In this blog I try to explain the concept of Hindu phobia and why researchers and Americans in general are skeptical and suspicious about Hinduism.
Americans first encountered Hinduism in the 60’s during the flower power generation. A lot happened in the 60’s, the Vietnam war in particular created a whole class of revolutionaries looking for an alternate form of life.
Some of the Hindu gurus at this time helped create a version of Hinduism that promotes sex and drugs. The hippies (as the people from this generation were called) started using Hindu icons especially Krishna and Shiva as an explanation for their lifestyle of drugs, orgies and sex. This was in complete contradiction to the Hinduism that was being practised in India which is based on conservative family values. The family values were similar to the American family values probably more conservative. These values were being spread by the so called “Gurus” who were promoting such activities and using Tantra as the explanation. These activities of the generation at this time created an atmosphere of skepticism and suspicion about Hinduism. It seems like even today despite the end of the so called 60’s flower power generation of drugs and sex, there is still doubt in the U.S. on Hinduism. Recently when Deepak Chopra gave a lecture on Hinduism and meditation, one of the ladies in the audience asked whether drugs were necessary to practise Hinduism and to meditate.
This general phobia toward Hinduism is prevalent in the American society and particularly among the researchers and scholars of Hinduism. For e.g. Jeffrey Kripal, one of the professors and scholars of Hindu Tantra and also one of Wendy’s former students, did indicate in his blog that he was heavily influenced by the Hippie generation and motivated by the Tantric teachings.
This phobia has resulted in the negative portrayal of Indians and Hinduism in particular in Hollywood and popular culture as well. For e.g. in The Temple of Doom, Steven Spielberg portrayed Indians as feeding on snakes and monkey brains, and also portrayed the image of Kali as a demonic goddess and her followers as black magicians.
In, “Holy Smoke”, an innocent Australian teenager (Kate Winslet) is mesmerized (hypnotized) by an Indian Guru and she goes to India. Harvey Keitel is sent to rescue her from this hypnotic trance of the guru and mysticism, again feeding to the popular stereotype of showing Hindu Gurus as the merchants of the devil.
Most of the works by the American Academy, I would argue have this stereotype about Hinduism and are looking to put the religion down because they perceive Hinduism as a threat to the very way of American life and their research serves as a cautionary tale to avoid the preachings of Hinduism at all costs.
For example refer to the following quote by Wendy Doniger.
“The Bhagavad Gita is not as nice a book as some Americans think…Throughout the Mahabharata … Krishna goads human beings into all sorts of murderous and self-destructive behaviors such as war…. The Gita is a dishonest book …”
— Wendy Doniger, Professor of History of Religions, University of Chicago.
Quoted in Philadelphia Inquirer, 19 November, 2000.[ i ]
In fact they would go to any lengths, such as mistranslations and purposeful inclusion of sexuality and eroticism even in the most sacred of Hindu scriptures thereby resulting in hurt and pain to countless religious Hindus. All this to abuse Hinduism and Hindus and to warn the Americans against learning these scriptures as they are afraid of the flower power and the sex and drugs to invade the American way of life. And Hindus and Hinduism become victims of their own paranoia.
Rajiv Malhotra in his blog talks about the Wendy’s child syndrome.
Here are a few examples of the blatant mistranslations aimed specifically to warn Americans and to prevent Hinduism from making inroads into mainstream American politics and way of life. These were taken from Rajiv’s blog describing the Wendy’s Child syndrome.
1. Sri Ramakrishna, the 19th century Hindu saint, has been declared by these scholars as being a sexually-abused homosexual, and it has become “academically established” by Wendy Doniger’s students that Ramakrishna was a child molester, and had also forced homosexual activities upon Vivekananda. Furthermore, it has become part of this new “discovery” that Ramakrishna’s mystical experiences, and indeed those of Hindu mystics in general, are pathological sexual conditions that need to be psychoanalyzed as such. Furthermore, these scholars have concluded that the entire Hindu society needs to be psychoanalyzed in terms of sexual deviance, in order to understand modern Indian society and politics objectively.
2. The Hindu Goddess is described by these scholars as a sex maniac, with a variety of pathological conditions. Western scholars are busy debating which kinds of pathologies best apply in specific instances, and are hard at work to capture supporting data in the backwaters of Indian society.
3. Other conclusions by these well-placed scholars include: Ganesha’s trunk symbolizes a “limp phallus”; his broken tusk is a symbol for the castration-complex of the Hindu male; his large belly is a proof of the Hindu male’s enormous appetite for oral sex. Shiva, is interpreted as a womanizer, who encourages ritual rape, prostitution and murder, and his worship is linked to violence and destruction.
4. Hindus are being profiled by these scholars, potentially setting them up for denial of the same human rights as the “civilized West.” For instance, anthropologists have concluded that nursing Hindu mothers do not bond with their babies the way white women do, that Hindus lack a sense of individuality because of their inability to perceive separation in space or time, and that the Mahabharata is best seen as Krishna’s Genocide.
If these scholars had reached similar conclusions about Islam, I can guarantee that they would be hiding for the rest of their lives from the Fatwah that would be issued. Hinduism however doesn’t have any such position. Our philosophy of non violence helped us win independence from the British however it isn’t helping our cause in this case.
Also it has been found that the scholars lack the knowledge of Indian languages and scriptures. Rajiv pointed out in his blog several such examples that Harvard professor Witzel found in Wendy’s works.
Wendy responded stating that words in Sanskrit can be interpreted in many different ways. In her book, Hindus an alternative History, she describes that in Harvard there was a joke that every word in Sanskrit means itself, its opposite and a sexual position. Probably she took the joke literally and has been using the sexual angle in the translation of Sanskrit works.
This is an abuse towards the mother of all Indian languages. Also one wonders if locker room jokes such as this are a pre-requisite for getting nominated for the book critics award.
I will conclude stating that the current stance taken by the American researchers is biased based upon the earlier experiences with the fake Hindu Gurus who promoted drugs, sex and violence. The research work is specifically aimed at showing Hindus and Hinduism in a bad light.
Just as a person who has never fallen in love cannot effectively write a book on love, in a similar vein a person may obtain a PhD in Hinduism, but will not understand it fully unless he or she personally experiences it. So I personally believe that the American academy needs Hindu scholars who practice Hinduism in their daily lives.