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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; man is found to be a descendant of homo-erectus, the
apes who began to walk erect on their 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, in spite 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 not 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 Darsana to 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, 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 as Stephen Hawking said in A Brief History of Time
about ten or twenty billion years ago 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 Amoebae. 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 their 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 hymns.

The 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. It’s most remarkable achievement is the
development of the mind which 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 can not 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 bio-sphere.

If 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. Man’s innate curiosity is
the first, and the influence of our knowledge on our conduct is the
second.

According to Prof. A.N.Whitehead, the eminent mathematician and


philosopher of the twentieth century, western philosophy after Plato
is merely a footnote to Plato. This greatest of great philosophers
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, in spite of their good intentions, these followers of Plato do
not arrive at definite conclusions.

Before we enter 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, un-produced,
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


the 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 the soul? Science can now search for the genetic signature of the
soul and herald the era of moral science.