Toward a Gandhian Pragmatics of Scholarly Collaboration
Laurie Patton - Emory University
Kala Acharya- K. J. Somaiya Bharatiya Sanskriti Peetham
This paper comes as a joint, practical effort of two scholars of Hinduism—one Hindu and Indian and the other non-Hindu and white. We have "represented" each other in our written work and in our lectures about "the other." It is, in part, a narrative of the corrections, fumblings, and exhilarations between Hindu and non-Hindu scholarly endeavors. It is also a set of narratives which are informed by certain Gandhian principles, and premised on a model of mutual need, mutual correction, and loyal oppositions. The Hindu and the non-Hindu need each other's scholarship because they most profitably are engaged in a process of mutual correction and companionship.
We begin by simply drawing your attention to the principles laid down by Gandhi in his civil disobedience campaign. In your handout we have translated this into a scholarly version which you see underneath the original principles. We view these not as anything we practice successfully—not by any stretch of the imagination! Rather we view them as our own impossible ideals.
Nor do we even necessarily view them as Gandhi did, a set of principles by which to live unwaveringly. Rather, we take the view that Johannes Fabian does in his recent article, "Remembering the Other: Knowledge and Recognition in the Exploration of Central Africa" (Critical Inquiry 26: 1999). In this work he scrutinizes the moments of meeting between two cultures in ethnographic narratives: moments where the power balance is momentarily righted—between field assistant and anthropologist, between explorer and explored, colonizer and colonized. These are moments of recognition of need, or of mutual survival.
We assume that, contrary to the scathing critiques which corrode our relationships in the past years, these moments of recognition between Hindu and non-Hindu occur every day; these moments are part of each of our scholarly repertoires, and that these moments, not the acrimony, are the basic facts of every day scholarly life. These are moments of freedom, in which a "Hindu" scholar can momentarily agree with a so-called "Western" point of view, and a "Western" scholar can momentarily agree with a so-called "Hindu" point of view, without fear of being attacked and branded forever. We argue that these moment should be foregrounded as much as, if not more than, the critique which pitches non-Hindu against Hindu, Indian against white, in an increasingly vituperative and unproductive battle in which neither side is weighed evenly. We are on very much the same side here. We all want more Hindus to be involved in the study of Hinduism. We all want our Hindu students to be brave enough to choose South Asian studies and not medical school as the path of least resistance.
We assume that these moments of recognition are also results of conflict—inevitable and intense, between Hindu and non-Hindu scholars. They are momentary conflicts because the larger project of lokasamgraha, the coming together of the world, is for most of us far more important than any given disagreement. Moreover, the mutual correction that both sides submit to, does not assume that either side is always more powerful. Rather, the power balance is constantly shifting; hence the need for constant mutual correction within a lifelong companionship. There will be the power of the one who can afford to visit a country vs the one who cannot afford the plane ticket; there will be the power of the funder vs. the relatively controlled position of the funded; the power of the one who has better library resources vs. the one who cannot gather the basic texts necessary for research. At one time, the anthropologist will be at a loss, unable to decode the ritual without the help of a teacher; at another, the foundation money will be able to dictate the terms of the intellectual project. At another, the moment will come when a pandit will say that the Western edition of a text is good for his work; and a scholar might say that the brilliance of Hinduism that she fell in love with is vibrant and recognizable in many forms, including those forms she had previously been suspicious of. These are all moments when power must be recognized and realigned, just as in Fabian locates these tiny encounters as moments of cultural change. Both Hindu and non-Hindu are all momentary satyagrahis in the struggle for a truthful and flexible relationship between the Hindu tradition and its scholars.
Let us turn to two narratives of such "moments" of recognition where the power balance was momentarily shifted—one from Kala Acharya and the other from Laurie Patton. The institute to which I belong, K. J. Somaiya Bharatiya Sanskriti Peetham in Gatkopar. Bombay, was founded by Late Karamshibhai Somaiya. Several years ago it took a step to create a platform for Hindu-Christian Dialogue under the able guidance of Dr. S.K. Somaiya, the Chairman of the Institute. The Pontifical Council's Inter-religious Monastic Dialogue (Italy), The Institute of Asian Studies (Sassari, Italy), and the Department of Asian Studies at Torino University (Italy), are working together with our institute to find out meeting-points between Hinduism and Christianity. Now, this dialogue is being undertaken even in the midst of the view of several of the Hindu participants—that Christianity should not missionize, and that its project should never be the conversion of Hindus. Moreover, the power balance between the Vatican (1500 years of accumulated land and wealth) and Somaiya Vidya Vihar (30 years in Bombay) is clearly on the side of the Vatican.
Nonetheless, prolonged, committed, and regular academic deliberations have led the participants towards a deep understanding of the other religion and enabled them to acknowledge the beauty and nobility of both religions. This was not done through the a kind tokenist dialogue which was theme oriented and conceptually based. Rather, it was done through years and years of reading and interpreting each other's texts, and a commitment to mutual correction, as outlined above.
Let us turn to some examples of this. First, at a larger level, the series of meetings over the years led to the acknowledgment of mutual need. Each of the participants remarked upon how the other tradition could offer something that the home tradition could not. Hindus acknowledged that the unequalled humanitarian service rendered by Christianity was not matched by Hinduism; Christians acknowledged that the all-inclusive nature of Hinduism was not as powerfully present and articulated in Christianity. Both acknowledged a lack in their own traditions, and both endured the critique from the outsider.
Second, at a smaller, textual level, where mutual correction and recognition is possible, there were also some intriguing insights. The themes of the meetings were organized so that the two religions could become mirrors for each other; for example, 'Hindu Christian Cosmology and Anthropology', 'Persons of Peace in a Troubled World', 'Foundations of Family and Social Life in Hinduism and Christianity', and 'Mahavakyas (important sentences) in Hinduism and Christianity' were the topics for the seminars. They helped the participants to cross the boundaries of their religions, choose titles for their papers and make themselves acquainted with contents of the other religion. Most importantly, it was one of the requirements of the meetings that Hindus should present papers from Christian view-point and vice-versa. This approach aroused interest in the participants regarding the scriptures and led them to new avenues in the field of hermeneutics.
To take a specific example: In John (9.41) we find the episode of the blind man who could see through the grace of Jesus. If the episode is seen from the Hindu view point, it contains a deeper meaning than what its surface value is. The text says that Jesus saw a man who had been blind from birth. The disciples ask Jesus, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents sinned, that he should have born blind? "Neither he nor his parents sinned,' Jesus answered, "he was born blind so that the works of God might be revealed in him." The Hindus who read this text argued that the statement that the blind man was devoid of sin indicates that God could be realized by only those who are pure in heart. Such persons can serve as medium for God's work. As the Hindus saw it, purity is a prerequisite for realization of God in Hinduism as in Christianity. Jesus reiterates that he was born blind so that the works of God might be revealed in him. The glory of God was to be unveiled to him; the spiritual awakening was to dawn on him.
In subsequent conversations between Hindus and Christians, they read together the eleventh chapter of the Bhagavadgita, in which the blind man in John was read as comparable to Arjuna's blindness. We find a reference to divine vision conferred on Arjuna by Krsna to enable him to have a vision of the Lord. Christians learned that in both the Gita and in Jnanesvari (9.80), a devotee cannot see God with the physical eye. Moreover, it was pointed out that in Buddhism, there is reference to five kinds of eyes in which physical vision (mamsa caksu) and divine vision (divya caksu) have different functions. The Buddha's eye comprises four kinds of visions. They are: 1) the physical eye (mamsa caksu); 2) the divine eye (divya caksu); 3) the eye that is aware of non-substantiality of things (prajna caksu); and 4) the eye of dharma (dharma caksu) that leads the aspirant to emancipation. Christians thus felt that in the foundational texts of early India, the imagery of "sight" and "blindness" was as sophisticated, if not more so, than the Christian foundational texts. This in turn led to a new way of viewing the Christian texts involving the imagery of seeing.
It is important to point out here that this encounter between the Pontifical Council and Somaiya Vidya Vihar was not just a typical "index" of light and seeing imagery in the world's religions. (It is obvious to say that darkness stands for ignorance and light for spiritual knowledge; that project has been done many times over in the last few decades.) Rather, this encounter was a form of mutual insight through a process of gradual reading. To use the Gandhian terms above, the Hindu-Christian dialogue consisted of textual moments of recognition, with readers as the satyagrahis. Each of the passages could push the other tradition toward a new way of reading itself.
We then began by asking new questions about the significance of applying paste on the eyes and washing it. The Christians referred the Hindus to the text of how Jesus applied a paste on the eyes of the blind man and asked him to wash his eyes in the Pool of Siloam (i.e. one who has been sent). "What would the significance of these actions?" they asked the Hindus. We need to unfold symbolism in these actions according to a Hindu view. The Hindus answered by pointing to both Hindu and Buddhist texts where the physical organ of the sight is defiled and needs to be purified. Hence it is mentioned in the Meditation Sutra that Stupa could not be seen due to defiled eyes. The faults of the eye organ are impediments and keep humans away from spiritual awakening. In Hinduism the faults of the eye organ are defined as the eye's attachment to forms. The eye runs after the forms in the external world. It does not see the God enthroned in one's heart. The Katha Upanisad says, "The self existent pierced the senses outward and so one looks outward and not within oneself. However a wise man, seeking immortality and turning his eyes inward, sees the inner Self" (paranci khani vyatrnat svayambhustasmat paran pasyati nantaratman.kascitdhirahpratyagatmanamaiksadavrttacaksuramrtatvamicchan). The same Upanisad speaks about two types of pursuits, the pursuit of pleasant and the pursuit of good. The former is linked to ignorance while the latter to knowledge culminating into the realisation of God. Those who pursue pleasures are ignorant. In their own conceit they consider themselves as wise and go about like blind men led by the blind.
In Buddhism, The Meditation Sutra mentions that the faults (klesa) are impediments in the spiritual progress of the aspirant and make him blind so he cannot see anything. Like the Upanishads, it also defines the evil of eye as attachment to forms and passions. The Sutra says, "In your innumerable lives, by means of the organ of eye, you have been attached to all forms. Because of your attachment to forms, you hanker after all dust. Forms harm your eyes and you become slave of human affection." The dust of desire is considered as a spiritual impediment. The Buddhas and the Bodhisattvas dip the dust of desire in a drop of teaching and remove the fever of passions of life. (The Sutra of Innumerable Meanings-p. 4). Dust signifies fault whereas water signifies Dharma, the Law. The Buddha says, "Good sons, the Law is like water that washes off dirt. As a well, a pond, a stream, a river, a valley stream, a ditch, or a great ocean each alike washes off all kinds of dirt, so the Law-water effectively washes off the dirt of all delusions of living beings."(p. 14)
The Christians and Hindus saw these passages from the Upanishads and Sutras as a new way to understand the significance of the two actions in the Christian texts: first, applying paste of clay on the eyes of the blind man in the Gospel of St. John and second, washing of the paste in the pool of Siloam. Applying paste of clay on the eyes symbolizes the faults of the human eye organ. A Hindu would say that the Gospel of John teaches that, instead of being attached to the Son and the Father humans are attached to forms in the mundane world. Washing it off in the water means that the attachment and the ignorance can be is removed through the grace and the compassion of Jesus. The Meditation Sutra says that in order to atone for his sin the aspirant should worship the Buddhas in all directions and, turning to Sakyamuni Buddha and the Great Vehicle Sutras, should say, "The heavy sins of my eye organ of which now I repent are such an impediment and are so tainted that I am blind and can see nothing at all. May the Buddha be pleased to pity and protect me by his great mercy."(p. 357) The aspirant repents on the sin of his eye organ and in order to atone for the sin he utters a prayer, "Law water of wisdom-eye possessed by the Buddhas and the Bodhisattvas! Be pleased; wash me (by the Law water) so that I become pure."
Thus it can be concluded that the episode of conferring vision on the blind man is a symbolic presentation of awakening in spirituality after a deep slumber of ignorance. The sin of the eye organ of human beings which is as innumerable as particles of dust, is his ignorance and his attachment to mundane pleasures. The Hindus argued that the water would stand for the compassion of Jesus and washing off the paste of clay signifies purification of vision to enable the aspirant see the God. The Pool of Siloam (the name means one who has been sent) suggests that Jesus was sent for giving vision to the blind man who represents those who are lost in the pursuits of material pleasures and forgotten God.
How were these moments of comparative reading between the Pontifical Council and Somaiya Vidya Vihar instances of Gandhian recognition? How did they momentarily right a power imbalance and acknowledging the humanity of the other? First, because the Christians and Hindus saw a kind of mutual need in interpreting each others' texts at all. Second, the conversations narrated above focused on what Hindus could bring to Christianity even while they remained Hindus. The focus was not on their conversion, nor was it on the superiority of one teaching to another. Were these conversations going to change the entire Vatican policy toward Hindus and Asia? Probably not. But they certainly effected change by small increments. The Vatican Christians played hosts, like Akbar did in his Moghul court, and they listened. Moreover, any communication the Vatican might have about non-Christian methods of prayer will certainly be better informed than in previous versions. These are smaller forms of satyagraha, tiny moments of recognition, which are crucial nonetheless.
Like Kala Acharya's narratives of the Pontifical Council and Somaiya Vidya Vihar, I can offer some of my own very mundane examples of what these changed moments of recognition look like—three scenarios from my own fieldwork. The first has to do with the commitment to reading elitist texts transformatively. In my work with one Sanskritist, I learned that she was working on medical terms in the Jaiminiya Brahamana, a very obscure Vedic ritual text which has been incompletely translated and in very expensive books produced in Europe. About as Europcentric as you can get. My colleague was working on the issue of whether same-sex relations were condoned or not in the medical terminology about the production of embryos. She wanted to know more about lesbian theory and gender theory as we argued and discussed the various Sanskrit compounds related to her work. She was preparing a paper for a conference in Marathi on Sanskrit literature, and was very timid about presenting her explorations. I learned a huge amount from her about medical terminology, and in a form of intellectual barter, I shared with her some of my background in lesbian theory and gender studies more broadly. She was working with unpublished manuscripts as well as the published Sanskrit editions and English translations. We were collaborating in a project which transformed the Jaiminiya Brahmana into a text which could be relevant to a number of disparate audiences, all of it written in a vernacular Indian language. While anxious to the end, my colleague ended up winning the prize for the best paper at the conference. This, to me, was one example of reading elitist texts transformatively. It involved close philological discussions of the meaning of a compound; it involved the barter of intellectual information; it involved the correction of her assumptions about Western lesbians and mine about the ability of the Marathi judges to see the value of her work. This was a moment of postcolonial exchange in which feminism, religious sensibilities, vernacular and hegemonic languages worked in transformative fashion. There was no denial of the politics of race and of gender, only a small and stumbling attempt to change them in the act of conversation itself. It was the beginning of "Reading as Translation" from one culture to another.
Second, in a momentary satyagrahi encounter, I firmly believe that there can and should be a committed refusal to use the terms "Western" and "Indian" in an intellectual determinative fashion. (Spivak also raises doubts about using nationalist terms to describe intellectual agenda in Chapter Two of her Outside in the Teaching Machine; although she does not have the same hesitations, as I would, about using the term "white feminism".) At best, such descriptors are ill founded conclusions about intellectual character, and at worst, they are nothing more than sophisticated and thinly disguised ethnic slurs. This refusal to use such terms can lead to moments of recognition. I experienced this refusal to speak in such categories in the work of a Sanskritist colleague who is using Sanskrit and Latin as a basis for a conversations between Hindus and Christians in Orissa and elsewhere in India. In her Sanskrit classes, she gives students other names, and does not ask people's real names until the end. This way she encourages Muslim and Dalit students to stay in the class without the added social pressure of revealing their social backgrounds. This too, is a refusal of intellectual determinism, a refusal which can be potentially transformative of hegemonic languages. This does not mean that we deny the politics of race and gender, nor do we give up our social and religious identities in favor of some creeping perennialism. Rather, in transformative collective reading we refuse to allow the label of social backgrounds to be determinative conclusions of intellectual worth, whether we are engaging in so-called liberational postcolonial discourse, neocolonial Pepsi wars, or arguments about the translation of a Sanskrit compound.
Finally, the hegemonic language of Sanskrit might be transformed by avoiding the "frozen example of success." No one single moment of change can stand as an "example" of a power structure being resisted so that we can turn our attention elsewhere. (This is also Kumud Pawde's resistance to being paraded as the "example" of the Dalit Sanskritist.) To take one small illustration: a Hindu woman from a small college in India was giving a paper on family relationships in Vedic texts. She was berated at the end because she did not use the most recent publication from America on the topic; she explained calmly that her College's library could not afford to buy the book. Such conferences will always be filled with interactions where economics and intellectual worth are joined in a stark and indisputable way. The politics of the situation stopped the conversation. The next day the postcolonialist feminist man who berated her, comfortably employed in America, began to explore the possibility of funding for her library, duly embarrassed at the previous exchange. This gesture might indeed have changed some practices of reading, but it could not suffice as the example of success which allowed all of us to turn our attention elsewhere. The imbalance of intellectual resources is endless, partly because libraries in Europe and America have not bought Indian vernacular language works, and partly because libraries in India cannot afford to buy books produced in the West. Only in an ongoing, systematic attempt to address such an imbalance, an attempt which refuses to freeze at each example of success, will such transformative reading be possible.
And so we conclude with these narratives of momentary recognition and Gandhian negotiation between Hindus and non-Hindus—in Bombay, in Bangalore, and in Chicago. One might ask whether we are ignoring issues of systemic change; for after all, wasn't each moment of encounter for Gandhi was about bringing about systemic change? We would say no: that it is a set of habits which avoid the crushing and devastatingly naive expectation that systemic change can happen over night. To put it another way, this momentariness is the key to avoiding what Fabian calls a naive dialogical ethnography, whereby implicit and explicit expectations of permanent reconciliation between "others" are set up. These are impossible, unproductive, and sometimes even harmful expectations which the system of the production of knowledge itself may never fulfill. While such a resolution may happen, it can only come through an accumulation of these smaller moments of change, including changes in the practices of lifelong conversations between Hindus and non-Hindus.
Finally, we also think that direct momentary encounters of mutual correction and engagement between Hindus and non-Hindus is following an essentially Hindu practice. We all know that Mahatma Gandhi could detect no inconsistency in engagement with other religious traditions. He declared that he could, without in any way whatsoever impairing the dignity of Hinduism, pay equal homage to the best of Islam, Christianity, Zoroastrianism and Judaism." (The Essence of Hinduism, p. 1) This view was fine for the 20th century, where ecumenicism was a kind of moral obligation which was "extra" to our spiritualities. Now, however, now we need to interpret Gandhi's statements even more radically. We want to argue something more extreme, which is that, in the twenty-first century, to be religious is to be inter-religious. To be authentically and religiously Hindu is to engage and read, over a lifetime's commitment, in another religious tradition as well as one's own. Thus we are committed, as Gandhi would have wanted us to be, in a lifetime of non-naive moments of correction, embarrassment, and exhilaration all at once.
Principles Instituted before the Satyagraha Campaign
- Harbor no anger but suffer the anger of the opponent. Refuse to return the assault of the opponent.
- Do not submit to any order given in anger, even though severe punishment is threatened for disobeying.
- Refrain from insults and swearing.
- Protect opponents from insult or attack, even at the risk of life.
- Do not resist arrest nor the attachment of property, unless holding property as a trustee.
- Refuse to surrender any property held in trust at the risk of life.
- If taken prisoner, behave in an exemplary manner.
Principles (Impossible Ideals) Translated into Academic Practice
- Harbor no anger but suffer the anger of the opponent. Give up the ingrained academic habit of harboring hidden resentment.
- Do not submit to any critique given in anger. Do not submit to any critique that does not consider both sides of an issue, even at the risk of one's academic reputation.
- Refrain from insults and swearing. Refrain from innuendos that a person's race, ethnicity, religion, or teacher automatically determines his or her intellectual positions.
- Protect opponents from insult or attack, even at the risk of one's academic reputation.
- Do not resist or avoid being detained or questioned by opponents.
- Refuse to surrender any intellectual heritage deemed valuable, even at the risk of one's academic reputation. (So-called "Hindu . . . non-Hindu," "Western" and "Indian" intellectual heritages are forms of public trust which cannot be unthinkingly and summarily abandoned under pressure from the opponent)
- If held hostage on the web or in print or in person by one's opponent, behave in exemplary manner. Focus on the argument for the intellectual imprisonment, and not the persons doing the imprisoning. In conversations never refer to the opponent's race, ethnicity, religion, or teachers.