The unusual story of David Frawley aka Vamadeva Sastri

David Frawley, raised as a Catholic, was drawn to Vedic studies in the 1960s. He read widely, converted to Hinduism, and became Pandit Vamadeva Sastri. He tells Metrolife his unusual story

learned David Frawley has studied Vedic texts, Ayurveda and Astrology.

David Frawley (also known as Pandit Vamadeva Sastri) first encountered Indian philosophy in the late 1960s. He read extensively on Buddhism, Taoism and Sufism but Vedanta appealed to him the most. Over the decades, he studied, besides the Vedic texts, ayurveda and astrology.

Frawley founded the Vedic Research Center in 1980. It was recast as the American Institute of Vedic Studies in 1988. He was honoured with the Padma Bhushan in 2015.

In town for the Bangalore Literature Festival, Frawley spoke exclusively to Nina C George. Here is what he said:

On conversions into Hinduism

People take to Hinduism in an informal way. Many are even leaving Christianity. In the West, in many countries, less than half the people call themselves Christians and the majority don’t even go to church. Even in the surveys in America, the largest growing group among the youth are the people who aren’t affiliated to any religion. The many people who claim to be spiritual and not religious are practising yoga, meditation, mantra and teachings out of the Dharmic tradition.

But the Hindu tradition doesn’t have the same type of formal conversion idea as the Christian tradition does. Because in the Hindu tradition, it is a tradition that we are all one, so there is no idea of conversion, but an idea of karma, rebirth and self-realisation for everybody. In all the Dharmic traditions, there’s a recognition of all human beings.

On belief vs sadhana

Here, we have spiritual practice or sadhana rather than a belief. In a lot of belief-based religions, people are saved by believing in something but here you remain the same. You haven’t changed, your culture remains the same, but you believe you are saved because of your belief. In the Dharmic tradition, you have to do sadhana to change yourself. And for those leaving religions, it is a stage between belonging to a religion that is limited and ending up in a non-religious state. We see both these things happening. After leaving Christianity, I became a kind of atheist for a year.

On rising Hindu assertion

I don’t think there is intolerance in India. Hindus have been asleep for a long time and they have been very passive. But they are now waking up and when that happens, there’s bound to be a bit of trepidation. I feel it is important that the Hindus assert themselves. Hindus are the least of all the religious groups in the world to vote, to organise themselves, to apply financial and media pressure for misrepresentations against them.

In the US and UK, Hindus are the most affluent, best educated and most peaceful, yet they do not get the same political attention as the Muslims do, in spite of Islamic terrorist attacks in US and UK. This is because the Muslims organise themselves and strategically vote, the Hindus do not.

The Muslims give money to schools, universities and politicians who support their causes, the Hindus do not. The Hindus are the least politically active. If they aren’t politically active then it’s like warfare where you are not fighting the battle of the day. But now, the anti-Hindu forces don’t want it because for
centuries they haven’t heard a Hindu voice.

Propagation of Vedic thought

We need dharmic values and karma yoga in society. It’s not just enough to have economic and human rights or freedom to do business, if we don’t have dharmic values or a sense of karma yoga, it all becomes materialistic. We aren’t holding onto something from the past, we are following something that works.

Challenges he faced while converting

In fact, people in the West are very open. In our generation, there were so many who took up yoga, like The Beatles for instance. I faced more opposition in India. In the beginning, as a Vedic scholar, when I was in the process of studying the Vedas, I found that what was said in it and what was interpreted were different. For defending Vedas, I was attacked and criticised in different ways.

Prospects for his children...

Most of the people in the West do not follow formal religions, they usually follow a spiritual path or are connected to various spiritual teachings. In our case, we are involved with various spiritual teachings and my son too follows the same. There are no strict traditions or Christian rules required for marriage.

India over the decades

When I came here 30 years ago, it was corrupt and incompetent. People were afraid to say that they were Hindus and even apologetic about it. Hindu was a bad word. You would never hear politicians saying ‘I am a Hindu,’ they would rather say they accept all religions. There was less recognition of the Vedic teachings and Ayurveda was not as widely practised as it is today.


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The unusual story of David Frawley aka Vamadeva Sastri

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