Pages

Friday, December 4, 2020

The First Verse of the Mahabharata

The critical edition of the Mahabharata developed by the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute (BORI) is collated from 1,259 ancient manuscripts and consists of 18 Parvas and more than 89000 verses (excluding the Harivamsa). The Institute began its project for creating a critical edition on 1 April 1919 and the project was completed on 22 September 1966. The work on Harivamsa took another five years, and was completed in November, 1971.

Here’s the opening mantra of the Mahabharata

नारायणं नमस्कृत्य नरं चैव नरोत्तमम्
देवीं सरस्वतीं चैव ततो जयम् उदीरयेत् 

Om! Having bowed down to Narayana and Nara, the most exalted male being,
and also to the goddess Saraswati, must the word Jaya (victory) be uttered.

Thursday, December 3, 2020

Theism and Liberty

"What light is to the eyes—what air is to the lungs—what love is to the heart, Liberty is to the soul of man." ~ Robert Ingersoll’s famous line. The leftists, liberals, and libertarians reject this view of liberty because they are atheists; they don’t believe in the existence of the divine and the soul. Liberty is a value within the framework of the moral values which are derived from the religious teachings—outside the framework of the religious moral values, liberty is destructive. Ingersoll was an agnostic with which I can empathize, since the divine is unknown and unknowable, but religion, which is founded on the desire to approach the divine, is tangible; its theological philosophy can be a tool for personal and social growth. To reject religion altogether, when you belong to a culture whose religious tradition stretches back to more than two thousand five hundred years, is to reject all of past intellectualism and tradition—all philosophy, science, political theory, and art—and embrace moral nihilism and political corruption.

The Concept of Svayambhu

Every effect has a cause. An unending series of causes has led to the world of plurality that exists today. But in philosophy, we have to theorize about a first cause. Aristotle theorized that the universe began with the Prime Mover, which is itself uncaused. In Hindu philosophy, the concept of Svayambhu is used to describe the first cause. While every effect has a cause, Svayambhu is uncaused by any cause other than itself. “Svayambhu” is a Sanskrit word created from two terms: “svayam,” which means self; “bhu,” which means manifested or arising. Thus Svayambhu is generally translated as "self-manifested", "self-existing", or "created by its own accord”. In the Vedic and Puranic texts, there are the descriptions of the rise of Svayambhu Manu, who is the first man. Some verses describe Krishna as Svayambhu, the self-manifested.

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

The American Elections

"Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” ~ Lord Acton’s best known line. In retrospect, it becomes obvious that the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 has had a negative impact on the USA—it resulted in the USA acquiring absolute power over the world and becoming absolutely corrupted. Now the situation is so bad that the Americans can’t even hold a proper election. In the recent election, there are so many glaring anomalies in the voting and vote-counting processes that you need to be a truly gullible and ignorant (or biased and corrupt) person to believe in the results that the mainstream media is touting—the official results are yet to be declared. Only seventeen years ago, the Americans had marched into Iraq with the purported aim of creating a democratic utopia there—they wanted to teach the Iraqis how to hold proper elections, but in 2020, they have botched their own election. Henceforth, the USA will not have the moral authority to preach democratic values to other nations.

The Concept of “Sat-cid-ananda”

In the Vedanta tradition, the Brahman, who is the unchanging reality or the prime mover and creator of the universe, is related to the concept of “sat-cid-ananda”—“sat” means being, existence, or truth; “cid” means consciousness or awareness; “ananda” means happiness, joy, or bliss. Thus “sat-cid-ananda” can be translated as being, consciousness, and bliss. The references to these three attributes of the Brahman can be found in Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, Chandogya Upanishad, Taittiriya Upanishad, and other ancient texts. There are, however, many popular theistic traditions which relate “sat-cid-ananda” to Vishnu, Shiva, and Krishna. Since the Vedanta traditions are mostly monistic, they relate “sat-cid-ananda” to the Brahman.

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

The Metaphysics of Shankara and Kant

There are similarities in the metaphysics of Immanuel Kant and Shankara, the philosopher and theologian of Advaita Vedanta, who is generally placed in the 7th century AD (some scholars place him in the 5th century BC). Kant has basically theorized that the reality has two components: the phenomenal world and the noumenal world—the first is the world that we perceive (the world that exist inside our own minds and can be experienced); the second is the world of things outside our own minds (this is the world of things as they really are, but our mind lacks the capacity to comprehend this world). Shankara divides the reality into two categories: Vyavaharika and Paramarthika—the first is the reality that corresponds to our phenomenal experiences and exists inside our own mind; the second is the reality of what truly exists, which is the Brahman, the ultimate mover and creator of the universe, that encompasses everything that exists. It’s noteworthy that Shankara’s two categories of the reality are meant to establish his monistic and religious position of one ultimate reality consisting of the Bahaman; Kant, on the other hand, is not openly a monistic (though there are traces of monism in his thought) and he is trying to develop a secular interpretation of reality.

The Philosophical Mind Versus the Non-philosophical Mind

It cannot be philosophically demonstrated that things exist outside the perceivers mind and that the information received from the senses is a reflection of the true reality and not an illusion. But a non-philosophical mind is never plagued with doubts about the reality of existence—it plays the game of life without questioning the senses. It’s only the philosophical mind that is capable of doubting the senses and treating existence with skepticism. A philosophical mind is a rare entity; majority of the people are non-philosophical—they plunge headlong into the game of living the life of laborers, farmers, soldiers, scientists, businessmen, politicians, etc., without being plagued with philosophical doubt. The tendency towards philosophical doubt is not only the trait of the philosophical mind but also the fountainhead of philosophy.

Monday, November 30, 2020

Gaudapada and Buddhism

The Advaita Vedanta philosopher Gaudapada has used words like “Buddha,” “Asparsayoga,” and “Agrayana” in a few verses in his Māṇdūkya Kārikā which is a metrical commentary on the Māṇdūkya Upaniṣad—this has led many scholars to suggest that Gaudapada was either influenced by Mahayana Buddhism or was a Buddhist philosopher. But this is denied by the scholars of the Advaita Vedanta school. They note that Gaudapada is not referring to the traditional founder of Buddhism when he uses the word “Buddha”; he is denoting the knower of the truth. On the usage of “Asparsayoga,” they note that this term is not the same as the Buddhist concept of “Nirvana”— “Asparsayoga” in Advaita Vedanta tradition means the state of bliss that is achieved when there is no contact (no sparsa) of the senses with their objects but only with the self or the atman; it certainly cannot mean nirvana, which in the Buddhist tradition means total oblivion—the presence of the term “yoga” in “Asparsayoga” indicates that this concept is not pointing towards oblivion but at the attainment of Ultimate Reality which is the Brahman (the underlying principle of the universe). It’s suggested that the word “Agrayana” (which Gaudapada uses only once in his Kārikā, in the verse 90) denotes Mahayana, a major school of Buddhism, but the Advaita Vedanta school holds that Gaudapada’s usage of the word has nothing to do with Mahayana; he means “Prathamatah”, that is, in the first place. Gaudapada’s dates are mired in controversy—he has been placed between the 5th and 7th centuries AD on the basis of the general consensus that his great follower Shankara was born in 788 AD. But some scholars have used historical references to place Shankara in the second century BC—if this is true, then Gaudapada could be a predecessor to the Mahayana Buddhist thinkers like Nagarjuna. In his work, Shankara has tried to move Advaita Vedanta away from Buddhism by noting the differences between the two schools—for instance, in his commentary on the Katha Upaniṣad, Shankara notes that while Hinduism believes in the existence of the atman (soul), Buddhism denies it.

Darth Vader’s Conservative Wisdom

“You underestimate the power of the Dark Side. If you will not fight, then you will meet your destiny,” says Darth Vader in Star Wars: Return of the Jedi. The conservatives have the tendency to underestimate the power of the dark side (the liberals and the left)—they don’t fight hard enough and they mostly fail to achieve their political promises. The Dark Side wins because the conservatives are complacent and morally weak.

Sunday, November 29, 2020

The Bhagavad Gita and the Isa Upanisad

Krishna’s instruction to Arjuna on the Bhagavad Gita at the battlefield of Kurukshetra can be seen as a revival of the knowledge that he had taught long ago to Vivasvan, the Sun God. Krishna reveals this in the verse 4.1 of the Bhagavad Gita: “I taught this eternal science of Yoga to the Sun-god, Vivasvan, who passed it on to Manu; and Manu in turn instructed it to Ikshvaku.” Vivasvan is believed to be the teacher of Yajnavalkya, the sage of the Shukla Yajur Veda; thus, the disciple of Krishna is the teacher of Yajnavalkya. The connection between Krishna and Yajnavalkya through Vivasvan is often seen as the cause of the similarities in the teachings of the Bhagavad Gita and the Isa Upanisad, which is the final chapter of the Shukla Yajur Veda. There are eighteen chapters in the Bhagavad Gita, and the Isa Upanisad contains eighteen verses—devotion to Krishna is the theme of both texts. Here’s the famous first verse of the Isa Upanisad: “All this, everything that moves in this moving world must be pervaded by the lord. Enjoy what has been renounced, but do not desire the wealth of others.”

The Mainstream Media Does Not Have Our Trust

A strong structure cannot be created with substandard bricks; a free media cannot be created when journalists have an ideological bias or are in bed with tyrants and oligarchs. Humberto Fontova’s book The Longest Romance: The Mainstream Media and Fidel Castro is revealing of the corruption and biases in the topmost media houses. Fontova quotes Castro as saying, “Without the help of The New York Times, the revolution in Cuba would never have been,” during an April 1959 meeting with Herbert Matthews, the New York Times journalist, who was a confidant and supporter of the Castro regime. It's certain that without the support of the mainstream media, communism and its sister movements, socialism, liberalism, and environmentalism, could not have been the dominant ideologies of the world. The mainstream media misinforms people instead of informing them.

Saturday, November 28, 2020

Rousseau, Napoleon, and the Politics of Religion

Rousseau’s teachings inspired not only the Jacobins who spearheaded the bloody French Revolution but also the dictator who came to power after the Jacobins had self-destructed: Napoleon. Early in his life, Napoleon was influenced by Rousseau’s teaching that religion is dangerous since it exists in competition with the state—religion promises happiness in the other world when the state is responsible for providing the means of achieving happiness in this world. At the beginning of the French Revolution, Napoleon, then a young artillery lieutenant, wrote, “Dear Rousseau why was it necessary that you have lived only for sixty years! For the interest of the virtue, you had had to be immortal.” Napoleon was as much influenced by the atheistic and anti-tradition political thought of the Enlightenment as the Jacobins were, but after Napoleon acquired power, he had a change of heart—he realized that if he tried to suppress religion, he would lose support of the people and then his government might be overthrown like the government of the Jacobins was; so he re-established the traditional practice of religion. Jean Chaptal, Napoleon’s minister for Internal Affairs said: "The boldest operation that Bonaparte carried out during the first years of his reign was to re-establish worship upon its old foundations.”

On Solzhenitsyn’s View Of Communism

"For us in Russia, communism is a dead dog, while, for many people in the West, it is still a living lion,” said Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in a BBC radio broadcast on 15 February 1979. I believe that in the West, communism will never be seen as a dead dog; this is because, communism is a “child” of the West, it’s a wholly Western philosophy and movement; it was founded and propagated by Western intellectuals, politicians, oligarchs, and trade unionists who operated from London, Berlin, Paris and other Western cities. The Western nations could avoid communism because they were aware of the pernicious nature of this ideology; they knew that communism had the potential to cause massive violence and bring a cruel totalitarian regime into power. The Russians, in the early decades of the 20th century, had no knowledge of communism—unlike the Western countries, they didn’t have the intellectuals and politicians who could refute the communist arguments and warn them about the great destructive power of the communist ideology, so it was easy for Lenin, Trotsky, and Stalin to con the Russians into believing that communism would transform their country into a paradise. After the First World War, communism spread into Russia like a killer virus and devastated the lives of several generations.

Friday, November 27, 2020

Immanuel Kant, Ludwig von Mises, and Ayn Rand

Ayn Rand and her “new intellectual” followers never read Immanuel Kant, and, it seems, they didn’t read Ludwig von Mises either. In the book called Omnipotent Governemnt, published in 1944, almost two decades before Rand and her “new intellectuals” started claiming that Kant was the fountainhead of the ideas which have led to nazism, Mises notes that it’s“nonsensical” to associate Kant with Nazism (and with Soviet Marxism). Here’s an excerpt from pages 140-141: “Kant’s moral teachings, and his concept of the categorical imperative, have nothing at all to do with Prussianism or with Nazism. The categorical imperative is not the philosophical equivalent of the regulations of the Prussian military code. It was not one of the merits of old Prussia that in a far-distant little town a man like Kant occupied a chair of philosophy. Frederick the Great did not care a whit for his great subject. He did not invite him to his philosophical breakfast table whose shining stars were the Frenchmen Voltaire and Alembert. The concern of his successor, Frederick William II, was to threaten Kant with dismissal if he were once more insolent enough to write about religious matters. Kant submitted. It is nonsensical to consider Kant a precursor of Nazism. Kant advocated eternal peace between nations.”

On the Navya-Nyaya Theory of Language

The Navya-Nyaya school holds that spoken language is the primary language since it’s logically prior to written language. The language of gestures precedes spoken language—it’s something that the humans have learned from the animals which use bodily signs to communicate with each other without creating any sound. Written language is of critical importance because it enables people to create long sentences, express complicated ideas, and gain better understanding of the meaning of the spoken words, but, like the language of gestures in case of human beings, it exists parasitically on spoken language. The Navya-Nyaya philosophers accept the old Nyaya belief that Sanskrit is a divine language bequeathed to humanity by the Brahman who is the prime mover of the universe—the Brahman is the creator of the objects in the universe and he has delineated the relationship between meaning and the objects. The spoken words are merely sounds; they become language when they are endowed with meaning—this task, according to the theorists of the Navya-Nyaya school, was accomplished by the will of the Brahman. The references to the Brahman as the creator of world’s languages (mainly Sanskrit) lead to the conclusion that the languages, according to the Nyaya philosophers, are a product of nature and not convention.

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Edmund Burke: The Political Thinker of Modern Age

Edmund Burke is the most important political thinker of the modern age not only because he is the founder of modern conservatism, a movement which, in the last two hundred years, has led to major advancements in almost every country where it has gained support of a significant section of the population, but also because he saw further than most political thinkers of his time. He commented on the problems in the thought of Voltaire and Rousseau in the 1780s and 90s when they were being worshipped as the prophets of “rational” politics by his contemporaries in Europe, and, in his book Reflections on the Revolution in France, he predicted the failure of the French Revolution which was being driven by their ideas. Here’s an excerpt from a letter that Burke wrote in January 1790: "Such masters, such scholars. Who ever dreamt of Voltaire and Rousseau as legislators? The first has the merit of writing agreeably; and nobody has ever united blasphemy and obscenity so happily together. The other was not a little deranged in his intellects, to my almost certain knowledge. But he saw things in bold and uncommon lights, and he was very eloquent.”

The Dialectical Method of Hindu Philosophy

One of the hallmarks of Hindu philosophy is its dialectical methodology—the philosophers are devoted to establishing their philosophical positions, but they treat the views of their opponents with respect. Several schools of philosophy have been existence for more than 2500 years and they have always had significant philosophical differences but each school formulates its arguments after listening to the arguments from the other schools. The dialectical method of philosophical discussion proceeds through three steps, namely Purvapaksa, Khandana, and Uttarapaksa. The philosopher begins by stating the views of his opponents—known as the Purvapaksa. After that he offers the refutation for the arguments of his opponents—known as the Khandana. Finally, he offers his own theory—known as the Uttarapaksa (in some texts Uttarapaksa is described as Siddhanta or conclusion).

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Liberty and Slavehood

The contest between liberty and slavery is eternal—when a people lose their liberty, they win their slavehood. What is liberty for one group might be slavehood for another. One group might see the new regulations and restrictions as a political victory (as a new liberty), because of the belief that these regulations will lead to an improvement in their own standard of living and have punitive outcomes for their political enemies. Hardly anyone, barring the anarchists and libertarians whose goals are often utopian, wants the nation to have total freedom, and in a stable society the anarchists and libertarians exist on the fringes, their number is less than one percent. A majority of the liberty lovers are conservatives who want their freedom to be allied with their nation’s traditions and mentored by a system of moral and social norms. In democratic nations, the forces favoring liberty and slavehood march hand in hand, and through their collaboration and confrontation the political culture of the nation gets created.

The Carvaka View of the Four Purusarthas

Out of the four Purusarthas, which are used by the ancient Hindu texts to define the ultimate objectives of life, the Carvakas (the school of empiricists and materialists) accept only two. They accept Artha (prosperity, economic values) and Kama (pleasure, love, psychological values), and reject Dharma (virtue and moral values) and Moksha (liberation, spiritual values). They reject Dharma because it’s based on the teachings of the scriptures whose authority, they maintain, cannot be accepted by rational men, and they reject Moksha because it entails release from the materialistic entanglements, which, they claim, can be attained only on death and no one who loves life would devote himself to ending his own life. The Carvakas maintain that the purpose of life is attainment of the worldly pleasures, and they preach that Artha (prosperity and economic values), and Kama (pleasure, love, psychological values) are the only ends that rational men would strive for. The Carvaka position is similar to that of the Epicureans of Ancient Greece.

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Machiavelli: Unarmed are Despised

In The Prince, Niccolò Machiavelli writes, “For among other evils which being unarmed brings you, it causes you to be despised." He is right—no one respects the unarmed and weak.

On Political Battles

A political party inclined towards moralism, traditions, rule of law, and economic progress is likely to be vanquished by a political party inclined towards nihilism, contempt for traditions and the constitution, and economic decline, if both enjoy approximately the same amount of support in society. In politics, the virtuous and development oriented people are rarely victorious, generally it’s the most ruthless, cunning, deceitful, destructive, and evil who win. To predict the outcome of an election, look for the candidates who have the morals, intelligence, and survival instincts of the “hungry hyenas”—they are likely to win.

Metaphysics is Rationalistic

Every metaphysical theory in the history of philosophy is a rationalistic system—this is because, the metaphysical theories are established by reasoning, and they cannot be proved or disproved by perception and experimentation; therefore, they must be accepted or rejected on the basis of faith and arguments. In the Advaita Vedanta, the Upanishadic saying, “Sarvam khalvidam Brahman neha nanasti kinchana,” is used to argue about the falsity of the world and establish that nothing exists except the Brahman which is the supreme soul or the universal spirit, and the prime mover of the universe. But this is a metaphysical position which cannot be proved or disproved—this position has to be accepted or rejected on the basis of faith and arguments.

Monday, November 23, 2020

The Importance of Philosophical Skepticism

Skepticism is an antidote for the pitfalls of dogmatism and cultism. Skepticism creates fresh philosophical problems which compel the philosophers to give up dogmatism and cultism and question the soundness of the established viewpoints—they start taking a critical and analytic approach and come up with new theories through which their philosophy becomes richer. Kant, the great philosopher of the modern age, recognized his debt to skepticism when he said, “Hume’s skepticism arose me from my dogmatic slumber.” Skepticism is the cry of a free mind; the philosophers who outrightly reject skepticism are not free minds.

The Doctrine of Purusarthas

In Hindu philosophy, the doctrine of purusartha defines the ultimate objectives of life. The four purusarthas are: Dharma (virtue, moral values), Artha (prosperity, economic values), Kama (pleasure, love, psychological values) and Moksha (liberation, spiritual values). Most modern scholars insist that Dharma is the primary purusartha, or the purusartha which brings meaning and significance to the three other purusarthas, but the truth is that the primacy of any purusartha has not been established in the ancient texts. In the Mahabharata (Santiparva, Adhyaya 161), Yudhishtira asks his brothers to name the purusartha which they believe is the highest. Arjuna says that Artha is the highest; Bhima favors Kama, which he insists contains the essence of both Dharma and Kama; Nakula and Sahadeva are supportive of Arjuna’s position that Artha is the highest, though they add some modifications of their own. Vidura, the uncle of the Pandavas (and the Kauravas), gives a short speech to explain the tenets of Dharma. Finally Yudhishtira speaks—he dwells on the transcendence of Dharma, Artha, Kama, and Moksha, but, perhaps since he never lies, he admits that he does not know which purusartha is the highest or if there is any hierarchy among the purusarthas. This discussion between the Pandava brothers happens after the great Kurukshetra war.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

The Decline of British and American Empires

The generation that comes of age, when the empire’s political, economic, technological, and military power is at the peak, usually presides over its decline and fall. This trend can be seen in several empires in the last 2500 years—the British and American Empires being the recent examples. The generation of English people born between 1890 and 1920 inherited the British Empire that spanned the globe; the saying was popular that the sun never set on the British Empire. But by the 1940s, the British Empire was lost; it was reduced to what it had been before the Age of Imperialism, a tiny island. The boomers, the Americans born from 1946 to 1964, inherited the American Empire when it was at its peak; I believe, the American Empire peaked around 1980; since then it has been steadily declining, and in 2020, it has fallen. The boomers have raised the millennial generation which is naive, nihilistic, and indoctrinated with false ideologies—under the millennials, there is no chance of an American comeback.

Performance of Duty is the Fulfillment

Karmanyeva adhikaraste, ma phaleshu kada chana; Ma karma phala hetur bhurh, ma te sangostva akarmani,” Krishna says to Arjuna in the famous verse 2.47 of the Bhagavad Gita. While a man is free to choose the actions which he will perform, he lacks the power to determine the fruits of those actions. He is the cause of his actions, but he is not the cause of the consequences of those actions. A moral man will not be paralyzed by the thoughts of the consequences of his actions; he will not be deterred from the performance of his duties. The action, or the performance of the duty, is, by itself, a source of fulfillment for him.

Saturday, November 21, 2020

The Crooked Timber of Humanity

"Out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made,” said Immanuel Kant in his essay, “Idea for a General History with a Cosmopolitan Purpose” (1784). These are wise words from Kant—the timber of humanity is crooked and the proof of that is the conduct of the democratic nations in the year 2020. What have these nations not done to destroy their healthcare, economy, social life, and political culture? There are still around forty days remaining in this year, which, I think, history will record as the annus horribilis—what else will these nations do in the remaining forty days to self-destruct even more thoroughly and bring even greater misery on their population? Perhaps in the next five to ten years the world will not be divided between the advanced, developing, and third world nations—every nation will become a dystopia of poverty, shabbiness, corruption, and hopelessness. But look at the bright picture: there will be equality among the nations, since all will be equally miserable.

The Fable of the Bees: The Importance of Vices

In his 1714 book The Fable of The Bees, Mandeville describes a society of bees which takes the collective decision to ground its way of life on the ideas of reason, morality, discipline, and honesty. Initially the bees seem to do well but eventually their culture collapses into a dystopia from which they never recover. The moral of Mandeville’s story is that in order to survive and thrive, a society needs not just the virtues but also a range of vices: the bonds of selfishness, envy, competition, mysticism, and exploitation. The book ends with these famous lines:

Bare Virtue can't make Nations live
In Splendor; they, that would revive
A Golden Age, must be as free,
For Acorns, as for Honesty.

Friday, November 20, 2020

Orwell’s Dystopia

Who would like to live in the dystopia that George Orwell has described in 1984? I believe that there are a large number of people who are so full of hate and anger that they constantly dream of dragging all of humanity into a society where everything is shabby, incompetent, and corrupt, and a supreme leader called Big Brother is worshipped as the one true god; where the elite section of the population is under constant surveillance, and faces an insane amount of discipline, draconian austerities and restrictions, and the threat of arrest, brutal torture, and execution. Only the proles enjoy a limited amount of freedom because they are too immoral, unambitious, and ignorant to be a threat to the state—they are allowed to live and rot in squalid slums built on the fringes of the cities. The political method of the dystopia is laid down by the arch-villain O’Brien: “Men are infinitely malleable.” The novel ends when O’Brien manages to mold the novel’s hero Winston Smith into thinking: “He loved Big Brother.”

The World is Topsy-turvy

Nothing is more collectivist than a movement of individualists. Nothing is more illiberal than a movement of intellectuals, politicians, and activists who flaunt the “halo” of liberalism. Nothing is more theocratic and fundamentalist than a movement of atheists. Nothing distorts, falsifies, and throttles the news more than the mainstream media that sees itself as the “almighty” of news. Nothing is more socialist and statist than a super-large privately owned multinational corporation.

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Releasing the Makara or the Kraken

Donald Trump’s lawyer Sidney Powell recently said, “I will release the Kraken.” This makes me wonder what is the counterpart of the Kraken in Hindu mythology—there are quite a few; the entity called Makara, which means sea-dragon or water-monster, is often described in the ancient mythological texts. During the Vedic age, Varuna, the lord of the sea, used to ride on the Makaras, which are called “water-monster vahana” (vehicle). The Makaras are also described as the vahana of the River Goddess Ganga and Narmada, and as the guardians to the gateways which lead to different realms, holy places, and throne rooms. In the Bhagavad Gita (verse 10.31), Krishna uses the term “Makara” to represent all the aquatic creatures: “Amongst purifiers I am the wind, and amongst wielders of weapons I am Lord Ram. Of water creatures I am the Makara, and of flowing rivers I am the Ganges.” In the Mahabharata, there is a reference to Timingila and Makara in Vana Prava (verse 168.3): “Then at places eulogized by the Maharshis, I (proceeded, and at length) beheld the ocean—that inexhaustible lord of waters. And like unto flowing cliffs were seen on it heaving billows, now meeting together and now rolling away. And there (were seen) all around barks by thousands filled with gems. And there were seen timingilas and tortoises and makaras like unto rock submerged in water.” In the Ramayana (Sundara Kanda), the Makara appears as a female sea serpent called Surasa who is of the size of a mountain and has “yellow eyes and a pair of jaws fanged and gaping.” When Hanuman is on his way to Lanka to inquire about Sita, Surasa tries to stop him. She warns Hanuman that anyone who desires to reach Lanka must pass through her mouth. Hanuman expands his size, forcing Surasa to open her mouth several kilometers wide, and when he is inside her mouth, he suddenly assumes the size of a thumb and comes out of her mouth before she can close it.

Bhagavad Gita: On the Striving for Perfection

“Among thousands of men perhaps one strives for perfection, and among thousands of those who strive perhaps one knows me in truth,” Krishna says to Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita. From this line, I infer that man is not a creature of pure reason (faith plays a critical role in his life), he is not born for total freedom (he is a political and social animal), and he is not designed by nature for materialistic perfection. The attempts of the atheists to perfect themselves always fail—instead of becoming better people, they worsen their own life and that of others around them whenever they strive for materialistic perfection. But those people, whose desire for perfection is fuelled by the moral and transcendental knowledge that comes from an understanding of theological philosophy, might achieve success in perfecting themselves.

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Prejudices and Power

Prejudices die hard, and the prejudices of the liberal elites, who control all the levers of political power, die harder still.

Hindu Philosophy of Moksa

Moksa (salvation or liberation) is not the only concern of Hindu philosophy, but it’s one of the chief concerns. Since the Vedic age, the Hindu teachers have been conjecturing about the ways of attaining moksa. The six schools of Hindu philosophy present varying concepts of moksa. The Sankhya school, being jnana yoga, preaches moksa through metaphysical knowledge. The Yoga school, being dhyana yoga, preaches that moksa comes through meditation and asceticism. The Nyaya and Vaisheshika schools see knowledge as the path to moksa. The passage 1.1.4 in the Vaisesika-sutra says: “The Supreme Good (moksa) comes from the knowledge, produced by a particular dharma, of the essence of the Predicables, Substance, Attribute, Action, Genus, Species, and Combination, by means of their resemblances and differences.” The passage 1.1.1 in Nyaya-sutra says: “Moksa is attained by the true knowledge of the means of right cognition, the objects of such cognition, doubt, purpose, instance, conclusion, discussion, debate, sophistry, fallacy, quibbling, faulty reasoning, and losing (a debate).” The Mīmāṃsā school insists that moksa cannot come through knowledge alone, for the individual must first perform all the actions which are good (in line with the teachings of the Vedas). The schools of Vedanta hold that moksa means being embraced and subsumed into the Brahman (the ultimate principe of the universe) and this end can be achieved by following the teachings of the Upaniṣads.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

A Brief History of History

History in the true sense is the story of the political communities which were formed through the bonds language, geography, culture, religion, and nationhood. The term “history” arises from within the Western civilization; the ancient Greek thinkers like Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophon, Polybius, and Plutarch were the world’s first historians—through their work the method of recording, analyzing, and understanding the past (writing history) has developed. Since the time of Herodotus, the historians have been playing a critical role in the evolution of Western philosophy, politics, and culture. During the Age of Imperialism (1750 to 1940s), while the Western governments were conquering colonies, their historians were engaged in investigating and analyzing the past of these colonies—they produced a massive collection of books and papers on the history of the Asian, South American, and North African nations. Today people in most parts of the world understand their past through the work that the Western historians did during the Age of Imperialism. The art of writing history is a unique achievement of the West.

Monday, November 16, 2020

The Wisdom of Somerset Maugham

Hans Christian Andersen is right—it takes a childlike mind to recognize that the Emperors wear no clothes and that worthless banalities often masquerade as profound political and philosophical wisdom. Here’s a wise perspective from W. Somerset Maugham about the real state of the world (from The Moon and Sixpence): “The world is hard and cruel. We are here none knows why, and we go none knows whither. We must be very humble. We must see the beauty of quietness. We must go through life so inconspicuously that Fate does not notice us. And let us seek the love of simple, ignorant people. Their ignorance is better than all our knowledge. Let us be silent, content in our little corner, meek and gentle like them. That is the wisdom of life.”

The Vedic Quest for The Truth

The Vedic sages understood that certainty is not possible to man and that the quest for the truth is eternal. They believed that the truth is not the characteristic of the alienated, dogmatic, and misanthropic but of the free spirited and joyous people who are ready to examine all sides of an issue. They kept their traditions oral and sang their hymns of the truth in the open—because they realized that any truth cannot have the potential to become the truth until it’s openly and clearly articulated in presence of everyone who would care to listen. The ultimate philosophical and religious message of the Bhagavad Gita is revealed by Krishna to Arjuna when both were situated between two great armies in the battlefield of Kurukshetra. This signifies that people tend to discover the truth when they are engaged in performing their worldly duties and fighting for the just causes. After listening to Krishna’s message, Arjuna says (verse 73): “By your grace, (my) delusion is gone; and I have gained recognition (of myself). Acyuta (Krishna), I remain as one from whom all doubts are gone. I will do what you say.”

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Andrew Breitbart: The Left is the Media

"The left does not win its battles in debate. It doesn’t have to. In the twenty-first century, media is everything. The left wins because it controls the narrative. The narrative is controlled by the media. The left is the media. Narrative is everything.” ~ Andrew Breitbart in his 2011 book Righteous Indignation: Excuse Me While I Save the World. It’s a paradox that three decades after the fall of the Soviet Union, leftism continues to dominate the politics and culture of most democracies. The conservatives like Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher believed that by destroying the Soviet Union they would make leftism irrelevant—they didn’t realize that the soul of the left was never in the Soviet Union but in the worldwide mainstream media. Breitbart is right—the left controls everything because, through the media, they control the narrative.

The Philosophies Which Fuel the Major Civilizations

The philosophies which possess the capacity to fuel the major civilizations are grounded in the entirety of human experience—this means that they are not purely scientific nor are they grounded in pure reason; their philosophical positions emerge from the human experience in the areas of science, mathematics, mysticism, logic, religion, arts, theology, history, scholasticism, idealism, politics, and psychology. Greater the civilization, greater is the depth and diversity of its philosophy. Philosophies like communism, libertarianism, and neo-liberalism are incapable of fueling the major civilizations because the roots of their philosophy do not go deep enough; they are too superficial; they cannot bridge the gap between science and faith, and traditionalism and change—they create their utopian vision by taking into account only the superficial aspects of human experience and they ignore and disparage everything else.

Saturday, November 14, 2020

The River Sarasvati

The Rig Veda contains several hymns which depict Sarasvati as an important river and deity. But the location of this river is unknown. Some archeologists suggest that Sarasvati dried between 3000 BCE and 1800 BCE. Prof. Michael Witzel is of the view that the Vedic Sarasvati River is the cosmic river of the Milky Way which the ancient sages saw as the “road to immortality and heaven.”

The fifth verse in the hymn 10.75 of the Rig Veda associates Sarasvati with Ganga and Yamuna and some scholars use it to speculate about the river’s geographical location:

Here, o Ganga, Yamuna, Sarasvati—attend on this praise of mine, o Śutudrī, Paruṣṇī. 
With the Asiknī, o Marudvr̥ dhā, with the Vitastā, o Ārjīkīyā, harken, with the Suṣomā.

The seventh verse in the same hymn depicts Sarasvati as a beautiful woman:

Straight in her course, mottled, glistening, in her greatness she holds encircled the expanses, the dusky realms— 
the undeceivable Sindhu, busiest of the busy, dappled-bright like a mare, lovely to see like a beautiful woman. 

The hymn 7.95 describes the beauty of the river’s flow and the fertility and life that she brings:

1. She has flowed forth with her surge, with her nourishment—Sarasvati is a buttress, a metal fortress. 
Thrusting forward all the other waters with her greatness, the river drives like a lady-charioteer. 

2. Alone of the rivers, Sarasvati shows clear, as she goes gleaming from the mountains all the way to the sea. 
Taking note of the abundant wealth of the world, she has milked out ghee and milk for the Nāhuṣa. 

3. He has grown strong as a manly one among maidens, a bullish bull calf among the (river-maidens) worthy of the sacrifice. 
He provides a prizewinner to the benefactors. He should groom his body for winning. 

4. And this Sarasvati, the well-portioned, will harken to this sacrifice of ours, taking pleasure in it, 
being implored by reverential ones with their knees fixed. With wealth as her yokemate, she is even higher than her companions. 

5. Here are (oblations) being poured all the way to you (rivers), along with reverences. Take pleasure in the praise, Sarasvati. 
Being set in your dearest shelter, may we stand nearby it like a sheltering tree. 

6. And this Vasiṣṭha here has opened up the doors of truth for you, well-portioned Sarasvati. 
Strengthen, resplendent one; grant prizes to the praiser. – Do you protect us always with your blessings.

In the post-Vedic period, new attributes got added to Sarasvati and she became the multitalented goddess of wisdom and patroness of arts.

(Translations of the Rig Veda hymns by Stephanie W. Jamison and Joel P. Brereton, OUP, 2014)

Alexander and the Indian Philosophers

The story of Alexander’s encounter with a group of fifteen Indian philosophers (described by Plutarch in his Lives of Noble Grecians and Romans – the Life of Alexander, 64) is definitely a historical fact because it was recorded by a man who was present at the scene, Onesicritus, the Cynic philosopher who had accompanied Alexander on his campaign in Asia. Probably with the help of interpreters, Alexander asked the Indian philosophers a series of questions, which were essentially difficult riddles whose answers had to be ambiguous. Here’s an excerpt from Plutarch’s description of the encounter: 

“He [Alexander] captured ten of the gymnosophists who had done most to get Sabbas to revolt, and had made the most trouble for the Macedonians. These philosophers were reputed to be clever and concise in answering questions, and Alexander therefore put difficult questions to them, declaring that he would put to death him who first made an incorrect answer, and then the rest, in an order determined in like manner; and he commanded one of them, the oldest, to be the judge in the contest. The first one, accordingly, being asked which, in his opinion, were more numerous, the living or the dead, said that the living were, since the dead no longer existed. The second, being asked whether the earth or the sea produced larger animals, said the earth did, since the sea was but a part of the earth. The third, being asked what animal was the most cunning, said: "That which up to this time man has not discovered." The fourth, when asked why he had induced Sabbas to revolt, replied: "Because I wished him either to die nobly or live." The fifth, being asked which, in his opinion, was older, day or night, replied: "Day, by one day"; and he added, upon the king expressing dissatisfaction, that unusual questions must have unusual answers. Passing on, then, to the sixth, Alexander asked how a man could be most loved; "If," said the philosopher, "he is most powerful, and yet does not inspire fear." Of the three remaining, he who was asked how one might become a god instead of man, replied: "By doing something which a man cannot do"; the one who was asked which was the stronger, life or death, answered: "Life, since it supports so many ills." And the last, asked how long it were well for a man to live, answered: "Until he does not regard death as better than life." So, then, turning to the judge, Alexander bade him give his opinion. The judge declared that they had answered one worse than another. "Well, then," said Alexander, "thou shalt die first for giving such a verdict." "That cannot be, O King," said the judge, "unless thou falsely saidst that thou wouldst put to death first him who answered worst." These philosophers, then, he dismissed with gifts.”

The dialogue between Alexander and the Indian philosophers is called Cynic in Greek and Roman tradition because the Cynic philosopher Onesicritus recorded it. Onesicritus believed that the Indian philosophers epitomized Cynic values because they practiced extreme asceticism—they lived naked and claimed to own nothing except the ground on which they stood. Diogenes Laërtius, the third century Greek philosopher, notes in his Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers that the great skeptic philosopher Pyrrho of Ellis was inspired by Indian thought while he was in India with Alexander, and this caused him to imitate their lifestyle and method of philosophizing after he made his way back to Ellis.

Here’s a brief account of Alexander’s foray into India: He invaded India in 326 BCE and defeated King Porus in the Battle of the Hydaspes on the banks of the Jhelum River. But to go deeper into India, he would have had to declare war on the Nanda empire—according to Plutarch, the encounter with Porus who had “only twenty thousand infantry and two thousand horse” had blunted the spirits of Alexander’s troops and they mutinied at the prospect of encounter with the Nanda empire which reportedly had “eighty-thousand horsemen, two hundred thousand footmen, eight thousand chariots, and six thousand fighting elephants.” Alexander was ultimately convinced by his advisors that he should withdraw from India since his troops were not willing to fight a major battle.

Friday, November 13, 2020

The Riddle of the Rig Veda and the Sphinx

On his journey between Thebes and Delphi, Oedipus encounters the Sphinx—in order to pass, he must answer the Sphinx’s riddle: "What walks on four feet in the morning, two in the afternoon and three at night?". Oedipus’s answer is: "Man: as an infant, he crawls on all fours; as an adult, he walks on two legs and; in old age, he uses a walking stick". 

In the Rig Veda, a riddle similar to the one posed by the Sphinx can be found in the verse 10.117.8:  “He with one foot hath far outrun the biped, and the two-footed catches the three-footed. Four-footed creatures come when bipeds call them, and stand and look where five are met together.”

This verse preaches that quantity is not the measure of power and effectiveness, because the more feet an entity has, the less autonomous and effective it is. The one-footed in the verse is the sun; the two-footed is a man; the three-footed is an old man who walks with the help of a stick; the four-footed is a dog; and the five-footed are the herds.

Vajasaneyi Samhita: Metaphysical and Theological Riddles

The Vajasaneyi Samhita of the Shukla Yajurveda contains several question-and-answer sessions among the priests in which metaphysical and theological riddles are indicated. Here’s one session in which the priest who is the hotr (the one who recites the invocations and litanies during the yajna) asks:

Who wonders lonely on his way?
Who is constantly born anew?
What is the remedy for cold?
What is the great corn vessel called?

The priest who is the adhvaryu (the one who manages the physical details of the yajna) replies:

The sun wanders lonely on its way,
The moon is constantly born anew,
Fire is the remedy for cold,
The earth is the great grain-vessel. 

The Vedic sage Yajnavalkya (who is dated between the 8th century BCE and 7th century BCE) is the founder of the Vajasaneyi branch. The word “Vajasaneyi” is a patronymic of Yajnavalkya.

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Civilization to Barbarism

“I want to know what were the steps by which men passed from barbarism to civilization.” ~ Voltaire 
I believe that it would also be interesting to know what were the steps by which men pass from civilization to barbarism.

The Vedic Prayers for Power

Health, happiness, prosperity, and strength are the chief concerns of the Vedic sages. The four Vedas contain several hymns which depict the gods and humans regaining their powers through the chanting of hymns. The Yajur Veda begins with a hymn which is a prayer for health, happiness, prosperity, and strength. Here’s A. B. Keith’s translation of the verse 1.1.1 of the Yajur Veda:

For food thee, for strength thee!
Ye are winds, ye are approachers.
Let the god Savitr impel you to the most excellent offering.
O invincible ones, swell with the share for the gods,
Full of strength, of milk, rich in offspring, free from sickness, from disease.
Let no thief, no evil worker, have control over you.
Let Rudra's dart avoid you.
Abide ye, numerous, with this lord of cattle.
Do thou protect the cattle of the sacrificer.

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

The Anti-Communism of Ralph Ellison

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

Chandogya Upaniṣad On Mind and Will

The Chandogya Upaniṣad has an account of a conversation between Narada and Sanatkumara—they discuss several philosophical and religious problems, including the problem of difference between mind and will. Here’s a brief excerpt:

Narada: “Blessed one, is there anything greater than mind.”

Sanatkumara: “There is something greater than mind.”

Narada: “Tell me about it, blessed one.”

Sanatkumara: “Will (samkalpa) is greater than mind. When one wills (samkalpayate), one thinks; then one utters speech-one utters it as names. In name the mantras become one, and in the mantras actions become one.

“These have will as their sole end, will as their self, and are established on will. Sky and earth have been formed (sam-klp-); air and space have been formed; the waters and heat have been formed, and rain is formed according to their will (samklpti). Food is formed according to the will of rain. The breaths are formed according to the will of food. The mantras are formed according to the will of the breaths. Actions are formed according to the will of the mantras. The world is formed according to the will of the actions. Everything is formed according to the will of the world. This is will. Worship will.”

(Translation by Valerie Roebuck)

Monday, November 9, 2020

Four Qualities of the Seekers of Brahman

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

On the Irrational Politics of the Libertarians

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 Great American Robbery

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

On Hegel’s Philosophy of History

In his Lectures on the Philosophy of History, Hegel says that world history is the history of reason. To an unphilosophical eye, history might create the impression of chaotic situations, irrational surges of emotion, mindless violence, and chance events, but a philosopher is capable of discerning the rational design towards which the disjointed and senseless events of the past are driving humanity. The purpose of history is not to satisfy desires and spread happiness. Hegel writes: “The History of the World is not the theatre of happiness. Periods of happiness are blank pages in it, for they are periods of harmony—periods when the antithesis is in abeyance.” The suffering, the chaos, the trauma, and the oppression that human beings undergo is for the purpose of fulfilling the design of the universal spirit. “That is to say, man is an object of existence in himself only in virtue of the Divine that is in him, — that which was designated at the outset as Reason; which, in view of its activity and power of self-determination, was called Freedom.” Human beings cannot defy the march of world history in which reason is immanent because the claim of the universal spirit rises above all the particular claims.

The Upaniṣads On Human Senses

The human senses are described in several verses in the Upaniṣads; most of these verses say that there are eleven senses, known as indriya, but some verses take the number of senses up to fourteen. The five principle senses of perception are known as buddhindriyani or jnanendriyani, because they are used to control the buddhi or higher intelligence—they are: eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and skin. Then there are the five senses of karma or action, known as karmendriyani: larynx, hand, foot, and organs of elimination and generation. The eleventh sense is the manas or mind, which serves as the bridge between the other senses and the atman or soul. The three more senses that are mentioned in some of the verses are the inner senses, which are known as the antarindriyani: manas, buddhi, ahamkara (ego), and chitta (consciousness). In each individual, the operation of the eleven to fourteen senses (indriya) is managed by a particular deity.

Friday, October 30, 2020

Personal Freedom and God

The stoics of Ancient Rome believed that they were personally free even though their every action conformed to god’s will. In his Moral Letters to Lucilius, the Roman politician and stoic philosopher, Seneca writes, “I do not obey God, but I assent to what he has decided.” Since god is rational, the stoics believed, the actions of those who follow god are in accordance to reason.

A Perfect Man is an Impossibility

Ayn Rand preached that contradictions do not exist, but she based her philosophy on the notion of the prefect man being the fountainhead of all progress. A perfect man is a contradiction in terms—as Eliezer Berkovits notes in his essay, “God in History”: “Why ask for continuous miracles to rectify what goes wrong in the world? Would it not be simpler to ask for the creation of a perfect man, who would be so endowed by nature as to be incapable of committing any evil? The answer, of course, is even simpler than the question is naive. A perfect man is, in this sense, a contradiction in terms; it is an impossibility. A man incapable of doing wrong would not be human. The imperfection of human nature is inseparable from its most significant asset: Its potential for goodness, its capacity for responsible decision and action.” Berkovits is making a good point. Unless a man has the capacity to be wrong, he cannot have the potential to be right; a man who is so prefect that he never makes any mistakes, cannot do anything right, which means that he won’t be perfect—thus the concept of perfect man is a contradiction.

Thursday, October 29, 2020

The Words of Krishna and Yama

What Krishna says to Arjuna in the verse 2.19 of the Bhagavad Gita, when both of them are at the battlefield of Kurukshetra, is very close to what Yama, the God of Death, says in the verse 2.19 of the Katha Upaniṣad

Here’s the verse 2.19 of the Bhagavad Gita:

य एनं वेत्ति हन्तारं यश्चैनं मन्यते हतम् |
उभौ तौ न विजानीतो नायं हन्ति न हन्यते ||

(Neither of them is in knowledge—the one who thinks the soul can slay and the one who thinks the soul can be slain. For truly, the soul neither kills nor can it be killed.)

Here’s Valerie Roebuck’s translation of verse 2.19 from the Katha Upaniṣad:

‘If the slayer thinks it slays;
If the one who is slain thinks it is slain:
Neither of them understands.
It does not slay, nor is it slain.

Taking inspiration from these verses in the Bhagavad Gita and Katha Upaniṣad, Ralph Waldo Emerson has written a poem called "Brahma":

If the red slayer think he slays,
Or if the slain think he is slain,
They know not well the subtle ways
I keep, and pass, and turn again.

Far or forgot to me is near;
Shadow and sunlight are the same;
The vanished gods to me appear;
And one to me are shame and fame.

They reckon ill who leave me out;
When me they fly, I am the wings;
I am the doubter and the doubt,
I am the hymn the Brahmin sings.

The strong gods pine for my abode,
And pine in vain the sacred Seven;
But thou, meek lover of the good!
Find me, and turn thy back on heaven.

History is Collectivist

History is not made by individuals; it’s made by collectives which are brought together by the forces of religion, mythology, nationalism, economic incentives and upheavals, political agenda, ideology, technological and militaristic expansions, as well as the fears, prejudices, and hatreds of a people. If any issue, irrespective of whether it's moral or immoral, does not gather the support of a collective, it will not make history and will have no impact on mankind’s future.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Reason Does Not Inspire Morality

Pure reason is not practical—this means that a system of morality based on rational principles will not find adherents. Reason might lead to material progress, but it will never lead to moral progress; a man of reason is often as nihilistic as a man lacking in reason. To inspire people to be moral, incentives other than reason are required but the nature of these incentives is not clear—is it mythology, religion, good genes, good upbringing, awareness of an illustrious intellectual and political tradition, political liberty, or is it something else? In his book God, Man and History, Eliezer Berkovits writes, “The evil done by the power that knowledge provides, has always eclipsed the good done by the same power. Notwithstanding enlightenment, man seems to remain an essentially unethical being.”

The Upaniṣads on Kantian Moral Autonomy

Kant believed that the central moral value for an individual is autonomy—an individual is autonomous if he can give moral law to himself and does not have to make his choices on the basis of the injunctions of others. Something similar to the Kantian idea of autonomy is expressed in several verses in the Upaniṣads. For instance, the verse 7.25.2 in the Chandogya Upaniṣad says: 

“'Hence the symbolic statement on "self": "The self is below, the self is above, the self is in the west, the self is in the east, the self is in the south, the self is in the north. The self is all this." Seeing this, thinking this, knowing this-taking pleasure in the self, playing in the self, making love with the self, delighting in the self-one becomes one's own ruler, and wins freedom to move in all worlds. But those who know it in other ways are ruled by others, live in perishable worlds, and win no freedom to move in all worlds.”

The verse 1.6.2 in the Taittirīya Upaniṣad says: 

“as SUVAH in the sun, as MAHAH in brahman. He wins independence, he wins the lord of the mind: he is lord of speech, lord of the eye, lord of the ear, lord of knowledge. From that comes this: brahman, with space as its body, truth as its self, breath as its dwelling, mind as its joy, pervaded by peace, immortal. Worship it as such, Pracinayogya.”

The verse 3.10.5 in the Taittirīya Upaniṣad notes that when a man with rational mind has unhindered liberty, he can attain perfect bliss:

“And the one who leaves this world knowing this goes up to the self made of food, goes up to the self made of breath, goes up to the self made of mind, goes up to the self made of knowledge, goes up to the self made of joy. He moves about the worlds, with food at his desire, with forms at his desire. He continually sings this saman: ‘Oh, bliss ... ! Oh, bliss . . . ! Oh, bliss . . . ! I am food, I am food, I am food. I am the eater of food. I am the eater of food. I am the eater of food. I am the maker of verse. I am the maker of verse. I am the maker of verse. I am the first-born of law . . ., before the gods, in the navel . . . of immortality. You protect . . . the one who gives to me. I eat . . . food and the one who eats food. I have overcome the whole universe. I am light like the sun.’"

The verse 8.1.6 in the Chandogya Upaniṣad notes that without knowledge of the self, freedom and bliss cannot be achieved:

“Just as here worlds won through action perish, there worlds won through merit perish. While those here who pass on without having known the self and the true desires do not gain freedom to move in all worlds, those here who pass on having known the self and the true desires do gain freedom to move in all worlds.”

(Translations from The Upaniṣads by Valerie Roebuck; Penguin Books)

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Plato and the Roman Stoics

The stoics in Ancient Rome looked at Plato as a divine philosopher. In De Natura Deorum (On the Nature of the Gods), Cicero introduces a character called Quintus Lucilius Balbus who is comparable to the best Greek philosopher and is a staunch stoic. Balbus accepts the authority of “Plato, that divine philosopher…” But Cicero was not looking at the Plato of the Republic and the Phaedo—for him, Plato was a philosopher of ethics and cosmology. The Timaeus, an early dialogue in which Plato presents an account of the formation of the universe and explanation of its order and beauty, was a great inspiration for the stoic thinkers of Ancient Rome. The Epicurean character in De Natura Deorum, Gaius Velleius, tauntingly points out to the Stoics that Plato is their master.

Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad on the Noumenal Universe

The earliest Veda, the Rigveda, presents a metaphysics that in our time we will understand as naive realism or commonsense realism. But the metaphysics of the Upaniṣads is much more diversified—along with naive realism, idealism, and skepticism, the Upaniṣads have verses that make references to concepts similar to the Platonic Forms and the Kantian noumena. For instance, there are verses in the Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad which reject any attempt to investigate the noumenal universe through characteristics of the phenomenal universe—it theorizes in three verses (verse 2. 3. 6, verse 3.9. 26, and verse 4.2.4) that the noumenal nature of the universe cannot be defined by any characteristic of the phenomenal universe and that the noumena can be recognized only in terms of negative definition: “Neti, neti” (Not thus! not so!).

Monday, October 26, 2020

The Roots of Ancient Greek Culture

"What is Plato but Moses speaking Attic Greek?” — this is the famous statement of Numenius, the second century CE Greek philosopher who lived in the Roman City of Apamea. Around three centuries before Numenius, Aristobulus (181–124 B.C.E.), the Hellenistic Jewish philosopher of the Peripatetic school who lived in Alexandria, argued that the essentials of Greek philosophy and mythology were derived from Jewish and other ancient resources. He held that not only Plato and Aristotle but also the oldest Greek thinkers like Homer, Hesiod, and Orpheus owed an intellectual debt to Judaism and other ancient cultures. There are lot of parallels in the philosophical and mythological musings of Judaism, Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, and the ancient Egyptians—these four civilizations evolved between 3000 and 4000 years ago—and they must have influenced each other and the Ancient Greeks. Numenius and Aristobulus devoted their life to finding the connection between the Ancient Greek thought and the philosophy and mythology developed by the Brahmins, Jews, Magi, and Egyptians.

The Individual Soul and Universal Soul

The ultimate exhortation of the Upaniṣads is that man should seek to unite his soul or mind with the universal soul, the Brahman (the undivided, timeless, and motionless living principle that is the author of the universe). Here are two verses (verse 2.2.3 and 2.2.4) from the Mundaka Upanisad  (translation by Valerie Roebuck):

Seize as your bow the great weapon of the Upaniṣad,
And set in it an arrow sharpened by contemplation.
Draw it with a mind that has attained the nature of that.
The target is imperishable: pierce that. 

The OM (pranava) is the bow, the arrow the self:
Brahman is its target, it is said.
It must be pierced by one who is not careless:
So, like the arrow, one will become of a kid with it.

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Yājñavalkya and Xenophanes on God

Aristotle notes in his Metaphysics that Xenophanes, the founder of the Eleatic school of philosophy and teacher of Parmenides, did some cosmological theorizing and reached the conclusion that “The One is God”—the God of Xenophanes has no eyes, no ears, and no brains, but all of him sees, all of him hears, all of him thinks, and he acts without toil. In the Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad, which is placed in the eighth or seventh centuries B.C.E., Yājñavalkya, in response to a question from Uddalaka Aruni, defines the Brahman (the One who is the creator of the universe) in these words: “It is the unseen seer, the unheard hearer, the unthought-of thinker, the unknown knower. Other than this there is no seer; other than this there is no hearer; other than this there is no thinker; other than this there is no knowledge.” (Verse 3.7.23; translation by Valerie Roebuck.)

The Quest for Truth in the Upaniṣads

The earnestness with which the Upaniṣads quest for truth is evident in these terse lines from the Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad (verse 1.3.28):

From the unreal lead me to the real. 
From darkness lead me to light. 
From death lead me to immortality.

Argumentation was the preferred means of questing for truth for the Vedic thinkers. When their arguments proved inadequate, they would revise their ideas—but this method has ensured that the material in the Upaniṣads is diverse, unsystematic, and rife with contradictory philosophical opinions. The Upaniṣads cannot be reduced into a single philosophical system.

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Stoicism: The Religion of Educated Men

In Ancient Rome, Stoicism was regarded as the religion of educated men. The stoics believed that though men were not perfect, like the gods, they had the potential to be perfected. In his Epistulae Morales ad Lucilium (Moral Letters to Lucilius), the Roman politician and stoic philosopher, Seneca writes, “But some say: ‘Only to the immortal gods is given virtue and the happy life; we can attain but the shadow, as it were, and semblance of such goods as theirs. We approach them, but we never reach them.’ Reason, however, is a common attribute of both gods and men; in the gods it is already perfected, in us it is capable of being perfected.” Stoicism is the world’s longest lasting philosophical and moral movement—it was founded by Zeno of Citium in the third century B.C.E, and it continues to be a major force till this day.

The Four Mahavakyas of the Upaniṣads

There are thirteen principal Upaniṣads—to understand their teachings one should begin with the four Mahavakyas (the Great Sayings):

1. Prajnanam Brahma (प्रज्ञानम् ब्रह्म) — “Pure Consciousness is Brahman" or "Brahman is insight” (Aitareya Upaniṣad, verse 3.3)

2. Tat Tvam Asi (तत् त्वम् असि) — “You are that” or “You are the existent” (Chāndogya Upaniṣad, verse 6.8.7)

3. Ayam Atma Brahma (अयम् आत्मा ब्रह्म) — "This Self (Atman or soul) is Brahman" (Māṇḍūkya Upaniṣad, verse 1.2)

4. Aham Brahma Asmi (अहम् ब्रह्मास्मि) - "I am Brahman" (Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad, verse 1.4.10)

The traditional way of teaching the essence of the Upaniṣads to new students is through these four Mahavakyas.

Friday, October 23, 2020

The Debate Between Gargya and Ajatasatru

In the Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad (Book Two), the story of a debate between Gargya Balaki, the renowned philosopher, and Ajatasatru, the King of Kasi, serves as a medium to deliver the philosophical lesson that there are certain fundamental questions in philosophy for which the human mind can never find the answers—the most critical of these fundamental questions being: “What is the nature of the universe?” Here’s a summarized version of the story: 

One day Gargya Balaki arrives before King Ajatasatru and says, “O King, I wish to teach you about the Brahman [the One who is the author of the universe].” Pleased at the prospect of learning something new about the Brahman, Ajatasatru replies, “I will give you a thousand cows for such a teaching.” The first explanation that Gargya offers is: “I revere as the Brahman the person in the sun.” Unimpressed by the argument, Ajatasatru replies, “Don’t talk to me about such a Brahman.” Then Gargya says, “I revere the person in the moon as the Brahman.” Ajatasatru finds this argument inadequate—the One who is the author of the universe has to be greater than the sun and the moon. Gargya then says that he reveres as the Brahman the person in the lightening—once again, Ajatasatru finds the statement inadequate. The conversation between the philosopher and the king goes on, with Gargya offering several new explanations of the Brahman: as the person in space, as the person in the wind, as the person in the fire, as the person in the waters, as the person in the mirrors, as the person in the directions, as the person in the shadows, as the person in the body [atman]—but all these explanations do not satisfy Ajatasatru. Having run out of explanations, Gargya asks Ajatasatru to take him as his student and teach him about the Brahman. Ajatasatru notes that it’s against the existing order of things for a king to be the teacher of a great philosopher, but he goes on to give his view of the Brahman—the concluding part of his statement, in the verse 2.1.20 of Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad, is of great interest. Here’s Valerie Roebuck’s translation of the verse 2.1.20: 

‘As a spider moves along its thread, as small sparks fly up from a fire, so all breaths, all worlds, all gods, all is “the truth of the truth”: the breaths are the truth, and it is the truth of them.’

Ajatasatru made a great advancement in philosophical thinking by finding inadequacy in Gargya’s every explanation of the Brahman—he formulated the philosophical view that was little known in his time: that the ultimate nature of the universe is unknowable to man. Most scholars believe that the debate between Gargya and Ajatasatru happened in the ninth century B.C.E.

The Ancient Roots of Modern Philosophy

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

The Universe and the Great Soul

In Plato’s dialogue the Timaeus, the title character Timaeus of Locri gives a long speech in which he speculates about how the universe, which is as good as possible, got created by a benevolent Demiurge. Timaeus says: “…we may say that the world became a living creature truly endowed with soul and intelligence by the providence of God.” The conception of the world as a living creature with divine soul and intelligence probably originated between the fifteenth and ninth centuries B.C.E.—the Rigveda has several hymns which proclaim that the universe is a manifestation of the One, the omnipotent and omnipresent Paramatman, who is the great soul and living principle, that is the undivided, timeless, and motionless author of everything. The hymn 72 in Mandala 10 talks about the birth of the gods and the heavenly bodies of the universe from the One (translations by Stephanie W. Jamison and Joel P. Brereton, OUP, 2014):  

1. Now amid acclaim we will proclaim the births of the gods,
so that one in a later generation will see (them) as the hymns are recited. 

2. The Lord of the Sacred Formulation [=Bṛhaspati] smelted these (births) like a smith.
In the ancient generation of the gods, what exists was born from what does not exist.

3. In the first generation of the gods, what exists was born from what does not exist.
The regions of space were born following that (which exists)—that (which exists) was born from the one whose feet were opened up.

4. The earth was born from the one whose feet were opened up; from the earth the regions of space were born.
From Aditi, Dakṣa was born, and from Dakṣa, Aditi.

5. Because Aditi was born—she who is your daughter, o Dakṣa— following her, the gods were born, the auspicious kin of the immortal one.

6. When, o gods, well clasped to one another, you stood there in the ocean, then the bitter dust [=spray] dispersed from you, like (the dust [=sweat?]) of those dancing.

7. When, o gods, just as the Yatis did, you swelled the living worlds, then you brought here the sun, which was hidden in the sea.

8. Eight are the sons of Aditi, which were born from her body. 
With seven she went forth to the gods. She cast away the one stemming from a dead egg.

9. With seven sons Aditi went forth to the ancient generation.
For procreation but also for death, she brought here again the one stemming from a dead egg.

Monism is also apparent in the verse 46 of hymn 164 in Mandala 1:

They say it is Indra, Mitra, Varuṇa, and Agni, and also it is the winged, well-feathered (bird) of heaven [=the Sun].
Though it is One, inspired poets speak of it in many ways. They say it is Agni, Yama, and Mātariśvan.

Kena Upaniṣad: The Gods and “The One”

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

Chāndogya Upaniṣad: The Creation of the Universe

The hymn 3.19 of the Chāndogya Upaniṣad posits that the creation of the universe happened through a cosmic egg which materialized in the nothingness of the cosmic waters. Here’s Valerie Roebuck’s translation of the first two verses of this hymn:

1. The sun is the brahman: this is the symbolic statement. To explain further: in the beginning this was not-being. That was being; it came into existence; it turned into an egg. It lay for the space of a year, then cracked open. The two halves of the egg-shell became gold and silver. 
2. What was the silver half is this earth, and what was the gold half is the sky. What was the chorion is the mountains, and what was the amnion is the mist with the clouds. What were the blood-vessels are the rivers, and what was the amniotic fluid is the sea. 

In the hymn 6.2, the Chāndogya Upaniṣad deals with the problem of how “being” could emerge from “nothingness” or “non-being”. The arguments are being provided by Sage Uddalaka Aruni to his son, a young lad called Svetaketu. Uddalaka says: 

1. ‘In the beginning, good lad, this was being, one alone without a second. Some say, “In the beginning this was non-being, one alone without a second. From that non-being, being was produced.”
2. ‘But, good lad, how could that be?’ he said. ‘How could being be produced from non-being? In the beginning, good lad, surely this was being, one alone without a second.
3. ‘It thought, “Let me become many; let me be born.” It created heat. Heat thought, “Let me become many; let me be born.” It created the waters. So when and wherever a person grieves or sweats, the waters are born from heat. 
4. ‘The waters thought, “Let us become many; let us be born.” They created food. So when and whenever it rains food becomes more abundant. So good food is born from the waters. 

The enigmatic conversation on various aspects of creation continues between Uddalaka and his son Svetaketu in the hymns that follow. The father and son are also present in the Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad in which Uddalaka provides his philosophical insights on several issues.

On Prehistoric Philosophy

What is the meaning of life? What are the great unseen powers behind the universe? How did life on earth originate? What is the moral way of life? The consideration of these mighty problems did not begin with modern philosophy, nor did it begin with medieval and ancient philosophies—the serious and thoughtful among the prehistory and pre-philosophy men, between 3000 years and 5000 years ago, betook on themselves to quest for the answers. As they could not find the convincing answers, these fundamental questions got passed from generation to generation and finally they fell into the lap of Ancient Philosophy, which was born in a remarkable period of philosophical achievement, between the seventh and fifth centuries B.C.E., when there was rise of the first philosophers of humanity in different parts of the world—Pythagoras, Thales, Parmenides, and Heraclitus in Ancient Greece; Buddhism, Jainism, and schools like Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Samkhya, Yoga, Mīmāṃsā and Vedanta in India; Zoroastrianism in Iran; and Taoism and Confucianism in China. 

The Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad, which is clearly a prehistory and pre-philosophy text, begins with these questions (hymn 1.1; translation by Valerie Roebuck):

Om. Scholars of brahman say:
What is the cause—brahman? From what were we born?
By what do we live? And on what are we based?
Ruled by what do we follow our course
In joys and their opposite, you knowers of brahman?

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.”