Guest Book

Guest Book

Michael Witzel, Department of Sanskrit and Indian Studies, Harvard University:

“The Indus Valley civilization was the largest scale civilization among all ancient civilizations in the world, covering the whole northwest of the South Asia, including the plains of the Indus, its tributaries, and the surrounding areas (stretching from eastern Afghanistan to Delhi, from the Himalayas to the Indian ocean, and from Baluchistan to Gujarat). It was thus significantly larger than the civilizations west of it, and it also was significantly more advanced and technologically more skilled in many ways.

“For instance, water management and other infrastructure in the cities was far ahead of other places;and faience beads were more developed than anywhere. Such items are detailed in a recent comprehensive summary by one of the two project leaders excavating at Harappa. (Kenoyer, J. M. Ancient Cities of the Indus Valley Civilization. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 1998)

“The transition from hunting and gathering to agriculture in the Indus Valley is now dated about 7000/6500 BCE, based on excavations by the French scholar Jarrige. Agriculture developed more or less at the same time everywhere from Egypt, Palestine, Mesopotamia, Turkmenia, Afghanistan and the Indus. An interesting point is that the Vedic word for ‘wheat’, ‘godhuuma’, and the Dravidian ‘godi’ have West Asian relatives: ‘gantuma’, ‘hant’, ‘kent’ etc.

“Scholars are now certain that Harappa was an indigenous civilization, and not one imported from anywhere else. Indigenous early writing at Harappa is now attested already at 3300 BCE, that is, at the same time that Egyptian and Mesopotamian writing developed. There was mutual influence and trade between the Indus and Greater Iran and Mesopotamia – distinct Indus seals have been found in ancient sites in Israel, Iraq, and the Persian Gulf.

“Regarding the previous view that Aryans ‘invaded’ India, this is now challenged by recent findings in archaeology and textual studies. It would not be an authoritative claim that any such ‘invasion’ happened, even though the actual process of cultural development and/or transfer is still unclear. A more detailed study of South Asian genetic data will probably help. A new book in press by Edwin Bryant (currently at Harvard), takes the position that there was no invasion or immigration into India by foreign ‘Aryans’. Enormous pioneering developments were made indigenously in the Indus area, which is not to exclude the possibility of outside influence, but the nature and magnitude of this influence was much smaller than previously believed.

“It seems clear now that the Vedas were entirely composed in India, not in Central Asia as sometimes conjectured. Vedicists now stress that the term ‘Aryans’ in the Vedas referred not to a ‘race’, but to members of a particular culture that was already indigenous in northwestern South Asia by the time the earliest Vedic texts were composed.”

Steve Tainer, author and teacher:

“The precise, well-reasoned and insightful teachings of the East involve actually being alive, being in one’s life, rather than merely speculating in a disconnected way as is common in the West. This depth should not be written off as ‘mysticism.’ It is a proper requirement for clear thinking and investigation in general, but is often ignored because it is beyond the capabilities of many educators and the expectations of many students in Western institutions of learning. My own Tibetan and Chinese teachers are always amazed that people either discount Eastern knowledge or seek in it something weird. What is missed in either case is not just something Eastern, but something human and bearing on many issues of fundamental importance. This is a sad loss for everyone, East and West, in all fields, not just ‘religious studies.’ One of the great opportunities and challenges of our time is to acknowledge Eastern insights and integrate them with Western knowledge and perspectives, in a way that does justice to both. I doubt that a good modern education and preparation for living amidst the 21st Century’s complexities and rich global culture could consist of anything less.”

Prof Richard Hecht, Chairman of Religious Studies Department, University of California, Santa Barbara:

“In the culture wars over the general education curriculum in America, typically when a non-Western curriculum is initiated, it is really to serve the interests of race and gender. Religious thinkers of Asia and their contributions to world civilization are excluded.”

Lance Nelson, Professor of theology, University of San Diego:

“As we enter the twenty-first century, North Americans discover more and more that Hindus, Buddhists, and followers of other Indic traditions of thought and worship are no longer exotic aliens but are closely present to us as neighbors, co-workers, and friends – as partners in trade and culture-creation. Indeed, we discover that we North Americans are, in significant part, Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, and Sikh – as are a billion or so residents of our wider global neighborhood. In such a situation, Indic thought and spirituality should be neither dismissed as exotic mysticism nor exploitively transformed into a ‘new-age’ nostrum. Rather, it should be engaged on its own terms as a serious contributor to the emerging world culture.”

Deepak Serma, Professor of Religion:

“Given that the homogeneity of the American landscape is rapidly vanishing, it has become increasingly necessary to expand the semantic range of the term ‘classical’ to include literature and arts that are not simply Greco-Roman.  Academic parochialism not only serves to perpetuate stereotypes, but it produces academics suffering from intellectual and cultural tunnel vision.”

David Loy, Professor and author in Japan:

“Even if our concern is merely to understand the West, an appreciation of Asian alternatives is crucial. As a Western scholar studying Asian philosophy and practicing Asian religion for the past several decades, I have considerably enriched my understanding of the West, by receiving perspectives that could have been gained in no other way. Education must include a clear and honest appreciation of the Asian traditions – not only to broaden our understanding of the world, but also to give us the deeper insight into ourselves that can only come from such a mirror. We are neglecting them at our own cost.”

Robert K. C. Forman, Associate Professor of Religion, City University of New York:

“Each culture, each viewpoint, each form of religious practice brings something to the human table that the others have left out or de-emphasized. If there is one thing I have learned in my two decades of teaching Eastern and Western religions and cultures, it is that the sophisticated practices and understandings of India and the East, the discoveries of consciousness and human abilities that they have made offer valuable food for that table. We in the West owe it to ourselves to learn more of, understand, respect and indeed enrich our culture with knowledge of Indian and Asian cultures.”

B. Alan Wallace, Professor of Religion, University of California, Santa Barbara:

“Modern Western academia defines science, philosophy, and religion by its own uniquely Western criteria: Anything deemed ‘science’ must fit the modern Western criteria of third person empiricism; anything deemed ‘philosophy’ must be similar in spirit and content to Plato, Aristotle, and the subsequent schools of Western philosophical speculation; and anything deemed a ‘religion’ is so designated insofar as it bears characteristics similar to Christianity and Judaism.  With this ethnocentric bias, academic departments of the sciences regularly exclude any non-Western disciplines for exploring the natural world, as if the West had a monopoly on such knowledge.  Specifically, psychology departments rarely include any non-Western approaches to studying the mind, despite the fact that this has been a far more central concern of rational and experiential inquiry in various non-Western cultures, especially India, than it has been in Western civilization. Academic philosophy departments regularly exclude all non-Western philosophies based on the irrational assumption that other civilizations have nothing to offer this field. Finally, non-Western religions are still profoundly under-represented in many religious studies departments.  In the global village that the world has become, it is absurdly parochial to continue on this ethnocentric course.  The sciences, philosophies, and religions of non-Western cultures have a great deal of wisdom and knowledge to offer to modern understanding.”

Dave Freedholm, Department of Religion and Philosophy, Princeton Day School, Princeton, NJ:

“As a teacher of North American high school students, it is clear to me that many of our young people have little understanding of Hinduism, Buddhism and other Indic traditions of thought and religious experience. As well, what is known of these traditions is often clouded by misunderstandings and stereotypes. As our communities, schools and workplaces become increasingly diverse and as global consciousness increases, there is a greater need than ever to teach Indic thought and spirituality to our young people in an informed and sympathetic way.”

Barbara Max Hubbard, noted author and public figure:

“The Indic traditions bring us into contact with the reality of nondual, undifferentiated, pure awareness, the ground from which everything is arising.  Given the latest insights of quantum physics, this field of divine intelligence is now understood to be both the basis of the material world, and the source of our consciousness.  The Indic traditions have paved the way for the next phase of human existence.  By combining the insights, meditative practices, yoga and other methods of Eastern traditions with modern science such as zero point energy, nanotechnology, quantum computing, and life-extension, we see the emergence of a new species. I believe this new humanity was first heralded and embodied by the great teachers of India, from ancient times to Sri Aurobindo.  With the joining together of traditions, we can see the glimmering outline of our species emerging from the womb of self-consciousness in which most of us have been confined.”

Piet Hut, Institute of Advanced Studies, Princeton, NJ:

“For the last five hundred years, Western scholarship has de-emphasized the subject pole of experience.  The almost exclusive focus on objectivity allowed science to prosper. After this remarkable achievement, the time has come to shift to a more balanced way of looking at experience.  Within the Western mindset, however, it is difficult to address the current imbalance.  Most of our received alternatives don’t allow enough playing room.  We are used to thinking in terms of science vs. church, for example, but both the reformation and the counter-reformation shared attempts to move towards more objectivity, leaving little room for the rich contemplative traditions. Other dichotomies, such as materialism vs. idealism, tend to provide caricatures for the subject pole of experience, either as the functioning of a machine or as a solipsistic mastermind.  Clearly, science will have to come to grips with the study of the subject in the near future, using a suitable methodology. And rather than trying to reinvent the wheel, it would be very useful for Westerners to pay attention to what has been achieved elsewhere – not just out of respect for others, but actually for its own interest.”

Anonymous scholar from India:

“Many Western academicians on South Asia keep spinning newer and subtler versions of Orientalism. To some extent, I have found them to be like members of the ‘old boys’ club’ excelling in the art of patting each other on the back and keeping up past games in new forms.  Some overarching false understandings of Western scholars (and of their Eastern cronies) tend to radically devalue the great ones of ‘the two-thirds world.’ I don’t presume to include myself among any except the small ones of that two-thirds world. I have personally felt devalued by many South Asia scholars time and time again, in the past 5 years or so in the West. I feel the pressure of having to try to prove myself over and over, whereas I find that Western scholars seem to have few such pressures. They seem to get away for the most part with little attainment, yet they receive high recognition and acclaim, often thanks to their powerful ‘contacts’ in high places.  This has tended to upset me much.  To go public with generalizations and attacks against this ‘club’, which comes across as rather exclusive, would be to put myself at risk.”

Anonymous European scholar living in Pondicherry Ashram:

“While the western tradition looks for a single truth canon, the Indian tradition is comfortable with multiple views, accepting them all as diminished renderings of an indescribable that is beyond everything. Psychologically, these correspond to the difference between the ‘closed’ and ‘open’ personality types – the closed type grasping to a world-view that they have to protect at any cost. Therefore, postmodern cultural relativism is in itself the most striking example of the increasing Indian influence on the west.

“In the area of consciousness studies it is completely absurd not to start with the Indian tradition. Here the scientific, western philosophical and religious traditions are simply underdeveloped. Western scholars who appropriate so much without proper acknowledgment, often hide behind the lofty pretence of making this ancient wisdom more accessible and acceptable. But is this a sneaky way of seeming cleverer and more original than they are?”