Aside from the Bhagavad Gita and a sampling of the vast compendium of Hindu dharmic teachings, relatively few important texts have a comprehensive and detailed modern translation. This is especially true for the Vedas. For insight and understanding in English of ancient texts, such as the Vedas, one must often rely upon translations dating back to the 1800s.
This is somewhat problematic, as there is not only a potential bias (there is a demonstrated bias from this time period) as such translations could be the result of a plan or a creation of an unintended tool for missionary conversion.
To examine this, one can immediately identify mistranslations of words such as moksha, which has become commonly mistranslated as salvation instead of liberation; which is a sententious change in meaning.
Terms such as pāpa are commonly mistranslated as sin with a plausible and sinister understanding that this translation will be aligned with a Christian definition of sin, which is again would be incorrect. Even terms such as dharma simply do not translate well into English or other languages. While this issue is attributed to the late 1700s and 1800s, in reality, the same mistranslations are commonly used by scholars in the current age.
It is difficult to say with certainty that all western translators of Vedic texts had a hidden missionary agenda. But it is clear that some had a clearly expressed a bias against Hinduism. This is evidenced by Monier Williams who was quoted as saying ‘90% of Indian population were demon worshipers’[i].
Additionally, there is evidence that these translations were eagerly embraced by Christian Missionaries for the purpose of conversion, as Baptist Missionary Magazine, vol. 80 (BMM) contained an article entitled Life Among the Telugus. This article directed missionaries to the work of Monier-Williams and Max Muller.
The article continues to state ‘It is difficult to say which of these forms of idolatry is the grossest, the most immoral and debasing.’ (BMM p. 592) This same article in speaking of Devas states that ‘each demon has a limited range…and so the names are countless.’ (BMM p. 593)
While it would be correct that some translators attempted to stay true to the commentaries of Sayana, it is highly suspect that an agenda was still to use the Vedas as a tool for conversion, as missionary groups identified the Vedas as an important obstacle to overcome.
Sameer Thakkar goes as far as literally calling not only Max Muller but Griffith, Bloomfield and Wilson missionaries.[ii] One might argue these are old translations are not relevant (which seems to be a scholarly retort); regrettably these translations remain the common standard among western scholars, and they continue to have a profound influence upon Indian academia, as I have observed numerous Indian academics translate moksha as salvation.
This has led to the concept of the “Europeanization of the Vedas and Sanskrit”[iii] as suggested by David Frawley. The Europeanization of teachings from India has resulted in egocentric scholarly teachings that the ‘Vedas originated in Europe or Central Asia’.[iv] Secondly, Frawley correctly points out that traditional Vedic teachings were rejected by western scholars.[v] In fact, this problem has continued to the present.
This speculation and ignoring of the traditional teachings birthed the Aryan Invasion Theory, which has become somewhat laughable until one realizes it still permeates the Hindu mind and continues to appear globally in textbooks.
Meanwhile, scholars have continued onward to the equally absurd Aryan Migration Theory (AMT) despite the fact that in 2011 Toomas Kivisilid et. al revealed that Ancestral North Indian and Ancestral South Indian predated any Aryan migration event by 9000 years.[vi] Addition comments regarding a migration were provided by Dr. Lalji Singh, the former head of the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology: “There is no genetic evidence that Indo-Aryans invaded or migrated to India. It is high time we re-write India’s prehistory based on scientific evidence.”[vii] Yet, despite the contrary evidence, humanities scholars, religious scholars, and Indology scholars continue to insist that the Aryan migration is factual and claims against the Aryan migration is from the political rightwing groups or part of a Hindutva agenda.
These academic pseudoscientific claims (Aryan migration) are present and well established in the modern academic world, as we shall see next.
The biased translations and teachings become akin to self-perpetuating samskaras, once they become entrenched within the global mind. And as such, they are quite difficult to eradicate despite how many studies disprove or evidence to the contrary is presented.
This was further evidenced when I personally observed an assistant professor make the bold claim that the Aryan Migration Theory is supported by ‘solid evidence’. When questioned about the evidence, no actual evidence was presented.
Again this example illustrates how biased information becomes rooted, established and presented as a fact, despite evidence that contradicts the established rhetoric of the western scholar and academic position. Scholars often fail to recognize that their own samskaras when combined with pressures to publish papers influenced by the rhetoric of the time often results in poor scholarship, as we shall see next.
Wendy Doniger goes as far as to assert that pāpa is translated as evil; even suggesting that this is associated with the Rg Veda.[viii] The problem with applying such western definitions to Sanskrit terms is that the superimposed foreign cultural term comes with a great deal of ‘baggage’ and often is subject to the samskaras or mental impressions of the individual reader, forcing them to read through tinted glasses as opposed to removing the obstacles to clarity.
Traditionally, the traditional systems have warned against this and place an importance upon Vivek (discrimination/discernment) for this reason. Ironically, western scholars such as Stephen Prothero have also noted this is a problematic approach with translations such as previously cited.[ix] Strangely, in my questioning of several western academics, the majority appeared comfortable with incorrect translations of moksha and pāpa, one must wonder ‘why?’ Upon questioning these academics, often a religious bias has been revealed.
Scholars often balk at the suggestion that their work has a conversion agenda or is commonly used for conversion. As noted earlier, many scholarly works from the 1800s have been used for conversion purposes, but does this exist in the modern age? As recently as 2008, a Bible was introduced in India with references to the Vedas and Upanishads included.[x] This is used commonly to align Vedic teachings with Christian teachings—for conversion.
Yet, within the United States or Europe, for example, this would never be an accepted practice; as Catholic priests commonly refer to Hinduism or yoga as demonic.[xi] One might argue that this is a Catholic position and Protestants are different; yet, Pastor Mark Driscoll is quoted as saying ‘Yoga is demonic’.[xii] So it appears that these views are held by a broader cross-section than one might imagine.
Scholars have argued that this is in the past, and a new level of scholarship has emerged divorced from the fallacies of the past. Yet, Vamsee Juluri found a textbook in use up to 2009 in the U.S. that noted Nazism, the Aryan Migration, and Hinduism together (on the same page), by featuring this unsupported connection with Nazism and Hinduism and featuring it in the chapter on Hinduism.[xiii] Not only is this a false association, it also feeds an emerging narrative that seeks to align Sanskrit with Nazism.[xiv] Upon a simplistic examination, one can quickly determine that these concerns regarding scholars are not limited to Hinduism.
An unrelated, but equally important event was the Texas textbook debacle where slaves were rewritten into history as ‘workers’; this was as recent as 2015.[xv] These few examples clearly illustrate that manipulation of information is clearly a more common occurrence than scholars would have us believe.
Therefore, it is difficult to ignore issues that continue to arise such as the California textbook issues that have just recently been settled, for the time being, in the U.S. But one should note that the same arguments are lining up in other states, and adversaries to Hinduism are preparing new arguments for other states textbooks.
In reality, western scholars have often missed an excellent opportunity to examine and explore the depth of knowledge and information preserved within the traditions of Hinduism (Sanatana Dharma). Of course, if a hidden religious or conversion agenda is present among scholars, there is no need to honor the information within the tradition.
One merely needs to declare oneself an expert of all things Hindu and begin to rewrite the information within the tradition targeted for conversion. It has happened before in history and will likely appear on the horizon again.
As we sit several hundred years later, India, Hinduism, and scholarship are still digging out of the hole that was well-established by the late 1800s. Ironically, some new scholarly positions are in reality digging the hole deeper, with extreme examples being scholars becoming obstructionist to the traditional teachings relative to their own tradition! Or the relatively recent scholarly suggestion that Hinduism was created by the British. Such claims take one into the realm of the absurd.
By Yogi Baba Prem Th.D Yogacharya, Veda Visharada
[i] ‘The Religions of Mankind’, Edward Soper Abington Press:1921
[ii] ‘The Max Muller Syndrome: Deceiving Hindus Part 2’ http://www.chakranews.com/the-max-muller-syndrome-deceiving-hindus-part-2/1408 Accessed 4/28/16
[vi] ‘Indiana Jones and the troublesome Aryans’ www.newslaundry.com Accessed 2/28/2016
[viii] ‘The Origins of Evil in Hindu Mythology’, Doniger, Wendy Page 6-7. University of California Press 1976
[ix] ‘God is not One’, Prothero, Stephen page 468 note 6. Black Inc. 2010
[xiv] Malhotra, Rajiv “The Battle For Sanskrit” India:Harper Collins 2016