Around 8000 years ago, one of the first religions on Earth appeared. It is traditionally called “Sanatana Dharma” which means “The Eternal Truth” or “The Eternal Principle”. Currently, it has more than 900 million followers worldwide. Alas, many believe that Hinduism (the international name of Sanatana Dharma) isn’t a practical religion judging by the huge number of divinities mentioned in its scriptures.
I came to St. Olaf (Editor’s note: in 1985) amidst some debate and controversy. A few members of the wider community, including alumni and Lutheran pastors, had great difficulty understanding why a college of the church would appoint a Hindu to teach, of all places, in the Religion Department.
This ongoing (debate on the) hermeneutics of the elephant-headed Hindu Ganesha—beginning with Rajiv Malhotra’s post of 26 June 03 to the Abhinavagupta forum—is actually composed of multiple intertwined threads that I have attempted to distinguish for the sake of intelligibility by thick blue separator-lines. Some were off-line exchanges among a few individuals before they were fed into the larger public debate on the Abhinava forum. Others even appropriate (a series of) messages on other lists (RISA-L, Navya-Shâstra, etc.) so as to broaden the diversity and scope of the discourse. My own commentaries, in particular, are sometimes preceded by long disparate citations from the furthest nooks and crannies of the Web, and simultaneously serve as a, sometimes humorous, exegesis on the underlying presuppositions and blind spots of this intercultural deadlock. The attentive reader will note that certain key themes keep resurfacing from fresh angles so as to shed light on both the complex underlying logic of Hindu culture and the predicaments of Indology as a mode of knowledge production. In order to help the reader remain focused on the central issues, I have streamlined the messages—for example, by deleting digressions and some citations—while providing links to the original unedited posts. In addition, I have inserted introductory comments to contextualize each sub-thread [Do let me know if your views have been inadvertently omitted or distorted: this is an evolving archive!]. Having decided to make this archive available to the public after listening and responding to Prof. Paul Courtright’s version of events and his framing of the controversy during his talk on “Studying Religion in an Age of Terror” at the Univ. of Chicago (1st April 04), I would like to offer some concise clarifications—a conceptual grid as it were—of my own take on the opposing perspectives that are under question in this controversy:
Although all Hindus take the path of action at least for much of their lives, it doesn’t bring oneself to final liberation from the wheel of Samsara. Karma, even good karma, keeps a person bound to the cycle of transmigration. Ultimately, one needs to transcend karma to realize moksha. One way the Hindu tradition offers for this attainment is the path of wisdom or knowledge.
Liz Verea tends to be pitta. “Or pitta with a little vata,” said Ms. Verea, 47, who runs a business consulting firm in Los Altos, Calif. “But mostly pitta, which means my skin has a tendency to develop dry patches.”