This is a summary of a panel discussion with Jefferey Armstrong and Pt. eminent Hindu scholar Satish Sharma. Their discussion pertained to how Christian Theology and Critical Race Theory have conspired to demonize the Hindu world and if there was a way forward to recovery.
Jeffery Armstrong began by noting that the ravages that the Christian religion wrought on India in the wake of colonization are very real. Terming it a violent, library-burning religion that was the very antithesis of the depiction of Jesus as loving and gentle. He said that Christianity, as practiced by the British and other European cultures, has been marked, over the centuries, by acts of stealing and pillaging around the world. It was a period of slavery and untruthful constructs about cultures.
He said his epiphany of what Christianity had wrought around the world came when he noticed not only his more profound questions went unanswered, but elders in the community exhibited dislike for his probing. He boiled down the effect of Christianity as twin: One, as in India, the traumatization of another culture, and the other, traumatization from within, being denied access to wisdom, Vedic Vidya.
Armstrong said it was a miracle he got answers and that it was because of the Gurus who traveled from India to the West to freely give the one wealth that had not yet been looted – Vedic Knowledge. Armstrong found that the knowledge being offered was universal and meant for everyone, so, at age 23, he went to an ashram and spent five years as a Brahmachari.
With Vedic Vidya going out into the world even during the most violent of times, Armstrong posited that the Vedic Sanatana Dharma culture is, and has been, the bridge through history and the Sanskrit language the conduit for answering the age’s most urgent questions.
Today, the world suffers because it has a wrong worldview. The moment is ripe to correct this, he said, with a Vedic Renaissance. The Hindu Vedic Sanatana Dharma culture needed to rise and re-establish itself. Armstrong was categorical that for this to happen, Sanatana Dharma should frame its vocabulary for itself and not fall back on what has been willfully and erroneously defined by others.
He suggested focusing on select Sanskrit words where the concepts are clearly articulated so that they can be effectively imparted—for instance, being clear that Vedic culture is not about the caste system in its convoluted form but the sustainability of Mother Earth; that the ubiquitous ‘Namaste,’ has great significance and is an extension of respect for every living entity who is being greeted.
Armstrong referred to his recently published work, ‘Bhagavad Gita Comes Alive,’ where he has worked toward this goal. Colonizing Christian terminology like ‘Lord,’ ‘God,’ ‘Sin,’ ‘Heaven,’ ‘Hell,’ ‘Devil,’ and ‘Angel’ have been cleaned up. As an author, he has also adopted the method of not defining important Sanskrit terms instead of propelling the reader to learn the vocabulary.
He urged one word at a time to unfold the Vedic worldview until children know the vocabulary, and every Hindu youth around the world is armed with 108 Sanskrit words that articulate it. This will ensure that the correct interpretation is not lost in the moment’s politics.
Armstrong advised: speak slowly. Measured speech permits taking charge of the conversation and not being swept up in the animosity to seem like one more redundant quarrel. He said religion had become a tool of control even though they are all based on the teachings of masters who showed love in their every action and word. The teachings made the heart blossom and open – precisely the qualification needed for being a warrior, for they will not unnecessarily bully or harm others. The Kshatriya Dharma understands this when it fights off the control of those who consider themselves enemies. If the intent is rooted in Dharma, if the voice is of kindness, then it is the medicine that everyone is looking for from the heart where Bhagavan resides.
He made clear that the aim of the Vedic Renaissance was not to coerce or convert but to be able to have friendly conversations that would help everyone restore their true self. A new word would have been imparted at the end of the conversation, giving a peek into the Vedic worldview. Gradually, bits of Akshar Brahma will be in the mouths, hearts, and minds of the public.
To understand what self-assertion is, Pt. Satish Sharma began with an analogy. He drew attention to the current social trend of individuals picking a pronoun for themselves. If the individual introspecting and having the choice of self-identification is being accepted, then at the macro level, a civilization too must have the opportunity and freedom to self-identify, he said.
Sanatana Dharma must recognize how it is identified, and its terminology explained is its prerogative, no one else’s. This must be understood, especially as debates on the definition of Hindutva continue.
Relatively new to the West, self-inquiry or Swadhyaya is fundamental to Sanatana Dharma. What sets the Sanatani apart from others, he said, was the individual’s search for Reality. This is done by looking and paying laser-like attention to the goal for a sustained period, a skill that has been achieved through the practice of Dhyana.
Attention is the capacity to scrutinize something deeply, he explained. The ancients trained their gaze inward and discovered the Tattva of a human being beyond physical and mental forms. They dove beyond the Panchakoshas, the seven Dhatus, and the five Vayus and found life’s essence, the very thing that nourishes and supports everything else.
Remarkably, they could navigate and transcend the mind to find an oasis of stillness. Even more surprising was their finding that this oasis was at the center of every being, and it was available to everyone to experience and revel in.
They shared this finding freely. And when they spoke – in the most magical language humanity has ever known – the outpouring created the four Vedas, which is some 20,337 verses. They created the ‘Mahabharata,’ over 200,000 Shlokas, ten times the length of the ‘Odyssey’ and the ‘Iliad’ put together. They recorded the ‘Ramayana’ in 24,000 plus verses. Each of these masterful works has a singular purpose: to guide a person inward and navigate the outside world in a manner that perpetuates society so others are born and find a way to guide themselves inward.
What the Shastras do, Sharma said, is to help the individual remove obstacles that appear on the journey toward understanding who we are and what we are and become entirely natural. The scrutiny of the self, Sharma said, can be done with Hatha yoga, Jnana yoga, or Bhakti yoga, different paths of knowledge to repair and tranquil the body, mind, and heart.
He said that when that same scrutiny is applied outwards, it becomes Dharma. The rishis discovered the whole universe working together in order, in complete harmony, love unending, immersed in ‘Ananda.’ But humans also discovered that they were the only species on earth with the capacity to understand the universe. With this revelation came a vulnerability: attachment to only two of the Purushartas – Artha and Kama, leading to detrimental actions. This is called Adharm.
Sharma provided an example from history to elucidate the point. The Roman emperor Constantine was struggling to control his empire when he got news from Judea of a group who were willing to kill and be killed for an idea. Closer inspection showed it was possible to feed a set of ideas to vulnerable groups of people who would get so attached to them that they would lose sight of who they were. Grasping it was a powerful way of enslaving people. His empire adopted certain ideas. What was created was an obstacle on the path of the human journey – religion. They had learned how to cripple the divine faculty of wisdom and destroy the divine-human heart.
Today, people have adopted this technology to enslave human beings to contribute to a self-serving and Adharmic system. For religious-minded dictators, their dictator is a divine one who cannot be seen, is imaginary, and is in the sky but must be obeyed. Fear and guilt are the tools being used for enslavement.
In contrast, Sanatana Dharma, he reiterated, is not a religion but a wisdom tradition. All pre-Christian traditions were similar. They were seekers, and they were Dharmic. Today, Sanatanis are the custodians of that tradition. It is the custodian of the wisdom which can heal all of humanity. It is the custodian of the tools that can heal broken intellects and damaged hearts. With its quest for reality, Sanatana Dharma is a tradition that can transcend all identities. This is critical, as one can use identity to enslave another.
For the world to understand Sanatana Dharma better, the need is to engage with opinion leaders in the West and elsewhere. What is needed are people with the Swabhav for it. He explained: The Kshatriya Tattva delights in confrontational scenarios where change can occur. The need is to find those ready to engage in battle, risk humiliation, learn from it, and use that as ammunition to rectify the situation effectively. For this training was needed. Sharma observed that the system had allotted a player for this, too – the Brahmin, whose job it is to create the knowledge structure required by the community of the time. He suggested the teachers should be nurturing the Kshatriya Tattva in everybody.
Sharma said both energies were available in Hindu communities, and the need was for all to support this work instead of focusing solely on temples. The temples, too, should expand the scope of their work and teach the Sanatani community what it needs today and what it will need tomorrow.
Jeffrey Armstrong is an award-winning poet and best-selling author. He is the founder of the Vedic Academy of Science and Arts. His personal journey has been one from the Western tradition into the Dharmic world. He has made it his life’s mission to spread awareness about Vedic wisdom and offers advice on how its culture can be integrated into daily life. He is a sought-after speaker and has graced many international forums.
Pandit Satish Sharma, based in the UK, is a powerful voice speaking in defense of Hindu causes and Hindu rights. He has written a book on caste and coloniality that provides a much-needed perspective on how to approach conversations in that realm. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.