First published at hindupost.in. I thank hindupost for jointly conducting this interview.
We published Part 1 of the extensive interview with Pandit Vamadeva Shastri (Dr. David Frawley) ji, where he spoke about spiritual significance of Deepawali, his journey into Hindu Dharma, the correct perception of Sarv Dharm Sambhav and the difference between Secularism in Bharat and America. We proceed on to Part 2 of the interview here.
Below is the interview transcript:
Hindupost –Sir, as soon as we try to incorporate things like yoga, meditation into schools, rehabilitation centres, for general well being, there is an outrage in the country regarding saffronization of institutions against the government. So what are your thoughts on it? Don’t you think its high time we proceed with mandating such things for well-being?
Sh. Vamadeva – First of all, the debate is going on in the west too, and some degree of yoga, meditation is being allowed although there again is resistance to it. But Bharat should go forward with promoting these disciplines that promote positive health and well being. There are many studies on meditation showing its value and that of pranayama. Natural healing is something that has grown in many forms through out the world, even Ayurveda…so these things of course should be taught, particularly in Bharat. For example, the British closed down the Ayurvedic schools; they also closed down many other schools, they also stopped the dancing & the arts; they tried to do this kind of cultural domination and subversion. So Bharat needs to reclaim its heritage.
Bharat has minorities that may have different views, but Bharat’s civilization is an ancient Dharmic civilization which needs to be preserved. Bharat’s tradition is not the one with this exclusivist religious belief; it is one that believes that we need to explore the science of consciousness and share that with our children and have that as part of education. Studies also show that all these problems of children like attention deficit can be dealt with meditation. So this definitely needs to be done. It needs to be gradually brought into schools, because you have to create the institutions, the teachers, the curriculum, the text books; thats been started with yoga, the protocol of yoga, different levels of training they are introducing. But you just can’t create a mandate, you have to create on the ground the facilities to bring about these teachings. We need to train more yoga teachers, we need to get Ayurvedic teachers who really understand how to apply authentic and traditional Ayurveda…this is being done, and needs to be done more in future.
Hindupost – Sir, we want to ask you about the status of women and this whole concept…there is lot of attack on Hindu society terming it as patriarchal. We know that its not really true, we worship goddesses, but beyond saying we worship goddesses, what is it that we should do? Though we worship goddesses but on ground there is a gap. How do we bridge it and how do we raise those issues without sounding westernized..and how should we explain this concept to the outsiders.. Please tell us about this sir..
Sh. Vamadeva – First of all, my wife Shambhavi who is from Bharat, is an expert in all these things and she can explain it to you quite well….but there are several things – first of all in terms of context, they are attacking all western religions as patriarchal also. But strangely, some of the feminist groups that have been attacking western religions as patriarchal are now defending burqas,which seems to be quite odd! That is not freedom of choice.
But in the Bharatiya context, you are absolutely right. Bharat has the oldest, most diverse and expansive tradition of worship of the goddess, the Divine Mother. In Christianity, Mary is not the mother of the universe, she is the mother of Jesus, there is no divine mother. Islam doesn’t have that. The pagan traditions have that but not explained in the same detail. So Bharat has that, it also has great women teachers like Anandmayi maa (Ammaji) who is doing wonderful work. There are many swaminis and yoginis there in festivals…
There is a gap at a certain level and that does need to be addressed. And for that, both the men and the women have to address it. Men have to admit that they are not honoring devi at a practical level in their own families as they should, but the women also have to recognize that the way to empower women is not through westernization and by following feminist influences. A lot of what is called feminism is basically following masculine values – aggression, assertion. There is this honouring of Shakti in the Bharatiya tradition. Shakti is the power born of Shanti – it is connected to nurture, it is connected to art, music, dance. There is a certain feminine beauty, you see.
We follow modern political feminism..there’s a very interesting story – there was a woman teacher (I can’t remember her name) and she came to America from Bharat to teach. She was brought to one of the American centres and they asked her ‘What do you think about women in America?’ She said, ‘I don’t know, so far all the women I have seen in America are men!’ So in other words, you have to be embracing the feminine values also. In the west it’s a big problem, because of the lack of feminine values, families are falling apart. We say in America ‘each man or woman for him or herself’!
Yes, there is a need to understand the deeper shakti tradition. Women do need to be empowered. You see, in the traditional society, you had limits because you had pre-industrial society, so taking care of children…but you had women also in urban environments doing things, you had women related to the temples and learning. But modern world is different, the dharma has to change, and there are many occupations where women excel – many of the healing occupations, communication occupations, child care, intellectual fields, artistic fields and so forth. So women have to be given that freedom just as men have more freedom today relative to jobs and other activities than centuries ago when they were limited to agriculture. And we can’t necessarily blame these groups..for example, there were families in traditions where women were trained to be dancers, so they were trained from birth and they had certain skills that people today are not going to have easily. So there’s nothing wrong with maintaining those traditions at a certain level, but there has to be freedom. Men have to recognize that they are not honouring the devi as much as they should. I think the power to change Bharat’s society, the shakti is there.
And the other things we have to remember, the government of Bharat is not supporting, the governments of west are not supporting, education for Muslim girls. In the madrasas, they are not getting real education at all, no modern education, not even the basics. It is not just a question of empowering Hindu women, there should be proper education for all the women and proper modern education for them. And a modern education doesn’t mean a political education, it means to be able to use computers, cell phones, communications…we need more women writers, a woman’s point of view brought out into the world, more women being brought out in the political arena.
And here it’s very strange that it is the Modi government which is often denigrated as anti-women, they have the maximum women (as MPs/ministers)..they are the ones that are supporting the rights for Muslim women. The so-called Left is not supporting the rights of Muslim women – Mayawati, Mamata Banerjee, even the Communist party will not support, although the Communists in Europe used to do that. And then, even the other rights of women..it was Mulayam Singh who blocked the bills to bring them into Assemblies and Parliament. That’s something the whole modern world needs to address.
But you also have to preserve the right role of women. For eg. it’s very good to have women in the workforce. But we shouldn’t denigrate women’s role for raising children. Men and women are not totally equal for raising children, men cannot give birth to the children. Basically, the child is closer to the mother in the earlier years, and that should be honored. Allowing and honoring the woman’s role in the home should also be there. In America, for eg., if the woman can’t raise her own children, the cost of day care etc. can be quite expensive. So it’s not that they aren’t earning money, it’s that they are saving money. There needs to be a balance there – respect the woman’s role in the home but the woman also has to be allowed to work in the public arena. Womens’ values, feminine values, and also honoring of shakti and devi has to be brought out. And India is Bharat mata, and that also needs to be honoured properly. Bharat’s independence movement – it was mainly Vande Mataram and people like Shri Aurobindo, who were followers of devi or shakti.
Hindupost – Sir, what should the Hindu society do to preserve and expand our culture, the key things… you travel a lot in Bharat and see Hindu families, what do you think is lacking? We find that a lot of people don’t want to tell their children ‘we are Hindu’ – should we assert to 4-5 year olds and tell them about our culture, history?
Sh. Vamadeva – We have to educate the children properly. They should know the fundamentals of Hindu Dharma before they go to school. So if the class doesn’t teach it properly, they would know. Who follows somebody who has an apologetic or defeatist attitude? Why will the children follow you if you are apologetic about who you are. In fact, you’ll see that sometimes people will follow very negative leaders who are passionate and assertive about what they follow! In fact, the western religions are much inferior to Hindu Dharma, they don’t have the Sadhana, the self-realization, the yoga, but they promote the belief very strongly, and that can be convincing for someone who has not been given an alternative point of view. So, obviously you do (educate children) and you have to follow a Hindu way of life. You don’t have to be overly pious, you don’t have to be rigid. Then, you have to make it interesting – the festivals are interesting, the teachings can be interesting, the practices, yoga, dance, rituals, music – it can be done in a very beautiful way. It has to remain alive.
Also, its interesting to note a study in America found that of all the different religious groups, Hindus have done the best job of maintaining their traditions and educating their children. And then you are talking about ‘apologetic’ because they are afraid that its offensive to minorities. But in other countries it is offensive to the majority if the minority asserts itself! So, you shouldn’t be apologetic, it has to be a matter of truth.
And some people I have noticed, have come to me and said, ‘We don’t like the Hindu word, we are Vaishnavas or we follow this guru, we follow Sanatan Dharma..we don’t want to use the Hindu word’. I tell them, ‘What do you tell Hindu children in America?’ They have certain religious choices, there is no choice for ‘Vaishnava’, there is no choice for other things… Hindu may not be the best possible word but that is the word that you are known by. That is the word the teachings are known by. If you got to a library, a book store, you won’t find these books under Islam or Sanatan Dharma or whatever.. you find those under Hinduism / Hindu Dharma. So we have to make that word meaningful, for people, and never be apologetic to your children. Was Vivekananda apologetic? Would anybody have followed him if he was apologetic? You have be strong, and be honest. The fact is, I tell people certain basic facts of Hindu Dharma:
- Hindu Dharma is the oldest religion.
- It is the most diverse.
- It has the greatest range of spiritual and cultural teaching.
- It understands the science of consciousness.
There is a group in America called ‘Hinduism Today’ and they produce a very nice magazine which you can get online, they have all kinds of resources explaining what Hindu Dharma is. They have a nice resource where they take all the religions of the world and list their basic views – what do they believe in, what do they practice, what do they do… you can go down the line and see if they are the same. You’ll see that they are not the same.
Hindupost – Sir, its been 2.5 years now since Modi government formed, it is perceived at least a little as a pro-Hindu government by the masses. What do you think are the 3 main things that the government should do in short-term or long-term, to contain the cultural assault on Hindu society?
Sh. Vamadeva – First, I want to put it in a broader perspective. Behind the cultural assault on Hindu society is a cultural and political assault on Bharat. When Modi took power, every institution in the country was bankrupt. There were no real economic plans, you saw all the scams, the armed forces were not honored properly…so, he inherited a monumentally difficult situation. There was also a resistant bureaucracy, media and academia to contend with.
So first of all they had to make sure the economy was sound. They had to make sure they had a strong military, but they also needed diplomatic support in the world. Previous governments had not built a decent alliance with foreign countries and Bharat had very little prestige in the world. That was also necessary for uplifting the country and giving it more strength economically. And then the Government has worked to bring in various factors…you can see now they are also dealing with the courts, bringing in the idea of a Uniform Civil Code (UCC). They have also changed a number of institutions in the country, whether it is the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR), the Indian Council of Philosophical Research, or Indian Council of Cultural Relations (ICCR), education…and are dealing with these issues.
But you have to understand that besides the period of British and Islamic domination of Bharat, the Congress, which dominated mostly since Independence, also followed either an anti-Hindu view or the view that Bharat would stay one if the Hindus would sacrifice their pride and interest for the sake of the minorities. The problem is, its a bad psychology because when you do a favor for someone and turn that into a right, then you can never take it back. So instead of creating national unity, this minority favoritism actually increases fragmentation and it makes these people feel outside of the country, or feel they need to assert themselves.
So Bharat is a strange country where for the majority Hindus to say “I am a Hindu” is regarded as almost subversive, communal. Whereas terrorist, subversive, separatist organizations are not called..for eg. some of these separatist organizations in Kashmir are not called communal; they are called militants and sometimes even ‘freedom fighters’! So that is definitely a problem.
I think the Government is addressing that, but we also have to address it in different institutions like the media, and academia. Changing the central government is very important, but it doesn’t automatically bring changes at all levels. For eg. a lot of educational issues are subject to the state level; and even in the states, the control of Hindu temples is going on. The people at the central Government do not support that, but it has to be changed at a state level. There was tremendous euphoria among Hindus when Modi was elected, but there were also some unreal expectations that if you change the man at the top you change everything, For eg., in America, the President cannot change the judiciary, the President does not make laws – laws are made by Congress and states in other areas have certain laws. But there has been a parivartan or major change in Bharat and the direction has changed. That is what is important to recognize – the direction has changed and Bharat will not go back to the old Nehruvian mentality.
There is a new generation in Bharat coming up, there is a stronger sense of national unity. We also travel and work around the country more than normal, and Swachha (Bharat) caught at a village level. Another thing in Bharat is that the bureaucracy was basically anti-Hindu, and for certain jobs in the Government you have to have a member who comes from the bureaucracy..I am not saying there are not good people in the bureaucracy, they are also there; but the majority is not in favor (of Hindus). The Government also reduced a lot of the corruption, and made a number of people who hadn’t worked, work. There has been success in implementing the right policies, and various institutions already have different people running them – so you can change the vision behind them. But things take time. So, essentially, to make major cultural changes, you need at least another term.
More mass support has to be brought about – for eg., the control of the temples is done at the state level. There need to be agitations at the state level to deal with that, while certain work can be done at the national level. But we also have to raise the Hindu point of view and makes sure the Government remembers the Hindu background, because they receive so much criticism from the other side….like we tend to respond to the one making..I am not saying you should make unconstructive criticism, we have to maintain the forward vision.
And the vision is not to make Bharat Hindu in kind of a outer sense. The issue is to raise the Dharma and give Hindus equal rights, and to have Bharatiya textbooks reflect the true history of Bharat which goes back…there was a time when Islam and Christianity were not there, so we can’t pretend. And we need to honor the civilization of Bharat, not simply teach what Bharat is according to western civilization. The educational systems of Bharat need to bring back the Dharmic traditions, the model of Nalanda, Takshashila..honoring the meditation traditions, the yoga..because this is also the heritage here, its not a question of another country.
Hindupost – Sir, one last question. In recent months, there has been a lot of hue and cry on the issue of cow, beef, the narrative around it. Lots of us, people on the ground, feel very sensitive about this issue. what are your thoughts – should we sacrifice the devotion to cow and its protection for the sake of whatever narrative..there is too much struggle on it. Or should we preserve it? Please tell us your thoughts.
Sh. Vamadeva – First of all, we need to understand the greater issue. Beef eating is one of the main causes of pollution in the world. More water is used in America at slaughterhouses than all the cities. So in America, progressive people do not eat beef, even on the left. The people on the left will not promote eating of beef, as its anti-ecology…its only in Bharat that they do it as a way of attacking one religion. Reduction of beef eating is ecologically progressive, vegetarianism is ecologically progressive, and there is nothing wrong about saying that. Honoring animals, honoring the cow is certainly a wonderful thing to do – the cow symbolizes mother earth, protection of the earth..that is it. Cow has always been a target of non-Hindu religions as a way of denigrating Hindus..they will say instead of honoring cows, Hindus ‘worship’ cows, which is totally incorrect. When you see Jesus as the good shepherd, you don’t say that Christians worship sheep or that they follow a God of sheep.
And then we have the issue of the cow vigilantes, and the issue of the Dalits. There has often been a discrimination against Dalits who have been involved in some way with beef or cows, and that is unfair…that is an occupation. The media can jump on those things. One thing in Bharat you have to understand is that there has been oppression of the Dalits, and that must be addressed. The Vedas teach that we are all one Atma, one purusha. The cow issue, they are trying to manipulate it politically, and that’s why it comes up at election time. And there is also this idea that, ‘The Hindus have brought up this issue.’ But they haven’t – this is brought up by the opposite side as a planned political strategy. And the other issue that comes along with it is that some of the gau rakshaks who cause violence are actually made up people that the opposition has planted to create a problem. And even some of the stories – there was that one person (film executive Barun Kashyap) who recently admitted that he made up a story that he was being attacked – so a lot of these stories have been exaggerated.
For eg., you had one person in Dadri who was supposedly killed for eating beef, that is objectionable but it is not a massacre. Many people are killed for various reasons, and I am not saying that this should be a reason, but it should be put into perspective that the fact is that there is a lot of violence against cows and there is also violence against people protecting cows – there is a actually more violence going in on that side because there is a lot of vested money in the beef business. And I often wonder how much money from the beef business overseas is also coming into Bharat to make Bharat..Bharat is the only place where you get the option of veg and non-veg on flights and other places; it is coming up a little more in the West, but its still fairly restricted. So the idea of protection of cow, which Mahatma Gandhi also favored, its an important part of the Dharma, but we don’t prefer cows over people. At the same time we recognize that there cannot be peace in humanity as long as we are mistreating animals.
And the other problem that happened in the Western world is that the cow has now turned into a genetically engineered item- they stay in a stall, they are overweight, stuffed with anti-biotics and killed at a young age…all the meat industries (too much of industrial farming) and it has extended to the vegetable farming how they have destroyed a lot of..so I think this issue needs to be understood in the proper context. But dont get yourself into this beef issue as a single issue, or as a freedom of choice of food. No one is saying that you cant eat beef, but that beef should be regulated, and if some areas want to ban beef that should also be accepted.
Hindupost – Sir, in several countries, like horse meat is banned in US..
Sh. Vamadeva – Yes, horse, dog and other things. So Bharat has certain choices that it can also make. But it has become more of a emotional issue. What I would say is that Hindus should all vote – there is no point in getting upset about an issue and not voting. On certain issues they should vote as Hindus – you shouldn’t just vote according to local issues..and particularly in national elections you should vote as Hindus, not simply in a religious sense but in a sense of the issues that are powerful for your community. Muslims vote as a community in America, Christians vote as a community in certain areas, Chinese vote as a community in certain areas. So exercise your right to vote and create long-term policies and strategies. But also, there are certain problems within Hindu society that can be addressed and improved..proper education must be there. And don’t expect the government to do everything, we also need more Hindu institutions – Hindu schools, not only for educating children but even outside..for educating people, the traditional Hindu temple always had education going on. Hindus need to understand their tradition, what they practice, what they follow, what their principles are and need to dialogue, discuss and debate in the modern media context.