CRI did a hit job at Kanchi Peetham under the disguise of calling the infamous case against Sri Jayendra Saraswati as flawed. That the case is flawed is a well known fact even before CRI woke up to the reality. One of the best arguments on the fraudulent nature of the case is presented by Subhash Kashyap in his book “Indian Constitution: Conflicts and Controversies”.
CRI’s article, my protests regarding the comments made in it, arguments by CRI’s owners and Aravindan Neelakanthan – the author of the piece – against the protests voiced by some of the folks like me have all taught some lessons. I would like to share them whoever cares.
First, the slander that went online through CRI (verbatim):
1) “He came out unambiguously against untouchability and agreed, at least in principle, to the appointment of archakas (temple priests) from across the caste spectrum. One may very well argue that these gestures were too little and too late. ” – This is about Jayendra Saraswati
2) “Sri Jayendra Saraswati missed the opportunity to stand out in one facet. His predecessor Sri Chandrashekharendra Saraswati held several regressive opinions and perceptions with regard to pressing social issues. Sri Chandrashekharendra Saraswati’s activities in relation to the temple entry movement for Dalits will always remain a dark chapter in the religious history of the Hindus.”
3) Sri Chandrashekharendra Saraswati, in his personal life as a monk, exceeded even Gandhi in leading a life of simplicity and transparency…..Sri Jayendra Saraswati should have striven to live by those ideals, for the path he chose to tread was more dangerous and radical than the one chosen by his master. He changed the outlook of the Mutt, by visiting the bastis of the Dalits, accepting prasadam from Dalit priests, providing financial support to Dalit entrepreneurs through the Mutt. These earnest attempts were not without their problems for the sheer patronizing tone. The statement, allegedly made by him, that Dalits should enter temples only after taking a bath are objectionable and should be condemned. Similarly, his views on women should also be ignored.
Most of the piece seems to be a signal to the progressive liberal community that while the author finds the case against Sri Jayendra Saraswati fraudulent, he is to be pardoned because he finds the peetham’s views as regressive. The piece goes into a totally unnecessary trajectory about assaults against women. The reason for this digression is unknown but it would be safe to assume that it may be for pleasing “progressive liberal” overlords. What else could explain those 2 disclaimer paragraphs that the author is a progressive and AcharAyas regressive in their opinions about “burning” social issues.
It seemed to many like me that the author could have simply called the case as fraud because as a matter of fact, the case is fraud as explained in the reference already mentioned. But Aravindan doesn’t do that. He goes into a 2 paragraph disclaimer about peetham’s “regressive” views and gives another 3 paragraphs of opinion irrelevant to the case. The intentions of the author are unclear. So as a powerless reader of CRI, what could I do? Voice a note of protest and that is exactly what I did.
CRI didn’t care about the protests
Many like me voiced protests through the social media to the owners of CRI. The retorts and rebuttals provided by the author and the owners of CRI were nothing short of deplorable.
Prasanna Vishwanathan tweeted to this extent that “Sri Chandrashekharendra Saraswati even supported Congress”. Should we then call out the fraud in his own irrational support to Stalin and Vaiko? More importantly, is that the ideology of CRI – “anti-congressism”? That may be a short term strategy for a long term goal, which would be alright but if that is the ideology of CRI, they better retrospect because we now know what happened to Thehelka for being a decidedly “anti-BJP” publication.
To my absolute horror, Prasanna even tweeted (verbatim):
Mob votes Jaya faithfully (her rogue cops fixed seer with vengeance) but pour vitroil on intellectally honest thinker like Aravindan Neel
Does it mean, according to Prasanna, that as long as one doesn’t vote for Jaya, he can question Aravindan? Does it mean that not voting for Jaya is a qualification one acquires to question a honest intellectual and thinker like Aravindan? What sense does it make?
The justification by the author, Aravindan Neelakanthan, didn’t cut much ice either. He even tweeted (verbatim)
But often the orthodoxy uses Hindu traditionalists who willingly become the victims ultimately harming Hindutva.
Thus according to the honest intellectual thinker, as Prasanna likes to call Aravindan, “hindu traditionalists are a great threat to Hindutva”. How different is this compared to DMK chief Karunanidhi’s deplorable comments on Brahmins and upavItam? Are we to assume that all those who continue to respect and follow traditional hindu customs i.e., hindu traditionalists (as labelled by Aravindan) ought not to participate and contribute to Hindutva because they are fundamentally harming it? Does one may even ask Aravindan if this set of people i.e., Hindu traditionalists would include only brahmins or are there others to be listed in there?
Questioning Kanchi Peetham isnt wrong
Some of the folks who didn’t find Aravindan’s slander against peetham acceptable, asked “how could you question a revered figure like him”. Stupidity of such a question is only paralleled by the rebuttals offered by some other folks. For instance, this is a comment from the site (verbatim):
It is precisely this blind belief and resistance to any questioning of our gurus, which is in large part responsible for the vicious selective targeting of our own gurus. Let us be open to honest questioning and also be open to thoroughly answering all questions regarding the character and ideas of all our gurus.
Heres another example (verbatim):
The immense amount of service rendered by the acharya makes us all deeply grateful to him. Questioning his views on Dalits certainly doesn’t bring down the value of his great service to mankind one bit. All I’m saying is, as devotees, we must make sure that all questions are answered in full, because unanswered questions embolden character assassins. These are modern hindus! One ends up wondering “why is our comprehension of logic so weak?.
The problem with this line of argument from both sides may not be apparent.
What do we tell a biologist who calls Electromigration in semi conductor devices as hypothetical?
What do we tell a class VI student thinks that nuclear physics is voodoo magic?
In both cases, we would ask the person to trust the scientists because their theories are adhering to fundamental principles of inquiry and are reviewed by others who have same or have better knowledge.
In both cases, we could otherwise ask the concerned persons to go through the academic or experimental process of ascertaining the facts of phenomenon in question, before issuing a judgement.
Wouldn’t those be logical means of finding answers to the burning questions posed? Wouldn’t both the means apply equal well when we are questioning our own AcharyAs?
In Aravindan’s case, he does not do either. This is the case with most “progressive liberal” Hindus. Most of the times, these same Hindus take the same line of inquiry viz a viz “I question your conclusions though I don’t have faintest interest in going through the process of acquiring the knowledge that resulted in that conclusion”.
It would have yielded much better answers had Aravindan joined Kanchi peetham, went through the process of educating himself through the peetham before issuing his judgement.
In his other comments on the same matter, Aravindan brings in a new term called “practical vedanta”. If Aravindan’s reasoning is to be taken seriously, Adi sankara’s erudite analysis and explanation of vedanta is not practical. This should mean, by extension, that advaita vedanta should have died but to the contrary, it created a Vivekananda. Ironically enough Aravindan claims that Vivekananda’s was practical vedanta and he would like to create a social structure based on “that” practical vedanta. One cursory reading of Vivekananda’s views on Adi sankara and advaita vedanta would have probably removed the hurdles in Aravindan’s vision.
What do we learn from this episode?
Analysis of our AcharyAs’ teachings in the context of modern political phraseology like “progressive”, “liberal”, “right and left” etc., would result in conclusions that would distance us from those very schools of thought. Educating ones self in the path of vedanta requires AcharyAs like those at Kanchi, Sringeri. Without their guidance, we would only survive, not live.
Paramacharya’s life and teachings give us an outlook that lets us at least hinge on to that thin thread still linking us to our heritage. Following Vivekananda, Narayan Guru or for that matter Dayananda doesn’t necessarily decouple us from parmAchArya. They don’t need to be compared with each other. That is a job that the likes of Romila Thappar have already done with all sophistry. If it is our goal to add to our enemy’s arsenal, we ought to re-think what we are really aiming at – it could well be that the barrel is actually pointing towards our own armies.
Update (3 Dec 13): Now Kalavai Venkat joined the discussion on CRI. Again, my point still remains. Who is Kalavai Venkat? Did he get his formal education on shAstras? Kalavai Venkat and Aravindan may be erudite scholars of “impeccable” character and “unquenchable” thirst for knowledge but it they are not educated on the matters of shAstras and vedAs. If they put their money where their mouth is, they should go into formal education, challenge AchAryas on the various “regressive” opinions, defeat them and then claim what their version is correct and that AchAryas have always been wrong. How can you critically analyze Newton’s theories without understanding the basis of those theories? But of course, how can we do that? We are progressive liberal right! Like progressive liberal left, we are beyond scrutiny!