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Preface by Satyanarayana Dasa Babaji
The Ancient Indian Psyche
The thinkers of ancient India, the rishi-s and muni-s, had a deep understanding of the fact that the universe functions on some basic principles of rhythms of the cosmos known as ritam, and to this end, human life was organized at two levels: individual and social. Further, at the individual level, human life was considered in four parts: brahmacharya, grihastha, vanaprastha, and samnyasa. Considering a life span of one hundred years, twenty-five years were allocated to each stage of life. In order to be in harmony with ritam, an individual, as well as a society, must strive for the four pursuits known as purushartha-s: dharma, artha, kama, and moksha.
Each individual possesses unique characteristics, known as his/her prakriti or nature. According to ideal dharmic social thought, an individual functioned in society in line with his prakriti and was provided with appropriate education. At the collective level, society was organized into four broad categories called varna-s: brahmana (teacher/educator), kshatriya (warrior/king/ queen), vaishya (manager/business sector), and shudra (service sector). The varna was not birth-based but was dependent on the individual’s acquired prakriti. Every society, which functions as an organized unit, comprises these four unavoidable categories for its sustenance, propagation and prosperity. While these categories have emerged unconsciously all over the world, ancient Indian thinkers recognized it and provided a theory supporting the four varna-s to consciously organize society. Indian society was based on this template and functioned peacefully for thousands of years, scaled paramount heights and attained much glory.
Historically, many great personalities appeared to rectify the situation whenever balance was disturbed. Bhagavan Shri Krishna himself proclaims that He is the propagator of the varna system (Gita 4.13), and He appears to restore dharma whenever it is challenged by adharma (Gita 4.7).
This ancient system, however, started crumbling when Indian society was invaded by Western forces, primarily with Alexander around 324 BCE. Thereafter, it explained a downward spiral though its resilience was not completely eliminated. Even when India came under foreign rule, around 1192 CE, and later, under the prolonged rule of the Mughals, its education system was not tampered with and the varna-s survived. The fatal blow came in 1854, when the Indian education system was callously destroyed by the British. It was replaced by the Western education structure to produce clerks to help them control the vast empire. Unfortunately, Western education has no such insight into human life, leave alone the cosmic ritam. Tragically, even post India’s independence in 1947, no efforts were made to reclaim the millennia-old heritage. Instead, what continues to this day are the borrowed education system and the constitution of the West, which are a complete mismatch for the Indian psyche.
The Modern Indian Psyche
Modern-educated Indians are a confused lot. Not only have they lost faith in their own traditional values, they are also unable to embrace a Western lifestyle in totality. Most educated Indians portray a Western demeanor, yet in their private lives they practise several beliefs that emanate from ancient tradition, especially at times of birth, death, marriage and festivals. However, they are untrained in their ancient beliefs because nothing in the modern education system fosters them. They may know of and practise certain traditions but have forgotten and surrendered the true meaning and perform them out of a sense of ritual. The lack of sufficient knowledge about one’s own sanskriti, and training under the Western education system, has resulted in Indians developing an inferiority complex with regards to their rich sanskriti and dharma. Many derive pleasure in deriding the ancient sanskriti, revealing the unfortunate situation and reality of the modern Indian psyche. Furthermore, dharmic terminology has been inadequately translated into English. Terms such as atma, moksha, dharma, and prakriti are profound concepts in themselves; they are not mere words that can be translated into a single English word. The terms have to be understood and applied as they are; when translated naively into English, the terms lose their original deeper meaning, which has further led to devaluation of Indian sanskriti. To compound matters, a massive effort has been made by missionaries to digest Indian sanskriti into Christianity. The modern Indian psyche thus has to bear a great misfortune in losing its civilizational heritage.
The Torch Bearer
Several Indians are aware that Indian sanskriti is in peril and is being attacked by forces from within and outside. A handful of them are highlighting and being vocal about the danger of it getting lost and are making efforts to revive it. Rajiv Malhotra and Infinity Foundation are leading this resistance and revival. I first heard Rajiv at a WAVES conference in Florida in the US and was taken in by what he spoke. I was teaching a summer course in Hinduism at Rutgers University, and I was eager to meet Rajiv before returning to India.
When I arrived at Rajiv’s home, he was working on a manuscript. Even before I sat down, he shot a question at me, “Do you know how keen he was to know about achintya-bheda-abheda siddhanta I was instantly taken aback because studying and teaching the in fact, I founded an entire institute named after him. I had been working on a mammoth project for over two decades of translating and commenting on the magnum opus of Jiva Gosvami titled Shat Sandarbha. I never imagined I would make such a deep connection with an Indian living outside India, and one whose intense focus is on Hinduism. Rajiv Malhotra is an Indian intellectual warrior, who is fully absorbed in saving Indian sanskriti and fighting the breaking-India forces. I knew for certain that it was only by the will of Shri Krishna that we met. And although I did not know how, I understood that Rajiv and I had an important mission in common.
I left after our first meeting, excited to share my work and to hear Rajiv’s penetrating questions that would go on to refine my thinking with the pinpoint accuracy that he demanded. The first document I shared with him was a paper on achintya-bheda-abheda. He relished the paper, adding that it would be of immense help for his book. He invited me to help him in his work Being Different: An Indian Challenge to Western Universalism. I gladly obliged, as I felt life would be breathed back into Mother India. Our friendship cemented and we would meet during my teaching assignments at Rutgers. Over the years, we have recorded several videos on a variety of subjects. Three years ago, the idea of recording Sanskrit non-translatables arose. Rajiv had already introduced this concept in his book, Being Different. He proposed that we create fifty-four episodes on Sanskrit non-translatable words. I was very excited with the idea and over the next two years, we made video recordings at his residence in New Jersey, as well as at our center, Jiva Faridabad, in India. Jessica Richmond co-ordinated our recording sessions and organised the required material.
In the midst of the recordings, Rajiv suggested we write a book based off the content of the videos and I immediately agreed. With the fifty-four video episodes and this book, we are taking a big step forward to actualizing Rajiv’s mission. Just as Western terminology has entered the Indian psyche, Indian terminology should also enter not only Western, but also the modern Indian’s mind. This will be a great step towards reclaiming our sanskriti. I give my blessings that Rajiv Malhotra’s vision be realized.
Preface by Rajiv Malhotra
Since twenty-five years, Infinity Foundation has been challenging the prevailing narratives with groundbreaking research and provided original perspectives on dharma and its rightful place in the world. An important book published by the Foundation, Invading the Sacred: An Analysis of Hinduism Studies in America, in 2007, took aim at the Freudian psychoanalytic critiques of Hinduism being propagated by a powerful nexus in the Western academia and being spread among Indian intellectuals. The book gave birth to, and incubated, a solid and entrenched opposition that cannot be ignored today. It spurred the Indian diaspora to recognize the pattern of attacks on Hindu dharma under the garb of academia and audaciously ‘talk back’ to the establishment of Western scholars. This ‘reversing the gaze’ on Western intellectual elites found its way rapidly to India where it shaped a new generation of self-confident Indians. The term ‘Hinduphobia’ was adopted by Infinity Foundation to turn the spotlight on to a serious issue and it has now entered the everyday lexicon of serious thinkers worldwide.
Infinity Foundation’s next pathbreaking book, Breaking India: Western Interventions in Dravidian and Dalit Faultlines, detailed Rajiv Malhotra’s twenty years of research, talks, and writings on how external forces are trying to destabilize India by deliberately undermining its civilization. The book proved how such efforts are targeted at obfuscating, and ultimately aborting any collective identity of the present-day Indian, based on a positive view of his/her civilization. It exposed the foreign nexuses and applied the term ‘sepoys’ to refer to their Indian accomplices. The book highlighted that the project to intellectually fragment, or ‘break’ India targets Hinduism because it is seen as the robust foundation cementing its diversity. Several watchdog movements have sprung into action because of the book, Breaking India. It has triggered a domino effect with a plethora of researchers associating themselves with this genre of scholarship to expose more instances of the same syndrome. The theories and vocabulary introduced in the book are now used widely.
The next authoritative work by Infinity Foundation, Being Different: An Indian Challenge to Western Universalism addressed the central question: who we as Indians are, and what distinguishes us from others, especially from the West. It presents an original and coherent view of dharma as a family of traditions and unabashedly challenges the West’s claim of being the universal lens for studying world cultures. Western Universalism is unfortunately still used as the template for mapping and defining all cultures and therefore, it is vital to be conscious of its distorted interpretations of Indian traditions. Being Different has prompted a wide section of Indians to question various simplistic views and interpretations of their traditions, including some that are commonly espoused even by their own guru-s, family and political leaders. It is a beacon for serious intellectuals on how to ‘take back’ Vedic heritage by understanding it on its own terms.
Indra’s Net: Defending Hinduism’s Philosophical Unity, exposes the widely held thesis in Western academia that Hinduism is a recent invention. This fallacious and ludicrous argument was fabricated during British rule over India in the latter part of the nineteenth century, resulting in dangerous consequences even in post-independent India. The central point of this thesis asserts that Swami Vivekananda, one of the most renowned votaries of Hindu philosophy of the nineteenth century, plagiarized Western secular and Christian ideas and then recast them in Sanskrit terminology to claim their Indian origin. Besides critiquing this thesis, the nexus behind it, and defending Swami Vivekananda’s vision, the book puts forward a vision for the future of Hinduism.
The Battle for Sanskrit: Is Sanskrit Political or Sacred, Oppressive or Liberating, Dead or Alive? challenges Sheldon Pollock, arguably the most influential contemporary Sanskrit scholar in Western academia. The consistent theme underlying his entire work is to characterize Sanskrit as the root cause of all of India’s current social problems. This thesis attributes to Sanskrit a range of negative issues including social disharmony and lack of innovation. Arguments deeply damaging to the Indian civilization have been formulated by Pollock based on questionable assumptions and interpretations.
The Battle for Sanskrit addresses these issues head-on with a vigorous purva paksha or argument of Pollock’s Neo-Orientalist school of thought – an influential school that has spawned new adherents and created a lineage of Western scholars and Indian sepoys today. The book led to multiple conferences of Swadeshi Indology and triggered a greater awareness of the deep and insidious goals of Western Indology and the broader academia. The Battle for Sanskrit was precipitated by the proposal of an Adi Shankara Chair at Columbia University sponsored by the Sringeri Peetham (one of the four important peetham-s established by the philosopher Adi Shankara), whose Academic Committee was to be headed by Sheldon Pollock. The effect of the book and the awareness it created has discouraged sponsors from pursuing the establishment of such a chair. After the Shankaracharya, head of Sringeri, was personally approached and briefed on the contents of the book, he was convinced not to proceed with the proposed Chair. This created a huge controversy among Non-Resident Indians in the United States who had championed this Chair as a vehicle for popularizing themselves and advancing their own business interests. Infinity Foundation, however, has never shied away from controversy or risks when required for the sake of protecting the wider interest of dharma.
Infinity Foundation has also formulated, funded and implemented numerous major interventions which have affected the civilizational discourse in positive and non-trivial ways. The Foundation became widely acknowledged as the leader in influencing the way scholars are approaching their work on India’s civilization, history, archaeology, social sciences, arts, and other fields. Besides intellectuals, its work has deeply influenced people from various walks of life, not just Indians and people of Indian origin, but all
those who have an all-abiding interest in these matters.
The Foundation has been producing videos on several subjects that showcase the use and application of a dharma-based lens to study our civilization. This has resulted in a new awakening: to promote the use of our drishti (i.e., the ability to look through the dharmic lens). It has adopted the term kurukshetra or battlefield, to describe the present-day encounter of civilizations. The Foundation has expanded beyond the mode of pure research, and engages with the general public, providing new insights into the social and political dynamics at work in this kurukshetra.
The Foundation’s books have a common approach: to present an analysis of distorted theories and their effects, and to expose the falsities and assumptions, of these theories. The target readership is the serious intellectual in support of the Foundation’s aim to develop Intellectual Kshatriyas. These kshatriyas are using the Foundation’s core ideas and vocabulary to aid in the thinking, analysis, dissection, and strategic response to the attacks on dharma, thus providing new perspectives. Any coherent body of thought or knowledge system assumes a powerful impact as a thought carrier and a tool of change, in pragmatic and intellectual ways, if it is supported by its own consistent vocabulary. The histories and progress of a civilization can be seen as an evolution of its conceptual framework and vocabulary in understanding itself and the world.
The theory of Sanskrit Non-Translatables is one such powerful framework and has its own vocabulary of terms. It was introduced for the first time in the book, Being Different. The theory elucidated that Western scholars and Westernized Indians are accustomed to translating and mapping dharmic concepts and perspectives onto Western frameworks, which is a form of digestion of Vedic civilization into their civilization. Being Different argued that this practice is highly problematic. Dharmic traditions are compromised and some elements even atrophy once it becomes acceptable to substitute them with Western equivalents, even though the substitutes do not accurately represent the original Indian idea.
While this problem exists to some extent in all inter-civilizational encounters, it is particularly acute when dharmic concepts in Sanskrit are translated into Western languages. Not only does Sanskrit, like all languages, encode specific and unique cultural experiences and traits, but the very form, sound, and manifestation of the language carries effects that cannot be separated from their conceptual meanings. The non-translatable nature of Sanskrit and its deep meanings are compromised by the cultural digestion of dharma into the West through the inadequate translation of vocabulary. In the course of this digestion, crucial distinctions and understandings are lost, important direct experiences of the rishi-s sidelined, and the most fertile, productive and visionary dimension of dharma eradicated and relegated to antiquity. This loss is often carried out under the guise of modernity.
The current book takes these ideas forward and launches a new movement using Sanskrit Non-Translatables as a device for protecting key ideas from getting distorted, plagiarized, or allowed to become obsolete. The role of Satyanarayana Dasa Babaji has been critical as the subject-matter expert to explicate the nuances of meanings of the important Sanskrit words used to illustrate their non-translatability.
This book is not meant for teaching Sanskrit. It undertakes to explain the inadequate translation of many Sanskrit terms into English, which is commonplace. It spotlights several Sanskrit terms that are loosely and unthinkingly replaced with English translations and shows how the deep and profound implications of these words get lost.
Though primarily meant for the English speaker/reader, many of these discussions are also relevant to resist the usage of these English terms in native Indian languages.
Chapters 1 and 2 cover the rationale and need for Sanskrit Non-Translatables and ingeminate key ideas on the subject from Being Different. The discussion on the origins and unique nature of Sanskrit lays the foundation. The Non-Translatables will play a critical role in the kurukshetra as carriers of deeper ideas and embedded cultural assets, and in the encounters between dharma and adharma.
Chapter 3 through 11 discuss several specific non-translatable terms that are being carelessly translated. For each term discussed, careful and deep thought has gone into explaining why the common translations are inadequate and how they create distortions and confusion. The goal is to lay a strong foundation for readers to start using these Sanskrit words when speaking or writing in English. The aim is to instill confidence that the non-translatable words can be used effectively in everyday engagement in English, enriching the language with new ideas and experiences from the Indian traditions.
To ensure reader friendliness, diacritic marks for Sanskrit pronunciation have only been used in the notes. Most Sanskrit repeated in some cases. A Sanskrit term will often be accompanied provisional meaning in English. Many Sanskrit terms in the source – for instance, ‘Shankara’ and ‘Sankara’. Purists in Indian scholarship may raise issues with some of these compromises. But our battles are selected carefully and with focus, and this means making practical accommodations.
At certain places in this book where multiple interpretations of the shastra exist within our traditions, the Gaudiya Vaishnava sampradaya’s viewpoint is used as the basis for illustrating the non-translatability. This choice is not to preclude other traditional views. Satyanarayana Dasa Babaji belongs to that tradition, hence we use that view. However, we invite collaborations with experts from other dharmic traditions so that the full richness of each Sanskrit concept can emerge from various perspectives. The focus is to explain that various Sanskrit terms are not translatable to English words. Using a particular Dharmic tradition serves to illustrate this point.