The present article aims is an unbiased endeavour of exploring the philosophy that took its root on this land and on the bases of which a nation emerged and is in its present form. Its an attempt at looking into from where we have come from.
Philosophy, probably, starts with a simple question which grows into a never ending trail of more subtler inquires. As if a natural growth of plant into a tree, it seems to have always grown in a similar fashion in all parts of the world. The inquires of Socrates, Plato or Locke are not much different from those of Indian sages and the essence of Rigveda and other Upnishad teachings can be found in any philosophical debate which ever happened on earth.
It becomes pertinent today, therefore, for our young generation, standing at the first stages of globalization to look back and see how their identity came to them. So that they can enquire more and bring about radical changes in their ways of thinking while going ahead in life, making sure that they do not lose their identity – as what a terrible loss that would be.
Who am I? What is my identity? What is right for me to do? What will be the consequences of my actions and inactions? Is there a God? What does He say to me? If I am just a mortal, why should I work for anything more than my stomach? What kind of life that would be?
Addressing Chinta Jai Sankar Prasad askes:
Manan karvayegi tu kitana us nishchint jaati ka jeev,
Amar marega kya tu kitani gehri daal rahi hai neev.
Men could never escape such questions. Other animals are able to easily escape all such thoughts as they know one thing above all and that is – stomach. A hungry beast chases a meek animal in the forest and eats it to fill its appetite. After the killing of a life, the beast has no guilt. It seeks no pope or church to go an confess its crime. For it does not know what crime is. It knows one thing and that is if it does not eat it will die. And everybody must save itself. For, an unnatural death is something which no living form accepts as right – as it is not natural and therefore not right.
Why at all men had to enquire into such realms of intellectual discourse? Reading History (especially ancient and medieval when battles took place for kingdoms and not for oil and trade, which is same thing but makes essence that I want to talk about, slightly hidden), one can conjuncture that when man moves forwards towards a more civilized way of living, he finds all reasons to fight and save his civilization in case he is attacked by a less civilized alien population. His civilization can comprise of a population of men and women of children and old aged people, of Gods as trees and stone, of language, or scripts, of trade, of currency or may be a notch less sophisticated and simple of women and children. Why is he attacked in the first place? Because some groups come forward to attack him. Why they attack him? Because they need the resources that he proclaims himself as owner of. Or they see his civilization as a danger to their existence. Or maybe because they want to show their supremacy. Basically, it a fight which is based on the jungle law which says – might is right.
When men of opposing sides find that their opponents are not too weak, they always find co-operative development more beneficial and less deadly, they go for a truce. Sometimes they marry their daughters to the princesses of opposing sides to make family relations. They share revenue profits as gifts and share armies to enhance the security of each others. But they conspire as well, and there is always a tendency of one trying to subjugate the other as time passes by.
While all this happens in nation building, there is something that keeps bother a human mind. That something is the seed of all philosophical questions. Its a question that says what good am I amidst such a playground of life where we all are mere players. We come with nothing and go without taking anything. Why do we fight? Why do we attack so much importance to a population that we are ready to die to save them? Why at all do we evolve as a civilization and not life just as a beast of jungle? Then comes the penultimate question to all knowledge – who is behind all this? The question that narrows down to the last question – where is God? At this point starts religion. No matter you believe in God or not, the moment you say I don’t believe in Him, you create Him (and yes, with a capital ‘h’). He becomes immanent and yet not involved in your word. He is there in all your battle fields and yet does not pick a weapon and takes no sides. Try and escape Him and you find Him the remotest cave of a jungle, in absolute serenity – right there in you. Such is the nature of life and life force which remains out of the domains of intellectual or scientific discovery.
Similar was the development in India. The Harrapan civilization which prospered to such great heights way back somewhere around 2500 BC, seems to have religious beliefs where people used to tie threads around trees and worship Shiva. Then came the Aryan in, in most probability not in one but several waves. They destroyed the whole Harappan civilization. The Hymns of Rigveda describe the carnage in which fire was used to burn cities and describes the original inhabitant of this land as dasas or dasyus or mallechhas or nishads. Infact the first verse of poetry writtenon this land is believed to be a curse given by an Ayran seer to a nishad hunter who killed a crane and inflicted great pain and anger in the heart of the seer who cursed his race to remain backward and uncivilized for the rest of eternity. The Rigveda is very harsh in its description of the dasas. The Vedas and Upnishads do not claim to have come here out of no where and as works of God himself. They in fact do not dwell so much on the importance of the text. They are basically philosophical enquires made throughout History and discoveries of natural laws that were well accepted for a long time without refutation. Laws like as you sow so shall you reap became the basic premise of the karma doctrine. The word Hindu did not belong to any of the language on this land. It was basically used by the people who lived on the western banks of River Indus to collectively indentify the people living on the other side. Indus which is also called Sindh nadi was pronounced as Hind and so came the word Hindu and later Hindustan.
Today its accepted as a religion of the people who believe in the philosophy that existed here before the coming of Muslims rulers with some expectations of Jain and Buddhist, which itself found it difficult to find a space totally delinked from the Hindu ideology and are still believe by many as just religious reform movements and offshoots of Hinduism only. Vivekananda explained the demise of Buddhism in the land of its birth behind the fact that it was not a radically new philosophy but very much Hindu in all its convictions. There are surely views in opposition to such one sided views of Brahmins who saw both these religions as threat to the supremacy they enjoyed in the society in the guise of the varna system and see all such views as covert attempts at trying to shroud a truth as bright as sun with their brutal attacks on its premises). Sikhism came too late, and after enough struggle became established and is seen as a faith which has elements of both Hinduism and Islam and yet very original in itself at the same time.
Religion has grown with politics and nations. Gandhiji say in his autobiography by saying: “Those who say religion has nothing to do with politics do not know what religion”. He could have ended that with the word ‘politics’ and still have managed to save the essence he wanted to talk about. But he probably wanted to point at the difficulty in understanding religion which is more subtle that the seemingly complex realm of politics. In fact most of the philosophy that developed on this land developed after the emergence of Buddhism and Jainism (almost contemporary) and the embracement they started getting from the emperors. Ashoka converted to Buddhism and did not remain the only one to do that. The Stupas at Sanchi and Bharhut or the monasteries made are standing proofs of the impact these religions had in India and the strong emperors. The Brahmins had to revise the annuls of the Vedas and come up with answers to the questions presented to them by these new thinkers, who came from Khsatriya families and were actually a threat to the varna system, that was the licence to prove that a Brahmin was superior to all men.
New ideas came up. Old ideas grew bigger and subtler. Religious Einsteins were born to back up the Newtons who had missed the bigger pictures. Religion got stringer in its foundations and new texts started emerging. Meanwhile, the rulers kept fighting for bigger empires and making better cities where life prospered. Courts of emperors were replete with great intellectuals. At the time Harshavardhan some of the best poetry and plays were written. Classical music emerged in great length and breadth. So did religion and around it everything got saffronised. Ragas became heavenly, Kings became Godly, life became a projection of the cosmic truth that cannot be understood by mind as its just an organ. How can a man pull a bucket in which he himself is sitting? The theory of Adwaita or non-duality came forward to explain everything. Mauryan empire saw its fall after Ashoka and so did Buddhism, a little more gradually though. The Mathura School or art and the Gandhara artists made statues of Buddha and Buddha was never a proponent of idolatry and never accepted that he was anything more than a human being, got cast into a deity and became a God for the later generations. In some ways, this brought Buddhism closer to Hinduism and the later pulled it closer till the former lost itself in it. The debate can go longer but what I wanted to bring about is the background against which religion emerged in India.
Religion was important as it told what is right and what is wrong. It was important because it told the Kind what were his responsibilities and made the subjects obedient towards the Kings, thereby restoring order. The subjects were important for the kind and thus he had to build stupas and monasteries to show his benevolence. The Brahmins should not be seen as villains who wanted power. They in fact observed great discipline and assumed a role of a teacher. Not all of them were as enlightened though to see the bigger picture of what role they actually play in making the society. And thus the evil practices were existent as well. There were practices in the society which provoked Buddha or Mahavira to dwell over the possible solutions and they came up with new doctrines and showed the way to salvation. Salvation remains a key word in India even today. At Kumbha mela three million people came together to take bath in Allahabad this year. The mela finds its reference in the Vedas as well. Such is the power of an idea. And on such ideas a society is made. These ideas are of religious importance and thus political as well.
Somewhere in these passages Hindu was born. I knowingly did not stop and elaborated the birth as I do not think it was possible. Who is a Hindu? Probably remains the most enigmatic and motivating question to me. Enigmatic because, the religion has shown such dynamism and has included so many believe in its womb that it becomes hard to find out where it starts and where it ends. Motivating because if a religion can hold a nation of such diverse populace for so long and still inspire them to take holy baths in Ganges every twelve year even in the 21st century when people are talking about environment pollution (pun intended) amongst other things, then we can hope that the nation can move ahead with great confidence tackling the myriad challenges that await her path head being rest assured about the unity of her people.
I intend to dwell over the philosophy of Hinduism in greater details in next article.
Moving ahead from the previous article, I intend to briefly discuss the Philosophy underlying Hinduism. Before we proceed it’s important that we know about the origin of various texts and their relevance as form the theory of the philosophy. I have used the word philosophy and religion interchangeably as I have taken out the theistic aspect of religion for the time being to bring about the philosophical premise of Hinduism in the present article (I have liberally used Wikipedia for the first part of the present article).
The Vedas (Sanskrit वेदाः véda, "knowledge") are a large body of texts originating in ancient India. Composed in Vedic Sanskrit, the texts constitute the oldest layer of Sanskrit literature and the oldest scriptures of Hinduism. The Vedas are apauruṣeya ("not of human agency"). They are supposed to have been directly revealed, and thus are called śruti ("what is heard"), distinguishing them from other religious texts, which are called smṛti ("what is remembered"). The Vedic texts or śruti are organized around four canonical collections of metrical material known as Saṃhitās, of which the first three are related to the performance of yajna (sacrifice) in historical Vedic religion:
1. The Rigveda, containing hymns to be recited by the hotṛ;
2. The Yajurveda, containing formulas to be recited by the adhvaryu or officiating priest;
3. The Samaveda, containing formulas to be sung by the udgātṛ.
4. The fourth is the Atharvaveda, a collection of spells and incantations, apotropaic charms and speculative hymns.
The individual verses contained in these compilations are known as mantras. Some selected Vedic mantras are still recited at prayers, religious functions and other auspicious occasions in contemporary Hinduism.
The Vedas are among the oldest sacred texts. The Samhitas (meaning Code) date to roughly 1500–1000 BCE, and the "circum-Vedic" texts, as well as the redaction of the Samhitas, date to c. 1000-500 BCE, resulting in a Vedic period, spanning the mid 2nd to mid 1st millennium BCE, or the Late Bronze Age and the Iron Age. The Vedic period reaches its peak only after the composition of the mantra texts, with the establishment of the various shakhas all over Northern India which annotated the mantra samhitas with Brahmana discussions of their meaning, and reaches its end in the age of Buddha and Panini and the rise of the Mahajanapadas.
Michael Witzel gives 150 BCE (Patañjali) as a terminus ante quem for all Vedic Sanskrit literature, and 1200 BCE (the early Iron Age) as terminus post quem for the Atharvaveda.
The Rigveda Samhita is the oldest extant Indic text. It is a collection of 1,028 Vedic Sanskrit hymns and 10,600 verses in all, organized into ten books (Sanskrit: mandalas). The hymns are dedicated to Rigvedic deities.
The books were composed by poets from different priestly groups over a period of several centuries, commonly dated to the period of roughly the second half of the 2nd millennium BCE (the early Vedic period) in the Punjab (Sapta Sindhu) region of the Indian subcontinent.
There are strong linguistic and cultural similarities between the Rigveda and the early Iranian Avesta, deriving from the Proto-Indo-Iranian times, often associated with the Andronovo culture; the earliest horse-drawn chariots were found at Andronovo sites in the Sintashta-Petrovka cultural area near the Ural Mountains and date to ca. 2000 BCE.
The Yajurveda Samhita consists of archaic prose mantras and also in part of verses borrowed and adapted from the Rigveda. Its purpose was practical, in that each mantra must accompany an action in sacrifice but, unlike the Samaveda, it was compiled to apply to all sacrificial rites, not merely the Somayajna. There are two major groups of recensions of this Veda, known as the "Black" (Krishna) and "White" (Shukla) Yajurveda (Krishna and Shukla Yajurveda respectively). While White Yajurveda separates the Samhita from its Brahmana (the Shatapatha Brahmana), the Black Yajurveda intersperses the Samhita with Brahmana commentary. Of the Black Yajurveda four major recensions survive (Maitrayani, Katha, Kapisthala-Katha, Taittiriya).
The Samaveda Samhita (from sāman, the term for a melody applied to metrical hymn or song of praise) consists of 1549 stanzas, taken almost entirely (except for 78 stanzas) from the Rigveda. Like the Rigvedic stanzas in the Yajurveda, the Samans have been changed and adapted for use in singing. Some of the Rigvedic verses are repeated more than once. Including repetitions, there are a total of 1875 verses numbered in the Samaveda recension translated by Griffith. Two major recensions remain today, the Kauthuma/Ranayaniya and the Jaiminiya. Its purpose was liturgical, as the repertoire of the udgātṛ or "singer" priests who took part in the sacrifice.
The Artharvaveda Samhita is the text 'belonging to the Atharvan and Angirasa poets. It has 760 hymns, and about 160 of the hymns are in common with the Rigveda. Most of the verses are metrical, but some sections are in prose. It was compiled around 900 BCE, although some of its material may go back to the time of the Rigveda, and some parts of the Atharva-Veda are older than the Rig-Veda though not in linguistic form.
The Atharvaveda is preserved in two recensions, the Paippalāda and Śaunaka. According to Apte it had nine schools (shakhas). The Paippalada text, which exists in a Kashmir and an Orissa version, is longer than the Saunaka one; it is only partially printed in its two versions and remains largely untranslated.
Unlike the other three Vedas, the Atharvanaveda has less connection with sacrifice. Its first part consists chiefly of spells and incantations, concerned with protection against demons and disaster, spells for the healing of diseases, for long life and for various desires or aims in life.
The second part of the text contains speculative and philosophical hymns.
The Atharvaveda is a comparatively late extension of the "Three Vedas" connected to priestly sacrifice to a canon of "Four Vedas". This may be connected to an extension of the sacrificial rite from involving three types of priest to the inclusion of the Brahman overseeing the ritual.
The Atharvaveda is concerned with the material world or world of man and in this respect differs from the other three vedas. Atharvaveda also sanctions the use of force, in particular circumstances and similarly this point is a departure from the three other vedas.
While contemporary traditions continued to maintain Vedic ritualism (Śrauta, Mimamsa), Vedanta renounced all ritualism and radically re-interpreted the notion of "Veda" in purely philosophical terms. The association of the three Vedas with the bhūr bhuvaḥ svaḥ mantra is found in the Aitareya Aranyaka: "Bhūḥ is the Rigveda, bhuvaḥ is the Yajurveda, svaḥ is the Samaveda" (1.3.2). The Upanishads reduce the "essence of the Vedas" further, to the syllable Aum (ॐ). Thus, the Katha Upanishad has:
"The goal, which all Vedas declare, which all austerities aim at, and which humans desire when they live a life of continence, I will tell you briefly it is Aum" (1.2.15)
In post-Vedic literature
The term upaveda ("applied knowledge") is used in traditional literature to designate the subjects of certain technical works. Lists of what subjects are included in this class differ among sources. The Charanavyuha mentions four Upavedas:
1. Medicine (Āyurveda), associated with the Rigveda
2. Archery (Dhanurveda), associated with the Yajurveda
3. Music and sacred dance (Gāndharvaveda), associated with the Samaveda
4. Military science (Shastrashastra), associated with the Atharvaveda
But Sushruta and Bhavaprakasha mention Ayurveda as an upaveda of the Atharvaveda. Sthapatyaveda (architecture), Shilpa Shastras (arts and crafts) are mentioned as fourth upaveda according to later sources.
The Hindu Philosophy can be divided into three pairs:
Shankhya – Yoga
Nyaya – Vaisheshika
Mimamsa – Uttara Mimamsa (or Vedanta)
The basic premise is:
God is a depository of all sources of powers and forces of nature. From whom nature with its manifold living creatures has emanated and by whom it is sustained.
There is one fundamental reality in which all duality ceases. The highest truth is thus the highest being who is both immanent in the world and transcendent as well. He holds the world within himself and yet does not exhaust himself in the world.
The truth reveals itself only in our hearts through sublime purity, absolute self-control, self-abnegation and creation of mundane desires.
Meditation is all about transcending the limitations of a biological body and coming closer to Atma or self. The moment you start to see your ‘self’ as a guardian and your mind as a child playing with the toys of thought, you have reached the first stage of mediation. Next is to know that you are not the child and his toys. You need to relax and sit as if a mother sitting in a garden while the child plays around. The moment you try to stop the child forcefully, the meditation is broken. So just let go. Don’t try to do anything. You will not know when the child will come and sleep silently besides you. It’s this stage where the thoughts of the mind stop bothering you and mediation starts. The more the knowledge sinks into your heart that the body, its name, its identity, all the worldly possessions, its sexual orientation etc belong to the plane of perceptible universe which only the child in you perceives, the more you get closer to bliss. Now from here on there is nothing which any text can tell you about what you will see or what you will find as no body knows the way to express it. It’s a blissful realm where such things are not important.
Hinduism talks about transmigration of soul. It says that a soul is a spark of God and takes several different forms to express it through those forms. Many a times the environment may not be conducive for best expression so the soul leaves that form and enters another. This goes on till the best is not realised.
What is the purpose of life then? This can be understood by asking what is not the purpose of life? Well, all those who forget the self and start to see their body as everything lose sight of the bigger picture and for such people the question has no relevance thus. The question has any relevance only for those who know that the self is different from the body and body is just a brush that the self uses to paint a picture on the canvas given by God. The self constantly wants the body to meditate and ask for motivation from God. But if the mind becomes the master and the body goes unruly, the mission of life gets lost and remains incomplete. Therefore the soul enters a different body after leaving the present one.
Somewhere around 250 BCE, Kapila is believe to have presented Shankhya philosophy that branched into Atheist and Theist beliefs under Ishwara Krishna and Patanjali respectively. The philosophy believes that every thing that we see has a causation behind its being the way it is. Such causation is called guna (or inner potential). There are three gunas: Sattva (truth and purity), Rajas (Passion and desire) and Tamas (inaction). Prakriti iis a hypothetical state of pure potential conditions of these gunas. Purusha is pure consciousness, whose last metaphysical function is self-annulment.
Bringing the scattered bits together: guna expresses as five tatva: sky, water, earth, wind and fire. From these everything is formed and everything is part of prakriti. The purusha is state of consciousness. There are as many purusha as many physic planes. The highest purpose is self-annulment and losing the self to the Brahma.
Shankhya: The inherent potentials sufficient to explain the present order. The existence of God is both unwarranted and unnecessary.
Yoga teaches that avidya (lack of knowledge) grows into many cementing principles of the mind, ego-consciousness, attachment, self-preservation tendency. Avidya can be shattered by dhyana and dhaarana. Yoga asks for supreme ethical purity in thought, word and deed. It is the will of God because of which the gunas manifest themselves in such forms.
Nyaya: It is a school of logic.
Vaisheshya: Its based on the system of atomism, explaining the cosmic process in which the soul was involved. It sees universe as atomic structure.
Mimamsa: It is a Vedic exegesis. Sankara, a South Indian Brahmin gave the doctrine of non-duality – Advaita or monoism. It talks about the final stage of knowledge as a stage of being sat-chit-ananda = to be–conscious-blissful.
Ramanuja provided the philosophy for Bhakti.
Madhava spread the idea of Lokayata (popular). These were ideas of no God or Naastik. They denied the existence of any soul or pure consciousness.
Ajivika School of Makkhali Gosala denied the law of Karma.
One can see each developed to answer same basic question and developed in distinct ways. Probably to answer the people of different backgrounds facing different challenges. Each tried to explain the prevailing order and the reason behind all pain and showed a way out. Meanwhile several superstitious beliefs prevailed and derogatory practices like sati, jauhar, child marriage, animal sacrifice, dowry ect. also became the part of the civilization.
Several reform movements where started during the British rule in India and the reformers faced several hurdles in abolishing such practices. Dowry remains a present day problem, female infanticide too has become a glaring problem.
There is a need to revisit all such lines of thoughts and from thesis and their anti-thesis, see if something new comes up as synthesis.