The Vamadeva Shastri Interview – Rajiv Mehrotra

Vamadeva Shastri (David Frawley)Pandit Vamadeva Shastri (Dr. David Frawley) is the author of over thirty books and several training programs in the fields of Yoga, Ayurveda and Vedic astrology, which have been developed over the last twenty-five years. His work aims at promoting higher education in the Vedic sciences, showing their roots in Veda and Vedanta, taking an integrated approach with different Vedic disciplines. Vamadeva is the director of the American Institute of Vedic Studies in Santa Fe, New Mexico, which is affiliated with many Vedic organizations worldwide. He travels and teaches in North America, South America, Europe and India. – Rajiv Mehrotra

Q: You have often been described as an Indian in an American body. You have written extensively on the Indian traditions of the Vedas, Ayurveda, Vedic astrology and a whole range of issues associated with the Hindu Indian heritage. You have helped articulate this to the West and to India itself. There is a great deal of debate on what it is to be Indian, what is the Indian identity. Could you explain your perception of this “Indianness” in India.

A: In India there is a wonderful continuity of literature and culture. The culture is very diverse, with unique characteristics and a distinctive spiritual emphasis on dharma. It has a sacred orientation towards spiritual, yogic and meditational practices that have a broad view of culture—its unity, diversity and multiplicity. Moreover, under this greater dharmic orientation there is an integration of art, science and spirituality.

Q: In the contemporary debate, the manner in which we explore our diversity in a uniquely Indian perspective is a major issue.

A: First of all, compared to the ancient cultures of Egypt, Babylonia and Greece, India is the only ancient civilization that has managed to endure the course of time. What little remains from those other civilizations, the religious practices like murti puja—the worship of images—and temple worship are still performed in India today. The unparalleled continuity of civilization in India has brought these ancient spiritual practices into the modern scientific age.

Further, I feel that the view of consciousness, the science of consciousness, consciousness as the supreme reality, human life as a species for the evolution of consciousness, is unique to the Indian ethos. India has nurtured the culture of consciousness in all its forms without clashing with, or contradicting, the diversity of religions, philosophies, spiritual practices and lifestyles which are integrated into the culture.

Q: To what degree might this be a romanticized version of a vision of India.

A: To some extent it is a romanticized version of an aspect of India. More importantly I would say that it is an image of the soul of India that is still struggling to emerge in the modern age because India as a civilization was under foreign rule for nearly a thousand years. While India was under the British, there was a systematic attempt to undermine the older institutions and values of its culture.

Also, while under foreign rule, inertia was a by-product of the society and many customs were initiated that did not reflect the older and more dynamic civilization. While still beneath the surface, I believe that the true spiritual and progressive essence of India remains the most dynamic force in its culture today.

Q: How would you describe the value of this heritage and tradition in the context of globalization, the new economic order, liberalization and the influence of capitalism?

A: We are moving towards a more global or planetary age, but so far this globalism is being defined materialistically and in a consumeristic way. Unfortunately, I would have to say that, coming from America, most of this globalization is still colonialism in another form or, more aptly, Americanization in another form.

Indian traditions can offer the world the means to bring us into a true planetary age whereby we can connect to the spirit of the planet and with the greater universal consciousness. It is not just a matter of free trade. Today India is entering into the global arena and consumerism is coming here. At the same time, the India we have still represents the socialistic model such as used to exist in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.

So it is not a clash between spiritual India and the modern West, but between this old Soviet model and to a great extent a bureaucratic model that must undergo change. The Indian people can compete well in the global market if they are taken out of the shackles of their own government and bureaucracy. Indians are achieving well outside of India in the global context. They are among the most educated and affluent of ethnic groups in countries like the US and UK. The question is, why aren’t they allowed to do so well in India?

Q: What potential do you see in the Indian heritage that can contribute to the changing aspects of culture in coming to terms with new values such as materialism?

A: There are two sides to this particular issue. First, the global consumer is not much of a culture at all. Fast food, violent movies – that is no real culture. In fact, the so-called culture in Europe and America revolves around nineteenth century art and music. We are seeing a phenomenal destruction of culture all over the world, just as we are seeing a destruction of species.

In countries such as India there is a greater diversity of culture and a greater antiquity of culture. For example, the literature of any of the main regions of India is much older than the literature of any English or European culture. There needs to be a preservation of culture today just as there is this idea to preserve different species and habitats. Second, the spiritual practices of Indian culture can be popular and transferred to other cultures in the world once they are offered to the global community for examination and global adaptation.

Q: There is resistance and suspicion in India that promoting and preserving the cultural aspects of the Indian heritage might lead to a dull uniformity. And this in turn might become another form of totalitarianism, contrary to the spirit of plurality that you referred to.

A: India is the most diverse country in the world and the danger would be anarchy and not totalitarianism. Unfortunately, many people here have a Western education and the ideas that they have about society, the world and the human mind have actually prevented them from understanding their own civilization. Consequently, when they look at their civilization from these wrong ideas, it looks wrong to them. It is like an image in a distorted mirror.

I would encourage these people to study the Indian traditions more – the scriptural texts and modern teachers of India – before making uninformed judgments. We should try to understand the traditions of India through the people who have practiced them, lived them and represent them rather than accept the views of people who are incapable of understanding a culture so different from Western traditions. – Vedanta Today, from the book The Mind of the Guru, Conversations with Spiritual Masters by Rajiv Mehrotra of The Dalai Lama Foundation, India

» Rajiv Mehrotra is an Indian writer, television producer-director and documentary film maker. He is best known as the former acclaimed host of one of India’s longest running talk shows on public television, “In Conversation”. He is a close personal student of the Dalai Lama and has been a student of the late Swami Ranganathananda, President of The Ramakrishna Mission and of the iconic Yoga teacher B. K. S. Iyengar. 


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