Indian philosophy

“Philosophical thought in India in the sixth century B.C. had become quite mature. It had reached a stage which could have been arrived at only after long and arduous philosophical quest. Jainism and Buddhism, the latter enormously influential in Indian and neighboring cultures, had emerged by this time. But even before their advent, the philosophical reflections of the early Upanishads (900-600 B.C.) had set forth the fundamental concepts of Hindu thought which have continued to dominate the Indian mind.

It is perhaps necessary to point out that there has often been a wide divergence between Indian and Western interpretations of Indian thought. Dr. Ananda K. Coomaraswamy once even declared that a true account to Hinduism may be given in a categorical denial of most of the interpretation that have been made by Westerners or Western-trained Indians.”

“…in the search for some reality behind the external world, various methods have been restored to, ranging from experimental to the purely speculative. It is the oldest philosophical tradition in the world to be traced in the ancient Vedas. Although the religious and philosophical spirit of India emerges distinctly in the Rig Veda, the Upanishads are its most brilliant exposition, for the Vedic civilization was naturalistic and utilitarian, although it did not exclude the cosmological and religious speculation.

Older than Plato or Confucius, the Upanishads are the most ancient philosophical works and contain the mature wisdom of India’s intellectual and spiritual attainment. They have inspired not only the orthodox system of Indian thought but also the so-called heterodox schools such as Buddhism. In profundity of thought and beauty of style, they have rarely been surpassed not only in Indian thought but in the Western and Chinese philosophical traditions as well.”

Indian Inspiration of Pythagoras
“The similarity between the theory of Thales, that water is the material cause of all things, and the Vedic idea of primeval waters as the origin of the universe, was first pointed out by Richard Garbe. The resemblances, too, between the teachings of Pythagoras (ca. 582-506 B.C.) and Indian philosophy are striking.

It was Sir William Jones, the founder of comparative philology, who first pointed out the pointed out the similarities between Indian and Pythagorean beliefs. Later, other scholars such as Colebrooke, Garbe, and Winternitz also testified to the Indian inspiration of Pythagoras.

Professor H. G. Rawlinson writes: ” It is more likely that Pythagoras was influenced by India than by Egypt. Almost all the theories, religions, philosophical and mathematical taught by the Pythagoreans, were known in India in the sixth century B.C., and the Pythagoreans, like the Jains and the Buddhists, refrained from the destruction of life and eating meat and regarded certain vegetables such as beans as taboo” “It seems that the so-called Pythagorean theorem of the quadrature of the hypotenuse was already known to the Indians in the older Vedic times, and thus before Pythagoras (ibid). (Legacy of India 1937, p. 5).

Professor Maurice Winternitz is of the same opinion: “As regards Pythagoras, it seems to me very probable that he became acquainted with Indian doctrines in Persia.” (Visvabharati Quarterly Feb. 1937, p. 8).

It is also the view of Sir William Jones (Works, iii. 236), Colebrooke (Miscellaneous Essays, i. 436 ff.). Schroeder (Pythagoras und die Inder), Garbe (Philosophy of Ancient India, pp. 39 ff), Hopkins (Religions of India, p. 559 and 560) and Macdonell (Sanskrit Literature, p. 422). (source: Eastern Religions and Western Thought – By Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan p. 143).

Ludwig von Schröder German philosopher, author of the book Pythagoras und die Inder (Pythagoras and the Indians), published in 1884, he argued that Pythagoras had been influenced by the Samkhya school of thought, the most prominent branch of the Indic philosophy next to Vedanta.

(source: In Search of The Cradle of Civilization: : New Light on Ancient India – By Georg Feuerstein, Subhash Kak & David Frawley p. 252). Refer to The Passion of the Greeks: Christianity and the Rape of the Hellenes – By Evaggelos G. Vallianatos – Reviewed by Christos C. Evangeliou –
(Source: Indian Wisdom)





The Alexander mythos (2)

“Indian civilization is distinctive for its antiquity and continuity. Apart from its own vitality, the continuity of Indian civilization is largely due to its ability to adapt to alien ideas, harmonize contradictions and mould new thought patterns. Her constant contacts with the outside world also gave India the opportunity to contribute to other civilizations.

Whilst other ancient civilizations have long ceased to exist, Indian civilization has continued to grow despite revolutionary changes. The ancient cultures of Egypt, Mesopotamia and Persia have not survived. But in India today, Hindus seek inspiration from concepts similar to those originally advanced by their ancestors.

Jawaharlal Nehru says in his book The Discovery of IndiaTill recently many European thinkers imagined that everything that was worthwhile had its origins in Greece or Rome. Sir Henry Maine has said somewhere that except the blind forces of nature, nothing moves in this world which is not originally Greek.”
However, Indian contacts with the Western world date back to prehistoric times. Trade relations, preceded by the migration of peoples, inevitably developed into cultural relations. This view is not only amply supported by both philological and archaeological evidence, but by a vast body of corroborative literary evidence as well: Vedic literature and the Jatakas, Jewish chronicles, and the accounts of Greek historians all suggest contact between India and the West. Taxila was a great center of commerce and learning. “Crowds of eager scholars flowed to it for instruction in the three Vedas and in the eighteen branches of knowledge.” Tradition affirms that the great epic, the Mahabharata, was first recited in the city.” (An Advance History of India, R. C. Majumdar, H. C. Raychanduri p.64) Buddha is reputed to have studied in Taxila. Pythagorean and Platonic philosophy owe their origin to Indian thought and spirituality.

Alexander’s raid, which was so significant to Western historians, seemed to have entirely escaped the attention of Sanskrit authors. From the Indian point of view, there was nothing to distinguish his raid in Indian history. Jawaharlal Nehru says, ” From a military point of view his invasion, was a minor affair. It was more of a raid across the border, and not a very successful raid at that.”

“The Europeans are apt to imagine that before the great Greek thinkers, Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, there was a crude confusion of thought, a sort of chaos without form and void. Such a view becomes almost a provincialism when we realize that systems of thought which influenced countless millions of human beings had been elaborated by people who never heard the names of the Greek thinkers.”
(source: Eastern Religions and Western Thought – By Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan
(Source: ‘Ancient rishis’ pathway to Hinduism)


The Alexander mythos (1)

Alexander is supposed to have invaded the Punjab in 326 B.C. Every schoolboy is taught and is expected to know, that he invaded India’s Northwest. Strangely, this event, so significant to Western historians, seemed to have entirely escaped the attention of Sanskrit authors. (source: India Discovered – By John Keay p. 33).

British historian Vincent A. Smith, conservatively appraised the impact of Alexander’s invasion as follows:
“The Greek influence never penetrated deeply (into the Indic civilization)…On the other hand, the West learned something from India in consequence of the communications opened up by Alexander’s adventure. (source: In Search of The Cradle of Civilization: : New Light on Ancient India – By Georg Feuerstein, Subhash Kak & David Frawley p. 252-253).

British historians used to talk of Alexander as “the world conqueror” who “came and saw and conquered” every land he had visited.
However, the facts as recorded by Alexander’s own Greek historians tell a very different tale. And Marshal Zhukov, the famous Russian commander in World War II, said at the Indian Military Academy, Dehra Dun, a few years back, that India had defeated Alexander.

Alexander fared badly enough with Porus in the Punjab. Indeed, Porus put him on the spot when he told him: “To what purpose should we make war upon one another. if the design of your coming to these parts be not to rob us of our water or our necessary food, which are the only things that wise men are indispensably obliged to fight for? As for other riches and possessions, as they are accounted in the eyes of the world, if I am better provided of them than you, I am ready to let you share with me; but if fortune has been more liberal to you than to me, I have no objection to be obliged to you.” Alexander had no reply to the questions posed by Porus.

Instead, with the obstinacy of a bully, he said: “I shall contend and do battle with you so far that, howsoever obliging you are, you shall not have the better of me.But Porus did have the better of Alexander. In the fighting that ensued, the Greeks were so terrified of Indian prowess that they refused to proceed farther, in spite of Alexander’s angry urgings and piteous lamentations. Writes Plutarch, the great Greek historian: “This last combat with Porus took off the edge of the Macedonians’ courage and stayed their further progress in India….

Alexander not only offered Porus to govern his own kingdom as satrap under himself but gave him also the additional territory of various independent tribes whom he had subdued.” Porus emerged from his war with Alexander with his territory doubled and his gold stock augmented. So much for Alexander’s “victory” over Porus. However, what was to befall him in Sindh, was even worse. In his wars in Iran. Afghanistan, and north-west India, Alexander had made so many enemies that he did not dare return home by the same route he had come. He had, therefore, decided to travel via Sindh. But in Multan the Mallas gave him hell.
(source: Alexander’s Waterloo in Sindh – By K R Malkhani).

(From Surya’s tapestry)



Hinduism’s impact on the West

“From the beginning of her history, India has adored and idealized, not soldiers and statesmen, not men of science and leaders of industry, not even poets and philosophers, who influence the world by their deeds or by their words, but those rarer and more chastened spirits, whose greatness lies in what they are and not in what they do; men who have stamped infinity on the thought and life of the country. To a world given over to the pursuit of power and pleasure, wealth and glory, they declared the reality of the unseen world and the call of the spiritual life.”

Commenting on the teachings of Christian missionaries as Plotinus, Clement, Gregory, Augustine and the like, Dean Inge observes: “They are the ancient religion of the Brahmins masquerading in the clothes borrowed from the Jewish, Gnostic, Manichaen and Neo-Platonic allegories. That is why Mahatma Gandhi told Romain Rolland in Switzerland on his way back to India from the Round Table Conference (1911) that Christianity is an echo of the Indian religion and Islam is the re-echo of that echo.”

(Ancient rishis’ path to Hinduism)

” India is not only the heir of her own religious traditions; she is also the residuary legatee of the Ancient Mediterranean World’s religious traditions.” “Religion cuts far deeper, and, at the religious level, India has not been a recipient; she has been a giver. About half the total number of the living higher religions are of Indian origin.” he said.

(Source: One World and India – By Arnold Toynbee)

The commercial ties between India and Europe were more direct than they have ever been over the last ten centuries. Indian monks and their disciples lived and taught for several hundred years in the Middle East and founded large monasteries, the traces of which can be seen mainly in Antioch and Alexandria.

(Source: The Genius of India – By Guy Sorman (‘Le Genie de l’Inde’)

Dr. S. Radhakrishnan has said: “Buddhism which arose in India was an attempt to achieve a purer Hinduism. It may be called a reform within Hinduism. The formative years of Buddhism were spent in the Hindu religious environment. It shares in a large measure the basic pre suppositons of Hinduism. It is a product of the Hindu religious ethos.”

(Source: Religion and Culture – By S. Radhakrishnan)

In an interview in Detroit in 1894, Vivekananda said, “Our religion is older than most religions and the Christian creeds came directly from the Hindoo religion. It is one of the great offshoots. The Catholic religion also takes all its forms from us, the confessional, the belief in saints and so on, and a Catholic priest who saw this absolute similarity and recognized the truth of the origin of the Catholic religion was dethroned from his position because he dared to publish a volume explaining all that he observed and was convinced of.”

(From Vivekananda, New Discoveries by Marie Louise Burke)
COMMENT: The above extracts are from ‘Surya’s Tapestry”



Cultural diffusion – from East to West?

Stephen Oppenheimer in ‘Eden in the East: The drowned continent of Southeast Asia’ writes that the Universal Flood drowned the huge continental shelf of Southeast Asia’; and that this had caused a population dispersal which fertilised the Neolithic cultures of China, India, Mesopotamia, Egypt, and the Eastern Mediterranean, thus creating the first civilisations.

Oppenheimer’s theory is that “ … the roots of the great flowering of civilisation in the fertile crescent of the Ancient Near East lay in the sinking shorelines of Southeast Asia. The Sumerians and Egyptians themselves wrote about the skilled wise men from the East, a fact often dismissed as the embellishment of a fertile imagination.”

Oppenheimer points out that the myths of the Sumerians, “with their religious connotations,” were “among the first written records in the third millennium BC;” and that “in the majority of cases the structure and content of the Mesopotamian myths show them to be derived from earlier Eastern sources;” and that “we may suppose that the direction of diffusion was East-to-West.” That claim must be equivalent to putting a cat into an aviary! If true, the dates of diffusion may be much earlier than 6,000 years ago.

He states as a ‘myth-type’ the parable of the ‘two warring brothers’ which had arisen in eastern Indonesia, and to have travelled with the Austronesian expansion along the north coast of New Guinea into the Southwest Pacific “at least 6,000 years ago.” As a most probable clash of cultures (eg. nomadism vs. agriculture), this parable (an example is that of Kulabob and Manup in eastern New Guinea) is reminiscent of Cain and Abel. Oppenheimer concludes “ … these myths antedate Genesis by several thousand years.

Other “shared Eurasian myths” include the Flood; the “watery creation and separation of Heaven and Earth;” the tree motif in the two-brother parable “derived from the Tree of Life;” and the Garden of Eden as a “fertile lost Paradise.” “The family of immortality myths may be the oldest of all, recalling the importance of ritual burial which goes back well before the end of the Ice Age.”

Significantly, Oppenheimer also says “My personal view is that although there was much technology transfer over a prolonged period, the most important new lessons from the East were … how to use hierarchy, politics, magic and religion to control other peoples’ labour.” What a claim! But he does remind us of “the stratified hierarchies still surviving in Austronesian traditional societies from Madagascar through Bali to Samoa;” and the retention of honorific titles in countries such as Bali and Samoa.

In the event, did European colonialism fail in teaching some of its ‘natives’ how to govern themselves in a democratic manner? Perhaps class-riven Britain and social rank-driven Europe were not then appropriate role models!

Revising history (2)

“Many of us are troubled by the present course of civilisation and are probing for ways out of the looming crisis. We must therefore ask about the nature of knowledge. What is knowledge? What is it that we are seeking to know? Are we content merely to know the names and numbers that explain the outer world, or are we seeking knowledge of a deeper reality? Are we satisfied with knowledge bound by time and space, or are we looking for eternal Truth?”

Comment: The above paragraph resonates with me. As a boy, I was curious about this question: How do we know what we know? More recently, as my WordPress posts will confirm, I am pre-occupied with this question: How could we investigate the non-material realm which is clearly an integral component of Earthly existence? My exposure to the domain of spirits and clairvoyance (refer my earlier posts) and my understanding of the limitation of the scientific method lead me to follow the guidance offered by books such as ‘In search of the cradle of civilisation’ by Feuerstein, Kak, and Frawley. Extracts from this book continue.

“We are looking for a deeper meaning and awareness than the factual mind can produce.”

“According to the Vedic view there are two levels of knowledge: The knowledge of the practical world of name, form, and appearance; and the knowledge of the ultimate, nameless, formless, infinite, and eternal Reality. There are certain fundamental questions that we all ask at some point in our lives. What is the Divine? What in us, if anything, transcends death? What is the origin of the Cosmos? Such questions cannot be answered by a knowledge that relies solely on name and form or time and space.”

“There can be little doubt that ancient humanity was more concerned with spiritual realities than we are.”

“In fact, all worship and prayer can be regarded as means of accessing the fundamental Reality that transcends ordinary ways of knowing.”

“Today we are in need of a philosophy, science and spirituality that are deep and broad enough to accommodate the emerging global civilisation. … … we inevitably are led back to considering, as did our ancestors, the infinite, eternal, impartite Reality. The reason for this is that only in that which has no boundaries can there be the ground for integrating all the diverse aspects of human creativity. This brings us face to face with the need to create a global spirituality that transcends all parochial religious modes of knowledge and experience.”

“As Carl Gustav Jung noted, ‘Man is never helped in his suffering by what he thinks for himself, but only by revelations of a wisdom greater than his own. It is this which lifts him out of his distress.’ This insight has more than personal relevance. It holds true of us collectively as well.”

“There are many spiritual teachings and traditions upon whose experience and wisdom we can call in our effort to create a global spiritual ‘science’ that steps beyond the limitations inherent in specific paths but that also does not seek to merely replace them or diminish their practical significance and value for spiritual seekers.”

“It would appear that none of the world’s extant traditions are as old and comprehensive as the Vedic-Hindu tradition. It is so embracing that it seems to contain all the different approaches to the Divine, or ultimate Reality, found in other traditions. Every spiritual means – from simple devotional surrender to complex visualisations to postural variation – has been systematically explored in this great tradition.”

“The Vedas embody what has been referred to as the perennial philosophy at its purest and noblest. … … Aldous Huxley, in his book ‘The Perennial Philosophy, explained: ‘The perennial philosophy is the metaphysic that recognises a divine Reality substantial to the world of things and lives and minds; the psychology that finds in the soul something similar to, or identical with, divine Reality; the ethic that places man’s final end in the knowledge of the immanent and transcendent Ground of all being.’”

Food for thought?

Revising history (1)

“Our re-examination of the early history of India, the land of the sages and seer-bards, has led to a view of ancient times that is radically different from text-book versions. This revised history even challenges our ideas about humanity and ultimately about the reality we live in.”

“ … we are now able, and indeed obliged, to question the foundations of our present civilisation. How advanced or enlightened really is our current post-industrial civilisation?”

“… are we in danger of destroying ourselves because the prime values of our society are out of sync with the laws of life?”

“We tend to feel superior to whatever and whomever has preceded us. This is captured in the idea of progress, which has governed Western thought for the past two hundred years.”

“Carl Gustav Jung stated that ‘ modern man has suffered an almost fatal shock, psychologically speaking, and as a result has fallen into profound uncertainty.’ This confusion is evident in the countless problems that vex out world, some of which are seemingly insurmountable, such as the unabated devastation of our environment caused by a runaway technology whose only purpose appears to be to stimulate the consumption of goods.”

“Though part of the world is enjoying un-paralleled material abundance, the majority of humanity is still forced to live at a subsistence level. In fact, a hundred million people are starving to death every year.”

“The psychological path of the so-called developed world has frequently been called into question, and its dis-ease is rapidly spreading over the entire planet.”

“Religious traditions are faltering under the onslaught of secularism, cynicism, and a general hopelessness.” … … “Yet it would be wrong to say that there have been no positive developments at all, or that there are no glimmers of hope on the horizon.” … … “If science and technology have triggered a multitude of problems, they are also helping us to free ourselves from the limiting concepts of nation, race, religion, and culture that previously divided mankind.”

“Our contemporary problems of over-population, pollution, ozone depletion, dwindling of natural resources, threat of nuclear war, terrorism, and so forth are global problems and require that we tackle them together.”

“ British physicist Paul Davies inferred (from a finding in quantum physics) … that non-local connectedness is a general property of Nature. Thus what we do locally has an impact on the whole world.”

“… we can no longer regard the Western European view of world history as universal … … We must acknowledge the contribution to world history and world thought that has been made by the Hindus, Maya, American Indians, Brazilian forest tribes, black South Africans, and other ’minority’ or traditional groups. Their voice is our voice. To create a global culture we must recognise our global heritage.”

“This also means that we have to come to grips with the Eastern spiritual roots of Western humanity.”

(These are extracts from ‘In search of the cradle of civilisation’ by Feuerstein, Kak and Frawley)

(Comment: We need to accept that, through reincarnation – for which there is enough evidence – pride in our current culture, religion or tribe has to be set against the probability that we have belonged to other traditions over a series of lifetimes on Earth.)