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Chapter 4

Indo-European Encounter: An Indian Perspective

India and Europe1 originally came out in German in 1981. The English translation which was originally published by the State University of New York in 1988 has now been brought out in an Indian edition and made available to readers in India. The English translation is a much enlarged version of the original German edition and the Indian edition carries a special Preface by the author. The book contains 604 pages divided into three sections sub-divided into twenty-four chapters. The first section divided into ten chapters deals with “India in the History of European Self-Understanding”. It is probably the best portion of the book and very useful to an Indian reader. It presents valuable historical material well digested and analysed. It deals with important sub-topics like India as seen by the Greeks of the Classical period, India as approached by the missionaries as Europe entered its modern period, India as seen by the Europe of Deism and the Enlightenment, and shows how its own internal controversies were given an edge or even shaped by Indian presence. It gives us the history of Indology, it tells us what some of the greatest European thinkers like Voltaire, Herder, Hegel, Schelling and Schopenhauer thought of India. In this sense, the book is also Europe’s own self-portraiture.

The second section, again divided into ten chapters, deals with “The Indian Tradition and the Presence of Europe”. It discusses mainly Neo-Hinduism, or Hinduism as modified by the influence of European concepts and categories, a Hinduism unable to speak for itself but which used European categories of thought for its self-presentation and self-assertion. This section maintains the erudition of the first but lacks its sweep.

The third section called “Appendices” contains additional material added to the English edition. This section deals with certain key concepts such as “Experience” and “Tolerance”. If one was inclined to regard them as Indian contributions to the East-West Dialogue, one must be ready for disappointment for the author finds the two concepts “ambiguous” and questionable. Following the inclination of the book, the author at the end (Chapter 24) adds an important discussion on the “Europeanization of the Earth”, a subject on which the author also spoke on January 4, 1989 at the India International Centre, New Delhi.

After this brief summary, let me deal with some important points of discussion more fully. I keep close to the language of the author even in places where I do not directly quote him. I take full advantage of his erudition and freely draw from his researched material but I offer my own conclusions and a different schema.


India and Europe opens with the “Philosophical View of India in Classical Antiquity”, or India in the old Greek tradition. It assumes that Classical Greece provides Europe’s antiquity and that the two are related in some special way. It is a debatable point but it has been assumed here as axiomatic. The fact is that at the time when Greece represented a living culture, it did not know Europe, nor Europe of that time knew Greece.

The Greeks knew themselves as Hellenists, not Europeans. And whenever they sought the origins of, or influences upon, their own philosophy and religion, they thought of Egypt, Chaldea and India, not of Europe. They received little from Europe and they bequeathed not much to it, at least at the time when they represented a living culture. In fact, Christian Europe as it was taking shape first grew in opposition to and later in forgetfulness of Greek culture. Christian Europe in its early period used Greek language and Greek philosophy to establish itself; then it attacked ferociously Greek culture. Christian Europe in its early period used Greek language and Greek philosophy to establish itself; then it attacked ferociously Greek religion and culture; it destroyed Greek literature, its schools and libraries.2 The work of destruction was so complete that even the memory of Plato and Socrates was obliterated and for a thousand years Christian Europe grew in complete ignorance of what it calls its classical antiquity.

When Greek learning revived again, it was too late for it to exert a living influence on anyone. It had died as a living tradition and it was now a thing belonging to museums and libraries and was a topic only for learned dissertations. But even in this form, it began to invite fierce opposition. The Reformation was a revolt against the classical Renaissance, a “reaction of backward minds”, or a “protest of antiquated spirits”, as Nietzsche saw it. The call to go back to the Bible and to Jehovah was in a very deep sense a repudiation of the Greek tradition, whether spiritual or intellectual. Today what Europe calls the Greek learning is not the learning as it was seen by the Greeks, but as it is understood by the Europeans through their own categories of thought. To the Greeks, Homer and its Gods were great realities, part and parcel of their lives; to Europeans of the Renaissance period, they were legends and interesting tales.

Even earlier, during the first centuries of Christianity, it was clear that the Greek and Christian approaches to the life of the spirit were incompatible and Christianity waged a relentless war against the Greco-Roman approach; and when the Greek learning revived again, the old incompatibility was still there undiminished. But if the Greek learning still found a certain receptivity the reason was that by this time, it was totally misunderstood and misconceived. For any truly classical revival, Christian soil was very inhospitable indeed.

This however does not mean that modern Europe had no link with old Greece. An unknown link connected the two intimately and the link was established when Sanskrit was discovered. When this discovery was made, it became obvious that India, Greece, Rome and Europe had great linguistic, spiritual and ethnic affinity and even a common ancestry derived probably from India and Sanskrit. But this suggestion was soon resisted by rising European colonialism. To counter such a suggestion, it postulated on the other hand a third, conjectural source still more remote in time and also far removed from India. But according to all the testimony available at present, the old affinity between these regions and peoples, particularly in its spiritual dimension, is still best represented by India. The Christian interlude in Europe and the Muslim interlude in Iran are merely distorters or aberrations of this old affinity.

But while one need not subscribe to Professor Halbfass’s unproved assumption that old Greece represents modern Christian Europe’s classical antiquity, there should be no difficulty in readily agreeing that the author’s treatment of the subject of “India in Greek Tradition” is able and competent. It brings together many traditions on the subject within the confine of one chapter and it is useful for interested readers. One could of course still point out some obvious omissions. For example, Apollonius of Tyna, the great sage of the Greek world who is reputed to have come to India to meet its sages, is mentioned just to be told that his biography by Philostratus is “legendry”. There is nothing improbable in a saint of the Greek world visiting India, but even if the biography is legendry, it is known to have been written by 220 AD, and even as a legend it is a good witness and tells us where India stood in the estimation of Greek sages and philosophers of an early date. It tells us that the Pythagoreans of Greece and the Naked Philosophers of Egypt had derived their doctrines from the “Wise men of India”.

Professor Halbfass follows a scholar’s methodology in determining the extent of Indo-Greek contact. He is determined to find a document, some written mention, some journey relating to this contact before he would admit it, but by their very nature such evidences can only be very rare considering the time that has lapsed and the changes that have been wrought. But if Professor Halbfass had followed a more inward method or criterion of looking at Greek literature, he would have easily found plentiful evidence of a living Indo-Greek contact, particularly at the deeper level of the spirit. Both shared a common spiritual approach; both intuited man and his world in the same way; both expressed their spiritual intuition in the language of Gods; both taught atma-vada, and the theory of Two Selves and Two Ways; both taught the theory of karma, rebirth and moksha. In fact, the Greece of Pythagoras, Plato and Plotinus has more in common with Hindu India than with Christian Europe.


Then a long period of more than a thousand years intervened - a period of triumph and consolidation of Christianity in Europe. Already Christianity had successfully fought Greek as well as several Eastern spiritual influences in the shape of Mithraism, Gnosticism, etc. An ideological iron-curtain fell on Europe and its spirit underwent a process of systematic Semiticization. Thanks to this sustained conditioning, the European spirit became incapable of appreciating and understanding Indian spirituality. This spiritual impediment was reinforced by a physical one when Islam triumphed in the Middle East and swayed over the sea and land routes connecting the Mediterranean with India.

During these long years of lost contact, India became a legend. But contact was resumed when a new route to India was discovered and Vasco da Gama landed in 1498 at Calicut with soldiers, missionaries and traders. Thus the first modern contact was military-cum-missionary-cum-commercial, and any subsequent academic intellectual interest grew out of this and it contained the qualities of the first encounter.

India and Europe includes a very interesting chapter on the “Missionary Approach to Indian Thought”. Most missionaries had a very dim view of Hinduism which they regarded as unmitigated evil. St. Xavier thought that Brahmins, a highly revered class, stood between Christianity and the heathens and that this class should be destroyed. He requested the king of Portugal to use the secular arm for the conversion of the Hindus.

But there were certain missionaries who had a livelier idea of the difficulties and their situation. They proposed the strategy of using Hinduism against Hinduism, a strategy which has its Biblical precedent in the practice of St. Paul. Robert Di Nobili, representing this school, made a distinction between the social customs of the heathens and their religious ceremonies. He preached that while the former could be accepted, only the latter should be opposed. He also pointed out that the Brahmins were mainly teachers and priests and their function was social and educational and not religious; and therefore they need not be opposed but only neutralized and, in fact, the respect accorded to them could be used to promote Christianity. He himself pretended that he was a Romanic Brahmin and the teacher or Guru of a lost Veda, Jesurvedam, which he offered to teach to his fellow-Brahmins in India.

While most missionaries saw Hinduism as a handiwork of the devil, some also saw in it the remnants of an old monotheism, probably borrowed from Christian and Judaic sources, but now distorted and defaced beyond recognition. B. Ziegenbalg (1682-1719), a Lutheran missionary, wrote back to his patrons in Europe about this original monotheism which had been subsequently lost because Hindus “allowed themselves to be seduced by the devil and their ancient poets into believing in a multitude of gods”.


These reports reaching Europe had an unintended effect; they were used to support a very different line of reasoning - a line of reasoning which was even anti-Christian. In order to understand this, we shall have to understand the Europe of those days.

After the Crusades came to nothing, Europe was in an intellectual ferment and was learning to question some of its cherished ideas and dogmas. A pamphlet “On the Three Impostors” (Moses, Jesus and Muhammad) came out in 1598 and had a wide clandesting circulation When the Greek learning was revived, stoicism, the old Greek religion, was also rediscovered. Many advanced thinkers saw that it was deeply religious and highly ethical, and yet it had no revelation and no mediator; it also spoke in the language of reason and conscience and it had a universality of approach quite unknown to Christianity.

Under these new influences, a school grew in Europe which spoke of a “natural religion” and “natural theology”. It said that man’s “reason” and “conscience” were enough to account for God and morality and they needed no revelation and no mediators. Thomas More (1478-1535), an English statesman and author, expressed this idea of a “rational religion” and “natural theology” in his famous Utopia.

This view also agreed with man’s enlightened commonsense. Therefore, when reports reached Europe from the Far East of a religion - Confucianism - which had no heaven-mongering and yet was highly ethical and humane, it had a warm reception in certain highly intellectual circles. Leibnitz (1646-1716), the German philosopher and mathematician, thought that Chinese missionaries should visit Europe in order to instruct the Westerners about the questions of “natural theology” and commonsense.

It was at this time and in this climate that India entered Europe. India was already known for its natural theology. Quite early even Shahrastani (1086-1153) in his Kitb al-Milal wa’n-nihal had noticed that prophets were unknown to the Brahmins and that they tended towards a kind of rationalism which does not depend on revelation.

India not only taught high morals like the Chinese, but unlike them it also did not neglect the metaphysical dimension. Some, like Schopenhauer, were in search of a “philosophy which should be at once ethics and metaphysics”. India did not disappoint them. Schopenhauer (1788-1860) found it in the Upanishadic tat tvam asi, “that thou art”. Earlier J.G. Herder (1744-1803) had found that Indians’ morals were “pure and noble”, and their concept of God “great and beautiful”. Indian thought satisfied those who sought spiritual transcendence without an anthropomorphic God who is always thundering, threatening, and promising and also an ethics embodying man’s innate moral nature and not arbitrary commandments from an external agency. This thought, in one of its lower expressions and movements known as Deism, made a wide appeal in Europe. It even affected many European administrators and residents abroad. William Carey, a Baptist missionary, complained that “India swarms with Deists”.

V Original Home of All Religions

It did not take long for the question to acquire another dimension, the dimension of time. India gave a religion which was not only rational but was also prior to all other religions. In 1760, Voltaire acquired a copy of Ezourvedam, a forgery of the Jesuits (most probably of Di Nobili). But even this served an unintended purpose. Voltaire with his acumen saw even in this document the voice of an ancient religion. While he praised Brahmins for having “established religion on the basis of universal religion”, he also found that India was the home of religion in its oldest and purest form. He described India as a country “on which all other countries had to rely, but which did not rely on anyone else”. He also believed that Christianity derived from Hinduism. He wrote to and assured Frederick the Great of Prussia that “our holy Christian religion is solely based upon the ancient religion of Brahma”.

This view was held by many European thinkers and writers. F. Majer (1771-1818) said: “It will no longer remain to be doubted that the priests of Egypt and the sages of Greece have drawn directly from the original well of India.” And again: “Towards the Orient, to the banks of the Ganges and the Indus, it is there that our hearts feel drawn by some hidden urge - it is there that all the dark presentiments point which lie in the depths of our hearts… In the Orient, the heavens poured forth into the earth.”

J.G. Herder also saw in India the “lost paradise of all religions and philosophies”, the “cradle of humanity”, the “eternal home”, the “eternal Orient … waiting to be rediscovered within ourselves”. This is high praise, indeed, but it does not mean that he ever thought that India supplanted the West. Any such thought was far from his mind. What he meant was that India represented humanity’s childhood, its innocence, as Hellenism represented its “adolescence” and Rome its “adulthood”. Similarly, while Indians were “the gentlest branch of humanity”, Christianity was the religion of “purest humanity”.

The thesis of Indian origins of Christianity found a warm reception in many quarters and it continued to be propagated by Rosicrucians, Theosophists and individual scholars and philosophers like Schopenhauer, L. Jacolliot, A. Lillie and F. Nork.

But the traditional Christianity did not yield easily and it argued furiously for the primacy of the Mosaic-Christian Revelation. A. Dacier, J. Bouchet and Th. La Grue argued for the priority of Biblical Chronology. Even Newton was involved in the controversy and argued for the primacy of the Biblical Chronology. But the growing knowledge of history and older civilizations was against them.

Orthodox Christians took recourse to another line of argument. While yielding a certain chronological priority to India they upheld Christianity’s moral and spiritual primacy. They said that even if India had known some kind of religion at an early date, its essential truths were badly corrupted and it needed the living waters of Christianity to revive them. To them, India offered a classic example of a tradition that had been unable to safeguard its original purity against its pagan superstition and priestly fraud, and disgusting barbarism - a warning and reminder to others. An article on “Brahmins” in Encyclopaedia says that a Christian could not fail to see the 41 effect of divine wrath” in such decay and deprivation. Professor Halbfass informs us that India’s example was often cited to illustrate the theme of the eclipse and suppression of “natural light” through superstition and ritualism, and that this theme enjoyed a great popularity among thinkers of the Enlightenment.

VI A New Phase

Soon the Indo-European encounter entered a new phase. Indian texts began to be translated into European languages. Works of Roger, Dow, Holwell, Wilkin’s translations of the Bhagavad Gita and the Hitopdesha and W. Jones’ Shakuntala created a taste for Indian thought. Western scholars read in translations such things as: “Vishnu is in you, in me, in all beings”; or “See all men in your own soul”; or “Banish the delusion of being different”. Though later on, the missionary writers tried to dismiss such teachings under the label of “pantheism”, many Western thinkers heard such sublime thoughts and ethics for the first time and were deeply stirred. The stir was Europewide, but it was most conspicuous in Germany. F. Schlegel, one of the pioneers of the Oriental Renaissance, wrote about India: “Here is the actual source of all languages, all the thoughts and poems of the human spirit; everything, everything without exception comes from India.” Later on, of course, he changed his views when he became a Roman Catholic and not to India but to Biblical Mesopotamia gave the palm of being the “cradle of mankind”, but his contribution to the Oriental Renaissance remained outstanding.

Another great name belonging to this movement was that of Schopenhauer. His interest in Indian religion was first aroused by reading Anquetil Dupperon’s Latin translation of Oupnekhat (1801-1802), itself a translation from a Persian version. He was deeply moved and he found its reading “the most rewarding and edifying”, and its philosophy “the solace of my life and will be the solace of my death”. After this he continued to take a deep interest in India. In Indians, he found the “most noble and ancient people”, and their wisdom was the “original wisdom of the human race”. He spoke of India as the “fatherland of mankind”, which gave the “original religion of our race” and “oldest of all world view”. He thought of the Upanishads as the “fruit of the most sublime human knowledge and wisdom”, documents of “almost superhuman conception” whose authors could “hardly be thought of as mere mortals”. He expressed the hope that European peoples “who stemmed from Asia … would also re-attain the holy religions of their home” (Italics added).


Europe’s discovery of Sanskrit also worked in the same direction. F. Sassetti had observed as early as the second half of the sixteenth century that Sanskrit and Europe’s classical languages were related in some way. Jones also saw the basic similarities between these languages and soon some basic concepts of linguistics and history were revolutionised. The discovery of Sanskrit proved a great event in Europe’s intellectual history. It upset Europe’s self-image; it showed that its Semitic association and identification were brief and accidental and that its linguistic and, therefore, its philosophic, religious and cultural roots lay elsewhere. Europe’s close affinity with India could no longer be a matter of speculation; it was written all over in the languages of Europe, classical or modern. J.G. Herder asked himself. “All the peoples of Europe, where are they from?” And he answered: “From Asia.”

Sanskrit was found to be the oldest of all Aryan languages and therefore also their ancestor. Hegel, no admirer of India, admitted: “It is a great discovery in history - as of a new world - which has been made within rather more than the last twenty years, respecting the Sanskrit and the connection of the European languages with it. In particular, the connection of the German and Indian peoples has been demonstrated.” German Oriental Renaissance was erected on Bopp’s linguistic foundation.

The enthusiasm for Indian culture was widespread. Amaury de Riencourt in his The Soul of India tells us that philosophers like Schelling, Fichte, Hegel, Schopenhauer and Schleiermacher, poets such as Goethe, Schillar, Novalis, Tieck and Brentano, historians like Herder and Schlegel, all acclaimed the discovery of Indian culture with cries of ecstasy: “India, the home of universal religion, the cradle of the noblest human race, of all literature, of all philosophies and metaphysics.” And he adds that “this enthusiasm was not confined to Germany. The entire Romantic movement in the West put Indian culture on a lofty pedestal which the preceding Classical Movement had reserved for Greece and Rome.”

Tolstoy, a late-comer, was also deeply influenced by Indian religious thought. Like Wagner, his introduction to it was through Burnouf and Schopenhauer. Beginning with his Confessions, there is no work of his “which is not inspired, in part by Hindu thought”, to put it in the words of Markovitch quoted by Raymond Schwab in The Oriental Renaissance. He further adds that Tolstoy also “remains the most striking example, among a great many, of those who sought a cure for the western spirit in India”.

Thus we see that India’s influence was widespread throughout Europe, but it was the greatest in Germany. In fact’ Germany was called “the India of the Occident”. Hugo said that “Germany is to the West what India is to the East, a sort of great forbear. Let us venerate her”. These words (September 1870) might have been said though in order to flatter Germany in the hope that she would spare Paris which her armies had besieged.

Importance of Indian Influence

While the Oriental Movement expanded the West’s intellectual horizon and influenced it at a deeper level, it was also used in the current controversies and polemics of the day. Some used it in support of the forces of Enlightenment and rationalism to give themselves an example of high-minded religion and ethics which did not depend on revelation and dogmas; others used it against the naive rationalism of the eighteenth century.

Some found that the Bible’s Hebraic tradition with its narrow-mindedness, intolerant monotheism, its coarse materialism and lack of mysticism had a corrupting influence on European culture and they found their answer in Indian religious culture which was both rational and mystical.

Oriental Renaissance was also used against classical Renaissance, particularly in Germany. For long, Germans had been accused, particularly by Latin people, of being Teutonic barbarians who destroyed the great Mediterranean culture. In return, the Germans by identifying themselves with the more ancient Indian culture rejected the cultural superiority of the Latin races and especially of French Classicism. Thus by identifying themselves with ancient India and by claiming a new lineage, the Germans restored their self-respect and equality with their accusers.

VII Opposition

Thus the Oriental Renaissance came to tread over too many toes and its results were disturbing even to many Orientalists who had intended their labour to yield a different kind of harvest. For example, H.H. Wilson, a celebrated Indologist, Boden Professor, translator of the Rg Veda and the ViSNu PuraNa, speaking at the University of Oxford in 1840, said that the objects of Indian studies were “to contribute to the religious enlightenment of a benighted, but intelligent and interesting and amiable people”; another object was “to confute the falsities of Hinduism”. Earlier William Carey had said that the purpose of translating Sanskrit texts was to show they were “filled with nothing but pebbles and trash”. But the results were just the opposite. Many of the best minds of Europe thought that these texts were sublime, and the possessors of those texts could not be benighted and needed no foreign aid in religious enlightenment. Some also used these texts to show the inadequacy of Christianity.

Oriental Renaissance began to invite opposition. Missionaries were one obvious source of it. Another source was Imperialism. European powers were becoming self-conscious imperialists and they could not rule with a clean conscience over peoples who were proud possessors of great cultures. Therefore they opposed views which exalted the ideological status of their colonies. Another source, a natural result of Imperialism, was growing Eurocentricity. Europe became less and less inclined to believe that anything worthwhile could be found anywhere outside of Europe. Therefore, the Oriental Movement began to be downgraded. It was called “romantic”, and even “fanatic”; its fascination for India was a form of “Indo-mania”. Others dealt with it in a more intellectual, but equally hostile way. They admitted a certain antiquity and even priority for Indian people and their culture, facts which could no longer be denied, but they saw in it no reason for departing from their low estimate of India. Hegel, for example, admitted that India “was the centre of emigration for all the western world”, but he said that it was merely a “physical diffusion”. “The people of India have achieved no foreign conquests, but have been on every occasion vanquished them-selves.”

Similarly, though he admitted the fact of India’s cultural spread arguing that Sanskrit lies at the foundation of all those further developments which form the languages of Europe Greek, Latin, German - but he also found in this cultural diffusion only “a dumb, deedless expansion”, which “presented no political action”. No wars, no forcible conversions, no cultural impositions; therefore, worth nothing much, nothing creditable!

Others dealt with the problem in other ways. They retained old facts but gave them a new rendering; or they retained some facts and changed others and offered a new combination. For example, Indians were allowed to possess the Vedas, the oldest literature of the Aryans, but the Aryans themselves were made to migrate, this time from Europe to India as conquerors. Thus the tables were turned. Migration remained but its direction changed. India which was hitherto regarded as the home of European languages and people now became the happy hunting ground of the same people who came and conquered and imposed their will and culture on India. The theory of Aryan invasion was born. History was written in support of the new hegemony and power relations.

Other scholars made other kinds of attempts. Considering that Europe’s religious and philosophical tradition was a late corner, some European thinkers had derived it from India, a common enough practice in the academic field in such matters. But William Jones now offered the hypothesis of a third unknown source. He said that India was not the original home of the religious and philosophic tradition of the West, but itself represented an old offshoot of an original source common to both East and West. “Pythagoras and Plato derive their sublime theories from the same fountain with the sages of India”, he said. As the attitude in Europe changed, the hypothesis was lapped up and it was accepted as fact.

The hypothesis of a third lost source began to be applied to many fields but more particularly to linguistics. Some scholars even began to reconstruct this common source and invented “Indo-European roots”. These roots were a logical construct and the already existing Sanskrit roots could have done as well, but possibly a psychological motive was at work. Though Sanskrit had the oldest literature, the idea that it could have some sort of a primacy in the Aryan family of languages was not acceptable. Therefore they accepted the next best hypothesis that both Sanskrit and European languages had a common source still more ancient but now lost. To own a filial relationship with India was no matter of pride for Europe; so the next best thing under the circumstances was to make this relationship collateral and push it as far back in the past as possible. Things may change and India’s social status may improve after its political and economic status improves.


Europe, at the head of a far-flung empire, had to assert its superiority at all levels: military, commercial, religious and philosophical. It could not countenance a view which exalted the peoples of the Orient in any way Missionaries were always on the war-path but on the level of philosophy, Hegel led the attack and his attack was as unsparing and ungenerous as that of the former. But while the missionaries used the language of theology, Hegel used the high-winded language of intellectuality, or just sheer “confused, empty verbiage”, according to Schopenhauer.

Herder had thought that India represented man’s living past, his innocence, but Hegel believed that the World-Spirit (Weltgeist) moved from East to West, and in the Oriental tradition, Europe faces, in a sense, its own petrified past. He believed that the Occident had already superseded the Orient and the Orient has to be “excluded from the history of philosophy”. In fact, Hegel himself gave us a “philosophy of history”, a scheme which brought non-European cultures and thought in historical subordination to Europe. After Hegel, many European scholars have engaged in this labour and in Marx it touched new heights and achieved much concrete, political results.

According to Professor Halbfass, Hegel and others “reflected Europe’s historical position at the beginning of the 19th century. It claims intellectual, moral and religious superiority over the rest of the world.” The author tells us that Hegel “even tries to justify the historical necessity of Europe’s colonial activities”. In his The Philosophy of History, Hegel praises the British for undertaking “the weighty responsibility of being the missionaries of civilization to the world”.

Following Hegel’s lead, though the lead was hardly necessary, Indian philosophy began to be berated. Professor Halbfass writes a whole chapter entitled “On the Exclusion of India from the History of Philosophy”. But there is nothing surprising about it. In the same spirit and with the same level of understanding, Indian religion, art, sciences and technology, social and political thought were also either omitted or berated. But what is really incomprehensible is that India’s own elites under the spell of Europe have shown no appreciation and commitment to their country’s intellectual and creative contribution.

In a sense, this omission is no deprivation but in fact a blessing. Exclusion does no harm and inclusion brings no honour. In fact, inclusion is far worse than exclusion. The fact is that Europe is not spiritually prepared to take Indian higher thought into its purview and, therefore, it is better that it is left out altogether. But on occasions when Europe does speak about it, it speaks vaguely about something it does not comprehend. For example, take Hegel himself. Speaking about Yoga, he says that the “ascent to Brahman is brought about by utter stupefaction and insensibility”. The comment is simply laughable. Similarly, he often speaks, probably more than any other European philosopher, of consciousness; but he does not seem to be aware, even conceptually, of a state of consciousness which is liberated from its own images, thoughts, stored impressions, its opacity, duality and ego, a state of consciousness about which Indian Yogas speak. In this state, the consciousness is joyful (viSoka), and luminous (jyotishmati), truth-bearing or truth-filled (ritam-bhara), and those who attain it live on truth (rita-bhuj), and dwell in truth (rita-sad).


India entered Europe as a widening and deepening force and it was looked upon with respect and admiration by some of its greatest thinkers like Voltaire, Schelling and Schopenhouer, But the vested interests and forces of narrowness and obscurantism were powerful and they banded together and made a determined stand. Eventually the Euro-Colonial-Missionary forces triumphed, represented by soldier-scholars like J.S. Mill, Hegel, Macaulay, Marx and many others. They were thoroughly Eurocentric and they looked at India and other countries of the East with contempt and condescension. But they became popular not only in the West but in India and Asia as well. They taught several generations of Indians how and what to think of themselves and of Europe. The Indian elites began to look at their country and people through European eyes and European categories. They even borrowed the West’s contempt for their own people. Traditional India, during its recovery and reaffirmation, finds itself most fiercely opposed by these elitist forces at home. These forces have intimate intellectual, organizational and financial links with the West.


This anti-Hinduism of the Hindus, their Missionary-Macaulayite-Marxist view of themselves, their own culture, religion and history, is the most powerful legacy the European contact has left behind. But Professor Halbfass does not discuss this at all. On the other hand, he discusses, in the second section of his book, what he calls Neo-Hinduism, a Hinduism shaped by and during the presence of Europe but which is not anti-Hindu and which, in fact, defends Hinduism though not in its native idiom but in the borrowed idiom of Europe. According to Professor Halbfass, Neo-Hinduism took shape “in a historical setting created by Europe”, and it “has difficulties speaking for itself”; it “speaks to a large extent in a European medium”.

To some extent, this is true; but the limitation is not all on the side of Neo-Hinduism. If it is to engage in a dialogue with the West, it must speak in the idiom best understood by the listener. Though the West is an acute linguist and it has mastered many languages but it is not so nimblewitted in understanding the peoples who spoke them.

Moreover, Neo-Hinduism does more than justify Hinduism; it also justifies Christianity, Islam and many other non-Indian cults. As it uses Western categories to defend Hinduism, in the same spirit it uses traditional Indian categories to promote Semitic religions. In its insatiable desire for “synthesis” and similarities, it seeks and finds Vedanta in the Bible and the Quran and in Das Kapital too; it says that Jesus and Muhammad and Marx all are incarnations and Rishis, and that they all say the same thing. The net result is that Semitic prophets are as popular among the Hindus as their own. Western Rationalism had rejected Christianity not only for its miracles but even more so for its exclusive claims which offend rationality, but it is now coming back under Hindu auspices and promotion.

IX Hindu Passivity

At more than one place, Professor Halbfass gives us what he regards as a basic characteristic of the Indo-European dialogue or encounter. In this encounter, he tells us that while Europe’s role was active, that of India was passive; that while she never went out to study or preach or proselytize, the West has been, on the other hand, in search of India in a variety of ways. It has looked there for analogies and origins; it has even used India for its own self-definition; it has tried to define its identity “by demarcating it against, and reflecting it in, the otherness of India”. India, on the other hand, has never tried to find Europe, but discovered it when she was herself discovered, and “started responding to it while being discovered, subdued and objectified by it”.3

What Professor Halbfass has said so graciously has been said less civilly by many others. H.U. Weithrecht, for example, makes no such intellectual ado and states quite brutally that India’s contact with the outer world “has been mainly through immigration of foreign invaders”.

We thank Professor Halbfass for his civility and we also think that there should be no difficulty in agreeing with his observation in a broad way. But what he says has many unstated implications and it also raises some deeper questions which should not go unmentioned.

The author presents the East-West encounter as an intellectual enterprise in which the West played, on the whole, the part of a disinterested pursuer of knowledge and truth. It wanted to know others and it went out in search of this knowledge. Perhaps, sometimes it was too eager and, therefore, indiscreet and even aggressive, but all this was in the pursuit of knowledge. History however does not support this rosy view and reveals a different story. It tells us that the East-West encounter was a very cruel affair and the intellectual component was the least important part of it. Its main expressions were piracy, gunboat diplomacy, political domination, religious arrogance, economic enslavement and cultural genocide. These things have not even been mentioned by the author.

And looking at “knowledge” the encounter generated, we find that though its quantum is impressive its moral worth is very little. It abounds in censuses, surveys, reports, maps, charts, atlases, tables, chronicles, archives, transactions and other such data useful for ruling over a country; it contains laborious studies of castes and creeds and other social divisions so that these could be used for “divide and rule”, and even studies of history and religions so that these could be used for subversion. All this is “knowledge” of a sort but it is worthy of administrators and generals and, not of scholars and philosophers of cultures and civilizations. Data-collection is not knowledge and knowledge is not wisdom.

But even those works pretending to study other peoples’ cultures are most of the time worthless. Take, for example, the Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, in twelve volumes; it is written by more than 450 scholars, Europe’s best minds, great linguists and top-notch theologians. The volumes study world cultures, past and present. But with all their scholarship, they constitute a hate-book, a declaration of war against all non-Christian cultures and peoples. They prove that European intellect is profoundly inadequate for dealing with other peoples’ cultures. It has neither the necessary sympathy nor the insight for this kind of task.

While on the subject, we may also make a comment or two on the intellect of the West. In contrast to its eastern counterpart, it is supposed to be objective but facts show that it can be quite credulous and careless about facts. For example, we know how for centuries, it believed in a legendary Prester John, the ruler of “the three Indies”, the “illustrious and magnificent king … and a beloved son of Christ”, the centre of many legends whose support the Christian world hoped to gain against Islam. Similarly, we now know the story of Barlaam and Josaphat, two fictional characters in a story of Siddhartha Buddha taken over and after suitable adaptations converted into two real saints of Christendom whose feast day falls on 27th November. We also know how strong is its belief in Apostle Thomas visiting India which though found to be a myth continues to be promoted for extraneous reasons. All these facts do not speak for an alert, objective and disinterested European intellect.

Now let us also give some thought to the author’s perspicacious observation that India’s role in the intellectual encounter has been passive. This is true, at least apparently. India’s behaviour conforms to its basic attitude in the matter. India believes that there is such a thing as higher learning; and in this kind of learning, one learns best about others by learning about one-self. This kind of learning about others does not analyse, compare and judge all the time, but it accepts them as they are. This method gives a benign, a compassionate knowledge of others. In fact, in this kind of knowledge, there are no others. India has known mankind in this benign sense from the beginning. In this sense, India can also have no true xenology of European fancy though the author discusses it at length in a whole chapter, Traditional Indian Xenology (Chapter 11), where one can also see Indology at work in all its intellectual irresponsibility.4 Hindus have their own pride but they have no concept of an ummah, and a divinely ordained mission, and therefore no true xenology though they could have words indicating praise and censure and even hostility. In point of fact, Hinduism has concerned itself with humanity, with man, nay with all beings, animate and inanimate, past and present and future, on all planes, visible and invisible.5 “The European Tradition and Presence of India”, which could discuss Neo-Christianity and Neo-Europe, modifying their idiom under the influence of Indian thought. There is no dearth of data, but there is a reluctance to acknowledge that kind of data under the inertia of an old habit of thinking. For this reason, even Gandhi appears most briefly and perfunctorily in the book though he earned a wide audience in Europe and America, and not as an Indian political leader but as a Hindu thinker and saint; he is also treated as a representative of Neo-Hinduism, and not one who contributed to the shaping of a Neo-Christianity.

The fact is that India has been exerting a great influence though it often remains unacknowledged and unnamed. For example, India’s Pañchatantra began to be translated from an early date and it saw more than fifty translations and its stories are found in two hundred adaptations though without any knowledge of their Indian origin. The Indian influence has been silent but sure. For example at present, the Hare Krishna movement and the Saiva Siddhanta are visible but partial forms of a great invisible but abiding influence. Under this influence, many are taking to vegetarianism, hundreds of thousands of Western brothers believe in the Law of Karma, and in rebirth, and millions have participated in some kind of meditation sessions. Traditional Christianity has hitherto spoken the language of dogma, authority and superiority, but under this new influence, even it is forced to speak the language of “experience” and reluctant “plurality”. The Bible does not even know the word “consciousness”, but under the influence of Indian thought, even the televangelists are embracing the word though without realizing that the word properly belongs to a different spiritual ethos and has little meaning in the Christian tradition.

X Experience

Such overwhelming evidence of the influence of Indian spirituality has made it difficult to avoid its discussion altogether. So the author turns to it at the end of his book and in two separate chapters discusses two key concepts, Experience and Tolerance, concepts quite new to Christian-Western vocabulary. Dean W.R. Inge says that the “centre of gravity in religion has shifted from authority to experience”. Professor Halbfass also finds the word “most significant” and “most conspicuous in works on Indian religion and philosophy, and in the so-called dialogue between India and the West”. But apparently he does not think much of it. He quotes H. Cox who speaks slightingly of a “gluttony of experience”. He also regards the term “most ambiguous and evasive” and seems to agree with H.G. Gadamer who says that the word is the “most obscure of all philosophical concepts” and also “among the least clarified concepts”.

For that matter what concept is not ambiguous in philosophy? Is “experience” more ambiguous that the concepts of “East and West”, or “encounter”, “tradition”, “Europe” and “understanding”, concepts which are so much used by the author and some of which even decorate the title of his book? Most scholars do not seem to share this view and they have found the word good enough and clear enough for ordinary use. William James, the celebrated American philosopher and psychologist, wrote his famous The Varieties of Religious Experience (1902). Similarly, only recently, about a decade ago. Sir Alister Hardy, a zoologist, established a Religious Experience Research Unit (RERU) at the University of Oxford, England.


Professor Halbfass’s discussion on “tolerance” is also out of focus. He uses his erudition to confuse the straight meaning of the word. In this discussion, he introduces one Paul Hacker (1913-1979) and gives him a place quite disproportionate to the importance of his ideas. Paul Hacker says that “Hinduism has inclusivism instead of tolerance”, and that “what seems to be tolerance to the Europeans, is almost always inclusivism”. According to him the terms “tolerance” and “intolerance” are “inappropriate for the description of Hinduism”. H. Von Glasenapp, who missed tolerance in Hinduism paraphrased Hacker’s “inclusivism” as “non-violent fanaticism”.

Professor Halbfass discusses “tolerance as a modern European idea”, and finds it inapplicable to traditional Hinduism because it “does not recognize the idea of man, and of human freedom and equality, which constitute the background of the modern concept of tolerance”. Here, it is obvious that he neglects to take advantage of a larger perspective that is needed in discussing such inter-civilizational issues. Particularly, a deep culture like Hinduism based on a profounder definition of man and a wiser under-standing of what makes for true human freedom and equality needs more than this kind of cavalier judgement.

The author discusses the modern context of Europe’s idea of tolerance without mentioning a word about its practice of intolerance in dealing with Asian and African countries. Tolerance, as a “modern European idea and ideology”, acquired “special significance in connection with the tensions between different Christian denominations since the period of Reformation”, he says. Thus the question is treated as an intra-Christian question, a question of relationship between different denominations of Christianity. The larger question of how Christianity views other religions is simply glossed over. There is not a word about the vast missionary apparatus, a living monument of intolerance, doctrinal and practical. Perhaps, this apparatus and its work are included in the modern “European idea of tolerance”. It seems that Professor Halbfass’s view, in this matter again, has failed to rise above the Western-Christian horizon.

The argument that treats tolerance as a “modern European idea or ideology” is of one piece with the arguments of missionaries. For example, Searle Bate in his Religious Liberty: An Inquiry, a missionary-sponsored work, argues that since Hindus did not practise persecution, they did not know tolerance! For the very lack of persecution itself “did not raise clear issues of compulsion or liberty”. And he further adds that “it is only in the political development of recent years [that is when the British were leaving], in the missionary introduction of fresh Christian undertakings, that the issue of religious liberty had become apparent”. According to this view, if Hindu India questions some of these “Christian undertakings”, it will prove that it lacks and denies religious liberty. But when India was under the British and no such questions were raised, that was true religious liberty of “modern European idea or ideology”.

XI Europeanization of the Earth

In the last chapter, Professor Halbfass discusses the concept of the “Europeanization of the Earth”, a conviction and predilection which philosophical Europe too has shared with religious and political Europe. Christian Europe has always believed that it has the divinely ordained mission of bringing all heathendom under the domain of the Church; similarly at the dawn of modern period, Imperial Europe felt heavily the “white man’s burden of civilizing the world”; philosophical Europe too felt that it had an equally “onerous task of understanding others” under its “idea of truth which requires and authorizes it to understand other cultures”, to put it in the language of M. Merleau-Ponty.

The thought found its first most powerful expression in Hegel and lately in E. Husserl. Professor Halbfass tells us that Hegel believed that the European horizon transcends the Asian horizon, that Asian thought is comprehensible and interpretable within European thought but not vice versa, and that European thought has to provide the context and categories for the exploration of all traditions of thought. Europe has an “innate entelechy” which urges it on towards an “absolute idea”, a universality beyond the reach of other cultures.

Husserl believes that Europe has acquired the spirit of “true philosophy” and “pure science”, “autonomous thinking” and an “attitude of pure theory” and “freedom from prejudice”; and, therefore, is especially equiped to understand other cultures while other cultures lacking in these qualities cannot understand Europe. “European mankind” has a “universal human mission”. Its culture “comprehends and cancels other cultures”.

Not that other cultures lack reason altogether, but it is of a merely human, pre-philosophical kind. “As animal reason is to human reason, pre-philosophical reason is to philosophical reason.” This philosophical reason provides to the West a kind of “self-transparent omniscience”. This gives the West a great advantage over others. Others will have to Europeanize themselves, “whereas we, if we understand ourselves properly, will never, for example, Indianize ourselves”, Husserl says. Naturally, the “Europeanization of all foreign parts of the world” is the destiny of the earth. God made Europe in His own image, and now the rest of mankind will be made in the image of Europe. M. Heidegger also refers to the “complete Europeanization of the earth and of mankind”, but he is less proud about it. Recently, Dr. Francis Fukuyama, a scholar and official of the United States, wrote an essay, The End of History, which was widely discussed. It celebrated the “triumph of the West, the Western idea”.

But what does “Europeanization of mankind” exactly mean? Does it mean that European rationalism will triumph over Asian intuition? And European sciences, forms of knowledge and technology and even social and economic forms replace sciences, forms of knowledge, technology and social and economic forms developed elsewhere? Let us remember that developed cultures like India, China and Egypt were masters of many sciences.

A measure of Europeanization in the sense of some dominant European influences is quite on the cards. The last several centuries belonged to Europe and the rest of mankind was on the retreat. In these days, economic and political colonialism went hand in hand with intellectual colonialism. Many Western ideas and ideals were successfully planted. Even highly developed cultures like those of India and China were under a tremendous psychological pressure to accept the world-view, the value-system, intellectual fashions and preferences and political and social forms of the West. Many Afro-Asian countries tried to go western in the hope of acquiring the West’s power or even approval, but without success. They were deindigenized without being Europeanized. Some of these countries like Brazil and Mexico failed even in the more external forms. They tried to adopt Western patterns of industrialization but their harvest has been colossal debts, inflation, economic bankruptcy and great social upheaval. It is clear that whatever the adjustments it is necessary for the non-European countries to make, the path of imitation is hardly the path of their salvation.

Then there is also the question of desirability. Thanks to the West’s glamour and its technological achievements in many fields, it is not widely and fully realized that Europeanization has also meant the externalization of the Spirit and its impoverishment. The Europeanization of the earth started long ago. It started with the Europeanization of Europe itself; let us remember that there was a time when Europe was not Europeanized in the modern sense; its Europeanization started with the Semiticization of its religious feeling and thinking, and then invaded other departments and expressions of its life; Europe began to lose its roots; and while it underwent inner contraction, it started on the path of outer expansion, recognizing on the way no one else but itself. It began to seek Europeanization of the earth.

But will it do any good to anybody? What will happen if the Afro-Asian countries also became consumers and polluters on the Europeans scale? What the earth, including Europe, needs is not Europeanization, but a new philosophy, a new life-style which is in harmony with man’s spiritual nature and ecological system.

Europeanization of the earth may satisfy the West’s ego, but the satisfaction will be short-lived. The West does not realize how deep is man’s, including its own, present spiritual crisis. In the depth of this crisis, it is not above learning from developed Hindu-Buddhist culture of Asia. This culture could teach us innerness, respect for plurality, ways of frugal, harmonious and compassionate living.


  1. Wilhelm Halbfass, India and Europe: An Essay in Philosophical Understanding, Motilal Banarasidass Publishers Pvt. Limited, Delhi, 1990. 

  2. Even before it was adopted as an official religion, Christianity indulged in destroying the shrines of the Pagans. Christian mobs under the leadership of their bishops and saints went about seizing and destroying the temples of their neighbours. Two Hindu temples too became the object of their iconoclastic furies. The temples were built by an Indian colony settled in the Canton of Jaron on the upper Euphrates The Indians had built two temples with the images of deities 18 and 22 feet high. St. Gregory the Illuminator (240-332 AD) destroyed them in 304 AD, according to the Syrian writer, Zenob.

    When Christianity became the state religion of the Roman Empire, destroying Pagan temples became a state policy. Theodosius, the fanatic Christian Emperor ordered that the Pagan temples be destroyed and he appointed officers of high rank who were directed to shut Pagan temples and confiscate their property for the benefit of the Church.

    The phenomenon enveloped the whole Empire. There was a respite during the time of Julian, but the Christians were already powerful. The altar of Cybele at Pessinus was overturned almost in the presence of the Pagan Emperor. Similarly, in the city of Caesarea in Cappadocia, the Pagan temple, the only one that had survived, was destroyed by Christians during the reign of this Pagan Emperor. The attacks were organized by the most pious Christians, monks and bishops. Gibbon tells us that the “holy Martin, bishop of Tours, marched at the head of his faithful monks, to destroy the idols, the temples, and the consecrated trees of his extensive diocese”. In Syria, “the divine and excellent Marcellus”, as he is described by Christian chroniclers, a bishop, destroyed many stately temples within the diocese of Apamea. He was accompanied by numerous troops of soldiers and gladiators, and “he successfully attacked the villages and country temples.” He was slain by furious villagers.

    In Alexandria, the great temple of Serapeum, with its stately halls and exquisite statues, “displaying the triumph of the arts”, as Gibbon describes, it was destroyed under the leadership of Theophilus, a saint, and friend of St. Jerome. Ale Serapeum also preserved treasures of ancient learning and housed the famous Alexandrian library. All were reduced to ashes. A church was built in honour of Christian martyrs on the site of the ruined temple.

    Libanius, a contemporary writer, rails at these “black-garbed” monks “who ate more than elephants”. Poor elephants! they are temperate animals.”

    Many temples were appropriated by the Christians. The temple of Venus at Carthage, whose sacred precincts formed a circumference of two miles was converted into a Christian church. The same thing happened to the majestic Pantheon at Rome. Built by Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa (63-12 BC) and reconstructed in the 2nd century AD by Hadrian,it became a Christian church in the 7th century.

    St. Sophia, the church at Constantinople, was built by Constantine in 325. Enlarged, rebuilt, destroyed at various epoch, the present structure is virtually that erected by Justinian. Over 1 0,000 workers were employed for seven years, and the rich materials used were taken from nearly every celebrated Pagan temple in all parts of the Empire. Its altar was made of molten gold weighing 320,000 lbs. In 1453, Turks conquered Constantinople, and the church was converted into a mosque.

    Ancient rites suppressed

    The ancient rites were abolished. These including luminaries, garlands, frankincense, and libation of wine were especially enumerated and condemned. The offender was subjected to the forfeiter of the house or estate where those ceremonies were performed. And as Gibbon says even “the harmless claims of the domestic genius, of the household gods, are included in this proscription.” The ruse of these “profane and illegal ceremonies” subjected the offender to the forfeiture of the house or estate where they have been performed.

    We are told by Gibbon how “The monks (a race of filthy animals, to whom Eunapius is tempted to refuse the name of men) are the authors of the new worship, how in these shrines, and instead of the Gods conceived in beautiful images, were worshipped the salted and pickled heads of the so-called martyrs, those infamous malefactors”.

    There were laws against Judaizing Christians, against Paganism, against folk practices. Lex Visigothorum, XH, 2, 16, (642-52) deplores “pretended belief in Christ” and prescribes penalty for those who “have renounced a good religion for a bad one.” It says that a “cruel and astounding act of presumption should be extirpated by a still more cruel punishment”. The Edict declares that whenever it is proved that a Christian born of Christian parents has practised circumcision or any other Jewish rite, “he shall be put to an ignominious death by the zeal and cooperation of Catholics, under the most ingenious and excruciating torture that can be inflicted”…

    The precept of King Childebert 1 of France (c. 533-58) threatens such of his people “which does not keep the precepts of bishops.” It declares: “We order that any men who, once admonished, shall not at once cast out images and idols, dedicated to the devil, made by men, from their fields, or shall prevent Bishops from destroying them, shall not he free…”

    Again, Lex Visigothorum VI, 2, 4, (642-52) declares punishments for “magicians and invokers of tempests”. “Such persons” shall be publicly scourged with two hundred lashes; shall be scalped; and shall be dragged by force through ten villages of the neighbourhood, as a warning to others.

    In other places, this infringement was put to a profitable use. Lombard Italy: Liutprant 84.I (727) says that anybody going to a soothsayer “shall pay half his price in the Sacred Palace, according as he is valued.. and he shall also do penance according to the Church canons. In the same way he who worships at a tree which the rustic call holy and at springs, or performs sacrifice or incantation, shall similarly pay half the price.” Any one who does not denounce them or conceals them suffers the same penalty.

    Pope Gregory the Great writes to Mellitus, Abbot of France on his way to England to tell Bishop Augustine “that the temples of idols in that nation should not be destroyed, but that the idols themselves that are in them should be … since, if these same temples are well built, it is needful that they should be transferred from the worship of idols to the service of true God.” 

  3. Is it really true? Has Europe, particularly Christian Europe, been really so alert and curious as Professor Halbfass claims? According to E.R. Bevan, far into the medieval ages Christian Europe drew its conception of India mainly from books written before the middle of the third century BC and the additions of this period “never equalled in substance or interest the older books” (The Cambridge History of India, p.383). 

  4. Here the author follows the lead of Indology quite uncritically. The discussion is set in the framework of the theory of Aryan invasion as already a proven fact. We are told of the Aryans as “a closely knit group of conquerors and immigrants who gradually took possession of the Indian sub-continent”, and of aboriginals who were “vanquished and subdued by Agni”, an Aryan God. We are told that the conquerors had already “a clearly recognizable, though somewhat mythical awareness of the surrounding world of foreign or hostile powers or groups or people”. How this awareness was both clear and mythical at the same time is not explained but treating it so makes it easier to regard myths and parables as history. We are also told that according to the testimony of the Vedas themselves, the subdued people were “excluded from the Aryan community and its ritual performances” (and blamably not “compelled to come in”), and were described as dasyu or dasa, and as _ aSraddha, ayajña, avrata, anyavrata_ and akarman.

    In this scheme, the pre-Vedic conquest proves the Vedic epithets which in turn prove a pre-Vedic conquest. But, really, have the epithets to be applied to a conquered people? They could as well be applied by moralists to the members of their own society who in their eyes were not worshipful and observant enough. Manu does it often and advises that even kings and Brahmins who do not perform sacrifices (ayajña) are not to be honoured (3.120). But in all probability and in most cases they were applied by Rishis to all mankind, to man at large, to his inner life, his seeking and struggle, to his soul which seeks kinship with Gods but which is also subject to the opposite pull of impiety, lack of faith, worship and spiritual effort.

    Taking a leaf from the Orientalists’ book, could we argue that the words like gentiles, heathens, infidels, pagans, servants, slaves and serfs which abound in. European religious and social literature assume a conquered people? Could we also hold that the Biblical words like sklero-trachelos and qesheh oreph (stiff-necked) are physical descriptions of those people as “noseless” (anasa) dasyu of Orientalists? Could we further say that the Bible’s words like ignorant (agnoeo), unbelieving (apeitheo), heedless (aphron), unrighteous (adikos), lawless (anomia) and accursed (anathema) are not moral judgements but epithets applied to conquered peoples of various grades?

    But even if we take the Vedas to be history, we must apply a chosen criterion consistently and not pick and choose according to our convenience. In a Rg verse (7.6.3) which speaks of the foolish, the faithless, the rudely-speaking, the niggardly, of men without belief, sacrifice and worship (nyakritu, grathina, mRdhra-vac, paNi, aSraddha, avriddha, ayajña), we are also told that “Far, far away has Agni chased those dasyus, and, in the east, has turned the godless westward”, a direction which is just the opposite of what the Orientalists have been telling us - not eastward and southward but westward. Why neglect this testimony?

    Let me take another example of this intellectual irresponsibility. Beginning from the beginning and tracing the tradition of Indian Xenology, Professor Halbfass quotes P. Thieme to show that “while in Greece the word for foreigner (xenos) becomes the words for ‘guest’ or ‘host’ the corresponding word in India [ari] becomes a term for the enemy” (p. 175). Well, we do not know whether the word ari in the Vedic lore ever meant a stranger which in time began to mean an enemy, but such things are possible and words do change their meanings in response to many factors (for fuller discussion, see our The Word As Revelation: Names of Gods, Voice of India, New Delhi). A word of a living language responds, among other things, to the collective experience of its speakers. A stranger is not always a friend and sometimes he comes as a guest but stays back as the master as the experience of native American-Indians proves and the word has to incorporate and convey such new meanings too.

    But turning away from these larger speculations, let us turn to the concrete case in hand. We are not sure whether such a change of meanings as suggested by Thieme took place in India but it did take place in Europe. If Professor Halbfass had carried his etymological investigation a little further, he would have found that the Greek word xenos, a stranger, is akin to Latin hostis, a stranger, a guest, an enemy, acquiring in Medieval Latin the sense of ‘army’ (from the plural hostes, enemies) giving us the word ‘hostile’ in English; it is also the parent of the word ‘hostage’, a person kept in pledge. Akin to this was also the Latin hostia, an expiatory victim offered to a deity, a sacrifice. The sense is still actively retained in the Church’s most important rite, the eucharist, in which they eat (substantially, Christian theologians insist) the flesh of the sacrificed victim, Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Perhaps the word retains the memory of the days when they sacrificed their first-born to their God, perhaps later replaced by a stranger, then by a living animal and then by a consecrated bread or wafer, the host. The word reveals the steps in European Xenology and its etymology helps in constructing European history. Or, this would if India has its Occidentalists and they were as bright as Europe’s Orientalists. 

  5. But increasingly faced with a world of strong nation-states and religious ecclesias organised on ummah principles, Hindus like other Pagan peoples found themselves at a great disadvantage (for example, while not successful in converting the Muslims, St. Xavier said: Give me out and out pagans). Therefore they tried to develop a measure of political nationalism and religious solidarity (sañgaThana) of their own under the leadership of people like Swami Dayananda , Swami Vivekananda, Lokamanya Tilak, Sri Aurobindo and Mahatama Gandhi, but these sentiments still retain the full imprint of universality.