Purva Paksha and the Siren Song of Hindu-Christian Dialogue

via Dr. Vijaya Rajiva published on December 27, 2011

Author and writer Rajiv Malhotra has reported that he will be presenting  his discussions with Francis Xavier Clooney, Jesuit priest, scholar and professor at the Divinity school at Harvard Universtiy (USA)  as a model of interfaith dialogue. The present writer has previously critiqued this event (which took place at Harvard University) in the article ‘Francis Xavier Clooney : Building the Trojan Horse’ (Haindava Keralam 20/12/2011).

The word ‘dialogue’ and the phrase ‘interfaith dialogue’ have a misleading meaning in people’s minds, because they bring to mind visions of peace and co existence. However, the history of the two proselytizing faiths has hardly been one of peace and co existence and Shri Malhotra himself is quite aware of this fact  and as well of the current strategy of the Catholic Church to subvert Hinduism by the phenomenon known as inculturation.(See the book Breaking India by him and co author Aravindan Neelakandan). In the above mentioned article the present writer has mentioned some of the reasons why Mr.Malhotra has taken a u turn and has begun to engage in interfaith dialogue, or as Dr. Clooney put it bluntly, in Hindu Christian Dialogue.

At the Harvard event Mr. Malhotra told us that his new book Being Different calls upon the West to understand Hinduism’s different world view on its own terms and not through the categories of the Judaeo Christian and Western thought. He highlights the differences between the two systems and stakes the claim of Hinduism’s own brand of universalism.

For Hindus these are not new insights nor have Hindu thinkers especially since the 19th century been indifferent to the challenges of Western thought. And so  Mr. Malhotra’s own arguments  are nothing new and in fact they represent , in the writer’s opinion , a type of capitulation to the very adversary that he has encountered in Judaeo Christian and Western thought. He is also seeking an endorsement of his position from the very same adversaries. This is not just the beginning of the slippery slope, it is the slippery slope itself.

This is evident in his use of the ancient Hindu shastra of Tarka (philosophical argument) of which Purva Paksha is the first step. In his thinking Purva Paksha is a sort of ‘gaze’ by which Hindus can look at the West , rather than be looked at, which has been the case till recently. This is a misunderstanding of Purva Paksha as practised by Hindu philosophers, of all schools, whether it is Mimamsa or most notably that of Adi Shankara. With the Hindu philosophers there is a three fold process:

1.Statement of the adversary ‘s position
2.Rigorous refutation of the adversary’s position
3.Statement of one’s own position

The purpose of Purva Paksha was to defeat the adversary. Adi Shankara’s Digvijaya tour of India accomplished just that, as he took on various adversarial schools such as Mimamsa and Buddhism.

Mr Malhotra on the other hand has tried to accommodate the adversary. He has been misled by the word ‘dialogue’. In Western thought it is most associated with Plato. However, here the word ‘dialogue’ does not mean an accommodation. Rather in each and every one of the great and small  Platonic dialogues (36 of them) Socrates sets out to defeat the ignorance of his interlocutors through a relentless argumentative process, peeling away their layers of ignorance.There is no accommodation here. Our contemporary understanding (and that of Malhotra’s) of dialogue is neither Purva Paksha nor Platonic. It is a type of wishful thinking. It has its place in certain situations but not in the context of so called Hindu-Christian encounters, where the adversaries’ subterfuges need to be unmasked, not further covered over with meanderings.

Mr. Malhotra  is misled (and misleads the audience) into thinking that a friendly accommodation of the adversary’s positions is the same as classical Purva Paksha or Platonic dialectics. He is perfectly entitled to his own adventure of ideas and as an auto didact this novel experience holds him in a certain thralldom. And as with every author/writer he wants to communicate his ideas to as large an audience as he can reach.

But should Hindus take this seriously as an enlightening or useful experience ? Should young Hindu students, who already have been deprived of a first hand experience of their own civilisational and cultural experience by the colonial experience and its camp followers at the various universities, be further distanced from the aam admir Hindu and the traditional acharyas, gurus, maths etc. of India ? Perhaps the ‘gaze’ should now be critically turned towards Mr. Malhotra’s own arguments, especially as the Catholic Church continues to make inroads into the country.

Dr. Clooney’s eager sponsorship of these discussions may seem to be purely intellectual/spiritual/religious forays, but objectively, they are attempts at his own brand of inculturation. He has found a ready ally, a golden opportunity, to facilitate this process. It is not clear to any thinking Hindu as to why there should be a Hindu-Christian dialogue.  Or even an interfaith dialogue, especially one that is manipulated by interested parties. The two proselytizing faiths are guilty of dogmatism and exclusivity, not Hinduism. Why then the need for Hindus to engage as if they are also a guilty party ? If there are no mea culpas to be done, why should Hindus do them ? And what is the compulsion to seek the approval of the West ? Mr. Malhotra is entitled to his own adventure of ideas, but he should not take himself seriously as a defender of Hinduism, and nor should we. What do Hindus have to ‘dialogue’ about with a hostile adversary ?

Mr. Malhotra’s statement that he is not interested in politicization is misleading.
From start to finish the phrase Hindu-Christian dialogue is a misnomer. It is a heavily politicized enterprise and the author’s naivety is alarming, if not surprising. It is to be hoped that he will introspect and do a new u turn, and reject  the siren call of  Hindu-Christian dialogue.

(The writer is a Political Philosopher who taught at a Canadian university)

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