The crowd that gathered at David Frawley’s Why I Became A Hindu, braving the afternoon heat, seemed almost geared for battle. In the end, they simply listened, spellbound. There were others too, seeking comfort and hope, who found their eyes well with tears as Frawley, one of the most acclaimed Vedic scholars of the day, described “the religion not of one God, but innumerable Gods. Hindu dharma recognises the unity of the universe but accepts the diversity of everything within it.” Later, his wife, Shambhavi, gracefully draped in a red saree, unwrapped a set of bangles with some ceremony, remarking, “It is Karva Chauth,” almost daring her audience to defy her. Their journey has had its share of challenges, as different narratives of history compete for dominance, heavily influenced by political sway. Frawley’s attempt to debunk the Aryan invasion, for instance, fetched him a great deal of flak, although the validity of his claims are being acknowledged today, by scholars and Indologists. Then again, as controversy keeps up its relentless courtship of David Frawley and his yogini wife but they shrug off the criticism with great elan – the wisdom of the Vedas is simply too precious to relinquish over petty political struggles. David Frawley, the author of several books on Hindu dharma, astrology and Vedic History, tells Darshana Ramdev about a journey which began with the young boy who liked to look up at the stars…
How did it all begin?
When I was nine years old, I taught myself all the constellations in the sky (no, it’s not too difficult!). I can take a telescope with a laser point and even now, show you about two or three hundred objects in the sky. What I really enjoyed, though, was meditating under the stars, which led eventually to an interest in astrology and Jyotish. I began to read works by Swami Yogananda and B.V. Raman but to me, astrology has always been integrated with sadhana and understanding planetary deities. The seven planets in astrology are cosmic forces, each planet is a relay station. When you understand these cosmic forces, you see that they exist everywhere.
The symbology and metaphor of Hinduism has been reduced to a limited, literal interpretation. Would you agree?
There is a story from the Upanishads, about the Ashwins, the healers of the Universe. They approach the son of Atharva, seeking the knowledge of immortality, the only thing that had been kept from them. The seer said he couldn’t, for fear of being beheaded by Lord Indra. The Ashwins told him then, that they would give him a horse’s head, learn the secret to immortality and when Indra appeared to behead the seer, the Ashwins could give him back the original. All of this is deeply metaphorical – even the concept of agni, or fire, is highly nuanced. The sages refer to the agni of the mind, the agni of the body – agni was a concept, a way of correlating everything to cosmic unity. We say today, that something is here or there. The ancient seers said, “It’s here, it’s there and it’s also everywhere.
Carl Jung was perhaps the first thinker in the West to bring Eastern wisdom into mainstream Western thought. You have had a lot to say on Jung and Psychology, for that matter…
Jung borrowed a great deal from Eastern wisdom but that never got the point of paramatma or transcendence. He borrowed a great deal from our wisdom and in the end, turned against it. He was invited to see Ramana Maharishi, which he declined, saying his wisdom would suffice. His vision of evolution was merely to be a better person. He did great work, yes and brought in the concept of the collective unconsciousness, that is true. What they didn’t have, however, was the concept of samadhi and collective transcendence. Freud was limited too, he never got beyond the first two chakras – everything begins and ends with sex. Yes, Jung thought beyond that but even then, their psychology is very primitive, is limited to one’s personal life and tied to the physical.
Developments in Science, especially Physics, seem to be in keeping with ancient Vedic ideas…
The Western civilisation is caught up in the idea of the physical but science seems to be saying something else. Physics has reduced the world from matter to energy and information.
Is there a universal principle that holds religions together?
Would you say all art is the same? Or that all people are the same? Religion is as varied as any other aspect of life – you can’t say all laws are good or that all political leaders are bad. Religion has good and bad too, just like everything else. It is as fallible as the human beings who practice it. The idea of a ‘religion’ in itself is a very Western concept.
What is religion, then?
A Western term that at a general level, signifies Christianity. Monotheism is seen as the ultimate route to salvation, while Hinduism has been classified as polytheistic. The word religion means to unite, although people don’t use it that way! About 20 years ago, we were in London, having been asked to do a book on Hinduism. We were given a template, a blueprint of how to define religion. It said: Book, founder, prophet and God. We sent it back, saying this template didn’t work for us, we had to create our own.
How is the Hindu philosophy different from the typical notion of religion?
Both Christian and Islamic traditions place monotheism at the very top and emphasise the idea of salvation by belief. If you believe in Jesus, you will be saved. Hinduism isn’t like this, we have various concepts like dharma, moksha, ishwara and brahman but we don’t adhere to the idea of salvation by belief. Hinduism is a religion but something more – religions have monastic orders, places of worship and rituals. Yes, Hinduism has all these but it also has sadhana, art forms – it is based on santana dharma, to use all that is relevant.
Technology, leaps in communication – mankind has become fixated on the journey without. What about looking within?
The senses only look at the outside. We have lost the ability to look within. Only those who look within can find the truth, that knowledge exists and needs to be brought out. This idea of looking within the self doesn’t exist outside of Hinduism and a few mystics, like the Sufis. Also, today, you can google an answer to everything, this is the age of instant information. It reminds me of a tale in the Upanishads, where the guru tells his disciple: Meditate in the forest for a year and I will answer your question. The other argument to that, however, is that if everything you see is outside of you then you are inside everything
What is enlightenment or moksha? How does one attain samadhi?
The idea is to reach the paramatma, which is something that cannot be known directly. If we try to understand it through the mind, which is embodied consciousness, we can only do so through an idea or a word. The yoga sutra, for instance, outlines the journey to the direct understanding of the paraatma, you have to understand the mind, the sadhana, the tapas – all these things are part of the journey. As long as you operate through the mind, you cannot attain a direct awareness, or samadhi.