Sunday, November 29, 2020
Saturday, November 28, 2020
Friday, November 27, 2020
Thursday, November 26, 2020
Wednesday, November 25, 2020
Tuesday, November 24, 2020
Monday, November 23, 2020
Sunday, November 22, 2020
Saturday, November 21, 2020
Friday, November 20, 2020
Thursday, November 19, 2020
Wednesday, November 18, 2020
Tuesday, November 17, 2020
Monday, November 16, 2020
Sunday, November 15, 2020
Saturday, November 14, 2020
Friday, November 13, 2020
Thursday, November 12, 2020
Wednesday, November 11, 2020
Ralph Ellison, the author of Invisible Man: A Novel, became a communist in the 1930s after coming under the influence of communist intellectuals in New York. But in less than a decade, he realized that communism is as dangerous as Nazism. The extent of Ellison’s disenchantment from communism comes out in a letter which he wrote to Roger Wright on August 18, 1945. While talking about the American communists, Ellison writes in the letter: “If they want to play ball with the bourgeoisie they needn’t think they can get away with it. If they want to be lice, then by God let them be squashed like lice. Maybe we can’t smash the atom, but we can, with a few well chosen, well written words, smash all that crummy filth to hell.”
Tuesday, November 10, 2020
Monday, November 9, 2020
In his commentary on the Brahma Sutra, Shankara, the seventh century CE philosopher of Advaita, says that the man who wants to gain knowledge of the Brahman, the ultimate mover and principle of the universe, must have four spiritual qualifications: first, he should possess the ability to discriminate between the real and the unreal; second, he should be indifferent to all pleasures and he should have the fortitude to perform actions without caring for the fruits; third, he should possess six virtues, which are shama (ability to control the mind), dama (ability to control the senses), uparati (ability to strictly observe one’s own dharma with dispassion), titiksha (ability to live with pleasure or pain, and hot or cold), shraddha (faith in guru and in the Upanishads), and samadhana (deep concentration); fourth, he should be filled with the desire for liberation. Shankara notes that the knowledge of the Vedic rituals and the ability to perform them is not necessary for those who seek knowledge of the Brahman.
Sunday, November 8, 2020
My advice to the libertarians (and to the members of Ayn Rand’s tiny cult: Objectivism): "Never second guess the political concerns of your countrymen from an armchair." The libertarians and the objectivists are utopian and dogmatic—in last four years, they were filled with a blind hatred against Trump and his supporters, while they mostly ignored the corruption scandals and unruly protests of the liberals. They believed in Trump’s defeat with a fervor that you usually see in the religious zealots—and now they have got what they always wanted: Trump is defeated and their favorite candidate is the new President. Objectivism has always been a magnet for the naive, alienated, and ignorant, but from the libertarians, I expected a better political judgement. They claim that their philosophy is grounded in reason, ethics, and realism but in their political discourse, they rarely show any sign of these values.
Saturday, November 7, 2020
The Roman Civilization, when it fell in 476 CE, was not defeated in a military sense; it was stolen by a cabal of corrupt Roman politicians, intellectuals, and King Odoacer and his barbarian tribes. Now history is repeating itself—the USA has not been militarily defeated by any foreign power, but it’s being stolen by its leftist politicians who have joined hands with tech, media, and finance industry oligarchs and some foreign powers. This country will find it difficult to recover from the messy election that they are having. The great American robbery is on.
Saturday, October 31, 2020
Friday, October 30, 2020
Thursday, October 29, 2020
Wednesday, October 28, 2020
Tuesday, October 27, 2020
Monday, October 26, 2020
Sunday, October 25, 2020
Saturday, October 24, 2020
Friday, October 23, 2020
The teachings of modern philosophy are not modern; they are not the novelties invented by modern thinkers; all the great philosophical questions and their possible answers have originated in the ancient times, before the sixth century B.C.E. No “real” modern philosopher will have the audacity to claim that his ideas are his own or wholly original. Since philosophy is always based on the work done in the past, we can draw the inference that a “real” philosopher is never a revolutionary who advocates a break with the past; he is, at the most, a reformer who tries to make some improvements in the thoughts which he has inherited from the past.
Thursday, October 22, 2020
Once upon a time the gods won a great victory over the demons and they became arrogant. They boasted, “This victory is ours! This triumph is ours.” They failed to realize that the victory was won for them by the Brahman, with whose power the universe is created and in whom, at the end of the kalpa (aeon), it dissolves. The Brahman noticed the arrogance of the gods and appeared before them in the form of an Yaksha, but the gods failed to comprehend the identity of this wondrous entity. They deputed Agni (the fire god) to ascertain the identity of the Yaksha. Agni proclaimed that he had the power to burn down the entire universe—the Yaksha asked him to burn a straw; Agni tried but he failed to set the straw ablaze. Then the gods deputed Vayu (the wind god) to ascertain the identity of the Yaksha. Vayu proclaimed that he had the power to blow away the universe—the Yaksha asked him to blow a straw; Vayu tried but he failed to move the straw. After that Indra (the lord of the gods) was sent to investigate—the Yaksha presented before Indra a beautiful woman called Uma Haimavati. Indra asked her what this wondrous Yaksha was that had the power of hindering Agni from burning and Vayu from blowing. Uma Haimavati, who is the personification of wisdom, said, “This Yaksha is the Brahman. The gods are feeling pride over a victory that was won for them by the Brahman, so he has appeared as an Yaksha to teach the gods the lesson of humility.” Since the gods derive their power from the One, the Brahman, they must not become arrogant. This story, which I have retold in my own words, occurs in the Book Three and Book Four of the Kena Upaniṣad and can be seen from two angles: first, it’s a moral injunction that the entities in positions of power must avoid arrogance; second, it’s an evidence of the monistic metaphysics of the Vedic thinkers.
Wednesday, October 21, 2020
Tuesday, October 20, 2020
Monday, October 19, 2020
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 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
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
Having no beginning, thou dost abide with immanence,
Wherefrom all beings are born.
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
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 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 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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.