Book review by S.Mann, PhD, an independent Business Consultant with deep interest in literature, inter-cultural studies and Hindu Dharm
Indra’s Net is an exquisitely well-researched and penetrating defense of the philosophical unity of the Dharmic traditions. A vividly compelling read, the book has the potential to catalyze an appropriate response against fragmentary and predatory vested interests working against Hindu Dharm, so as to prevent the loss of its nuclear concepts and eventual dissolution. It is a brave and commendable appeal on the part of Mr. Rajiv Malhotra for not allowing to go unchallenged, the insidious attempts to fragment Hindu Dharm and philosophy by the reductionist and short-sighted interpretations from an alien perspective. The book stands a worthy warrior, guarding what is a centuries-old, empirical, tested and tried, scientific system of thought. The metaphor of Indra’s Net has been used to provide an analogy to denote the different levels of vastness, interconnectivity, as well as unity-in-diversity concepts of the Hindu Dharm. The book is a serious rebuttal of the cultural neo-colonialism, wearing the guise of globalization that has set into motion forces which furiously attempt a siege on the Hindu Dharm from the inside. It is a magnificent reminder of the fact that the ‘West’ does not always have to be the agent of change – and every country, culture and religion will always have the fundamental right to decide what it should accept or reject.
First of all, Rajiv Malhotra empirically demolishes (with substantial textual and historical evidence) the myth that Hinduism is an artificial construct created by thinkers like Vivekanand in response to the erstwhile colonial challenge. On the contrary, Hinduism factually emerges a lush and robust thought system that has survived and adapted to innumerable changes since prehistoric times rendering its scope beyond the hollow and reductionist logic of antagonistic Western ‘thinkers’. Hinduism is a tradition that is vibrant, alive and is supremely vaster than any one thinker, avatar or deity. Adi Shankaracharya as well as Swami Vivekanand, though existing in time-frames more than a thousand years apart, were both very integral part of the growth and evolution of Hindu thought. Additionally, both were valid interpreters of the Dharm in the context of their own times. Vivekanand had to address the consciousness of a nation undergoing a radical and forcefully invasive imposition as well as to position Vedant as a science in its own right with all its claims and experiences open to experimentation and validation. He made Vedant relevant to every householder rather than just the seekers of Moksh. This was in line with the ongoing consolidation of Hinduism as a movement towards an expanded sense of astik with many schools of thought and lineages being absorbed in it.
Rajiv Malhotra uses a prodigiously telling phrase “audacity of being different” to clarify that Hindu Dharm has some very basic differences from the Abrahamic religions. The most vital difference is that Hindus do not need a Prophet or a Messiah to connect to God. Abrahamic religions are primarily history-centric, and depending upon a singular historical revelation, wherein the ultimate truth is limited to a few select prophets and is made available to the many solely through them. As an academic example, a layman’s claim to a direct revelation or conversation with God would be tantamount to blasphemy in the eyes of the Abrahamic religious orders. By contrast, Hinduism is not history centric and is not dependent upon any specific incident, revelation-history, or person for its validity. Everyone is divine with the potential to discover one’s own divinity and has the prerogative to validate the experience of rishis as texted in shruti. This is in sharp contrast to, say, the Christian concept of all being ‘born sinners’ because of the primal sin of Adam and Eve.
Some basic concepts of Hinduism like the nature of Brahm both manifest and unmanifest and the related concept of mithya are succinctly explained. The complementary nature of Shruti with yog and anubhav, gyan with vigyan,
para and apara knowledge with adhyatam vidya, are explained in a crisp and insightful manner. Hinduism is likened to an ecosystem where new species are born and nurtured and older species adapt or may even die. Another comparison is with an open architecture (and IT term), with a variety of modular components available to suit individual choices and needs, with the built-in potential for growth and experimentation within limits. There is place for all astik thought systems, and due respect for intercultural fertilization which stems from a genuine desire to enrich humanity at large.
At the same time, this very nurturing openness and inclusiveness makes Hinduism vulnerable to fragmentation and digestion by predators. Rajiv Malhotra provides numerous examples and explains this construct, and the process of digestion. Unfortunately, the sinister implications of this process of digestion are many and all too real: the tendency to treat the Hindu sources as irrelevant, scope for serious distortions or misunderstanding, generating interest in the superficial and the loss of contact with the true Dharmic source, and the potential that the original idea never reaches full fruition.
Rajiv Malhotra initiates a very meaningful and critical debate on safeguarding the core of Hindu Dharm. Hinduism’s core tenant is that we are all born divine (sat chit anand) and that the basic premise of Karm and reincarnation are non-negotiable. This along with Jivamukti can be assigned a nuclear role in Hindu Dharm. He constantly reiterates that Karm and reincarnation can never be removed from Vedant nor can Yog be separated from its own yam and niyam, as well as the fundamental unity-of-nature that is at the heart of Hinduism. All ideologies that are grounded in the nastic concept and those that are in contradiction with any of these basic premises need to be recognized and should not be allowed to infiltrate the Dharmic tradition. He discusses some strategies like the “poison pill” and the porcupine defense and welcomes inputs and elaboration in this field.
This book may not be for the faint of heart but it is unquestionably the holy grail of “must-reads” for all who have a stake in the future of Hinduism as a coherent tradition with its respected place in world religions. Thus it is not just for scholars of religion but for everyone who truly believes in the basic human right to dignity and independent thought including respect for his/her own race, culture, religion and language. Millenniums-old Dharmic traditions cannot be allowed to be misinterpreted with malignant and insidious intent lest the future generations are deprived of the most invaluable heritage of all – their right to reach God. Indra’s Net equips the reader with a sound knowledge base and provides a holistic perspective that is indispensable in overcoming the insular cocoon of complacency so dangerous in today’s world. The book is a clarion call to establish the place for Hinduism among the world’s traditions and to prepare this generation and all those that follow to overcome the most strident challenges in an age of unprecedented threats and opportunities.