Vamsee Juluri exhorts us to confront the dangers of Hinduphobia by bravely positioning Hindu wisdom as the teacher for humanity’s future
ONLY THE TIMELESS WISDOM of Hinduism, says Vamsee Juluri in his book Rearming Hinduism, can bring peace and harmony to this war-torn world. Yet academia and the mass media have jointly espoused a Hinduphobic view. By definition, phobia means “an extreme or irrational fear of or aversion to something.” In a modern context, Hinduphobia refers to the penchant of certain scholars, writers, editors and media producers to focus on negative constructs of Hinduism: what they deem to be culturally strange, backward, oppressive, a perpetration of social injustice through the caste system, religious nationalism, right wing extremism and even fascism. To those who were born into or have come to the Sanatana Dharma through family traditions, rich temple culture, art, scriptures, guru lineages and yoga, this view seems unthinkably ignorant of Hinduism’s true nature, yet it exists. Juluri believes that Hinduphobia is a very real problem for the future of Hinduism that we must all take seriously.
The back cover explains, “Rearming Hinduism is a handbook for intellectual resistance. Vamsee Juluri shows us that what the Hinduphobic worldview denies virulently is not only the truth and elegance of Hindu thought, but the very integrity and sanctity of the natural world itself. This must be recognized, exposed and countered with the truth wherever it appears. Rearming Hinduism links Hinduphobia and its hubris to a predatory and self-destructive Western culture that perhaps only a renewed Hindu sensibility can effectively oppose.”
Acharya Vamadeva Shastri writes, “Juluri’s book is arguably the best study available on the challenges to Hindu dharma in the media age, and richly deserves a wide examination in order to correct prevailing deep-seated misconceptions about Hinduism.”
Juluri believes a renewed understanding and integration of the wisdom of Sanatana Dharma can rearm Hindus not only for the defense of our faith but for the work of healing the planet. His expectations are high—even imagining a future in which Hinduism is regarded as humanity’s world leader, making Hinduism the World Teacher for all of humanity. In his preface the author writes: “Hinduism is a resource, most of all, for living intelligently. It is a form of culture, an expression of sensibility, a way of harmonizing science, philosophy and ethics in a people’s every thought, word and deed. You can call it a religion, a way of life, or a civilization; you can call it what you will. But no word will suffice. A billion people on this earth still call God by the same names that people did thousands of years ago. What exists on this earth unchanged for that long? Your culture’s existence is a triumph of survival.”
But Juluri counsels against complacency: “Will your Hinduism still remain when your children grow up or when their children come? We have scientists and CEOs everywhere. We are considered a model minority in foreign countries. We build temples, enjoy our yoga and our wisdom being discovered by everyone. We feel triumphant that someone who respects Hindu sentiments has won the election in India.
“But what we don’t quite realize is this: there will be, and there already is, an intellectual and political backlash. Rebuilding Hindu civilization is something that everyone of us must be doing, one personal, meaningful vision of Hinduism at a time. It has to be done, because even our Gods and Goddesses, even our past glories, real and imagined, and most of all, even our success and pride, cannot guarantee the survival of Hinduism if we do not intellectually confront the existential challenge threatening Hinduism today.
“We Hindus stand accused of being the Nazi-like conquerors of India. Hindus stand accused of being fundamentalists. Hindus are accused of being everything we are not. What we face today is extremely devious and dangerous. The attack comes from not only those who openly differ from us on religious grounds, but through a very ingenious device: they say they are not against Hinduism, but only against Hindu extremism. Virtually every book, article and argument made by the world’s supposedly leading important and celebrated intellectuals today says the same thing: in the name of criticizing Hindu extremism, they savage the entirety of our religion. If they are not challenged, intellectually and culturally, soon our names, Gods, Goddesses, festivals, sacred scriptures, everything that makes us who we are, will be defined by them as something that it is not.
“If the things that they write about Hindus as truth were written about women, blacks, gays, Muslims or any other community today, they would be laughed out of their offices for their bizarre 18th-century racism. But the ignorance against Hinduism is not a joke. It has consequences.”
The Ideologies of Anti-Hindus
In the first part of his book Juluri exposes and refutes what he calls the Academic Maya Sabha (which could be translated as the Congress of Academic Illusion) and four key myths that non-Hindu Western intellectuals propound about the religion. He has a chapter for each myth: The Myth of an ‘Alternative History,’ the Myth of Aryan Origins, the Myth of Vedic Violence and the Myth of Hindu History Without a Hindu View of God. He writes, “I focus on Wendy Doniger’s controversial The Hindus: An Alternative History as an example of Hinduphobic historiography, because this book, more than any other, now defines current thinking in academic and media circles about Hinduism.”
He continues, “The challenge that Hinduism faces today comes not from governments or armies, but from two institutions, modern academia and the mass media. Hardly one hundred years old, yet the ideas in each have become tremendously influential around the world. So influential, pervasive and normative, that unless we learn how to question them, and how they tell the story about the world, we will forget who we really were altogether.
“There are three things going in the discourse about Hinduism today. The first trend, the one with the most urgency and authority, comes from the left-secular academic position that narrates alternative histories and promises subaltern recuperations. This is the position published exclusively by the New York Times and the Guardian, the liberal beacons and in elite circles in India, too.”
A second trend is that any Hindu reacting to the absurdity of the Western portrayal of their culture is treated as a straw man by critics. Any and all advocacy or defense of Hinduism or attempts to change the discourse by Hindus who seek simply to ‘find a rational, meaningful story about themselves in the modern, global world’ are characterized as ‘Hindu nationalism, extremism, fascism or fundamentalism.’”
“We are not a religion of dead Gods, but living ones. With each generation, our Gods and Goddesses live anew.”
The third and almost invisible trend makes academics study a movie like Slumdog Millionaire with all its caricatured Hollywood hoax Hindu jargon about fate, its Hindu villians oppressing poor little Muslim boys and describe it as enforcing Hinduism on us. Believe it or not. That is how blind academia is today to its most pernicious prejudice. This, simply is Hinduphobia. Our goal in this book is to name it, expose and demolish it.”
A Hindu View of God
In the second half of his book Juluri passionately advocates several Hindu paradigms that he feels relate directly to humanity’s modern condition. “We are not a religion of dead Gods, but living ones. With each generation, our Gods and Goddesses live anew, seen perhaps in the limited mirrors of the idioms and meanings that each desa (region) and kala (time period) give us, but undiminished still in the hope and exultation they embody for us, that sanatana (eternality) of love. Our turn to the past must be about that, the duty we have to teach our children not just facts and figures, but the eyes to see beauty in this world, the heart to know gratitude and kindness and most of all the hands to build it all anew, ever more.”
The chapter “Tvameva: You Alone” describes the Hindu sense of origins and the voice of our Vedic scriptures. “Hinduism’s view of God is rooted not just in the texts and philosophies that come later in history, but in the love that all lives know. Our eternities are protoplasmic, Our origins are in life. We cannot presume to know it, that one thing from which all has come, so we just call it Mother. We don’t reject science, and we can accept a physical view of our cosmic origins too. But in the beginning, modern Hindus are fond of saying, the Sanatana Dharma was everywhere, then all the other faiths and religions emerged out of it. What if the sensibilities that inform Hinduism go back even further than that? What if the Sanatana Dharma really was the primeval and universal way of knowing the world? Sanatana Dharma, for me, began whenever a living being held its young with love and affection in this great earth.”
Drawing from the heritage of the Vedic Upanishads, he writes, “Brahman, the One that is Everything. One thing that seems like many things. Everything is Everything. To think it is one thing, to feel it is one thing. To know it is, above all, to also be it. Hinduism is sensibility, not doctrine. It is what we feel and not what the experts say it’s about.”
The chapter “Cousins and Friends” speaks of the immediacy and closeness with which Hindus relate to God and Gods. “Our Gods are our investment in the greatest meanings we can give to our existence and to our struggles as human beings.” Juluri talks about the animal manifestations of Lord Vishnu and, unexpectedly, opens up the huge issue of Homo sapiens’ relationship to other animals and our diet. “We humans do not have to kill to eat anymore, unlike the eagle or the tiger. Yet, we still do. And we humans kill each other, too, massively. How can we ever learn not to do so? Only the great love will teach us. We are speaking a language of the heart that goes back to a time when human beings did not see themselves as different from the animal world.”
The closing chapter, “Teacher,” proposes that it was the interface between the violence of foreign colonialism and Hinduism in India that has given rise to a new era. “The history that created the present is only this: foreigners steeped in violence collided into Hinduism five hundred years ago and the first truly world civilization was born. We might have been conquered, but we were never defeated. We retreated strategically for a few generations so that Sanatana Dharma could learn the customs of this modern world. Now that we have learned, we will teach again. We asked who we are. Krishna answered. ‘Jagat Guru, World Teacher.’”