Being Different: An Indian Challenge to Western Universalism
India is more than a nation state. It is also a unique civilization with philosophies and cosmologies that are markedly distinct from the dominant culture of our times- the West. India's spiritual traditions spring from dharma which has no exact equivalent in Western frameworks. Unfortunately, in the rush to celebrate the growing popularity of India on the world stage, its civilizational matrix is being co-opted into Western universalism, thereby diluting its distinctiveness and potential. In Being Different: An Indian Challenge to Western Universalism, thinker and philosopher Rajiv Malhotra addresses the challenge of a direct and honest engagement on differences, by reversing the gaze, repositioning India from being the observed to the observer and looking at the West from the dharmic point of view. In doing so, he challenges many hitherto unexamined beliefs that both sides hold about themselves and each other. He highlights that while unique historical revelations are the basis for Western religions, dharma emphasizes self-realization in the body here and now. He also points out the integral unity that underpins dharma's metaphysics and contrasts this with Western thought and history as a synthetic unity. Erudite and engaging, Being Different critiques fashionable reductive translations and analyses the West's anxiety over difference and fixation for order which contrast the creative role of chaos in dharma. It concludes with a rebuttal of Western claims of universalism, while recommending a multi-cultural worldview.
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I've completed the book and found this very informative and I've got a whole new perspective about India and Being Indian !!
I really appreciate Rajiv Malhotra ji for writing such a beautiful book. This book explains the core difference between India and west and by which it answers a lot of questions in my mind !!
I'm really happy.
BEIJING- ‘Being Different‘ by Master Rajiv Malhotra is a bombshell of a book because of its provocative proposition and its adding hundreds of new Sanskrit terminologies to our English vocabulary. It is well and clearly written and of exceptional clarity. Its content is evident of how diverse, exciting, multi-layered and complex our humanity really is – and should be.
Malhotra wants us, the readers, to perform a mindful Copernican revolution in ‘World History’, to change the gaze, called purva paksha, of the observed (India), into the observer. Suddenly, from India’s perspective, American culture still looks very impressive, but far from universal. Hence the subtitle: “Challenge to Western Universalism”. This revolution kind of worked before, remember, when the United States exposed the myth of Europe’s superiority. No one has done that yet for America or the entire West before.
Just as the European historical myth of its own cultural superiority evaporates before our eyes, and just as the American dream loses its credibility in the face of US war crimes and state terrorism, the ancient civilizations of both Greater China and the Indian subcontinent seem predestined (at least so say the pundits) to step into the void and offer to humanity their own wisdom(s), perceptions and complexities.
As Tariq Ali, the public intellectual and activist, once said: “You can’t have alternatives which constantly work within the dominant system. No one is going to allow you to.” Yet, this is precisely how many, far too many, Chinese and Indian critics of the West proceeded in the past –they tried to get their voices heard by writing English books and articles and explained China’s and India’s socio-cultural originalities in English to the West. In short: they criticized a system of which they are part of, and of which they are beneficiaries. This was already a mistake of renowned Edward Said in his book “Orientalism” which for all its merits of criticizing the West is precisely this: another Western book. His book ‘Orientalism’ is an American achievement.
At the other side of the spectrum, some Chinese and Hind critics of the West, frustrated by constant rejection, turn radical and self-complacent, even fundamentalist, which then will have exactly the opposite effect of what they intended upon their Western readers –no one is listening seriously.
No, if the Chinese and Indians writers really wanted to challenge the Western-made ‘World History’ (in the Hegelian sense), they would have to create something new, they would have to offer something the West doesn’t already have; and they would have to, in my opinion, use Chinese terminologies and Hindu terminologies to do it.
As the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein once said: “The limits of my language mean the limits of my world”. Seeing it that way, the average English person is indeed a very limited Indian thinker. Don’t make him believe otherwise by serving him his own language on a plate.
This is why I particularly like this book ‘Being Different’ by master Rajiv Malhotra, because although he is writing a Western book about non-Western concepts in order to reach out to an international readership, he nevertheless promotes the original Hindu terminologies (instead of Western translations) whenever it is necessary, words like dharma, karma, atman, itisha, yoga, samadhi, avatar and so on, and he explains, very entertaining and in detail, their difference to certain Western terminologies, like for example the pairs “dukkha and suffering”, “Holy spirit vs. Shakti”, or “Jesus vs. Avatar”, etc.
Rajiv Malhotra wants genuine Hindu concepts to be accredited by the West, and then to challenge Western universalism with it. It shouldn’t be about religion, but about scholarship. The Indian writers will have to do it all by themselves, because little is known about Hinduism in America. ‘Being Different’ may well be their guiding star.