THREAD

Shivam's entire thread is worth reading, but this particular tweet deserves some elaboration, as I think it lies at the root of the challenges HAs face in the diaspora. 1/n
Shivam's insight here is deep on many levels, but I think all HAs can relate to the feeling of "defensiveness" that he describes.However, this goes far beyond the cliched immigrant story of being confronted with your difference from mainstream culture. Instead it strikes deep 2/n
at the heart of what makes Hinduism exceptional. I mean that literally, not as a judgment of Hinduism's value vis a vis other religions. The renowned Egyptologist Jan Assmann articulates the fundamental difference between Hinduism and "Abrahamic" religions thusly: 3/n
Hinduism is what we call a "primary religion." Primary religions evolve over centuries and are inextricably entwined with a particular culture, society, and often language(s). OTOH secondary religions-- which Assmann also refers to as "counter religions"-- owe 4/n
their existence to an act of revelation. They have a founding event. Secondary religions develop from within primary religions and although they often contain elements of the primary religion from which they emerge, they tend to look down on their primary religion as 5/n
"pagan." Assmann describes the shift from primary to secondary religions as a shift from "a system that is ineradicably inscribed in the institutional, linguistic, and cultural conditions of a society-- a system that is not just coextensive 6/n
with culture but practically identical to it-- to become an autonomous system that can emancipate itself form these conditions, transcend all political and ethnic borders, and transplant itself into other cultures."

Even more critically, the shift from primary to secondary 7/n
religions introduces the "Mosaic Distinction." This is what makes biblical monotheism so revolutionary. It is not just the concept of one One, all-powerful God. There are many movements within primary religions that also uphold the supremacy 8/n
of one particular deity, for example. What is revolutionary is the belief that there is only One TRUE God, and that the others are all false. So this is the sociological/historical context-- what does this mean for HAs? It means that when you grow up in a Judeo-Christian 9/n
society, the default view is that your gods are false. For American society at large, the cognitive model for hindu gods is, well, the "mythological" gods of ancient Greece or Rome. This IMO is the root of the "defensiveness" that Shivam rightly observes.

10/n
The lack of an intellectual/philosophical grounding and institutional support of an active sangha (temples are largely useless in this regard) makes the problem far worse. It's no use complaining about the lack of HA political awareness without addressing these root issues. 11/n
One must be able to answer affirmatively what it is we want to preserve, and why.

What's the way forward? Recall Assmann's quote above about primary religions. They are inextricable from the culture/society where they emerge. 12/n
Because "Hindu religion" is so closely entwined with the broader society/culture, it is in constant flux. Unlike Abrahamic religions, Hindu sangha is defined by practice, not belief. One Hindu may be a strict dualist while another may believe in non-dualism or 13/n
advaita. These are orthogonal theological positions, but both will participate in the same rituals, festivals etc. Naturally as the underlying culture changes, the ritual practice will also change. Certain festivals will take on more prominence, while others will fade. 14/n
Certain gods will rise while others fall. This is a natural process, but what happens when you are totally removed from that "native" context and plopped into a different world entirely? Many hindu immigrants simply got together 15/n
and built what were essentially replicas of the temples they attended in India. An understandable reaction, but not a sustainable one. Primary religions are not built for transmission or proselytization. They are organic expressions of a particular 16/n
cultural stream. Hinduism is enmeshed in a complex network of pilgrimage routes, temples, and natural landmarks that together form a sacred geography that is alive to the devotees and gives meaning and context to ritual practice and worship. Time is marked by festivals. 17/n
To even speak of "hinduism" as a static entity betrays a confessional bias. As long as the objective is to maintain that tradition despite the fact that it is divorced from its sacred geography and broader cultural framework, we are bound to fail. This is the bitter truth. 18/n
To reconstruct an identity that is by definition localized and emergent from a particular social and cultural milieu is a fool's errand. So when we talk about HA identity, we must start from the beginning: How can one build a dharmic sangha in modern America that 19/n
is a vessel for a living tradition? We must start with the philosophical core and then go from there, without sentimentality about what came before. This is a unique blessing of the dharmic tradition, which is eternal because it embraces reality in all its divine fullness. 20/n
S. Radhakrishnan in a "Hindu View of Life" says that "the Hindu philosophy of religion starts from and returns to an experimental basis." This is the secret of its longevity. Whereas other religions try to limit the spiritual experience within certain confines, Hindus take 21/n
religious experience as self-certifying; the experience of Oneness with the divine is its own credential. Tradition is important as a guide, but-- Radhakrishnan continues-- "if a tradition does not grow, it only means that its followers have become spiritually dead." 22/n
Whatever issues we have politically are all downstream from this fundamental question: What does it mean to be hindu in America? What do we seek to preserve? And why? We don't have the luxury of insisting that our path is the only path 23/n
, but we must believe it is the *best* path, and be able to articulate why. Once we answer the basic Q, we must decide how to build institutions that can foster the creation of a sangha and the propagation of dharmic 24/n
values to society at large. Maybe this calls for something totally new, or maybe the answer already exists. But the first step is to drop any pretense of "authenticity" and start from first principles.

/end
As an addendum, a disclaimer: I'm 2nd gen born and raised in the states, so that's my perspective. My intended audience is my peers who I think share my experiences. All feedback appreciated, but please do keep that in mind.
Another addendum: The Assmann quotes are pulled from his book, "The Price of Monotheism"
Also tagging @hinduprof because I just got his book and am looking forward to what he has to say on this topic

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More from @vjgtweets

14 Oct
People like Pieter Friedrich want you to believe that there is a some sort of nefarious hindu conspiracy to infiltrate American politics. If you believe this garbage, consider the following: There have been hindu americans in San Francisco since the beginning of the dot com boom,
many of whom were early hires at some of the world's largest, most valuable companies. Today you can't go long without running into a hindu american VC or founder/CEO. And yet, there is not a single Hindu temple in the city of San Francisco, other than the Vedanta Center founded
by Swami Vivekananda himself in 1900! What does that say about the community's ability to coordinate people and resources to achieve concerted political ends? For contrast, there are two Christian Scientist churches within a mile of my apartment.
Read 5 tweets
14 Oct
A worthy topic for discussion, but Peter is a racist and a hinduphobe who thinks that having donors with hindu names is sufficient basis to accuse hindu American political candidates of being “fascists” and “religious supremacists.” Laughable that he’s been given a platform
Read 5 tweets
13 Oct
Interesting thread on the Indian responses to modernity, and how those responses are broadly reflected in contemporary political strands. One interesting point to ponder reading this is the relationship with the A1 and A3 reactions.
As @GS05445168 notes, the Nehruvian Left represented the modernist response that-- ideologically anyway-- sought to demolish the past, as they located India's historical weakness in its traditions and culture. Ironically, this makes them a natural ally of convenience to the
A3 Savarkarite strand. That is, while the two groups may disagree with the ultimate vision of what a modern India may be (e.g. A1 may prefer a more anglicized India culturally integrated with the western world), there should be overlap in the short-run. Both A1 and A3
Read 15 tweets
13 Oct
THREAD, on why Lebron is the Odysseus to MJ's Achilles:

That Achilles is the greatest of the heroes at Troy is unquestioned in Homer. Half-immortal, most skilled in battle, and a powerful voice in the assembly, Achilles is the Biggest Man among the Big Men. 1/n
In 5th century in Athens, however, Achilles' GOAT status takes on moral significance. In a polis overrun by opportunistic sophists who prize words over action, Achilles became a symbol for good, old-fashioned heroic values. The leader Athens needed, one who would 2/n
kick ass, speak directly, and honor the gods. In the same way that MJ has come to represent an antidote to our peculiar cultural moment, Achilles the dramatis personae reflected growing paranoia among the Athenians who felt unmoored from their traditional civic virtues. 3/n
Read 24 tweets
3 Oct
Violence against women is a massive issue in India, but so little of the discussion after these horrific crimes seems oriented towards the the most obvious problem: lack of police and a broken justice system. Image
Uttar Pradesh has an HDI on par with Syria's (!!!), and India is one of the least policed countries on earth. India's police are also governed by the IPC (Indian Penal Code), which was drafted by the British in the mid 19th century. There are cultural factors at play here as well
, and those need to be discussed and dealt with, but what I don't understand is the Indian tendency to focus exclusively on these higher order issues when the basics of law and order are woefully absent and have been since independence. This isn't rocket science.
Read 6 tweets
25 Sep
One of the more unfortunate effects of the ubiquity of "Orientalism" meme: Many diaspora reflexively go too far in the other direction and deny real difference--whether intellectual, spiritual, or philosophical--between the western and dharmic traditions.
So when an individual of western extraction speaks floridly about the beauty of dharma and how India changed them, e.g., there's a tendency to scoff and attribute this change to a naive exoticism.
There is certainly some of that, but it's also true that dharmic traditions do conceive of man's relation to the cosmos, to nature, and to God in ways that are fundamentally different than mainstream American religion.
Read 7 tweets

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