Vivekananda (was: IA migration etc., - scholarly debate)

Robert Zydenbos zydenbos at FLEVOLAND.XS4ALL.NL
Wed Mar 25 19:11:42 UTC 1998

Replies to msg 24 Mar 98: indology at (Vidyasankar Sundaresan)

 vC> For most people, image is indeed everything. The same holds
 vC> true for
 vC> most followers of the contemporary Sankaracharyas or even
 vC> devotees of
 vC> Sai Baba. Their pictures hang in homes and university
 vC> departments, but
 vC> how many read what they write? The myths and miracles that
 vC> grow around
 vC> their names have more power to make them relevant to most
 vC> Indians than
 vC> what they actually say or write.

But can we then still say that *they* are relevant?

There are some extreme cases where the views of a supposedly admired leader / thinker are distorted to their opposite. E.g., Madhva (in his Bhagavadgiitaataatparyanir.naya) has argued that is based on individual characteristics, not on birth, and he very explicitly says that one who is born a sudra but shows brahmin characteristics should be considered a brahmin. This is affirmed by his popular commentator Jayatiirtha. Yet I once caught two supposedly staunch Maadhvas in U.dupi quoting ;Sa:nkara (yes, the most popular enemy of all Maadhvas!) that in order to be a brahmin, one had to be born in a brahmin jaati (and hence I was condemned to ethnic inferiority. They did not know they were actually quoting ;Sa:nkara). When I pointed out this un-Maadhva-ness to my interlocutors, they simply flatly denied that my quotes from Madhva existed. So we can conclude that there are Maadhvas who consider some of the most striking features of Madhva's teachings not relevant.

Similar things happen with other religious figureheads, and V. is one of them.

>And when I mention that this same V. has written: "Caste is good.
>Wherever you go, you will find caste," people do not become angry at
>him, but at _me_ for supposedly calumniating this great man. (I
>certainly hope that this anti-scholarly attitude will not spread
>through the Indology List.)

 vC> I wonder why. People getting angry at you, that is. Isn't it
 vC> an all-pervasive Hindu notion that caste is inevitable, if not
 vC> divinely
 vC> mandated? What is so exceptional about the fact that V said
 vC> something
 vC> similar? Maybe caste is such an emotional issue that Indians
 vC> don't want
 vC> to hear anything about it from Europeans or Americans,
 vC> however well-intended.

That is probably an important part of it. Inflated egos of would-be spiritual people who want to impress a mere Indologist with their supposedly deep learning are another frequent cause.

Robert Zydenbos
zydenbos at

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