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Indian Thought Is Not Understood In America

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I was quite shocked when I discovered that Indian philosophy is not being addressed properly in American universities. In fact, only two American universities offer a doctorate in Indian philosophy. In general, Indian thought is not considered philosophy but is being taught by the departments of religion, and badly at that, or by the departments of anthropology. This results in a complete misappreciation if not misunderstanding of Indian thought and consequently, the values of India.

One reason is that Western scholars have been shaped by Greco-Semitic concepts (concepts arising from the Grecian civilization and Semitic religions), and often cannot grasp the richer complexity of Indian philosophical thought. Hinduism, for instance, is usually perceived as being polytheistic; in reality it is both monotheistic and polytheistic — believing in one God taking different forms of manifestation.

It was another shock when I discovered that quite a number of Western scholars appropriate Indian philosophical concepts without quoting the sources, as if they were the results of their own original thinking. And I learned that the situation at American high schools is no better: there is inadequate understanding of India and Indian thought, and the Hinduism portrayed is dominated by negative stereotypes.

There is one exception to this, namely Buddhism. The Buddhists have good scholars, themselves practicing Buddhists, who teach the Buddhist religion. This also has to do with the fact that the Dalai Lama told his followers to go out and teach the traditions to keep it alive. So Tibetans went out and got their degrees in Western universities, and now they are teaching all over the world. But Hinduism, Sikhism or Jainism are often being taught by Americans, who themselves believe in other religious systems!

This is even considered desirable in the name of ‘objectivity’, while the same arms-length rule does not apply to Christianity for instance, which is taught by Christians and even preachers.

Educational Council on Indic Traditions

To address these problems, the Educational Council on Indic Traditions was created. One of its first aims is to fund a survey by some nationally recognized opinion polling firms to find out what the prevalent American attitudes, opinions and beliefs are about Indic traditions. They will, for example, poll schoolteachers, college students, very committed churchgoers, etc., to find out what these different demographic segments of Americans think about Indian traditions. Such a survey has never been held before and its importance is immense.

For, based on the information gathered by this survey, the Council will identify the most common stereotypes about Indic traditions, and then challenge them. There are various ways to do so. One is to fund the creation of a library of materials on India and Indic thought. The slide show, The Genius of India, which was recently produced by Auroville Press, is an excellent example of the type of materials needed. Other such slide-shows or films are needed, in order, for example, to challenge certain in-baked assumptions that poverty in India is a result of its Hindu religion.

I would also like to see a whole series of works on The History of Ideas. This would show that many of the ideas that have come out of India (such as language, mathematics and logic) are not attributed as such. This process of non-attribution continues today, often quite accidentally. For instance, Carl Jung scrupulously documented his Indic sources; but his students tend to attribute the ideas about consciousness and the human psyche and so forth, to Jung himself.

Lastly, the results of the public survey will be used to show to the school boards and universities in America that there is an absolute need for them to change the way in which they portray Indic traditions. It is important to address these issues through the academia for the majority of Americans form their values and their beliefs in an academic setting.

Lack of Scholars in India

The Council’s work will only begin once the survey is finished. For, there is a severe lack of good scholars, with proper academic credentials, to teach Indic thought. I found that even Indian universities do not specialize in Indian philosophy but concentrate instead on Western philosophy! So even when I succeed in convincing American universities to endow a chair or program in a particular branch of Indian thought, there are no suitable candidates available to fill that post. That is a distressing state of affairs, and it needs to be addressed.

The Council will also have to put energy in to the Indian academic institutions. It is necessary that India produce scholars of international standing that can teach Indic thought in all its aspects. For example, Sri Aurobindo represents in its most modern form and concept, Indian philosophical thought as it has developed over thousands of years. Yet I cannot find a single university in India that can supply me with scholars having doctorate degrees in Sri Aurobindo’s thought.

If we could create a ‘Chair of Sri Aurobindo Studies’ in the philosophy or psychology departments of the main Indian universities, those who get a degree there would be able to fill academic positions elsewhere, e.g. in the US, and Indic thought would get recognition. The Council intends to fund such chairs, as well as the research and dissemination of Indic thought, so that a body of scholars in different Indic traditions with strong academic credentials will be created.

Another way is to bring academic people from America to India and let them see for themselves. I have two high school teachers with me on this trip. And this is an area in which Auroville could play a most important role. Auroville is unique: you have people here, steeped in Indian thought and of great sincerity and commitment, which can bridge the cultural gap. We need to make maximum use of the resources you have built. We could also collaborate on the production of educational materials.

More generally, I think Auroville needs to have a global outreach program. I don’t know if you are ready yet — maybe it’s too early. You are unknown to most of the world. But Auroville should be part of the movement in US variously called Consciousness Studies, Human Potential, post-Christian spirituality, etc. You should attend important conferences and have a presence there — as Auroville. You should present your story.

Published: 2001

  • Kautsa

    Dear Mr. Malhotra,

    Please see Jonardon Ganeri for scholars who specialize in Indic philosophy. There is a dearth of scholars who specialize in Indian philosophy, yet Ganeri– as B.K. Matilal’s student– is happily accepted for now.

    Buddhist philosophy, as you yourself have commented, is well covered. Often, when those philosophers tread into Buddhist opponents, non-Buddhist philosophy is covered.

    Unfortunately, I don’t consider people like Vivekananda, Aurobindo, and Jiddu Krishnamurti to be “philosophers” and feel that they cheapen the brand of Indian philosophy. Ganeri himself has written that people like Vivekananda and Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan inexplicably downplayed traditions of analytic philosophy in India to prop India up as a spiritual nation. Aurobindo and Krishnamurti particularly are 20th century equivalents of Joel Osteen. Vivekananda draws from Vedanta, but ultimately is no great philosopher in his own right.

    I don’t want a Chair of Sri Aurobindo Studies. I want a Chair of Bhartrhari Studies, a Chair of Nagarjuna Studies, a Chair of Yasovijaya Gani Studies.

    • Heraclitus kapila

      Two years late but you hit the nail on the head. It is the analytic tradition that brought about mathematics from NAgarjuna to Brhamagupta, The brought about the philosophy of language from Panini to Nagasena

      • silentalan123

        Analytic Philosophy is one of the branches of Philosophy, not the be all and the end all of philosophy. In Ancient India, it was called the Nyaya-Vaisheshika school which devised a system of logic comparable to the western logical schools. There were 4 other philosophical schools in India, Sankhya, Vedanta, Mimansa and Yoga which had distinct philosophies but not necessarily followed the logical route of Nyaya. Academic Western Philosophy had this unfortunate schism that appeared early last century where American schools started emphasizing only the analytic tradition and relegated the traditional metaphysical disciplines into “Continental Philosophy” , comparable to the speculative schools of Indian thought. This has been a major tragedy for world thought as Reason and its logical exegesis is a limited tool in the investigation of reality as Sri Aurobindo explains in detail. Reason by its very nature is capable of justifying diverse positions and none of them need be closer than others to the truth. Thus saying the Sri Aurobindo and Vedantic schools are not worth studying is just being ignorant of the depth of Indian Philosophy which always equated Philosophy as a means to bring happiness on earth and not just a discipline for mental gymnastics which it is now in the west.

    • Heraclitus kapila

      You missed point. The Schism between Wittgenstein and Heideggar is the result of the dichotomy oi western thought where analytic philosophy calls for a divrce from ontology, thus giving free ride to its social philosophers to run around with the default understanding of the world and self, I disagree that there is a logical difference between even Charvaka and Samkhya, The pramana may have lesser legs in Buddhism and Charvaka but there is a distinctive connection between ontology and epistemology.PT Raju explains the connection between mathematics and ontology , something that the west shys away from. The modern Indian philosophers like Vivekananda are fine but their mission is to explain to the west what indian philosophy is about. My point is clear that indian philosophy is taught as a butique exotic culture not serious of the West;s cinsideratio. My point is that forhet the west. They do not undersstand how Indian mathematics is the offshoot of a kind of thinking that was prevelent in India. In a way you are supporting my thesis, For instance the concept of partial truths in Jains is applicable to relativity in physicsas well as in social philosophy.
      The concept of Maya may just be aconcept of relativity. The world is relatively real.
      The systrm of Nyaya is more comprehensive then Aruistotle’s limited deductive system.
      In a way wittgenstein did try to bridge that gap in his later philosophy

  • Pshakkottai@hotmail.com

    This is about Intellectual traditions in Vedas, more precisely, Suryasiddhanta, about planetary sizes.

    The planetary sizes are given in the Suryasiddhanta in the Vedas. How did they do it?

    They knew planets were spherical and had measured orbital periods and information such as what Kepler collected such as

    d^3 ~ T^2, d being the distance to the planet and T its orbital period.

    How do you get d ? By comparing moon- earth to earth -sun for a start.

    the figure shows how. It is 108 Dsun. The angular diameters of the sun and moon are the same as seen from the earth. (total solar eclipse shows that)

    The other planetary distances are from scaling with known Dsun=108*Dearth.


    The formation of the Solar System began 4.6 billion years ago with the gravitational collapse of a small part of a giant molecular cloud.


    Most of the collapsing mass collected in the center, forming the Sun, while the rest flattened into a protoplanetary disk out of which the planets, moons, asteroids, and other small Solar System bodies formed.

    This model, known as the nebular hypothesis, was first developed in the 18th century by Emanuel Swedenborg, Immanuel Kant, and Pierre-Simon Laplace. Its subsequent development has interwoven a variety of scientific disciplines including astronomy, physics, geology, and planetary science. Since the dawn of the space age in the 1950s and the discovery of extrasolar planets in the 1990s, the model has been both challenged and refined to account for new observations.

    The Solar System has evolved considerably since its initial formation. Many moons have formed from circling discs of gas and dust around their parent planets, while other moons are thought to have formed independently and later been captured by their planets. Still others, such as Earth’s Moon, may be the result of giant collisions. From


    Angular momentum is usually stated in kg m^2/ sec, whereas the data is in km and days.

    Angular Momentum in the Solar System

    To change days into seconds, multiply by 24 · 60 · 60. To change km to meters, multiply by 1000. To change orbital radius into distance, multiply by 2π.

    The angular momentum L of an object of mass m moving in a circle of radius r, with linear speed p is given by

    L = 2π m r^2/ p. (Not correct.) But the table is OK.

    The formula is incorrect. It is multiplied by rotation rate not divided by.

    The angular momentum constancy means I *Omega = const

    M(i) d(i)^2/T(i), for the ith planet. If this is assumed constant, M(i) can be found. Because M~r^3, what is constant is

    r(i)^3* d(i)^2*T(i)^-1 and variations of r(i) are much reduced from vatiations of L(i).

    L(i) is not strictly constant. When the initial solar system condensed, gases redistributed orbital velocities by friction and later collisions. It appears the ancients assumed L to be constant for all planets to get planetary diameters which is a spectacular result based on conservation of angular momentum! Highly original thinking (any time but amazing in 700BC, 2500 years before Newton!)

    Vedas knew planetary sizes.

    From Indian Civilization Part 2 : Astronomical Observations By Raj Vedam, Jan 2016 rajvedam@yahoo.com

    (all dimensions (2r) in miles)

    Mercury 3008 (Vedas) 3032 (Modern)

    Saturn 73882 (Vedas) 74580 (Modern)

    Mars 3772(Vedas) 4218 (Modern)

    Venus * 4011 (Vedas) 7520 (Modern) ocean of CO2 + rocky core

    Jupiter * 42624 (Vedas) 86881 (Modern) gas giant

    (*Maximum discrepancy with least earth like planets. Saturn has no discrepancy even though it is also a gas giant.The gas in this case is heavier methane.There was no way of finding composition of gases or even if they were gases at all, in 700BC, 2500 years before Newton!