Thursday, December 24, 2020

Plato’s Demiurge, Aristotle’s Prime Mover

There is a difference in the way Plato and Aristotle philosophize about the divine principle which creates and maintains the universe. Plato says that the original creator of the universe is a world-architect. Aristotle says that the original creator is a world-mover. In his dialogue Timaeus, Plato uses the word “Demiurge” to refer to the God who designs and builds the universe from the preexisting chaos. In Physics and Metaphysics, Aristotle argues that the prime mover is the first uncaused cause of the universe. Plato’s cosmology is grounded in architecture and craftsmanship, and Aristotle's cosmology in motion and action. Thus, Plato is inclined towards idealism, and Aristotle towards materialism.

The Complex Foundation of Primitive Societies

The Stone Age cultures were not simple; they were built on a complex foundation of systems of beliefs and norms of behavior. The notion of supernatural forces predates religious theory; practical politics predates political theory; the codes of morality and acceptable behavior predate moral theory; spoken language, predates the rules of grammar, syntax, and vocabulary; creation of various forms of art, predates the theory of aesthetics. Theory does not precede action. The theory of every subject is developed centuries or even several millennia after the subject has been acted upon and turned into a fundamental feature of human existence. Every philosophical idea is developed in a social and political context which is a creation of the men of action.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

A Brief Picture of Man’s Journey From Objectivity to Subjectivity

Objectivity is the natural condition for all creatures on this planet, including man. The pre-civilizational man was naturally objective. He lacked the power to introspect and examine the essence of his being. The outside world was all that he could sense. It is not clear how the first mythological stories got created, but these stories inspired the rise of all kinds of cults and quasi-religious movements which first led to the rise of the first tribal communities and then to the city-states. The first philosophical theories were born in these primitive tribal communities and city-states. Now man’s mind was being torn between the objective and the subjective. Along with the outside world, there was a second world that he could sense. This was the world inside him, the world of his being. He was now capable of introspecting, rationalizing, judging and, in the case of some men of advanced intellect, doubting what his senses were telling him about the outside world. Through the conflict between objectivity and subjectivity man’s mind kept evolving. In a few thousand years, man became capable of creating modern civilization.

The Dating of the Ancient Hindu Texts

The Vedas, the Upanishads, the Puranas, the Mahabharata, and many other ancient Hindu texts cannot be dated by using conventional historical methods. In his 1899 book The six systems of Indian philosophy, Max Muller writes, “Whatever may be the date of the Vedic hymns, whether 1500 B.C.E. or 15,000 B.C.E., they have their own unique place and stand by themselves in the literature of the world. They tell us something of the early growth of the human mind of which we find no trace anywhere else.”

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

On Derrida’s Reading

In the 2003 documentary film Derrida, there is a scene in which the film’s director Amy Ziering Kofman is asking Jacques Derrida, “Have you read all the books in here?” (She was referring to Derrida’s large personal library.) Derrida’s answer: “No, only four of them. But I read those very, very carefully.”

Monday, December 21, 2020

Machiavelli on Savonarola, the Unarmed Prophet

In the 1490s, Girolamo Savonarola launched his movement for religious purity in Florence, a city-state that had prospered under the rule of the Medici family. From the enthusiastic response that his sermons received from the Florentines, Savonarola was convinced that he could mobilize the masses and capture power in Florence and the rest of Italy. The first part of his plan was to drive the Medici out of Florence. 

To weaken the Medici, Savonarola declared a war on their greatest achievement: art. He declared that the art that the Medici were patronizing—these works of art included female and male nudes—was a sign of Florentine decadence and debauchery. His followers started rampaging through the mansions, museums, and gardens to find and destroy the debauched art that Savonarola had condemned. The climax of the anti-art movement came on 7 February 1497, a day known as the “bonfire of the vanities”. On this day, in the center of Florence, Savonarola’s followers burned works of art, literature, and things like mirrors, cards, dice, musical instruments, luxurious garments, and ornaments. 

But the “bonfire of the vanities” proved to be the climax of Savonarola’s political career. He was excommunicated by the Pope on 12 May 1497. Being excommunicated, he lost his credibility and the Florentines turned against him. He was executed on 23 May 1498.

In chapter six of his book, The Prince, Machiavelli notes that Savonarola failed because he was an unarmed prophet, unlike Moses, Cyrus, Theseus, and Romulus who were armed. Machiavelli writes: “If Moses, Cyrus, Theseus, and Romulus had been unarmed they could not have enforced their constitutions for long—as happened in our time to Fra Girolamo Savonarola, who was ruined with his new order of things immediately the multitude believed in him no longer, and he had no means of keeping steadfast those who believed or of making the unbelievers to believe.”

Sunday, December 20, 2020

The Search for the God of Atheists

The western atheists, armed with Enlightenment intellectualism (which smacks of scientism) and Jacobin revolutionary zeal (which seeks to spill rivers of blood for creating a utopia), abandoned God in the eighteenth century. Since then they have been trying to find someone that they can put in God’s place. In the eighteenth century, they tried Voltaire, Rousseau, and Robespierre. In the nineteenth century, they tried Hegel, Marx, and Engels. In the twentieth century, they tried Lenin, Trotsky, and Stalin. But these human gods failed to serve as a replacement for the god of paradise. Now we are in the twenty-first century, and the atheists are still questing for an answer to the eighteenth century question: “Who will occupy the space vacated by God?”

Saturday, December 19, 2020

The Nature of Philosophy

Ninety percent of the good philosophy is translation, exposition, expansion, or refutation of the philosophy of the great philosophers of the past. A learned philosopher would know that the edifice of new philosophy stands on the giant shoulders of the past philosophers, and he would accept as his first duty the task of interpreting the works of those philosophers who precede him in the areas of philosophy that are of significance to him.

Friday, December 18, 2020

The Subtle Coup d’état of 21st Century

The time when tyrants used to seize power by taking control of a nation’s military and police is long gone. The coup d'état of twenty-first century does not happen with the intrusion of armed troops, tanks, and fighter planes into the capital city. If you want to seize power in a nation, you take control of its mainstream media; its academia; its big businesses which operate in critical areas like healthcare, art, banking, and digital services; its local community organizations; and its key bureaucracies. In this kind of coup d’état, the transfer of power to the invading political faction happens in a subtle and underhand way. Most people, even those in the government, do not realize, until it is too late, that their way of life is being stolen.

Wisdom is Wiser than Technical Philosophy

Wisdom that comes from practical experience is far more important than technical philosophy which comes from rationalizations and abstractions. Much of twentieth century philosophy is a failure because it is too technical and lacking in practical wisdom. The irony of the twentieth century is that in this period, probably for the first time in history, the non-philosophers, the men of action, started appearing wiser than the philosophers.

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Intellectuals and Barbarians: Poison and Medicine

The boundary between medicine and poison is tenuous. The Ancient Greeks used the term “pharmakon” to describe both medicine and poison—closely aligned to “pharmakon” is the Greek term for ritual sacrifice of human victims: “Pharmakos”. In the pharmakos ritual, the Greeks would sacrifice human victims to provide a healing touch (medicine) to their society in the time of a great calamity (famine, plague, civil war, or invasion). The poison-medicine analogy can be used for the intellectuals and barbarians. The intellectuals believe that with their ideas they are protecting (healing) society from the poison of barbarism. But the boundary between intellectuals and barbarians is tenuous. Most intellectuals are barbarians in disguise. Many of those whom they brand as the barbarians are the real intellectuals. History tells us that every great empire is forged by people of barbaric passions and energy, and the decline of a great empire happens when it becomes stable and prosperous and the over-educated and pampered (intellectualized) progeny of the barbarian founders inherit the empire.

Krishna’s First Line in the Mahabharata

Krishna speaks his first line in the Mahabharata in the Adi Parva (Swayamvara Parva) section—the venue is the royal palace where Draupadi’s svayamvara (the ceremony in which a girl of royal bloodline and marriageable age selects her husband from a group of eligible suitors) has been organized. To test the skill, strength, and divine powers of the contestants at the svayamvara, King Draupada, Draupadi’s father, has arranged a device in which a fish revolves above a pool of water. The contestants must string a steel bow, and, while looking into the pond where a reflection of the revolving fish is visible, shoot the fish in the eye with a steel arrow. The one who manages to accomplish this superhuman feat wins Draupadi’s hand in marriage. The five Pandava brothers have arrived at the ceremony disguised as Brahmin priests. When all the contestants fail to string the steel bow and hit the target (or have been disqualified for being lowborn, like Karna), one of the Pandava bothers, Arjuna, picks up the steel bow. He strings it with ease and with gaze fixed on the reflection in the pond, he shoots the steel arrow, which hits the target, the fish’s eye. The kings, princes, demigods, and saints who have arrived at the svayamvara are infuriated to see that a man, who is attired like a Brahmin priest, has managed to accomplish the feat at which all of them have failed. They blame King Draupada for humiliating them by allowing an unknown Brahmin priest to be the winner of the svayamvara. They rush forward to kill him. But to get to King  Draupada they have to pass through the Pandava brothers. 

Here’s an excerpt from the translation of the verses which describe the struggle between the Pandava brothers and their rivals at Draupadi’s svayamvara:

“Then the monarchs with gloved fingers and upraised weapons rushed in anger at the Kuru princes, Bhima and Arjuna, to slay them. Then the mighty Bhima of extraordinary achievements, endued with the strength of thunder, tore up like an elephant a large tree and divested it of its leaves. And with that tree, the strong-armed Bhima, the son of Pritha, that grinder of foes, stood, like unto the mace-bearing king of the dead (Yama) armed with his fierce mace, near Arjuna that bull amongst men. And beholding that feat of his brother, Jishnu of extraordinary intelligence, himself also of inconceivable feats, wondered much. And equal unto Indra himself in achievements, shaking off all fear he stood with his bow ready to receive those assailants.”

At this point, Krishan speaks his first line in the Mahabharata. He is addressing his brother, Balarama, who is pointing out Bhima and Arjuna:

“And beholding those feats of both Jishnu and his brother, Damodara (Krishna) of superhuman intelligence and inconceivable feats, addressing his brother, Halayudha (Valadeva) of fierce energy, said, 'That hero there, of tread like that of a mighty lion, who draweth the large bow in his hand four full cubits in length, is Arjuna! There is no doubt, O Sankarshana, about this, if I am Vasudeva. That other hero who having speedily torn up the tree hath suddenly become ready to drive off the monarchs is Vrikodara! For no one in the world, except Vrikodara, could today perform such a feat in the field of battle. And that other youth of eyes like unto lotus-petals, of full four cubits height, of gait like that of a mighty lion, and humble withal, of fair complexion and prominent and shining nose, who had, a little before, left the amphitheatre, is Dharma's son (Yudhishthira). The two other youths, like unto Kartikeya, are, I suspect, the sons of the twin Aswins. I heard that the sons of Pandu along with their mother Pritha had all escaped from the conflagration of the house of lac.' Then Halayudha of complexion like unto that of clouds uncharged with rain, addressing his younger brother (Krishna), said with great satisfaction, 'O, I am happy to hear, as I do from sheer good fortune, that our father's sister Pritha with the foremost of the Kaurava princes have all escaped (from death)!’"

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

The Divine is Compassionless

The man who expects the Divine to be compassionate is a sinner who expects the Divine to break His own laws. The notion that the Divine is compassionate is a falsehood propagated by the morally degenerate and theologically ignorant religious authorities who want to gain power by selling compassion to the gullible and frightened sinners. The Divine is not compassionate; His standard of justice is immutable. Chance events are possible, but miracles are not.

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

The Fall of Modernity (Umberto Eco’s Words)

“In the past men were handsome and great (now they are children and dwarfs), but this is merely one of the many facts that demonstrate the disaster of an aging world. The young no longer want to study anything, learning is in decline, the whole world walks on its head, blind men lead others equally blind and cause them to plunge into the abyss, birds leave the nest before they can fly, the jackass plays the lyre, oxen dance. Mary no longer loves the contemplative life, and Martha no longer loves the active life, Leah is sterile, Rachel has a carnal eye, Cato visits brothels, Lucretius becomes a women. Everything is on the wrong path.” ~ Umberto Eco’s description of fourteenth century Europe (in his novel The Name of the Rose). Eco's words can be used to describe the dilemma of modernity. Decades of easy life has imbued people in the major democracies with the notion that the good times will last forever and that it is their birthright to live in a free, prosperous, and stable society. This has turned them into children and dwarfs. They are no longer capable of being handsome and great, and the fate of their civilization is uncertain.

Monday, December 14, 2020

Definition of a Philosopher

I define a philosopher as a man who is moved solely by the desire for the truth, and by the suspicion—which inculcates in him wisdom and the humility which comes with wisdom—that the truth is not what appears to him at this moment.

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Veda Vyasa and the Writing of the Mahabharata

Veda Vyasa is the prolific thinker, compiler, and composer of Hindu mythology and philosophy. He classified (“vyasa” means classified) the four Vedas. This explains his name Veda Vyasa. He is the composer of the epic Mahabharata. According to traditional accounts, his composition of the Mahabharata contained 100000 verses, but the extant editions of the Mahabharata do not contain that many verses. The critical edition of the Mahabharata, developed by the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute (BORI), contains around 89000 verses (excluding the Harivamsa). 

After finishing the Mahabharata, Veda Vyasa became engaged with compiling the eighteen Maha Puranas which contain 400000 verses. Another name of Veda Vyasa is Krishna Dvaipayana—the term “Krishna” in his name indicates that he was dark skinned, and the term “Dvaipayana” indicates he was born on an island (“Dvaipa” means island). 

In some versions of the Mahabharata, it is stated that since Veda Vyasa was intimately acquainted with all the characters in the epic, he was asked by Lord Brahma to write the story. Vyasa said that the story was long and complex, and he would require the assistance of a scribe. Lord Brahma then suggested the name of Lord Ganesha. But Lord Ganesha said that he would accept the task on one condition: Vyasa would have to dictate without any break. 

To ensure that his composing of the verses would match the speed of Lord Ganesha’s swift writing, Vyasa put forward the counter-condition that Lord Ganesha would write only after he grasped the meaning of the verses. After every few verses, Vyasa would throw a difficult verse and in the time that it took for Lord Ganesha to grasp its meaning, Vyasa would compose the several new verses in his mind. This explains why the Mahabharata verses are a mix of easy and difficult ones.

Saturday, December 12, 2020

The Fearsome Mainstream Media

There is no doubt that the mainstream media is warlike, polemical, and fearsome. Most popular journalists are not impartial reporters. They are the frontline fighters for the political and financial establishment. Their real job is to conceal the  establishment’s misdeeds from the public and disseminate the establishment’s propaganda. Those who rely solely on the newspapers and TV to keep abreast of current events know nothing except lies and propaganda.

Friday, December 11, 2020

Vampires and the Political Cabal

The vampires feed on human blood but they get vaporized in sunlight. They can hunt and thrive only in the darkness. The counterpart of the vampires in the real world is the cabal of corrupt politicians, crony capitalists, and nihilist intellectuals—they too feed on human blood; they too thrive in the darkness, when there is lack of transparency. Sunlight is the mortal enemy of the vampires, and transparency is the mortal enemy of the cabal. The vampires cannot stop the sun from rising. During daytime, they hide indoors, in caves, forests, or their castles. But if the members of the cabal win in the elections, they gain the power to destroy transparency by subverting the freedom of the people and corrupting the legal and administrative systems. The vampires are not real; the cabal is a reality in every nation.

The Quest for Mathematical Philosophy: Descartes, Spinoza, and Kant

Descartes and Spinoza believed that by following the mathematical method, philosophy would achieve its historical destiny, and provide the certain answers to the metaphysical questions which have been with mankind since ancient times. Kant desired to follow the path of Descartes and Spinoza—though he did not use the mathematical method, he was hopeful that mathematics, science, and philosophy could come together in a “historical singularity” which would create a knowledge revolution. He believed that through mathematics and science, the scope of philosophy could become limitless and infinite possibilities could be created for mankind. 

In his Preface to the Second Edition of his Critique of Pure Reason, Kant writes: 

“In the earliest times to which the history of human reason extends, mathematics, among that wonderful people, the Greeks, had already entered upon the sure path of science. But it must not be supposed that it was as easy for mathematics as it was for logic in which reason has to deal with itself alone to light upon, or rather to construct for itself, that royal road. On the contrary, I believe that it long remained, especially among the Egyptians, in the groping stage, and that the transformation must have been due to a revolution brought about by the happy thought of a single man, the experiment which he devised marking out the path upon which the science must enter, and by following which, secure progress throughout all time and in endless expansion is infallibly secured.”

In the same paragraph, after a few sentences, he writes: 

“A new light flashed upon the mind of the first man (be he Thales or some other) who demonstrated the properties of the isosceles triangle. The true method, so he found, was not to inspect what he discerned either in the figure, or in the bare concept of it, and from this, as it were, to read off its properties; but to bring out what was necessarily implied in the concepts that he had himself formed a priori, and had put into the figure in the construction by which he presented it to himself.”

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Heidegger’s Fundamental Question

Heidegger’s book What is called thinking? is based on a lecture course that he gave in 1951 and 1952. He was looking at the problem of thinking since the 1920s. In the book on which his reputation stands, Being and Time (1927), the fundamental question that he tries to answer is: What is it to think? He fails to answer this question. His question is unanswerable, because it is not possible to comprehend the process of thinking when the self itself is identified through the process of thinking, and the process of thinking is the sole method of gaining knowledge. To know what it is to think, man must first transcend the process of thinking and find another way of identifying his own self and gaining knowledge—but this is not possible.

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

The Philosophers and Their Methods of Philosophizing

Philosophers use various methods to express their philosophy. The dialogue is the oldest method, used by the ancient Greek thinkers like Socrates and Plato. Aristotle does not use the dialogue method—his philosophy comes in the form of lecture notes. Several works of Hegel and Heidegger are in the form of lecture notes. Parmenides and Lucretius use the poetic method. Descartes and Spinoza use the mathematical method. Augustine uses the autobiographical method. In the modern age, some philosophers have devoted years, or even decades, of their life to develop a system of philosophy. Kant’s three Critiques and his works on ethics constitute a philosophical system. Hegel has produced systematic philosophy through multiple works. Schopenhauer devoted much of his life to producing a single work of systematic philosophy, The World as Will and Representation. Sartre’s Being and Nothingness too is a work of systematic philosophy. Cicero, Aquinas, Bacon, Machiavelli, Leibniz, and Rousseau have produced long essays and books, but their work is not systematized—the same is the case with the works of philosophers like MacIntyre and Strauss. Seneca, Aurelius, Voltaire, Kierkegaard, and Nietzsche. Russell, Wittgenstein, Camus, Derrida, and Foucault have philosophized through long and short essays. Several incomplete philosophical works have become immensely influential: for example, Plato’s Critias, Pascal’s Pensées, Marx’s Capital, Heidegger’s Being and Time.

Kant’s Notion of Transcendental Apperception

What we presuppose to know about a thing is not known to us as a thing. This means that the presuppositions of empirical experience are not empirical—they are transcendental. Immanuel Kant’s view of the mind is based on his notion of transcendental apperception, which is not the same as his transcendental idealism. 

Apperception is the mind’s capacity to judge according to rule. Without apperception, perception cannot happen. The act of perception runs parallel to the act of apperception. To perceive a thing, the mind must make a judgment based on certain rules—this is the act of apperception. Transcendental apperception is the mind’s ability to tie together all experience. It implies a unity of the self; the self itself appears as a thing that can be perceived as other things outside the self. Transcendental unity of apperception represents the junction at which the perception of the self and the perception of the things undergo a synthesis—the synthesis is made possible by the categories which unite the self and the things that are being perceived. (Kant uses the terms “unity of consciousness” and “unity of apperception” interchangeably and it seems to mean that a man is consciousness of not just one experience but of many experiences.) 

Without transcendental unity of apperception, knowledge would be impossible, since we cannot be aware of even the passage of time, an attribute which lies at the root of all experience, and thereby, all knowledge.

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

The Pitfalls of Total Freedom

The anarchists demand “total freedom”—freedom from all legal, moral, and political constraints. To be free from everything is to be alienated from the national culture and be nothing. A man who is nothing can have no values. He cannot have freedom as a value and he is easily enslaved. Thus, the anarchist ideology of “total freedom” has nothing to do with freedom as a value. It is an ideology of total enslavement, or fascism and nihilism. Freedom is a value within the framework of a national culture. If it is made to transcend the nation's culture, then it ceases to be a value and becomes a fascistic and nihilistic force which leads to the degradation of all values (legal, moral, and political).

On Vedic and Upanishadic Philosophy

The Vedic Samhitas, especially the Upanishads, can be seen as mankind’s first attempt to develop a theory of the universe and a theory of the moral principles on which virtuous men should ground their way of life. These texts do not offer systematic philosophy or experimental science. They are the outpourings of the philosophical minds which desired to understand how humanity fits into the structure of the universe and tried to find the answers to the fundamental questions of metaphysics, ethics, and politics. These fundamental questions remain unanswered to this day.

Monday, December 7, 2020

On The Anu-Gita

The Anu-Gita, a treatise on Dharma (morality, ethics, righteousness), is embedded in the Mahabharata’s Ashvamedhika Parva. The Sanskrit term “Anu” is translated as "continuation, alongside, subordinate to”—thus, the title “Anu-Gita” can be regarded as a continuation to the Gita (the Bhagavad Gita) which is embedded in the Bhishma Parva of the Mahabharata. Here’s a passage from the Anu-Gita which asserts that knowledge is the only value that is endless:

Days end with the sun’s setting, and nights with the sun’s rising;
the end of pleasure is always sorrow, and the end of sorrow is always pleasure.
All associations have dissociations for their end, and life has death for its end;
All action ends in destruction, and all that is born certainly dies.
Everything is transient, everything ends;
Only of knowledge, there is no end.

Sunday, December 6, 2020

The Story of Dushyanta and Shakuntala

In the Mahabharata, the story of Dushyanta, king of Hastinapur, and Shakuntala, daughter of Rishi Vishwamitra and the apsara (angel) Menaka, is described in the Adi Parva (Sambhava Upa-parva) section. Dushyanta is on a tour in the forest. He reaches Rishi Kanva’s hermitage where he encounters Shakuntala who is a great beauty. For the king, it is love at first sight. Here’s an excerpt from the exchange between Dushyanta and Shakuntala:

Dushyanta said to Shakuntala: “Marry me according to the Gandharva form, for this form of marriage is said to be the best.”
Shakuntala: “O king, my father has gone from the hermitage to collect fruits. Kindly wait for a moment. He will bestow me upon you.”
Dushyanta: “O beautiful lady, O faultless beauty, I desire you yourself should accept me. Know that I exist for you. Know also, my heart is completely in you, One is certainly one's own friend, one can certainly depend on one's own self, Therefore, according to the ordinance (scriptures), you yourself should bestow your own self on others.”

Dushyanta and Shakuntala have a Gandharva marriage (in Hindu law, Gandharva marriage is contracted by mutual consent and without formal rituals). Soon it is time for Dushyanta to leave for Hastinapur. Before departing, he gave Shakuntala his ring as a proof of their marriage, and promised that he would return to take her to his kingdom. 

One day, Rishi Durvasa, known for his temper, arrives at the hermitage.  Shakuntala was engaged in thinking about Dushyanta and she forgets to serve food to Durvasa. In a fit of anger, Durvasa cursed Shakuntala that the man, whose thoughts had filled her mind, would forget her. Shakuntala was shocked; she pleaded for mercy. Durvasa relented and proclaimed that her man would remember her when she showed him the proof of their marriage.   

After that Shakuntala left for Hastinapur, carrying with her the ring that Dushyanta had given her. She hoped that Dushyanta would remember her when she showed him the ring. But on the way she had an accident and a fish swallowed the ring. Now Shakuntala had no proof of her marriage with Dushyanta. When she reached Dushyanta's court in Hastinapur, he could not recognize her. But a sage who had managed to recover the ring from the fish arrived at the king’s court. Once Dushyanta saw the ring, his memory was rekindled and he remembered Shakuntala. 

There was a royal marriage between Dushyanta and Shakuntala, who became the queen of Hastinapur. Their son Bharata becomes the founder of the Kuru Dynasty and the ancestor of the Pandava and the Kaurava clans.

The Banana Peel Republics

The confused and disorderly manner in which America has conducted its elections, makes it seem like a banana republic. If this country becomes an actual banana republic, then what happens to the nations which have traditionally enjoyed the status of banana republics. Their standards would decline further. They might be known as the banana peel republics. When America becomes the world’s banana republic, banana peel is all that will be left for the traditional banana republics. But America would continue to be the superpower, since a banana would always rank higher than a banana peel.

Saturday, December 5, 2020

Victory Often Comes to the Lying Side

“A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” ~ Mark Twain

More than hundred years after Twain, in our time, thanks to digital technologies, a lie can travel around the world several times while truth is putting on its shoes. The standards for assessing the available evidence are probably poorer today than in the time of Twain. Falsehoods are now far easier to propagate in a world that is connected by the Internet. Those who control the information flow on the Internet (political establishments, media houses, tech companies, and academics) possess the power to sell any lie and subvert any moral norm.

Draupadi’s Rejection of Karna: from Ramesh Chandra Dutt’s Mahabharata

In his poetic translation of the Mahabharata called The Mahabharata: The Epic of Ancient India, Romesh Chunder Dutt (1848 – 1909) gives an account of Draupadi’s svayamvara (the ceremony in which a girl of royal bloodline and marriageable age selects a husband from a group of eligible suitors). Draupadi rejects Karna by declaring that she would not wed a lowborn—thus, Karna was denied the opportunity to prove his talent in archery.

Here’s an excerpt from Dutt’s translation:

"Uprose Karna‚ peerless archer, proudest of the archers he, And he went and strung the weapon, fixed the arrows gallantly,

Stood like Surya in his splendor and like Agni in his flame,— 
Pandu's sons in terror whispered, Karna sure must hit the aim!

But in proud and queenly accents Drupad's queenly daughter said: 'Monarch's daughter, born a Kshatra, Suta's son I will not wed.’

Karna heard with crimsoned forehead, left the emprise almost done, Left the bow already circled, silent gazed upon the Sun!"

Friday, December 4, 2020

The First Verse of the Mahabharata

The critical edition of the Mahabharata, compiled by the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute (BORI), is collated from 1,259 ancient manuscripts and consists of 18 Parvas and 73,787 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. With Harivamsa, the text consists of 79,860 verses. It is said that the original composition of Veda Vyasa contained 100,000 verses.

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 observation. In our time, most educated folks would reject this view of liberty because they are atheists. They do not 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 religious moral values, liberty is destructive. Ingersoll was an agnostic. I can empathize with agnosticism—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 the 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 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 several 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 parallels between the metaphysical thoughts of 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), and the eighteenth century German Philosopher Immanuel Kant. Kant has theorized that reality has two components: the phenomenal world and the noumenal world. The first is the world that we perceive (the world that exists 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. Shankara’s two categories of reality are meant to establish his monistic and religious position of one ultimate reality consisting of the Bahaman. Kant is not openly a monistic (though there are traces of monism in his thought)—his focus is on developing 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 gathered by the senses is an accurate picture of reality. 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 is 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. Philosophical doubt is a trait of the philosophical minds.