Tuesday, 29 May 2012

How ready are India and Indians for Intensifying Global Competition?

My lecture on the above topic, at George Washington University in the USA, organised by www.indusforum.org, was video-taped and has just been uploaded: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KWrWAg7XCIw

Monday, 28 May 2012

Should Hindus be for or against nuclear power for India?

A friend forwards this mail that is apparently doing the rounds: 
"As on today, USA has 65 nuclear power plants which supplies 20% of total energy needs of that country.
"But in India, there are only 18 reactor's which supplies 4% of total energy requirements. Many NGO's are opposing Nuclear power for India.
"All these NGO's are mouth pieces of Christian west. Because If India's  poor Hindu's and Muslims gets electricity, their life will change, and in such circumstances it will be difficult to convert them to Christianity and convert India into a colony of Christian West by AD 2020.
"When Atomic Power is OK in Christian West, then why not OK in developing and under developed countries like India."

My response:
the message above is typical of many such mails doing the rounds among Indians.  Ignoring the assertions about numbers (which I have not had time to check), the mail is full of logical and factual errors.

1.  Actually, many Indian NGOs are anti-Western and anti-Christian (including Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, Jain, Sikh, secular and other NGOs).  Further, many NGOs in the West itself are anti-Christian.

2.  Atomic power must be evaluated on three counts: what is the relative COST of nuclear versus other sources of electricity; what is its present (and likely-future) relative SAFETY RECORD; and what is India's record and future likelihood of being able to manage the SECURITY issues associated with nuclear power and nuclear waste. 

3. Nuclear power is supported as well as opposed both in India and in the West.

To sum up: nuclear power is not a matter of being pro- an anti-Western, pro-or anti-Christian, pro- or anti-Muslim, pro- or anti-Indian, or anything else. It is a matter of judgement regarding many imponderables.

Thoughtful people disagree,and will continue to disagree, about the relative merits of nuclear versus other sources of power IRRESPECTIVE of whether they are atheists, agnostics, religious, capitalists, socialists, environmentalists, or anything else.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

response to the video of my talk on "Understanding Indian Spiritualities"

Please note that the video itself is at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AmUDjQ2aFTQ
and that the talk was organised at a Hindu temple in the USA by IndUS Forum: www.indusforum.org

A friend passes on the following feedback from her daughter:

" Watched both videos though skipped over some parts. Nice talk.
 Interesting Q and A. Christians don't follow Christ, it seems. And the explanation for  this statement is simplistic at best:  The crusades.  This when he started the talk saying all religions falter and we must attempt to first understand what caused them to falter and then try to learn from it.
And Hinduism is about what, five thousand years old?  In comparison the crusades happened in the first lap of Christianity.  I put it to Prof Guptara that just as Hinduism evolved from the Vedic traditions all the way down to its current Dalit crisis,so also the Christianity of today has evolved from its origins two thousand years ago.
 His second point is that the Pope is a head of state.  How exactly does that prove Christ is not being followed?
And of course he has to retain the right to arms. Look at the size of his "state". Landlocked 0.2 square miles. Every religious leader on the planet has a security detail. Why? Because it is practical. Same difference. The Vatican must be able to defend itself. 
Look at nature. Every creature, every flower has been given a means to do so. It is only used when needed but yet, it is inherent. That is the point-  Self-defense is the most basic of ideas."

I responded to my friend along the following lines: 
"Many thanks for passing this on to me!
My response (IF you wish to pass it on too!):
Indeed "self-defense is the most basic of ideas" - yet, you have obviously forgotten (or perhaps have never known?) that Jesus the Lord not only refused to defend Himself but also rebuked those who tried to use the sword to defend Him (please read the 26th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew) So anyone who tries to defend herself or himself is not following Jesus the Lord ...

BTW the Crusades did not happen in the first phase of Christianity (the first phase is generally considered to be the phase up to the 3rd century AD).  The first Crusade happened right at the end of the ELEVENTH century.  The last of the Crusades (the ninth) took place actually towards the end of the 13th century...

As to the matter of the Vatican being a "state": perhaps you have forgotten (or never known?) that Jesus the Lord did say that His Kingdom is not of this world...please read the Gospel of John, chapter 18, verse 36. So anyone who claims that her or his kingdom (or modern state) represents Jesus the Lord does not even begin to understand Him (only after understanding can one perhaps acquire the willingness to follow Him)

"evolution" can justify everything - the question is whether, in "evolving", Christianity has been or is true to its supposed Master or not - I submit that, on these and other major points, Christianity has been for some 1700 years (i.e. after the first phase) fundamentally untrue or unfaithful to Jesus the Lord

Please note that my position is that "many or most Christians may not follow Jesus the Lord, some clearly do; similarly, many or most Hindus may not follow Jesus the Lord, some clearly do - what is most important is not whether one is a Christian or a Hindu but whether one is a follower of Jesus the Lord; at root, the question is whether one is complacent and complicit in the status quo or whether one is really searching for God.

warm regards, with prayers and blessings


Saturday, 12 May 2012

Whose fault is the communalisation of India? That of the British?

A relative of mine sends me the following excerpt, actually from a mail from a friend of mine (though I don't think my relative realises that - the excerpt has obviously done the rounds!):
Before 1857, Hindus used to celebrate Eid, and Muslims used to celebrate Holi and Diwali. Muslim rulers, like the nawab of Avadh, Tipu Sultan etc used to organise Ramlila, give grants to Hindu temples, etc. It was after suppressing the Mutiny that the British decided that the only way to control India was by divide and rule. Hence a deliberate policy was laid down by the British to generate hatred between Hindus and Muslims. All communal riots started after 1857. The English collector would secretly call the local panditji, give him money, and ask him to start speaking against Muslims, and he would also call the local Maulvi secretly and give him money to speak against Hindus.

This poison was systematically spread year after year, decade after decade, until it culminated in the Partition of 1947 (see 'History in the Service of Imperialism', and Kajtu's article 'What is India' on justicekajtu.blogspot.in and the articles and the video on the website kgfindia.com). Even now, there are powerful vested interests promoting communal hatred. The truth is that 99 per cent people of all communities are good, but it will take a lot of time to remove the communal virus from our body politic. Today the situation is that whenever any bomb blasts take place, immediately Muslim individuals or groups are blamed for it.
I responded as follows:
This is further "mythification" of Indian history!
True, there were periods of Indian history when such poison was systematically spread by the use of state power (by Muslim Buddhist, Hindu, British and no doubt other rulers) 
However, it was quite common for Hindus to celebrate Eid and Muslims to celebrate Holi even when I was a teenager - at least in Delhi, where I grew up
Whatever the British did before that we can and should blame them for, certainly
but the "communalisation" of India, in the two or three generations that have passed after Independence, is the fault only and exclusively of us Indians ourselves
love from us all, as always

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Idols, icons, moorthies and God

At one of my recent lectures (video at http://indusforum.org/media - see the Q&A, part 2), one of the participants raised the question of whether our moorthies should be called “idols” or whether they should not rather be called “icons”. 

The relevant argument was first publicised by Rajiv Malhotra and runs something like this:
  • Our moorthies are not “idols” in the Biblical sense, since we do not worship the moorthies themselves, but worship God through the moorthies (with the moorthies representing an “aspect” of God).   
  • People in the West, who either do not understand our traditions, or want to deliberately malign us, call us “idol worshippers” and do us down by putting us at the same level as those “idol worshippers” against whom God, as understood by the Abrahamic religions, rails (and actually asks for destruction divine or human to be visited upon them).
  • Ergo: we Indians should not be called “idol-worshippers” but “icon-venerators”.
In the Q&A session, I had impulsively agreed with the participant– even though I was aware of the argument from Rajiv Malhotra’s work, I had not had the occasion to think through the pros and the cons of the position, nor been able to put any time into researching and thinking about it.

Later, some time after my response to the gentleman who asked the questions, I found that I had a little niggle in my mind about my answer, and I have now done some work on the matter, at least to a certain extent.   

So here are the considerations as I now see them: 

 A.  Is it true that we do not worship moorthies but only “venerate” them?  Well, as far as I can see, it probably is the case that many of us only “venerate” them, but millions of us do actually worship them – in offering them pooja, we are actually offering pooja to them, and not through them to the Almighty (chat with any Indian in a genuinely neutral way regarding what he or she is doing in pooja to any moorthy, and you will get the two answers I indicate above) 

 B.  So we should accurately say that “many” of us worship idols but many of us “merely” venerate icons. 

C.  Any moorthy is a “likeness” (that is the meaning, if you compare the use of the word across multiple linguistic and conversational contexts), so the question is: are ALL moorthies a “likeness” of God?  Or, to put it differently, are all moorthies a fair or trustworthy representation of at least one aspect of God?  Here we can have an interesting debate regarding what exactly the nature of God is, and whether each of these moorthies does in fact represent at least one aspect of God in some more or less reliable or trustworthy manner.  It could be argued that the greatest problem with Rajiv Malhotra's kind of position is not for the Abrahamic religions (where arguments could at least potentially be found to justify all kinds of Indian moorthies except those now-rare ones to which human sacrifice is offered – human sacrifice is the specific grounds on which the fiercest condemnation was expressed, at least in the Jewish Bible, though Islamic prohibition is much more sweeping and rather “blanket”, and Christians have been ambivalent about idolatry and iconolatry – or at least “icon veneration” - since the 3rd century AD (cf the practice of the Roman and Eastern Orthodox Churches).

D. When does ANY moorthy become an idol that is “worthy” of veneration or worship?  That is an interesting question in our traditions – of course, anyone CAN set up any moorthy or object and start venerating or worshipping it (photos or paintings of elders or ancestors are in fact so treated) but for a moorthy to be PROPERLY worshipped in our traditions, it is usually necessary for certain rituals to be done before it is considered “worthy” or “fit” for worship or veneration. See for example:  http://hindupad.com/hinduism-updates/installation-of-hindu-idols-in-west-richland-community-center-by-hindu-society-of-eastern-washington

 E.  If the icons or idols only “represent” an aspect of God, then it should not be necessary to go through elaborate hour-long rituals (actually, the particular ceremony hyperlinked above, like most such things nowadays, is a highly-reduced or shortened version of the rituals – the full versions can last days and weeks). 

F.  The fact that we do go through these rituals, and “welcome the gods” signifies that some force or personality is being invoked and summoned through the rituals, which is what is then worshipped, in such cases, and not merely “some aspect” of God (whether any, let alone all, such personalities or forces can be considered “part” of God is an interesting debate within our traditions, as well as in other traditions). 

G.  This is not to say, that many Hindus do not, in spite of such shortened (or even the full and proper) rituals, persist in regarding the moorthies as mere symbols of an aspect of Godhood - though this may apply more to (Western) educated Hindus than to illiterate Hindus or those Hindus who are educated partially or wholly in ways that are traditional in India.

H.  The words "icon" and "idol" have now been secularised (just as the word "wicked" has been secularised), so that any pop star is an "icon" or "idol": worship too has been reduced from such prapatti to a mere "high".  But halt!  Just because there are secular versions of a "high" (whether induced by alcohol or drugs or a phenomenon of mass hysteria) does not mean that these secular versions entirely contrast worship: these "highs" are merely a diluted form of "worship"

I.  The word "worship" means an external act which acts out the "worth" or "value" that I acknowledge the worshipped person or object represents.

In conclusion:  to the participant who raised the question in the temple, my response should have been much fuller and more nuanced.   

But that is of course the challenge on such occasions: there are many people wanting to ask questions, and if a full answer is to be given to each of them, then the Q&A session will not last a mere 300% as long as originally scheduled (as happened on that occasion – and then the Chairman had to cut it short!) but would last perhaps 3000% times as long!

Probably that is why it is best for questions to be posed and answered individually - which is also the reason why in our traditions, originally, there was little "preaching" (except after this was started by the Jains and Buddhists); till very recently, individual questions were the preferred mode of interaction, and it was indeed considered "not done" to ask or answer questions "in public".

The wonderful luxury that is offered to us by Skype and email nowadays is that we can, at least to a large extent, return to or continue that old tradition of individual interaction..  

So let’s make use of these modern media to ocntinue individual interaction with each other.

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Hindu Temple lectures: videos

Videos of my lecture at one Hindu Temple during my IndUS Forum tour are available at. 

The Q&A session is available at: