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Tuesday, October 20, 2020

The Upaniṣads: Water is the Original Substance

The Upaniṣads, which are placed between the 15th century B.C.E and 700 B.C.E., contain several hymns which advance the theory that the original substance of the universe is “water.” (A similar theory is attributed to the Ancient Greek philosopher Thales of Miletus (624 B.C.E—548 B.C.E), who preached that water is the essence of all matter.) Here’s the translation of the verse 5.5.1 from the Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad (translations by Valerie Roebuck): 

“In the beginning the waters were all this. The waters created truth; truth, brahman; brahman, Prajapati; and Prajapati the gods. The gods worship truth (satya). It has three syllables: sa-ti-yamSa is one syllable. Ti is one syllable. Yam is one syllable. Truth is in the first and the last syllable, falsehood in the middle: so falsehood is surrounded on both sides by truth, and becomes truth. Falsehood does not harm the one who knows this.” 

In the verse 3.6.1 of the Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad, the Vedic philosopher Gargi Vachaknavi begins a discussion with Sage Yājñavalkya with these words: 

“Yājñavalkya, since all this is woven on the waters, as warp and weft, on what are the waters woven, as warp and weft.”

The Chandogya Upaniṣad emphasizes the cosmic importance of water in the verse 7.10.1: 

“The waters are greater than food. So when there is not a good rainfall, living things suffer, thinking, “Food will be short”. When there is a good rainfall, living things are happy, thinking, “Food will be plentiful”. All these are the waters, shaped: earth, middle-air, sky, mountains, gods and human beings, domestic animals, birds, grass and trees, and wild animals, all the way down to worms, flying things and ants. All these are the waters, shaped. Worship the waters.”

In the Katha Upaniṣad, the verse 4.6 suggests that the atman (soul) was originally born from water:

He who was formerly the offspring of heat (tapas)
Who was formerly born of the waters—
He who, having entered and dwelt in the secret phase,
Looks out through beings—
This is that. 

In the Kauṣītaki Upaniṣad, the creator god Brahma declares in the verse 1.7 that water is his natural world:

“Brahma says to him, “The waters are my world: that world is yours.” He wins as his victory the victory, the attainment, that is Brahma’s—the one who knows this, the one who knows this.”

Monday, October 19, 2020

Aquinas and the Duel Between Parmenides and Aristotle

The presocratic philosopher Parmenides, who is regarded as the founder of western metaphysics, believed that all material things, and their changing forms and motions, are a reflection of the same eternal reality, the “Being”—he proposed the monistic principle “all is one”. In his Physics, Aristotle rejects Parmanedian monism by noting that a thinker who denies the multiplicity of things, and all the changing forms and motions, is not engaging in natural philosophy. In the thirteenth century, Aquinas assumed that, with Aristotle’s assistance, he could appropriate the “all is one” Parmanedian god while avoiding the pitfalls of monism. In his Compendium of Theology, Aquinas writes: "If we gather together the various points established thus far, we perceive that all perfections in God are in reality one. We have shown above that God is simple. But where there is simplicity, there can be no distinction among the perfections that are present. Hence, if the perfections of all things are in God, they cannot be distinct in Him. Accordingly they are all one in Him.” (Translation by Cyril Vollert). But Aquinas, it seems, was unable to bring Parmenides and Aristotle together and the duel between the two Ancient Greek philosophers continues.

The Teaching of the Vedas and the Upaniṣads

The cosmic forces of the universe are eternal, limitless, and absolute, but that does not imply that man is insignificant. The significance of man lies in the fact that he is not only the ultimate interpretation of the cosmic forces but also their ultimate interpreter—this is because the Supreme Principle of the universe, the One who creates the universe out of nothingness, by bringing space, time, and matter into existence, is closely related to the man’s mind. This is a key teaching of the Vedas and the Upaniṣads—these ancient texts preach that man must endeavor to relate himself to the Supreme Principle (the One) of the universe.

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad: On the Identity of the “One"

The Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad, which is clearly related to the Katha Upaniṣad, and is a part of the Black Yajurveda, is named after the Sage Śvetāśvatara whose name means “the one who possesses white horses” (which means, the one who has pure faculties). The philosophy of the Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad is close to the Samkhya school—it talks of creation emanating from the dual principles of Purusa (the cosmic spirit) and the Prakrti (the cosmic material principle). Samkhya denies the existence of god but Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad subordinates the Purusa and Prakriti principles to a supreme god or the “One.” The text offers a view of the “One” in its Fourth Adhyaya (fourth book). Here’s the first verse of the fourth book (translation by Robert Ernest Hume, 1921):

1. The One who, himself without color, 

by the manifold application of his power (sakti-yoga) 

Distributes many colors in his hidden purpose,
And into whom, its end and its beginning, the whole world 

dissolves—He is God!

May He endow us with clear intellect!

In the next three verses of the Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad’s fourth book, the One is pantheistically identified: 

2. That surely is Agni (fire god). That is Adltya (sun god). 

That is Vsyu (wind god), and That is the moon. 

That surely is the pure. That is Brahma. 

That is the waters. That is Prajapati (Lord of Creation). 

3. Thou art woman. Thou art man. 

Thou art the youth and the maiden too. 

Thou as an old man totterest with a staff. 

Being born, thou becomest facing in every direction. 

4. Thou art the dark-blue bird and the green [parrot] with red eyes. 

Thou hast the lightning as thy child. Thou art the seasons and 

the seas. 

Having no beginning, thou dost abide with immanence, 

Wherefrom all beings are born.

Perfect Happiness is Unachievable

The thinkers of Ancient Greece believed that the gods are envious of human prosperity and happiness, and they interfere to ruin the life of all those who lust for great riches and perfect happiness. Commenting on the terrible fate of Croesus, Herodotus writes in his Histories: ‘‘presumably because God was angry with him for supposing himself to be the happiest of men.’’ Only the gods can be perfectly prosperous and happy. The chorus in, Aeschylus’s play Agamemnon warns: 

In fame unmeasured, praise too high, 

Lies danger: God’s sharp lightnings fly 

To stagger mountains.

The notion that the lust for wealth and happiness leads to perdition is emphasized in several ancient Hindu (and Buddhist) texts and continues to be a part of the Indian ethical theory till this day. 

Saturday, October 17, 2020

The Indian Obsession With Chronology

In the study of ancient history and philosophy, the need for accurate chronology cannot be denied, but in case of ancient Hindu texts there is an inordinate amount of emphasis on chronology. For most present day Indians chronology has become the simplistic way of glorifying their ancient heritage. Too often you encounter people who (without furnishing any evidence) boast about some texts being from the fourth or fifth century B.C.E—they are convinced that their culture is great merely because it’s the most ancient. But what are the key learnings from these ancient texts? What was the culture in which these texts came into being? What kind of people composed these text? What is the relevance of these text in our modern times?

Friday, October 16, 2020

The Rigveda on Language and Pronunciation

The importance of pronouncing words in the right way and using grammatically correct language is emphasized in several verses of the Rigveda. The Vedic sages insist that while reciting the hymns if correct language is not used and if the words are not correctly pronounced then the gods are not appeased. This means that a sense of purity in grammar, pronunciation, and vocabulary had developed as early as the twelfth century B.C.E. For instance, the hymn 26 of Mandala 7, which is attributed to Vasiṣṭha Maitravaruni, opens with a verse which notes that Indra is pleased with sacred formulations or correct chanting of hymns. Here’s a translation of the verse 7.26.1 (The Rigveda, by Stephanie W. Jamison and Joel P. Brereton, OUP, 2014):

“Soma, unpressed, does not exhilarate Indra, nor do pressings unaccompanied by sacred formulations (exhilarate) the bounteous one. 

For him I beget a hymn that he will enjoy, a newer manly one, so that he will listen to us.”

Thursday, October 15, 2020

The Ancient Greek Acceptance of Imperfection

The Ancient Greeks could not conceive of perfectibility of man because they were taught by Homer and Hesiod that even the gods are not perfect. Zeus, the supreme god in Homeric legends, would have sounded like a hypocrite if he exhorted the mortals to perfect themselves since the gods have all the imperfections which bedevil the mortals. The presocratic philosopher Xonophanes laments, “Homer and Hesiod have ascribed to the gods everything that is a shame and a reproach amongst men, stealing and committing adultery and deceiving each other.” The situation in Ancient Hindu literature is similar—the Hindu gods often conduct themselves in the fashion of the imperfect humans. The notion of man being perfected by reason, atheism, and science was born in the eighteenth century France during the Age of Enlightenment. In the twentieth century, naive writers like Ayn Rand have tried to describe people who are morally, intellectually, and physically perfect, but the wise ancients did not believe in the possibility of such perfection.

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

The Dating of the Rigveda

Most scholars place the Rigveda between the twelfth and ninth centuries B.C., but since the text mentions several metals except iron, the inference might be drawn that the Rigveda was composed before the dawn of the Iron Age; it could be a Bronze Age text. The manufacturing of iron began in the northern part of the Indian subcontinent, the geographical area of the Rigveda, between the twelfth and tenth centuries B.C.—this means that the work on the Rigveda could have started earlier than the twelfth century B.C., perhaps between the fourteenth and tenth centuries B.C., or even in the second half of the second millennium B.C. The rich tradition of Vedic gods, rituals, mythologies, cosmological queries, and the linguistic and poetic conventions on which the Rigveda has been developed would have to predate the text by a number of centuries and could even have originated in the third millennium B.C. On astronomical grounds, which assume that the ancient Hindus had the ability to chart the sun’s course, some scholars (noted by Arthur Anthony Macdonell in his 1917 book A Vedic Reader for Students) have placed the oldest Rigveda hymns as far back as the sixth millennium B.C.

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Coetzee’s Diary of a Bad Year

Is 2020 the worst year? There have been several years in history when the human experience has been much worse than in this year. I look at 2020 as the year when the intellectual, technological, and political establishment in most advanced democracies have become totally deranged. Here’s a quote from  J. M. Coetzee’s 2007 book Diary of a Bad Year: “Michel de Montaigne’s young friend Etienne de La Boetie, writing in 1549, saw the passivity of the populations vis-a-vis their rulers as first an acquired and then later an inherited vice, an obstinate “will to be ruled” that becomes so deep-rooted “that even the love of liberty comes to seem not quite as natural.””

Monday, October 12, 2020

On The Rigveda’s Cosmological Hymn

The Rigveda makes references to the theories of creation of the world in several hymns from Mandala 2 to Mandala 9, but in Mandala 10, for the first time, we find hymns dedicated to cosmology. The hymn 129 of Mandala 10 is a famous cosmological hymn, but it’s a strange cosmological hymn because it states that the gods came after the universe got created, which means that even the gods don’t know when and how the universe was created. The hymn begins with a mention of the nonexistence where there is the ultimate source of creation, the “One,” which assumes a cosmic egg like form in the verse 3, and in the verse 4, the “primal semen,” the origin of all beings gets concretized. 

Here’s a translation of the hymn 129 of Mandala 10 (The Rigveda, translated by Stephanie W. Jamison and Joel P. Brereton, OUP, 2014):  

1. The nonexistent did not exist, nor did the existent exist at that time. There existed neither the airy space nor heaven beyond. 

What moved back and forth? From where and in whose protection? Did water exist, a deep depth? 

2. Death did not exist nor deathlessness then. There existed no sign of night nor of day. 

That One breathed without wind by its independent will. There existed nothing else beyond that. 

3. Darkness existed, hidden by darkness, in the beginning. All this was a signless ocean. 

What existed as a thing coming into being, concealed by emptiness—that One was born by the power of heat. 

4. Then, in the beginning, from thought there evolved desire, which existed as the primal semen. 

Searching in their hearts through inspired thought, poets found the connection of the existent in the nonexistent. 

5. Their cord was stretched across: Did something exist below it? Did something exist above? 

There existed placers of semen and there existed greatnesses. There was independent will below, offering above. 

6. Who really knows? Who shall here proclaim it?—from where was it born, from where this creation? 

The gods are on this side of the creation of this (world). So then who does know from where it came to be? 

7. This creation—from where it came to be, if it was produced or if not— he who is the overseer of this (world) in the furthest heaven, he surely knows. Or if he does not know...? 

It is noteworthy that Vedic theology, unlike Western theology, does not begin with stories on creation—the Rigveda explores the cosmological issues in its final book (the Mandala 10).

Sunday, October 11, 2020

On The Vedic Devas

We can make the a priori assumption that the Vedic devas (gods) predate the Vedas. Since the Rigveda is dated between twelfth and ninth centuries B.C., the conception of devas must have originated a few centuries before the twelfth century B.C.—if the first Vedic sages didn’t have a priori knowledge of the devas, they could not have created the hymns on the divine attributes and actions of the devas. 

The word “devas” relates to beings who are connected to swargloka (heaven); they exist to counter the influence of the demons for whom the Vedas use words like “Dasyus” and “Raksases”; in a few instances, the word used is “adeva,” or the opposite of deva—in the Rigveda, Vrtra, the demon who had stolen the waters of the world, and was ultimately killed by Indra, the deva who is the lord of the heaven, is called adeva. In the Brahmanas, Puranas, and Ithihasas, the term “asura” is used for the demons. The Vedic mythology often makes it difficult to draw a line between the devas and demons because there are several entities which possess divine as well as demonic attributes.

The Rigveda notes that the devas are thirty-three in number—they are called the Trayastrinshata (Three plus thirty). The Brahmanas give a breakdown of the thirty-three devas—eight are Vasus (material gods), twelve are Adityas (personified gods); eleven are Rudras (consisting of abstract entities, atman, and the incarnations of Shiva), and two are the divine twins, the Ashvins. The Yujurveda and Atharvaveda too have hymns which talk about the thirty-three devas

Here are three verses from the Rigveda in which it's suggested that there are thirty-three devas (translations by Ralph T. H. Griffith, 1896):

Mandala 1, hymn 45, verse 2

“Agni, the Gods who understand give ear unto the worshipper:

Lord of Red Steeds, who lovest song, bring thou those Three-and-Thirty Gods.

Mandala 8, hymn 28, verse 1: 

“The Thirty Gods and Three besides, whose seat hath been the sacred grass,

From time of old have found and gained.”

Mandala 1, hymn 139, verse 11: 

“O ye eleven gods whose home is heaven, O ye eleven who make earth your dwelling,

Ye who with might, eleven, live in waters, accept this sacrifice, O gods, with pleasure.”

In the Rigveda, there is no trace of subordination of one deva by another—the lack of hierarchy among the devas is clearly exemplified in the assertions made by Indira and Varuna that they are obeyed by all the devas, even though there are hymns in which it’s indicated that Varuna and Surya are subject to Indra, while Indra and the Asvins are subject to Vishnu, and even a relatively unimportant entity like Savitur is able to claim that his munificence cannot be resisted by Indira, Mitra, Varuna, Aryaman, and Rudra. Since the Rigveda sees all the devas as a manifestation of the omnipotent and omnipresent Paramatman, or the great soul and living principle, that is the undivided, timeless, and motionless author of the universe, there is no question of one deva being subordinate to another deva—all are equal, all are parts of the same Paramatman

If the devas of the Rigveda are classified on basis of the number of hymns dedicated to them, then we might conclude that Indra, who has two hundred and fifty hymns, or a quarter of the collection in the text, dedicated to him, is the most important. After Indra comes Agni who has two hundred dedicated hymns, Soma has one hundred twenty-three, the Asvins have fifty-six, and Varuna has forty-six. The supreme deva Vishnu has five dedicated hymns, while the powerful Rudra has three, and the devi (female god) of learning Saraswati has three.

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Philosophy is Subjective

To strive for a philosophical position that is wholly objective is futile—philosophical positions are not meant to transcend the sphere of philosophy in which imagination and rationalization (the subjective elements) play a far more critical role than observation and experimentation (the objective elements). All great works of philosophy are founded on the subjective thinking of the philosophers whose subjectivity is fuelled by their objective experiences of the world.

The Mind Body Dichotomy and Theological Philosophy

There is no historical record of any community at any point of time developing a religious philosophy (theology) before it became aware of the idea that there is a difference between the body and the mind, that the material world that can be observed through the senses is not the only thing that exists, and that there are things that are mental, spiritual, and transcendental. Thus it’s logical to look at the issue of the difference between the mind and body as the intellectual spark that has ignited the flames of religious (theological) philosophy, from which, over a period of several centuries, the advanced secular philosophies have evolved.

Friday, October 9, 2020

On the Roots of Civilization

“Change your opinions, keep to your principles; change your leaves, keep intact your roots”—this excellent line is attributed to Victor Hugo. In my view, all major civilizations are rooted in their religious philosophy and traditions. When a society, enamored by some newfangled atheistic doctrine, rejects its religious philosophy and traditions, it weakens its own roots. Pure reason, the method of all modern atheistic doctrines, might achieve success in technological, militaristic, and libertine endeavors, but it cannot enable the people to adhere to their principles, which are the domain of the “spiritual being” that can be touched only by intuition and insight.

Thursday, October 8, 2020

The Fundamentals of Sanatana Dharma

Classical Hinduism is known as Sanatana Dharma which means Eternal and Ancient Law, or the Law that was given to mankind by the devas (the incarnated gods) in the primordial times. The foundation of Sanatana Dharma is forged from Śruti (that which is heard), and its structure is forged from Smṛti (that which is remembered). 

The Śruti consists of the four Vedas (the Rigveda, the Yajurveda, the Samaveda and the Atharvaveda) which the ancient sages received directly from the devas. The Vedic teachings were not written down for several millennia and were preserved through an oral tradition. The teacher would sing the Vedic hymns to his pupils, who, when they became teachers, would in turn, sing the hymns to their own pupils—thus the Vedic teachings were passed in a pristine form from generation to generation. The Vedas have four parts: the Samhitas (mantras and benedictions); the Aranyakas (explanation of the rituals, ceremonies, and sacrifices); the Brahmanas (commentaries on rituals, ceremonies, and sacrifices); the Upanishads (discussion of meditation, philosophy, and spirituality).

The Smṛti (that which is remembered) consists of the sacred texts which are composed by the ancient sages: this tradition consists of Manusmriti, Yājñavalkyasmriti, Sankha Likhita Smriti, Parashara Smriti, the Dharmasūtras and Dharmaśāstras, the eighteen Mahapuranas (Major Puranas) and eighteen Upapuranas (Minor Puranas), the ancient epics (the Mahabharata and the Ramayana), the Arthasaśāstras, and several other texts. Yājñavalkya, the sage who flourished between seventh and eighth centuries B.C., gives the name of twenty Smṛti texts, several of which are no longer extant. 

In some classifications, a third category is added to the structure of Santana Dharma—it is called Itihasa (history). The two epics, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, become part of the Itihasa category. There is also the category of Tantra, which means the science of doing practical things. But much of ancient Tantra is no longer extant, as the ancient sages felt that people in ancient times are not ready for such knowledge and they stopped teaching the Tantric arts.

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Natural Atheism and Manmade Religions

Atheism occurs naturally and automatically; the pre-civilizational man was an atheist, his existence was like that of the animals in the wild. Mythological and religious thought, on the other hand, is manmade and represents the first major step towards civilization; the development of a mythological and religious worldview is the outcome of the great intellectual efforts from ancient minds which were filled with curiosity about the universe and craved for knowledge.

The Marriage of Surya and Soma

When the daughter of the sun god Surya, who is named Surya after her father, is getting married to the moon god Soma, who, on earth, is incarnated as the Soma plant from which the immortality granting Soma juice is derived, all the gods and other divine beings of the universe arrive to attend the ceremony. In the Rigveda, the marriage of Surya and Soma is described in the hymn 85 of Mandala 10. Here’s an excerpt which contains a description of Surya’s bridal dress and pomp (all translations are from Ralph T.H. Griffith’s work on the Rigveda, 1896): 

“Raibhi was her dear bridal friend, and Narasamsi led her home 

Lovely was Surya's robe: she came to that which Gatha had adorned.”

“Thought was the pillow of her couch, sight was the unguent for her eyes: 

Her treasury was earth and heaven..when Surya went unto her Lord.”

Here’s another description of the ceremony: 

“Soma was he who wooed the maid: the groomsmen were both Asvins, when

The Sun-God Savitar bestowed his willing Surya on her Lord.”

“Her spirit was the bridal car; the covering thereof was heaven:

Bright were both Steers that drew it when Surya approached her husband's home.”

Surya is implored to prepare an exquisite wedding voyage for her husband Soma:

“Mount this, all-shaped, gold-hued, with strong wheels, fashioned of Kimsuka and Salmali, light-rolling,

Bound for the world of life immortal, Surya: make for thy lord a happy bridal journey.”

The hymn ends with a number of verses in which gods are invoked to bless the bride: 

“O Bounteous Indra, make this bride blest in her sons and fortunate.

Vouchsafe to her ten sons, and make her husband the eleventh man.”

“Over thy husband's father and thy husband's mother bear full sway.

Over the sister of thy lord, over his brothers rule supreme.”

“So may the Universal Gods, so may the Waters join our hearts.

May Matarisvan, Dhatar, and Destri together bind us close.”

It’s said that the Hindu marriages are modeled on the marriage between Surya and Soma.

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Soma: The Vedic Celebration of Life

The sages of the Rigveda do not oppose the Dionysian proclivities—in several hymns, they are imploring the gods for the good things in life: health, wealth, long life, prestige, and progeny. Their Dionysian concerns are most pronounced in their descriptions of the making and drinking of “Soma juice,” the elixir of the gods. The Soma plant is viewed as a god that has descended from heaven and made the mountain called Mount Mujavant its earthly abode. The hymns in Rigveda’s Mandala 9.74 and 10.94 provide an insight into the ritual of extraction and distillation of Soma juice from Soma plants. Even the gods crave for Soma juice because it carries assurances of immortality (Mandala 8.48 and 9.113). When the gods drink Soma juice, they become boastful. Here’s an excerpt from Mandala 10.119, which describes the gargantuan claims made by a god (probably Indra or Agni) after drinking Soma juice (translation by Ralph T.H. Griffith, 1896): 

1. This, even this was my resolve, to win a cow, to win a steed: Have I not drunk of Soma juice?

2. Like violent gusts of wind the draughts that I have drunk have lifted me: Have I not drunk of Soma juice?

3. The draughts I drank have borne me up, as fleet-foot horses draw a car: Have I not drunk of Soma juice?

4. The hymn hath reached me, like a cow who lows to meet her darling calf: Have I not drunk of Soma juice?

5. As a wright bends a chariot-seat so round my heart I bend the hymn: Have I not drunk of Soma juice?

6. Not as a mote within the eye count the Five Tribes of men with me: Have I not drunk of Soma juice?

7. The heavens and earth themselves have not grown equal to one half of me: Have I not drunk of Soma juice?

8. I in my grandeur have surpassed the heavens and all this spacious earth: Have I not drunk of Soma juice?

9. Aha! this spacious earth will I deposit either here or there: Have I not drunk of Soma juice?

10. In one short moment will I smite the earth in fury here or there: Have I not drunk of Soma juice?

11. One of my flanks is in the sky; I let the other trail below: Have I not drunk of Soma juice?

12. 1, greatest of the Mighty Ones, am lifted to the firmament: Have I not drunk of Soma juice?

13. I seek the worshipper's abode; oblation-bearer to the Gods: Have I not drunk of Soma juice?

Monday, October 5, 2020

Sky and Earth: The Parents of the Sun

Three thousand years ago, the composers of the Rigveda imagined the morning sun as a child born from the union of sky, the father, and earth, the mother. The hundred-sixtieth hymn in the Rigveda’s first mandala depicts the sky and earth as the two divinities who are the sun’s parents. The sky is the abode of eternality where the sun resides, while the earth is the abode of mortality where the humans and other creatures reside. This hymn is credited to Rishi Dīrghatamas, who belongs to the Angirasa clan, one of the oldest Rishi families in the Vedic tradition, and known for his enigmatic and paradoxical apothegms in the Rigveda. Here’s Ralph T.H. Griffith’s 1896 translation of the mandala 1.160:

1. These, Heaven and Earth, bestow prosperity on all, sustainers of the region, Holy Ones and wise,

Two Bowls of noble kind: between these Goddesses the God, the fulgent Sun, travels by fixed decree [laws of nature].

2. Widely-capacious Pair, mighty, that never fail, the Father and the Mother keep all creatures safe:

The two world-halves, the spirited, the beautiful, because the Father hath clothed them in goodly forms.

3. Son of these Parents, he the Priest with power to cleanse, Sage, sanctifies the worlds with his surpassing power.

Thereto for his bright milk he milked through all the days the party-colored Cow and the prolific Bull.

4. Among the skillful Gods most skilled is he, who made the two world-halves which bring prosperity to all;

Who with great wisdom measured both the regions out, and stablished them with pillars that shall ne'er decay.

5. Extolled in song, O Heaven and Earth, bestow on us, ye mighty Pair, great glory and high lordly sway,

Whereby we may extend ourselves ever over the folk; and send us strength that shall deserve the praise of men.

Sunday, October 4, 2020

Agni: The Offspring of the Waters

The Rigveda contains several verses in which Agni (the fire god) is identified as Apām Napāt, the son of waters—who is born from the womb of the water laden clouds as lightening. Here’s an excerpt from 35th hymn in the Second Mandala of the Rigveda (Ralph T.H. Griffith’s translation, 1896): “The Waters' Son hath risen, and clothed in lightning ascended up unto the curled cloud's bosom; And bearing with them his supremest glory the Youthful Ones, gold-colored, move around him.” “Golden in form is he, like gold to look on, his color is like gold, the Son of Waters. When he is seated fresh from golden birthplace those who present their gold give food to feed him.”

In the above verse, Agni (Apām Napāt) is being described emerging from the waters as golden lightning. Writing more than 2500 years after the Rigveda was composed, Sayana (also known as Sāyaṇācārya), the fourteenth century Hindu philosopher who has authored more than hundred books on the Vedas, and has exercised heavy influence on the later Vedic scholars, including the European commentators and translators, has remarked that the name Apām Napāt designates Agni as the grandson and not the son of the waters—this is because the herbs and trees are born of the waters and Agni (the fire god) is born from the herbs and trees. 

Saturday, October 3, 2020

Hiranyagarbha: The Founder of the Yoga System

Patanjali has systematically compiled the teachings of Yoga in his Yoga Sutras, which is dated between fourth and ninth centuries B.C., but he is not the founder of the Yoga system, which is an ancient practice predating him by several millennia. Vācaspati Miśra, the ninth century A.D. Hindu philosopher of the Advaita Vedanta tradition, notes that, according to the Yajnavalkya Smrti, which has been dated between third and fifth centuries A.D., and belongs to the Dharmasastras tradition, a sage known as Hiranyagarbha is the original teacher of Yoga. That is why Patanjali begins his Yoga Sutras with the following aphorism:

अथ योगानुशासनम् ॥१॥

(atha yoga-anuśāsanam)

The prefix “anu” indicates that the aphorisms in the Yoga Sutras are a continuation of an earlier activity which is indicated in the suffix “śāsanam” (teachings of Yoga). The term “atha” means now and the entire aphorism can be roughly translated as: “Now, the teachings of Yoga [follow in this treatise]”. 

The Mahabharata too identifies Hiranyagarbha as the founder of Yoga. In the Puranic literature, for example, the Bhagavata Purana, Hiranyagarbha is regarded as Brahma, the creator god of Hinduism, who is born on the lotus sprouting from the navel of Vishnu when Vishnu is reclining on the divine serpent Sesa which floats on the cosmic waters pervading the entire universe before creation. (It’s noteworthy that Patanjali is described as the reincarnation of Vishnu’s divine serpent Sesa.) When Hiranyagarbha awakens in the lotus, he is confused and disoriented—he has no means of knowing anything. He manages to calm his mind and entering into a stage of Yoga (samadhi), he attains the divine vision of Vishnu. Thus Hiranyagarbha becomes the first practitioner of Yoga, and by virtue of that, the founder of the Yoga system.

In the Shvetashvatara Upanishad, which is embedded in the Yajurveda, Kapila, the founder of the Samkhya system, is identified as Hiranyagarbha. Another interesting portrayal of Hiranyagarbha is found in the account of primary creation of the universe given in the Matsya Puraṇa—here Hiranyagarbha is depicted as the golden womb (cosmic egg) inside which Brahma creates himself. Since he creates himself, this Brahma is also called Svayambhu, (the self-manifested).

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

The Dead Ends of Philosophy, Science, and Politics

In philosophy, science, and politics there is no dearth of dead ends. Civilizations march for centuries with certain philosophical, scientific, and political conceptions, but eventually their culture becomes decadent and obsolete and they face a stark choice—either they forge ahead with new insights or they die. History of the successful civilizations tells us that their fundamental conceptions are constantly in a state of flux; in every three to four centuries, they experience an intellectual revolution, which is coterminous with a political revolution, and there is a total transformation in their philosophy, science, and politics. The ability to split the shell of past conceptions, like a butterfly splitting its pupa, and emerge into the world in a new avatar is a trait of the successful civilizations.

The Positive Vedic Sense of Life

The Vedic sense of life was positive—the Vedic philosophers were questing for not just liberation but for ways of achieving virtue, happiness, and fulfillment in one’s lifetime. In her book The Rig Veda, Wendy Doniger begins the chapter, “Realia,” with these lines: “The Rig Veda is a sacred book, but it is a very worldly sacred book. Nowhere can we find the tiniest suspicion of a wish to renounce the material world in favor of some spiritual quest; religion is the handmaiden of worldly life. The gods are invoked to give the worshipper the things he wants—health, wealth, long life and progeny. That is not to say that there is anything superficial about Vedic religious concerns, but merely that these meditations stem from a life-affirming, joyous celebration of human existence.”

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

The Vedic View of Infinity

The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, which is believed by scholars to have been composed in the eighth or seventh centuries B.C., and is traditionally attributed to the Hindu Vedic philosopher Yajnavalkya, has a discussion of the concept of infinity. Here’s a hymn in which infinity is being discussed:

पूर्णमदः पूर्णमिदं पूर्णात् पूर्णमुदच्यते ।

पूर्णस्य पूर्णमादाय पूर्णमेवावशिष्यते ॥

(purnam adah, purnam idam purnat purnam udachyate; purnasya purnam adaya purnam evavasisyate.)

Translation: “Fullness is there, fullness is here, fullness from fullness proceeds; when fullness is taken from fullness, fullness remains.” In other words, when infinity is taken out of infinity, infinity is what remains. 

Those who composed this hymn were clearly comfortable with the concept of very large numbers which verge on infinity. There can be a religious interpretation of this hymn: god is infinite, a part of god has gone into the creation of the material world, but because of that god has not become less, he is still infinite. The Vedas and other ancient Hindu texts use several terms to depict the concept of infinity.

On The Gayatri Mantra

The Gayatri Mantra occurs in the early section of the Rigveda (Mandala 3.62.10); so it must have been composed between 900 B.C. and 1200 B.C. This means that the hymn is more than 3000 years old, but it’s revered by the Hindus as a pious way of starting and ending their day—millions of people recite it at sunrise and sunset; they are convinced that this hymn represents the essence of the Vedas. It’s not clear why the Gayatri Mantra continues to be so popular; this is the only hymn in the world whose recitation has been widespread for more than 3000 years: 

ॐ भूर् भुवः स्वः ।

तत्सवितुर्वरेण्यं

भर्गो॑ देवस्य धीमहि ।

धियो यो नः प्रचोदयात् ॥

(Oṃ bhūr bhuvaḥ svaḥ

tat savitur vareṇyaṃ

bhargo devasya dhīmahi

dhiyo yo naḥ pracodayāt) ~Rigveda 3.62.10

The hymn is dedicated to Saraswati, the goddess of learning; since it’s recited at sunrise or sunset, it’s clearly linked to the sun—the word “Savitur” means the driving force behind the sun and not exactly the sun, who is known as Surya. Gayatri refers to the name of the goddess of the Vedic mantra in which the hymn is composed; tradition holds sage Vishvamitra as the hymn’s composer. The Gayatri Mantra is widely cited in Vedic and post-Vedic literature such as Bhagavad Gita, Harivamsa, and Manusmṛti.

Monday, September 28, 2020

PV Kane’s History of Dharmaśāstra

The texts of Dharmaśāstra (treatises on Dharma, or moral and pious way of life) were composed in the second century B.C., on the basis of Dharmasūtra texts which emerged from the Kalpa (Vedanga) expositions of the four Vedas (Rig, Yajur, Sāma, and Atharva) during the Vedic age. It’s not clear how many Dharmaśāstra texts were composed in the second century B.C.—modern scholars estimate their number between eighteen and hundred, but only four texts, which include the sutras of Apastamba, Gautama, Baudhayana, and Vasistha, are extant. 

The Dharmaśāstra texts acquired political significance in the eighteenth century, when the colonial administrators of the East India Company passed an order making Dharmaśāstra the law of the land for all Hindus in India. In 1772, Governor General Warren Hastings expressed the system of personal law for India in these words: “That in all suits regarding inheritance, marriage, caste and other religious usages or institutions, the law of the Koran with respect to Mohammedans, and those of the Shaster [Dharmaśāstra] with respect to Hindus shall be invariably be adhered to.”

The Sanskrit scholar Pandurang Vaman Kane (7 May 1880 – 8 May 1972) spent a significant part of his life researching the evolution of ethical, legal, and religious norms in ancient India—he examined the four extant Dharmaśāstra texts, and other ancient texts such as the Mahabharata, the Puranas, the Arthashastra. and the Manusmṛiti, and produced his magnum opus, a five volume work, consisting of around 6,500 pages, the History of Dharmaśāstra, subtitled Ancient and Mediaeval Religions and Civil Law in India—the first volume was published in 1930 and the fifth in 1962. 

Kane believed that a constitution inspired from the code of conduct described in the ancient texts is necessary to make people aware of their ethical responsibilities.

Ancient Philosophers Versus Modern Philosophers

I have drawn two inferences from my reading of modern and ancient philosophy: first, there is no reason to believe that the moderns are better philosophers than the ancients; second, there is no reason to believe that the moderns are smarter and wiser than the ancients. Philosophy has made little progress in the last 3000 years—the progress that mankind has made is largely due to the advancements in science, economics, language, and militaristic and exploratory ventures.

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Tolerance of Uncertainty

The ultimate truths are unknowable and at the base of all knowledge there is an element of uncertainty, but that does not imply that we should stop exploring the unknown—it implies that man must learn to tolerate uncertainty.

Eggeling’s Translation of the Satapatha Brahmana

Heinrich Julius Eggeling, a professor of Sanskrit at the University of Edinburgh from 1875 to 1914, spent a significant part of his life translating the Satapatha Brahmana. His translation, published in five volumes between 1882 and 1897, is still in print, and scholars continue to refer to it in their discussions of the Satapatha Brahmana. Each of the four Vedas has four subdivisions: the Samhitas (mantras and benedictions); the Aranyakas (explanation of the rituals, ceremonies, and sacrifices); the Brahmanas (commentaries on rituals, ceremonies, and sacrifices); the Upanishads (discussion of meditation, philosophy, and spirituality). The Satapatha Brahmana, the largest and most systematic Brahmana, is attached to the Yajurveda, and between the seventh and fourth centuries B.C., it played a role in the rise of Vaishnavism which is popular till this day.

Saturday, September 26, 2020

The Vedic Horses and Chariots

The horses in Indus Valley Civilization had started drawing wheeled carts around the twentieth century B.C. By the thirteenth century B.C., when the Indus Valley Civilization got supplanted by the Vedic Civilization, the advanced chariots, which were equipped with spoked wheels, had replaced the carts with solid wheels. The Rigveda contains 792 references to the word “asva” (horse) and around the same number of references are there to the word “ratha” (chariot). 

The building of the chariots required great craftsmanship and the Taittirīya Brāhmaṇa and other ancient Hindu texts talk about the talented Rathakaras (the chariot makers) who enjoy high social status. In some instances, the gods themselves intervene to create a race-winning chariots. The Rigveda tells the story of an old sage Mudgala who owns a rickety cart but dreams of winning a prestigious chariot race. He beseeches the lord of the gods, Indra, to transform his cart into a chariot. Indra does the needful, and Mudgala, with his young wife as his charioteer, manages to win the race and gets the prize of eleven hundred cows. 

The gods travel through the infinite universe on divine chariots drawn by horses which never tire. The Rigveda contains several references to the divine twins, the Asvins, who have the power to bring the dead back to life; they travel across the universe in their divine horse-drawn chariot and provide succor to the pious. The Asvins are also featured in the epic Mahabharata—King Pandu’s wife Madri is granted a son by each Asvin; the sons are Nakula and Sahadeva (who are known as the Pandavas). 

The Vedas use the word “chakra” for the wheels of the chariots. But the word “chakra” is often combined by the Vedic sages with other words: with the word “kala” (time), they create the concept of “kalachakra” (the wheel of time); with “Vishnu” (god), they create the concept of “Vishnuchakra” (god’s disk); with “dharma” (Vedic or religious), they create the concept of “dharmachakra” (the wheel of dharma).

The Six Schools of Philosophy in Hinduism

The six schools of philosophy in Hinduism have never outrightly rejected each other, even though for several millennia, they have been engaged in vigorous argumentation on fundamental issues. Soteriology is the major concern for the six schools but they have different areas of expertise: in Samkhya, the focus is on metaphysics; in Yoga, on praxis; in Mimamsa, on epistemology, interpretation of the Vedas for liberation, and ethics; in Vaiśeṣika, on metaphysics and naturalism; in Nyaya, on logic and epistemology; in Vedanta, on exegesis of the Upanishads for attainment of the knowledge of Brahman.

Friday, September 25, 2020

Kant and Metaphysics

“Kant thought that men will surely return to Metaphysics as one returns to one's mistress after a quarrel,” writes Hannah Arendt in her book The Life of The Mind. Arendt is right; Kant’s motivation for writing the first Critique was to save metaphysics from Hume’s skepticism. In my opinion, Kant was overestimating the power of his own and Hume’s philosophical arguments—metaphysics is what it’s; it can never be destroyed or saved by philosophy.

The Vedic Arya and Anarya

The word “aryan” has acquired serious geopolitical ramifications in the last hundred years, but this word is probably derived from the words “arya’ and “anarya,” which occur frequently in all the four Vedas (and other ancient Hindu literature: the Puranas, the Mahabharata). Since the first Veda, the Rigveda, is placed by scholars between the 12th and 5th centuries B.C., it might be inferred that the conception that an “aryan" is a better man originated in the Indian subcontinent. But no sense of racial and ethnic bias can be perceived in the Vedic usage of “arya’ and “anarya”—the two words are used to express moral, social, and spiritual status. An arya is a man who enjoys high social status because he is moral and spiritual; an anarya is a man who is immoral and unspiritual. The Rigveda contains discussion of several battles between kingdoms and clans, and the enemies are often referred as “dasyu” (demon) and “dasa” (slave), but these two words are free of racial and ethnic prejudices—in several instances, the people who are described as “dasyu” and “dasa” are the progeny of the same parents or clans, who, for any reason, religious, political, or something else, have become rebellious.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

The Largest Oral Tradition in History

The ancient Hindus have created a massive literature which they transmitted orally for several millennia—to facilitate memorization, the source material was kept minimal and each sutra (aphorism) was designed to serve as a mnemonic device. The Indus Script has been dated to 3000 B.C., but literary writing began in the 5th century B.C.; the oral tradition has, however, continued till the 15th century A.D. Most scholars believe that the oral transmission has been accurate and there is no reason for us to question the accuracy of the ancient texts. The Rigveda, the oldest of the four Vedas, is a collection of ten books consisting of 1,028 hymns with 10,600 verses. The Samaveda is larger than the Rigveda since it explains the changes that the verses in the Rigveda undergo when they are chanted or used in ritual. The Yajurveda too is larger than the Rigveda because it consists of a number of schools, which articulate their differing viewpoints. The Atharvaveda consists of almost 6000 verses. Then there are the Puranas which describe the ancient myths, legends, and other traditional lore—the eighteen Great Puranas (Mahapuranas) and eighteen Minor Puranas (Upa Puranas) consist of approximately 400,000 verses. The Mahabharata consists of 1.8 million words, which makes it ten times the combined length of the Iliad and the Odyssey. Other than the four Vedas, thirty-six major and minor Puranas, the Mahabharata, there are several other religious, mythological, and philosophical texts that the ancient Hindus have created—theirs could be the largest oral tradition in history.

Two Kinds of Cultures

There are two kinds of cultures: those that are designed for offense, innovation, and rapid progress, and those that are designed for defense, traditionalism, and maintaining social hierarchy—the western culture is of the first kind and the Hindu culture is of the second kind.

The Dualism of Samkhya and Yoga

The Samkhya and Yoga systems are distinctly dualistic since they preach that the creation of the universe is an outcome of the disturbance in the equilibrium from the coming together of Purusa (intelligence principle) and Prakriti (material principle). There is a multiplicity of Purusas, and, along with the material things in the universe, all life too is a result of the conjunction between certain kinds of Purusa and Prakriti. Purusa, in living entities, has been translated as the approximate equivalent of what is known as the “soul” in the western tradition, but it’s not exactly the soul because it also represents a complete conjunction between the body and the soul—along with being the eternal life-force, in case of man, it’s his ego, his intelligence, and his consciousness.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

From Indus Valley to Vedic Civilization

The Indus Valley Civilization, which sprawled across the northwest regions of the Indian subcontinent, has been placed by archeologists between 3300 B.C. and 1300 B.C. The planned city of Harappa, a part of Indus Valley, flourished between 2600 B.C. and 1900 B.C. Among the artifacts recovered in the archaeological surveys are the seals which show figures seated in yogic posture. One seal represents a figure seated with extended arms resting on the knees—a classical meditation posture. From these finds it can be inferred that yoga has been practiced in the Indian subcontinent for close to 5000 years. A civilization of the sophistication of the Indus Valley cannot be sustained for more than 2000 years if it was not founded on a strong cultural system—the culture could have been based on the yoga theories and exercises, the Vedic rituals, and the Puranic legends. But most scholars believe that the Vedic civilization came after the decline of the Indus Valley Civilization, between 1500 B.C. and 1200 B.C. The composition of the Rig Veda (the oldest Veda) has been dated between 1300 B.C. and 500 B.C.

Does Physics Refute Naive Realism?

In philosophy, there are no facts—there are only positions. Bertrand Russell makes this argument in the Introduction to his book An Inquiry Into Meaning and Truth, “The observer, when he seems to himself to be observing a stone, is really, if physics is to be believed, observing the effects of the stone upon himself. Thus science seems to be at war with itself: when it most means to be objective, it finds itself plunged into subjectivity against its will. Naive realism leads to physics, and physics, if true, shows that naive realism is false. Therefore naive realism, if true, is false; therefore it is false.”

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Hegel On Historical and Unhistorical People

People belonging to civilizations which have vanished in the past are likely to make progress while those belonging to civilizations that have lasted for thousands of years are unlikely to make progress—Hegel makes this point in his work on history of philosophy, and he gives the example of the Persians and the Europeans as people whose civilization has vanished several times in the past, and the Chinese and Indians as people who, for several millennia, have lived in the same civilization. In Hegel’s view, the Persians and Europeans are historical people while the Chinese and Indians are unhistorical people, by which he means that they have no role to play in world history. (It must be kept in mind that Hegel was writing in the early years of nineteenth century.)

Seven Points on Nyaya Realism

In his book Perception: An Essay on Classical Indian Theories of Knowledge (Oxford University Press, 1986), Bimal Krishna Matilal defends Nyaya Realism (which, he notes, is similar to naive realism or direct realism) against the arguments of Buddhist phenomenalism. Here’s Matilal's seven point characterization of Nyaya realism:

1. What we are directly aware of in our perception is the physical reality that exists independently of our awareness of it.


2. We see as well as touch physical objects, wholes, bodies, and their properties as well. But we see and touch wholes and substrata because they have parts and properties, but not necessarily because we see or touch these parts and properties. On the other hand, we do not, in the same sense, smell the flower, but only its fragrance, nor taste the sugar, but taste only its sweetness. Likewise, we do not hear the train, but only its whistle. 

3. The whole is a distinct reality, created by the putting together of the parts, and yet distinct from those parts taken together. A substratum is likewise distinct from the properties it instantiates or the property-instantiations it contains. 

4. Perceiving or seeing-that is knowing in the most direct sense, and there is no further basis or foundation or ground which is more indubitable or certain,.and from which such perceptual knowledge is derived or inferred. 

5. This knowledge is not always verbalized, but it is verbalizable. 

6. An analysis of perceptual illusion is possible without the assumption of sense data or sense-impressions intervening between the perceiver and the physical world. 

7. Ordinary knowledge is neither self-revealing nor self-validating. For ‘a knows that p’ does not entail 'a knows that a knows that p'. A cognitive event may occur and pass away unnoticed or unperceived. We can neither recall it nor communicate it to others by using language unless we have first inwardly perceived it. This inward perceiving is called anuvyavasaya (inward perception). It is similar to our perception of pain or pleasure.

Monday, September 21, 2020

Mātariśvan: The Fire God of the Rigveda

The early sections of the Rigveda, which modern scholars place between 900 B.C. and 1500 B.C., describe the feats of a mythical being called Mātariśvan who brings fire, in the form of lightening, from afar, probably heaven, to the earth. But after arrival on earth, the fire disappears and Mātariśvan rediscovers it and brings it for safekeeping to the clan of Bhrigus who propagate the use of fire to all humanity. The later sections of the Rigveda identify Mātariśvan as Agni, the fire god, and in several verses there is discussion of the miracle of fire being produced by rubbing wooden sticks—the Sanskrit name for the wooden sticks used to create fire is Pramantha.

Kant on Metaphysics as a Matter of Faith

One of the most famous sentences that Kant has written occurs in the preface to the second edition of his Critique of Pure Reason: “I have therefore found it necessary to deny knowledge, in order to make room for faith.” Kant was committed to Newtonian science, he was definitely not a skeptic or a religious rationalist, but he believed that knowledge is limited to the objects of possible experience and metaphysics (like theology) is a matter of faith. I think, Kant is the right in treating metaphysics as a matter of faith; the questions of metaphysics cannot be proved or disproved by scientific experiments and they cannot be established or refuted by philosophical arguments—therefore, the belief in metaphysics is, in essence, a matter of faith. In her book on Kant, The Life of the Mind, Hannah Arendt has given an explanation of Kant’s position. She writes, “Kant stated defensively that he had ‘found it necessary to deny knowledge, in order to make room for faith,’ but he had not made room for faith; he had made room for thought, and he had not 'denied knowledge' but separated knowledge from thinking."

Sunday, September 20, 2020

The Cosmological Questions in Markandeya Purana

The questions that the Hindu sages were asking around 1000 B.C. were quite advanced—this is apparent from a reading of the eighteen Puranas, especially the Markandeya Purana, which is the oldest, and has Sage Markandeya as its central character. Here’s an excerpt from the Markandeya Purana in which enquires are being made about cosmology, genealogy, evolution, and geography: 

“How did this universe, both moveable and immoveable come into existence? And how will it fall into dissolution at the proper time, most excellent priests? And how came the families that sprang from the gods, the rishis, the pitris, created things, etc.? And how did the Manvantras occur? And what was the history of the families of old? and whatever creations and whatever dissolutions of the universe have occurred; how the ages have been divided; and what the duration of the Manvantaras has been; and how the earth remains stable; and what is the size of the world; and what are the oceans, mountains and rivers and forests according to their situation; what is the number of the worlds, the bhur-loka, svar-loka, etc., including the lower regions; and what is the course of the sun, moon and other planets, of the stars and heavenly bodies also. I wish to hear of all this which is destined to subversion; and what will be the end when this universe is dissolved.” ~ (The Markandeya Purana, translated by F. E. Pargiter, 1904, Canto 45.9-14)

The word “Manvantras” in the above passage means a cycle of the universe—every Manvantaras repeats 71 Chatur Yugas (world ages), lasting for 306,720,000 years. According to tradition, Vayasa, the legendary writer of the epic Mahabharata, is the compiler of all the Puranas. It's impossible to have the exact date of the Markandeya Purana, but most modern scholars place this text between 550 B.C. and 1000 B.C. The eighteen Puranas consist of around 400,000 verses—the Markandeya Purana is believed to have 9000 verses, but most surviving manuscripts show only 6900 verses.

The Kantian Debates: Reinhold Versus Maimon

The debate between the disciples of Kant started in the late 1780s, while Kant was in his prime—at times, Kant himself vigorously argued with his disciples. I think, Hegel is only other figure in western philosophy whose work has led to such intense controversy as Kant’s. 

Here’s a short exchange between the two dedicated Kantians—Reinhold and Maimon: 

"All philosophy must begin with self-evident facts, and these are indemonstrable since they are the basis of all demonstration.” ~ Karl Leonhard Reinhold in a letter to Salomon Maimon (1791)

"Of course all philosophy must begin with self-evident facts, but the question is how we know the principle of consciousness expresses such a fact.” ~ Salomon Maimon in his reply to Karl Leonhard Reinhold (1791)

Saturday, September 19, 2020

The New Western Fear of Failure

The western nations have developed a morbid fear of failure; they have become obsessed with the notion that their civilization is failing and the collapse of their way of life is imminent. History tells us that when nations start fearing failure, they are doomed to fail.

On the Discussions of Samkhya in the Mahabharata

The Bhagavad-Gita and Mokshdharm sections of the Mahabharata contain several valuable passages explicating the principles of Samkhya which is described as the one system of liberation through knowledge. Even the approximate date of the Mahabharata is impossible to determine, but most modern scholars place the epic in the fourth or fifth century B.C. In his 1901 book The Great Epic of India, Edward Washburn Hopkins notes that Kapila, the legendary founder of Samkhya, is the only founder of a philosophical system known to the Mahabharata; Kapila is described a “supreme seer, identical with Agni, with Shiva also, and with Vishnu. Kapila is said to have received his wisdom from Shiva.” The Mahabharata accepts that Kapila’s Samkhya system is devoid of belief in a personal supreme god, but the epic uses his authority to uphold the systems founded by other gods and teachers—many of the teachers are described as Kapila’s disciples. There are several verses in the Bhagavad-Gita in which there is discussion of the difference between the Samkhya and the Yoga systems. In one of the verses, it is noted that there are three kinds of Yoga: samkhyayoga (liberation through knowledge and solitude), dhyanayoga (liberation through self-discipline and meditation), and karmayoga (liberation through righteous action).  From this verse, it might be inferred that Samkhya was once seen as the original form of Yoga—dhyanayoga and karmayoga are part of the Yoga System.

Theology Encompasses the Entirety of History

A religion’s theological texts embody the moral and cultural principles that majority of the people in a nation use to self-regulate their life. If the religion loses its sanctity and becomes irrelevant, the nation is deprived of moral and cultural standards—after that it cannot survive. Reverence for the theological aspects of religion is necessary because theology encompasses the entirety of a people’s history, their past, a past which stretches back by centuries and even thousands of years—no people can walk into the future without firmly placing their foot on their theological past.

Friday, September 18, 2020

On the Vedic Gods

The word “Veda” is derived from the Sanskrit root vid, to know; thus, it might be inferred that three thousand years ago, the Vedas referred to the important knowledge that was available to the people of that period. The Vedic teachers seem to have realized that the material world is not the creation of a conventional god but of an omnipotent and omnipresent author who is undivided, timeless, and motionless—they give this author the exalted title of Atman or Paramatman, the great soul, or living principle of the universe. Since the living principle cannot be grasped by the human mind, they preached, we must contemplate the finite portions of its infinite energy. That is what they were trying to do when they developed gods for natural phenomena—so there are sun gods, fire gods, wind gods, rain gods, and a multitude of other gods but they are all instances of the same Atman or Paramatman being contemplated in portions that are finite and comprehensible to the human mind. Max Muller uses the term “henotheism” to describe the Vedic practice of contemplating the living principle in the form of multiple deities.

On Samkhya Position on God and the Vedas

The Samkhya is perhaps the only system of philosophy in the world which appears to doubt the existence of god but accepts revelations—it venerates the Vedas as revealed texts which are eternal and whose authority is beyond doubt. The school holds there are three kinds of evidence or instruments of knowledge: perception, inference, and the testimony of the Vedas. But if the existence of god is in doubt, then whose revelations are the Vedas, which Samkhya recognizes as an instrument of knowledge? Max Muller is among the scholars who believe that it’s wrong to see Samkhya as an atheistic philosophy—he notes that while Kapila, the legendary founder of Samkhya, said that the existence of god cannot be proved by human beings and that god is an impossible conception, he does not expressly state that god does not exist. Also, the Vedas themselves preach that the material world is the outcome of a natural process and its existence does not prove or disprove the existence of god.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

On The European Contributions to Ancient Hindu Philosophy

In the eighteenth century, when the East India Company arrived in India, the Hindus had no memory of their philosophical heritage and they had little awareness of their common culture—they had a plethora of festivals and rituals, but they didn’t have the philosophical sensibility and the historical knowledge to connect the festivals and rituals with the Hindu philosophies which were originally developed between two thousand and four thousand years ago. With a significant part of the country being under the Islamic kings, there was no incentive for anyone in the country to launch an intellectual investigation into the past. It is a humbling thought that the rediscovery of ancient Hindu philosophies was accomplished in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries by the intellectual giants from another continent, Europe: Friedrich Max Müller, Ralph T. H. Griffith, Charles Wilkins produced the first translations of the Vedas and the Gita; Henry Thomas Colebrooke, William Jones, and James R. Ballantyne have made major contributes to Sanskrit literature; Arthur Schopenhauer tried to use the teachings of the Upanishads to expand Kantian philosophy; then there is the work of German Indologists like Theodor Aufrecht, Richard Garbe, Hermann Jacobi, Paul Deussen and others. In the field of Vedic literature, the knowledge of the Europeans was far superior to the knowledge of their Indian counterparts till the middle of the twentieth century. The Europeans originated the intellectual structures and methods which are still being used for translating, interpreting, and analyzing the texts of ancient Hindu philosophy.

The French Revolution: A History

“But figure his thought, when Death is now clutching at his own heart-strings, unlooked for, inexorable! Yes, poor Louis, Death has found thee. No palace walls or life-guards, gorgeous tapestries or gilt buckram of stiffest ceremonial could keep him out; but he is here, here at thy very life-breath, and will extinguish it. Thou, whose whole existence hitherto was a chimera and scenic show, at length becomest a reality: sumptuous Versailles bursts asunder, like a dream, into void Immensity; Time is done, and all the scaffolding of Time falls wrecked with hideous clangour round thy soul: the pale Kingdoms yawn open; there must thou enter, naked, all unking'd, and await what is appointed thee! Unhappy man, there as thou turnest, in dull agony, on thy bed of weariness, what a thought is thine! Purgatory and Hell-fire, now all-too possible, in the prospect; in the retrospect,--alas, what thing didst thou do that were not better undone; what mortal didst thou generously help; what sorrow hadst thou mercy on? Do the 'five hundred thousand' ghosts, who sank shamefully on so many battle-fields from Rossbach to Quebec, that thy Harlot might take revenge for an epigram,—crowd round thee in this hour? Thy foul Harem; the curses of mothers, the tears and infamy of daughters? Miserable man! thou 'hast done evil as thou couldst:' thy whole existence seems one hideous abortion and mistake of Nature; the use and meaning of thee not yet known. Wert thou a fabulous Griffin, devouring the works of men; daily dragging virgins to thy cave;--clad also in scales that no spear would pierce: no spear but Death's? A Griffin not fabulous but real! Frightful, O Louis, seem these moments for thee.—We will pry no further into the horrors of a sinner's death-bed.” ~ Thomas Carlyle, in The French Revolution: A History

Legends and Aristocracy

The phenomena of aristocracy is perhaps derived from the ancient legends. The characters in Valmiki’s Ramayana, Vyasa’s Mahabharata, and Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey are purely aristocratic. The immortal gods and goddesses, the mortal kings and queens, and even the commoners, who populate these legends, are fully aware of the code of aristocracy or nobility.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

The Samkhya and Yoga Systems

The Samkhya and Yoga are two of the oldest metaphysical and soteriological systems of the Hindu tradition—their classical versions were developed between 2400 and 3000 years ago. Both systems are practical in their motivations, in the sense that they do not seek truth as an end in itself but as a means of liberation and fulfillment. They seek release from suffering which is the general condition of human existence—the suffering, they hold, is the result of metaphysical ignorance, lack of self-discipline, and adverse material conditions. The essential difference between them is that in Samkhya, the emphasis is on gnosis (metaphysical knowledge and solitude are the means of acquiring liberation and fulfillment), while in Yoga, the emphasis is on ascesis (liberation and fulfillment come through self-discipline and asceticism). Some historians of Indian philosophy (Surendranath Dasgupta and others) have conjectured that Samkhya was originally theistic but it became atheistic at a later stage under the influence of Carvaka and Pancasikha. But Max Muller believed that the Samkhya system is theistic because it admits in some form or other the existence of an Absolute and Supreme being. On the Yoga system there is no controversy—it has remained theistic throughout.

Teleology in History

If there is teleology in history, it’s perceptible only in retrospect. The cultural, political, and economic consequences, which seem inevitable several decades or centuries later, are invisible to the people who happen to be the central players in the political battles of a particular historical period. Edmund Burke said in 1770: “The generality of people are fifty years, at least, behindhand in their politics.”

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Britain’s Accidental Empire in India

“The Indian Empire was born like the child of an inexperienced unmarried girl, that is to say, without any design to found it, or even awareness that it could come into existence, or any admission of its legitimacy,” writes Nirad C. Chaudhuri in his book Clive of India. It is certainly true that the British people (of the eighteenth century) were politically, intellectually, and morally unprepared for having a vast Empire in India. When the activities of the East India Company, whose mandate was limited to developing an infrastructure in India for carrying out a profitable trade, led to the rise of an Empire, the intellectual and political establishment in Britain reacted with great anger and hostility. The British anti-imperialistic attitude was born before the British Empire in India took its final shape. In his notes, written between 1841 and 1843, Alexis de Tocqueville says that the East India Company founded an Empire two-thirds the size of Alexander the Great’s conquests while going against the orders of the British government.

Ananda Math and the British Imperialism

Why did providence send the British imperialists to India? This is the question that Bankim Chandra Chatterjee seeks to answer in his landmark 1882 novel Ananda Math. He was a nationalist (often regarded as the founder of Hindu nationalism), but in his novel (and several of his essays) he asserts that the Hindus should refrain from fighting the British, who are doing us a favor by being here. Since we, the people of India, have forgotten the art of teaching ourselves, we must get our learning from other countries. The British are good teachers, he suggests, and we are learning from them the lessons that we have not learned for centuries—the British are teaching us the virtues of nationalism, patriotism; they are rekindling in us an interest in the Hindu religious and philosophical texts of the past. In Ananda Math, a group of Hindu sannyasis form a militaristic organization to free their country, but after many battles in which both sides suffer losses, the realization dawns on them that they are not serving the interests of their country by attacking the British. In the novel's final chapter, a character says that it’s written that the British should rule this country before there can be a revival of Hindu culture.

Monday, September 14, 2020

Samkhya and Buddhism

Isvarakrsna’s Samkhyakarika is the important source of information on the Samkhya system; he is generally placed in the fifth century A.D., because the Samkhyakarika was translated into Chinese between A.D. 557 and A.D. 567. But the Samkhya system is much older—Chanakya’s Arthashastra, which is dated to B.C. 300, has references to the Samkhya, Yoga, and Lokayata systems. 

The other Hindu systems — Nayaya, Vaisesika, Mimamsa, and Vedanta — came after the Samkhya, Yoga, and Lokayata were systematized. 

There are striking similarities between Samkhya and Buddhist systems—for instance, both systems react against the Vedic sacrifices, ritualism, and belief in god; they preach that life is a web of pain and ignorance, and liberation (salvation) can be attained through knowledge; they reject self-torture and have an emphasis on becoming and change. The Samkhya position on Kalvalya (the ultimate raja yoga which stands for "solitude", "detachment" or "isolation") is similar to the Buddhist nirvana. 

The ancient texts on systematic Samkhya are no longer extant and most references to sage Kapila, the historical founder Samkhya, are mythological, but the unity in the Samkhya system indicates that it can be the work of one philosopher. Since the name of the birthplace of Buddha (Gautama) is Kapilavastu, it’s believed that this is the region where sage Kapila did his work.

The Great British Migration

The British are the greatest migrants of the modern age—they began the modern trend of migrating for economic reasons. In his book Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World, historian Niall Ferguson writes: “Between the early 1600s and the 1950s, more than 20 million people left the British Isles to begin new lives across the seas. Only a minority ever returned. No other country in the world came close to exporting so many of its inhabitants.”

The Victorious Cultures Create Art

Art is created by the winners. In most great works of painting and sculpture, which are inspired by the contest between rival kingdoms or cultures, it’s the victors who are shown slaying the losing side. There is, after all, no dearth of paintings and sculptures in which the great heroes are shown slaying the lions and other magnificent beasts, but there are hardly any in which the beasts are slaying the heroes. 

Sunday, September 13, 2020

The Tree of Civilization Thrives in Militaristic Cultures

A tree grows tall and strong if the soil in which it has germinated is suitable. The trees of “liberty,” “free markets,” “republicanism,” and “scientific approach to the world” have grown tall and strong in the West because the soil of the western civilization is suitable for such trees. The ancient religious and philosophical movements in Hinduism—the Vedic age, the Samkhya system, the Nyaya system, the Buddhist system, and others—had immense potential but after 900 AD, there was a decline in their ability to enthuse the people. The Hindus got lulled by a peaceful approach to life; they never developed the militaristic tendencies or the desire to conquer other nations. The unsavory truth is that the lust to get rich by taking control the land and wealth of other nations is a trigger for civilization. Military campaigns inspire the people to exert themselves: they develop strategies for rapidly transporting troops and feeding them, they innovate to create new weapon systems, they build new infrastructure, and they make political advancements—thus they make their civilization great.

On the Cultural and Political Battles

The preacher of a new ideology has to decide how his ideology will interact with the existing ideology of the nation—should the old ideology be obliterated, or should a compromise be worked out between the old ideology and the new one? In the early decades of the twentieth century, the Bolshevik revolutionaries decided to obliterate the Tsarist and bourgeoise order for establishing a new communist system. The neo-progressive and fascistic movements, which are currently fighting to acquire power in several democratic countries, have a Bolshevik mindset—with these movements too no compromise is possible; they will keep fighting till they have acquired total power.

Saturday, September 12, 2020

“Knowledge is Liberation” — “Knowledge is Power”

The western civilization believes that “knowledge is power.” But the Hindu civilization’s view of knowledge is shaped by the Samkhya system developed in the Vedic age (about three thousand years ago)—the Samkhya philosophers preached: “Knowledge is liberation.” While the western people share their knowledge with each other and use it to make rapid progress in the world, the Hindu people neglect the world—they keep their knowledge inside themselves with the aim of using it for the attainment of personal liberation or salvation. The idea that “knowledge is power” is more conducive for making progress in the world than the idea that “knowledge is liberation.”

The Three Magnificent Cosmic Energies

Every civilization is a confluence of the three magnificent cosmic energies: the constructive, the preservative, and the destructive. The constructive and the preservative energies are opposed and distinct from the destructive energy. When the sum of creative and preservative energies is greater than the destructive energy, the civilization remains in existence, but when there is fall in moral standards, the destructive energy becomes greater than the sum of the other two energies, and then the civilization falls. The history of a civilization is an account of the duel between its creative and preservative energies on one side, and its destructive energy on the other side.

Friday, September 11, 2020

Wisdom of Mythology; Superstitions of Atheism

Most people do not know the wisdom and knowledge that can be found in their books of mythology and religion; if they knew, they would not be attracted to the superstitions and false rituals propagated by the modern atheistic philosophies. I am not saying that what the mythologies and religions have preached three thousand or four thousand years ago are appropriate for the people in every age, including our own time—while the wisdom in the mythologies and religions is timeless, their teachings have to be calibrated to the moral and spiritual requirements of the modern age.

The Stone Age: The Kernel of Civilization

Just as the origin of the giant oak tree is in the tiny acorn, the origin of the human civilization lies in the most uncivilized (primitive) kernel of humanity—which is the people of the Stone Age. The hunter-gatherers of the Stone Age are the kernel from which, over countless millennia, the giant tree of human civilization has developed.

Thursday, September 10, 2020

The Tree of Human Civilization

If the human civilization is compared to a giant fruit bearing tree, then the ancient mythologies are definitely the tree’s roots which tether humanity to the rich soil; the religions are the tree’s trunk which supports the system of the tree’s branches, leaves, and fruits; the actions of all humans and the chance events are the tree’s branches which take sections of humanity into random directions; the philosophical theories are the tree’s leaves which convert the light of the sun, or human experiences and learning, into wisdom; the scientific, technological, and social advancements are the tree’s fruits.

The Origin of Moral Norms

Who is the author of the basic moral norms that most human beings tend to accept? The answer is that the moral norms have not been written—they are ageless and authorless; they are the outcome of the common human experience stretching back to the time when the first humans appeared on this planet. Moral principles, the useful ones, always bear a special identification mark which most humans, even the hunter-gatherers of the Stone Age, are able to identify on their own. We may not know the moral principles, but we know how to live the principles. The problem with modern philosophers is that they think that man cannot have a moral theory until the philosophers write it.

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Religion and Moral Values

A society that is not founded on the moral values which only a religion can provide cannot save itself from moral decay. The modern philosophers will argue that the principles of morality can be provided through an atheistic philosophy, but since the eighteenth century, when the atheism became a powerful force in politics and morality, all experiments for grounding a society’s moral values in atheistic philosophy have failed. There are two problems that any atheistic moral theory faces: first, such a moral theory is nothing but a religion without theological tradition (eg., communism and welfare liberalism); second, unless such a moral theory is backed by brute political power, people are not inspired to follow it.

National Success Comes at a Price

Every success that a nation achieves, contains the seed of its downfall. Prosperity can breed complacency and poor work ethic. High technology can breed breakdown of social systems and end of privacy. Military campaigns can breed subversion of culture. High life expectancy and better law and order can breed a mindset that yearns for total protection. An individualistic culture can breed nihilism and alienation. The desire for liberty and free markets can breed a utopian vision of “total freedom” or anarchy. Easy availability of avenues for high education can breed indoctrinated young barbarians.

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

What Creates Progress?

History tells us that that progress has never been achieved without barbarity, ruthlessness, passion, and ambition. Nietzsche has addressed the matter in Thus Spake Zarathustra. He writes: “War and courage have done more great things than charity. Not your sympathy, but your bravery hath hitherto saved the victims. “What is good?” ye ask. To be brave is good. Let the little girls say: “To be good is what is pretty, and at the same time touching.” They call you heartless: but your heart is true, and I love the bashfulness of your goodwill. Ye are ashamed of your flow, and others are ashamed of their ebb.”

Certainty, Arguments, Facts, Promises, Wisdom, and the Truth

If you want certainty, go to religion; if you want arguments, go to philosophy; if you want facts, go to science; if you want promises, go to politics; but if wisdom and the truth is what you want, there is nowhere to go, for “your wisdom, your truth” exist inside your own mind and in your own experiences.

Monday, September 7, 2020

The Corruption of Liberalism

A liberal society does not teach its youth the values of morality, hard work, and facing life bravely. The concepts “moral,” “hardworking,” and “courage of life,” are unintelligible to the liberal intellectuals and politicians who are convinced that any aspiration for high personal and social standards is a sign of a racist, sexist, misogynist, and conservative mindset—their intellectualism and politics is aimed at corrupting the youth by condoning all kinds of immorality, encouraging laziness through false erudition and dependency on the welfare state, and establishing the notion that facing life bravely is unnecessary when the police state is there to provide protection.

What Sustains a Philosophical Movement?

A philosophy movement cannot be sustained by only intellectual concepts; it must also have the power to arouse emotions and drive people with passion. The intellectuals who think that they can change the world by solely their intellectual concepts (libertarians, existentialists, objectivists, and others), even if they wear the badge of realism, are out of tune with the realty of human psychology and history. In human beings, reason and intellectualism are subservient to passions and emotions.

Sunday, September 6, 2020

Power and Protection

Power and protection are the two powerful desires that people have. The two desires cannot be entirely separated even in an individual, but by and large the people who covet power and those who covet protection exist in different groups in a society. The desire for power is generally found in the people who are confident, intelligent, and strong, while the desire for protection is found in those who are demoralized, ignorant, and weak.

Aquinas: The Founder of Theological Philosophy

Aquinas is the founder of theological philosophy (that is how I see him). The world’s first philosophers were the preachers of religion, and religious philosophy precedes secular and atheistic philosophy by several millennia. Theological philosophy, however, is something different—it seeks to offer a rational or scientific explanation of the world while upholding the fundamental tenets of religion and culture. In his Summa contra Gentiles, the unfinished but massively popular Summa Theologica, and other works, Aquinas tried to show that religion is compatible with the rational elements in Aristotelianism, and gave birth to a new philosophical tradition of theological philosophy.