An Update on Indian Philosophy

Human history can be divided into two distinct ages - the geocentric and the heliocentric. In the former age the earth was a flat, static center of the Universe in popular perception. And man was god's deputy on it. In the latter the sun is the center of our solar system. In this age science developed at a breakneck speed so much so that within a span of only four centuries the earth is further reduced to a global village. The man is found to be a descendant of homo-erectus, the apes who began to walk erect on hind legs. It freed their forelegs to be used as hands. Literally by standing up we have progressed so much so fast. 

Human knowledge, too, can be divided into two distinct fields-the moral and the material handled by social science (philosophy/religion ) and science respectively. All philosophers, except the materialists who deny mind, agree that art, intuition and moral/religious experiences are beyond the scope of reasoning and science. Unfortunately all established religions are still carrying the geo-centric deadwood such as appeasement of god and various myths and allegories about our origin and destination. 

Looking closely at this fascinating concept of god we find that philosophy introduced this term as the first cause of the universe for the sake of convenience, to avoid infinite regress. Religions adopted it as a symbol for contemplation and meditation. Its deification as a personal boon - granting god was a later dilution. Yet, inspite of their shortcomings, all religions agree on two vital points. First, god or Brahman is unknown and unknowable; second, humans are accountable for their actions. In other words a moral law pervades life. How, when and where we get our reward and punishment is the essential difference among various religions apart from language and rituals. These differences are quite natural as each religion has its origin in a man's moral experience. How he interprets this personal experience is limited by his personality and period. Moreover these interpretations are heavily allegorical and mythological. God is great, too, is an allegory, which defies literal interpretation. 

Indian philosophy gets the credit for discovering the fact that there can't be a moral law without rebirths or the immortality of soul; and realizing the importance of experience over speculation. The western philosophies and religions fail to explain the great disparities among men. Then the Indian philosophy, or Darsanato be precise, is neither a speculative philosophy nor a religion based on individual moral experience. But, much like other great religions, it is in deep freeze since long before the advent of the heliocentric age. It needs updating in the light of Darwinism and new cosmology to provide a comprehensive moral philosophy for this age. Let us attempt it, trusting the dictum that novices sometimes succeed where experts fail. 

According to science, the space is infinite in extension meaning its center is everywhere and its circumference nowhere. It houses about ten billion galaxies by present estimate rushing away from each other, continuously expanding it. Scientists guess that all this expansion must have begun about ten or twenty billion years ago (Stephen Hawking's words in A Brief History of Time) at the big bang singularity. We are further informed that scientific theories fail at a singularity, which is an event involving infinite mass, density, pressure and temperature. The Black Hole is another example of a singularity where everything (matter, light and time) is trapped till eternity. At the microcosm level, too, science, by its own admission, can either measure the position of a particle or its velocity with accuracy. Accuracy in both, position and velocity taken together is not possible. 

Science can not invoke god, a non-material entity, but helps itself generously with non-material constants to suit its hypotheses and leads us to a plethora of dimensions over and above the four dimensions of space-time we are vaguely familiar with. 

In the heliocentric perspective, our dear earth is a mere speck in this expanding infinite space where a very tenacious life came into existence in its oceans about two and half billion years ago in a unicellular body - the Amoeba. Thereafter millions of organisms arose gradually and perished giving way to more and more complex species. Life forms further diversified on land acquiring better skills for survival and reproduction. About a million years ago something very dramatic happened. Some apes started walking on hind legs, employing their forelimbs as hands for holding and shaping tools. Their descendants, the Homo-sapiens or us humans, started wearing clothes, making better pots and tools, lording over other animals and writing poetry and hymn. 

Evolution of life has thrown up a great number of skills in the organisms and a number of pairs of emotions such as love-hate, pleasure-pain etc. Its most remarkable achievement is the development of the mind that explores and appreciates now the beauty and intricacy of the cosmos. Yet it is very doubtful that our mind is the only mind in the universe. Considering the fact that given sufficient time and appropriate conditions the earth produced butterflies from the ball of fire it had been for two billion years, the universe must be teeming with life, intelligence and mind. In summary, the earth is a natural spaceship where evolution of life and mind is in progress. To what purpose, science cannot tell. 

Western philosophy deals with this subject as constructive metaphysics, which is, by definition, the study of reality in contra-distinction to the common-sense world of appearance. This distinction between appearance and reality is the central theme of all religions and every philosophy. All agree that the common-sense world of appearance hides some deeper reality conforming to the majesty of the universe. It is a logically valid and empirically sound conclusion as our senses and mind are nowhere near perfect. We are still living on the ocean-floor of the biosphere. 

If the reality is so elusive that nobody has been able to grasp it fully, why should one bother about it? At least two good reasons can be advanced to support the inquiry into reality. First, man's innate curiosity and, second, the influence of our knowledge on our conduct. 

According to Prof. A.N. Whitehead, the eminent mathematician and philosopher of the twentieth century, the western philosophy after Plato is merely a footnote to Plato. This greatest of great philosopher believed in reincarnation of human souls and an aim guiding the behavior of living and nonliving things. Prof. Whitehead concurs with Plato and adds that the universe is an organic flux where everything feels everything else in the universe and an event is the sum total of all these feelings at a particular place in space at a particular point in time. But, inspite of their good intentions, these followers of Plato do not arrive at definite conclusions. 

Before we enter the Indian philosophy proper, let us acquaint ourselves with revelation and enlightenment. Revelation is intuitive knowledge and wisdom about some aspect of nature through divine inspiration. It is a poetic expression signifying nature revealing some secret to an inquirer without his conscious effort. Enlightenment is sudden intuitive insight into a problem. It also denotes a moral experience where the inquirer makes a brief contact with reality or the hidden aspect of nature, destroying all doubts about it. 

Indian philosophy is an elaborate ancient science for the personal enlightenment of an inquirer through yoga, study, contemplation and meditation. While speculative metaphysics leads one into an intellectual maze, enlightenment or the personal experience of reality also frees one from the cycle of births and unites the atman (soul) with the Brahman (or the form of the good for Plato). 

Although we share many instincts and bodily functions with animals, our ancient sages and philosophers just could not comprehend the source of the great gap between human and animal minds. There is yet another difficulty with animals. They are amoral whereas we have a choice to be moral or immoral. So we put ourselves on a pedestal in the animal kingdom. Once our divine origin was fixed, human miseries were explained as the punishment for some original sin committed by our first ancestors. Religions adopted this line. Other systems are not very clear as to why the immortal soul should begin to dwell in the perishable body. 

Indian philosophy describes the soul in greater detail. "That atman is universal, all pervading reality is seen from the fact that it pervades as a whole; therefore is infinite in scope, without parts, unborn, incapable of destruction and, therefore, eternal. The consciousness inheres in atman. The principle of atman reconciles the dogma that every man will reap according to what he sows, even beyond the grave." 

The Indian philosophy, much before Plato, accepted the evolution of soul to be the purpose behind the life and universe. It makes sense if we include all lives and every soul, differing by the level of consciousness alone. And contact with reality enables a soul to enter a higher level of consciousness without body or mate. This world of super conscious souls may be the reality alluded to by philosophers and mystics. 

The twenty-first century science is now capable of shedding some light on the operation of a moral law through rebirths. The soul is supposed to animate the body while modern biology is in the dark about how cell-differentiation takes place. Could it be the handiwork of soul? It is not for nothing that the fingerprints of identical twins are not identical. Science can now search for the genetic signature of the soul and herald the era of moral science.


More by :  Anand Rishi

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