Flaws in Encyclopedia Britannica

Shri.Amit Raj Dhawan

1. Please tell us about yourself and your interest in Hinduism.
Namaskar, thank you for giving me a chance to express my opinions. I am an Indian. My schooling was in India. Deeply interested in physics and maths, I advanced for higher education in these fields. The profession of engineering intrigued me, and I came to the Czech Republic at the end of 2002 to commence my Bachelors at the Czech Technical University in Prague.

Till this date, majority of my time has been devoted to my “study”. This study included professional courses at the university, individual research, mathematics, physics, philosophy (mainly spiritual and scientific), and typography. Recently (from 2007) another subject has unintentionally caught my attention – it can be best described under Indology.

Born in a Hindu family, I was granted Hindu values from childhood. These came as blessings of my grandmother, Smt. Raj Kumari Chopra, and my mother, Smt. Archana Dhawan. My father, Dr. T. R. Dhawan, wanted the best possible education for his children. At the age of five, I was sent to a prestigious boarding school – Bishop Cotton School in Shimla. As Bishop Cotton School is a Christian school, it was compulsory to attend to attend the 30 minute chapel service everyday except on holidays. Like all other boarding students, I was singing hymns, carols (Christmas celebration only), saying graces for nine years. Along with these practices, my personal beliefs were always present.

Till the age of 15 years, my concept of religion was of belief sans deep philosophical thought. My realm of analysis was mild as my age; it mainly consisted of scientific thoughts of fundamental nature. The turning point in my religious thinking came with an essay called Swami Vivekanand authored by the notable writer, Shri Premchand. From this essay, mentioned below is a part of Shri Premchand’s summary of one of Swami Vivekanand’s lectures:

If there is such a world that is invisible to the normal vision, then a Hindu would like to take a trip to this world. If there is a such an authority that is not physical, if there is such an authority that is just, merciful and the most powerful, then a Hindu would like to see it using his inner vision. His (Hindu’s) doubts are dismissed only when he reveals it himself.

These words sparked the first philosophical thought on dharma in my mind. The great Swami Vivekanand’s idea of a Hindu made me ponder upon the concept of being a Hindu. Now, the term Hindu – which included me and many others around me – moved from a sense of belief to a sense of philosophy. With time, things moved on… .

Following my grandmother and my mother, I started learning Raj Yog, before turning 18. As my study had taught me to search deep for the truth, so I did with Raj Yog. Though this deep search began after 5 years of practice. Once again, I turned to Swami Vivekanand and read his marvellous book, Raja Yoga. Study of the sacred Bhagavad Gita – which has been a guide in all situations of life – made my mind wanting to study the holy Veds. I wanted to study the Veds, but how? After consultation with learned people, I looked to the works of the great sage, Swami Dayanand Saraswati. From that time, I have been trying very slowly to understand the Veds.

The essence of Hinduism is present in every Hindu, maybe not profoundly visible but it is deeply present. I am no exception to this. I am an ardent admirer of Swami Vivekanand and Swami Dayanand Saraswati. In my understanding: dharma, culture, nation, and language are intricately interwoven. And every individual is a part of this. The concept of Hindu dharma can be explored to infinite depth in a finite lifetime, as we can imagine the mathematical infinity in a finite time. Conceptualization with clarity is an arduous task ahead of me.

2. What could be the reasons for the proliferation of anti-Hindu literature / works?
The term anti-Hindu needs elaboration. In context of this interview, I suppose, works that denigrate and defame Hinduism can be considered as anti-Hindu. With this idea I proceed.

As almost all publications have proliferated with time, so have anti-Hindu publications. Now, when access to any publication has been made easy by the Internet, it is easier to find anti-Hindu publications. Using Google Books, Amazon, etc., one can browse parts of many books. Anti-Hindu writings, that were accessible earlier only to a few, are now in open and more people have started talking about it, which automatically gives an impression that anti-Hindu writings have proliferated. But this is not merely an impression that such writings have increased – it is a fact. I mean, as all publications have increased, so have anti-Hindu publications, and also the proportion of anti-Hindu publications has increased. Many pseudo-scholars have contributed whole-heartedly to this cause. It would be interesting to know when and why were the first anti-Hindu publications produced. When did the major trend of anti-Hindu publicizing begin?
It is known from sources and sense that the British could exercise better control and authority over colonial India by denigrating it. Denigration of India included the denigration of its major dharma, its customs, its beliefs, its people etc. Britishers who came to colonize India were Christians; it cannot be doubted if the Christian conversion policy had come along with them. A salesman can sell his item easily if he convinces the others that their product is bad and out of date. History remarks that the British in colonial India left no opportunity to make the Indians feel low in their own eyes – to make yourself look wise, either be wise or make the other look stupid. They used the second option quite extensively. Many scholars, who were supported by the British, spent years in studying India (history, language, customs, traditions, etc.) and finally they disgraced it. It seems that the only motivation behind their Indian studies was to ridicule India. The imprints of misinterpretation of Indian texts and beliefs by such malignant people can be seen even today, esp. in the western world.

This trend of producing anti-Indian and anti-Hindu works has been preserved by many Indologists. Many of them have been Indians of considerable influence. Many publications that can be considered as anti-India or anti-Hindu were produced by recognized scholars, and they have been serving as standards and references for further work. Many scholars, who have not made an effort to delve deeper into the problem and have based their work on concocted findings, have further preached the flawed sermon. A work that is based on false ideas is likely to produce false claims. Some scholars have published material despite of being well-aware that their writings were anti-Hindu and, to a great extent, false. But still they have done it and are still doing it. Did (do) they have grievance against India, or were (are) they doing it for cheap fame, or was (is) it for money?
I suppose, the factors discussed above are some of the reasons for a dramatic increase in anti-Hindu publications. The role of religious bias, hidden motives behind such publications, etc., cannot be ruled out.

3. What is the possible source of funding for anti-Hindu literature?
I am not aware of any specific sources as such but I would like to mention something. We have heard of the Taliban. According to relevant sources, initially it grew out of a students’ movement. Now it has tanks and rocket launchers. Who had funded and supported the Taliban in its initial stages, so that it could afford to grow to what it is today? Can a high-school pass-out take raw materials and manufacture a military tank? For sure, the tanks used by Taliban are coming from somewhere; they are not indigenous. Does anybody show the transcripts of these transactions?The possibility of funding of anti-Hindu publications (money or status) can be a truth to be proved.

4. What should the average educated Hindu be doing towards his dharma, in this context?
In my belief, an average educated Hindu can be an excellent educator in her or his own right. It the responsibility of every Hindu to understand and adhere to his dharma. At the individual level, it would be ideal to go to the foundation and uplift the truth using one’s intellect. This task is difficult but not impossible. There is no substitute to self-effort. Related to the theme, a mantra from the RigVed has been quoted (RigVed: 1.3.10).

pāvakā nah sarasvatī vājebhirvājinīvatī | yajñam vashtu dhiyāvasuh ||
Pure and truthful knowledge is purifying and leads to
supreme attainment. Virtuous offerings be enlightening.

(My translation has been inspired by Swami Dayanand Saraswati’s
commentary on RigVed)

We can speak sensibly for or against an issue, only if we understand the issue. Explicit denigration of Hinduism can be noticed by any Hindu, but implicit denigration is not visible to many of us unless we brood upon it. Calumniation of Hindu dharma has been present for a long time. There are many instances of disparagement of our dharma even in children’s textbooks. Children believe what they are told. Later these children become parents with an inbuilt inferiority complex regarding their own dharma. They cannot be good critics of invalid criticism about their traditions and beliefs, therefore they cannot be good guides for their children.

With so much of misinterpreted information available on Hinduism, it is required of every Hindu to rethink on what he has been told. We have to be able to distinguish good from bad. This sense of analysis can be procured from thoughtful reading of good literature and wise commentaries on our sacred texts. We have given the world the foundations of science, mathematics, and language – our tradition is ever-enlightening. Time demands that all Hindus rise and valiantly deny what is false. It is the responsibility of every Hindu to protect the pride of Hindu dharma – the pride of one’s dharma is one’s own pride. I am also one of the average educated Hindus, who is trying to learn. If I can do, so can you.

If a Hindu comes across derogatory material (written, audio, visual) about Hindu dharma, he should oppose it in the way he is able to do. For example, one can inform Hindu organizations of such material, one can write ones own blogs, publish articles to raise awareness, etc. Everyone should follow his dharma, which includes well-preserving and well-presenting it. If everybody says that somebody would do it, then maybe nobody would do it.

5. You have spent a lot of time / effort on the Encyclopedia Britannica work. Please tell us about that.
Seeking information on subjects of my interest is my hobby. One day I was browsing through the article on Hinduism in Encyclopædia Britannica 2009 Student and Home Edition. There I was shocked to read the following sentence:

“Krishna was worshipped with his adulterous consort, Radha.”

Disturbed by this, I called an organization in the US, but in vain. I sent e-mails to a few people, quoting the above mentioned sentence, but did not receive any response. It was this time when I decided to thoroughly study the whole article and compare it with articles on Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, in order to write a critique. Reading about Hinduism in Britannica was a torture. It was distressful to witness a reputed encyclopedia like Britannica presenting false and insane claims as facts. Why? My article: Hinduism Misinterpreted: Encyclopedia Britannica insults Hinduism was made available, and is available, for free on the Internet asPDF or HTML. The work was appreciated and circulated by many Hindu organizations and concerned Hindus.

My first complaint to Britannica’s customer service was on the day when my article was published (May 5, 2009), but it was not well-attended. On May 15, 2009, I called Britannica’s office in the US and spoke to Ms. Amy Tikkanen, who forwarded my complaint as required. On the same day I received a reply from Mr. Brian Duignan (Senior Editor, Philosophy and Religion, Encyclopædia Britannica) assuring that they would revise their article on Hinduism and they were searching for a Hindu scholar for this purpose. Their revision is awaited.

I felt it as a duty to expose, and possibly lead to correction, of the misinterpretation of Hinduism in Britannica – time and effort spent do not count when the cause is crucial.

6. Please give us a few other instances of anti- Hindu literature.
It is not such that I am hunting for anti-Hindu literature, but one cannot help noticing if it comes in front of you, e.g. Britannica’s article on Hinduism. There is abundance of anti-Hindu, anti-Christian, anti-Islam, anti-Judaism, … writings over the internet. Most of these writings are coming from the hands of ignorant and unimportant people, who have enough time to move from short comments to three-page commentaries. The reader is also aware that such blogs and preposterous (e)books from invalid authors cannot be taken as any word. Hate websites belong to this category.

Some Indology scholars (esp. western) have produced works that contain many derogatory comments about Hinduism. The works of Wendy Doniger should be considered for the Nobel Prize in Defamation. Another comic kind of book, Introducing Hinduism authored by Vinay Lal, is full of rubbish.

Encyclopedias and textbooks should be unbiased and should stick to the facts. But in case of Hinduism, there are many instances that are openly biased against Hinduism and are presenting somebody’s personal opinion as a fact. Britannica’s article on Hinduism and California textbook’s depiction of Hinduism are bold black examples of this.

7. What are the resources online if a young Hindu wants to learn about Hinduism?
There are many websites on Hinduism but rather than visiting many websites and listening to many people, I think, it is better to understand the basics of Hindu dharma. This would lead to fruitful realisation. In the absence of a true and vigorous foundation, one is likely to infer incorrectly.

========= Veds ==========

The foundation of Hindu dharma. An excellent Hindi translation and commentary of RigVed and YajurVed by Swami Dayananad Saraswati is available at: http://www.aryasamajjamnagar.org/. This website provides translations and commentaries on the other two Veds (SamVed and AtharvaVed) too. Information on schools of Hindu philosophy is also available.

========= Bhagavad Gita ==========

A must for every Hindu. The book, Bhagavad Gita: As It Is by Swami Prabhupada, is a good translation of the sacred Bhagavad Gita. It can be downloaded as a PDF
file. I have found the translation very appealing, though the commentary gives a strong Vaishnavism impression. I found it quite well written.

========= Swami Vivekananda, Sri Aurobindo, Swami Ramdev ==========

CompleteWorks of Swami Vivekananda summarize Swami Vivekanand’s teachings. His books, Karma Yoga and Raja Yoga are very educating.Works of Sri Aurobindo include his writings on Veds, Upanishads, Yog, and many other themes.

Swami Ramdev, though famous for Yog techniques, is a well-versed scholar of Hindu dharma . You can watch him on YouTube in Hindi or English. Search for “Bharat Swabhiman” using Google to view or listen to thoughtful ideas.

========= Ramayan ==========
The virtuous attributes of Shri Ram are exemplary. Ramayan, enfolds many teachings for all of us. You can watch Ramanand Sagar’s Ramayan (aired on Doordarshan in 1986).

The most important, once again, is to think upon what has been read, heard, or viewed, so that we can apply it judiciously in our life. One must sharpen his reason to be able to discern good from bad, to gain and give good. In suppose, this shows our true education.

8. What steps should be taken to address the problem of “Indians” collaborating with anti-Hindu publishers/ writers?
A critic of Hinduism is free to criticize it, but if this criticism unjustifiably hurts others, then it should be withheld. In the name of academic freedom, a historian cannot assert false claims as true. dharma is not an artwork! Writers or publishers whose task is to tarnish the brightness of Hinduism are miscreants. Why would anybody collaborate with miscreants? Why would an Indian be anti-Hindu? It sounds like an Indian being anti-Indian. Excuse me for taking the liberty of exchanging the terms Hindu and Indian. In my opinion, the notion of India does not exist without Hindu dharma.
Some of the reasons for “Indians” joining anti-Hindus can be:
• They hate the Hindu dharma and are determined to malign its reputation.
• They are doing this for money, fame, opportunities, etc.
• To show another religion better than Hinduism and get converts.
• Out of ignorance – badly educated and manipulated. In India, many Indians are being fed with an inferiority complex about their customs, habits, language, and religion.
• Negative perception of the Hindu dharma in our school books which teach much to many. People without a firm foundation of concepts accept ill easily.
• The media, esp. the Indian media, is doing its best to insult the Hindu dharma. I hardly hear any of the many good deeds of Hindu organizations. Media wants to make masala, no matter what they cook.
• Lack of awareness amongst Hindus. They do not seem to understand the gravity of the present situation. What has changed in the reputation of their dharma from 1950?
• Absence of the essence of the great teachings of the Veds, Upanishads, Gita, Ramayan, and other graceful Hindu texts amongst the newer generation.
• In some situations, Indians are stupidly adapting non-Indian values. Trying to speak Hindi in English and write Devnagari in Latin – un-understandable and incompatible, of course.
Mentioned above are some of the points that I believe, if tackled wisely, would help in reducing the numbers “Indians” turning to anti-Hindus, and also lower the number of anti-Hindus.

9. How well represented are Indian scholars in international academic forums on matters of religion?
Very poor. The spiritual land of India has many educated and learned gurus, who understand very deeply the concept of Hindu dharma, but they do not have university degrees or academic publishing experience. I have come across text that misinterprets Hinduism maliciously but I could not find any eminent criticism of it. It seems to me that Indian scholars at universities are either sleeping or they simply do not care. Someone rubs mud on our face and all we do is, walk away. Are we setting an example of dignified behaviour or are we displaying cowardice? And the ones who are sleeping, and are not even aware that someone is deliberately rubbing mud on their face – it is time to wake up!
Presently, in theology, the western academia is very strong. Some Indian scholars have done a good job, but only some of the many Indian theologians. To write an article on Hinduism, Britannica, which has connections in India, had to hire non-Hindus and non-Indians. Why? Does the western academia want to maintain its hold in theology? Are they scared of Indian scholars? If yes, then why? Why do not we come across as many papers, article, critiques, and reviews on theology by Indians as by western scholars. At least Hindu scholars should publish more about Hinduism than anyone else.

Editor’s Note: Kindly click the links below for the original work of Shri Amit Raj Dhawan on the flaws of Encyclopadedia Britannica