fact that Hitler was a devout Catholic and the Catholic Church supported Hitler’s planned holocaust.
Why Christianity science envy?
I propose that what is really behind her attack on Vedic science is that its logic, vigor and depth is a painful thorn on the side of the Christian/Western myth of being a superior race. That the Hindu heathen and naked fakirs actually had measured the distance of the sun from earth and that the earth was a sphere (not flat) thousands of years before the west did, is a source of ressentiment for the west. (Interestingly, the French term ressentiment was coined by the German philosopher Max Scheler (1874-1928) who denounced the Christian faith because of its inherent prejudices against science and human progress). It is a matter of shame for the west/Christians that Ayurveda is accepted to be the mother of medicine (Shroff, 2000) and that doctors were performing plastic surgery when the west was in the dark ages or stone ages. This is the real source of Christianity’s and west’s science envy (using her words). This is the hidden agenda of all of her work: to denigrate Hindu Dharma as pseudo-science and to promote Christianity as scientific.
What Nanda is not revealing (or hiding) is that while she is challenging the legitimate claims of Vedic science, Christians are trying to make (a desperate and ineffectual) claim that Christianity’s dogmatic beliefs are compatible with science. This is really laughable (to use her language).
Christianity has a history of persecution and suppression of the early Western scientists, for example Galileo, Copernicus and Descartes. This was due to its core beliefs of biblical creationism that rejects the theory of evolution and defines space and time in a linear context. It was Christianity’s lack of congruence with scientific thought that led to the separation of church and state and church and science. Regardless, institutions such as Templeton Foundation, which has funded part of Nanda’s higher education, have managed to form what Malhotra calls a “synthetic unity” between science and Christianity in order to hide the inherent contradictions between the church and scientific inquiry from the public perception.
Further the work of Nanda and others of her ilk attempts to deny, bury or subvert the truth about the historical cultural genocide and looting of Bharat’s wealth, both physical and cultural, at the behest or consent of the Christian Church or those who believed in the church’s exclusivist ideology in which Hindus were seen as heathens.
Tesla, Oppenheimer, Huxley acknowledged influence of Vedic Science
Nanda’s suggestion that somehow modern science born in the West is divorced from Vedic influences is pure fiction. To deny the influence of Vedic science on western science is an attempt to erase historical facts. Over the past 100’s of years, there are significant records by Chinese, Japanese, Greek, Arab and German scholars about Vedic science. Numerous Western scientists such as Tesla, Oppenheimer, Einstein and Huxley were influenced by Vedic science. For example, Nicolai Tesla, the most prominent pioneer of western science was influenced by Vedic knowledge. He is reported to have remarked: “All perceptible matter comes from a primary substance, or tenuity beyond conception, filling all space, the akasha or luminiferous ether, which is acted upon by the life giving Prana or creative force, calling into existence, in never-ending cycles all things and phenomena.” (Nikola Tesla, Man’s Greatest Achievement, 1907). Given Nanda’s academic credentials, I propose that her attempt at denigrating Vedic knowledge is crafty at best and science fiction at worst.
Bharat’s scientific past
It is well documented that Europe was in dark ages and stone age a thousand years ago at a time that Bharat and China were centers of industry, based on science of metallurgy, textiles, farming, animal husbandry and so on. A study by the Organization for Economic-Cooperation and Development (OECD) on the History of Economic Development from CE 0-2000 indicates that Bharat had 33% of the world GDP share, the highest in the world, in 0 CE (Common Era). Bharat’s GDP share remained high over the next 1700 years: 28% in 1000 CE, 24.5% in 1500 CE and 24% in 1700 CE. However, further to Bharat’s colonization, its GDP had plummeted to 7% in 1913 and 4% in 1950, after it gained independence in 1947 (Madison, 2007). During the initial contact period “a number of Europeans praised the sophistication of the indigenous medical systems, especially in the areas of herbology, caesarean sections, inoculations, and plastic surgery (Shroff, 2000). Bharatiya historians have documented the immense extent to which England, Portugal and France (Goel, 1992) violated the political, cultural, social, economic and religious rights and freedoms of the people of Bharat during the 200 years of colonization.
Western appropriation of Vedic Science
To deny the contribution of Vedic knowledges as building blocks for western science is disingenuous and even an attempted cultural genocide. This is especially true because many modern scientific research innovations are appropriations of these ancient indigenous knowledges. Since 1995, the Government of Bharat has attempted to protect Yoga from further appropriation and exploitation by the west. The Ministry of AYUSH, acronym for what Bharat’s Government refers to as Bharat’s “traditional knowledges of Ayurveda, Yoga, Unani and Siddha and Homeopathy” was established in 2014 to accelerate Bharat’s effort to protect and promote this knowledge. Since 2008, the Bharatiya Government began its intervention to protect its knowledge. The first few successes came when it fought and won cases against two US patents given for common Ayurveda items: turmeric, a spice with health and medical benefits and neem, an indigenous tree in Bharat that has medicinal properties used in agriculture and human health.
The Government of Bharat website includes a Traditional Knowledge Digital Library (TKDL) that is available for international patent offices to consult. For example, there are photos and instructions for over 900 Hatha Yoga postures. The TKDL website reports an enormous level of appropriation of Bharat’s traditional knowledge in the west. For example, it reports in the US alone there are 2315 yoga trademarks, 150 yoga-related copyrights and 134 patents for yoga accessories had been registered by 2005. The digital library represents a significant cost, both in time and money, to the Government of Bharat to fight these numerous patent requests.
Another important area of appropriation of Vedic science has been in the area of Ayurveda. For example, Bharat’s case against a US corporation’s attempt to copyright neem, a tree indigenous to Bharat, took ten years to win. Neem is valued as a medical herb and in agriculture as an herbicide. A similar fight was won against the patent awarded for turmeric, a powerful medicinal herb.
Nanda’s flimsy arguments on Shunya and Pythagoras
Megh Kalyansundaram has already written a robust rebuttal on Nanda’s flimsy argument that Vedic scholars cannot claim to have invented the shunya (zero) and geometry http://internethindu.org/2016/09/02/a-limited-response-to-meera-nandas-essay-hindutvas-science-envy-in-frontline/. I would like to point out another serious flaw of logic in Nanda’s position. In arguing about who can claim ownership of a knowledge, Nanda proposes that those who ‘prove’ the knowledge should own it. She asks “So where does the first proof of Pythagoras’ Theorem come from?” This rationale and claim sets up a clever sleight of hand for the west to claim authorship of Bharat’s indigenous knowledge. Under this system, any existing knowledge in the Vedic system preserved in the oral tradition can be claimed by the west by virtue of their writing it down in text. Such claims to knowledge are clearly cultural appropriations or theft of another culture’s wealth.
In fact, this is exactly what has happened over the past 100 years and more. Much of the indigenous knowledge of medicine, plants, environment, math, science, metallurgy and so on has been stolen via appropriation by westerners who have claimed it as their own. For example, much of the great Ramanujan’s work in mathematics was credited to his westerner ‘handlers’ who helped him present his work to the academe. Similarly, some westerners are claiming to have invented ‘Modern Hatha Yoga’ which is essentially classical Yoga postures repackage with western translations and interpretations.
Hindus are unaware of the extent of appropriation of Vedic mind sciences, as propounded in the Patanjali Yoga Sutras for example, into western psychology. The appropriation has been made possible using the same wrong logic of assigning ownership over knowledge based on who gets the stamp of approval or “proof” in a western journal. In this scheme, the Vedic science of breath, yoga and Ayurveda are only counted as science once they have been ‘discovered’ by the west and published in a western journal! In this way, much of the Vedic science has been appropriated into western modern science. Swadeshi scholars are needed to further investigate and expose these appropriations.
Nanda’s attempt to hoodwink the reader
I conclude by pointing out another important trick that western scholars such as Nanda use to trick unsuspecting readers into buying into their false claims against Vedic knowledge. They find quotes written by scholars in which they have critiqued the significant inherent contradictions between science and Islam or Christianity and then (mis)apply them to critique Vedic science. In Nanda’s article, she provides the following quote from the “great Syrian philosopher, Sadiq al-Azm, to provide a severe critique of Vedic science: “The attempt to efface the features of the struggle between religion and science is nothing but a hopeless effort to defend religion. It is resorted to every time religion is forced to concede a traditional position and every time it is forced to withdraw from a center that it formerly held”. What Nanda had failed to inform the reader is that Sadiq al-Azam’s criticism of religion and science was directed towards the Abrahimic religions and not Vedic religion. I consider such deceptions a form of academic dishonesty that warrants public exposure.
Does Hindutva suffer from science envy? It clearly does not. Does Christianity suffer from science envy? Definitely yes. But for the eyewash of Western propaganda, these facts would be more widely understood.
By – Ragini Sharma, PhD
Courtright, P. (1985). Ganesh, Lord of Obstacles, Lord of Beginnings, New York: Oxford University Press.
Haig-Brown, C. (2012). Decolonizing Diaspora: Whose traditional land are we on? In A.A. Abdi (ed.). Decolonizing Philosophies of Education, pp. 73-90.
Madison, A. (2007). Contours of the World Economy 1-2030 AD, Oxford University Press. Retreived at http://www.theworldeconomy.org/MaddisonTables/MaddisontableB-18.pdf
Malhotra, R. (2011). Being Different: An Indian Challenge to Western Universalism. Noida, India: Harper Collins.
Pollock, S. (2006). The Language of the Gods in the World of Men. Berkerly: University of California Press
al-Azm, Sadiq Jalal (2008), “Science and Religion, an Uneasy Relationship in the History of Judeo-Christian-Muslim Heritage”, Islam & Europe, Leuven University Press, p. 129
Shroff, F. (2000). Ayurveda: Mother of Indigenous health knowledge. In G. Dei, B. L. Hall & D. Goldin Rosenberg (Eds.), Indigenous knowledges in global contexts: Multiple readings of our world, Toronto, ON: OISE/UT, University of Toronto Press. 215-233.
TKDL, Traditional Knowledge Digital Library, Govt. of India website. Retrieved from http://indianmedicine.nic.in/showfile.asp?lid=316
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