The Greatness of Indian Thought

As Viewed by a European Scholar

Here is something beautiful that EWF Tomlin says in his book Great Philosophies of the East:

“[Indian] thought, in practically all its aspects and throughout its long history, has remained indifferent to the distinction between religion and philosophy. 

“To eliminate a superfluous term from our intellectual vocabulary is no doubt a matter of congratulation. The human mind has too many terms that accomplish too few significant operations. Unfortunately, the study of Indian thought makes it abundantly clear that in identifying religion and philosophy the Hindu sages were not prompted by any marked economy in the use of terms. On the contrary, the philosophical terms in their vocabulary exceed in number those of any other form of intellectual belief. No language of ancient or modern times contains more philosophical terms than Sanskrit. Similarly, in ‘prickling’ the distinction between religion and philosophy, the Hindu sages show no corresponding reluctance to draw distinctions in other fields. 

“Indian thought arrives at subtleties of distinction so varied and acute that the uninitiated and unprepared reader may well receive the impression that Indian philosophers enjoy the use of half a dozen intellects instead of one. We are accustomed to the idea of scientists constructing artificial brains to effect calculations which neither a single individual nor a team of individuals devoting a lifetime to the task, could hope to achieve. The elaborate system of certain Indian philosophers sometimes appear to be the product of such socially-constructed intellects.”

I agree whole-heartedly with Tomlin. Why speak of philosophy, take something as simple as grammar. While studying Panini’s sutras on Sanskrit Grammar in his Ashtadhyayi, I was totally taken aback by the amazing intellect that must have constructed them. I felt when Panini composed the first sutra, he had the last sutra already in his mind and the grammar was written keeping every single sutra in mind at all times, with the ability of a super computer. 

Incidentally, Sanskrit must be the only language in the world in which rules of grammar are considered sacred. When one re-begins his studies after Saraswati Puja, traditionally the first fourteen sutras of Panini’s grammar are chanted, along with Vedic mantras! And they sound beautiful! They say Shiva played his kettle drum [damaru / dhakka] fourteen times at the end of his cosmic dance and these fourteen sutras came out of it. 

Nrttyavasane natararaja nanada dhakkam navapanchavaram
Uddhartukamah sanakadi siddhan etat samastam shivasutrajalam.

From this legend, these sutras are also known as Maheshwara Sutras. And believe me, they sound exactly like a drum being played. Listen to them the next time you meet a traditional Sanskrit scholar – though most of you may sadly never run into one the way things are changing.   

More By  :  Satya Chaitanya

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