Monday 20th May 2024,
HHR News

Dissecting Hinduism : The Curious Case of Dr Christopher Wallis the Tantrik

Dissecting Hinduism : The Curious Case of Dr Christopher Wallis the Tantrik

Among the many attacks on Hindus and Hinduism  comes a whole movement to dissect away many Hindu practices like Yoga and now Tantra  as ‘non’ Hindu . Dr Koenraad Elst debates with Dr Christopher Wallis on this dissection in the following interactions ‘ HHR editor >

In the Indian media, I once saw a beginning politician who had been a bit presumptuous in a speech being denounced as a “pretentious young upstart”. I didn’t really know how to picture such an entity. At least, not until I read a reaction to my review of Christopher Wallis’ book Tantra (see the Hindu Human Rights website: Tantra Illuminated : Reviewed By Dr Koenraad Elst 0r blog: Tantra for the practitioner) by the writer itself.
Yoga instructor

Even without reading the first word of it, I found this strange. A writer can point out a factual mistake made by a reviewer of his book, say a wrong founding year or  a wrongly attributed membership or status, and even that only if the mistake is truly consequential. But the over-all judgment of the book by the reviewer is just not up for discussion, at least not by the writer.

It is bad form to respond to a review. In the dozens of reviews of my books, I have always respected this rule, and so have the dozens of writers whose books I have reviewed. Well, not this fellow. Moreover, he saw the need to fight my opinion a full two years after publication of both the book and the review, long enough after he had had time to calm down even if initially disgruntled.

Moreover, my review was actually a very laudatory one. He ought to consider himself very lucky that his first book was welcomed that heartily. Not every beginning writer is that fortunate. But it seems that this ungrateful fellow could not leave well enough alone.

He tries to capture the moral high ground by alleging: “Dr. Elst himself has not responded to my points.” On the contrary, my fairly lengthy argumentation pointing out the flaws in his position was precisely the reason for his (belated and inappropriate) response. But it is true that he himself has not responded to my arguments on the main point, viz. about his borrowed anti-Hindu bias, and instead has launched new arguments, to which I respond below.

According to Wallis’ Facebook profile, he is an “independent yoga instructor”. Not just a yoga practitioner, who gradually discovers all the benefits, such as a greater calm in stressful situations, greater composure, less anger. From a yoga instructor, you might expect this peacefulness in ample measure. It is therefore puzzling to find him gate-crashing to throw around insults and slander, as we shall see.


The only things that could have irritated him were two criticisms pertaining to only a handful of words in his entire book. The first were some gendered pronouns that followed the imposed feminist neo-convention of treating unisex concepts as feminine: “That human being knows her rights.” This is a very recent Western fad, unknown to every other culture and even to the West for 99% of its history.

Just watch the role division in ballroom dancing and see how this feminist intrusion into language is an aberration even from Western sensitivities. More pertinent in the present context is that it also violates the symbolism of Tantra and Kashmiri Shaivism.

Nearly a century ago, the Dutch historian Jan Romein observed that the West had broken away from the “general human pattern”. This is a case in point: every culture has general notions of a gender division of roles and expresses this division through all kinds of symbolism. Grammatical gender may also be an expression of this role division, but otherwise too, gender fills up the symbolic space.

Thus, premodern Chinese wouldn’t distinguish between the pronouns “his” and “her”, yet it is Chinese civilization that has given us the division in yin and yang. Kashmiri Shaivism is very emphatic about this role division. The masculine pole, Śiva, represents consciousness; the feminine pole, Śakti, represents energy.

In his response, Wallis claims that ultimately, these spiritual concepts have no gender. This is only an anthropomorphic projection onto the poles of the universe. Entirely true: gendering heaven and earth as father c.q. mother (as in the yin/yang scheme) is only a manner of speaking; but not an arbitrary one. In a very meaningful and conspicuous way, heaven relates to earth as father to mother.

In Kashmiri Shaivism too, consciousness is conceived as playing the man’s part, energy the woman’s part. Male and female are not interchangeable, they each have a specific meaning and therefore naturally gravitate to one of these two poles.

It is also this natural difference that conditions languages with gender to treat the feminine as a particular and the masculine (if called upon by the context) as the general gender: “That human being knows his rights”, or even to describe the general condition of both men and women as: “Man is a fallen creature.”  

The Shaiva/Tantric symbolism of man as motionless consciousness and woman as ever-changing energy is like the pattern in ballroom dancing: the male partner has to oversee the room and plan the couple’s moves; the female partner can switch off her thinking and follow the lead he gives, but go through far more turns than he does.

Or in the primeval equation of procreating: it is the father who has five minutes of fun to quicken the child, otherwise remaining passive in the whole process (like Shiva prostrate under the dancing goddess’s feet), and the mother who has to expend lots of energy in bearing and later suckling the child.

This natural symbolism is applied in Kashmiri Shaivism not just to the cosmos, as in all cultures, but to the yogic process.

According to Wallis, “Tantra invites the deconstruction of your cultural identity, and that is hard for anyone.” The expression “deconstruction of cultural identity” sounds anachronistic in several respects. Nevertheless, Wallis thinks it’s crucial: “But, this philosophy says, only through such deconstruction can you truly realize your deeper identity with timeless spirit, that by definition has no race, caste, religion, nationality, etc” In that case, I invite him to practise what he preaches.

Deconstruct your American framework and open up to the very different culture of Kashmiri Shaivism with its symbolism of a clear contrast between the sexes, rather than the current American blur to paper over their universally affirmed difference.

For all their missionary belief in a God-given task of civilizing the savages, modern Americans can do little to improve on the Kashmiri Shaiva symbolism, in use since many centuries and in tune with the gender symbolism of mankind (no, not the neologism humankind) in general. The feminist foray into linguistic usage is not only wrong-headed, it is also in disharmony with Kashmiri Shaivism.

On gender, we may have a difference of opinion, one too unimportant to justify an author’s intervention after a review, but that has not become the cause of any bad blood. By contrast, my scepticism of his solemn assurance that Shaivism has nothing (oh well, “very little”) to do with Hinduism, has really gotten his goat: “Why Dr. Elst and others insist on calling people (like the medieval Shaivas) Hindu that did not think of themselves as Hindu remains a mystery to me, explainable only by a desire to serve a modern agenda of Hindu identity.”

Indeed, the Shaiva thinkers were not called Hindu. Neither did they call themselves non-Hindu. Nor was any of their contemporaries called Hindu, nor the Vedic seers, nor the Buddha, nor Shankara: none of them was “Hindu”, and none of them was “non-Hindu”. Before any Shaiva decides to become a fellow-traveller of the Christians and Muslims in the (by definition anti-Hindu) Minorities Commission, let him also consider that no Shaiva pioneer was a Christian or a Muslim.

Why elephants are called elephants though they don’t think of  themselves as “elephants”, that is indeed a mystery. Or, wait, maybe it is not so mysterious after all. Though triangles don’t call themselves triangles, they still deserve to be called triangles in English if they satisfy the definition of “triangle”.

So, if you see a big four-footed mammal with a trunk, rather than a slender and hairy two-footed mammal climbing the trees, you are justified it calling it an “elephant” rather than a “monkey”. That is how language users have applied definitions to real-life entities for many thousands of years, everywhere, and to everyone’s satisfaction. I have as yet never heard an elephant protesting. ,

Only now, some people are protesting: “I am not a Hindu!” And yet, the rule is simple: you apply the definition, and those who are in, are Hindus. The Persian word “Hindu” was introduced by the Muslim invaders with the meaning “every Indian Pagan”, i.e. every Indian who doesn’t believe in Mohammed’s unique and definitive prophethood.

Or in ”practice”: every Indian who, by Islamic definition, goes to hell. Christians and Jews, already unlikely to be classified as Indians, were at any rate not pure Pagans, for they already had a different slot in Islamic theology.

Parsi fire-worshippers were Pagans, alright, but still identifiable as Persians, hence not Indian; so, though it had no soteriological implications, the hell-bound Parsis were not classified as Hindus. But everyone else was: Brahmins and non-Brahmins of every sect, Untouchables, Buddhists (“clean-shaven Brahmins”), Jains, Shaivas of course, Vaishnavas, and even communities that the Muslims had not yet met, like the tribals in the interior, or that didn’t even exist yet: Virashaivas, Sikhs, Arya Samaj, Ramakrishna Mission or the Hare Krishnas.

Some of them don’t like it? Well, I know the solution. Not that I have invented it, for it is age-old and very obvious: grow up.

You can’t bend definitions to your likes and dislikes. This is all the more easy as it has no real consequences. In India you will fall under Hindu Law. Despite its contrary protestations, parroted by most India-watchers, India is a resolutely non-secular state, with separate Civil Codes depending on whether you are a Hindu, Muslim, Christian or Parsi.

Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, considered the Father of the Constitution, and who staged the first mass “conversion” to Buddhism (old-style “refuge” into the Buddhist order was not a conversion, a concept borrowed from Christianity), already justified the inclusion of Buddhists in the legal Hindu category by observing that the lay followers of the Buddha had never designed a separate law system.

Even those who insist on a doctrinal difference, accept that “for all practical purposes”, Indian Buddhists are part of Hindu society. That equally counts for the Jain, Sikh and indeed Shaiva communities.

Nonetheless, protesting that you are “not Hindu” still has advantages. For family law, you will be in the “legal Hindu” category, but for other matters you may be counted as a “minority”,– a much coveted and privileged status in India.

According to the laws and the Constitution, minority schools and temples are autonomous, inviolable, and only partly subject to caste-based reservation arrangements. If recently the Jain community, despite many internal protests, demanded and achieved minority status, it was mainly to safeguard its wealthy schools and temples from usurpation by greedy government officials.

You never hear a Muslim protesting: “I am not a Muslim!” In the Muslim community, on the contrary, some people are denounced as non-Muslims (principally the Ahmadiyas), and the effect is just the opposite: that they gate-crash into the community and insist loudly that somehow they are Muslim after all.

And while you may hear a handful of ex-Muslims explain “Why I am not a Muslim” (title of a hefty work by apostate Ibn Warraq), no believing or even merely sociological Muslim will ever claim that he is not a Muslim.

Yet it has never occurred to India-watchers that this exclusively Hindu oikophobia (self-hatred), this disowning of only the Hindu identity, is remarkable and significant. It is there for a simple reason: “Hindu” is a swearword.

Hindus are not just the target of formal and informal discriminations, but their dharma is systematically blackened.

Some babes in the wood from the West actually think they are being very brave by denouncing Hinduism. In fact, it is what every coward or opportunist in India does. When a man is down, as Hinduism is, every nearby coward is sure to join the local bully in kicking him. When a ship is sinking, as Hinduism is, every rat quits it. Those who are shouting: “We are not Hindus”, are rats.

Finally, let us consider an implication of Wallis’s “Shaiva, not Hindu” stand which he may not have foreseen. During the Ayodhya controversy, secularist historians tried to find instances where Hindus had done to others what Muslims have assuredly done to them.

What little they came up with, pertained to Shaivas, particularly Shashank of Bengal, Jnana Sambandar of the South, and Harsha of Kashmir. Indeed, for a scriptural injunction to burn books offensive to one’s own beliefs, you have to go to the Lingayat Shaivas.

Is Wallis prepared to go and tell the secularists (not the Hindus, who are an easy prey, but the still-dominant secularists): “No, leave the Hindus alone! The culprits were not Hindus, it was us Shaivas.”

That move wouldn’t prove or disprove the Hindu character of Shaivism. But it would show Wallis to have the courage of his conviction. Instead of pouring his scorn on an objective reviewer, he should save it for the secularists. All while being anti-Hindu, they uphold the “myth” that Shaivas are Hindus, the object of Wallis’s ire.

Anti-Hindu bias

In modern India scholarship, or rather “South Asia Studies”, this anti-Hindu bias is supported, either by hiding it and denying that it even exists (“India’s secularism is threatened by Hindu majoritarianism!”) or, more rarely, by openly acknowledging and defending it.

Thus, in her keynote address at the 2014 conference of the European Association of South-Asian Studies in Zurich, Delhi Law Professor openly admitted and speciously justified the anti-Hindu discriminations, to general acclaim. These academics, whose authority is based on the public’s assumption that academia equals objectivity, are in great majority partisan on the anti-Hindu side, passively or actively.

By contrast, in classical Indian scholarship, among Sanskritists like Wallis, you often find ivory-tower scholars who are hardly aware of this modern bias. They usually don’t even realize that they too have interiorized some of its assumptions, particularly anti-Brahmanism, the Indian equivalent of anti-Semitism.

In their publications about Indian Buddhism, for instance, the vast majority follows the established “Hinduism bad, Buddhism good” framework. If Wallis claims that Kashmiri Shaivism was more influenced by Buddhism than by Vaishavism (presumably Hindu), it can safely be taken as an application of the same bias..

Of the many “Hindu” things in both Shaivism and Vaishnavism, but not in Buddhism, we may mention theism as the prime example. That “all is suffering” is foundational in Buddhism, not in the Vedas nor in Kashmiri Shaivism. Like the latter, the Taittiriya Upanishad says that Brahman is joy, the opposite of “all is suffering”. In this respect, joyful Kashmiri Shaivism certainly was in harmony with the proverbially positive valuation of the world in the Vedas, more than with Buddhism.

Some of them also project modern egalitarian anti-caste concerns onto ancient writers who took inequality for granted. This is also what an off-hand claim by Wallis suggests, viz. that Shaivism originated in a reaction against “Vedic” casteism. The main Kashmiri Shaiva (like the main Buddhist) thinkers were Brahmins, in the modern period not an objection against espousing the anti-Brahmin ideology, but in those days very unlikely.

They also, like the Mahayana Buddhists, chose to write in Sanskrit, rightly called in Chinese fanyu, i.e. “Brahmin language”. This kept them part of the ongoing dialogue between all literate schools of Hinduism, and none of these considered them beyond the pale of Arya Dharma.

Were they Vedabahya, “outside the Vedas”, as Wallis alleges? So was Patañjali, so was Sankhya, scolded by Shankara for never quoting the Vedas. And to the historical definition of Hinduism, this consideration is irrelevant anyway. The Muslims didn’t ask for religious doctrines, they didn’t care one bit whether people believed in the Vedas, the Shiva Sutras or other books: they were all hell-bound Hindus anyway.

At any rate, while Sanskritists usually convey some of the anti-Hindu bias of their contacts in the Indian establishment, they may be quite innocent. That is why in my review, I gave Wallis the benefit of the doubt. I discerned the predictable “hatred of Hinduism” in his text, but whether he had interiorized it or it was only an effect of the Zeitgeist, I left undecided. It is only in his unsolicited response two years later that Wallis leaves little doubt about actively sharing the anti-Hindu prejudice.

Ah, he says, but I do not hate Hindus. In his characteristically self-important way: “The claim that I hate any aspect of Hinduism is completely absurd and could only be made by someone who hasn’t met me. I invite you to reserve your judgment until then.” There is no reason to meet him, he is not the centre of the world. But he has expressed himself in his book, and in some sentences it conveys the dominant hatred of Hinduism. He himself may be naïve enough not to notice this, but it is there for outsiders to see.

Of course he doesn’t have to hate Hindus: many Hindu-bashers hate Hinduism, not Hindus. The Christian missionaries (claim to, and often really believe to) love Hindus, so they badly want to free them from the shackles of their false religion. Indianists, you do not have to hate Hindus, just hating Hinduism is enough. And you don’t even have to utter this hate: most Hinduism-haters have perfected the art of claiming to love what they seek to destroy.

Let me conclude with what I wrote during the debate on the HHR website: “Another misreading is that I attributed to you ‘hatred of Hinduism’. To your book, yes; but my point was precisely that this hatred has become part of the India-watching framework. Scholars not very specifically aware of this are bound to lap it up rather innocently.

Among scholars of classical India especially, poring over texts in their ivory towers, it is common to reproduce anti-Hindu assumptions like babes in the wood, without being aware of the wilful bias behind the assumptions they make. See e.g. how most texts on Indian Buddhism vehiculate the ‘Hinduism bad, Buddhism good’ assumption, whereas the scholars concerned honestly think they are being impartisan. So, I allowed you the benefit of the doubt.

But I am afraid that after your writings of the last few days, your protestations that you ‘do not hate Hinduism’ will fall on deaf (or rather, skeptical) ears among most born Hindus here.”

Why “Shaivism is not Hindu”

In my review, I gave a number of examples of the total continuity of Kashmiri Shaivism with earlier “Hindu” traditions, chiefly the Vedic-Upanishadic and Yogic traditions. Wallis has not tried to refute even one of them. Of course not: on that score, my position is quite mainstream, at least among scholars. Among outsiders, the old story is still parroted that Vedic ritual and the Sanskrit language are foreign impositions, patriarchal and evil, hiding behind the fortification of the imposed caste Apartheid, while Tantra is the native, matriarchal, good tradition.

But a leading scholar of Tantra, David Gordon White, though a believer in the Aryan Invasion and lambasted by many Hindus as an enemy, rejects this dichotomy and largely deduces Tantra from the Vedas.

So Wallis tries some other elements, claiming that they contrast with their “Hindu” counterparts. Thus, he claims that Kashmiri Shaivism does not believe in karma, at least not after initiation, when karma is washed away.

If so, that would be another sure jump into the Hindu fold. First of all, by this account it does believe in karma and, like other Hindu schools including Buddhism and Jainism, it believes in an antagonism between karma and the spiritual path, meaning that you shed karma as you progress. Only, in this case it is not conceived as happening gradually, but in a jump, upon initiation by the Guru. Well, that is in common with other sects of Hinduism.

Originally, and still in Jainism, karma was understood as a scientific law: you are alone with your karma and you have to discharge it in full. No shortcuts. I am not sure I believe in karma, but if there is such a thing, I would expect it to work like that.

It is non-negotiable, and no deity or guru can discharge it instead of you. But later, in the Puranas, in devotional Buddhism and in the manuals about the specific lore of pilgrimage sites, you find plenty of ways to overcome karma quickly: this ritual at that temple, or this donation to that guru, or this mantra rather than that, taking the name of this bodhisattva or that god, will quickly remove that much karma from your burden.

It is like the indulgences in the Catholic Church: buy that many of them, and that many years of purgatory are lifted. I am not surprised that in Wallis’ account, we get a similar story in Kashmiri Shaivism. I remain sceptical, though, of his assertion that karma is non-existent after initiation. That would put these initiates beyond the reach of the usual misfortunes of life.

Another issue is caste. Since it is so profitable materially, socially and in terms of approval rate among the chatterati, most cowards (we shall see later why I use the word here) and opportunists take the easy way out of the Hindu state of being discriminated against and depreciated. They declare themselves un-Hindu and candidate for the benefits and privileges of minority status. The very first argument they invariably come up with, is caste: “Hindus practise caste while our founder was against caste.” This is usually nonsense, both as a historical claim about the founder’s message and as a description of the community’s actual social life.

Thus, the Sikh Gurus all belonged to the Khattri caste and took care to select their successors from it. Sikh Jats traditionally marry non-Sikh Jats but not Sikh Aroras. Jain Agarwals marry non-Jain Agarwals but not Jain Oswals. The founders were not social reformers, which would have been an even bigger task than pursuing one’s self-interest, even less compatible with the spiritual goal.

And yet, Wallis claims that Kashmiri Shaivism came about as a reaction against “Vedic” casteism.

Hindu-bashers have a way of manipulating the term’s meaning. When Hinduism has to be belittled, numerous communities are paraded as “other religions”, to which Hindus can “convert” because they are “not Hindu”. By that standard, “Hindus” are a small minority, essentially only the orthodox Brahmins.

But when Hindus complain that they are discriminated against, up comes hollow secularist laughter: “But how can you be discriminated against?! You are more than 80%!” Tribals are emphatically called “not Hindu” in Christian and “South-Asianist” publications, but when they misbehave and kill Christians or Muslims, they suddenly get transformed into “Hindu rioters”.

So, picking and choosing which manipulated meaning best serves their case is common among Hindu-bashers. And in keeping with this pattern, Wallis utters his doubt about equating “Hindu” with “Vedic” yet writes twice that sects (Buddhism and Shaivism) are not Hindu because Vedabahya, “outside the Veda”.

So the Rishis were not Hindu: as composers of the Vedic hymns, they obviously didn’t have the later Hindu preoccupation of divinizing and absolutizing the Vedas. They were Vedabahya, yet by all accounts they fulfilled the definition of “Hindu”.

Finally, a further smattering of continuities between “Hinduism” and Kashmiri Shaivism. Goddess worship is common to the tribals, village Hinduism, and Vedism, and was central to the practice of the Hindu philosopher par excellence, Shankaracharya. Vedic stormgod Rudra (first word of the foundational text of Kashmiri Shaivism, the Shiva Sutra), who later received the apotropaeic nickname Shiva, has a lot in common with Vedic storm-god Indra (the first signifying the unexpected and dangerous Himalayan thunderstorms, the latter the predictable and welcome thunderstorm opening the monsoon rains).

Thus, Shiva forms a pair with Shakti, and Indra forms a pair with Shachi, from the same root and with the same meaning as Shakti.

The evolution from Samkhya’s 25 substances to Kashmiri Shaivism’s 36 parallels the evolution from Shankara’s monism to the theistic later forms of Vedanta, viz. from individual to universal: breaking through the “veils” from Purusha to Shiva, c.q. admitting that the Brahman is still bigger than the Atman (like the ocean is the same as a drop, yet bigger).

Most importantly of all, the striving for a kind of liberation or enlightenment is common to many Hindu sects including Buddhism. Kashmiri Shaivism did not invent it and could not have borrowed it from Christianity or Islam, it just kept it from its “Hindu” forebears.

Finally we must consider Wallis’ statement: “I would also say Hinduism as I experience it in India today is very dissimilar to classical Shaivism.” So is what the Vedic Rishis did. And so are some parts of modern Hinduism vis-à-vis other parts. Hinduism is a commonwealth of very different Sampradayas, who have at least this in common that, according to Christianity and Islam, they are going to eternal damnation.

If Wallis stays on the Kashmiri Shaiva path, he will meet Kshemaraja, Abhinavagupta, Lakshman Joo and all the others in hell, along with Shankara, Sayana, Basava, Nanak, the Buddha and the rest of the accursed Hindus.

Christian missionaries as the most strategically savvy part of the secularist coalition just love the fragmentation of Hinduism. Instead of a potentially solid enemy, they would find a string of separate sects ready to be swallowed each on its own terms. Most Indology Departments share this strategic vision, though they are less explicit about it.

My career

In the polemic in the HHRs reader’s column, I wondered aloud if Wallis really means what he says. If he cares about his academic career, he would take the Hindu-denying position anyway, as it is the approved position of the establishment. “Finally: I don’t know if CW even means what he writes here, because he has to write it.

If he wrote the truth, it would be denounced as ‘Hindutva’ and he could forget his academic career.”

That is still entirely true. Name me a single established professor who made his career all while being known as a Hindutva supporter. I, by contrast, can easily enumerate a lot of professors who have been known all along as Communist or as generally anti-Hindu and certainly anti-Hindutva, without this standing in the way of their promotions. But Wallis is not interested in the truth of this observation, and turns it into a slanderous allegation against me:

“In his last comment the sour grapes that motivate his bilious vitriol become apparent — sticking to his fundamentalism has vetoed his academic career, so he supposes I must be toeing the party line to get or keep a job, since obviously the truth is along the lines of what gets labeled ‘hindutva’!”

Note that the subject of the veto against me, or even the veto itself, had not been mentioned by me. It is entirely Wallis who has introduced it into the debate, clutching at this straw of an ad hominem argument.

He would like to impute his own conformism with the dominant school of thought to a jaundiced perception caused by sour grapes. Note again that I have given no occasion for this, it is entirely in the eye of the beholder.

So, observing a verifiable state of affairs spanning the whole India-watching sector (already discussed by Ram Swarup for Sikhism and the Ramakrishna Mission more than twenty years ago) is neither true nor untrue, but is “bilious vitriol”. 

After this mind-revealing scatologism, he accuses me of “fundamentalism” and assumes that this fundamentalism is what has “vetoed my academic career”. He also imputes to me “the truth is along the lines of what gets labeled ‘hindutva'”.

I have written thousands of pages on that very subject, on that which outsiders call “Hindu fundamentalism”, and I have several times promised a symbolic euro if anyone could substantiate the common accusation that I, not even a Hindu, am a Hindu “fundamentalist”. That euro is still with me, so I can award it to Wallis if he finally does the job. Among civilized people, allegations come with evidence instead of with “bile” and “vitriol”.

He may also try to explain away my own publications thematising specific criticisms of Hindutva. The difference with the secularist and especially the Western theses about Hindutva is that my critique is based on primary knowledge, not on hearsay from partisan sources.

“To toe a party line” is usually said of people who hide their real convictions to parrot an officially sanctioned doctrine. In Wallis’s case, there is no longer any reason to assume that he has to conceal his own belief in order to toe the party-line. From his writing, it appears that he genuinely believes the party-line, which he has interiorized.

The true account of this veto against any academic career for me had nothing to do with any “fundamentalism”, though lazy minds (whom you find in plenty in academe and the media) may have described my position as “fundamentalism” because alleged fundamentalists held the same position. Instead, it had to do with the Ayodhya controversy.

In 1990, the presentation of my book Ram Janmabhoomi vs. Babri Masjid, a Case Study in Hindu-Muslim Conflict by BJP leader LK Advani made headlines in all Indian newspapers.

For over a year already, the secularist alliance had denied the historical evidence on Ayodhya and broken the long-standing consensus view, shared by all parties concerned including the Indian Muslims, that the Rama temple there had been forcibly destroyed to make way for the Babri Masjid.

Their supporters in the West reproduced and propagated the sudden new orthodoxy that there had never been a temple there. Even Western professors who themselves had added evidence to the demolished-temple thesis, now were bullied into swallowing their words. The situation in Western universities was that either you looked the other way, or you came out in support of the destroyed-temple thesis and the Babri mosque.

Their second-hand testimony was then used to over-awe the Indian public and create the impression that the no-temple thesis was scientific while the original demolished-temple thesis was superstitious. But then, here comes a Westerner to break ranks and join the pro-temple camp. Logically, I became persona no grata in all Indian secularist and Western India-watching circles.

The crucial fact here is that the academics’ position proved to be wrong, while my position was simply the scholarly position and proved to be right. If there could still be any debate about this in the 1990s (debate which was not really allowed, because overruled by an emphatically imposed new orthodoxy), there is no debate now, after the Court-ordered excavations of 2003 and the Court verdict of 2010.

So, I was vetoed for being right, at the most for being dissident, not at all for being substandard nor for being “fundamentalist”. At the annual conference of the American Academy of Religion shortly after the verdict, I was actually congratulated for ultimately being proven right by a few American professors. That was nice, but it could not undo the injustice done. .


Early on in his letter-writing campaign, Wallis briefly put on his spiritual persona: “I’m very sorry that you are/seem so twisted up, desiccated, and empty of joy inside, KE. I grieve your embittered and closed mind. I grieve your total inability to hear what I’m really saying.”

This is the kind of faux-compassion I can do without. I am certainly not twisted up nor empty of joy inside, thank you. As for “desiccated”, I simply don’t know what that would refer to. But I do notice that someone who knows nothing about me except for my scholarly comment on his own work, gladly embarks upon an unsolicited psycho-analysis.

And this is again entirely part of the Zeitgeist in his circles. He may find himself so very special, but in fact he is a very banal and predictable follower of the Wendy Donigers, Paul Courtrights and Jeffrey Kripals of this world. None of them would be taken seriously by genuine psycho-analysts, but regarding Hinduism and anyone who stands up for it, they feel entitled to try a little soul-gazing.

It is also remarkable that, while having so little to build conclusions on, he effortlessly throws the denunciations around: “embittered”, “closed mind”. In two other places he accuses me of “madness” and of “insanity”, no less.

And so, amid all those deliberate insults, he challenges me: “KE, instead of taking my words as insults, why not reflect on why they might describe my experience of you?”
I hadn’t bothered to take them as insults so far. Rather, I mused: “Where are those big words taking this little fellow?” But come to think of it, they are clearly meant as insults.

To be sure, I have some experience with trolls and I know the type: first a hit-and-run attack, then trying to prevent the normal reaction by suddenly becoming preachy. That exactly is what Wallis does: first throwing the insults around and then hoping to avoid reactions by putting up his spiritual persona.

As for his experience of me: he doesn’t like being berated for a position stemming from a widespread hate, nor being caught in the act of reproducing this hate without realizing it. I have pointed out his indebtedness to an official doctrine interiorized by him without understanding its highly partisan nature. It is not pleasant being found out to have been duped, but then, at his age, learning from one’s mistakes should be an everyday experience.
An irascible yoga instructor

On 10 August 2015, Christopher Wallis wrote to me in person on the Facebook message service: “I am interested to see, if we ever meet in person, if you are the coward I think you are, or if you would ever dare to speak that way to my face. But mostly I feel sad for you. You have so obviously chosen the path of being right over that of being happy.”

I was entirely happy with my review, and he had reason to be 99% happy for my praise and 1% happy for the critical feedback that allowed him to become an even better scholar. But instead, he chose to be unhappy and to make a belated attempt to prove himself right. He himself has “so obviously chosen the path of being right over that of being happy” – and even in that “being right” he hasn’t succeeded.

As for “cowardice”, I never think of scholarly work and debate in terms of bravery. God forbid that a fellow scholar would one day be someone to be afraid of, and against whom you would need to muster all your courage. (That is why I have mixed feelings about NS Rajaram’s and Rajiv Malhotra’s term “intellectual Kshatriya”, as kshatriyahood requires bravery.) Compared to frontline soldiers or mountaineers, scholars have an easy life, so it is inappropriate for them to think of their own work in terms of cowardice and bravery.

I have known some fellow scholars wimp out when they heard I would be on the panel, but unnecessarily so: depending on the context, I tend to tone down my message if too much of it would embarrass a colleague. But of course, if Wallis hopes to make me say that Shaivism is un-Hindu after all, he is living in a fool’s paradise.

Earlier, he had challenged me to a public debate: “I would happily debate you in person, KE, and let the audience decide for themselves who is ignorant and who is cherry-picking evidence to support a foregone conclusion.”

Perhaps a coward would have wimped out, a position easy to confuse with the possible answer of a person too proud to lower himself to this level. Anyway, none of this applies, for I had accepted: “Be my guest, Christopher. However, I would prefer to debate this with the ones whose framework you (and perhaps your Indian Shaiva informers) have naively borrowed and interiorized, and for whom you are only a useful idiot.”


At any rate, someone so irascible is clearly not mature enough to act as a yoga instructor. In traditional societies, such as the one in which the Kashmiri Shaiva thinkers lived, older men sometimes have the duty to rein in fiery young men, “pretentious young upstarts”. That is the duty I have discharged here.

Wallis may of course learn and become a real yogi after all. But as of now, he is just not credible as a “yoga instructor”.

About The Author

Dr. Koenraad Elst : Belgian Author and Orientalist :A Graduate in Philosophy, Chinese Studies and Indo-Iranian Studies at the Catholic University of Leuven. He frequently returns to India to study various aspects of its ethno-religio-political configuration and interview Hindu and other leaders and thinkers. His research on the ideological development of Hindu revivalism earned him his Ph.D. in Leuven in 1998. He has also published about multiculturalism, language policy issues, ancient Chinese history and philosophy, comparative religion, and the Aryan invasion debate.

Leave A Response

HHR News