The Need for a New Indic School of Thought

The Need for a New Indic School of Thought
By Dr. David Frawley

During the Eurocolonial period, Indian history and civilization were distorted to fit European perceptions. A new school of thought is needed that will see Asian history and tradition with Asian eyes and thought, beginning with India.

The “clash of civilizations”

A clash of civilizations is occurring throughout in the world today, a war of cultures at various levels in both our personal and public lives. This clash is partly because of rising historical and cultural awareness on the part of newly-independent countries, beginning with India . The Western-European/North American culture is currently predominant and is strongly, if not rudely, trying to eliminate or subordinate the rest. Yet Western civilization is spreading itself not so much by force, as in the colonial era, but by subtle new forms of social manipulation. These include control of the media and news information networks, control of the entertainment industry, domination of commercial markets, continued missionary aggressiveness by Western religions, and – as important but sometimes overlooked – control of educational institutions and curricula worldwide.

This control of education has resulted in a Western-European/North-American view of history and culture in textbooks and information sources in most countries, including India . Naturally, people educated according to Western values will function as part of Western culture, whatever may be the actual country of their birth. They will experience an alienation from their native culture in which they have not really been raised. They easily become a fifth column for the Westernisation of their culture, which also means its denigration or, at best, its commercialisation. An authentic Indian or Indic perspective, a worldview coming out of the culture of India and its particular values and perceptions, is hardly to be found, even in India . The Western school of thought is taught in India , not any Indic or Indian school of thought.

The Indic school of thought

What is the Indic school of thought, one might ask? It is not at all something new or unknown. It is the great spiritual, philosophical, scientific, artistic and cultural traditions of the subcontinent that are among the largest and oldest in the world. It is the emphasis on dharma, on karma, on pluralism and synthesis, on yoga sadhana and moksha. It is not only the tradition of ancient sages from the Vedas and Upanishads to Buddhist and Yoga traditions but also modern teachers like Sri Aurobindo and Swami Vivekananda. It is not only the vast literature of Sanskrit but also that of the regional languages and dialects of the subcontinent, most of which have older literary traditions than the languages of Europe such as English.

All major cultural debates are now framed according to Western values and perceptions, and so they will naturally serve to uphold them. The important issues of Indic civilization today are framed according to the principles or biases of the Western school of thought. These include what Indian civilization is, when India as a nation first arose, what the real history of India is, how to reform Indian society, and how India should develop in order to have its rightful place in the future world. As the debate is defined according to the approach and values of Western civilization, India does not always fare well, and India as its own independent source of civilization is seldom acknowledged. India is judged as if it should be like another USA , UK or Germany , which it can never be, nor should be. This only makes Indians feel inferior or wrong.

The Western school of thought has denigrated or overlooked the Indic school, particularly in the Indian context. For example, the Indic school has its own history sources through the Vedas, Puranas and various historical texts (Itihasas) that are quite massive and detailed and have much internal consistency. However, in writing the history of India , the Western school does not give these any place. They are dismissed as, at best, mythology and, at worst, fraud. Instead, it defines the history of India according to outside influences, as a series of invasions and borrowings mainly from the west, from cultures the West knows better and has more affinity with, which makes India seem dependent upon the West in order to advance its civilization again today.

The Western school of thought negates the relevance of the traditions of India . This is not simply because the Indic tradition is wrong, unsophisticated or irrelevant. It is because Western civilization is hegemonic, if not predatory in nature, and such ideas help promote its spread. Its information about India contains a built-in poison. It is meant to undermine the culture of the region and subordinate it to the West, however objective, scientific or modern its approach may appear to be.

When India as a nation arose is defined by the Western school as 1947, the year of independence. It founders were Nehru and Gandhi, who inherited a united region from the British, before which India was just a confused mass of local kingdoms with no national consistency. On the other hand, according to the Indic school, India or Bharat as a country arose in the Vedic era as the type of dharmic/yogic culture that has been the main characteristic of Indian civilization through history. This spiritual or yogic orientation can be found in the cultures of all the regions of India from Tamil Nadu to the Himalayas , pervading even in the folk art and folk songs of all regions, as well as “high” culture.

Western distortions and the Indian response

In the Western school of thought, an Aryan invasion or migration is used to describe the way in which ancient Vedic civilization took root in India , as if it were an alien force of intruding barbarians. In the Indic school of thought, the whole idea of an Aryan invasion/migration is a sign of ignorance. The Indic tradition arose from the rishi tradition of spiritual endeavour, characteristic of the Vedic-Sarasvati culture and related cultures, reflected in the continuity of Vedic literature from the Vedas to the Mahabharata, Buddhist and Jain literature and the Puranas, which all reflect the same principles, peoples and dynasties of kings.

In these current cultural debates, therefore, an overriding greater debate is ignored – that which takes place between the Western and the Indic schools of thought. The Western-style media and academia tries to see what is authentic in Indian civilization and finds it to be wanting, reducing it to little more than caste or superstition. This is not surprising as the Indic tradition has a different focus and values than does the Western tradition. Similarly, from the standpoint of the Indic tradition, we must question Western civilization itself. Is the Western school of thought enlightened? Is it appropriate for India? Can it understand the unique civilization of the subcontinent?

The Indic school itself is often highly critical of the Western school. For example, when asked what he thought about Western civilization, Mahatma Gandhi replied: “It would be a good idea.” What he meant was that, from the standpoint of the spiritual traditions of India , Western civilization with its materialism, aggression and dogmatism was not highly evolved. Sri Aurobindo wrote on the limitations of Western civilization, while appreciating it in certain areas.

Secular missionaries

The West similarly tries to control any debate on cultural ethics, using slogans of democracy and human rights, which are only used to intimidate weak nations and conveniently ignored relative to stronger or wealthier nations like China or Saudi Arabia . Organizations operating under the cover of human rights are among the most aggressively alienating influences today. They function like “secular missionaries”, ignoring victims of terrorism like the Hindus, while defending the “rights” of terrorist organizations against security forces that are compelled to take action against them. Meanwhile, it is the West that is selling the weapons and profiting by terrorism and civil strife throughout the world. The West originally trained many terrorist groups, such as the Taliban fighters in Afghanistan .

Such groups highlight social inequalities in India , but ignore a colonial history marked by attacks on indigenous Indic culture. The same charges of cultural backwardness have been used throughout the colonial era to undermine the native traditions of Africa , Asia and the USA , and to justify forced religious conversion and political domination, which is their real aim. Sometimes native intellectuals are taken in by these Western approaches to social issues, not realizing that they are just promoting the colonial agenda of world domination in a more covert form.

New rules of debate

Therefore, it is not enough simply to debate issues of culture, politics, or history in the existing forums in order to promote a more Indian or Hindu view. We must question the very process itself, its basis and the perspective or values behind the school of thought in which the debate occurs. What India needs is the creation of a new Indic school of thought that is dynamic and assertive in the modern global context – one that can challenge Western civilization not merely in regard to the details of history or culture, but also relative to fundamental principles of life, humanity and consciousness. This requires a revival or renaissance in the Indic tradition and its great spiritual systems of Yoga, Vedanta, Buddhism, and Jainism, and also in its political, artistic and scientific traditions. Modern science and technology can arguably be more humanely employed according to Indic or Dharmic values than according to Western religious exclusivity and commercial greed.

The world today needs a critique of “modern civilization” from an Indic or Dharmic perspective, an interpretation of capitalism, socialism, communism, Christianity and Islam from a tradition that is much older, deeper and closer to the spirit in both man and nature. These Western ideologies are failing to address the spiritual needs of humanity and are incapable of creating a world order that transcends dogmatism or exclusivism.

Those of us who are part of the Indic school of thought should emphasize such a greater debate and not get caught in the details of issues already formulated according to the biases of Western civilization. This debate should examine the right structure for society and the real forward direction for history and evolution. We must raise fundamental questions. Is the current Western materialistic view of history valid at all, or are there spiritual forces at work in the world that go beyond all these? Can we understand our history through outer approaches like archaeology, linguistics or genetics, or is a higher consciousness or more intuitive view required as well? Are the records of our ancient sages to be rejected so lightly, whenever we think they do not agree with our views?

The real issue of the Vedas, India’s oldest tradition, is not how these texts might fit into the current model of history as promoted by the Western school of thought, tracing the development of civilization through outward material advances. It is how the existence of such an ancient tradition of rishis, knowers of cosmic consciousness, shows a higher spiritual humanity from which we have arisen and whose legacy we can reclaim.

Towards a new school of thought

India needs a different type of scholarship, an Indic school of thought that has its own values, traditions and methods of reaching conclusions. Those of us who follow the Indian civilization should develop this Indic school in its own right and not merely try to justify our views in terms of the Western or European school of thought, which is hostile and radically opposed to Indic cultural tradition.

I recently raised a call for an intellectual Kshatriya in India – a new class of warrior intellectuals to defend India and its great pluralistic traditions from the onslaught of Western exclusivist approaches, whether religious, economic or political. This call fundamentally requires the creation of such a new Indic school of thought. Such a new Indic school of thought concerns not only philosophies of liberation or yoga, but Indic, Hindu and Dharmic approaches to ecology, the global marketplace, health, science, the status of women, religious freedom, in short to all the main issues in society today – and it should also look beyond these issues, which are often the issues of the Western school, to yet broader concerns. How can we integrate humanity and nature, with its underlying cosmic intelligence? How can we reclaim our spiritual heritage, as a species, that the great yogis have pointed out for us?

Such a new Indic school of thought requires new institutions to promote and embody it, or new Vedic schools. This will arise not through Indology departments in Western-style universities but through a new type of institution with its own funding and curriculum, free from manipulation by the vested interested and ideologies of the Western school and its religious, commercial and political bias.

An intellectual renaissance

The problem is that the Western school created Indian academic institutions that reflect Western values. To try to gain credibility for Indic thought in the context of European institutions, as some well-meaning Hindus are attempting, may be a helpful strategy but misses this main point. Western universities have their own agendas that they will not readily give up. They will not change simply because a few well-intentioned people and groups give them money and sponsor positions to project a more “sympathetic” picture of India and her civilization. Like a sea that salts every river that flows into it, existing trends and interests will force the people coming into them to conform to the dominant Eurocentric values that pervade these institutions. Otherwise, they cannot survive academically.

It is not on single issues that we need to make headway but on promoting the Indic tradition as a complete school of thought in itself, rather than merely as a side subject of Indological study in Western-defined academia. We must look back to such Indic models as Naimisha, Takshashila, Nalanda or Mithila, not only to their institutions, but also to the Gurukula approach and its more intimate and spiritual form of learning.

I urge the young people and the scholars of India to take up this cause. Do not try to define India in the context of civilization as defined by the West. Instead look to the great traditions of India that have their own deeper roots and use it to critique Western civilization and discover its limitations. Rather than seeking to define and control India according to Western perspectives, the West should look to India for guidance on the deeper issues of culture and spirituality. Indians, in turn, should assert their own greater traditions and not simply imitate the West or seek to justify Indian civilization from a Western perspective. True scholars of the Indic tradition need not go to Harvard or Oxford to seek credibility, rather these institutions should come to them.

About Dr. David Frawley

Dr. Frawley has a thirty-year background in natural healing, including the systems of Ayurveda, Chinese Medicine, Western Herbalism and Vedic Astrology. He has a doctor’s degree in oriental medicine (O.M.D.) from the International Institute of Chinese Medicine, Santa Fe, NM, where he taught herbal medicine for several years. He is associated with the Ashtanga Ayurveda College in Pune, India and other Ayurvedic schools in India, where he has lectured on a number of occasions. Currently he is director of the American Institute of Vedic Studies in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Dr. Frawley studied Ayurveda back in the 1980’s with world-renowned author and Ayurvedic Physician, Dr. Vasant Lad, B.A.M.S., M.A.Sc. Dr. Frawley is the author of numerous books and articles on Ayurveda and other Vedic topics. He has presented seminars at the Ayurvedic Institute for many years.

Please visit his website, The American Institute of Vedic Studies, at


The Assault on Tradition

The Assault on Tradition

by Professor Subhash Kak

Modernity is associated with the idea of industrialization, a strong nation-state system and identity, progress, rationality, reason and objectivity that emerged in the mid-eighteenth century Western Europe. All this sounds great, but there is a price to pay. Mechanistic logic in human affairs results in oppression and regimentation, objectification of life, and alienation and loss of freedom. From it arise self-hate and destructive behaviour.

The end of the Cold War led some to announce the end of history; in reality, it only intensified the struggle in different societies between modernity and tradition. In the US, the right has exploited the deep unhappiness with the oppressive aspects of modernity by promoting its economic and social agenda as a palliative, when, in reality, its policies promote further ‘industrialization’ of human affairs. The right’s prescriptions may be false; but it is winning because the left has not come up with a consistent argument to counter it.

Meanwhile, the ‘industrialization’ of human affairs marches on, facilitated by new technologies. This globalization is not only in the spread of American pop-culture or control of increasing public space by the multinational corporations, it is also in the practice of law, which in traditional society was quite decentralized. Modernity in the legal sense is the notion that only the state or the sovereign can lay down the body of rules for citizens to follow. Here it draws from the tradition of the Christian Church with its claim to be the sole interpreter of law.

The resistance of Muslims to westernizing modernization is natural, given that it sees itself as a revelation that supersedes Christianity. But the agents of westernization have been surprised by the claims of other non-Western societies for validity of their culture and attachment to their own social and legal arrangements. This explains the puzzlement of the westernized elite at the continuing affirmation of many for the Hindu tradition.

The Matter of Law

The modernist is puzzled because he does not understand the Hindu tradition, a situation getting worse due to the declining knowledge of the classical foundations of this tradition. According to Werner Menski in his path-breaking ‘Hindu Law: Beyond Tradition and Modernity’ (Oxford University Press, 2003), “Hindu law today must be seen as a postmodern phenomenon, displaying its internal dynamism and perennial capacity for flexibility and realignment.” Menski argues that the modernist reading of the tradition is a caricature, perpetuated because “studying Hindu law is often seen as regressive activity.” Menski adds:

“Anything ‘Hindu’ is quickly denigrated in many ways, not only by many followers of the monotheistic religions, but also those who imagine and assert that a modern world, by which is often meant a Western-inspired world, can do without so-called primitive religion and cultural traditions. Lawyers (as well as more recently whole cohorts of diasporic Indian scholars)… have had specific reasons to argue for modernity. Colonialism added its own ideologies and arguments to subjugate not only Hindus, but also Hindu law, all in the name of universalistic legal constructs.”

In the complex process of scholarly manipulation, many scholars have engaged (often unwittingly) in misleading and sometimes simply wrong representation of Hindu ‘tradition’. Prominent amongst these misrepresentations is the assumption that ancient Hindu texts prescribed’ certain rules, which even infects the most intricate subaltern writing.

In recent years, arguments such as Menski’s (or those of Triloki Nath Madan and Ashis Nandy before him) have been criticized by the modernists as being dangerous because they provide support to the political right. But that is a false argument because the political right in India has not analyzed civilizational dynamics in terms of the push and pull between modernity and tradition. Indeed, the right’s insistence on a common civil law for all Indians is inspired by the modernist ideology, as are its many policies that promote centralization. The right has mostly been reactive, fighting at best for symbolic gains, hoping — erroneously, as it found to its grief — that these would suffice to ensure victory at the next election.

The stakes are very high since they have implications for the manner in which India will be able to respond to the pressures of globalization. Menski reminds us:

“Arguments about the inherent political incorrectness and modern irrelevance of Hindu law have conveniently forgotten that the so-called modern traditions have their own roots in specific Western cultural and religious traditions. So how could Indian be called upon to ‘modernize’, if that simply meant, at one level, shedding the social and cultural concepts that make up the fabric of the various hybrid Indian identities? How can hundreds of millions of Hindus be expected, let alone forced, to abandon Hindu law?”

Modernity, calling on all ‘others’ to assimilate to the supposedly higher, apparently secular and ‘modern’ value system represented by the West, amounted to thinly veiled pressure to abandon various indigenous traditions and convert to the supposedly universal notions of modernity. In other words, modernity expected and demanded unidirectional assimilation to alien lego-cultural norms and models, and a stepping outside of one’s own inherited traditions. It demanded de-Hinduization, abandoning of Hindu customs, habits, and traditions. While modernity was, at one level, not concerned about religion, it expected the modern world citizen to be of a secular disposition, thus seeking to prescribe one particular religious perspective as appropriate for modernity.

Since the modern university is a vehicle for westernization, with hardly a representation for those who are schooled in the Indian classics, there hasn’t been a proper debate on identifying the proper tension between modernity and tradition in the Indian context. This is one reason the state has been paralyzed in making legal reforms, and has ceded decision making in many spheres to the judiciary.

Modernity and Temple Administration

It is in the relationship between the state and religion that the lack of clear thinking becomes most apparent. Observers of recent Indian history express incredulity at how the Indian state (whether ruled by the left or the BJP), which professes to be secular, has taken over the management of most Hindu temples. This has proceeded in the face of corruption, and diverting of the temple income for non-religious purposes, or even for the maintenance of religious institutions of rival religions.

Typically, the government creates trusts to run these temples, with active management entrusted to officers of the Indian Administrative Service, with the government’s representatives sitting on the board taking decisions regarding where the income is to be banked (gaining kickbacks from the banks in the process) and how it is to be invested, and even the sale of temple properties. Naturally, these bureaucrats have no interest in any larger vision associated with the temple.

In spite of its numerous shortcomings, the medieval temple included all jatis as stakeholders in a complex system of obligations under the yajamani system. But that is not the case with the government controlled modern temple, where the bureaucrat is the supreme authority. Operating in a system without appropriate checks and balances, it is easy for him to succumb to greed. For such an officer, who is on a temporary assignment as a temple chief, there is no incentive to look at the larger role of the temple in the community, and he, at best, is an instrument of the status quo. Such temples are not the harbingers of social change that they should be.

A few months ago, I heard from one of the government trustees of the Vaishno Devi temple in Jammu, who was visiting the United States. He wanted some advice on how to go about recruiting faculty for the newly established Mata Vaishno Devi Temple University, of whose existence I was not aware until that moment. He explained that the government had decided to create this university with the income of the Vaishno Devi Temple; this university, it had been decided, would focus on information technology and biotechnology.

I asked him why the university, which is being run on the donations of the pilgrims, did not include Hindu religious studies on its curriculum. He said since the university operated within the parameters of a secular state, it could not teach any subject related to Hinduism. The bottom line: the donations of the pilgrims support activities that have nothing to do with the pilgrimage.

The control of the Hindu temples by the government, when the mosques or the churches have not similarly been taken over, is defended on the ground that the modern Indian state is the successor also to the earlier pre-British Indian states where much of the great temple ritual was around the person of the king. The chief ministers, being the democratically elected successors to the kings, are within their rights to continue with this tradition irrespective of what the Constitution says.

Meanwhile, many Hindu groups have begun agitating for the Hindu temples to be restored to the Hindu communities. If there is need for a better legal and administrative framework for the running of temples, they demand that all Hindu communities are made stakeholders with complete separation between the government and the management boards, with the judiciary to act as referee in case of dispute.

Globalization and Body and Soul

The seizing of the temples by the Indian bureaucracy is only a small part of the larger war for individual freedom. Friedrich Hayek in his classic The Road to Serfdom (1944) warned that government control over production led to totalitarianism. Now the danger is much greater.

Technology makes it easy for the state and multinational corporations or even guilds to assume unprecedented power over not only production but also distribution. This power is likely to be exercised in neocolonial control of national economies and natural wealth; meanwhile, it is being increasingly applied to the last frontiers before man, the human body and the mind.

Western medicine has become a handmaiden to pharmaceutical firms, resulting in the vast majority of Westerners becoming dependent on some sort of medication, as documented in John Abramson’s Overdosed America: The Broken Promise of American Medicine (HarperCollins, 2003). The philosopher Ivan Illich once said: “Modern medicine is a negation of health. It isn’t organized to serve human health, but only itself, as an institution. It makes more people sick than it heals.”

The other force of globalization is the use of media and marketing theory to sell organized religion and to separate individuals from their traditions and cultural history.

But our age of confusion is also an age of enormous promise. One hopes that out of the current conflict will arise better understanding and compassion and more freedom for people everywhere. But this will be, at best, a rocky road.

About Dr. Subhash Kak

Subhash Kak is an Indian American computer scientist, most notable for his controversial Indological publications on history, the philosophy of science, ancient astronomy, and the history of mathematics.