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Kiss of the Yogini

Another of “Wendy’s Children”:http://www.sulekha.com/expressions/column.asp?cid=239156 has come up with a new book “KISS OF THE YOGINI”:http://www.the-tls.co.uk/this_week/story.aspx?story_id=2107312: “Tantric sex” in its South Asian context, by David Gordon White. Rajiv Malhotra writes about this new interpretation of Tantra in an e-mail

bq. White’s book’s core thesis is that tantra was intended as South Asian decadent sexuality, with NO spiritual purpose, and that this decadence was the result of sociological suffering of Indian subaltern (lower castes) in classical times.

bq. However, he offers no textual basis to prove this (and he is the one who should have the burden of proof, not his critics). Since his thesis on tantra claims to demolish centuries of writings by Kashmir Shaivites and other thinkers from within the tradition, he asserts (without proof) that scholars like Abhinavgupta did not know or did not want to know the real tantra which White claims to have uncovered in his book.

bq. So once again, the natives are not to be trusted in their own interpretations, including their eminent thinkers who have been studied by westerners for centuries. Bottom line: tantra has nothing to do with being a spiritual quest at all.

bq. Coming from one of Wendy’s Children, this is not a surprise, but it raises other issues. A Kashmir Shaivism and tantra scholar who finds this book disgusting in methodology, conclusion and demeaning tone, tells me privately that he does not believe that the pandits in India under whose feet White did his research since 20 years ago have any clue that this is how their firangi scholar (who once respected them with gifts and namaskars) has twisted their translations.

bq. My main purpose in writing this short piece is to focus on Wendy’s use of the book review for political purposes:


bq. 1) Wendy simply gives the book the benefit of doubt without seriously challenging its presuppositions not a surprise. Her review in prestigious journals facilitates the brand value and credibility of the book that’s how the game is played. A new theory is born, namely, tantra = sex only. Period.

bq. 2) It was Hindu chauvinists, Wendy and White claim, who repackaged tantra as spirituality. This was to make Hinduism look good. Victorian values of the colonialists get blamed, to make Wendy’s analysis appeal to Indian postcolonialist scholars. Furthermore, ideas that tantra as having a spiritual purpose was a fraudulent construction produced by “Hindu nationalists,” “fascists,” “right-wingers” and so forth, there would be a big market of gullible takers among Indian intellectuals who (i) have virtually no knowledge of Sanskrit or its texts to be able to inform themselves except via Westernized interpretations accessible in English, and (ii) resonate with the anti-Hindutva politics.

bq. 3) White does #1 above, and Wendy takes it to #2. So what do we have here? Indians who continue to think of tantra as spiritual are to be seen as nationalists/right-wingers.

bq. 4) Furthermore, Wendy cites Schweder’s popular new theory that native societies do not own their culture – again uncritically assumed by Wendy even thought this is unproven and simply one point of view in an undecided debate. She alleges that “Hindu diaspora” and other “Hindu right-wing chauvinists” have claimed exclusive rights of their culture’s interpretation, whereas Schweder tells us that they have no such ownership rights.

bq. 5) The process unfolding here illustrates the assembly-line of knowledge production going through three “theories,” each unproven and arbitrarily selected out of the toolbox of pop-theories. Here are the three stages: (I) White constructs his thesis that tantra is sex-only and devoid of any spiritual purpose. (II) Wendy adds that Hindu right-wingers removed the sexuality in tantra and fabricated that “tantra = a spiritual process.” (III) Wendy then cites Schweder’s unproven political position to claim that this scholarship is being prevented by chauvinistic Hindus when in fact nobody has ownership claim over a native culture.

bq. 6) Implication: Nobody can dare challenge the White/Wendy scholarship on the grounds of its lack of merit for fear that any challenger shall be a branded a BJP chauvinist. What a defense strategy, indeed! What a tragedy for the academy that it works!

bq. 7) Per Z. Sardar, “the realities of [non-western cultures]…are for sale in the supermarket of postmodern nihilism.” What White does is akin to a product manager introducing a new product in the postmodern “bazaar of realities” (Sardar), and what Wendy does as follow-up is to cut-and-paste, reconfigure and produce yet another derivative “product”, i.e. that claiming tantra has spiritual purpose is a sign of being a BJP member. The choice our youth have is to face more Hindu shame or stop claiming Hindu identity.

bq. 8) This merely strengthens my U-Turn Theory as yet another case study in my database. White makes the U-Turn for reasons that I have not uncovered. The stages may be summarized as follows.

bq. 9) Stage 1 was when White studied tantra with great respect, along with many western followers of Swami Muktananda, using various Indian pandits.

bq. 10) Stage 2 was by scholars repackaging it into some “generic” psycho-spiritual theories in the guise of helping Hinduism become more “universally accepted.”

bq. 11) Stage 3 was a bifurcation between two streams: those who wanted to harvest tantra and claim it based on “western science” made careers by producing research in which the source tradition is hidden or downplayed.

bq. 12) The other branch of scholars went directly to stage 4: that is White/Wendy’s product management of mockery of Hinduism, along with a whole army of scholars specializing in different aspects of mockery of Hinduism.

bq. 13) Stage 5 is to neocolonize elitist Indians who only know English-based Enlightenment and Post-Enlightenment “theories” and who eat out of the western institutions’ hands. (I shall defer going into my “pets, patients and children theory” of how these Indians may be segmented.) This is where the asymmetric power of western travel grants, visas, PhDs, jobs, and stamps of approval are the carrots to buy out armies of stage 5 Indians – who, ironically, like to see themselves as fighters on behalf of nativity against western imperialism!

bq. 14) Product managers are of two kinds, negative and positive: In this example, White/Wendy are product managing the process of constantly burdening Indian culture’s symbols, traditions, rituals and leaders with negative associations. In parallel, other product managers (not mentioned here) facilitate the appropriation of Indic culture to embellish western cultural capital and soft power.

bq. This presents a political problem for Wendy’s Children vis-?୶is Tibetan Buddhism. After all, that tradition shares tantra with Hinduism, and tantra is at the very heart of advanced Tibetan Buddhism. Hinduism is vast beyond tantra, and would survive even in the worst case if Wendy’s Children were to succeed in delegitimizing tantric spirituality. But Tibetan Buddhism is heavily dependent upon tantra. The fight back from Buddhist scholars is yet to begin and could produce interesting fireworks. They know very well that if the core thesis against Hindu tantra becomes mainstream Buddhism would become vulnerable to similar attacks. Given Buddhism’s clout in the intellectual world, Wendy’s Children have been wise in focusing on the softer target of Hinduism.

bq. Furthermore, in light of the above, one may see why recent risa-l posts suggest that bhakti of Krishna and others should also be interpreted via the tantra lenses: It allows the scholars to superimpose “tantra = sex” on to all forms of bhakti, and be able to claim the prize for hammering yet another nail into Hinduism.

bq. Finally, let it be noted that the interpretation of tantra has been turned into a political issue by Wendy Doniger, whereas she is known to proclaim the status of being a victim of politics. The issues should have remained strictly matters of scholarship, with alternative views debated in open forums. Wendy has once again done a disservice to her academic credibility by using modern politics as her silver bullet to hit and as her fig leaf to cover.

Rajiv has a more detailed article “What is the political agenda behind American studies of South Asian Tantra?”:http://www.svabhinava.org/friends/rajivMalhotra/WendyWhite-frame.html

3 Responses to Kiss of the Yogini

  1. Sandeep June 4, 2004 at 2:17 am #

    JK,

    Thanks for sharing this wonderful piece. Will read through it when I have time and record my thoughts on my weblog. BTW, was this a private email that RM addressed to you? Is there a copy of this email elsewhere on the web?

    I’ve been following up on RM’s activities over 3 years now and he has inspired me in a way to uphold what I regard as sacred and close to my heart.

    Thanks again.

  2. JK June 4, 2004 at 7:23 am #

    Sandeep, I had some correspondence with him once and ever since that i get such notifications via e-mail. You can join openrisa group at YahooGroups, which discusses such issues.

  3. John Noyce June 24, 2004 at 12:22 am #

    The Openrisa yahoogroup mentioned by JK has been renamed Jnana. Similar intentions, namely the academic misrepresentation of the religions of South Asia.

    http://yahoogroups.com/group/jnana

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