March 15, 2006

Indian Philosophy in America

Transcript of a discussion with Rajiv Malhotra : 24th JUNE, 2000
Having a background in physics, I had been reading a lot about the synthesis between quantum physics/relativity with Vedanta, and thought that all this must be really exciting for these scholars; but I found that this was absolutely not the case.
  • I got Rutgers University in New Jersey to do a conference called 'Quantum Physics and Eastern Philosophy', for which we gave a grant. But what transpired was one-sided Western chauvinism, even outright negative towards any Indian philosophical orientation. I concluded that I had quite a lot of work to do to incorporate Indian philosophy as part of the American academic system. So when people ask why I positioned all this as religion, my answer is that that's the only choice I had, the only way it could get in the door.
  • In University of California, Santa Barbara, we now have a very successful course in the Religion Department for the past four years, called Science and Religion, where the curriculum consists of Quantum Physics, Madhyamika and Vedanta etc. and shows how these ancient philosophies relate to the modern discoveries in science. It's a good introduction and the department has found this to be a very successful course, one of the most popular courses in the religion department. The success is largely due to Alan Wallace who teaches it with great sympathy for the Buddhist tradition that he belongs to, as well as to Vedanta and to modern science.
  • In the University of Hawaii, thanks to Prof Arindam Chakrabarti, we are in the Philosophy Department for the past four years. They use the grant to sponsor Ph.D. students each year who are interested in studying Indian Philosophy. Because of the availability of the grants, it helps students to opt for it. They also have a conference, and a lecture series on Indian Philosophy, to which they invite some very distinguished persons. They've done fourteen or fifteen of these lectures and these will be collected into a book.
  • At Columbia University in New York, we funded a course at the graduate and undergraduate levels, called 'Non-Duality' - it included Buddhism, Vedanta, Quantum Physics, etc. It was a very successful course, mainly because of the enthusiasm and support from the Buddhists. I was bothered to discover that the teaching of Hinduism was mainly anthropology.

They were not emphasizing the ideas or philosophy behind the religion to make the practices sensible. The focus was mainly on social structure, the role of women, caste, and all the different goddesses and different rituals. A student would not necessarily understand if there was any sense in this. In my opinion, a student would leave with the impression of something very exotic, theatrical and emotional, but which doesn't make any sense especially in a modern context. In this respect, Buddhism is taught with deeper respect for the ideas, because most teachers of Buddhism are practicing Buddhists. In case of Hinduism, most teachers in academics are NOT practicing Hindus.

Part of the problem is that Indian Universities do not produce Ph.D.s in Indian Philosophy. Where they do teach Philosophy in India, it is mainly Western Philosophy. So even if a college in America were convinced that they wanted to start a department of Indian Philosophy, they would tell me to get some good candidates for the faculty. But I cannot find any. The Educational Council on Indic Traditions

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