In philosophy, science, and politics there is no dearth of dead ends. Civilizations march for centuries with certain philosophical, scientific, and political conceptions, but eventually their culture becomes decadent and obsolete and they face a stark choice—either they forge ahead with new insights or they die. History of the successful civilizations tells us that their fundamental conceptions are constantly in a state of flux; in every three to four centuries, they experience an intellectual revolution, which is coterminous with a political revolution, and there is a total transformation in their philosophy, science, and politics. The ability to split the shell of past conceptions, like a butterfly splitting its pupa, and emerge into the world in a new avatar is a trait of the successful civilizations.
Wednesday, September 30, 2020
The Vedic sense of life was positive—the Vedic philosophers were questing for not just liberation but for ways of achieving virtue, happiness, and fulfillment in one’s lifetime. In her book The Rig Veda, Wendy Doniger begins the chapter, “Realia,” with these lines: “The Rig Veda is a sacred book, but it is a very worldly sacred book. Nowhere can we find the tiniest suspicion of a wish to renounce the material world in favor of some spiritual quest; religion is the handmaiden of worldly life. The gods are invoked to give the worshipper the things he wants—health, wealth, long life and progeny. That is not to say that there is anything superficial about Vedic religious concerns, but merely that these meditations stem from a life-affirming, joyous celebration of human existence.”
Tuesday, September 29, 2020
The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, which is believed by scholars to have been composed in the eighth or seventh centuries B.C., and is traditionally attributed to the Hindu Vedic philosopher Yajnavalkya, has a discussion of the concept of infinity. Here’s a hymn in which infinity is being discussed:
पूर्णमदः पूर्णमिदं पूर्णात् पूर्णमुदच्यते ।
पूर्णस्य पूर्णमादाय पूर्णमेवावशिष्यते ॥
(purnam adah, purnam idam purnat purnam udachyate; purnasya purnam adaya purnam evavasisyate.)
Translation: “Fullness is there, fullness is here, fullness from fullness proceeds; when fullness is taken from fullness, fullness remains.” When infinity is taken out of infinity, infinity is what remains.
Those who composed this hymn were comfortable with the concept of very large numbers which verge on infinity. There can be a religious interpretation of this hymn: god is infinite, a part of god has gone into the creation of the material world, but because of that god has not become less, he is still infinite. The Vedas and other ancient Hindu texts use several terms to depict the concept of infinity.
The Gayatri Mantra occurs in the early section of the Rigveda (Mandala 3.62.10). So it must have been composed between 900 B.C. and 1200 B.C. This means that the hymn is more than 3000 years old. Millions of people recite the Gayatri Mantra at sunrise and sunset. They are convinced that this hymn represents the essence of the Vedas. It is not clear why the Gayatri Mantra continues to be so popular. This is the only hymn whose recitation has been widespread for more than 3000 years:
ॐ भूर् भुवः स्वः ।
भर्गो॑ देवस्य धीमहि ।
धियो यो नः प्रचोदयात् ॥
(Oṃ bhūr bhuvaḥ svaḥ
tat savitur vareṇyaṃ
bhargo devasya dhīmahi
dhiyo yo naḥ pracodayāt) ~Rigveda 3.62.10
The hymn is dedicated to Saraswati, the goddess of learning. Since it is recited at sunrise or sunset, it is clearly linked to the sun—the word “Savitur” means the driving force behind the sun and not exactly the sun, who is known as Surya. Gayatri refers to the name of the goddess of the Vedic mantra in which the hymn is composed. Tradition holds sage Vishvamitra as the hymn’s composer. The Gayatri Mantra is widely cited in Vedic and post-Vedic literature such as Bhagavad Gita, Harivamsa, and Manusmṛti.
Monday, September 28, 2020
The texts of Dharmaśāstra (treatises on Dharma, or moral and pious way of life) were composed in the second century B.C., on the basis of Dharmasūtra texts which emerged from the Kalpa (Vedanga) expositions of the four Vedas (Rig, Yajur, Sāma, and Atharva) during the Vedic age. It’s not clear how many Dharmaśāstra texts were composed in the second century B.C.—modern scholars estimate their number between eighteen and hundred, but only four texts, which include the sutras of Apastamba, Gautama, Baudhayana, and Vasistha are extant.
The Dharmaśāstra acquired political significance in the eighteenth century, when the colonial administrators of the East India Company passed an order making this text the law of the land for all Hindus in India. In 1772, Governor General Warren Hastings expressed the system of personal law for India in these words: “That in all suits regarding inheritance, marriage, caste and other religious usages or institutions, the law of the Koran with respect to Mohammedans, and those of the Shaster [Dharmaśāstra] with respect to Hindus shall be invariably be adhered to.”
The Sanskrit scholar Pandurang Vaman Kane (7 May 1880 – 8 May 1972) spent a significant part of his life researching the evolution of ethical, legal, and religious norms in ancient India—he examined the four extant Dharmaśāstra texts, and other ancient texts such as the Mahabharata, the Puranas, the Arthashastra. and the Manusmṛiti and produced his magnum opus, a five volume work, consisting of around 6,500 pages, the History of Dharmaśāstra, subtitled Ancient and Mediaeval Religions and Civil Law in India. The first volume of Kane's work was published in 1930 and the fifth in 1962.
Kane believed that a constitution inspired from the code of conduct described in the ancient texts is necessary to make people aware of their ethical responsibilities.
I have drawn two inferences from my reading of modern and ancient philosophy: first, there is no reason to believe that the moderns are better philosophers than the ancients; second, there is no reason to believe that the moderns are smarter and wiser than the ancients. Philosophy has made little progress in the last 3000 years—the progress that mankind has made is largely due to the advancements in science, economics, language, and militaristic and exploratory ventures.
Sunday, September 27, 2020
Heinrich Julius Eggeling, professor of Sanskrit at the University of Edinburgh from 1875 to 1914, spent a significant part of his life translating the Satapatha Brahmana. His translation, published in five volumes between 1882 and 1897, is still in print, and scholars continue to refer to it in their discussions of the Satapatha Brahmana. Each of the four Vedas has four subdivisions: the Samhitas (mantras and benedictions); the Aranyakas (explanation of the rituals, ceremonies, and sacrifices); the Brahmanas (commentaries on rituals, ceremonies, and sacrifices); the Upanishads (discussion of meditation, philosophy, and spirituality). The Satapatha Brahmana, the largest and most systematic Brahmana, is attached to the Yajurveda, and between the seventh and fourth centuries B.C., it played a role in the rise of Vaishnavism which is popular till this day.
Saturday, September 26, 2020
The horses in Indus Valley Civilization had started drawing wheeled carts around the twentieth century B.C. By the thirteenth century B.C., when the Indus Valley Civilization got supplanted by the Vedic Civilization, the advanced chariots, which were equipped with spoked wheels, had replaced the carts with solid wheels. The Rigveda contains 792 references to the word “asva” (horse) and around the same number of references to the word “ratha” (chariot).
The building of the chariots required great craftsmanship and the Taittirīya Brāhmaṇa and other ancient Hindu texts talk about the talented Rathakaras (the chariot makers) who enjoy high social status. In some instances, the gods themselves intervene to create race-winning chariots. The Rigveda tells the story of an old sage Mudgala who owns a rickety cart but dreams of winning a prestigious chariot race. He beseeches the lord of the gods, Indra, to transform his cart into a chariot. Indra does the needful, and Mudgala, with his young wife as his charioteer, manages to win the race and gets the prize of eleven hundred cows.
The gods travel through the infinite universe on divine chariots drawn by horses which never tire. The Rigveda contains several references to the divine twins, the Asvins, who have the power to bring the dead back to life; they travel across the universe in their divine horse-drawn chariot and provide succor to the pious. The Asvins are also featured in the epic Mahabharata—King Pandu’s wife Madri is granted a son by each Asvin; the sons are Nakula and Sahadeva (who are known as the Pandavas).
The Vedas use the word “chakra” for the wheels of the chariots. But the word “chakra” is often combined by the Vedic sages with other words: with the word “kala” (time), they create the concept of “kalachakra” (the wheel of time); with “Vishnu” (god), they create the concept of “Vishnuchakra” (god’s disk); with “dharma” (Vedic or religious), they create the concept of “dharmachakra” (the wheel of dharma).
The six schools of philosophy in Hinduism have never outrightly rejected each other, even though for several millennia, they have been engaged in vigorous argumentation on fundamental issues. Soteriology is the major concern for the six schools but they have different areas of expertise: in Samkhya, the focus is on metaphysics; in Yoga, on praxis; in Mimamsa, on epistemology, interpretation of the Vedas for liberation, and ethics; in Vaiśeṣika, on metaphysics and naturalism; in Nyaya, on logic and epistemology; in Vedanta, on exegesis of the Upanishads for attainment of the knowledge of Brahman.
Friday, September 25, 2020
“Kant thought that men will surely return to Metaphysics as one returns to one's mistress after a quarrel,” writes Hannah Arendt in her book The Life of The Mind. Arendt is right; Kant’s motivation for writing the first Critique was to save metaphysics from Hume’s skepticism. In my opinion, Kant was overestimating the power of his own and Hume’s philosophical arguments—metaphysics is what it’s; it can never be destroyed or saved by philosophy.
The word “aryan” has acquired serious geopolitical ramifications in the last hundred years, but this word is probably derived from the words “arya’ and “anarya,” which occur frequently in all the four Vedas (and other ancient texts such as the Puranas, the Mahabharata). Since the first Veda, the Rigveda, is placed by scholars between the 12th and 5th centuries B.C., it might be inferred that the conception that an “aryan" is a better man originated in the Indian subcontinent. But no sense of racial and ethnic bias can be perceived in the Vedic usage of “arya’ and “anarya”—the two words are used to express moral, social, and spiritual status. An arya is a man who enjoys high social status because he is moral and spiritual. An anarya is a man who is immoral and unspiritual. The Rigveda contains discussion of several battles between kingdoms and clans, and the enemies are often referred to as “dasyu” (demon) and “dasa” (slave), but these two words are free of racial and ethnic prejudices. In many cases, the people who are described as “dasyu” and “dasa” are the progeny of the same parents or clans. For some reason, they became rebellious and were branded with the label of “dasyu” or “dasa”.
Thursday, September 24, 2020
There are two kinds of cultures: those that are designed for offense, innovation, and rapid progress, and those that are designed for defense, traditionalism, and maintaining social hierarchy. The West is a culture of the first kind and the Hindus are a culture of the second kind.
Wednesday, September 23, 2020
In philosophy, there are no facts—there are only positions. Bertrand Russell makes this argument in the Introduction to his book An Inquiry Into Meaning and Truth, “The observer, when he seems to himself to be observing a stone, is really, if physics is to be believed, observing the effects of the stone upon himself. Thus science seems to be at war with itself: when it most means to be objective, it finds itself plunged into subjectivity against its will. Naive realism leads to physics, and physics, if true, shows that naive realism is false. Therefore naive realism, if true, is false; therefore it is false.”
Tuesday, September 22, 2020
People belonging to civilizations which have vanished in the past are likely to make progress while those belonging to civilizations that have lasted for thousands of years are unlikely to make progress—Hegel makes this point in his work on history of philosophy, and he gives the example of the Persians and the Europeans as people whose civilization has vanished several times in the past, and the Chinese and Indians as people who, for several millennia, have lived in the same civilization. In Hegel’s view, the Persians and Europeans are historical people while the Chinese and Indians are unhistorical people, by which he means that they have no role to play in world history.
1. What we are directly aware of in our perception is the physical reality that exists independently of our awareness of it.
2. We see as well as touch physical objects, wholes, bodies, and their properties as well. But we see and touch wholes and substrata because they have parts and properties, but not necessarily because we see or touch these parts and properties. On the other hand, we do not, in the same sense, smell the flower, but only its fragrance, nor taste the sugar, but taste only its sweetness. Likewise, we do not hear the train, but only its whistle.
3. The whole is a distinct reality, created by the putting together of the parts, and yet distinct from those parts taken together. A substratum is likewise distinct from the properties it instantiates or the property-instantiations it contains.
4. Perceiving or seeing-that is knowing in the most direct sense, and there is no further basis or foundation or ground which is more indubitable or certain,.and from which such perceptual knowledge is derived or inferred.
5. This knowledge is not always verbalized, but it is verbalizable.
6. An analysis of perceptual illusion is possible without the assumption of sense data or sense-impressions intervening between the perceiver and the physical world.
7. Ordinary knowledge is neither self-revealing nor self-validating. For ‘a knows that p’ does not entail 'a knows that a knows that p'. A cognitive event may occur and pass away unnoticed or unperceived. We can neither recall it nor communicate it to others by using language unless we have first inwardly perceived it. This inward perceiving is called anuvyavasaya (inward perception). It is similar to our perception of pain or pleasure.
Monday, September 21, 2020
The early sections of the Rigveda, which modern scholars place between 900 BC and 1500 BC, describe the feats of a mythical being called Mātariśvan who brings fire, in the form of lightening, from afar, probably heaven, to the earth. But after arrival on earth, the fire disappears and Mātariśvan rediscovers it and brings it for safekeeping to the clan of Bhrigus who propagate the use of fire to all humanity. The later sections of the Rigveda identify Mātariśvan as Agni, the fire god. In several verses there is discussion of the miracle of fire being produced by rubbing wooden sticks. The Sanskrit name for the wooden sticks used to create fire is Pramantha.
In the preface to the second edition of his Critique of Pure Reason, Kant wrote: “I have therefore found it necessary to deny knowledge, in order to make room for faith.” Kant was committed to Newtonian science, he was not a skeptic or a religious rationalist. But he believed that knowledge is limited to the objects of possible experience and metaphysics (like theology) is a matter of faith. Kant is the right in treating metaphysics as a matter of faith. The theories of metaphysics cannot be proved or disproved by scientific experiments, and they cannot be established or refuted by philosophical arguments. Therefore, the belief in metaphysics has to be a matter of faith. In her book on Kant, The Life of the Mind, Hannah Arendt has given an explanation of Kant’s position. She writes, “Kant stated defensively that he had ‘found it necessary to deny knowledge, in order to make room for faith,’ but he had not made room for faith; he had made room for thought, and he had not 'denied knowledge' but separated knowledge from thinking."
Sunday, September 20, 2020
The debate between the disciples of Kant started in the late 1780s, while Kant was still in his prime. At times, Kant himself vigorously argued with his disciples. Here’s an exchange between the two Kantians—Reinhold and Maimon:
"All philosophy must begin with self-evident facts, and these are indemonstrable since they are the basis of all demonstration.” ~ Karl Leonhard Reinhold in a letter to Salomon Maimon (1791)
"Of course all philosophy must begin with self-evident facts, but the question is how we know the principle of consciousness expresses such a fact.” ~ Salomon Maimon in his reply to Karl Leonhard Reinhold (1791)
Saturday, September 19, 2020
The western nations have developed a morbid fear of failure. They have become obsessed with the notion that their civilization is failing and the collapse of their way of life is imminent. History tells us that when nations start fearing failure, they are doomed to fail.
Friday, September 18, 2020
The word “Veda” is derived from the Sanskrit root vid, to know. Three thousand years ago, the Vedas referred to the knowledge that was available to the people of that period. The Vedic teachers realized that the material world is not the creation of a conventional God but of an omnipotent and omnipresent author who is undivided, timeless, and motionless. They give this author the exalted title of Atman or Paramatman, the great soul, or living principle of the universe. Since the living principle cannot be grasped by the human mind, they preached that we must contemplate the finite portions of its infinite energy. That is what they were trying to do when they developed the Gods of natural phenomena: there are the Gods of sun, fire, wind, rain, and a multitude of other natural phenomena. But these Gods are a contemplation of the finite and comprehensible portions of the infinite Atman or Paramatman. Max Muller uses the term “henotheism” to describe the Vedic practice of contemplating the living principle in the form of multiple deities.
Thursday, September 17, 2020
The notion of aristocracy is derived from the ancient legends. The characters in Valmiki’s Ramayana, Vyasa’s Mahabharata, and Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey are aristocratic. The immortal gods and goddesses, the mortal kings and queens, and even the commoners, who populate these legends, are aware of the code of aristocracy and nobility.
Wednesday, September 16, 2020
If there is teleology in history, it is perceptible in retrospect. The cultural, political, and economic consequences, which seem inevitable several decades or centuries later, are invisible to the people who happen to be the central players in the political battles of a particular historical period. Edmund Burke said in 1770: “The generality of people are fifty years, at least, behindhand in their politics.”
Tuesday, September 15, 2020
“The Indian Empire was born like the child of an inexperienced unmarried girl, that is to say, without any design to found it, or even awareness that it could come into existence, or any admission of its legitimacy,” writes Nirad C. Chaudhuri in his book Clive of India. It is true that the British people (of the eighteenth century) were politically, intellectually, and morally unprepared for having a vast Empire in India. When the activities of the East India Company, whose mandate was limited to developing an infrastructure in India for carrying out a profitable trade, led to the rise of an Empire, the intellectual and political establishment in Britain reacted with great anger and hostility. The British anti-imperialistic attitude was born before the British Empire in India took its final shape. In his notes, written between 1841 and 1843, Alexis de Tocqueville says that the East India Company founded an Empire two-thirds the size of Alexander the Great’s conquests while going against the orders of the British government.
Why did providence send the British imperialists to India? This is the question that Bankim Chandra Chatterjee seeks to answer in his 1882 novel Ananda Math. He was a nationalist, often regarded as the founder of Hindu nationalism. But in his novel (and several of his essays), he asserts that the Hindus should refrain from fighting the British, who are doing us a favor by being here. Since we, the people of India, have forgotten the art of teaching ourselves, we must get our learning from other countries. The British are good teachers, he suggests, and we are learning from them the lessons that we have not learned for centuries. The British are teaching us the virtues of nationalism, patriotism. They are rekindling in us an interest in the Hindu religious and philosophical texts of the past. In Ananda Math, a group of Hindu sannyasis form a militaristic organization to free their country. After many battles in which both sides suffer losses, the realization dawns on them that they are not serving the interests of their country by attacking the British. In the novel's final chapter, a character says that it is written that the British should rule this country before there can be a revival of Hindu culture.
Monday, September 14, 2020
The British are the greatest migrants of the modern age. They began the modern trend of migrating for economic reasons. In his book Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World, historian Niall Ferguson writes: “Between the early 1600s and the 1950s, more than 20 million people left the British Isles to begin new lives across the seas. Only a minority ever returned. No other country in the world came close to exporting so many of its inhabitants.”
Sunday, September 13, 2020
The preacher of a new ideology has to decide how his ideology will interact with the existing ideology of the nation. Should the old ideology be obliterated? Should a compromise be worked out between the old ideology and the new one? In the early decades of the twentieth century, the Bolshevik revolutionaries decided to obliterate the Tsarist and bourgeois order for establishing a new communist system. The neo-progressive and fascistic movements, which are currently fighting to acquire power in several democratic countries, have a Bolshevik mindset. With these movements no compromise is possible. They will keep fighting till they have acquired total power and obliterated the old way of thinking.
Saturday, September 12, 2020
The western civilization believes that knowledge is power. The Hindu civilization’s view of knowledge is shaped by the Sankhya system developed in the Vedic age (about three thousand years ago). The Sankhya philosophers preached that knowledge is liberation. While the western people share their knowledge with each other and use it to make rapid progress in the world, the Hindu people neglect the world—they keep their knowledge inside themselves with the aim of using it for the attainment of personal liberation or salvation. The idea that knowledge is power is more conducive for making progress in the world than the idea that knowledge is liberation.
Every civilization is a confluence of the three magnificent cosmic energies: the constructive, the preservative, and the destructive. The constructive and the preservative energies are opposed and distinct from the destructive energy. When the sum of creative and preservative energies is greater than the destructive energy, the civilization remains in existence. When there is a fall in moral standards, the destructive energy becomes greater than the sum of the other two energies, and then the civilization falls. The history of a civilization is an account of the duel between its creative and preservative energies on one side, and its destructive energy on the other.
Friday, September 11, 2020
Just as the origin of the giant oak tree is in the tiny acorn, the origin of human civilization lies in the most uncivilized (primitive) kernel of humanity: the people of the Stone Age. The hunter-gatherers of the Stone Age are the kernel from which, over countless millennia, the giant tree of human civilization has developed.
Thursday, September 10, 2020
If the history of civilization is compared to a fruit bearing tree, then the ancient mythologies are the tree’s roots which tether humanity to the rich soil. The religions are the tree’s trunk which support the tree’s branches, leaves, and fruits. The actions of all humans and the chance events are the tree’s branches which take sections of humanity into random directions. The philosophical theories are the tree’s leaves which convert the light of the sun, or human experiences and learning, into wisdom. The scientific, technological, and social advancements are the tree’s fruits.
Who is the author of the basic moral norms that most human beings tend to accept? The answer is that the moral norms have not been written. They are ageless and authorless. They are the outcome of the common human experience stretching back to the time when the first humans appeared on this planet. Moral principles, the useful ones, bear a special identification mark which most humans, even the hunter-gatherers of the Stone Age, are able to identify. We instinctively know how to use moral principles. The problem with modern philosophers is that they think that man cannot have a moral theory until the philosophers write it.
Wednesday, September 9, 2020
Modern philosophers argue that religion is not necessary for establishing a moral society and that the principles of morality can be provided through atheistic philosophical systems. But since the eighteenth century, when atheism became a powerful force in most advanced countries, all experiments for grounding moral values in atheistic philosophy have failed. There are two problems that any atheistic moral theory faces: first, such a moral theory is nothing but a religion without theological tradition (eg., communism and welfare liberalism); second, unless such a moral theory is backed by brute political power, people are not inspired to follow it.
The success that a nation achieves contains the seed of its own downfall. Prosperity can breed complacency and poor work ethic. High technology can breed breakdown of social systems and end of privacy. Military campaigns can breed subversion of culture. High life expectancy and better law and order can breed a mindset that yearns for total protection. An individualistic culture can breed nihilism and alienation. The desire for liberty and free markets can breed a utopian vision of total freedom and anarchy. Easy availability of avenues for higher education can breed indoctrinated young barbarians.
Tuesday, September 8, 2020
Pogress is never achieved without barbarity, ruthlessness, passion, and ambition. In his Thus Spake Zarathustra, Nietzsche notes: “War and courage have done more great things than charity. Not your sympathy, but your bravery hath hitherto saved the victims. “What is good?” ye ask. To be brave is good. Let the little girls say: “To be good is what is pretty, and at the same time touching.” They call you heartless: but your heart is true, and I love the bashfulness of your goodwill. Ye are ashamed of your flow, and others are ashamed of their ebb.”
If you want certainty, go to religion; if you want arguments, go to philosophy; if you want facts, go to science; if you want promises, go to politics. But if you want wisdom then there is nowhere to go, since your wisdom exists inside your own mind and in your own experiences.
Monday, September 7, 2020
Sunday, September 6, 2020
Power and protection are the two primary desires that people have. The two desires cannot be entirely separated, since all individuals lust for power and protection in various degrees. The people who are confident, intelligent, and strong are more inclined towards achieving power, while those who are demoralized, ignorant, and weak are generally focused on achieving protection.
Saturday, September 5, 2020
Friday, September 4, 2020
Every philosophy movement begins as a rebellion against the status quo, but when it matures it is taken over by a bureaucracy of intellectuals, politicians, and activists who keep themselves relevant by developing their own version of the status quo.
Thursday, September 3, 2020
The concept of natural rights is a metaphysical fiction invented by two kinds of philosophers: the high level philosophers who are competent but mystical, and the low level philosophers who are utopian but puerile. Man’s rights are not natural—they are hard-won. The politicians, farmers, businessmen, workers, political activists, and some intellectuals have won rights for humanity by fighting numerous political battles in the last three thousand years. Political action has a far greater role to play in the creation of rights than the philosophizing of the intellectuals.
What is true for a tree is true for a philosophy as well. The emergence of new branches and twigs, and the sprouting and shedding of leaves do not create a new tree—likewise, superficial changes do not create a new or original philosophy. All major philosophies are like the branches and leaves of the same gigantic tree of knowledge which has been growing since ancient times.
Tuesday, September 1, 2020
Moral concepts are not universal, they are not timeless, and they are not unhistorical. Moral concepts gain relevance from the culture in which they are founded, and they have a history. When moral concepts are held as universal, timeless, and unhistorical, society turns into an absolutist dystopia.