Hindu View of Life

From Hindupedia, the Hindu Encyclopedia

By Shankara Bharadwaj Khandavalli

Is there a Hindu view of life? Let us explore if one such thing exists, if yes what are its features and how it can be seen in various facets of life.

Education

Education aims at self-mastery and not just knowledge. As Swami Vivekananda defines, Education is the manifestation of divinity already present in man. It is not how many texts one has mastered, it is how well one has internalized a single text that matters.

Traditionally children are taught at early stages to learn by heart. This is to train Chitta, the memory. A well trained Chitta forms the basis for self-mastery, not just good education. This does not mean that analytical faculties are not trained. But memory is trained ahead of them so that it forms a basis for other faculties.

How does better memory help better analysis? Analysis in itself is a processing of facts to derive inferences. Thus, considering more relevant facts results in a better analysis. And a person with better trained memory can consider more facts for his analysis. Thus, training memory ahead of training analytical faculties is beneficial. Explicitly training memory as a part of primary education is very essential.

Another important aspect of education is imparting moral education. The seeds of morality along with trained memory are going to stay with the student for life. Mythology and stories of great personalities inspire children and help them mould their character in their footsteps.

Hindus are far ahead of others in Consciousness studies. How to master one's own mental faculties, senses and body, is a very important aspect in leading a successful life. But if that training comes implicitly along with a good education, that is the best way it can happen, since it is practically not possible to train one in consciousness studies at a young age. To train those faculties while they are young and let them master those by the time they grow up, is exactly what the traditional system aims at.

Economics

The first paragraph we find in any economics text would be something like this: "Man has desires. To fulfill them he earns money. His desires multiply, so do his earnings, thus grows economics." But the traditional Hindu principle says: "Desire is like a burning fire. The more clarified butter you pour into it to fulfill them, the greater they flame. Therefore the way is not to fulfill them; the way is to transcend them".

It also says,

idam evahi pandityam, caturyam idam evahi, idam evahi subuddhitvam, adaya alpataro vyayah 

Meaning all wisdom lies in spending less than what one earns. This is the basis for conservative economics. But one is never discouraged from earning. In fact, earning is prescribed for many sections of society. But one is encouraged to spend not more than what is required to live modestly and use the remaining for the benefit of society. In such a society where everyone is ready to help each other, there is no scope or fear of poverty.

This does not mean that such an arrangement encourages parasites. Such a system only encourages people to work for the betterment of themselves as well as others. Ours is a society that does not know what centralized social security is. Social security exists, totally at a private level. The west is doing its best to privatize social security, as its fears of bankruptcy due to social securities from Governments are going higher every year.

We know how volunteer organizations work - there are some people who work for the cause and the funds they get to support those volunteers are from the society - private contributions. That is, people work for society and society supports those individuals. Thus, such arrangements do not inherently encourage unemployment the way publicized social security systems do.

Science and Philosophy of Life

Does Science depend on our view of life? Is there a Hindu view of this? Let us proceed by considering some instances to see whether Science is independent of our view of life or otherwise.

Creation of zero

Discovery of zero is one of the most important happenings in the history of Science or Human knowledge in general. Mathematics and many branches of Science would not be in their present form without zero. It is not just a numeric zero we speak of, but the numeric zero was the original idea which in later times inspired the expression of nothingness in areas like group theory. The importance of zero in modern Science can never be exaggerated. Formalist and reductionist approaches which are widely used by Science largely depend on zero conceptually.

Zero is nothingness, an airy nothing. Creation of zero necessarily shows an attempt to conceptualise and concretise nothingness. But is an idea to concretise nothingness an arbitrary idea or an indication of merely one's genius or scientific temper? Is expressing nothingness a purpose in itself or is it a means to something else? Simplifying the expression of big numbers is a smaller purpose served by zero. Its actual purpose is seen when infinity is expressed. Perhaps we cannot express infinity or generate infinity without zero. It is not by generating big numbers and multiplying them that we arrive at infinity, but it is rather dividing numbers, however small, by zero that we can arrive at infinity.

This is not just interesting logic, but it is rather the quintessence of Hindu Philosophy. It says: "It is not by looking out, working to fulfill desires that one gets satisfaction but it is by looking in and identifying oneself with the Self that one gets to the state of immortality." Our Economic theory says: "Man's desire is like burning fire. The more clarified butter you add to it (the more you fulfill your desires), the bigger the fire burns(desires grow but never diminish). The way to satisfaction is not fulfillment of desire but transcending desire." Our philosophy of life says: "It is not by enmity that we can defeat enmity, but it is by love that we can defeat it." Similar was the idea that violence cannot win violence, only non-violence can. It is evident from the past that India lived this Philosophy by continuously creating, even creating in response to all the destruction by the invaders. It is not possible to discover zero without such philosophical background.

Therefore this idea is existent in all aspects of life, in different forms. It is not limited to Mathematics. The Upanishads say: "Atman=Brahman", i.e., the individual self is the same as the Universal Self. Therefore reaching to one is reaching to the other. This is the origin of the idea of expressing infinity using nothingness.

The concept of Brahman, the zero and the infinite, pervades all forms of Hindu knowledge, Hindu view of life and Hindu worldview. This in context of Mathematics became zero and infinity, in context of Medicine became Prana, in context of economics became another corresponding rule and so on.

Medicine

Hindu medicine speaks of Prana, another instance of the same concept of Brahman. This resulted in a positive approach to medicine. The English medicine proceeds by studying abnormalities in the body and fixing them. Ayurveda proceeds by studying how a perfectly healthy body is and how differently it behaves under certain conditions.

In fact the whole western Philosophy is so. It gives innumerable names to abnormalities and concentrates on them. Here in India there was no concept of a Lunatic asylum, since the case of mental imbalance was almost ruled out. The social organization was so fashioned behind an ideal society that it went for balance rather than fixing imbalances.

According to English medicine the remedy (the medicine) enters the body and fights the disease. According to Ayurveda the medicine revitalises Prana so that body itself fights the disease. This is the fundamental difference. Both medicine and disease being outsiders to the body, when two outsiders fight in the body a side-effect is natural. This is the drawback of the English medicine. But ours is another instance of the Philosophy stated above, that it is revitalization that cures the disease but not a battle with the disease.

The principle of Homeopathy is that a disease characterised by a symptom complex can be cured effectively by the drug (in extreme dilution), which produces in a healthy individual a similar symptom complex (similia similibus curanter, meaning let likes cure likes). It comes close to Ayurveda in its holistic approach, its conception of 'Prana' and its very principle. The west could not accept homeo as a 'scientific' school of medicine, because of its philosophical discomfort with such principle rather than because of a 'really scientific' reason.

Botany

That plants have a nervous system, that even they can breathe and smell and have life, was unknown to the west a century ago, till J. C. Bose proved it. His idea was initially criticised as radical and he was advised to change his views in certain respects when he suggested that plants have life, in his paper. The western world took a shock when J. C. Bose could prove in the Royal Society by 'scientific' methods that plants have life.

The importance of this apparently elementary fact can be understood, since without the knowledge of this fact many branches of life sciences we see today would not be there in their present form. How lifeless are life sciences without acknowledging life in plants? The world kept using plants for millions of years and yet it took unpardonably long for modern man to realise that they are living beings.

It can be easily known from our scriptures that our ancestors had the knowledge millennia ago that plants have life. They had also the knowledge that plants can smell & listen, absorb water through their roots, prepare their food themselves.

Is this just a theory of science or does it have any philosophical implication? It looks to us like a matter of commonsense that if plants grow in age and size, take birth and wear out they must be having life. But why could the western man not see life in them? Is the problem in his science or his very approach to life?

It is certainly a matter of one's approach to life that determines these. The Hindus see the same divine in all qualitative manifestation. They see that every part of the Universe has consciousness, whether it is rock or man. They possess therefore no prejudice that some have additional greatness as compared to others. Hence it is not difficult for them to believe that even plants have life. That they have verified this scientifically is a different thing. But they did not have the sense of superiority which stands as an obstacle to seeing many ground realities. They worship plants not as nature worshipping barbarians, but as highly civilised people who can see divinity all over, in every part of the universe. It is such approach that led their ecological sense, which is today a very big buzzword. In fact the ecosense of Hindus can be seen from the moment they wake up in the morning when they ask mother Earth to forgive them for having touched her with their feet. Unfortunately we cannot see as much of science in such practices as much we see a religious superstition since we are trained to look at them the wrong way.

The western man, on the other hand, has always believed that man is superior to other elements of nature. It is therefore difficult for him to 'grant' any greatness to any other being. This sense of superiority is visible at different levels of collectivity. It is the same sense of superiority that made him pollute nature and exterminate many species of animals around him. It is the same attitude that shows out in their prejudice that westerners are superior to other human races. It is this sense of superiority that led them to destroy great civilizations all over the world. It is the same complex at a different level of collectivity that resulted in two world wars.

It is not true that it was proved only a century ago that plants have life. But the way Hindus verified it was not only scientific, but also spiritual. Here comes the first hiccup for the westerner, for he cannot see spiritualism as a scientific means to reality.

The examples considered above fall among the most significant discoveries, which changed the course of modern science.

We have seen how the same root idea that inspires a scientific theory affects other aspects of human life, socio-political, economic, philosophical and spiritual. It is visible from the above examples that the Science discovered by a civilization reflects its worldview, its approach to life and its value system, but is not unaffected by them or disjoint from them.

Consciousness Studies

Hindus realized long back that all knowledge is ultimately subject to verification only by human consciousness and faculties. Thus the study of observer (human consciousness) forms an important part of both truth and its criteria. We see that scientists of late have arrived at this. A famous Physicist said "All science is nature's answer to man's question about what nature is, it is not what nature actually is". Entire theory of relativity is about acknowleding the observer and truth's relativity with reference to observer.

Spirituality

Spirituality is not just a matter of meditation practises/yoga, though they are means to the same. Spirituality is an outlook to life that recognises a principle of transcendence in every aspect of life. The above, i.e., Economics, Science, Education, are few examples of how recognizing the principle of transcendence affects and redirects the entire philosophy and pursuit.

While science, religion, economics, education, all these have a place in th Hindu system, all these are put in the right perspective. As a result, we donot see any of these overwhelming the others. That is, technology has its due place, but it doesnot supercede any other aspect of life, say religion. Such a balanced view is unique to Hinduism. If we look at the west, they suffered from fanatic religions and grew over those with rational thinking. But as a result the void created by the absence of a true spiritual culture is still not filled in. And that is why we see that Eastern spiritual cultures are now being received there. Also, the discoveries in sciences in the past century have marked a new era, recognising the continuity of truth and also the limitations of the human observer who perceives these only in discrete quanta. Those like Erwin Schrodinger who made these discoveries, have observed that these discoveries come very close to the Vedantic view of life. We also see that be it the olden times or present, the most significant discoveries that changed the course of the history of mankind, directly or indirectly, knowingly or unknowingly, acknowledge this principle of transcendence.

Conclusion

Thus what marks the Hindu approach is the recognition of the Principle of Transcendence.