Rajiv Malhotra’s “U-Turn Theory”

Nearly five years ago in April 2001, TIME magazine did a feature titled The Power of Yoga.

A path to enlightenment that winds back 5,000 years in its native India, yoga has suddenly become so hot, so cool, so very this minute. It’s the exercise cum meditation for the new millennium, one that doesn’t so much pump you up as bliss you out.

The article feels like an “infomercial” on yoga but is worth a quick glance. (While you are there, don’t miss the brief photo essay on some yoga postures.)

Newsweek and other magazines in the US also discovered the power of yoga around the same time. Yoga, as most of us know, is essentially Indian — and more specifically — quintessentially Hindu. Shiva, the great ascetic, is also the greatest yogi. The holiest of Hindu holy books is the Bhagavat Gita, which is a record of Krishna’s tutorial on yoga to Arjuna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra. Yoga and Hindu thought are as inseparable as high technology and American innovation. Yet these reports managed to hold forth on yoga without mentioning the word “Hindu” even once.

What brought this to mind was an email about Rajiv Malhotra’s “U-Turn theory: How the West appropriates Indian culture.” Here is an abstract:

Westerners appropriate Indic ideas through a process which Rajiv Malhotra has called the U-Turn. In its basic form the U-Turn Theory states that a member of the dominant Western culture first whole-heartedly learns the Indic tradition. He or she, for a variety of reasons, then repackages it and projects the knowledge gained from India from within his/her own culture. The next thing you know is that s/he claims these ideas were always an integral part of Western culture. Some, but not all, also start demonizing the source Indic traditions using a lot of pretexts, such as calling them “world negating” or accusing them of “human rights” abuses. As an example, Malhotra has examined on how Jung appropriated much from Indic thought – including key ideas of collective unconscious, archetypes, and synchronicity – but did the classical U-Turn from Indic thought. In all, Malhotra has done 50+ case studies of such U-Turns, and each has its own story as to why and how it was done. U-Turns have played animportant role in shaping Western ideas, literature and popular culture; yet they are typically ignored in discussions on the history of ideas. The U-Turn Theory also explains that many Indians internalize the Western adaptations of Indian culture and re-import them into India: For instance, Tantric healing is more fashionable as “energy healing” or as reiki; yoga’s return to India’s Westernized middle class owes a lot to the West’s adoption of it; and Western research on cognitive science and neuroscience includes yogis who are mere “subjects.”

Rajiv Malhotra is associated with The Infinity Foundation.

Rajiv Malhotra is a US based public intellectual whose research includes the study of Western society’s complex relationships with India. In particular, for the last ten years, he has been researching the Inner Sciences combining the Indic and Western perspectives. He has debated a variety of Western systems, such as the Science & Religion paradigms of Templeton Foundation, Ken Wilbur’s claims to Integral Psychology, Jung’s encounters with Yoga, the Christianization of Yoga, etc. In parallel, his Infinity Foundation has pioneered investigations into the Science of Consciousness at US institutions such as: University of California, Institute of Noetic Sciences, Kira Institute, MIT, Association of Transpersonal Psychology, etc. For eight years it has also had a research and teaching program on Indian Philosophy and Psychology at University of Hawaii. It also funded a pioneering non-duality curriculum Columbia University.

Infinity started the ‘Yogapsychology’ Internet discussion group of international scholars and intellectuals. Infinity has sponsored academic scholars and programs in India, such as: International Conference on Integral Psychology, Pondy (2001); National Seminar on Psychology in India, Kollam (2001); IIT Kharagpur Conference on Mind and Consciousness (2002); National Conference on Yoga and Indian Approaches to Psychology, Pondy (2002); National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore (2003); Institute For Human Science & Service, Andhra University (2003-5); Indian Psychology and Yoga Conference, Pondy (2004); IIT Kharagpur Conference on Indian Theories of Death & Dying (2005). It has sponsored the research and/or publishing of various books on Consciousness and Psychology, such as: “Psychology and its Transformation, Meditation Systems of the World” (Jonathan Shear); “Kalachakratantra” (Vesna A. Wallace), “Integral Psychology of Sri Aurobindo” (Don Salmon). It is funding the development of a college textbook series on Indian approaches to Psychology. Over ten years, Infinity Foundation has given about 250 grants for research, education and philanthropy, to institutions as well as about 100 individual scholars. Mr. Malhotra was been appointed to the Asian-American Commission for the State of New Jersey, where he served as the Chairman for the Education Committee to start Asian Studies in schools. He also serves on the Advisory Board of the American Red Cross in New Jersey.

Author: Atanu Dey


9 thoughts on “Rajiv Malhotra’s “U-Turn Theory””

  1. Not to mention the fact that columbus was looking for India in the first place ;-).

    Latest trend is Christian Yoga.

    Actually I don’t mind anyone adapting Yoga, my only objection is the intellectual dishonesty of west.
    They appropriate Yoga without and at the same time calling Hindus Satan worshippers and Idolators.



  2. The cunning of the west as described in this post, is disgusting…Sometimes it is sheer bliss to live in the lazy “chalega” attitude of India, where at least the average lazy Indian does not gather enough energy to cheat,appropriate from other cultures’ ideas for making easy money.


  3. Yoga and other such Indian/ Hindu traditions are like open source software. While you can reuse the IP with due credit, it is ethically wrong to claim it as your own.


  4. Only a disciple of Diogenes would have anything to do with Rajiv. The man’s at best a charlatan, using Hinduism as a prop for getting recognition. At one time it was rumored he wanted to be an NRI ambassador for India. Rajiv has blogged for several years now on sulekha.com. You should definitely read those articles, and especially his comments to questions posed to him. His knowledge of Hinduism is functional at best. He is completely ignorant of various fundamental slokas and mantras and what they mean. Yet he seeks to defend them from misinterpretation by Western interests, mostly by coining catchy phrases like U-Turn Theory, Caste Cow Curry Theory etc. and then commissioning poor Indian academics and journalists to write a body of work under these so-called theories in return for grants. He has an ongoing battle with SAJA. He wrote to SAJA insisting that a series of articles be written about him in the mainstream press. SAJA laughed it off and he went on a personal crusade, trying to demolish SAJA members as anti-Hindu. SAJA is simply an umbrella of journalists working for a paycheck, whereas Rajiv is a very wealthy multimillionaire moonlighting as a philanthropist. I have met Rajiv at a seminar, he is a nice old NRI. But it is a sad day when we have the likes of him representing an ancient faith like Hinduism. I understand Dr.Atanu you are a Buddhist so none of this would matter to you. But there are Hindus like myself out there and it does matter to us. Hinduism is a vast ocean of knowledge, it provides immense comfort and solace to its believers. But to Rajiv Hinduism is merely a body of work based on which he gets invited to seminars to debate Western scholars who know even less than him. It is a sad world we live in.


  5. SAJA and (Srini in particular)can shove their south asian identities up their collective asses.
    I hadnt paid much attention to RM,
    But if SAJA is against him, i guess he must be doing something right.


  6. “A Hindu journalist” – Quit with the ad hominem attacks on Rajiv and on Dr. Atanu (“I understand Dr.Atanu you are a Buddhist so none of this would matter to you.” – Oh please, only Hindus and that too only those whom you approve can be concerned about Hinduism?).
    There are enough examples supporting something similar to the U-turn theory. What have you got??


  7. Gaurav,
    just two things:
    why don’t we consider Hathayoga as a contribution of India to the well being of mankind just like other societies share the knowledge gained in science ?
    Those who practise Yoga in the West are not, in my opinion, part of the population who treat Hindus as Idolators.
    My only concern is that the majority of Indians are not getting any benefit from the local gurus.
    “Only a disciple of Diogenes would have anything to do with Rajiv”
    Hindu scholar or not Diogenes and the cynics are worth studying


  8. This Rajiv Malhotra is an all-too-typical Hindu upper caste type. If Hinduism is doomed to be replaced by Islam and Christianity in India it will be because of the denseness of Hindus like Rajiv.

    He is a stubborn defender of the most outrageously inhuman Hindu ideas – like the theory of Karma. He blissfully explains that Karma accounts for all the sufferings of people which seem a denial of a just God….because Hindus can say that these apparently innocent people who are born blind or are starving to death are merely paying for sins in a past life. It never occurs to Rajiv that in thus exculpating God he makes Him seem even more wicked and cruel than before – as someone who would make millions of innocent babies endure agony because of some crime they committed in a previous life they cannot even remember !

    Amazing !

    Hindus condemn Muslims for the theory of Jihad, but bad as that is it is mild compared to the appalling cruelty of the Karma theory.

    Malhotra boasts that Hinduism is non-hostorical and does not need to have an idea of its history in order to be viable, unlike Christianity and Islam…Hindusim can exist as yoga even without any history. Well, in that case why all the screaming by Rajiv about Westerners supposedly not acknowledging Hindu achievements they borrow?

    What a pathetic character this Malhotra is !


  9. Rajiv Malhotra’s mails are an eye-opener. One of his most prominent arguments has been for the study of India and Hinduism from Indian insider perspective which has been sorely missing so far. He has pointed out the harm done by rent-a-sepoy type intellectually westernized Indians who (perhaps due to thier ignorance than real malice) constantly demean thier own heritage.

    I would like to clarify some distortions of Indic concepts of Karma, Sin , Yoga and God in Ravi’s mail.

    The Hindu concept of God is the ultimate reality which includes and is beyond physical reality, experiences and descriptions yet not decoupled from it ; is neither Existent nor non-existent; Neither conscious nor non-conscious ; is Everything and Nothing. Experiencing this reality through personal effort is moksha. This God (if you choose to call it that) is neither just nor unjust. A “Just God” is infact a western imposition. The ‘hindu’ conception of God hence is sublimely abstract compared to the rather avenging, scheming and plotting celestial engineer requiring ‘conversion’ for membership of his club.

    Some Buddhist (and Hindu) schools of thought with no belief in the concept of soul but believe in the concept of Karma – this ought to prompt us to rethink our conventional understanding of Karma as fatalism. Karma has been gravely misinterpreted – as a part of western orientalist discourse. Karma can be explained as a cycle of actions and consequences and life a varying cycle of experiences driven by Karma. Trancending Karma (and life) is Moksha. Suffice to say that Karma is a sophisticated concept that explains actions and effects (which may or may not require rebirths to explain it) in all life and all times. It teaches us equanimity both in times of pain and pleasure. It also encourages us to look at our actions objectively and with responsibility.

    Sin is again mistranslated into indian ‘paap’. ‘Paap’ in Hinduism is a transgression of Dharma. Dharma is the (long) path to that culmiates in attaininment of Moksha. Hence ‘paap’ should be understood as the ignorance that subverts a person from the path to Moksha. In that sense ‘sin’ is simplistic and arbitrary. It is also a product of western thought.

    Yoga is a physical practice that helps in attainment of states where one is increasingly attuned to the ultimate reality (call it God or anything else). The greatest practitioners of yoga are more attuned to thier dharma. They can trancend Karma and life and achieve union with ‘God’. Therefore as we see none of the above doctrines can be divorced from each other or from Yoga.

    History on the other hand is a sequence of events that changes hands , meanings , interpretation from age to age. Given its aims and methods history is of very little relevance to Hindu theology. Hence history does not share the same importance in Hindu faith as it does in the canonical religions where legitimacy arises from a certain or a number of events (credible or not) in history.

    This does not necessarily mean that as a country India need not have a history. There is a deep need for India as a political entity (and a conglomerate of various peoples) to have rational and judicious discource and honest evaluation of her history.

    Also India and indic religions have on the whole never been genocidal. if at all she has been a victim of genocides much like indegenious cultures of Europe, Americas, Africa and Australia. Before comparing Karma and Jihad one should honestly asses these ideas for thier history and thier relevance.

    I may not fully agree with all Rajiv Malhotra says but there is also a vast amount of truth in what he says. Ignoring this is not only arrogant but also foolish.

    India need not be re-invented as a western nation. There is suffecient history and heritage, knowledge and reason within herself to believe she can stand tall on her own.

    I invite all Indians to look at Indian traditions judiciously and free from self-loathing, and to look at it from an Indian perspective .


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