TL;DR — I am pursuing a part-time Ph.D. in Hindu Studies through the Hindu University of America. I am planning on specializing in Sanskrit studies. This post is about why I am doing this and what I would like to achieve out of this.
I want to learn the Hindu scriptures in their original verses (in Sanskrit), be able to apply the rigor of logical reasoning into them, and be able to bring out their relevancy to current times objectively.
I often find myself at the intersection of what appear to be dichotomies — technology and tradition, fact and faith, and conservative and progressive. While they appear to be dichotomies, are they really — Is it not possible to be factual and faithful? Are there scientific reasons behind traditions/ rituals? Such dichotomies intrigue me.
Swadharma [BG 3.35] refers to one’s dharma — one’s duties and responsibilities. In the contemporary world, one can relate the concept of Swadharma to that of ikigai, ‘the reason for one’s being’ — purposed of one’s life. It is determined based on one’s qualifications, aspirations, and nature (Swabhava).
As a technology analyst, I have a natural curiosity about how things work and how can one leverage technological innovations for a specific outcome. I also think I can connect the dots between seemingly disconnected entities. And I like to educate/ empower one with the necessary information so that one can make the right technological decisions. In short, my ikigai is to analyze and advise.
When I took a month-long yoga retreat/ training course in 2018, I realized the significance of my traditions which I have started to take for granted. I also realized how fortunate I am to be exposed to Hindu customs and traditions growing up, though I was not trained academically on Hindu scriptures. It also piqued my interest to apply logical reasoning into Hindu traditions. I was always drawn to the Advaita (Non-Duality) philosophy and this Yoga training provided me with a fresh perspective based on that — maybe be there is an overarching paradigm that connects apparent dichotomies mentioned earlier?
There is an interesting dichotomy of sorts about the understanding of Hindu philosophies and traditions — simplistically modeled between the right-wing vs the left-wing. However, it is a broad spectrum consisting of staunch believers, faithful devotees, nonchalant practitioners, ashamed followers, irreligious, bigots, woke, and those who vehemently oppose anything Hindu. What is missing now is a meaningful dialogue between these groups. Interestingly, the ancient Indian schools of philosophy included both theistic and atheistic philosophies, which appeared to have co-existed peacefully and engaged in symbiotic dialogues.
Given my background, interest, and inclinations, I aspire to be able to apply logical reasoning into Hindu scriptures and be able to bring out their relevancy to current times objectively. I am pursuing a Ph.D. in Hindu Studies to be able to do that.
I expect this doctoral program to prepare me to
1. gain necessary expertise in Hindu scriptures at breadth to establish me as a learned/ trained expert in Hindu traditions/ philosophies/ schools of thought. This includes sufficient proficiency in Sanskrit to converse fluently and study the scriptures in Sanskrit instead of relying on translations.
3. gain deep expertise in the Advaita Vedanta and explore its relevance to modern-day problems, for example, does practicing Advaita help with conflict resolution.
4. apply modern computing technologies such as Artificial Intelligence/ Machine Learning to study/ research/ analyze scriptures efficiently. [My term paper for the Bhagavad Gita course last quarter explored applying ML techniques on the Gita. As a pilot implementation, I also built a bot that can answer simple questions on the Gita. It was built using Microsoft Bot Framework and QnA Maker and I am trying to publish this as a Cortana skill now :)]
I hope to make the following impact with the expertise to be gained through this doctoral program.
I want to approach Hindu traditional scriptures with modern logical inquiry and bring those aspects of the reasoning to academia and popular media so that they are viewed with the merit they deserve. This way they are neither dismissed as mythologies nor treated as sacrosanct above questioning.
I also want to support creating volumes of work (along with like-minded scholars) to bring up the view of the colonized/ insider on Hindu traditions. The current perception of Hindu traditions is largely set through the lens of European colonizers.
I want to be able to connect (or contribute towards connecting) various schools of thought through meaningful dialogues. After all, ekam sad viprā bahudhā vadanti (‘the truth is one, the wise call it by many names’)!
The Hindu University of America has an ambitious vision of setting the standard for the study of the Hindu dharma and promoting dialogue across disciplines, cultures, and civilizations while enabling self-discovery, conscious evolution, and harmony. I would love to serve in this noble vision.
I have completed the first quarter (Winter 2020) of the coursework with courses on The Bhagavad Gita and The Mahabharata I. I am taking The Mahabharata II and Critical Issues in Hindu Studies now for the second quarter (Sprint 2020). I am also progressing in Sanskrit proficiency, preparing for Level II (Parichaya) through the Samskrita Bharati Distance Learning Program. This is a marathon — at this pace (6 credits a quarter) it would take about four years to complete the credit requirements (90 credits) alone :)
If you are interested in learning more about the Hindu University of America, please check out the web site. I would also recommend taking the introductory course on Hindu Studies (1 Credit Hour) to learn more about options available regarding Hindu studies.
I bow to my Gurus and seek their guidance in this pursuit.