Sponsored By: Infinity Foundation

Global Renaissance Conference Series

Global Renaissance Conference Series
I. Completing the Global Renaissance:
The Indic Contributions

July 2002 Colloquium Report


Our inaugural colloquium at Menla in Phoenicia, NY was a great success. Attendees’ responses to the colloquium are posted below.


July 2002 Colloquium Responses

After the colloquium, participants were asked to respond to the following questions:

  1. What did you like most about the Colloquium? What did you gain from it? What did you find most valuable, productive, interesting, enlightening, challenging, etc. about it? What/who surprised you? How might this affect your further research interests and methods?
  2. What did you like least about the Colloquium? What did you find to be unproductive (or even counter-productive), misguided, etc.? How would you have changed these things? What/who surprised you in a negative way? How might this affect your further research interests and methods?
  3. How shall we proceed from here? (Here “we” can mean either (a) “we” as a collective community of scholars and/or (b) “we” the Infinity Foundation and/or the Global Renaissance Institute). What further initiatives should we plan and seek to fund? What would you envision your role being in this? Who else should we include?

These responses varied greatly in length and detail. Shorter responses are given below first, followed by more detailed ones. Of the detailed responses, some address the above questions point by point (sometimes repeating the questions), while others are written more freely.

All responses have been posted here, with no editing or censoring (except in a few instances where it seemed prudent to remove personal requests, references, and so forth intended as private communications).

All participants were informed that their responses would be posted anonymously unless they requested otherwise.


Short Responses

This was one of the best conferences I have attended in recent years. I was most impressed by two things: 1) the scholars who presented. I liked almost all the papers that were presented. All were just first rate and highly engaging. This does not happen in all the meetings and conferences. 2) Connected with the first, and perhaps more important was the whole organization of the colloquium from content to logistics. Everything went well. The papers were grouped well, the accommodation was in a very lively setting, and the food was great. I must congratulate all of you for providing us stimulating food for thought.

What may be improved? Nothing in terms of improvement really but more in terms of broadening the forum, I think, it may help to include more indic traditions in the future.

Overall, it was a wonderful event and I thouroughly enjoyed it. It was a great learning experience and I was glad to be a part of it.

Thank you all for a highly successful event.

To me, who was not an insider to the Inner Sciences, the Colloquium was a grand success by any standards. I learnt a great deal and enjoyed the scholarly and discussions which were done in a very democratic spirit.

Though TKS was represented mainly by 2-3 speakers, it had its own impact. I am however of the opinion that a separate meeting of History of Asian Science would be more fruitful and meaningful. It could be organised in a year or two in US/India/Kyoto.

I also suggest that meetings of each Mandala gate, of course on a smaller scale, would prove more useful.

I … wanted to write to thank each and every one of you for an inspiring few days. I know I will be in touch with some of you on follow up projects; more importantly, I learned an enormous amount from each one of you and will continue to do so as I hope to follow your scholarship.

Like everyone else I have personally learnt a lot myself and the whole Colloquium has been extremely enriching for me.

The Menla conference was uneven in quality: meeting you [Bob Thurman], … and [various others] … were great bonuses. But it was very exhausting….

Menla was so charming and calming as a place. Yet there was so little time to enjoy the PLACE! I would love to go back there with fewer philosophers and perhaps learn some Tibetan Tantra from [various scholars]….

Thanks for the wonderful hospitality!

1. Invite a clinician/psychotherapist from India to join our colloquium whose theory/practice draws from Indic sources. It is alarming that the DSM-IV is being used by Indian clinicians to give names to “mental disorders” to Indian patients instead of using catergories (and treatments) drawn (at least in part) from an “Indian Psychology.” Mental “disorders” are often culture-bound (as the DSM IV itself makes most clear), thus it is potentially iatrogenic to us a Eurocentric nosology in India.

2. Breadth of fields was exhilirating and erudition of expertise was stunning. Future events would, however, benefit by breaking into small groups of same-field specialists where discussion can go deeper.

3. The elist will help us to fashion future projects–but it will be helpful to know each other’s “special interests” in more detail to help stimulate relevant new projects that we can/might work on in small teams. Maybe we each should list five “areas of interest.”

I am interested in meeting Indian Yogis with personal knowledge of Kundalini, for example–I can use the elist to see who can help me.

The meeting was very stimulating and rewarding, as it brought together people from many different backgrounds covering philosophy, sociology, linguistics and (like myself) science, all united by their interest in things connected with Indic traditions and history. I learnt a great deal from many of the presentations made at the meeting, and was also happy to make acquaintance with many scholars that I had not had the pleasure of meeting before. I think we saw at Menla the beginnings of a group that could pursue many of the projects that you are proposing to start. I am a firm believer that a self-confident and self-critical assessment of Indic traditions is long overdue, and is something that should be done without any delay. The group of distinguished people you collected at Menla is precisely the kind that can help in that extraordinarily important project. I look forward to any possibilities of working with you and with some of the others present there on issues of my own interest.

Adding to the value of the meeting were the pleasant and very quiet surroundings in which it was held. This made the meeting thoroughly enjoyable and I must thank you, Bob Thurman, and all his and your colleagues and friends who made the meeting so rewarding.


Detailed Responses

Detailed Response 1

The Infinity Colloquium, held at the Menla Center in the Catskill mountains, upstate New York, from 24th-29th July 2002 was really a memorable experience. I don’t believe I have encountered so many outstanding scholars on Indic traditions in one room. It gave me an opportunity to meet, either for the first time, or once again, noted figures like Tenzin Bob Thurman, Arvind Sharma, George Cordona, Ashok Aklujkar, T. S. Rukmani, Arindam Chakravarty, Rajeshwari Pandharipande, Ian Wicher, and several others. I thought that the quality of the papers was uniformly high and, in some cases, utterly superb. What is more the informal exchanges and interactions, during the breaks and meals, were equally engaging and enriching. One special feature of the Colloquium was that there were in it scholars from a variety of disciplines including religion, philosophy, linguistics, literature, sanskrit studies, history, even engineering, and science. These scholars were drawn not just from the US or Canada, but also from India, the UK, Australia, and other parts of the world. They came in varied age groups and belonged, also, to a variety of faiths, including Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianty, Jainism, and Judaism. It is absurd to claim, as some critics have, that the whole meeting was planned to promote a specific ideology. My impression was that there was, on the contrary, an attempt to open up issues, to resist homogenization of Indic traditions, and to emphasize the plurality inherent in them, all the while also being critical of the dominant and established ways in which they have been studied and institutionalized.

What made the conference exceptional was that the usual kind of professional cleverness that marks academic meetings was, for once, replaced by something deeper and more genuine–the urge to explore and exchange meaningful ideas. There was a refreshing absence of cliques, power groups, and petty politics during the meeting. Perhaps, it had something to do with the atmoshphere at Menla, almost like a retreat or an ashram, so far from the noise, pollution, dirt, and distractions of the city. The food, too, was excellent, mostly gourmet vegetarian fare prepared under the expert supervision of Neena Thurman. In addition to the intellectual activities during the day, there was also varied and relaxing entertainment at night. One evening, we had Braj bhajans by a leading American exponent, Shyam das-ji. It was quite strange but also thrilling to hear Braj spoken so well, though with a distinct US accent!

My only criticism is that there were too many papers, packed too close so that there was a sense of surfeit. We could have had more time for discussion and fewer formal presentations.

To conclude: as a participant from India, I feel very encouraged by the Colloquium. It opens up new areas of interdisciplinarity and intercultural academic exchange. I am grateful to Rajiv Malhotra, Bob Thurman, and Tom Yarnall for putting together what I hope is only the first but certainly not the last such colloquium.


Detailed Response 2


Thanks for arranging the colloquium in such nice surroundings and with such talented people in attendance. I learned many new things. The good will transcending the East-West gulph, the linguistic divides,the age-differences, specialization differences etc. which I experienced was, I think, the most precious gain in the four days.

Given the tendency of academics, you will probably receive much expression of interest in attending another colloquium. I, however, think that we have gathered enough insight and information to work well for at least the next 5 years. The time for concentrating on action, as distinct from discussion, in the light of what we have learned has come. This means what you have begun should be fine-tuned and intensified and a few other projects for which time is the critical consideration should be begun. The Foundation resources should not be spent for at least a few years on arranging another gathering, although I would love to meet the bright souls who attended the just concluded colloquium.

On the action side, preference should be given, in the foreseeable future, to projects that are more on the popularizing side than on the purely academic (although as an academic I would personally benefit from the latter). At several junctures during the colloquium you spoke of having a large enough number of persons behind the Foundation’s activities in order to be able to effect a change of the desired kind in the perception of India. To raise this number, the most effective strategy would be to work at the source or starting points and to aim at achieving wave effects wherever possible. I specifically suggest financial support, in collaboration with other appropriate agencies wherever possible, for the following:

1. A summer school of six weeks at some place in North America for highschool teachers. This should introduce them to Indian history etc. and enable them to introduced more of India in their school teaching in a positive way. The place to be chosen should be one where a concentration of schools exists. Later the places could alternate or be more than one.

2a. An intensive summer school of six weeks for the preservation and spread of the knowledge of classical languages of India, particularly Sanskrit.

2b. A non-intensive school for the same, combined with ‘Great literary works of India in translation,’ ‘Introduction to Indian history,’ etc.

3. One-to-three-day courses, arranged in India, for persons with defininte emigration arrangements. The Government of India has now clearly realised the importance of keeping in touch with the NRIs. It should not be difficult to convince it of the importance (a) of sending abroad Indians who are knowledgeable about the achievements of their country and (b) of spreading the message of ‘nurturing roots’ and ‘re-investing.’ The GoI will probably agree to fund and arrange such courses if the Foundation could provide qualified NRI teachers.

4. Creation of teaching assistantships at North American universities for India subjects. These are less costly than Chairs. They would free professors to teach more courses, create a body of young scholars grateful for the support received and serve as inducements for the universities to retain the existing professorships.

5. Creation of web-pages/sites where the shortcomings and errors of available textbooks will be pointed out and substitute or additional materials will be listed or made available.

6. Periodic circulation to schools at all levels of one-page information materials of the ‘Did you know’ kind which I sent you last year or some months ago.

7. Some arrangement for bringing traditionally trained scholars or experts to North American schools after they have been advised in India on the effective ways of reaching North American audiences/students.

I have already spoken to you about the need of offering matching or partial funds to universities like mine at which the prospects of teaching subjects like Sanskrit are not very strong. To raise these funds,you should try to prevail upon the successful IT people and the Deepak Chopras at the appropriate time. Perhaps a continental endowment with tax-exemption status should be created for such a purpose, so that the specified donors can contribute amounts in annual instalments.

Organizations should not be one-pillar tents. It will be very, very difficult to find someone who has your quick grasp of the issues, your ability to articulate the issues and your managerial skills. If the work of Infinity Foundation envisaged at presnt is to be completed, you should, I think, begin to train and appoint (not in a monetary or salaried way) persons on the *practical* side of Foundation activity.


Detailed Response 3

First, thanks for inviting me to the Indic Colloquium and for all the kindness and courtesies extended to me during those five days. Tom, you have been wonderful in many ways in silently attending to most of our needs, meticulously keeping the time at the presentations and being even-handed in giving opportunities to the discussants. I am more than ever impressed by Rajiv’s encyclopedic intellectual breadth, incisive mind and altruistic commitment to the mission he set for himself. Bob’s presentation is truly a transforming experience, like watching Gandhi movie. I learned much and humbled by the scholarship and dedication of the many participants.

Even though I was in two minds when Rajiv wrote me about the Colloquium, I am glad I decided to attend it. I had significantly benefitted from it. I met a few old friends, made several new ones. Many of the presentations were close to my heart. Some I would vigorously argure against. But I learnt from both categories.

I attended several conferences on a similar theme in the past. One that comes to mind, which is closest to the Colloquium, is the one organized by the Indian Council of Cultural Relations under the direct patronage of then prime-minister himself, Sri P.V. Narasimha Rao. The conference was devoted for advancing Indian studies worldwide. They invited forty Indic scholars from different countries and forty Indian scholars from within India. Some of the papers presented at the Conference are published in a book entitled Perennial Tree edited by K.S. Murthy. Even though I was sitting at the main table at this Conference, unlike the Colloquium where I was very much on the sidelines, I must say that I got more out of your Colloquium than the Conference in a five star hotel in Kovalam Beach in December of 1994. I am greatly impressed by the breadth of scholarship present and the depth of interest in advancing Indian studies in the West that I sensed at the Colloquium. One reason why the Indian Conference is less successful (of course one negatuve, unlike the Colloquium, it was state sponsored) is that there were too many participants and too little time to meaningfully discuss any issue. Even the Indic Coloquium is guilty to some extent of the same problem, but it was somewhat mitigated by the genuine commitment of the participants to promote Indian studies in the West.

As I see it, the Colloquium had twin objectives, one is strategic and the other is a more academic intellectual challenge. Both Bob and Rajiv stated the mission and objectives eloquently in their opening presentations. I would have liked to see more discussion following their presentations to focus on the mission and objectives and the strategies needed to achieve them. My own sense is that Rajiv’s strategy and Bob’s objectives are clearly distinct. I do not think they are desparate, but they need to be seen as related. How does the advancement of Indian studies in the West help to bring about global renaissance? What is the relationship between the inner and outer sciences? How does the development of inner sciences contribute to avert the lurking dangers of the great strides made by the outer sciences, eg.,physics and genetic sciences? Why is it so important that we need to promote the tools and technologies of the mind that classical Indic traditions have outlined to bring about the global transformation so graphically depicted by Bob. I wish we had discussed these and related issues to refine our own dialogue, sharpen the argument for advancing Indic studies and to connect Rajiv’s strategy with Bob’s vision.

There were some scholarly papers that I would have enjoyed if presented in other forums. I found them inappropriate in the Colloquium.

I have a few suggestions that the organisers may keep in mind as they prepare for similar gatherings in future.

1. Limit the size of the gatherings. Provide more opportunities for formal discussions following the presentations.

2. Future conferences may be organized in a two-tiered format. The first tier is more strategic than academic. I will consider the Indic Colloquium we had as a strategic conference rather than being an academic colloquium. The strategic conference may have upto 50 participants. Here the focus should be on transdisciplinary and cross-cultural discussions. The academic colloquium should have no more than 25 participants , scholars in a limited number of related disciplines. The focus in these meetings is on advancing certain disciplinary areas.

3. It would be helpful to have a folder consisting of papers for presentation available at the conference venue before the start of the conference.

4. A good balance between Western and Indian participants may be maintained.

5. The facilities we had were excellent. The venue, whether in India or in the US, should be as quite and nondistracting as the one we had last month.

6. In conferences with independent thinkers and scholars, there is a general tendency to score intellectual points with egos sharply sticking out. This should be avoided to the extent possible. Scholars, like the mid-level sanyasins who are very much in the world, tend to be too involved with themselves. This tends to be often counterproductive.

I have written the above spontaneously without any rehearsal. I hope they would be read in the spirit in which they were written. I have no problem with your sharing these thoughts with others.

With warm personal regards and thanks again for having me at the Colloquium.


Detailed Response 4

(1) What did you like most about the Colloquium? What did you gain from it? What did you find most valuable, productive, interesting, enlightening, challenging, etc. about it? What/who surprised you? How might this affect your further research interests and methods?

[Answer] Lots of things. Mainly meeting lots of friendly and supportive people all geenrally pushing in the same direction (if sometimes in quite different ways), the general good humor and tone of the colloquium.

The conference centre was wonderful and the whole thing was extremely well organised.

The web-site, giving an opportunity to download copies of the papers both before and after the conference was also a good idea.

(2) What did you like least about the Colloquium? What did you find to be unproductive (or even counter-productive), misguided, etc.? How would you have changed these things? What/who surprised you in a negative way? How might this affect your further research interests and methods?

[Answer] It was initially unclear whether the time allocated for each session was for the delivery of a paper or if it included discussion time also.

There was not sufficient time for discussion / comment after each paper.

I was disappointed that the Colloquium did not end with a real round-robin discussion of future project ideas etc.

(3) How shall we proceed from here? (Here “we” can mean either (a) “we” as a collective community of scholars and/or (b) “we” the Infinity Foundation and/or the Global Renaissance Institute). What further initiatives should we plan and seek to fund? What would you envision your role being in this? Who else should we include?

[Answer] Organise further conferences and broaden out from the Indic emphasis (particularly to demonstrate to certain key external observers that this is not a chauvinistic enterprise). It is vital, for instance that ‘Indic’ events in future include specialists in the Sikh traditions for instance (I have a suggestion in terms of whom to approach in this regard). I would also strongly advocate extending the remit to include South Asian Islam. The import of “Indic” is normally based upon the principle of “Indian origin”, but the emphasis on origins feeds too easily into reading the agenda as chauvinistic and Hindu-centric by outsiders. In the interests of a truly global renaissance, the point is to overturn western chauvinism and triumphalism. On ‘originating in the region’ grounds for instance a conference on the “Sinic contribution” would have to exclude Buddhism which would be very strange indeed given its massive contribution to Chinese culture. Even if one insisted upon keeping to the strictly “Indic” origin as a defining feature, why can we not read Indian forms of Sufism for instance as an example of an Indic contribution to Islam?

Set up an exploratory (but at this stage by invitation-only) email discussion list. You are already doing this. Given some of the controversies going in in relation to the Infinity Foundation and RISA-L etc however, it would be VERY important that all participants accepted the general principle that they do not cite comments from such discussions in other contexts without the permission of the author. This is not because members of the discussion group would have “secrets” or agendas to hide, but rather to avoid the dangers of citing out of context.

Follow up on the groundwork done here with further symposia, research projects and educational initiatives in the various sub-areas of the GRI’s remit.

Base this follow up on the principle of a dual-tracked emphasis – on the one hand to ENGAGE mainstream knowledge paradigms and theories by providing academically rigorous and peer-reviewed counter-evidence to prevailing Eurocentric assumptions within these debates (e.g. examples that show that Indian civilization did have science / technology in the western sense) – on the other hand to explore alternative discourses and knowledge systems that DISPLACE the terms of the mainstream paradigms (e.g. challenging modern western notions of what counts as ‘science’ in order to allow alternate knowledge paradigms to emerge). Both projects are important and in my view co-related.

Find ways to engage in sensitive and constructive debate and “consciousness-raising” about these issues in a non-confrontational manner with mainstream academic / educational groups. This would need to be done sensitively and carefully and in a way that did not make either ‘side’ feel especially threatened, i.e. in a reflexive manner that would encourage a mutual recognition of vulnerabilities and tendencies to overstate the case on both sides. Only then do people feel safe enough to engage in a constructive exploration and dialogue together. Otherwise there is the tendency for all participants in the debate to find themselves dug into a series of entrenched positions.


Detailed Response 5

Sangeetha Menon wrote:

Dear Tom, Let me take the three classes of questions you have given and frame my comments and thoughts mostly within these three classes of questions. And I will be glad to see my comments in this mail indicated by my name and NOT be anonymous when you publish it in the site.

(1) What did you like most about the Colloquium? What did you gain from it? What did you find most valuable, productive, interesting, enlightening, challenging, etc. about it? What/who surprised you? How might this affect your further research interests and methods?

[Answer] There are several things that I liked about the colloquium (henceforth indicated as CQM). So it is hard to point out the ‘most-liked’. To me the CQM was a wholesome and enriching experience in many ways and for many reasons. It was wholesome since it included the four Mandala-s and the agenda at the same time had academic and spiritual orientation. In fact, I will say that the most important factor that made this event wholesome, for me (and I am sure for many others) was the spiritual symbolism and undercurrents that were present through out. The verbal discourses and discussions were nicely interspersed with the nonverbal wisdom emanating from the Mandalas which adorned the back wall of the dais, and the sudden silence produced by the cymbals indicating the flow of time, by Tom. It was also interesting to watch the two dogs of the Thurmans–Sophie and Mora walking around and intersecting our worlds and minds with theirs’. Whether it was scholarship or experience sharing, everybody wanted to reach out to everybody else and be a part of the one single community of Being.

I got a perspective from an important cross-section of a community of people who shared concerns in many planes–academic, institutional, cultural etc. At the same time having a multidisciplinary discussion and sharing common concerns were unique to the CQM. It was also quite interesting to see where and how the ‘outer’ and ‘inner’ of Indic traditions meet, from the different presentations. It was startling to see the many misrepresentations (especially through Tara Sethia’s and Rajeshwari Pandharipande’s papers) and shallow approaches to Indic philosophical traditions and understanding ideas.

The feeling one got before, through and after the CQM was that ‘it was not just another conference’. The degree and kind of planning and discussions that took place before, through and after the CQM was remarkable and always maintained clarity in terms of what is to be achieved through the CQM. The air of informality that was present through out made everybody relaxed and helped everybody to be honest and outspoken about his/her ideas and perceptions. It was also evident that everybody wanted to reach each other and express solidarity for pursuing common concerns.

The discussions and exchange of ideas that continued in the evenings sometimes till midnight were very fruitful and enriching especially in the magnificent environment of Menla. The fears of dialogues turning into dry theoretical word plays were completely overruled by the discussions we had under the tall pine trees and the drizzles from the sky, and the deers passing by–all of which turned the dialogues into something that could be described as ‘wholesome’, ‘experiential’, and ‘spiritual’.

(2) What did you like least about the Colloquium? What did you find to be unproductive (or even counter-productive), misguided, etc.? How would you have changed these things? What/who surprised you in a negative way? How might this affect your further research interests and methods?

[Answer] It is difficult to say what I ‘liked least’ about the CQM. There was hardly anything that was not in place. However, a few instances struck my mind.

Since most of the papers were already available online before the start of the CQM, I (and am sure many others) could read most of the full-length papers before the presentations. The purpose was not that clear when some of the participants choose to read from their papers instead of presenting. An alternative could have been not an exhaustive presentation of all ideas discussed in the paper (especially when they were on minute and detailed aspects) but a focused reading of/discussion on selected ideas. This would have helped the listeners to form a line of thought to continue the discussion. This would have also worked well given the time limit of 30 minutes for each presenter.

Discussions that followed the presentations often raised interesting questions, provoked ideas etc. Since what were already available were the (full-length, in most cases) papers online, before the CQM started, and what was being awaited were the discussions, the division of time between presentation and discussion was uneven. It was expected that if not more at least half of the total time (for one presenter) would have been kept for discussion. Had there been more time for discussions after the presentations, the minds of both presenters and listeners could have been kept more active and alert.

Another disparity was in the distribution of chances for raising questions. Often people who were persistent, had ‘longer hands’, and louder voice succeeded in raising questions or even answering questions asked to the speaker by another listener. Discussion after each presentation could have been moderated in such a way that the questions raised were relevant to the ideas raised by the presenter, short and clear, and avoided circumlocutory monologues. Ofcourse this cannot be achieved by the effort of the moderator alone. At some points discussions instead of being addressed to the entire audience became parallel exchanges and had political overtones. This also led (very few occasions) to discussion and dialogue falling into debate, argumentation and establishing positions.

(3) How shall we proceed from here? (Here “we” can mean either (a) “we” as a collective community of scholars and/or (b) “we” the Infinity Foundation and/or the Global Renaissance Institute). What further initiatives should we plan and seek to fund? What would you envision your role being in this? Who else should we include?

[Answer] This CQM was preceded by discussions and exchanges for over two years. Many of the participants knew each other’s work to a good extent. The goals, causes and impediments too were known. All this made the CQM very much a continuation of the ongoing dialogue. From the discussions I had during the CQM and through emails before and after with several of the presenters and friends who could not make through for the CQM for various reasons, I found that the two primary concerns we share are: (i) to present and see the representations made of the outer Indic knowledge traditions and inner Indic sciences in an exhaustive and authentic manner, (ii) to have accurate and authentic documentations.

I would think that our attempts–individual and institutional–, research and learning could be helped much by guidelines like:

(1) seeing what is central to Indian ways of thinking whether it be our physical sciences, humanities or social sciences, (2) developing theories which can stand on its own, (3) giving up obsession with the idea that what is right and perfect needs to be ‘scientific’ and follow Western models of ‘rationality’, (4) focusing on Indian ways of thinking, experiencing and developing models based on these characteristics.

Since there is now a core group for all the four Mandala-s, focusing this group, apart from the book projects for the next five years, we could plan for biannual/annual small roundtables for each Mandala. These round tables could lead to annual seminars/conferences. Also, at the conference, apart from individual presentations, there could be panels dedicated for each Mandala which would help make consummations of earlier dialogues and exchanges which took place through round tables, and initiate new or continued discussions. The e-group just started with the CQM invitees was a very good idea.

The following are my specific thoughts on ‘Inner Sciences’ Mandala: At the CQM we ofcourse had some good discussions on Inner Sciences. However, if we concede that the Indic ‘inner’ traditions are constituted not only by philosophical (epistemological, metaphysical etc.) discussions but also what could be described as ‘spiritual living’, the discussions we devote on inner sciences have to be re-looked. This might be possible if we distinguish between ‘knowledge’ and ‘wisdom’ pertaining to Indic traditions. When on one hand we have challenging epistemological discourses, on the other hand we have all these discourses suggesting certain ways of spiritual experiencing and living. To represent inner sciences completely, and to focus on the major characteristic of inner sciences, we need to have, for example, apart from the technical discussions on minute aspects (though it would be always helpful to relate them to a larger context) of epistemological processes in various traditions, how, why or what these traditions recommend for spiritual exploration and self-inquiry. This is one reason during the last one year I have started studying texts like Natyasastra closely and from an experiential, spiritual perspective and place it in the context of ‘consciousness studies’. Also, this is one reason I was greatly benefited by the presentations made by Stuart Sovatsky and Joe Loizzo.

This CQM has helped me in many ways, gave me more insights into my own mind and also others’. I was benefited by many discussions and dialogues I had. I wish to thank one and all at the CQM. I wish to end this rather long write-up by offering my Pranam to Rajiv, Bob and Tom and all others who were responsible for planning and setting up this first venture of a very noble journey.


– Sangeetha Menon


Detailed Response 6


A Personal Reflection

Lest complacency sets in forever over what has been said and what has not been said. I am one of those who accepted the invitation to travel to Phoenicia past Woodstock for the Indic Colloquium. I had moments of hesitation and angst, even trepidation that I shared with at least three other unsure participants as some nine of us arrived around the same time at the Albany Airport and found ourselves waiting and waiting for the elusive promised van to arrive. (And it is a frustrating experience especially when you are so damn jetlagged.) Then when finally the journey toward the magnificent hills and valleys began I had another bout of doubt wondering who are all these people I would be sequested with for four days and nights in this remote wilds of nature with possibly no escape route. There were flashbacks of the day some years back when I had immediately but foolishly set off from LAX airport in a rent-a-wreck toward Death Valley for a conference of the W.A.V.E.S. in which my name had been enlisted by a trusted colleague of mine (and because the conference was originally planned to be held in UCLA with some involvement of SarDesai, its legitimacy was not something I was moved to question then). I struggled to brush that recollection aside as other conversations transpired and I joined in, or led, some Hindi filmi signing and a little mirth.

My experiences, incidentally, at that First W.A.V.E.S conference are well-known and I rehearsed that on RISA-L list back in April which led to a thread of responses and warning, culminating in Gerald Larson’s most recent endorsement of a watchgod stance we the religionists of South Asia need to take against any number of crackpot religious and groupie cults that are attempting to subvert the proper, academic and critical study of religions and traditions of South Asia, etc. Right on! Having been a victim of the WAVES imbroglio and seeing my own former teachers from BHU, now in regal VHP silk kurta and dhotis (that I once emulated in a RISA panel in Boston), ready to dismiss me for taking up the cause of the “minorities” against Savarkar and his take on the unIndianness of those who allegedly proclaim their pitrabhuma elsewhere, etc., I could not agree with Gerry more. I must say I was having nightmares on the inauguration night. Happy pictures of the Dalai Lama and Maitreya provided some small solace.

I will cut short this narrative and not go into details of the proceedings as these are now available and Yvette has reported on much of it – although her impressions of the intellectually good and bad differ markedly from mine own – but I will briefly address the kind of issues that have troubled people who were not present at the conference and have rightly or wrongly chosen to highlight certain aspects of the organizational and sponsoring agendas etc. I must confess that not being a great fan of webscans and finding myself busy traveling weeks prior to the conference, I had not paid much attention to agenda and mission statements as others have gone through these with critical toothcomb.

Firstly, what attracted me in the first place was the good number of fellow Indian philosophers (or philosophers working on Indo-Tibetan thought, perhaps the Matilal parampara) who were going to be present at the conference, and we all looked forward to what would be a healthy dose of argument and debate (vivaada and banter) as in previous meetings, such as back in Oxford or Philosophy East West gatherings, albeit at a much much smaller scale. Secondly, as with any grand conference I expected there would be a mix of papers and presentations; but I was also excited that a good number of scholars (feminist and Gandhians among them, a leading scientist heading a prominent secular institute in the south, a Sri Lankan scholar et al) had come from South Asia alongside scholars working on Tibetan traditions. This would tend to balance the tendency toward a hegemony of Indian expatriate or diaspora and Anglo-American scholars. Thirdly, there were arrayed there, as if on a scholarly kurukshetra (purukshetra), at least a dozen people I have been working with very closely on a number of projects that had nothing to do with the narrow designs of either the Hindutva, East India Company, perhaps of Infinity Foundation, or for that matter RISA (where Buddhism – not a religion of India? – is almost never discussed).

Last but not least, with such supportive colleagues I felt confident that I could let my loose my deconstructive critical or worryingly Gandhian mind, and at the best of times significantly apaurusheya MImAmsaka skepticism, run their full course at the conference. I was not deterred in this, nor was I discouraged at any point. Armed with my daily change of hats, I was determined that once inside the conference hall this was fair game, and that like any self-respecting academic and scholarly meeting there would be little tolerance on my part at least for any nonsense, short-circuits, and most of all propaganda especially if it veers towards the intellectual and political right. I happened to be seated toward the front which meant that I could have my upraised hand noticed by the chairing person as soon as a paper or presentation would finish. And I did not pull punches. It is there on record as the entire proceedings including question and discussion times were recorded. Nor did a few others, like George Cardona, whose masterly paper attempted to address a curious line being run elsewhere in Europe according to which the “rational” (i.e. logical, critical) thinking in India began possibly only with the Abhidharma intervention; even Tibeto-Buddhist scholars found this latter assertion hard to fathom or swallow without choking on the iced-over ghee in the chai. It was by no means a convenient marriage rite of Vedantists (or Vendettists as a student once described them) and Candrakirtian Buddhists.

All in all the philosophers, the handful of theologians, scientists, clinicians, textualists, and non-aligned observers, attentively intervened and engaged in discussions on what interested them most in their respective fields with a view to advancing the fields, deepening certain unthought questions, and getting on with thinking about issues that scholars in the field anywhere would raise or should raise on these matters. These discussions went on freely into the wee hours of the evening after dinner or a treat to some live music, etc.

I might add that there were moments of frustration too. One participant thought he could reduce all scholarly and intellectual efforts in the Indic and extra-Indic connections to the towering wisdom of a single classical aesthetician, almost to the point of irritation. But there was no other, sinister or hidden, agenda in this naiveté; there was no apologia apparent here for the right (it was just a belated academic celebration with a touch of tantric-tarkik sense of fun). There was rhetoric too, but this is to be expected. And there was am unhealthy naivety about current situations in the subcontinent, particularly as regards communal issues. One did not hear much about the Muslim situation, the Gujarat debacle was not discussed, minority rights or its supposed excessiveness came in for attack. The question of the strategies for empowering underprivileged caste groups was probably better handled. However, toward the close of the conference there was more openness to discuss more sensitively the left-out groups, and those targeted by saffron groups as the culprits in the decline of the “Indic civilization” (conflation of Indic with Hindu). It was obvious that there was scope to extend reflections in these areas, and I was myself overwhelmed with the response I received to certain connections I was making between Gandhi and the genesis of the African American civil rights movements: one would have to stretch one’s imagination to the point of irrationality to hear three cheers here for any universalizing, hegemonic discourse of the Hindutva or VHP pedigree as such connections, and Gandhian thought especially, broker no deal for the fundamentalist and communalizing causes.

I wish to end my reflections with one meta-analytical observation on the issue that most non-participants seem to have honed in on, namely, the mission statements and reverse orientalism type of mentalite that appear to have been underwritten as the subtext of the Colloquium. Well, as I hinted earlier I do not think the majority of the attendees gave much serious attention to this neo-agenda calling. I think most perhaps squinted their eyebrows and treated these objectives as a charter much like the charter of big corporates or institutions and enterprises one finds oneself working for. (And most mission statements in their prolixity border on the absurd.) The charter for Sanskrit Chairs around the world, especially in the older establishments, probably haven’t changed since the imperial days, but which does not mean that the encumbents to the Chairs swear to or remain beholden to the charters. (Some might even poke light fun at the expectations, such as engendering the power to govern the natives through a mastery of Sanskrit, etc. long after the natives have reclaimed their freedom, etc).

Reading the gloss on the much touted four “Objectives” (as carefully as my colleague Greg Bailey has) in hindsight certainly makes one nervous, and rightly so if the intentions are as overdetermined as they sound to be, or ideologically as misconceived as the sorts of motivations these are meant to address or rectify. Ends do not justify the means. Given also that focus shifted from time to time on the study of Hinduism in America and its dominance within certain courtier or type of scholarship, but at the neglect of the rest of the world, there should be some concern about a seeming American Hinduist imperialism for those who came from elsewhere (Canada, Australia, India). When all said and done, however, I am not persuaded that this focus on the part of the Colloquium is as parochial and pernicious as to be forever stuck on this issue; and despite its clamour for a global “renaissance” (which, by the way, came under severe questioning in at least one paper), the local contexts anywhere was not difficult to bring into the discussion.

Even if time constraints prevented a more broad based and less romantic vision – without all the universalizing and essentialists overlays – to be explored in multifarious ways, I remain sanguine about the prospect of this or a similar meeting, were it to continue in another incarnation, as well as its sponsors and organisors, of moving with the times and criticisms, towards a more inclusive and less bombastic or hegemonic discoursing. In other words, unlike my experience with W A V E S and other extreme tending self-appointed protagonists of certain “lost” Indic (read Hinduist) causes, the Colloquium, whether “unique” or not (a pointless judgment), did succeed in inseminating a supplemental forum to those available and already active in the academe and scholarly bodies around, and it ended without foreclosing the inquiring mind.

Doubtless, Rajiv Malhotra representing the Infinity Foundation and, to an extent, Bob Thurman have other larger questions which they rehearsed at the meeting in their own ways and words, and they will continue to. Some may find these gesticulations offensive; but these are challenges that can be taken in their own stride, and if people want to engage with these, as surely many have, that is a welcome trait. However, the contents of the conference, the proceedings therein, and the disinterested participation as well the reputation of those who attended (named and unnamed) should not be reflected or reflected adversely in whatever judgment one wishes to pass on the machinations of the organizations involved. In some contexts the two are inseparable, but a stronger argument would have to be made and evidence presented to run this through here. I don’t see the parallels with the Moonie sponsored conferences either, as someone suggested in one of the postings. I had reasons never to accept Moonie invitation; and I do not believe that my decision to attend an Infinity sponsored conference contravenes or contradicts those reasons, defeasibly. I may change my mind in time, but fresh from the Colloquium as from any AAR or APA or SACP/ASACP or East-West Philosophy meeting I have brought back a plethora of intellectual, philosophical and scholarly questions, and new academic connections, that will keep my mind occupied for quite some time. Perhaps the published proceedings will speak for themselves (although I would urge the organisors to make the taped recorded proceedings available forthwith).

Detailed Response 7


(1) What did you like most about the Colloquium? What did you gain from it? What did you find most valuable, productive, interesting, enlightening, challenging, etc. about it? What/who surprised you? How might this affect your further research interests and methods?

[Answer] Meeting leading figures in the field and learning of their commitment to a vision of Indic contributions. It was challenging having to listen to people with very different methodological and other presuppositions, while trying to connect with the core of what they were saying. Sometimes this challenge was exhilarating and productive, at others it led to bemusement and bafflement (as, no doubt, did my presentation to others).

(2) What did you like least about the Colloquium? What did you find to be unproductive (or even counter-productive), misguided, etc.? How would you have changed these things? What/who surprised you in a negative way? How might this affect your further research interests and methods?

[Answer] Perhaps the depth to which many people followed their research topics was inappropriate to the interdisciplinary nature of the gathering. A sharper focus on and more explicit presentation of the ‘big picture’ of their research and its potential for contributions to the larger (western-dominated) field would have helped in many cases. While often creative and serendipitous, the discussions did become chaotic because of sudden immersion in tactical details of presentations; it’s a fine judgement as to whether or not the latter was a price worth paying for the former.

(3) How shall we proceed from here? (Here “we” can mean either (a) “we” as a collective community of scholars and/or (b) “we” the Infinity Foundation and/or the Global Renaissance Institute). What further initiatives should we plan and seek to fund? What would you envision your role being in this? Who else should we include?

[Answer] This very general level meeting need not be repeated, although perhaps there can be a re-cap strategic session in, say, three years time.

But what should happen now is an invitation for people to think hard about how their research projects dovetail into the IF/GR vision of making a culturally specific impact on various – overtly or covertly western-dominated – disciplines. This is so as to exclude projects that, however worthy, are basically deeper researches in a particular Indic field.

Let me give, so as not to be contentious, my own example. My first book, Knowledge and Liberation in Classical Indian Thought, would not have counted, as it was fundamentally working to deepen an indological field. My second book, Advaita Epistemology and Metaphysics, would have been rather more relevant, since it explicitly attempts to tackle issues in modern analytic philosophy through a reading of Advaita. But ideally, projects should go even further than that, being directed at creating contributions in fields that are thought to be out of the scope/reach of Indic traditions. An example would be a research group working towards a strong introductory book on Indic (classical Indian) Ethics for today, which matches and ranges further than contemporary west-centric Ethics textbooks.

Similar points can be made about a philosophy of history, or aesthetics, or consciousness studies or a/theology. Of course, the colloquium provided plenty of examples. Once people have thought about how and which of their projects can fit this strategic vision, they should start developing single and joint proposals, and state the quantum of funding they would require. Perhaps other people can be invited (especially those who appear to have dropped out, like Inden, etc.) to join the list from the colloquium.

Their projects should be considered as a separate category from the unsolicited proposals that come in and are funded on a case-by-case basis. Colloquium-derived projects (to coin a provisional title) should be clearly structured towards the larger strategic end of contributing to ‘Indically-challenged’ disciplines.

While it would be unlikely that these proposals will be rejected, we should all be prepared for them to be reviewed in a constructive manner. Here, I would suggest the colloquium members, if they are so inclined (probably the e-group) and those invited to join it, to be a self-constituted advisory board. It would be left to Rajiv, Tom, to decide whom to ask for helpful feedback on individual proposals. (I can’t make up my mind as to whether blind or named review would be better.)

Of course, this does not mean one-project-per-person; but at the same time, it could mean people being involved in each others’ projects. This will – and should – also mean the involvement of wider circles, for the idea should be to encourage and bring in more people to share the strategic (if diffuse) vision. But the lead figures in each are likely to be one or two people of the colloquium group.

Of course, it is also very likely that many of the group will have other commitments that do not directly lead into anything related to IF/GR. They may choose to be less or more involved. But I am thinking of a model which applies, I think, to the majority.


Detailed Response 8

(1) I liked the possibility of meeting several like minded persons. I liked the location. I exchanged several views in private interactions. What surprised me most was the seeming lack of open discussion in the conference room itself. The contacts might have an impact in my future research.

(2) Least was the surprising lack of open discussion in the lecture room compared to the hundreds of conferences I have attended. The organizers did a good job bringing us together but did not allow us to interact openly in the seminar room. I found this perhaps the one meeting where I felt most hemmed in. There were many points where I had relevant comments. But I was continuously overlooked and persons who had spoken several times given many chances.Standard academic discussion formats should have been followed. Sponsors, who naturally would be acutely interested in the areas under discussion – but are not subject specialists – should refrain from giving the impression of hogging the discussion. I suggest that in the future this standard and obvious rule would be followed. Further it is a good idea for the discussion coordinator to be a participant.

(3) I have been plugged for the last two decades into several groups and conferences doing the East-West encounter thing. The Infinity Foundation and/or the Global Renaissance Institute could cosponsor events/publications with these groups. This should be subject to normal academic niceties I have suggested above. I could help in introducing/bringing in such other groups.


Detailed Response 9

Herewith my (brief) answers to the three questions:

(1) The calibre of the participants and the quality of the presentations.

(2) It was not always obvious how precisely that perspective canvassed constituted an Indic contribution to a global renaissance. But the point could probably be taken care of with relative ease with each presenter addding a paragraph making this explicit.

(3) One could proceed along the ERANOS model ( please see the faxed pages). Additional suggestion: do we need a conference to demonstrate how an INDIC perspective is different from a merely Hindu or Buddhist or Jain or Sikh perspective. For instance, is their an Indic perspective on what costitutes say “religious authority” which will include as well as TRASNCEND what each of these traditions have to say on the point individually. Would not that really constitute as INDIC contribution, as againt it being a Hindu, a Buddhist, a Jain ora Sikh contribution, or merely the sum of what the four traditions have to say.


Detailed Response 10

Thoughts of a synthetic nature emerging from the Global Renaissance conference

Christian Wedemeyer’s self-conscious historiographical examination of the historical projects of historians of India of 19th century Europe, 21st century BJP, himself, etc. suggested that the Global Renaissance project consciously reflect upon what story it wishes to tell of the facts of Indian history. Two lines of thought that occurred to me, both of which shed divisive politecal issues are the following:

1. Rather than there being a Hegelian opposition in the course of Indian religious history between pravAtti and nivAtti, there is a continuous thread of the relation of these two elements. Contemporary religious texts often characterize Indian religious history as consisting of three stages. In the first Vedic stage there is an outward oriented, cheeful, realist, activity-affirming optimistic Vedic culture. This is followed by a Buddhistic and Upani?adic pessimistic, world-denying, inward-oriented trend. These are synthesized into medieval and contemporary Hinduism. I would suggest, as T. S. Rukmani pointed out in her paper, that there is a continuous presence of the interplay of pravAtti and nivAtti throughout the history of India. That the balance of these aspects is central to Vedic culture and contintues to be so throughout Indian thought. Various teachers, texts and movements emphasize one aspect or the other in this balance. This approach would allow those who see continous threads of ideas running from Egveda into the present not to be catagorically opposed to those who find oppositions between Buddhist and Vedic ritual texts.

2. Rather than there being an “original” single group of inhabitants subjected to various waves of foreign invasion, there have been a variety of groups and kingdoms present in and entering into India at varioius times in prehistorical and historical times. These have undergone a process of gradual and continuous unification over the course of millenia. Numerous kingdoms were united nominally under Mauryan rule but that union did not penetrate uniformly to the lower levels of society in every kingdom. It did not include some kingdoms at all. The same applies to subsequent empires such as that of the Guptas and the Moghuls. The British continued the process of unification of India begun by their Moghul predecessors and this has been continued by the post-independence Indian government by bringing together kingdoms which had never been united under the British (such as Goa and Pondichery) or under the Moghuls (such as Tamilnad). This increasing penetration of unification down to the lower levels of society is true in spite of the divisions created by the split into Pakistan and India.

3. Richard King spoke of Anthropology and Religion as “maps” dividing up the world. I would like to suggest that these two fields have been given far to much importance in Indian studies than they deserve. But this is not their fault! It is because they are some of the only disciplines that study India at all! So of course they carry greater weight in Indian studies. What is necessary is to introduce the study of India to other fields in the western educational map of knowledge. Fields such as Classics and Philosophy exclude the study of India. Classics claims that its proper field is Greek and Roman civilization. Well then, let’s support the creation of Ancient Studies programs and departments which are not defined so and can include India on a par with Greece and Rome and create chairs of Sanskrit and Indian studies there. Philosophy Departments are usually organized primarily historically or subjectwise. If they are organized historically, India must be given a place. If subjectwise, each course must give Indian thought a place where relevant. This is very difficult to achieve because professors design their own courses. The only solution will be to create professorships of Indian philosophy in Philosophy Departments. The same is true for History Departments, Comparative Literature Departments, etc. Chairs of Indian History and Literature need to be created. We cannot leave the entire field of Indian Studies to the Departments of Religion and Anthropology. Robert Thurman spoke of the overemphasis on the division between Vedists and Buddhists. This is again because of the overemphasis on Religion. A course in the history of ideas in ancient India would have to deal with the active interchange of ideas between adherents of “orthodox” sytems and “heterodox” systems. Creation of a Center or Department of Inner Science or a Science of Consciousness would be a way to bring together the best in methodology from modern scientific systematic investigation and Indian techniques of the development of consciousness in order to create a renaissance in this neglected area of research.

4. Robert Thurman spoke of the need to broaden intercultural and intracultural mapping. This reminded me that I have heard an oft repeated criticism of a gathering of those interested in inner science. When people of various religious backgrounds assembled to create common ground and criteria for the investigation of “mystical” experiences or experiences of englightenment, it was said that they could not even agree on what those experiences were supposed to consist of. This has been thrown back at the project by the cultural relativist camp as proof that such experiences were just cultural constructs in the first place and don’t constitute a definitive body of experience which could be subjected to systematic investigation. This criticism is invalid. What it means is that more penetrating insight is necessary to discern the distinctive features of experiences of “higher” states of consciousness. One way inwhich the common features of experiences of enlightenment are masked in India is by a history of one-upsmanship. In the history of Indian deities this shows up by ?iva and Vi?iu being placed above Brahm? and Indra. In the geography of the heaven’s by VaikuiOha being placed above Indraloka. In the mapping of the development of consciousness, by mok?a being placed above svarga and ~iva-consciousness above the tur”ya. One has to be aware of this one-upsmanship, to penetrate past the rhetoric within each tradition to attempt to create a map of genuine inner experience. Since various traditions may feel very defensive about the correctness of their own mapping, this may not be easy. Nevertheless, the difficulty of getting beyond the rhetoric of various traditions does not prove that there are no genuine inner experiences of higher states of consciousness as the critics claim. If we consider that we a realing with an inner science, we have to conced that there is a universal human ability to achieve specific experience which has constant parameters. We cannot allow the maze of terminology from various traditions to obscure the identity of variously described experiences. While recognizing that the Tao is the same as Brahman which is the same as Nair?tmya, one must also consider whether more ancient concepts such as svarga and sukha also embodied this. I’ve written a paper on this called Creation Mythology and Englightenment.

5. Stuart Savotsky, in his presentation style even more than in its subject matter, made clear that meditation is not technical in its nature, it is intimate. sampraj??ta sam?dhi involves a closeness between the subject and the object brought about by uninterrupted close attention.

6. While Arindam Cakrabarti’s presentation was thrilling in its style and content, one must be careful not to extend the practice of reductionism to the Indian practive of associating various spheres of life. Reductionism is the practice of explaining away a phenomenon by reducing it to something else such as explaining away mental phenomona by reducing them to electrical impulses, explaining them as caused by and totally accountable in terms of another phenomenon. I don’t think one can simply explain gods as nothing other than senses in Indian literature though there may very well be a valid correspondence between external forces of nature and these senses.

7. While I agreed very much with the aims Allan Wallace outlined in his talk for developing a science of consciousness, he seemed to be completely unaware that in 1972 Maharishi Mahesh Yogi created a 33-lesson course which explicitly laid the basis of just such a science, since called the Science of Creative Intelligence. This laid the foundation for the curriculum of Maharishi International University founded shortly thereafter which sicne moved to Fairfield, IA and changed its name to Maharishi University of Management. It is a fully accredited University offerring programs from B.A. to Ph.D. and has sponsored and participated in several hundred research projects in the science of consciousness. Similarly, Toward a Science of Consciousness Conferences in tuscon, Az have lead to world-wide discussion in a growing circle of Consciousness Studies or Contemplative Studies. The only reason Psychology has failed to have the success of Physics as a science is because it divorced itself from the thousands of years of collected data and theoretical work in the inner science contained in religious documents while Physics wholly adopted the astronomical data of the previous two millenia. If there is to be a science of consciousness, it must recognize its predecessors and build upon them rather than disregarding prior work and starting over from scratch. We must be very careful of the prejudices we have regarding the boundaries of thought which make us create such barriers to knowledge. Is it not egotism that makes us exclude and disregard the contributions of others?