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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 assert 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 say 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 is 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 But some scholars have used historical references to place Shankara in the second century BC—if this is true, then Gaudapada could be a predecessor to the Mahayana Buddhist thinkers like Nagarjuna.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.

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 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

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

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. These theories have to 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. Kant was acknowledging 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.” ~ 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

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 is 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 principle 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

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 BC and 1800 BC. 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 were 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 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 eighth and the seventh centuries BC) 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 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 AD 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.

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.