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The Story of Yajnavalkya Swami Ritananda

It was in the Vedic Age that the seeds of all subsequent spiritual attainments in India were sown. Apart from the pastoral simplicity of the people, that age was marked by an integral view of reality and a holistic outlook on life. Th ere was then hardly any distinction between the sacred and the secular, and all activities, including biological functions, were regarded as participation in cosmic sacrifi ce, yajna. Since life was a total consecration to the realization of the transcendent Reality, the contradiction between renunciation and involvement in life was not felt. Th e distinction between personal God and the impersonal Absolute, between bhakti and jnana, karma and yoga, and such other apparent dichotomies, which were to plague Indian spirituality in subsequent ages, had not been formulated. Th e world was not looked upon as illusory but as an expression of the luminous Spirit. All these features of Vedic life were embodied in the rishi ideal. In this article we shall share a few glimpses of the extraordinary life of a Vedic rishi, whose very name fi lls our minds with awe and respect: Yajnavalkya, a great wonder, a myth personifi ed. Th e Puranas abound in references to Yajnavalkya, and for this reason many scholars uphold the theory that there were several Yajnavalkyas of repute. Here we shall try to portray, in a nutshell, Yajnavalkya’s life and work in a unitary fashion, as we fi nd it described in various textual sources. The Man Yajnavalkya was the incarnation of Brahma. Cursed by Shiva, Brahma incarnated himself as Yajnavalkya.1He was the son of Brahmabahu, who was born of the limbs of Brahma.2 Th e Yajnavalkya Samhita—a well-known book of religious law compiled by Yajnavalkya—mentions that Yājnavalkya’s father’s name was Yajñavalkya.3 Yajnavalkya learnt the yoga scriptures from Vasishtha, son of Hiranyanabha Kaushalya.4 He performed penance at Mithila.5 He learnt the science of the Self from Hiranyanabha, a king of the Raghu Dynasty and a teacher of yoga.6 Th e rituals pertaining to dana or charity, shraddhaor post-funerary rites, and purifi cation of ritual objects; duties of the householder, caste duties, duties of the ascetic, and the like, included in the GarudaPurana, were codifi ed by Yajnavalkya.7 Ordered by Mahadeva, Yajnavalkya composed the Yoga Samhitaafter observing penance in the hermitage of the great sage Upamanyu.8 Yajnavalkya used to attend the royal court of Yudhishthira and was the presiding priest at the Rajasuya sacrifice performed when Yudhishthira was crowned emperor.9 It is said that once, not being able to decide who among the brahmanas assembled at his horse sacrifice was the greatest, King Janaka hit upon a device. He set apart one thousand cows with a large quantity of gold tied to their horns and then said to them: ‘I have dedicated all these things to the greatest among the brahmanas. He who is the greatest among you and the most profound scholar should accept all these.’ None of the brahmanas present dared to accept the offer. Then Yajnavalkya, who was also present on the occasion, said to his disciple: ‘Dear Samashravas, please drive these cows home.’ Samashravas complied. The other brahmanas were enraged. ‘How dare he call himself the best Vedic scholar among us?’ Ashwala, one of Janaka’s priests, asked Yajnavalkya, ‘Are you indeed the best Vedic scholar among us?’ Yajnavalkya replied curtly, ‘I bow to the best Vedic scholar. I just want the cows.’ Ashwala and several other brahmanas then proceeded to interrogate Yajnavalkya with abstruse questions. Yajnavalkya defeated them all by providing deeply insightful answers to their queries and then leaving them dumbfounded with such queries as ‘If someone pulls out a tree with its root, it no more sprouts.From what tree does a mortal (human being) spring forth after having been cut off by death?’10 Yajnavalkya was one of the disciples of Vaishampayana. Once Vaishampayana asked his disciples to perform the Brahmavadhya penance for him. Yajnavalkya offered to perform the penance all by himself. This boastful attitude annoyed Vaishampayana, and wishing to disown him, he said, ‘Return everything that you have studied under me.’ Obeying these words of his guru, Yajnavalkya returned the Yajur Veda ‘by vomiting it out’. Other sages, disguising as tittiras, partridges, partook of the Yajur Veda. From that has grown the famous Taittiriya branch. In the meanwhile, Yajnavalkya worshipped the Sun and gained access to a fresh set of Yajur Veda mantras which were unknown to others. The sun-god was gratified by Yajnavalkya’s worship and assuming the form of a horse gave him the Yajur Vedic mantras that were in his possession. These Yajnavalkya divided into fifteen recensions known as Vajasanis. Fifteen of his disciples—Kanva, Madhyandina, and others—mastered these and became renowned as Vajis (fleet-footed, or of the horse lineage).11 Later, Yajnavalkya compiled the Upanishads in accordance with the Vedas and explained them to King Janaka. He had a son from his senior wife Katyayani—she was also known as Kalyani—and his name was Katyayana. Yajnavalkya’s other wife was Maitreyi.12 The Devotee Yajnavalkya was a wonderful yogi and at the same time he had profound knowledge of the ultimate Reality—Brahman. He was also a great devotee. In the introduction to his book Ramcharitmanas, the poet saint Tulsidas, one of the biographers of Sri Ramachandra, acknowledged the fact that Yajnavalkya narrated the story of Ramachandra to sage Bharadwaja. Tulsidas wrote: I am going to explain the message inherent in the beautiful story that sage Yajnavalkya narrated to the great sage Bharadvaja; let those who are righteous listen to that portrait with happy hearts. Shambhu, the great deity, first composed this beautiful biographical story— Ramacaritamanasa— and was kind enough to recite it to Parvati. Later he recited it to Kakabhushundi when he realized that Kakabhushundi was a devotee of Rama and was worthy. Sage Yajnavalkya, in his turn, got it from Kakabhushundi; he sang it to sage Bharadvaja. These two, speaker and listener (Yajnavalkya and Bharadvaja),were both of them of equal intelligence and equally fair-minded and both of them were aware of the divine plays of Hari. These omniscient sages had direct knowledge of everything belonging to the past, present and future as if it were an emblica [sic] in the palms of their hands. The other righteous devotees of Hari (who knew of the divine plays and mysteries of God) listened to, recited, and explained this Character.13

The Yogi Yajnavalkya composed a handbook on yoga philosophy, named Yogi-yajnavalkya, wherein he expounds the philosophy of yoga in reply to a query from his wife Gargi. Incidentally, Gargi is introduced by Yajnavalkya as his wife in this book, though in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad she is a rival questioner. Th e introductory narrative runs thus: Th e great sage Yajnavalkya, the foremost of the sages, was omniscient. His knowledge of Reality had made his mind completely pure; he devoted himself to constant meditation on God aft er he had attained the requisite knowledge of all the branches of learning. He knew the essential philosophy of the Veda and Vedanta thoroughly; he was especially devoted to yogic practices. He had conquered his senses, the emotion of anger, the love of food, and his enemies, and thus had become the favourite of the brahmanas. He was always engaged in practising penance and meditating upon the Absolute. Th at handsome sage used to practice his everyday prayers and worship while staying in his hermitage. Th at great and noble sage, who had had the realization of Brahman, was always surrounded by brahmanas. He was calm, devoted to truth, spiritually attuned to all creatures, and an appreciator of everyone’s merits. Th e only purpose of his life was to do good to others. One day when this great sage, who was endowed with such virtues, was discoursing upon the nature of the Divinity to the distinguished sages, the noble Maitreyi, who was the greatest of women, and Gargi the foremost of those who had had the realization of God, entered the august body of sages and off ered their salutations by prostrating themselves. Th en Gargi started addressing the great sage Yajnavalkya.

Gargi said: ‘O Lord, you know the essence of all the branches of learning and are always engaged in work benefi cial to all creatures. So I pray to you to duly explicate to me the philosophy of yoga with all its ancillaries.’ Yajnavalkya, being thus asked by his wife in the midst of the assemblage, glanced at all the sages and started speaking. Bhagavan Yajnavalkya said: ‘O Gargi, foremost among those who have realized Brahman, do please rise, God bless you. I am going to tell you the essence of that yoga which was explained by the Lord of Creation, Brahma, in ancient times. You should listen to what I say with a steadfast mind and complete attention. … ‘One day Brahma, the creator of the entire universe, was resting on his lotus-seat, and I approached him and worshipped him with salutations and hymns. I asked him the very things that you are asking: “O Lord, O Master of the universe, unfold to me that great occult knowledge, with due solemnity, of the work which will lead me to everlasting liberation.” Aft er I had said thus, Brahma, who is the Lord of Creation and the creator of his own self, was pleased to look at me and started discoursing on the philosophy of knowledge and the philosophy of action.14 The Preceptor of Jnana Since time immemorial a particular type of Indian mind has been very keen on discriminative dialectics. Perfection of this system resulted in the evolution of an independent system of yoga called jnana yoga. Doubts give rise to questions, questions goad one to enquiry, enquiry involves argumentation, and it is through argumentation and debate that the validity of a theory is established. Thus, argumentation and dialogue constitute the driving force behind the establishment of the truth of any theory. A truth is termed eternal only when it has been tested by ardent aspirants as well as critics and agnostics. For this reason we find that in India, many a time, the highest truths have been brought to light in the scriptures in the form of dialogue. Generally, such dialogues involve the preceptor, the one who knows the Truth, and the disciple who aspires after knowledge. In the Upanishads, the realization of the Self, or the Atman, and the experience of the identity of Atman and Brahman are described as the ultimate human goals. The means of achieving these goals has been stated thus: Atma va are drashtavyah shrotavyo mantavyo nididhyasitavyo; the Self should be realized—should be heard of, reflected on, and meditated upon.15 The Vedantic sadhanas are: shravana, manana, nididhyasana—hearing, reflection, and meditation. The Truth is to be heard of from the guru and the Shastras, to be reflected on, and meditated upon. Manana, or reflection, is the process in which this argumentation and dialogue come in. In the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad there is an enlightening dialogue between Yajnavalkya and his wife Maitreyi, in which profound truths are discussed. The Shastras in India enjoin that every man should give up the world when he becomes old. Yajnavalkya, having decided to renounce the householder’s life for the hermit’s, willed to divide his worldly possessions between his two wives. Katyayani was satisfied with her share, but Maitreyi asked her husband to confer the knowledge which would make her immortal. Yajnavalkya said to his wife, ‘My beloved, here is all my money and my possessions, I am going away.’ She replied, ‘Sir, if I had this whole earth full of wealth, would that give me immortality?’ Yajnavalkya said, ‘No, it will not. You will be rich, and that will be all; but there is no hope of immortality through wealth.’ Maitreyi continued, ‘What should I do to gain that through which I shall become immortal? Tell me that.’ Yajnavalkya was pleased. He said, ‘You have always been my beloved; you are more dear now because of this question. Come, take your seat, and I will tell you; and when you have heard, meditate upon it’ (2.4.1–4). With a view to teaching renunciation as a means to immortality, Yajnavalkya seeks to awaken detachment for worldly relations, wealth, and other attachments. He drives home the truth about the Self: Not for the sake of husband, is the husband dear, but for one’s own sake he is dear; not for the sake of wife, is the wife dear, but for one’s own sake she is dear; not for the sake of sons, are sons dear, but for one’s own sake they are dear; not for the sake of wealth, is wealth dear, but for one’s own sake it is dear; not for the sake of the brahmana, is the brahmana dear, but for one’s own sake the brahmana is dear; not for the sake of the kshatriya, is the kshatriya dear, but for one’s own sake the kshatriya is dear; not for the sake of the worlds, are the worlds dear, but for one’s own sake the worlds are dear; not for the sake of the gods, are the gods dear, but for one’s own sake the gods are dear; not for the sake of the beings, are the beings dear, but for one’s own sake the beings are dear; not for the sake of all, all is dear, but for one’s own sake all is dear. Therefore, the Self should be realized—should be heard of, reflected on, and meditated upon (2.4.5). By the realization of the Self, through hearing, reflection, and meditation all this is known. Only thus is it realized. When these three means are combined, only then is true realization of the unity of Brahman accomplished, not otherwise. The word ‘all’ emphasizes that the Self alone is dear, and nothing else. What do we get then? Before us we find a curious philosophy. The statement has been made that every love is selfishness in the lowest sense of the word: because I love myself, therefore I love another; it cannot be. There have been philosophers in modern times who have said that self is the only motive power in the world. That is true, and yet it is wrong. But this self is but the shadow of the real Self which is behind. It appears wrong and evil because it is small. That infinite love for the Self, which is the universe, appears to be evil, appears to be small, because it appears through a small part. Even when the wife loves the husband, whether she knows it or not, she loves the husband for that Self. It is selfishness as it is manifested in the world, but that selfishness is really but a small part of the Self-ness. Whenever one loves, one has to love in and through the Self. This Self has to be known. What is the difference? Those that love the Self without knowing what It is, their love is selfishness. Those that love, knowing what that Self is, their love is free; they are sages.16

Yajnavalkya continues: ‘Whoever knows the brahmana as other than the Self, the brahmana deserts that being.’ Similarly, the kshatriya, the worlds, the deities, the beings, and the universe desert the one who considers them as being other than the Self. Therefore, ‘the brahmana, the kshatriya, the worlds, the gods, the beings, and all this are none but the Self, indeed’.17

Everything is the Self because everything springs from the Self, is resolved into it, and remains imbued with it during the span of its manifestation, for nothing can be perceived apart from the Self. The Self, being pure Intelligence, makes everything intelligible.

Every time we particularize an object, we differentiate it from the Self. As soon as we get attached to anything in the universe, detaching it from the universe as a whole, from the Atman, there comes a reaction. With everything that we love as being ‘outside the Self ’, grief and misery ensues. If we enjoyed everything in the Self, and as the Self, there would be no misery or reaction. This is perfect bliss. How does one apprehend this ideal? In an infinite universe, how does one take every particular object and look upon it as the Atman, without knowing the Atman?

Yajnavalkya addresses this doubt next: When a drum or a conch or a vina resounds, the particular notes or sounds cannot be distinguished from the wholeness of the great sound, for the individual notes are nothing but indistinguishable components of the overall music. Similarly, all particulars perceived in the waking and dream states are underpinned by the Intelligence or Consciousness which is the very nature of the Atman. So waking and dream states do not exclude the omnipresent Atman; rather, these two states merge into the allpervading Atman. Again, just as different streams of smokes as well as sparks and flames issue forth from a fire kindled with wet faggots, in the same way the Vedas, Upanishads, history, mythology, arts, philosophical aphorisms, and their explanations—all emerge from Brahman, much like breath issuing from the nostrils (2.4.7–10).

Therefore, it may be understood that the universe, at the time of its origin, as also prior to it, is nothing but Brahman. Moreover, it is not only at the time of its origin and continuance that the universe, on account of its non-existence apart from pure Intelligence, is Brahman, but it is so at the time of dissolution as well. Just as the bubbles of foam have no existence apart from the water from which they are generated, even so name, form, and activity, which are derived from pure Intelligence and again merge in it, are non-existent apart from this Intelligence or Brahman. Yajnavalkya illustrates this fact:

As the sea is the one goal of all waters, the skin of all touch, the nostrils of all smell, the tongue of all tastes, the eye of all forms, the ear of all sound; the mind of all deliberations, and the intellect of all knowledge; as the hands are the one goal of all work, the organ of generation of all enjoyment, the anus of all excretory function, the feet of all locomotion, and the organ of speech of all the Vedas; as a lump of salt dropped into water dissolves in it and cannot be picked up in its original form, though its salinity is found everywhere in the water, even so the great endless infinite Reality is but pure Intelligence. The self emerges as a separate entity on the conglomeration of the elements, and is destroyed with them. On being merged into pure Intelligence, it goes beyond the bondage of the name and form that is its individuality (2.4.11–12).

The similes tell us that existence of objects as entities distinct from the Reality is a delusion engendered by contact with the limiting adjuncts of the body and the senses. These objects will ultimately enter their cause, the great Reality, the supreme Self—signified by the sea—which is undecaying, immortal, beyond fear, pure, and homogeneous, and which is pure Intelligence: infinite, boundless, without a break, and devoid of the differences caused by the delusion born of ignorance. When that separate existence merges in its cause, when the differences created by ignorance are gone, the universe becomes one without a second, ‘the great Reality’.18

Swami Vivekananda remarks: We get the idea that we have all come just like sparks from Him, and when we know Him, we go back and become one with Him again. We are the Universal. Maitreyi became frightened, just as everywhere people become frightened. Said she, ‘Sir, here is exactly where you have thrown a delusion over me. You have frightened me by saying there will be no more gods; all individuality will be lost. There will be no one to recognise, no one to love, no one to hate. What will become of us?’19

Yajnavalkya clarifies: ‘Maitreyi, I do not mean to puzzle you. When there is duality, then one smells something, one sees something, one hears something, one speaks something, one thinks something, and one knows something. But when to a knower of the Self everything becomes the Self, then through what— and what object—does one smell or see or hear or speak or think or know? How is it possible to know the knower?’20 We know all things through the Atman. The Atman can never be the object of knowledge, nor can the knower be known; because it is in and through the Atman that we know everything.

So far the idea is that it is all One Infinite Being. That is the real individuality, when there is no more division, and no more parts; these little ideas are very low, illusive. But yet in and through every spark of the individuality is shining that Infinite. Everything is a manifestation of the Atman. How to reach that? First you make the statement, just as Yajnavalkya himself tells us: ‘The Atman is first to be heard of.’ So he stated the case; then he argued it out, and the last demonstration was how to know That, through which all knowledge is possible. Then, last, it is to be meditated upon. He takes the contrast, the microcosm and the macrocosm, and shows how they are rolling on in particular lines, and how it is all beautiful. … All that is bliss, even in the lowest sense, is but the reflection of Him. All that is good is His reflection, and when that reflection is a shadow, it is called evil. …

That one sweetness is manifesting itself in various ways. … There is no sweetness but He. … These ideas are very helpful to men; they are for meditation. For instance, meditate on the earth; think of the earth and at the same time know that we have That which is in the earth, that both are the same. Identify the body with the earth, and identify the soul with the Soul behind. Identify the air with the soul that is in the air and that is in me. They are all one, manifested in different forms. To realise this unity is the end and aim of all meditation, and this is what Yajnavalkya was trying to explain to Maitreyi.21

Conclusion We have seen that Yajnavalkya, a householder, was an ardent yogi, an unflinching devotee and an incomparable jnani. He stands as a paragon of the rishi ideal of the Vedic Age. In modern times it is Sri Ramakrishna who has revived this rishi ideal: Though modern life with its enormous complexity and sophistication may appear to be far removed from the pastoral simplicity of the Vedic Age, sociological studies reveal that the general trend of present-day attitudes, concepts, and social orientations is towards homogeneity and integrality. Science, as a search for truth, has acquired the sanctity of religion, the discovery of the unity of matter and energy has reduced the differences between the sacred and the secular and, while monks now feel compelled to get involved in social life, lay people are gaining greater awareness of the need for detachment, restraint, and contemplation. The modern man is in search of a holistic view of reality and an integral way of living. The ancient Vedic ideal of the ṛṣi, if adapted to the conditions of modern life, can meet the present need for a composite ideal. This was what Sri Ramakrishna did through his life. His life was closer to that of the Vedic ṛṣis than that of the other Avatars of Hinduism, full of heroic exploits. His teaching of the harmony of religions is essentially a Vedic concept revitalized to suit modern conditions. The Vedic sages considered the cosmos to be in a state of flux; Sri Ramakrishna regarded it as the līlā of the Divine Mother. Through his doctrine of vijnāna, Sri Ramakrishna has recaptured the integral vision of the Vedic seers who saw divinity shining through every object in the universe.22

Sri Ramakrishna’s consort, the Holy Mother Sarada Devi, too lived an intense spiritual life in the midst of the din and bustle of household life, in order to restore the spirit of the rishi ideal in this age. Her spirit of detachment was remarkable. Once a rich merchant named Lakshminarayan requested Sri Ramakrishna to accept a sum of rupees ten thousand for his personal use. Sri Ramakrishna, of course, would not accept any money. So he asked the Holy Mother if she would accept the same. On hearing this suggestion, Sri Sarada Devi immediately replied: ‘How can that be? The money can’t be accepted. If I receive it, it will be as good as you receiving it; for if I take it, I shall spend it on you; and hence it will amount to your own acceptance. People respect you for your renunciation; therefore the money can never be accepted.’

Sister Nivedita observed: In her [Sri Sarada Devi], one sees realized that wisdom and sweetness to which the simplest of women may attain. And yet, to myself the stateliness of her courtesy and her great open mind are almost as wonderful as her sainthood. I have never known her hesitate, in giving utterance to large and generous judgement, however new or complex might be the question put before her. Her life is one long stillness of prayer. Her whole experience is of theocratic civilization. Yet she rises to the height of every situation.23

Swami Vivekananda believed that ‘without Shakti (Power) there is no regeneration for the world. … Mother [Sri Sarada Devi] has been born to revive that wonderful Shakti in India; and making her the nucleus once more will Gargis and Maitreyis be born into the world.’ 24

References 1. Skanda Purana, ‘Nagar Khanda’, 129. 2. Vayu Purana, 61. 3. Yajnavalkya Samhita, 1. 4. Vayu Purana, 88. 5. Skanda Purana, ‘Reva Khanda’, 42. 6. Bhagavata, 9.12. 7. Garuda Purana, 93.106. 8. Kurma Purana, 25. 9. Mahabharata, ‘Sabha Parva’, 4.32. 10. Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, 3.1–9. 11. Bhagavata, 12.6; Vishnu Purana, 3.5; Vayu Purana, 60–1. 12. Skanda Purana, ‘Nagar Khanda’, 130. 13. The Rāmāyaṇa of Tulsidās, trans. A G Atkins (New Delhi: Hindustan Times, 1954), 1.28. 14. Yogi-Yājnavalkya, ed. Upendranath Mukhopadhyaya (Kolkata: Basumati), 1–5. 15. Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, 4.5.6. 16. The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, 9 vols (Calcutta: Advaita Ashrama, 1–8, 1989; 9, 1997), 2.417. 17. Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, 2.4.6. 18. See The Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad, trans. Swami Madhavananda (Kolkata: Advaita Ashrama, 2004), 256. 19. Complete Works, 2.419. 20. Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, 2.4.13–14. 21. Complete Works, 2.419–22. 22. Prabuddha Bharata, 91/12 (December 1986), 498–9. 23. Sister Nivedita, The Master as I Saw Him (Kolkata: Udbodhan, 2007), 122. 24. Complete Works, 7.484.


Consciousness in Advaita Vedanta Pravrajika Brahmaprana Wandering mendicants in India greet each other: ‘Om. Is your vision clear?’ ‘Om’ is a salutation to the indwelling divinity, or Atman, within all beings. ‘Is your vision clear?’ is a sober reminder: Are we seeing the world as it truly is or, rather, as it appears to be? The vision that comes from spiritual insight completely transforms our perception of who we are, what this world is, and what our relationship to it is. Therefore, one who has such insight is known in Sanskrit as a ṛṣi, or ‘seer’. What is the correct vision of reality? The Upanishads say that Brahman, the ultimate reality, is pure consciousness (prajnānaṁ brahma).1 But, so long as this empirical world of multiplicity exists for us, consciousness remains a mere philosophical concept with different categories. Categories of Consciousness According to Advaita Vedanta, these different categories of consciousness are classified as absolute consciousness (brahma-caitanya), cosmic consciousness (īśvara-caitanya), individual consciousness ( jīva-caitanya), and indwelling consciousness (sākṣi-caitanya). However, all these distinctions are due to limiting adjuncts (upādhis) and are not intrinsic to the true nature of consciousness, which is by itself one and non-dual. Advaita Vedanta says that there is a substratum of this universe, even finer than energy (prāṇa), called brahma-caitanya. The very nature of this substratum is sat-cit-ānanda: absolute existence (sat), pure consciousness (cit), and bliss (ānanda). In other words, pure being is Self-aware and is of the nature of pure consciousness and bliss, or ‘loving consciousness’. The natural question that arises is: How did absolute consciousness—undivided, unmoved, and unchanging—become this world of multiplicity and change? The great seer and philosopher Shankaracharya (c. 686–718 ce) resolved this paradox with his theory of superimposition, vivartavāda. From the ultimate standpoint, absolute consciousness did not become this world; it only appears to have done so. Shankara gave the classic example of the snake and the rope: We see a snake on the road at night, but as we approach the snake and flash a torch on it, we realize that it is actually a rope. This snake-universe is a superimposition upon the rope-Brahman. There is no more causal relationship between this world-appearance and Brahman than there is between the snake and the rope. However, the universe has no existence apart from Brahman, just as the snake has no existence apart from the rope. Since it is possible for a rope to be mistaken for a snake, it is also possible for something to apparently exist without being real. Advaita Vedanta states that this world is and is not. By is not, it is not suggested that the world is an illusion without a basis, a shadow without substance, or a void. It means that the world as it appears to us is unreal because this world-appearance has no absolute existence. But for a ṛṣi whose vision is clear, the world is ever real because it is, essentially, nothing less than Brahman mistaken as a world of matter. This cosmic superimposition of the unreal on the real is due to maya, which literally means ‘that which measures the immeasurable’. To show its twin faculty of concealing the reality and projecting the apparent, maya is often compared to a veil, a cloud, or a screen, as well as a magician’s trick. Advaita Vedanta is not mere philosophical speculation or theory; it has direct experience as its basis as well as ultimate proof. To lift the veil of maya, Advaita Vedanta exhorts the spiritual seeker to take the testimony of the scriptures (Vedas) and illumined souls, use reason, reflection, and meditation, and attain direct experience. These are the compasses, maps, and sails needed to steer successfully to the highest union with Brahman. One must transcend the effects of maya in order to know the nature of its cause. How does a knower of Brahman perceive this world-appearance which is and is not? Swami Shivananda, a disciple of Sri Ramakrishna, one day disclosed the answer to his attendant, who noticed how the swami reverently saluted all who entered his room, regardless of their social position or spiritual stature. ‘When somebody approaches me,’ the swami conceded, ‘first of all I see that particular effulgent form of God through which He reveals Himself in that particular personality. The persons themselves appear indistinctly like shadowy beings, while the divine aspect itself appears vivid and living. That’s why I make my obeisance. The divine forms disappear after my salutation, and then only can I see the human figures distinctly and recognize them as well.’2 One day, Swami Shivananda even saluted a cat, explaining afterwards to his attendant that he first saw Brahman as pure consciousness at play in all forms, including the cat’s, and then recognized the difference as only in name (293). This level of realization stems from a great Upanishadic truth: ‘From pure consciousness, which is of the nature of absolute bliss, all beings arise, by it are they sustained, and it they re-enter at death.’3 For those of us who possess ordinary human consciousness, however, only the world-appearance of name and form is manifest to the mind and senses. In our ignorance, we see the cat, not Brahman. The second type of consciousness in AdvaitaVedanta is called īśvara-caitanya, or Brahman united with maya as the Creator, Preserver, and Destroyer of this universe. With the purpose of explaining what īśvara-caitanya is, Brahman may be called the ultimate cause of the universe because, due to maya, the world-appearance is superimposed upon it. But Brahman can neither transform itself into the world nor create it, since that which is absolute reality, by definition, must transcend action and change. Therefore, Vedanta introduces the creative principle of Ishvara—Brahman united with maya—to explain the process of this universe’s creation, preservation, and dissolution, which is without beginning and without end. Ishvara is God with attributes. The personal God, according to Swami Vivekananda, is the highest reading of the Absolute by the human mind. ‘Are there two Gods then,’ we may ask, ‘one absolute and one personal?’ ‘No,’ Vedanta says, ‘Brahman appears as Ishvara when viewed through maya.’ ‘But,’ we persist, ‘what then is the difference between Ishvara and an ordinary human being?’ According to Vedanta, Ishvara is the wielder of maya—all-free, all-powerful, and all-knowing—whereas human beings are subject to maya because their freedom, power, and knowledge are limited. Human beings can become one with Ishvara, but they can never be individually the same as Ishvara. This brings us to the third type of consciousness in Vedanta: human consciousness, or jīva-caitanya. The superimposition of the ego-idea upon pure consciousness is the individual’s first plunge into the whirlpool of maya. Vedanta says that the lie of separateness—the claim that ‘I am I (the lower I)’—is the initial act that produces the chain reaction of further superimposition and entanglement. Considering ourselves ‘individuals’ implies considering everything as ‘individual’. This attitude inexorably superimposes a world of multiplicity upon the one, undivided reality.

Initially, the ego-idea identifies itself with the body and mind, and with their attributes and actions. Instinctively we say: ‘I am young’, ‘I am short’, or ‘I am talking’. As the ego-idea reaches further out to claim external objects and conditions as its own, we find ourselves thinking and saying such things as: ‘I am an American’, or ‘This property is mine’. As our superimpositions multiply, so do our extraordinary personal claims, such as ‘We are sending troops to the Balkans’, or ‘I carry health insurance’. Thus, the human ego continues to enlarge itself until it becomes identified with every known object in its universe, while the higher Self remains the detached witness to all these foolish shenanigans. At the same time, the Self makes them all possible by providing the mind with the light of consciousness, without which maya could not exist. In short, it is due to maya that we become identifi ed with a psychophysical being—the shadow of our real Self. ‘Who am I?’ we may then ask. ‘What is my real nature? Like the world around me, am I a mixture of Brahman and maya—the real and the apparent, divine and human consciousness, Atman and jīvacaitanya?’ A passage in the Mundaka Upanishad describes the relationship of our true Self with the empirical self ( jīva-caitanya): Like two birds of golden plumage, inseparable companions, the individual self and the immortal Self are perched on the branches of the selfsame tree. Th e former tastes of the sweet and bitter fruits of the tree; the latter, tasting of neither, calmly observes Th e individual self, deluded by forgetfulness of his identity with the divine Self, bewildered by his ego, grieves and is sad. But when he recognizes the worshipful Lord as his own true Self, and beholds His glory, he grieves no more. Th e state of one’s spiritual development does not matter; Vedanta upholds the real nature of every human being as the luminous Self, which is associated with the mind as the onlooker, or witness (sākṣi-caitanya). Th is brings us to the fourth type of consciousness in Advaita Vedanta, sākṣi-caitanya. Th e witnessself transcends the changing states of the mind, neither suff ering nor enjoying the mental and physical conditions of human existence. Aft er realizing the witness-self, an aspirant returns to normal consciousness with a transformed mind. Such a soul perceives itself and the universe through a mind composed of fi ner matter. Like a sheet of glass, through which sunlight can pass unobstructed, the mind in this state allows the light of consciousness to reach the body and its organs unimpeded. As the witness, one perceives one’s Self to be distinct from the body and mind, which are clearly

Adoring Consciousness àat> Smraim ùid sS< )r… daTmtÅv < si½Tsou < prmhs< git < tru Iym,! yTSvßjagrsu;uÝmvEit inTy< tÓ+ü in:klmh< n c ÉUts>. At daybreak I remember the Self—Existence, Knowledge, and Bliss; the transcendental refuge of the renouncers— that bubbles up in the heart. That impartite Brahman (Self )—the eternal witness of the states of awakening, dream, and deep sleep—am I, and not (a mere) aggregate of matter. àatnRmaim tms> prmkRv[¡ pU[¡ snatnpd< pué;aeÄmaOym!, yiSmiÚd< jgdze;mze;mUtaER rJJva< Éuj¼m #v àitÉaist< vE. At dawn I salute the Primeval Plenitude called Purushottama— radiant as the sun and beyond all darkness— in which perfect Being the entire world is manifest like a snake in a rope. —Shankaracharya

recognized as objects of perception. One knows, beyond doubt, that it is the self-luminous Atman that governs one’s entire psychophysical being. In the mystical language of the Kena Upanishad, the Self is realized as ‘the Ear of the ear, Mind of the mind, Speech of the speech … [as] also Breath of the breath, and Eye of the eye.’5 Th is witness-self is known as the ‘inner controller’ (antaryāmin), and is beautifully described in the Katha Upanishad as the rider within a chariot-body. Th e charioteer is the intellect (buddhi), and the reins are the mind— endowed with volition and emotion.

The senses, say the wise, are the horses; the roads they travel are the mazes of desire. Th e wise call the Self the enjoyer, when he is united with the body, the senses, and the mind.6

Once the jiva identifi es its real nature, the next step is to locate it. How and where does pure consciousness dwell within the body? Th e ancient Upanishads show us the precise location. ‘Within the city of Brahman, which is the body,’ the Chhandogya Upanishad discloses, there is the heart, and within the heart, there is a little house. Th is house has the shape of a lotus, and within it dwells that which is to be sought aft er, inquired about, and realized. … Th ough old age comes to the body, the lotus of the heart does not grow old. At the death of the body, it does not die. The lotus of the heart, where Brahman exists in all his glory—that, and not the body, is the true city of Brahman.7

Consciousness and the Psychophysical System Also in the Upanishads, we find the classic Vedantic model of the threefold body, or fivefold sheath, which elucidates the nature of the gross and subtle layers of consciousness that exist within our psychophysical being. Vedanta explains that every human being is comprised of three bodies: the gross, the subtle, and the causal, which are the respective mediums of experience for our waking, dream, and dreamless sleep states. The gross body (annamaya kośa, or ‘sheath of food’) is born; it grows, transforms, decays, and dies. The subtle and causal bodies are what reincarnate from birth to birth. The subtle body is composed of the vital sheath (prāṇamaya kośa), mental sheath (manomaya kośa), and sheath of the intellect (vijnānamaya kośa). The vital sheath is the life force that operates the autonomic nervous system, thus controlling respiration (prāṇa), excretion (apāna), and digestion (samāna), and also various functions of the cerebro-spinal system such as exertion (vyāna) and growth. The vital sheath, moreover, mediates the soul’s departure from the body at the time of death (udāna). The manomaya kośa comprises the volitional, or deliberative mind, as well as the five organs of perception; whereas the vijnānamaya kośa (buddhi) is the cognitive, or determinative mind, along with the five organs of perception. Through the buddhi, or cognitive mind, all other faculties of the mind, whether volitional or emotional, receive their light. However, as already mentioned, the buddhi simply permits the passage of the light of the witness-self (sākṣin) and thus appears to be self-luminous. Vedanta claims that though the buddhi is located in the heart within a tiny space (ākāśa) ‘about the size of a thumb’, the witness-self dwells even deeper within our being, within the buddhi itself. Therefore, the buddhi— only one step away from the witness-self—is still identified with the non-Self and asserts itself as the knower and the doer within the mental and vital sheaths, and functions as the empirical self that reincarnates.8 Human cognition exemplifies how the various mental faculties function together within the mental and intelligence sheaths. According to Vedanta, cognition is a fourfold operation. First, the deliberative faculty of the mind (manas) asks: ‘What is this object?’ The memory (citta) attempts to recall similar objects. Then, the determinative faculty (buddhi) is able to ascertain: ‘It is a desk.’ Finally, the sense of egoism (ahaṁkāra) makes the association: ‘I am sitting at the desk.’ Throughout the cognitive process, however—whether we know it or not—the light of the Self, shining through the buddhi to the organs of perception, reveals everything that we experience. William M Indich, in his book Consciousness in Advaita Vedanta, explains: ‘In visual perception, then, Brahman intelligence reflected in mind is extended out along the medium of the organ of vision, which Advaitins claim is the nature of light (tejas) … contacts an object, assumes its form, and reveals it as known.’9 This Upanishadic model of the fivefold sheath demonstrates not only a nuanced vocabulary of consciousness and cognition, which the West has yet to develop, but a fundamental disparity in the Western and Eastern approaches to probing the nature of consciousness. Today, most Western material scientists posit that human consciousness is an epiphenomenon of the brain. On the other hand, the Eastern system of Yoga-Vedanta maintains that consciousness does not originate in the brain—nor even in the mind, for that matter, because the mind merely passes on the light of consciousness. The brain, the mind, and the body are merely physical mediums for the expression of consciousness. Moreover, the Yoga-Vedanta system of psychology asserts that thought, which is a specific type of consciousness, is a function of the mind, not the brain.10 ‘In the Vedantic view the mind is not a process;’ Swami Satprakashananda summarizes, ‘nor is it a function, or a state, or an attribute of something else. It is a positive substance, though not ultimately real. It has definite functions and states. It is one of the products of primordial nature, the potential cause of the universe, called prakṛti or māyā, which has no consciousness inherent in it ’ [italics added] (72). Furthermore, contemporary scientists maintain that human consciousness can only be objectively studied from the perspective of a third person, that is, an independent observer. This markedly limits the analysis of subjective phenomena and undoubtedly accounts for Western science’s three-hundredyear delay (after the inception of the scientific revolution) in examining human consciousness and the mind. On the other hand, Indic religious traditions such as Yoga-Vedanta uphold the premise that one’s own consciousness—disciplined and refined through the path of yoga—is the clearest and most reliable lens for perceiving and grasping the nature of human and transcendental consciousness. For thousands of years mind and consciousness have been primary subjects of introspective investigation in the Indian subcontinent. Consequently, the Indian ṛṣis were able to develop sophisticated techniques for tracing the origin and nature of consciousness, which have been handed down from guru to disciple to the present day. Approaches to Consciousness How, then, can we attain pure consciousness, the light of the Atman, by which we obtain the clearest perception of reality? Shankara, the Advaita Vedantin, prescribes the four traditional methods (sādhana catuṣṭaya) that, when perfected, mark the qualifications of a ṛṣi: (i) discrimination between the eternal and non-eternal; (ii) renunciation of the tendency towards sensual enjoyment; (iii) cultivation of the six treasures (tranquillity, self-control, mental poise, forbearance, faith, and self-surrender); and (iv) desire for liberation. Though all four ualifications work together as methods for refining, stabilizing, and elevating one’s mind, for the sake of brevity, we will focus only on the first two. Vedanta scriptures exhort aspirants to first hear the truth, then contemplate it, and finally meditate upon it (śravaṇa, manana, nididhyāsana). To incorporate this technique into spiritual practice, Swami Turiyananda, a direct disciple of Sri Ramakrishna, once taught a young monastic how to study the Bhagavadgita: ‘Take one verse at a time, meditate on its meaning, and live the verse for a week before going on to the next verse.’11 By studying an entire scripture in this way, an aspirant refines and deepens the faculty of introspection, imbibes the spiritual truth of the passage, and thus activates and sustains a spiritual current of thought throughout the day. By developing subtlety of mind, one unleashes the powers of the mind. To strengthen and unsheathe the buddhi from its weakening and covering delusions forged through many lives, the aspirant, under the guidance of a qualifi ed teacher, also practices the method of negating all impermanent, unreal phenomena superimposed on the supreme reality (neti neti ātmā).Beginning with gross phenomena and gradually proceeding to more subtle elements, the aspirant, through logic and willpower, peels back the several layers of superimposition (adhyāropa) veiling the underlying reality of Atman-Brahman, and gradually renounces them all, both physically and mentally. Th is is a process that involves two steps: by negating the attributes of the non-Self, one unfolds the essential nature of the Self, or Atman; and by negating the conditions and qualities of the relative world, one discovers the nature of Brahman. Sri Ramakrishna demonstrated in his life the unconscious eff ects of this practice when steadfastly performed in a conscious and uncompromising way. ‘When I meditated under the bel-tree,’ Sri Ramakrishna confi ded to his disciple M, ‘I used to see various visions clearly. One day I saw in front of me money, a shawl, a tray of sandesh, and two women. I asked my mind, “Mind, do you want any of these?” I saw the sandesh to be mere fi lth. One of the women had a big ring in her nose. I could see both their inside and outside—entrails, fi lth, bone, fl esh, and blood. Th e mind did not want any of these—money, shawl, sweets or women. It remained fi xed … [on] God.’12 Self-inquiry (ātma vicāra) is the technique of probing into the nature of the seer and the seen to end the identifi cation between the subject and the object (dṛg-dṛśya-viveka); of rigorously analyzing the three states of consciousness (waking, dream, and dreamless sleep) in order to gain insight into that which is common to them, the witness-self; and of methodically examining the

Mind and Consciousness The fundamental diff erence between Western and Eastern psychology is that the former does not, and the latter does diff erentiate Mind from Consciousness. On the contrary Western psychology interprets Mind in terms of Consciousness, that is Consciousness is the distinctive character of Mind. Where Mind and Consciousness are used as equivalents the one of the other, ordinary experience is of course meant and not pure Cit or supreme unconditioned Consciousness. The Western ‘Mind’ is something for which there is no adequate Sanskrit equivalent since the notions are diff erent. When I speak of Mind in Vedānta I refer to what is explained later as the ‘Inner Instrument’ (Antahkaran a) as distinguished from the ‘outer instruments’ (Bāhyakaran a) or senses on the one hand, and on the other hand from Consciousness of which both mind and senses are instruments. The term Mind bears a narrower as well as a wider meaning in the Śāstras. Thus in the saying ‘from where speech together with mind (Manas) withdraws failing to reach’ (referring to Brahman) the word Manas (mind) is evidently used for the whole ‘Inner Instrument’. In strictly philosophical literature however, the term Manas is almost always used in a defi ned sense so that it cannot be translated into ‘Mind’ as understood by Western psychologists. It is only then one function of the inner instrument. Indian ‘Mind’ is distinguished from Western Mind in this that the former as such is not Consciousness but a material force enveloping Consciousness, the two in association producing the Consciousness- unconsciousness of Western Mind. Pure Consciousness (Cit) is not an attribute of Mind. It is beyond Mind being independent of it. It is immanent in Mind and is the source of its illumination and apparent Consciousness. … According to the Vedānta … Cit is pure consciousness Itself. Mind is a real or apparent negation or limitation or determination of that. Mind in fact, in itself, that is considered as apart from Cit (from which in fact it is never separate) is an unconscious force which in varying degree obscures and limits consciousness, such limitation being the condition of all fi nite experience. Cit is thus Consciousness. Mind is Consciousness plus Unconsciousness, the intermingled Consciousness- unconsciousness which we see in all fi nite being. —Sri John Woodroff e, The World as Power, 145–8


threefold body and fivefold sheath in order to renounce one’s outer coverings and trace one’s ‘I-consciousness’ back to its source, the Self. These spiritual disciplines demand the utmost clarity of intellect and willpower—the sword of discrimination being ever unsheathed to pierce the subtle delusions of the conscious, subconscious, and even unconscious mind. ‘The discipline of negation must be practised without intermission’, stipulates Swami Nikhilananda in his comprehensive ‘Introduction’ to Shankara’s Self-Knowledge (Ātmabodha), ‘as long as even a dreamlike perception of the universe and the finite soul remains, and as long as identification with the body is not totally wiped out. Neither sleep nor concern about secular matters nor attachment to sense-objects should be given the slightest opportunity to let one forget the nature of the real Self.’1 Ramprasad, the Bengali poet-saint, wrote a song which Sri Ramakrishna used to sing, demonstrating how discrimination, when properly performed, enables the aspirant to retain the witness-consciousness throughout the three states of consciousness: Once for all, this time, I have thoroughly understood; From One who knows it well, I have learnt the secret of bhāva. A man has come to me from a country where there is no night, And now I cannot distinguish day from night any longer; Rituals and devotions have all grown profitless for me. My sleep is broken; how can I slumber any more? For now I am wide awake in the sleeplessness of yoga. O Divine Mother, made one with thee in yogasleep14at last, My slumber I have lulled to sleep for evermore

The discrimination and renunciation of a spiritual aspirant is tested through the practice of karma yoga. In the field of selfless action one attempts to drive home the non-dual Vedanta perception of reality through dedicated action and, in doing so, learns how much the Advaita Vedanta ideal is actually instilled and reflected in one’s unconscious habits and reactions. Seclusion can be a safe haven for a practitioner of Vedanta—in it one feels comfortable with one’s own spiritual prowess—but in the field of action, shortcomings and weaknesses quickly manifest and are, therefore, easier to detect and eradicate. For this reason, including the practice of karma yoga in one’s daily life is more beneficial than limiting one’s spiritual disciplines to only study and meditation. At the same time, the practice of karma yoga unaccompanied by regular meditation quickly deteriorates into mere meritorious acts of karma. Advaitic meditations vary according to the temperament and capacity of the aspirant. With repeated practice, Self-inquiry (ātma-vicāra) advances to a meditative state. The practice of constant self-awareness—witnessing each state of consciousness— is the pratibodha technique of mindfulness, known also as vipaśyana.16 Its roots can be found in the Kena Upanishad: ‘Brahman is known when It is realized in every state of the mind; for by such Knowledge one attains Immortality’ (pratibodha viditaṁ matam).17 Behind all thought and action is the witness-self, which also becomes manifest to the aspirant who, when sufficiently advanced, can at will sustain the interval between two thoughts. In the Upanishads, there are symbolic Advaitic meditations known as vidyās, which train the mind of the aspirant to search beneath the coverings of various external objects—such as honey (madhu), the sun (āditya), and fire (pancāgni)—their common spiritual core. In these meditation techniques, which focus on the relationship between the macrocosm and the microcosm, the practitioners attempt to identify their own centre of consciousness with Saguna Brahman (Brahman with attributes). For example, the madhu vidyā—meditation on honey, or sweetness, or bliss—begins: ‘This earth is honey for all beings, and all beings are honey for this earth. The intelligent, immortal being, the soul of this earth, and the intelligent, immortal being, the soul of the individual being—each is honey to the other. Brahman is the soul in each; he indeed is the Self in all. He is all.’18 Each successive step of the madhu vidyā—meditation on water, fire, air, sun, space, moon, lightning, thunder, ether, law, truth, the human race, and the Self as madhu—focuses on the correlation between these respective elements, expanded to their universal aspects, and the Self within every being and the whole of creation. The intrinsic thread running through all is Atman-Brahman, the culmination of the vidyā or meditation. Sri Ramakrishna disclosed some of the meditations he had learnedfrom his teacher of Vedanta, Tota Puri: Nangtā [Tota Puri] used to tell me how a jnāni meditates: Everywhere there is water; all the regions above and below are filled with water; man,like a fish, is swimming joyously in that water. In real meditation you will actually see all this Take the case of the infinite ocean. There is no limit to its water. Suppose a pot is immersed in it: there is water both inside and outside the pot The jnāni sees that both inside and outside there is nothing but Paramātman. Then what is this pot? It is ‘I‑consciousness’. Because of the pot the water appears to be divided into two parts; because of the pot you seem to perceive an inside and an outside. One feels that way as long as this pot of ‘I’ exists. When the ‘I’ disappears, what is remains. That cannot be described in words. Do you know another way a jnāni meditates? Think of infinite ākāśa and a bird flying there, joyfully spreading its wings. There is the Cidākāśa and Ātman is the bird. The bird is not imprisoned in a cage; it flies in the Cidākāśa. Its joy is limitless. Self-inquiry culminates in the unitive knowledge revealed by the four Vedic aphorisms (mahāvākyas) stated in the Upanishads: ‘That thou art’ (tat-tvamasi); ‘I am Brahman’ (ahaṁ brahmāsmi); ‘Pure Consciousness is Brahman’ (prajnānaṁ brahma); and ‘This Self is Brahman’ (ayam-ātmā brahma). Each of the ten Vedantic monastic orders founded by Shankaracharya is associated with one of these Vedic dictums, which is transmitted from guru to disciple at the time of sannyasa. Before that, the novice undergoes years of rigorous spiritual training to purify the mind, in order that it may be receptive to these higher truths. At the time of sannyasa, when the guru utters one of the mahāvākyas, the disciple is then better able to receive the realization of truth that the mantra imparts. ‘The Self … is to be known,’ Yajnavalkya exhorts his wife Maitreyi in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, ‘Hear about it, reflect upon it, meditate upon it. By knowing the Self, my beloved, through hearing, reflection, and meditation, one comes to know all things.’20 By uninterrupted meditation on these great Vedic dictums, desires are obliterated, and we receive the highest realization of pure consciousness, known as nirvikalpa samādhi. The mind’s reflection of pure consciousness reverts back to its source of light, the Self-luminous Brahman, just as our face, when reflected in a broken mirror, reverts back to our face itself. Subject and object—pure consciousness and perceived consciousness—become one. At last we discover that the ocean of pure consciousness that we had thought was outside ourselves is, in reality, within. We are by nature Brahman—eternal, free, ever-blissful—the One-without-a-second. P

References 1. Aitareya Upanishad, 3.1.3. 2. For Seekers of God: Spiritual Talks of Mahapurush Swami Shivananda, trans. Swami V ividishananda and Swami Gambhirananda (Calcutta: Advaita Ashrama, 1997), 285. 3. Taittiriya Upanishad, 3.6.1. 4. Mundaka Upanishad, 3.1.1– 2, in The Upanishads: Breath of the Eternal, trans. Swami P rabhavananda and Frederick Manchester (Madras: Ramakrishna Math, 1979), 65–6. 5. Kena Upanishad, 1.2. 6. Katha Upanishad, 1.3.4, in The Upanishads: Breath of the Eternal, 28–29. 7. Chhandogya Upanishad 8.1.1 and 5, in The Upanishads: Breath of the Eternal, 119. 8. Sadananda Yogindra, Vedantasara, trans. Swami Nikhilananda (Kolkata: Advaita Ashrama, 2006), 48. 9. William Indich, Consciousness in Advaita Vedanta (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1995), 72. 10. Swami Satprakashananda, The Goal and the Way (St Louis: Vedanta Society, 1977), 54. 11. Pravrajika Anandaprana, A Historical Record: From Conversations with Swami Prabhavananda (unpublished), 29. 12. M, The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, trans. Swami Nikhilananda (Chennai: Ramakrishna Math, 2002), 378. 13. Shankaracharya, Self Knowledge (Ātmabodha), trans. Swami Nikhilananda (New York: Ramakrishna- Vivekananda Center, 1946), 94. 14. Samādhi, which makes one appear asleep. 15. Gospel, 697–8. 16. Swami Bhajanananda, ‘Jnana-Marga: Its Meditation Techniques’, Prabuddha Bharata, 91/8 (August 1986), 334. 17. Kena Upanishad, 2.4, in The Upanishads, 4 vols, trans. Swami Nikhilananda (New York: Ramakrishna- Vivekananda Center, 1990), 1.239. 18. Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, 2.5.1, in The Upanishads: Breath of the Eternal, 146. 19. Gospel, 915. 20. Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, 2.4.5, in The Upanishads: Breath of the Eternal, 143.

Cosmological Reflections in Ancient Indian Literature Rita Roy Chowdhury The details in which the Puranic literature abounds are not mere play of an idle imagination. On the contrary, they reflect deep contemplation and keen observation of the phenomena of the world. The Puranic thinkers had their feet firmly established on the ground, in the world of experience, and this formed the basis of their philosophical analysis. This is their merit and their distinction. To justify the claim that Puranic cosmology is not mere imaginative speculation, but contains elements revealing their scientific and rational attitude, is the main objective of this article. Cosmology, according to contemporary lexicographers, is ‘the science of the origin and development of the universe’.1 The Puranic sense of the term deviates from this accepted meaning: it is the threefold study of the creation of the universe, its destruction, and its re-creation (sarga-pratisarga). Puranic thinkers were aware of a cyclic movement in nature. They confronted the intriguing question of creation keeping the dynamic nature of the universe in mind. In the Bhagavata, Narada inquires, ‘My Lord, kindly tell me the truth about this universe, what its characteristics are, on what it is supported, by whom it has been created, where it ultimately rests, by what power it is ruled, and what it essentially is.’2 Narada voices the query of any ordinary, inquisitive person who naturally yearns to understand the universe and his or her place within it.

Puranic cosmological study is not a sudden or disconnected inquiry. It is founded on a continuity of contemplation that has given us five thousand years of history. The Puranas share a common platform with the Vedas and the Upanishads, and can best be understood when studied in association with the cosmological theories advocated by them. Besides, this approach will justify our claim to legacy. Therefore, we will begin our discussion with the explanations of the Vedas and Upanishads, comparing them with cosmogenetic theories of some other ancient civilizations to map similarity of thought across the globe.

Vedic Cosmology The Vedic philosophers were firm believers in the theory of causality. If everything has a cause, then, ‘Who hath beheld him as he sprang to being, seen how the boneless One supports the bony? Where is the blood of earth, the life, the spirit?’3 Where is the cause of the universe? What is the power or force that has coordinated this complex state of affairs? The Vedic seers viewed creation not as a new beginning, but as an arrangement and organization of all that lay in chaos. To bring harmony into the disorganized morass is Creation. The pre-Creation state is described in the ‘Nasadiya Sukta’ thus:

Then was not non-existent nor existent: there was no realm of air, no sky beyond it. … no sign was there, the day’s and night’s divider. … Darkness there was: at first concealed in darkness this all was indiscriminated chaos. All that existed then was void and formless. (10.129.1–3)

To bring order and harmony to the chaotic mass was the task of Vishwakarma, ‘the Sole God, producing earth and heaven’—‘Dhātar, the great Creator … [who] formed in order Heaven and Earth, the regions of the air, and light’ (10.81.3, 190.3).


It seems highly significant that a similar undefined pre-Creation state of the universe is described in Egyptian cosmology: ‘Not yet was the heaven, not yet the earth, men were not, not yet born were the gods, not yet was death.’4 In ancient Greece, this initial formless state of the universe was referred to as ‘chaos’. According to the ancient Egyptians, in the beginning only the ocean existed, upon which there appeared an egg, out of which issued the sun-god. He who governed the world, He alone kept it in good order, and He alone had created it. Not that He had evoked it out of nothing; there was no concept of nothingness as yet, and even to the most primitive theologians, creation was only a bringing of pre-existent elements into play. The latent germs of things were already in existence, in timeless sleep in the bosom of the dark waters. We find a similar description in the Rig Veda:

What was the germ primeval which the waters received where all the Gods were seen together? The waters, they received that germ primeval wherein the Gods were gathered all together. It rested set upon the Unborn’s navel, that One wherein abide all things existing.’5

The Creator, as Hiranyagarbha, arose from the great waters and by his power and energy germinated the egg containing the world matter, thus setting in motion the process of Creation. From this standpoint, Creation was not a new beginning but a rearrangement, setting things in a proper order. The Vedic philosophers found a unique way to relate the Creator and the created. Creation is actually the manifestation of the Purusha, the first cause, in all things living and non-living. How did he do it? By becoming the object of sacrifice:

This Puruṣa is all that yet hath been and all that is to be … So mighty is his greatness; yea, greater than this is Puruṣa. All creatures are one-fourth of him, three-fourths eternal life in heaven. With three-fourths, Puruṣa went up: one-fourth of him again was here. Thence he strode out to every side over what eats not and what eats. From him Virāj was born; again Puruṣa from Virāj was born. As soon as he was born he spread eastward and westward o’er the earth. When Gods prepared the sacrifice with Puruṣa as their offering, … They balmed as victim on the grass Puruṣa born in earliest time (10.90.2–7). The ‘Purusha Sukta’, as this hymn is known, describes how all things and beings of the universe come from this sacrifice, and are none other than the Purusha himself. This significant bservation helps to explain how the similar and dissimilar objects of nature have a common origin. ‘From that great general sacrifice the dripping fat was gathered up. He formed the creatures of the air, and animals both wild and tame’ (10.90.8). It is interesting to note the attempt to harmonize our physical and intellectual realms at their very source. Flavoured by pantheism, the ‘Purusha Sukta’ attempts a pragmatic explanation of Creation. As I have already mentioned, the patterns of human thought appear similar through the ages. In Nordic mythology, Ymir, the cosmic world-giant, came into existence; from his body was made the world:

From the flesh of Ymir the world was formed, From his bones were mountains made, And Heaven from the skull of that frost-cold giant, From his blood the billows of the sea.6

The emphasis is on transformation, not on formation. What is, is rearranged; nothing is added or subtracted. Through this is explained the natural balance of nature and the universal recycling process. Science calls it ‘conservation of energy’. We see such transformation everywhere in nature: when the flower unfolds, the bud disappears, and the egg breaks to make way for the chick. Likewise, in the process of Creation, ‘Ye will not find him who produced these creatures: another thing hath risen up among you.’7

The Purusha permeates the whole of nature: The moon was gendered from his mind, and from his eye the Sun had birth; Indra and Agni from his mouth were born, and Vāyu from his breath’ (10.90.13).

The world vibrates with his presence. The Creator secures steadfast all that is, by his law, ṛta. He remains beyond all change. Th is Being who is past, present, and future (what has been and what shall be) the Upanishads termed Brahman.

Cosmogenesis as a Sacrifice There was nothing whatsoever here in the beginning. It was covered only by Death [Hiranyagarbha], or Hunger, for hunger is death. He created the mind, thinking, ‘Let me have a mind.’ He moved about worshipping (himself). … He desired, ‘Let me have a second form (body). He, Death or Hunger, brought about the union of speech [the Vedas] with the mind. What was the seed there became the Year [Viraj]. Before him there had been no year. He (Death) reared him for as long as a year, and after this period projected him. When he was born, (Death) opened his mouth (to swallow him). He (the babe) cried, ‘Bhan!’ That became speech. He thought, ‘If I kill him, I shall be making very little food.’ Through that speech and the mind he projected all this, whatever there is —the Vedas: Rig, Yajus, and Saman; the metres, the sacrifi ces, men, and animals. Whatever, he projected, he resolved to eat. Because he eats everything, therefore Aditi (Death) is so called. … He desired, ‘Let this body of mine be fi t for a sacrifi ce, and let me be embodied through this,’ (and entered it). Because that body swelled (ashvat), therefore it came to be called Ashva (horse). And because it became fi t for a sacrifi ce, therefore the horse sacrifi ce came to be known as Ashvamedha. —Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, ..–


Upanishadic Cosmology Th e cosmology of the Upanishads revolves around Brahman, the Supreme Soul, the creator, preserver, and destroyer of the universe. ‘He is the womb of living beings and the end of living beings.’8 Brahman willed, ‘I shall multiply and be born.’9 For this, Prajapati, the Lord of all creatures, produced two instrumental causes, matter and life, with the intention that they would multiply in manifold ways.10 Th e Upanishad explains the origin of all beings: ‘Th at in truth out of which these creatures arise, whereby they, having arisen live, and into which they at death return again, that seek thou to know, that is Brahman.’11 Again, the simile of a cosmic ‘egg’, which ‘hatches’ the universe, is used to describe the process of creation.12 Creation then becomes a threefold event—from the principal cause, through the cosmic egg, to the primary evolutes. Th ese evolutes—earth, water, fi re, air, and space, with their specifi c functions—are eternal and combine according to their nature to produce this world of variety in accordance with divine law. Th e source of law or ṛta—Brahman—is also the Virat Purusha, the material cause. How do the ancient thinkers relate the Creator to his Creation? Identity: the Creation is a refl ection of Brahman. Th e moon is refl ected in the water and breaks into fragments when there is a ripple; it is the same with Brahman. Imagine the refl ection of the moon without the moon! It is impossible. Similarly, without Brahman, there is no Creation. To say that the primeval Being created the universe and then as the fi rst-born entered into it, is only another way of saying that the Creator permeates the Creation, as a lump of salt dissolves in a glass of water, as blood runs through the whole body and is the support of life. Th e ancient seers specially remarked on the cyclic order of natural events. Th eir meticulous observation of natural phenomena attests to their scientifi c and logical temperament. Whatever is created in time cannot be eternal. Consequently the universe, which was created in time (in a particular kalpa or cosmic era), will have an end in time. Its dissolution is not annihilation but dispersion: the basic elements remain unaltered, being parts of the divine Purusha, of Brahman. Th ey are drawn back to the heart of Reality by a centripetal force, only to be set in motion once again. ‘At the end of a cycle all beings, O son of Kunti, enter into my nature; again, at the beginning of the cycle I bring them forth.’13 Purusha and Prakriti Samkhya philosophers divide Reality into two ever-separate principles: Purusha and Prakriti, pure Spirit and nature or matter. They hold that Creation is a process of real pariṇāma or transformation of the cause: Purusha is the efficient cause, and Prakriti the material cause of the universe. Purusha neither produces nor is produced. Prakriti is also eternal and uncaused, but it has the inherent potential or tendency to produce; indeed, it produces the universe, in proximity to Purusha. Purusha (like Brahman of the Vedanta) is the transcendental Self. It is absolute, independent, free, imperceptible, and unknowable—above any experience and beyond any words or explanation. It is pure, ‘non- attributive consciousness’. Prakriti is the material cause of the world; its dynamism is attributed to its constituent guṇas. The guṇas (sattva, rajas, and tamas) are not mere constituents or simply qualities: the guṇas are the very essence of Prakriti, and in consequence, of all world objects. Prakriti is considered homogeneous; its guṇas cannot be separated one from another. Though the guṇas are always changing, rendering a dynamic character to Prakriti, still a balance among them is maintained. Change in the guṇas may take two forms: homogeneous and heterogeneous. Homogeneous changes do not affect Prakriti’s state of equilibrium, and no worldly objects are produced. Heterogeneous changes involve radical interaction among the three guṇas, disturbing the state of equilibrium. This preliminary phase of the evolutionary process is initiated by rajas, which activates sattva; these two then overpower the inertia of tamas. Purusha is always behind this disturbance. The relation between Purusha and Prakriti may be likened to that between a magnet and a piece of iron. Though Purusha is entirely independent of Prakriti, it nevertheless influences Prakriti, prompts it, as it were, to act. As the guṇas undergo more and more changes, Prakriti goes on differentiating into multifarious world-objects, becoming more and more determinate. This is the process of evolution, which is followed by involution. At the time of involution or dissolution, all physical existence and all world-objects resolve back into Prakriti, which again abides as the undifferentiated, primordial substance. Thus the cycles of evolution and involution follow each other. This Samkhya conception forms the background of Puranic cosmology.

Puranic Cosmology

Puranic cosmology follows vivartavāda, the theory of ‘apparent transformation’: ‘Know that the Prākṛta (the creation of Prakṛti) is the Vivarta (transformation) (of Brahman).’14 The Puranic description of the cycle of creation-dissolution-recreation is noteworthy: it is here that the Puranas no longer remain mere folklore but rise to the level of intellectual discourse. Creation or sṛṣṭi is a vibration within the root cause which results in the sprouting forth of this world. As in the Vedas as well as Egyptian cosmology, the Puranas also refer to a ‘golden egg’, Hiranyagarbha, from which the universe emerges. Since Creation is evolution—a change of form, a manifestation of that which lay nascent—it must have been contained within something like a womb. What could that be? A projection of Brahman or an evolute of Prakriti in proximity to Purusha? Another question associated with this creative activity is, ‘Why did he create?’ Addressing the second question, the Brahmanda Purana observes, ‘With a desire to create he who is beyond measures, creates the great Creation’ (1.1.3.16). Desire is accounted as the motive force. It is through desire that we strive to achieve. This psychological element in Puranic cosmology seems significant and adds a distinct flavour to the Puranas, bringing them in line with the Upanishads. Compare with the hymn to Aten from ancient Egypt: ‘Thou sole God, like to whom there is no other, thou didst create the earth after thy heart, being alone.’15

The Brahmanda Purana describes the cosmic egg, the aṇḍa:

These seven worlds are well established in this cosmic egg; the whole earth along with the seven continents, the seven oceans, the great mountains and thousands of rivers are established in the very same cosmic egg. These worlds are situated within (the cosmic egg). This universe is within the cosmos. Everything is established in that cosmic egg—viz. the moon and the sun along with the stars, planets and the wind as well as the mountain Lokāloka.1

As in the Vedas, so in the Puranas, Hiranyagarbha is lauded here by the sūta Romaharshana: ‘I bow down to Hiraṇyagarbha, the lordly Puruṣa who is unborn, who is the first creator of subjects, who is the most excellent one, through whom the Kalpa has been competent to have its characteristics; through whom the fire has been capable of being a purifying factor; and who is the self-born Brahmā administering all the worlds’ (1.1.3.5–6). This conception brings to mind the biblical story of the ark of Noah, which carried all species of life during the deluge. As all life in the natural world appeared to the ancient sages to begin either in an egg or from a seed, the sages could have inferred the visible world to be likewise springing forth from an egg. The egg with its spherical shape, hollow and moist interior (resembling the womb), and hard shell, could carry and protect the germs of the previous kalpa after dissolution for the subsequent creation of the following kalpa. Seven layers covered it, seven natural envelopes—āpa, tejas, vāyu, nabhas, bhūtādi, mahat, and pradhāna. The cosmic egg can also be seen as the sun (hiraṇya = gold), the golden disk, also worshipped in Egypt as the source of all life—and scientifically so. In the hymn to Aten, the sun-god, the young king Akhenaten prays: ‘O living Aton [sic], Beginning of life! When thou risest in the eastern horizon, thou fillest every land with thy beauty.’ He further supplicates: ‘Thou art he who createst the man-child in woman, Who makest seed in man, Who giveth life to the son in the body of his mother … Who givest breath to animate every one that He maketh.’17

The mechanism of creation has been elaborated in the Brahmanda Purana as some sort of activity or movement which stirs the guṇas from their dormant state. The guṇas lose their equilibrium and the cycle restarts. Time (kāla) plays a significant role in creation and destruction. Time is eternal: ‘The deity as Time is without beginning, and his end is not known; and from him the revolutions of creation, continuance and dissolution unintermittingly succeed.’18

Creation thus involves two factors, or forces, or partners. The Vishnu Purana names ‘Hari’ the instrumental cause and the cosmic egg the material cause; the Agni Purana calls the instrumental cause Vishnu, the Brahmanda Purana, Brahma. ‘It is that acintyātman (incomprehensible soul) who is the maker of all living beings. They (the learned) say that the Vedas are his head; the firmament is his navel; the sun and the moon are his eyes; the quarters are his ears, know that the earth constitutes his feet.’19 Here again the Purana reverts to the Vedic concept of the cosmic Purusha, whose immanence is clearly the most consistent characteristic of Indic cosmological conceptions.

References 1. New Oxford Dictionary of English (Oxford, 1999). 2. Bhagavata, 2.5.2. 3. Rig Veda, 1.164.4, from Ralph T H Griffith, The Hymns of the Rig Veda (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1976), 110. The translations of other Rig Vedic verses in the text are also from The Hymns. 4. G Maspero, The Dawn of Civilization: Egypt and Chaldaea (London: SPCK, 1892), 141. 5. Rig Veda, 10.82.5–7, from Hymns, 592. 6. Donald A Mackenzie, Myths of Pre-Columbian America (New York: Dover, 1996), 168. 7. Rig Veda, 10.82.7, from Hymns, 592. 8. Mandukya Upanishad, 6. 9. Chhandogya Upanishad, 6.2.3. 10. Prashna Upanishad, 1.4. 11. Taittiriya Upanishad, 3.1. 12. Chhandogya Upanishad, 3.19.1–3. 13. Bhagavadgita, 9.7. 14. Brahmanda Purana, trans. and ed. G V Tagare (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 2000), 1.1.3.24. 15. Allen H Gardiner, Egypt of the Pharaohs (New York: Oxford, 1961), 225. 16. Brahmanda Purana, 1.1.3.29–31. 17. James Henry Breasted, A History of Ancient Egyptians (London: John Murray, 1908), 273. 18. Vishnu Purana, trans. H H Wilson, 1.2.18. 19. Brahmanda Purana, 1.1.5.107–8.

Political Philosophy: The Indian Perspective Prof. Ashok S Chousalkar

It is often thought that political philosophy is essentially a Western discipline, and that the East has nothing substantial to contribute to it. But these beliefs are not true: India has had a robust and rich tradition of political thinking right from the time of the Vedas and Upanishads. Indians not only developed several theories regarding the nature of the state but also made experiments with different forms of state. Some Western scholars have expressed the opinion that democracy was an innovation of the West and that Asian countries lacked knowledge of the concept of democracy. The traditional Indian state has often been characterized in past centuries as ‘oriental despotism’. But if we carefully go through the historical development of political ideas in ancient India, we will find that the concept of Swaraj, self government, constantly inspired the Indian mind. From the Vedas and Upanishads, through the writings of Jnaneshwara and Shivaji, to the political ideas of Tilak, Aurobindo, and Gandhi, Swaraj has been constantly discussed. In the present article, we shall briefly discuss a few salient features of Indian political philosophy. We shall first discuss ancient Indian political philosophy, and then some views of modern Indian political thinkers. The politics of medieval India was dominated by Islamic thought. Discussion on Islamic political thought, however, is beyond the scope of this article.

Arthaśāstra and Rājanīti The discipline of political science emerged in the seventh century BCE in the thought of wandering teachers, ministers of kings, and free thinkers. In ancient India, the science of politics and governance was known variously as rājaśāstra, rājadharma, rājanīti, daṇḍanīti, nītiśāstra, and arthaśāstra. Of these, daṇḍanīti and arthaśāstra were the two most ancient terms. Arthaśāstra was a compendium of instructions to rulers about the governance of the state. It claimed to deal with the science of acquisition and preservation of territory in order to ensure the life and security of common subjects. The state was necessary for civilized life, and without it there would be anarchy and lawlessness. So to replace the rule of ‘might’ with the rule of ‘right’, the establishment of state was felt to be a necessity. Political science was a part of philosophy. It was thought of as applied philosophy, because Indians conceived of politics as an empirical science or dṛṣṭārtha smṛti, as its basic rules were derived from practical experience. Indians viewed life in totality. They defined three mundane goals of life (the puruṣārthas)—dharma, artha, and kama—and artha dealt with politics. Kautilya’s Arthashastra is one of the best ancient works on the science of politics. Kautilya argued that the ideal of artha or material gain should be pursued along with dharma and kama, and that excessive emphasis on any one ideal was harmful. He also dwelt on the four vidyās (sciences)—trayī (the three Vedas, metaphysics), ānvīkṣikī (logical philosophy), vārtā (economics), and daṇḍa-nīti (politics)—and suggested that the study of each of these was equally important. According to Kautilya, philosophy was an important science as it illuminated all other sciences. He asked the king to study the philosophies of Sankhya, Yoga, and Lokayata. Dharma and Anuśāsana In the Mahabharata, after the great war was over, Yudhishthira was overtaken by grief when he learnt that Karna was his elder brother. He decided to abandon the kingdom he had just conquered and return to the forest. Draupadi, Arjuna, Bhima, Vyasa, and Krishna tried to dissuade him by arguing that as a kshatriya, it was his duty to govern his kingdom. But they could not convince him. It was Bhishma, the grand old man of the Bharata tribe, who was finally able to convince Yudhishthira that it was imperative for him to perform his royal duties, for this conferred great benefit to people. Emphasizing the primary importance of kingly duties, Bhishma said that as the footprints of the elephant subsumed all other animal footprints, similarly, the duties of the king, rājadharma, subsumed all other duties. It was only when the king performed his duties properly that dharma prospered. The Mahabharata is of the opinion that, in the ultimate analysis, dharma is based on truth and righteousness, and that the world is held together by dharma. Yudhishthira said that one should follow dharma not because it was beneficial but because everyone was duty-bound to do so. Bhishma told him that the duties of the state as well as the duties of the citizen were the result of a ‘social contract’ between human beings. It was his contention that samaya or mutual contract between human beings was the basis of state. Those people who, when powerful, thought dharma to be the invention of the weak, remembered dharma when they were in difficulty. Hence, observance of dharma was necessary for the orderly course of life. It is argued in the BrihadaranyakaUpanishad that dharma is the ‘controller [even] of the kshatriyas and with the help of dharma a weak person could rule over the powerful’. In ancient India, good governance was called anuśāsana; its purpose was not to discipline people but to effect continuous improvement in the moral behaviour of the individual. A Jataka story drives home this point. The king of an ancient Indian kingdom was given to the continual performance of sacrifices. He sacrificed a larger number of animals. Due to the excessive workload, slaves and workers in his service were dissatisfied. His kingdom was infested with bandits and robbers who created problems of law and order. One of the ministers of the king, who was a bodhisattva and who represented the political ideas of Gautama Buddha, told the king that he was unable to eradicate banditry despite the use of force because nobody was happy in his kingdom. He advised the king to stop bloody sacrifices and dispense with the heavy expenditure that this incurred. The king should not kill bandits but should give them cattle, seeds, and finances to till the land with profit. He should have them properly rehabilitated. The Jataka tells us that the king accepted his advice, and as a result, the kingdom prospered, robbery ended, and everyone, including slaves and workers, were happy. Thus, the policies adopted by the king were responsible for bringing about improvement in the lives of people and for setting them on the path of righteousness. This is the essence of anuśāsana. Ancient Indians were of the view that an important aspect of anuśāsana was the willingness of the people to accept the rule of their king and not take law in their own hands. This is called Shankha-Likhita Nyaya or the ‘logic of Shankha and Likhita’. The Mahabharata tells us that Shankha and Likhita were two brothers who lived in their respective hermitages performing penance. One day when Shankha had gone to the river for bathing, Likhita visited his hermitage. He saw many fruit-bearing trees and plucked a few ripe fruits without taking his brother’s permission. When Shankha came to know about it, he admonished Likhita. Likhita apologized and requested that he be suitably punished. Shankha said that he did not have the right to punish anyone; only the king had this right. Likhita went to King Sudyumna, confessed his guilt, and requested punishment. Initially the king was not ready to punish Likhita, but on his insistence, ordered his hands cut off. After suffering the punishment, Likhita went to take a bath in a river, and his hands were miraculously restored. It was Shankha who had effected this miracle through his yogic powers. Thus, the Mahabharata is of the view that punishing the guilty is the king’s duty, that one should not take the law in one’s hands; and second, that by suffering punishment for one’s transgression the moral sin is also expiated. If this expiation is undergone with acceptance of the wrong, it cures one of guilt. So, Shankha-Likhita Nyaya is the heart of anuśāsana. Gana-sanghas In ancient India, there were many self-governing republics called Gana-sanghas. The Gana-sangha polity existed in ancient India for nearly a thousand years. Great religious teachers like Krishna, Mahavira, and Gautama Buddha were born in these republics and were great supporters of democratic forms of governance. A general spirit of freedom was prevalent in ancient India. According to Dr Jayaswal, the Kathas, Vrishnis, Vaishalas [Vrijis], and Shakyas proclaimed philosophies of freedom from death, devas, cruelty, and caste! In the Kathopanishad, Yama told Nachiketa the philosophy of the immortality of the soul; Sri Krishna opposed worship of different gods out of selfish interests and advocated the path of disinterested action; Mahavira stood for compassion and universal peace; and Buddha preached equality, self-control, and right action. These great men opened the path of freedom for humankind. Gautama held that as long as republics followed the path of democracy, they could not be conquered by dictators. Hence, he advised them to take all decisions collectively. The purpose of the state was to ensure yogakṣemafor all people. Yoga means the acquisition of one’s own sources of livelihood by legitimate means, and kṣema stands for peaceful enjoyment of the same. It was the duty of the state to create such conditions that would allow citizens to earn their livelihood honestly and enjoy the fruits of their hard labour in peace. Functions of the State According to Kautilya, for the state to be able to carry out its functions, it should have a well-developed governmental machinery, because ‘a chariot cannot run on a single wheel’. According to him, the state comprised seven organs or constituent elements: the king, ministers, country, capital city, treasury, army, and allies. All these seven elements were necessary to perform the different specialized duties incumbent upon them. Kautilya contended that it was the king’s duty to eliminate the defects of the constituent elements and keep them in a state of readiness. These elements were interdependent. In normal circumstances, the king was the most important component, but the importance of different constituents varied with the circumstances. For example, in times of war, the army became most important, and in times of enemy attack, the fortified capital city assumed primary importance. Allies were not exactly a part of the government, but as friendly powers always ready to help the king, they were of considerable significance. As ensuring people’s welfare was the state’s goal, and this required finances, the king had a legitimate right to realize a share of the agricultural produce. This was the revenue he received for extending protection to the subjects. Heavy taxation was denounced, and revenue was to be realized just as a ‘bee gleans nectar from flowers’. The king was also supposed to correct his subjects’ defects in such manner that they suffered no harm. Bhishma compared this to a washerman washing clothes and removing dirt without affecting the texture and colour of the fabric. The Mahabharata has another analogy: As the sun draws water from oceans, rivers, and tanks and returns the same as rain, similarly, the king should realize taxes from those who can afford to pay them, and use the revenue for the benefit of all. Indians believed that there is a progressive decline in human morality through each of the four ages that are the units of cosmic cyclic time. Humans progressively declined in virtue from the age of truth, Satya Yuga, to the iron age, Kali. In Satya Yuga there was no need of a state. The Mahabharata suggests that at that time there were no kings and no kingdoms; there was no daṇḍa or punishment and none to punish, as all people followed the principles of dharma and protected each other. But in the Treta and Dvapara Yugas, there was a gradual decline in dharma, and it became necessary to form states and apply mild forms of punishment. It was only in Kali that capital punishment had to be invoked to keep evil persons in check. All the same, the ideal society was a stateless society where there was no need for daṇḍa. But in this imperfect world, to prevent the ‘logic of fishes’ from prevailing, the king was to use daṇḍa judiciously. He was to be neither too lenient nor unduly harsh. Just application of daṇḍa was desirable. Though ancient Indian political thinkers exhorted citizens to respect the authority of the king, this was not an absolute injunction. If the king was unjust, became a slave to passion, lacked self- control, levied heavy taxes, or oppressed the populace, then he had no right to continue as king. The Mahabharata exhorts subjects to come together and kill tyrant kings, much as a mad dog is to be killed. Kautilya gives several examples of kings who perished due to the aforementioned vices.

The state in ancient India allowed great freedom to local bodies. Sri Aurobindo has rightly characterized ancient Indian politics as a very complex system of self-determination and self-government. The essence of rājanīti was to endow people with strength and confidence. Therefore, abhaya or fearlessness was seen as the essence of functional dharma. In times of adversity, people were free to resort to means that at other times would not be considered dharmic, to preserve themselves. The Mahabharata emphasizes the need to be free of fear, especially the fear of kings, thieves, and clever people.

In the Mahabharata, there is discussion on the nature of dharma in times of emergency. It was Bhishma’s contention that in order to save oneself as well as one’s kingdom, the king could resort to amoral methods in times of great trouble. This departure from morality was allowed as an exception. At such times, the king was to exercise his reason and personal judgement, and once his purpose was achieved, he was to continue following the prescribed path of dharma. This concept of āpaddharma shows that Indian political philosophers recognized the complex nature of political actions.

Ancient Indian political thought evolved over a period spanning nearly two thousand years. But this tradition of political thinking started declining after the twelfth century CE, as most Hindu kingdoms were overrun by Islamic conquerors. Political ideas continued to be codified in the Rajadharma sections of the Smritis and in the learned commentaries of scholiasts, but there was no life in these.

There were signs of revival of this political thought when Shivaji established his svārājya, and his minister Ramachandra wrote a short treatise on politics. But there was no political philosophy in this text, and he did not explain the meaning of svārājya.

Rammohan Roy and Swami Vivekananda

Coming to modern times, Raja Rammohan Roy— who has been called the ‘father of modern India’— injected fresh life into Indian political thinking in the nineteenth century by attempting to bring together the democratic ideas of the modern West and the philosophy of Vedanta as preached in the Upanishads. The Raja had notions of establishing a modern democratic state in India and fought against many superstitious and evil practices that were prevalent in the nineteenth century. His was a very broad vision in sympathy with the known major religions of the world. He is regarded as one of the pioneers who ushered in the age of enlightenment in modern India.

Indian political philosophy was given a new meaning and content in the thought of Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda, who stood firmly rooted in the Indian tradition in declaring that service of humans was service to God, that one should see janārdana, God, in janatā, the people. Swami Vivekananda supported the cause of democracy and socialism and declared that it was the working class that would be the ruling class in the future.

The main concerns of ancient Indian political philosophers were articulated afresh and also enriched by three great freedom fighters and philosophers of modern India: Sri Aurobindo, Lokmanya Tilak, and Mahatma Gandhi. Each of them was well-grounded in Vedanta and the concept of karma yoga as preached in the Bhagavadgita. Each of them wrote thought-provoking commentaries on the Gita. They interpreted the teachings of the Gita in light of the demand for establishing a modern nation-state in India.

Sri Aurobindo Sri Aurobindo opposed the fundamental principles of Western political thought, which were based on cleavage and conflict. He held that the primary aim of the Indian state was to unite different sections of society into a living whole, pulsating with new ideas. He put forward the concept of Mother India who represented all individual souls living in India. He wanted Indians to develop their own philosophy of life as well as their own model of political development. He did not want them to be docile pupils of the Occident. It was the bounden duty of all citizens to oppose an unjust government, because injustice only breeds further injustice. In his important work The Spirit and Form of Indian Polity, published in 1947, he discussed in detail the essence of ancient Indian polity. It was his contention that the Indian model of state-building was far superior to the Western one because it was a bottomup structure, a complex union of self-governing communal bodies which enjoyed complete autonomy. Secondly, Indians did not impose change from above, as they tried to effect change from within. It is due to this that there was little opposition to change. A proper balance between continuity and change was established, and the Indian body politic retained its capacity to effect self-renewal. Other civilizations, except perhaps the Chinese, lacked this capacity. Lokmanya Tilak Lokmanya Tilak popularized four concepts: Swaraj, Swadeshi, national education, and boycott. Swaraj for him was self-government. He claimed that with Swaraj everybody would be free and have a right to participate in the government of the country. He demanded national self-determination for all colonized countries and argued that India’s freedom would usher in the freedom of other subject countries. He declared that Swaraj was his birthright and he would secure it. Tilak’s greatest contribution was perhaps his erudite commentary on the Gita, the Gita Rahasya. In this commentary he argued that the Gita ought to be interpreted in light of the teachings of the Mahabharata. Though the followers of Shankaracharya laid greater emphasis on the path of renunciation, the Gita, in fact, taught the path of selfless action, and sought to combine the path of knowledge and the path of disinterested action. Only the person who had truly acquired self-knowledge could perform selfless action. Hence, while pursuing the path of knowledge, one ought to perform one’s assigned duties and not shirk responsibility. Duties are not merely in one’s own interest but in the larger interest of society. Duties are meant for loka saṅgraha. Loka saṅgraha is a complex concept consisting of three components: (i) organizing people who have strayed from the path of dharma or are dispersed; (ii) bringing them over to the proper path of dharma; and (iii) helping them walk the path of righteousness by having them imbibe the principles of dharma. Tilak was of the view that great personalities like Sri Krishna, Sri Ramachandra, Janaka, and Yudhishthira followed this path which leads to liberation. To Janaka, the performance of his royal duties was of utmost importance. Tilak accorded greater importance to wiping the tears from the eyes of the poor and the weak than to personal salvation. Janaka was his ideal. Mahatma Gandhi and Vinoba Bhave Mahatma Gandhi wanted to empower the Indian nation by empowering its people. In his famous book Hind Swaraj he questioned Western civilization, which he felt was irreligious. He criticized British democracy; in his opinion it was thoroughly commercial; its elected leaders looked after their own self-interest. He called the British parliament a chattering shop. He wanted that Swaraj for India in which everyone would enjoy the glow of freedom. He did not want India to copy the Western model of state and democracy. He did not want ‘white men’ to be replaced by ‘dark men’ while the British instruments of repression remained intact. He cited the example of Italy: after independence, Mazzini was not happy because the independent Italy for which he had fought was not a democratic state; it had been captured by domestic vested interests!

Gandhi wanted the state to be freed of its coercive elements and sought to instil fearlessness in the minds of people. In his concept of Swaraj, there was decentralization of power and India was to be a confederation of thousands of self-reliant and self-governing villages: innumerable circles of village republics. But these village republics were not to be hierarchically organized; instead they would be ‘oceanically’ organized. In the ocean, all waves maintain similar levels and none dominates over others; similarly, to prevent oppression, no system should be hierarchically organized. In the Gandhian concept of Swaraj, Ram-rajya or the kingdom of God ought to be established first in our own souls, only then can it be established in our villages. Swadeshi—use of home-produced materials in industry and the boycott of foreign goods—was a means to attain Swaraj.

Gandhi did not approve of the opinion that politics is not meant for saints. In fact, it was his contention that good people should join politics and purify it. He did not agree with the view that, in the morally imperfect world of politics, it is ampossible to use fair means to attain one’s ends. He believed in Gokhale’s concept of spiritualization of politics. This was possible, he felt, because the purpose of dharma was to spiritually enrich and ennoble each and every human being.

Acharya Vinoba Bhave further developed the Gandhian insight in politics. In his essay ‘Swarajyashastra’ or ‘Science of Politics’, he argued that for the establishment of true Swaraj, the elimination of power politics was necessary. He wanted to replace rājanīti with lokanīti. Lokanīti involved a gradual shift of power into the hands of the people, elimination of coercion, and aiming for unanimity in decision- making within communities and assemblies. Following the Gandhian concept of Swaraj, he said that in his ideal state there would be no ruler and no punishment. The people would evolve their own rules to govern their relationships.

Vinoba also wrote a commentary on the Gita and argued that sāmya-yoga—cultivation of the spirit of equanimity—was the essence of the Gita’s teaching. Contesting Tilak’s stand, he said that the Gita did not teach the path of selfless action alone. In India, we have had two paths—the path of Shuka and the path of Janaka. Shuka’s path stood for renunciation and Janaka’s for the performance of action in the spirit of detachment. It was Vinoba’s contention that there was no need to force the issue between the two, as both the paths were equally useful for society. The former was indirectly beneficent to society and the latter directly. Each path had the emancipation of the individual from fear, want, and anxiety as its goal.

In this brief survey of Indian political philosophy—both ancient and modern—we notice that Indian political thinkers realized the importance of freedom of the human will. They did not undertake to restrict human creativity by developing grand theories of historical development. They desired amṛtatva, the principle of immortality and freedom of human will; and the capacity to create one’s own world was its essence. The state was an instrument to realize this goal, and in the ideal society, this instrument would be rendered functionless. Anuśāsana could only be practised keeping in view the principle of loka saṅgraha. And equanimity remained the end to be aimed for. If violence, war, and hatred could not be abolished, one could work towards this end by promoting universal friendship and brotherhood. This is the message of Indian political philosophers to the world. InSearch of an ‘Indian’ Philosophy of History Prof. Ganapathy Subbiah

ślāghyaḥ sa eva guṇavān rāgadveṣabahiṣkṛtā bhūtārthakathane yasya stheyasyeva sarasvatī The noble-minded (poet) alone is worthy of praise whose word, like that of a judge, remains free from love or hatred in relating the facts of the past. —Rajatarangini, 1.7

The inhabitants of the Indian subcontinent can feel legitimately proud of being the inheritors or descendents of a long and remarkable culture that is at least five millennia old. Paradoxically, this great heritage often becomes a double-edged sword, serving as both strength and burden to the people of the subcontinent. The strength of this heritage lies in the accumulated and inherited wisdom of the millennia, a wisdom that is always available to us, to guide us through the trials and tribulations of the present, if only we know how to tap it, to listen to its sane voices. Its burden lies in the remnants of the follies and prejudices of the past that we knowingly or unknowingly carry with us, which often obstruct our vision and understanding of the past as well as the present. To clear away these remnants, the people of the subcontinent need to accept and employ the academic discipline called history. This discipline can be a way to acquire dispassionate and objective knowledge of the past and an instrument for gaining a meaningful understanding of the present and a clear vision of the path through the future. The study as well as the status of history in our country, however, is at crossroads now more than ever before. On the one hand, there is understandable euphoria in many quarters that our country is going through an exciting phase of making history in diverse fields—economic, scientific, and cultural. On the other hand, the discipline of history is itself under fire. Concerted efforts are being made by some sections of various political groups to gain full control over the curriculum of the discipline in academic institutions, or even to do away with the discipline from the institutions of higher learning altogether, claiming it to be a ‘non-utility’ subject. In some institutions of higher learning, particularly in South India, history is relegated to the status of only an adjunct subject to more utilitarian courses such as ‘tourism and travel management’.

History—A Gift of the West? In one sense, this state of affairs should cause no surprise, because it has been time and again argued that ‘Indian society has no history at all, at least no known history’, and that whatever historical discipline India has developed in the recent past is the gift of the West. We would do well to remember that the notion of history as it has been shaped in the West is rooted in the Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition in a significant way. And it is equally worth noting that the growth of history as a secular profession and academic discipline in the West was itself a post-Enlightenment phenomenon, which coincided with the emergence of the nations of the Western world as the first global imperial powers. This period witnessed, in the West, the formulation and application of grand theories of history [Universal, Nationalist, Dialectical, Progressive, Marxist, and so on]; some of which were subsequently reformulated, abandoned, or simply replaced by newer ones.

Some of these theories were in due course of time imported into the non-Western world as tools of analysis by local academicians who were trained in the Western system of education. How far such imported theories have helped non-Western societies in obtaining a clearer vision of their past and better understanding of their present is, however, a debatable point. The ‘history of history’ as it developed in the Indian subcontinent since the midnineteenth century offers an instructive example in this regard. An overwhelming majority of Indian professional historians readily acquiesced in the view of Western scholars that India had in premodern times no tradition of historiography in the Western sense of the term. There were, no doubt, sporadic attempts by Indian scholars to repudiate this view, but their voices were too feeble to make any impact. In recent years, we are seeing a renewed and more vigorous effort—coming, surprisingly, from some leading Western scholars specializing in the study of Indian society—to establish that Indians did possess historical consciousness, that a tradition of writing history long existed in India, before the British imported their own brand of ‘history’. We shall not enter into that debate here because its broad contours are familiar to all discerning students of Indian history and culture. Nevertheless, we should bear in mind that the terms of discourse on the issue have nearly always been dictated by Western academia. Thus, when Western academicians argued that India in the pre-modern period had no sense of history, Indian scholars, by readily accepting the proposition, lost the battle even before it began. They failed to realize that, as the terms were understood and employed in the West, India lacked not only history, but also ‘religion’ and ‘philosophy’. Their uncritical acceptance of the notion that historical consciousness was absent in early India led them to accept a bifurcation of the study of Indian history in the higher academic institutions of our country—a bifurcation into two distinct disciplines, dealing separately with so-called pre-modern and modern Indian history. A new discipline thus came into existence to study various aspects of early Indian culture; it was called Indology. Study of early India could not be accommodated within the boundaries of traditional historical discipline. Even today, ancient India receives scant attention in the departments of history in Western universities; because India is supposed to have had no ‘history’ until the time the European powers arrived on the subcontinent. In contrast, the field of so-called modern Indian history emerged as a testing ground for most of the grand and novel theories of history—modern and post-modern. Perhaps the most recent and glaring example is the ‘subaltern’ school of history, authored and nurtured mainly by a team of non-resident Indian historians. The school is no doubt making waves in much of the Western world, but the theoreticians of the school themselves have shown little or no concern for early Indian history. Schools of History The study of early Indian history in the first half of the last century was dominated by two schools of historiography: the Imperialist and the Nationalist. Both schools thrived under colonial rule but lost much of their vitality and relevance thereafter. Since Independence two trends have again emerged as dominant in the historiography of early India. One is rooted in what may be called a spirit of ‘sub-nationalism’, which draws its sustenance from linguistic- cumethnic- cum-regional identity, and which emerged as a powerful trend particularly after the eorganization of the states of the Union on the basis of language. The other analyses early and medieval Indian history within a Marxian framework, and in a sense is diametrically opposed to the ‘sub-nationalist’ school. Historians who owe their allegiance to the Marxian principles of historical materialism do not agree on all points of interpretation of early Indian history; yet, their efforts would appear to converge on taking a long-distance view of Indian history and marking out the stages of ‘major advances’ therein. In terms of both quantity and quality, the data relating to early Indian history that have been accumulated and analysed by historians belonging to various schools of thought are, no doubt, impressive. But the crucial question is: has meaningful communication taken place between the historians and the people whose history they have been attempting to reconstruct? The answer has to be a resounding no. The reasons are not far to seek: the academic discourse on history in our country is conducted mainly in English; and more importantly, the epistemological suppositions on which the discourse is based are also ‘alien’. Paradoxical though it may sound, some of the most thought-provoking formulations on the relevance of historical consciousness and the meaning and end of history as perceived by the Indian genius have come from great thinkers of modern India who were not professional historians. The foremost among them is Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore. Tagore on Indian History Rabindranath Tagore was not a historian in any professional or academic sense of the term. He did not speak as a historian, nor did he write as a historian. Our objective therefore is not to assess his craftsmanship as a practising or amateur historian. Tagore was nonetheless constantly making history. It is in his role as a maker of history that he was speaking and writing about the past as well as the present. This point requires reiteration because Tagore has been occasionally criticized by professional historians for the way in which he read and reconstructed the events of the past. At times, he is even held responsible, as their ‘spiritual father’, for the growth of some of the regressive schools of thought in Indian historiography As one constantly engaged in making history, Tagore offers an interesting contrast with another great man and maker of history of his times, Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhi denied history the status of being a distinct category or means for acquiring valid knowledge, and went to the extent of declaring, ‘I believe in the saying that a nation is happy that has no history. It is my pet theory that our Hindu ancestors solved the question for us by ignoring history as it is understood today.’ While Gandhi was pleading to ignore history as it is understood today, his stand was quietly and firmly ignored by his own disciple par excellence, Jawaharlal Nehru. In Nehru’s perspective, history is heritage; a study and understanding of it, however difficult and complex it might be, is essential to clear one’s mind and prepare it for ‘the next stages of thought and action’. He conceded that unlike the Greeks, the Chinese, and the Arabs, ‘Indians in the past were not historians’, but at the same time, he upheld the view that ‘this lack of historical sense did not affect the masses, for as elsewhere and more so than elsewhere, they built up their view of the past from the traditional account and myth and story that were handed to them from generation to generation’. He nevertheless lamented the ignoring of history by Indians, believing that this ignorance led to a number of negative consequences like ‘a vagueness of outlook, a divorce from life as it is, a credulity, a wooliness of the mind where fact was concerned’.

In contrast, reconstruction of the events of the past on the basis of recorded ‘facts’ did not mean much to Tagore; he saw history as a far deeper and sublimer phenomenon. The following passage from one of his Bengali essays, Bharatbarshe Itihaser Dhara, may be said to contain the essence of his conception of what history is and how the early Indians perceived and practised it:

Unopposed shakti (power) is the cause of destruction; all rhythm in the cosmos is the product of two [opposing] forces. …

This rhythm is not as clearly and freely expressed in human nature (manab-prakritir madhye) as it is in the cosmos (vishwa-prakritir madhye). The principles of contraction and expansion are there too [in human nature], but we are not able to balance the two easily. In the cosmic song, the rhythm (tal) is easy; but in the human song this is a matter of much sadhana. On reaching one end of the duality we often get so carried away that our return to the other end is delayed; then the rhythm is broken. … The self and the other, acquisition and rejection, restraint and freedom, tradition and reason—these [dualities] are pulling [all] humans; to learn to maintain the rhythm of the opposing pulls and reach harmony (sama) is to learn to be human; the history of this practice of maintaining rhythm is the history of humanity. In India we have the opportunity of clearly observing the record of this sadhana of tal.

Tagore speaks here of two distinct spheres, the physical world and the world of humans, and draws our attention to the crucial factor that unites as well as differentiates the two, as also the manner in which they complement each other. Whereas the rhyme and rhythm of the physical world is clear and obstacle-free, that of the human world is not, because attaining equilibrium in the human world is neither easy nor automatic. It can be realized only through long and arduous effort (sadhana). Tagore also refers to a dialectical process involving opposites; this process is in constant operation between not only the physical and the human worlds but also within each human being, and inevitably leads to change (parinama). If and when perfect balance is achieved as these opposites interact with each other, rhyme and rhythm or, in Tagore’s language, the chhanda, is realized. This is the meaning as well as the end of history. In Tagore’s understanding of history, there is no external force or power that can intervene and help us realize this; we have to realize it ourselves through constant endeavour. The story of this endeavour is what constitutes the sum and substance of human history. Where do the generative roots of this notion of history that Tagore has formulated lie? Is it possible to trace their origin to some of the foundational thoughts of early Indian philosophy? There are no simple or ready answers. But one cannot resist the temptation to draw a parallel between Tagore’s strikingly material conception of history and the Sankhya philosophy, in which all change is perceived as the result of an unending dialectical process between the active but unintelligent Prakriti (physical world) and the non-active but intelligent Purusha (human world). Are we treading the right path or misreading Tagore completely? Bibliography 1. M K Gandhi, The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Vol. XXV (New Delhi : Government of India, Publications Division). 2. D D Kosambi, Combined Methods in Indology and Other Writings, comp. and ed. Brajadulal Chattopadhyaya (New Delhi: Oxford, 2002). 3. Jawaharlal Nehru, The Discovery of India (New Delhi: Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Fund, 1981). 4. Rabindranath Tagore, Rabindra Rachanavali, Vol. 9 (Kolkata:Vishwa Bharati, 1409 BE). 5. Vinay Lal, The History of History: Politics and Scholarship in Modern India, (New Delhi: Oxford, 2005).

Varanasi: The City of Light Swami Varishthananda Once, some of us monks were taking a boat ride on the Ganga in Varanasi. Kashi’s son was our boatman. Kashi is the head of the family whose members have traditionally been the boatmen for the monks and devotees of the Ramakrishna Mission. Like the average Banarasi, he too is a great storyteller. Ours was primarily a non-Hindi-speaking group. But Kashi was not to be intimidated by this. As soon as the boat was free from its moorings, he started briefing us in his broken English: ‘Varanasi is famous for three things—learning, burning, and turning.’ Even as we were all intrigued by the ‘turning’, he went on to elaborate—with a great sense of drama— how Varanasi has been famous throughout its history for ‘learning’ and ‘burning’! He then asked us what it was that struck us as so very evident in Varanasi—this city of learning and burning? Before we could venture a reply, he added philosophically: ‘Squalor and dirt! And why is this so? The reason is that every time a senior officer decides to change the situation in Varanasi, he is transferred—that’s the “turning” part of Varanasi!’ Yes, this is the story of Varanasi, the city of ethereal holiness and sanctity. Situated on the western bank of the Ganga as it takes a northward turn in eastern Uttar Pradesh, it is bounded by the small tributaries Varuna and Asi which give it its name. This is the story of Kashi, the city of light and liberation, which name is derived from the same Sanskrit root as prakāśa, which means light—kāśayati prakāśayati iti kāśi. This is the story of the eternal abode of Baba Vishwanatha, the Lord of the Universe, the presiding deity of the city, the raison d’être of this ‘holiest of holy’ cities of the Hindus— a place of pilgrimage not only for Hindus, but also for Buddhists, Jains, and Muslims. This is the story of Benares, the corrupted English form of the original Pali ‘Baranasi’—the city of sannyasins and sages, of savants and scholars, of statesmen and stars, of saints and sinners. Finally, this is the story of the city which gave to the world the modern incarnation of Shiva—Vireshwara Shiva, Biley, Swami Vivekananda—who made the city the home of the Ramakrishna Mission Home of Service—the embodiment of his philosophy of shiva jnane jiva seva, service of God manifest in humans!

The Holy City of Vishwanatha

Once Swami Bhuteshananda, the twelfth president of the Ramakrishna Order, was reminiscing about his days with Mahapurush Maharaj, Swami Shivananda, the second president of the Order. Having gladly given his assent to Swami Bhuteshananda’s ardent desire to lead a life of austerity in solitude, Mahapurush Maharaj told him: ‘You go to Kashi; Kashi, the abode of Vishwanatha, is a place especially favourable for austerities’. This is the quintessence of Varanasi: its vibrant spiritual atmosphere. Hindu mythology asserts that this eternal city of Lord Shiva, which does not get destroyed during pralaya, is resting on the trishul of Shiva. Topographically, the three main Shivas—Omkareshwara, Vishweshwara (Vishwanatha), and Kedareshwara are indeed situated on top of three hills which constitute Varanasi. Even today when one enters the shrine of Baba Vishwanatha, as the Lord of the Universe is lovingly called by his votaries, after having taken a dip in the purifying waters of Mother Ganga and having wound one’s way through the reassuringly familiar Vishwanatha Gali (lane), and having paid one’s obeisance to Dhundhiraja Ganesha, in the midst of much hustle and bustle with sounds of ringing bells and chants of ‘Hara, Hara, Mahadeva’ reverberating all around, this dense spiritual atmosphere is palpable; it envelops perceptive devotees and raises their consciousness to the feet of the Lord, where it remains effortlessly held. The atmosphere of holy spirituality is undoubtedly densest within the precincts of the shrine of Vishwanatha, especially in the sanctum sanctorum; yet the whole atmosphere of Varanasi is spiritually surcharged and is especially conducive to religious and scholastic pursuits and spiritual growth. No wonder then that this city of celestials is home to all gods and goddesses, and attracts monastics and lay persons from all the various sects, denominations, and sub-sects of Hinduism. Across the lane that leads to the golden-spired shrine of Baba Vishwanatha, is the temple of Ma Annapurna. These two temples symbolize the essence of Indian culture, eloquently articulated in this well-known couplet:

Mātā me pārvatī devī pitā devo maheśvara; Bāndhavāḥ śiva-bhaktāśca svadeśo bhuvana-trayam

My mother is Devi Parvati; my father Lord Maheshwara, my relatives are Shiva’s devotees, and my home all the three worlds.

Even today, it is a treat to watch two Banarasis meeting within the precincts of these temples and joyously greeting each other with ‘Hara, Hara, Mahadeva, Hara, Hara, Hara!’.

Both these temples have a number of smaller shrines within their precincts. Mother Annapurna’s is a ‘golden’ image with a bowl and spoon in hand—she feeds the entire universe with anna (food). Besides the image in which she is available for daily darshan, there is one made of solid gold which is unveiled for darshan only on the three days of Diwali. Devotees consider the darshan of the golden Annapurna to be especially efficacious for obtaining life-sustaining anna! On the last day of this darshan, the Annakuta (mountain of food) festival is observed in the temples of both Mother Annapurna and Baba Vishwanatha. The one prayer which all her devotees have in their hearts and on their lips is:

Annapūrṇe sadāpūrṇe śaṅkara-prāṇa-vallabhe; Jnāna-vairāgya-siddhyarthaṁ bhikṣāṁ dehi ca pārvati.

O Annapurna, who art ever-full! O beloved of Shankara! O Parvati! Grant us alms that we be firmly established in knowledge and renunciation.

Though the shrines of Baba Vishwanatha and Ma Annapurna are the principal temples of Kashi, Tirtharaja Kashi has numerous other shrines, including those corresponding to other important shrines of India—from that of Kedaranatha in the north to Rameshwaram in south India. In fact, there is a popular Hindi saying: ‘Kashi ke kankar sab shiv shankar; even the pebbles of Kashi are all Shiva!’ However, among the numerous shrines in this city of temples—each with its own uniqueness and glory—the important ones include the temples of Sankata Mochana, Durga Kunda, Kedaranatha, Kala-Bhairava, Vireshwara Shiva, Bindu Madhava, Tila-bhandeshwara, Bharata Mata, and Vishwanatha (at BHU). The medieval poet-saint Tulsidas was one of Kashi’s famous residents. It was his daily practice to pour some water at the foot of a certain tree. A ghost who happened to live on this tree—and ghosts are known to be particularly thirsty creatures— was highly pleased with this service of Tulsidas’s and decided to grant him a boon. The devotee that he was, Tulsidas asked the ghost for a vision of Sri Rama. The ghost directed Tulsidas to a place where a discourse on the Ramayana was in progress and which Hanuman was attending in the guise of an old Brahmana afflicted with leprosy. Tulsidas went to the designated spot, recognized Hanuman, and was directed to go to Ayodhya for the darshan of Sri Rama. Tulsidas, in turn, requested Hanuman to remain in Kashi for the good of the world. Later on, digging deep at that very spot, Tulsidas discovered an image of Hanuman. This he consecrated as Sankata Mochana—the remover of perils. Hanuman or Mahavira is Rudravatara—the incarnation of Rudra-Shiva. He is a great devotee of Sri Rama. The temple of Sankata Mochana is an important place of religious worship and cultural festivities. Next to Sankata Mochana is the famous temple of Divine Mother Durga—popularly known as Durga Kunda because it is situated beside a big tank with the same name. The Devi Mahatmya reminds us that people worship Mother Durga because—

Durge smṛtā harasi bhītim-aśeṣa-jantoḥ svasthaiḥ smṛtā matim-atīva śubhāṁ dadāsi; Dāridrya-duḥkha-bhaya-hāriṇi kā tvadanyā Sarvopakāra-karaṇāya sadārdracittā.

Remembered in distress you remove the fears of all beings, remembered in happier times you bestow the most beneficent of intellects; who other than you—whose heart bleeds for all—can remove poverty, unhappiness, and fear?

Varanasi has the unique distinction of having separate temples dedicated to all the nine forms of Mother Durga: Shailaputri, Brahmacharini, Chandraghanta, Kushmanda, Skandamata, Katyayani, Kalaratri, Mahagauri, and Siddhidatri, as well as to all the nine manifestations of Gauri. This is but natural, for Varanasi is the abode of all the gods and goddesses in their myriad forms.

Not only the gods, but all the tīrthas too reside in Varanasi. One of the most famous of these tīrthas is Kedareshwara. Situated on the banks of the Ganga, a steep flight of steps leads up to this temple with red and white vertical stripes painted on its outer walls in the fashion of South Indian temples. This linga of Shiva is svayaṁbhū, ‘self-manifest’. During her visit to this temple, Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi also confirmed the scriptural assertion that this self-manifest Kedara is the same as the Kedaranatha seated in the Garhwal Himalayas and that one gets the same religious benefits on darshan of either of these Kedara lingas. However, the location of this tīrtha in Kashi endows the entire Kedara kṣetra (territory) with power to directly liberate all persons who die within its territory, without even having to suffer at the hands of Kala Bhairava, the master of time. Incidentally, the Ramakrishna Mission Home of Service is located in this kṣetra of Kedara—the great liberator! Another important kṣetra is the Siddha Kshetra, the ‘Field of Fulfilment’. Here, above the Scindia Ghat, is the temple of Vireshwara, or ‘Lord of Heroes’.It is said that the sage Vishwanara, yearning for a son, did tapasya here and was blessed with a son, Vaishwanara, through Shiva’s boon. Even to this day Vireshwara Shiva is propitiated by couples who wish to have a son. Swami Vivekananda’s birth too followed such tapasya by his mother.

Immediately south of Scindia Ghat is Manikarnika Ghat, famous throughout India as the cremation ground where Shiva and Parvati confer liberation upon departed souls. It is this Manikarnika Ghat, along with the Harishchandra Ghat, named after the famous king whose name is synonymous with truth and generosity, that makes Kashi famous as the place of liberation through death. This mukti is sought after by numerous devout Hindus, especially in their old age—and this was the ‘burning’ part of our boatman’s story! To the north of Scindia Ghat is the famous temple of Bindu Madhava, the deity whom Holy Mother found to be jāgrata, awakened. Holy Mother also found Tila-bhandeshwara—the Shivalinga that keeps growing every day the size of a sesame seed, til—to be particularly awakened. The story of Kashi temples and of pilgrimage to Kashi remains incomplete without a visit to the Kala Bhairava temple, the guardian angel of Kashi. Kala Bhairava has dogs for his mount, and this makes us, the residents of Kashi, wary of harming even stray dogs within the precincts of the city. Finally we have the modern Kashi Vishwanatha temple on the Banaras Hindu University campus. The uniqueness of this modern two-storeyed temple is that it has shrines dedicated to each of the five important deities of the Hindu pantheon— Shiva, Vishnu, Durga, Ganesha, and Surya—with the sun shining outside the temple! But that is not all; adorning the walls of this temple are murals depicting the best of Indian tradition, not just Indian religions—from health, through history, to harmony of religions. It is a rare treat to spend a few hours in this temple with a knowledgeable guide, to be educated about the best elements in Indian culture—grammar, chemistry, statecraft, language, and architecture; the spiritual tradition of the Vedas, Upanishads, Ramayana, Mahabharata, Bhagavata, and Durga-saptashati; the inspiring lives of saints and sages; family life and world peace; as well as Sankhya and Yoga. It also has the entire Bhagavadgita inscribed on its walls. Like the temple it houses, Banares Hindu University or BHU is also unique. Apart from being reckoned the largest residential university campus in Asia—its two campuses are spread over 1,300 and 2,700 acres respectively—it is a seat of learning for virtually every important occidental and oriental branch of knowledge. The 3 institutes with 15 faculties and 127 departments of the university provide residential educational facilities in a host of disciplines—from Sanskrit studies and theology to rocket, missile, and ceramic engineering—to tens of thousands of students on a single campus. The education is subsidized and places little economic burden on the students. The university also has a museum, Bharat Kala Bhawan, with nearly a lakh exhibits including a rich collection of Indian miniature paintings, sculptures, a rare philatelic and numismatic collection, unique textiles, and galleries dedicated to Alice Bonner, Nicholas Roerich, M K Gupta, and Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya, the founder of BHU.

There are two other universities in Varanasi— the Mahatma Gandhi Kashi Vidyapith and Sampurnanand Sanskrit University. Besides, the city is also home to two deemed universities—the Safia Islamia and the Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies, as also two autonomous colleges: Udai Pratap College and Agrasen Girls Postgraduate College. Apart from these institutes of higher learning, Varanasi has numerous schools and colleges as well as many trusts and private institutes committed to good education. But it is the pandits of Varanasi that are especially famous throughout the length and breadth of the country, not only for their depth of scholarship, but also for not accepting money to impart knowledge. This is true of both monastic scholars as well as householder pundits. It is remarkable that in these days of globalization and commercialization Kashi still has great householder-scholars painstakingly imparting knowledge even to pupils of great means without accepting any monetary remuneration. It was at Sarnath near Kashi that Bhagavan Buddha set in motion the ‘wheel of Dharma’ with his first sermon following enlightenment. Sarnath had a huge Buddhist monastery as well as three stupas and an Ashokan pillar with a lion capital on top. The Sarnath museum is renowned for its pre-Gupta and Gupta period sculptures, of which the meditative Buddha and the Ashokan Lion Capital are the most famous. Saranath is also home to the Mahabodhi Society, which was started by Angarika Dharmapala on his return from the World Parliament of Religions— where he had been one of Swami Vivekananda’s codelegates. With its many Buddhist and Jain temples, Sarnath is an important tourist and pilgrimage place for Buddhists and Jains alike. Varanasi and the neighbouring district of Jaunpur are also famous seats of Islamic studies. No wonder, this ancient city—‘older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend and [which] looks twice as old as all of them put together’, as Mark Twain put it—has been described by Sir Edwin Arnold as ‘the Oxford and Canterbury of India in one’! So much for the boatman’s ‘learning’.

Varanasi: The City of Saints, Sages, and Savants Swami Varishthananda

Banaras, the city of Baba Vishwanatha, is unique in more than one way. Much of its history is yet to be written. It has rarely been an important political centre, and the rise and fall of its rulers throughout its long history has had little impact on the story of the city’s sanctity. What makes it special in comparison to such other ancient cities as Jerusalem, Beijing, and Athens is the fact that while the latter are moved today by an ethos very different from that which moved them in ancient times, Kashi, to a large extent, has maintained an age-old and hoary living tradition right up to the present day, and is therefore the cumulative face of the Hindu tradition. The City of Shiva Varanasi is the city of Bhagavan Shiva: Shiva, the Mahayogi, the lord of yogis; Shiva, the Nataraja, the lord of dance and music; Shiva, the jyotirlinga, the Light Supreme, Knowledge Supreme! Varanasi is truly the city of enlightenment, of illumination, of light. Legend has it that when Bhagavan Shiva, the mountain ascetic, descended from the realm of perpetual meditation and married Parvati, daughter of the Himalayas, he chose the city of Varanasi, a beautiful place spanning a radius of five krośas (ten miles), as their home; a move that played a major role in the ascendancy of Shaivism in north India. Over the centuries, Kashi’s connection with Shiva became so firm that by the time of the Kashi Khanda, this city came to be seen as the ‘original ground’ created by Shiva and Parvati, upon which they stood at the beginning of time; a place from which the whole of creation came forth in the beginning, and to which it will all return in the fiery pralaya at the end of time. The legendary king Divodasa had once managed to occupy Kashi and evict Shiva and other deities on the strength of his virtue, dharma. After numerous efforts by the gods to induce Divodasa to err from dharma had failed, Shiva sent one of his attendants (gaṇas), Nikumbha, to empty the city for him. Nikumbha appeared in a dream to a barber, telling him to establish and worship the image of Nikumbha gaṇa (Ganesha) at the edge of the city. The barber did this, and Nikumbha Ganesha, the ‘lord of gaṇas’, became popular with the citizens of Kashi for granting boons to those who propitiated him. Now, King Divodasa’s wife, Suyasha, was childless. She worshipped Nikumbha on several occasions to get a son, but her prayers were not answered. Enraged, Divodasa ordered the shrine of Nikumbha Ganesha destroyed. This provided Nikumbha the opportunity to pronounce a curse on the king and have the city emptied of all its inhabitants. When the city was vacated, Shiva arrived and re-established his residence there. Apparently Parvati was not fond of the city at first, but Shiva said to her, ‘I will not leave my home, for this home of mine is “Never-forsaken; Avimukta”.’ Such is Shiva’s attachment to Kashi, the Avimuktapuri. City of Saints The legend of King Harishchandra is often narrated as the benchmark of an ideal life. He was known to always keep his word and never utter a lie. These twin qualities were tested heavily through various circumstances that led him to penury and separation from his family; but he never flinched from his principles. The sage Vishwamitra once approached him at Ayodhya and, reminding him of an earlier promise he had made, asked Harishchandra to give him his entire kingdom. Harishchandra immediately made good his word and started walking away with his wife and son, sans property, to Banaras. But the sage then demanded an additional amount as dakṣiṇā (honorarium). To pay this, Harishchandra, with no money at hand, had to sell his wife Chandramati and son Rohita to a brahmana family, and himself to a guard in charge of collecting taxes for the bodies to be cremated at the local cremation ground. Some time later, Rohita was bitten by a snake and died. Chandramati took him to the cremation ground. Seeing her with the dead child, Harishchandra was stung by pangs of agony. But, duty-bound as he was, he asked for the taxes required for cremation. Chandramati offered him the only dress she had, the sari she was wearing, as tax. When she proceeded to remove her dress, the devas along with Vishwamitra appeared on the scene and, pleased with the unassailable character of the king, brought his son back to life, and offered a heavenly abode to the king, the queen, and all their subjects. This moving story is known to have particularly affected Mahatma Gandhi, who, after having watched a play on Harishchandra as a child, became deeply influenced by the virtue of truthfulness.

In keeping with this tradition, many great saints and sages made Banaras either their home or their workplace. Maharshi Veda Vyasa, credited with writing the Puranas and the Mahabharata, is reputed to have spent his life working in Kashi. He composed his Brahma Sutra in this very city. Sri Shankaracharya too came to Kashi and made it his workplace for quite some time— arguing that this especially sacred land would give him the zeal and energy to work in a more devoted manner. Many of his works were composed here in Kashi. In modern times, Swami Vishwarupananda also composed his Bengali magnum opus VedantaDarshan in Varanasi at the Ramakrishna Advaita Ashrama under very trying conditions The Bhakti Movement jait pa~it pUDe n kae$, hir kae Éje sae hirka hae$. Let no one ask a person’s caste or with whom one eats; devoted to Hari, one becomes Hari’s own.

This was declared by Ramananda (c.1400–c.1470), the pioneer of the medieval bhakti movement in north India. He belonged to the lineage of Ramanuja [this fact, though, has been contested by many Ramanandis] and lived a life of self-surrender and dedication. Once he went on a pilgrimage to south India. On his return, his companions refused to admit him into their fold, arguing that he might not have adhered to strict rules regarding food and other rituals during his long absence. This was a rude shock to him. He came out of the fold and became a liberal advocate of bhakti, and practised severe austerities at the Panchaganga Ghat in Banaras. According to him, Sri Rama was the Supreme Spirit and humanity was one big family.

Kabir (1440–1518) • The adopted son of a poor Muslim weaver couple, Kabir was not bound by strict rituals or religious discipline, which made him an unconventional poet and mystic. His life centred on Kashi. He could not formally claim anyone as guru because of his humble origin, but was drawn to Ramananda’s teachings. One day while Ramananda was going down the ghat for a bath in the Ganga, his foot touched a human body in the darkness. Startled, he exclaimed, ‘Ram, Ram.’ Immediately, Kabir got up and with folded hands announced that, since he had given him the Ram-mantra, Ramananda had made him his śiṣya—regardless of his religion. He also told him about his yearning to reach God. A pleased Ramananda accepted him as disciple. Kabir was a saint of the masses. His simple compositions—dohas, couplets, and chaupais, quatrains— go straight to the heart, are easy to remember, and have remained immensely popular, enabling people to grasp the essentials of a simple and profound life in the spirit. His admonitions remain equally popular:

mala tae kr me< i)rE, jIÉ i)rE muo mahI—, mnva tae c÷~ idsI i)rE, yh tae suimrn nahI—. The rosary keeps moving in the hand, the tongue in the mouth, and the mind in all four directions; this surely is not remembrance.

Guru Ravidas (c.1398–c.1448) • Born in the cobbler community, Guru Ravidas (popularly known as Raidas) was a firm believer in karma. He did not worship any particular deity, believing in the one and only omniscient and omnipresent God: k«:[ krIm ram hir ra"v jb lg @k n peoa, bed kbed k…ran puratn shj @k nhI leoa, jae$ jae$ pUijye sae$ sae$ kacI, khE< rEdas mE< ta#k… pUju~ jake Qa~v na~v nhI< kae$.

Krishna, Karim, Ram, Hari, and Raghav—when none of them have been found near; and the old Vedas, rules of conduct, and Quran are none written in easy style; then whoever one worships turns out to be frail. So, says Raidas, I worship that which has neither any location, nor a name.

As news of this self-taught seer began to spread, people started thronging his humble abode seeking solace and advice. Conservative brahmanas of Kashi could not stand the popularity of this ‘untouchable saint’, and a complaint was lodged against him to the king on the grounds that he was working against age-old social norms. But when the king called Raidas to his court amidst an assembly of learned men, no one could match his spiritual knowledge and insights.

One legend describes Raidas as Mirabai’s guru.One of her compositions dedicated to Raidas lends credence to this belief.

Tulsidas (1543?–1623) • The legend of Tulsidas’s passionate attachment to his wife Ratnavali (Buddhimati) is well known. Once when she went to her father’s place, Tulsidas followed her. Ratnavali felt shamed by his inordinate attachment and admonished him: ‘You have such fondness for this body of mine which is but skin and bones; if only you had the same devotion to Rama, you would not have had the fear of samsara.’ These words struck gold. Tulsidas abandoned home and became an ascetic. Not only was he able to redirect his attachment and convert it into bhakti, he could reach a state where he could say with the fullness of conviction:

sIya rammy sb jg jain, kr%~ ànam jaeir jug panI. Knowing the entire world to be permeated by Sita and Rama, I join my palms and offer pranams.

The literary excellence and popularity of his Ram-charit-manas, the Hindi rendition of the Ramayana, led Nabha, the author of Bhaktamal, to suggest that Tulsidas was Valmiki reincarnated. Tulsidas’s devotion to Rama found further expression in nearly a dozen works, including Vinay-patrika, Dohavali, Kavitavali, and Gitavali. He spent a good portion of his life in Varanasi, where he passed away at Asighat.

Saints of Modern Times Trailanga Swami (c.1607–1887), famed for his yogic powers, is easily the most well-known of modern saints who lived at Kashi. Having met him at Manikarnika Ghat, Sri Ramakrishna described him thus: ‘I saw that the universal Lord Himself was using his body as a vehicle for manifestation. He was in an exalted state of knowledge. There was no body- consciousness in him. Sand there became so hot in the sun that no one could set foot on it. But he lay comfortably on it.’ He is reputed to have lived for nearly 280 years, over half of which he spent at Kashi. He freely roamed the streets, living sometimes at Asi Ghat or Dashashwamedha Ghat, at other times at the Vedavyasa Ashrama at Hanuman Ghat, and finally on a huge block of stone in the open courtyard of Mangal Das Bhatta’s small home at Panchaganga Ghat. He could read people’s minds like books, and drank poisonous liquids by the bowlful without dying. Once he was put in jail for violating city laws. Soon he was found walking on the jail roof. The truths of the scriptures about God-realized souls were clearly manifest in his being.

Swami Bhaskarananda Saraswati(1833–1899) was also reputed for his austerity and saintly character. Getting deeply interested in spiritual life when he was only eighteen, he travelled all over India as a wandering monk for many years. But, ‘even though I practiced such austerities, I gained very little; ignorance and sorrow were as deep as ever. Finally, [in 1868], I sat down here in this garden [Anandabag, near Durga Mandir] and resolved, “May God be realized or may this body die.” Now, you see, I get a little abiding bliss.’ He too was reputed to have yogic powers, and had foreseen his own death. Though his influence spanned all sections of society, the transformation of character of several notorious pandas wrought by his influence is especially worth mentioning.

Swami Karpatriji (1907–1982) is a more recent figure who, renouncing family and all material luxuries, set out on his quest of the Unknown at the age of seventeen. Later he became a preacher of religion and did pioneering work in safeguarding the Indian tradition, having established the Dharma Sangha in Kashi for this purpose in 1940. He also published a Hindi daily Sanmarg, which reflected his religious and political views, and composed various books in Hindi, including Vichar-piyush and Ramayan Mimamsa. Karpatriji truly was knowledge, action, and devotion personified.

The Literary Tradition

Bhartendu Harishchandra (1849–1882) is known as the father of modern Hindi literature. A poet, dramatist, journalist, and critic, he successfully brought about the transition of Hindi from the medieval tradition (rīti) to the modern era. His writings are marked by remarkable realism and capture ‘the agonies of India: unrest of the middle-class, hopes and aspirations of the youth, and urge for progress and removal of injustice’. He was also a social and religious activist, an accomplished actor, polemicist, and wit. The Kavi-vachan-sudha started by him in 1867 was the first journal published in the Hindi language. He followed it up with the Harishchan-dra Magazine (later called Harishchandra Patrika), and the Balbodhini Patrika. He was conferred the title ‘Bharatendu, moon of India’ by his fellow Banarasis for his remarkable achievements.


Jaishankar Prasad (1889–1937) is credited with initiating the chhayavada movement in modern Hindi literature, characterized by romanticism, mysticism, and symbolism. Prasad is especially known for his prose writings, though Kamayani, an allegorical epic poem on Manu, is regarded by many as his best work. Apart from being a poet, he was also a philosopher, historian, and sculptor. His writings are an exquisite blend of art, philosophy, and history.

Munshi Premchand (1880–1936) is the penname of Dhanpat Rai, one of the greatest literary figures of modern Hindi and Urdu literature. Having lost his parents at a very young age, he faced poverty and struggle early in life, and these remained with him till death. His stories and novels reflect the harsh realities of life.

Premchand inaugurated the genre of fiction and made the short story a legitimate literary form in Hindi literature. His stories make a moral point or convey deep psychological truths. He was also active in the Swadeshi movement. In fact his very first collection of stories, Soz-e-Watan (Dirge of the Nation), was labelled seditious and destroyed. The first story of this anthology was ‘Duniya Ka Sabse Anmol Ratan, The Most Precious Jewel in the World’; and this was ‘the last drop of blood shed in the cause of the country’s freedom’.

Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya (1861–1946) was a great patriot, eminent educationist, renowned journalist, prominent social and religious reformer, erudite scholar, able parliamentarian, and eloquent speaker. A giant among men, Pandit Malaviya not only helped lay the solid foundation of Indian nationalism, but also worked tirelessly, year after year, to build—brick by brick and stone by stone—the noble edifice of India’s freedom. He was one of the few individuals to become the president of the Indian National Congress thrice: at Lahore (1909), Delhi (1918), and Calcutta (1933). Among his many achievements, the Banaras Hindu University stands out as a lasting legacy. The university came to be known as the ‘capital of knowledge’ even in his lifetime. He chose Banaras as the site for this university ‘because of the centuries-old tradition of learning, wisdom, and spirituality inherent to the place. His vision was to blend the best of Indian education culled from the ancient centres of learning—Takshashila and Nalanda and other hallowed institutions—with the best tradition of modern universities of the West.’ And in this he was remarkably successful.

The Tradition of Music In the words of Swami Vivekananda, ‘Music is the highest art and, to those who understand, is the highest worship.’ Banaras has its own rich and unique history and tradition of music. Shiva is the presiding deity of Varanasi; and he is the master of dance and music. According to legend, apsaras, gandharvas, and kinnaras have lived in Varanasi and contributed to its rich musical tradition. The Buddhist Jatakas have many examples of highly talented courtesans with special talent in music and the arts. This tradition of music continued right down to the modern-day kathaks (hereditary musicians) and tawaifs (courtesans). The medieval Bhakti movement contributed greatly to the development and popular dissemination of religious singing and music. The bhajans of the medieval saints remain immensely popular. Many reputed gharanas or schools of music developed in Banaras over the last few centuries. These included the Senia (from the lineage of the illustrious Tansen) and Mishra (Prasaddhu-Manohar) gharanas in vocal music, Ramsahay gharana in tabla, Badal Mishra gharana in sarangi, and the gharanas of Mian Vilatu and Nandalal in shahnai. The nawabs of Awadh, the rajas of Kashi, and many other rajas and nobles who settled down in Kashi patronized music and the arts. Many musical styles—Dhrupad, Khayal, Dhamar, Dadra, Hori, and Kajri, among others— flourished in the rich environment of Banaras.

Banaras has produced a galaxy of great musicians who are revered as legends in their own right. Ustad Bismillah Khan, Pandit Kishan Maharaj, and Girija Devi are three famous names of recent times.

Qamaruddin, famous as Bismillah Khan (1916–2006), spent his childhood in Varanasi, where his uncle was the official shahnai player in the Vishwanatha temple. He not only introduced the shahnai to the concert stage with his recital at the All India Music Conference at Calcutta in 1937, but also single-handedly took it to world renown. He received honorary doctorates from Banaras Hindu University and Vishwa Bharati University and in 2001 became only the third classical musician to be awarded the Bharat Ratna, the highest civilian honour in India. Despite receiving such acclaim, he always remained his simple self. He believed that ‘musicians are supposed to be heard not seen’. In his last days he turned down requests from the central and state governments for treatment elsewhere, as he would not leave his favourite Banaras.

Padma Vibhushan Pandit Kishan Maharaj (b.1923) is one of the most renowned, respected, and admired tabla players of our times. Trained by his father, Pandit Hari Maharaj, and his uncle, the famous Pandit Kanthe Maharaj, he has dominated the world of Indian classical percussion in a career spanning more than fifty years, evolving his own style with its highly skilled layakari (perfect timing). He has been a versatile accompanist to a variety of genres of classical music and dance. He is also known for his talent for improvisation during performances, introducing the most complex tālas (beats) with odd numbers of matras (notes).

Girija Devi (b.1929) was born in a music-loving family of Varanasi and was initiated into music at the tender age of five. Known as the leading exponent of the Banaras gharana of thumri, Girija Devi has an amazing proficiency in a wide range of Hindustani vocal music: khayal, thumri, dadra, tappa, kajri, hori, chaiti, and bhajan. A recipient of the Padmabhushan and Sangeet Natak Akademi awards, her care for students is reflected in her successful career as a guru for over a decade at the ITC Sangeet Research Academy, Kolkata.

Swami Vivekananda once said, ‘Art, science, and religion are but three different ways of expressing a single truth.’ The saints, sages, and savants of Varanasi verily express that single truth in their own inimitable style. The resultant melody is vibrant Varanasi, the city of Shiva.


Varanasi: The Home of Ramakrishna Mission Home of Service Swami Varishthananda

Varanasi holds a unique place in the Indian religious consciousness. In the Sanatana Dharma, all principles and practices which lead the human soul from its predominantly animal consciousness through human consciousness to divine consciousness have been accepted as valid and true. However, from time to time great saints, sages, and savants have come to propagate yuga dharma—that particular part of philosophy and practice especially conducive to spiritual growth in a particular time. Varanasi is the crucible in which such teachings must be tried and tested before they can be accepted by the world at large. This is an age-old tradition, known since the days of Maharshi Veda Vyasa and Bhagavan Buddha, who promulgated Vedanta and Buddhism from here, and continued in medieval times by Shankaracharya, Ramanujacharya, and Vallabhacharya, who carried out philosophical disputations in Varanasi, establishing as valid their points of view, and writing their treatises. In modern times too, Swami Dayananda Saraswati and others did the same in this city of Varanasi. The Ramakrishna movement is no exception, and that the Ramakrishna Mission Home of Service—which has played a pioneering role in working out the spirit of this movement—has its home in Varanasi is no accident.

Origin of the Philosophy of Service But to begin from the beginning, let us narrate a very pertinent incident from the life of Sri Ramakrishna. At the time of his pilgrimage to Kashi with Mathur Babu, when passing through a village near Vaidyanath, Sri Ramakrishna was struck by the poverty and misery of the villagers. He told Mathur, ‘You are but a manager of the Mother’s estate. Give these people sufficient oil to cool their heads and each a piece of cloth to wear and feed them to their fill once.’ At first Mathur was a little hesitant and said, ‘Father, the pilgrimage will require much money, and the poor are too many. I may later be in want of money if I begin to do all that. What do you advise under these circumstances?’ To this the all-knowing and all-loving Master replied, ‘You rascal, I will not go to your Kashi. I will remain here with them; they have none to call their own; I will not leave them behind and go.’ True to his words, he went and sat in their midst. Mathur relented; he ordered cloth from Calcutta and did as the Master bade him. Beside himself with joy to see the villagers happy, the Master bade goodbye to them and gladly resumed his journey to Kashi with Mathur. In this way Sri Ramakrishna corroborated and reiterated the teachings of the Bhagavata:

yae ma< sveR;u ÉUte;u sNtmaTmanmIñrm!, ihTvaca¡ Éjte maEF(aÑSmNyev juhaeit s>. If one disregards Me present in all as their soul and Lord but ignorantly offers worship only to images, such worship is as ineffective as sacrificial offerings made in ashes. Aw ma< svRÉUte;u ÉUtaTman< k«talym!, AhRyeÎanmana_ya< mEÈyaiÉÚen c]u;a. Therefore, (overcoming the separativeness of a self-centred life) one should worship all beings with gifts, honour, and love, recognizing that such service is really being rendered to Me who resides in all beings as their innermost soul.

True to this spirit of worship of God in human beings, Sri Ramakrishna, like a kalpataru or wish- Fulfilling tree, got Mathur to fulfil the needs of those who came to him!

On his visit to Varanasi, Sri Ramakrishna discovered the ‘how’ of the age-old Hindu belief that death in Varanasi gives liberation. The pilgrims took a boat ride on the Ganga. As the boat neared the Manikarnika Ghat, Sri Ramakrishna went into samadhi and saw Lord Vishwanatha himself whispering the supreme taraka mantra in the ear of the jivas from one side of the funeral pyre, and the Mother of the Universe removing the bondages of the soul and freeing it from the cycle of transmigratory existence from the other side. In modern times, the discovery of the ‘how’ of things has been the pursuit of science—and Sri Ramakrishna was a spiritual scientist without parallel.

Though not much is known of Sri Ramakrishna’s first visit to Varanasi, the year of his visit is very significant: it was in 1863, the year in which Biley—Vireshwara, Narendra—the Shiva-avatara Swami Vivekananda was born! Sri Ramakrishna himself narrated that he had brought Naren from the realm beyond the junction of the divisible and indivisible. Both he and Swami Vivekananda were born from that Indivisible Spirit for the good of the world in this age—one a form without a voice, the other a voice without a form! Again, Swami Vivekananda’s mother Bhuvaneshwari Devi propitiated Vireshwara Shiva in Varanasi for a son, through an aunt. Many were her prayers and fasts … and then she was blessed with the vision of Lord Shiva, rousing himself from meditation and taking the form of a male child who was to be born to her.

Swami Vivekananda and Varanasi

Swami Vivekananda had a deep and ardent devotion to Vishwanatha and to Varanasi, which is revealed in his numerous utterances and writings on as well as his few visits to Varanasi. Swamiji’s visits to Varanasi are particularly memorable. Here occurred that famous incident, between Sankata Mochana and Durga Kunda: Swamiji was being chased by a group of monkeys, but was unable to escape from them, when an old monk called out to him, ‘Face the brutes!’ Swamiji did just that, and the monkeys beat a hasty retreat, revealing to him the life-long lesson of boldly facing the brute. It was to Sri Pramadadas Mitra, the reputed scholar of Kashi, that Swamiji looked for answers to various scriptural questions during his Baranagar monastery days in the 1880s. He also shared with him his Master’s teachings and hoped that Pramadadas Babu would help him acquire funds for his Master’s memorial in Bengal. Unfortunately, Pramadadas Babu did not approve of Swamiji’s efforts. Subsequently, on his penultimate visit to Varanasi in 1890, Swamiji famously declared, ‘I am now leaving Kashi, and shall not return until I have burst on society like a bomb-shell; and it will follow me like a dog.’

Swamiji last visited Varanasi in 1902, after his second visit to the West. In that second visit to the West, Swamiji—the voice without a form—gave his message with no holds barred: a message of the glory of the Spirit! Human glory! ‘Tomorrow night I shall lecture on “The Mind: Its Powers and Possibilities”,’ he would announce, ‘Come to hear me. I have something to say to you, I shall do a little bomb-throwing. … Come on! It will do you good.’ And what bombshells: ‘You are the Personal God. Just now I am worshipping you. This is the greatest prayer. Worship the whole world in that sense—by serving it.’ While Swamiji was delivering his uncompromising message in the West, a group of youngsters inspired by his poem ‘To a Friend’ started the Poor Men’s Relief Association—a medical institution to serve the sick and the afflicted, especially the socio-economically disadvantaged—in Varanasi.

When Swamiji visited Varanasi in 1902, he was very pleased to see that these youngsters, inspired by his life and message, had started serving the sick in the true spirit, in right earnest. However, when he heard the name they had given their association— Poor Men’s Relief Association—he told them, ‘Let service and not compassion be your guiding principle. Transform your work into worship by looking upon all beings as manifestations of the Divine. No one but God can relieve the miseries of jivas. Who are you to conduct poor men’s relief ? … Name your organization The Home of Service—Sevashrama.’ In doing so, Swamiji was reiterating his Master’s words: ‘Who are you to show compassion? No, it cannot be. Not compassion for others, but rather the service of man, recognizing him to be a veritable manifestation of God.’ Later, when the institution became affiliated with the Ramakrishna Mission it came to be called the Ramakrishna Mission Home of Service. In renaming this institution—which enshrined his message—Swamiji clearly enunciated his philosophy and ethos.

Sri Sarada Devi

The final stamp of approval on this legacy of Ramakrishna-Vivekananda, on this yuga dharma, came as usual from Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi. Holy Mother visited Varanasi thrice. She visited first in September 1886, on her way to Vrindavan, like any other Hindu widow of her time, to assuage her grief at her separation from Sri Ramakrishna. One day, during the evening services of Vishwanatha, ‘her spiritual fervour was so highly kindled that unconscious what she was doing she walked to her dwelling place with unusually heavy steps. Questioned about it she exclaimed, “The Master had led me by hand from the temple.”’ Some devotees believe that during her second visit in 1895, she experienced first-hand that Sri Ramakrishna was none other than Baba Vishwanatha.

Holy Mother last visited Varanasi in November 1912, staying two months. Swami Gambhirananda describes that visit:

The very next day Mother went to visit the deities Vishwanatha and Annapurna in a palanquin. On the day following the worship of Kali (i.e., November 9), she visited the Ramakrishna Mission Home of Service, where Swamis Brahmananda, Shivananda, and Turiyananda, Charu Babu (Swami Shubhananda), Dr Kanjilal, and others were present. Kedar-baba (Swami Achalananda) accompanied her palanquin and showed her round. When she had seen every department, she sat down and in the course of a conversation with Kedar-baba expressed great delight at all the houses, gardens, etc., she had seen, and the good management she had noticed. She further added, ‘The Master himself is present here and Mother Lakshmi is here in all her majesty.’ Then she wanted to know how the institution took shape and with whom the idea first originated. After hearing and seeing all about the institution she remarked, ‘The place is so fine that I feel like staying on in Banaras.’ Soon after she had reached her residence, somebody came with a ten-rupee note and handing it over to the head said, ‘Kindly accept these ten rupees as the Mother’s donation to the Sevashrama.’ That note is still treasured there as an invaluable asset.

That day a devotee asked the Mother at her residence, ‘Mother, how did you find the Sevashrama?’ She said calmly, ‘I saw the Master himself present there, and that is why this work goes on here. These are all his work.’

Armed with this view of the Mother, Swami Brahmananda, when he saw Master Mahashaya (M, the recorder of the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna) coming that way, sent some devotees and brahmacharins to ask him, ‘Mother has said that the Sevashrama is the Master’s work, and that the Master himself is present there. Now what do you say to that?’ Though Master Mahashaya was known to believe that it was contrary to Sri Ramakrishna’s teachings to engage in social service without first realizing God through spiritual disciplines like japa, meditation, and austerity, he smiled broadly and said, ‘It can no longer be denied.’ The sanghajanani—the Mother of the sangha, of the whole Ramakrishna movement— thus put her stamp of authority on this yuga dharma.

Swami Brahmananda Swami Brahmananda, who took over the reins of the Ramakrishna Mission from Swamiji, also loved Varanasi and the Home of Service and took personal interest in the construction of permanent buildings at the sevashrama. This work of construction was entrusted by him to another direct disciple of Sri Ramakrishna, Swami Vijnanananda.

An incident revealing his wonderful leadership may be mentioned here. At one time, there was some trouble among the monastic brothers of the two ashramas in Varanasi, especially in the sevashrama. Swami Saradananda, the general secretary of the Order, after personally investigating the matter, wrote to Swami Brahmananda that some of those boys were unfit for monastic life and ought to be expelled. But Swami Brahmananda forbade any action, and himself came to the sevashrama to set things right. How did he do it? Simply by requesting all to meditate in his presence and instructing them without making any distinction between the good and the bad. He resolved the entire issue by raising the consciousness of all concerned to a higher level!

As president of the Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission, he too unambiguously declared, like Sri Ramakrishna and Swamiji: ‘Those of you who are working in the hospital will also be able to reach the goal and realize the Reality through the practice of pure, unselfish work.’ Again:

True it is that in all creatures He dwells, but His greater manifestation is in man. That is why Swamiji encouraged us to serve mankind. One must have faith that the one Brahman is in man, woman, and all creatures; and with that faith one must learn to serve Shiva in the form of jiva. As you practise this, suddenly one day the veil will be lifted and you will see that it is He who has become everything—man and universe. … You are that all-pervading Shiva; and thus can serve Shiva in the form of jiva.

It was also at the Varanasi Sevashrama that Swami Brahmananda recognized Sri Mahavira Hanuman attending the Rama-nama sankirtana.

Varanasi: City of Seva Varanasi has the unique distinction—Kolkata aside—of having been visited and sanctified by Sri Ramakrishna, Holy Mother, Swamiji, and all other direct disciples of Sri Ramakrishna except Swami Ramakrishnananda. Swami Turiyananda, the great Vedantic monk and brother disciple of Swami Vivekananda, stayed at the sevashrama for the last three and a half years of his life, from February 1919, and guided the monastic brothers in their spiritual path through scriptural classes and satsanga. One day he proclaimed: ‘Remember that in this Sevashrama it is not hospital work, nursing a few patients, that is done; it is worship—worship of the Lord Himself. Have faith in the words of Swamiji who was like Shiva. Let your work in the Sevashrama be worship, and you will attain liberation. … Work done in the spirit of worship is the only suitable spiritual discipline for this age.’ He used to say, ‘If even for three days you serve in the right spirit, that is to say, as worship, you will have the vision of the Lord. Those who work in this manner realize this truth in the depths of their being.’

Every year, on the Sunday following Swami Vivekananda’s birthday celebrations, Narayana puja and seva are conducted. In the morning, even as the worship of Sri Ramakrishna, Sri Sarada Devi, and Swami Vivekananda is performed in the temple, the monks and brahmacharins of the sevashrama go round the hospital and worship each and every patient with offerings of flowers, incense, and fruits and sweets, as also by touching their feet, amidst the chanting of Purusha Sukta, Narayana Sukta, and Vedic shanti mantras, to keep the ideal of service as worship burning bright in their minds.

The Ramakrishna Mission Home of Service, Varanasi, truly embodies the spirit of the present age, the spirit of Ramakrishna-Sarada-Vivekananda and the spirit of this ancient land of Shiva. Vyasadeva has beautifully captured this spirit in his ‘Shiva Manasa Puja’:

AaTma Tv< igirja mit> shcra> àa[a> zrIr< g&h< pUja te iv;yaepÉaegrcna inÔa smaixiSwit>, sÁcar> pdyae> àdi][ivix> StaeÇai[ svaR igrae y*TkmR kraeim tÄdiol< zMÉae tvaraxnm!.

O Shiva, you are my soul, the Divine Mother my intellect; my pranas are your attendants, my body your temple, its sense-enjoyments your puja, and my sleep, samadhi. Wherever I walk, I am circumambulating you; all my words are hymns to your glory, and whatever work I perform is your worship, O Shambhu!

The Ramakrishna Mission Home of Service, which serves Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, agnostics, and atheists alike, is a living embodiment of the following verses of Swamiji’s poem—the poem which inspired the founding of the sevashrama and which vividly captures the spirit of the Ramakrishna movement:

From highest Brahman to the yonder worm, And to the very minutest atom, Everywhere is the same God, the All-Love; Friend, offer mind, soul, body, at their feet.

These are His manifold forms before thee, Rejecting them, where seekest thou for God? Who loves all beings without distinction, He indeed is worshipping best his God.


Philosophy of the Physical Sciences Dr N Mukunda

The various philosophical traditions of the world form an important part of the intellectual and cultural achievements of the civilizations which produced them. Typically, their roots go back thousands of years—as in the cases of India and Greece. There is in them much poetic imagery and logical and deep thinking, as well as a sizeable speculative component. In contrast, modern science as we know it developed barely four hundred years ago, in the seventeenth century, arising in the main out of the combined efforts of Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, and Newton. It was only then that the importance of controlled experiments and careful and systematic quantitative study of natural phenomena was clearly recognized. However, in spite of these great differences in age, at least in the Western tradition the interactions between modern physical science and philosophy have been deep and profound.

I am not a professional philosopher. I have only been attracted to some philosophical questions, and been impressed by certain philosophical systems, as a result of a study of physics. Thus the content of this article may sometimes reveal a sense of naivety as regards formal philosophical matters, schools of thought, traditions, and the like. Nevertheless, I hope that what follows will be of interest to the readers of this journal, most of whom may not be professional scientists but would still have a lively interest in these matters.

It may not be out of place to mention here some contrasting attitudes to the possible roles and value of philosophical thinking that are evident in the developments in physics over the past century. As a consequence of the European continental tradition, the general writings of the two discoverers of quantum mechanics—Werner Heisenberg from Germany and Erwin Schrödinger from Austria—show great familiarity with and interest in various philosophical systems of thought, from the Greeks onwards. While the writings of Niels Bohr and Albert Einstein also often have a philosophical bent, their references to formal systems of philosophy tend to be fewer, but nevertheless important. In contrast, when the focus of work in the new physics shifted from Europe to the US around the middle of the twentieth century, this regard for general philosophical thinking among the leading professional physicists does seem to have weakened. Typical statements of Richard Feynman and Steven Weinberg, for instance, display a certain degree of disdain, or certainly a lack of sympathy, for the value of philosophical thinking in the physical sciences. In any case, in the present account I assume that there is value in looking at the growth of modern physical science from a ‘philosophical point of view’, though it may require some degree of maturity as well as sympathy to adopt this attitude.

We may say for our present purposes that philosophy of science is generally concerned with the nature of knowledge, the way we acquire it, the meaning of understanding, and the evolution of concepts, all in the context of the phys-ical sciences. It may in addition be ultimately concerned with an appreciation of our place in nature. Philosophy of science deals with the understanding of natural phenomena and how this understanding is achieved, with the general features common to the various branches of science, and with the interdependence of these branches. It is more interested in the overall pattern of natural laws than in the details of any particular area of science.

Our aim will be to come up to the modern era in physics, and to see what it has taught us with regard to questions of a philosophical nature. Along the way we shall briefly review some historical developments and ways of thinking or schools of thought, both in philosophy and in physical science. We will consider how concepts are created, how they grow, and how they have sometimes to be greatly modified or even abandoned. Naturally, developments in physics will be covered in slightly greater detail than those in formal philosophy.

Rationalism and Empiricism

In our account of the beginnings of science and philosophical thinking we go back to Greek times. The major creative period, lasting about four hundred years, began with Thales of Miletus (c. 624–c. 546 BCE) and included, among many renowned thinkers, Pythagoras (c. 580–c. 500 BCE), Anaximander (610–c. 545 BCE), Democritus (c. 460–c. 370 BCE), Leucippus (fl. 5th cent. BCE), Plato (427–347 BCE), Aristotle (384–322 BCE), and Euclid (fl. c. 300 BCE). In the early period, with Thales, there was a strong impulse towards, as Benjamin Farrington puts it, ‘a new commonsense way of looking at the world of things … the whole point of which is that it gathers together into a coherent picture a number of observed facts without letting Marduk [the Babylonian Creator] in.’ The attempt was to deal with nature on its own, not bringing in mystical or mythical leanings. To quote from Heisenberg: ‘The strongest impulse had come from the immediate reality of the world in which we live and which we perceive by our senses. This reality was full of life, and there was no good reason to stress the distinction between matter and mind or between body and soul.’

Thales was familiar with the knowledge of geometry developed by the Egyptians, the basic facts of static electricity, and the magnetic properties of lodestone. Later, Democritus and Leucippus propounded the atomic concept of matter, not in a casual manner but based on careful reasoning. However, it goes without saying that philosophical thinking in these early times had a considerable speculative content, and there were others such as Plato and Aristotle who later strongly opposed the atomic hypothesis. This should come as no surprise at all, since as late as the end of the nineteenth century there were influential figures—Ernst Mach and Wilhelm Ostwald—who were still opposed to the idea of atoms. This idea finally triumphed only thanks to the heroic efforts of Ludwig Boltzmann, and Einstein’s work on Brownian movement.

The knowledge of geometry brought by the Greeks from Egypt was perfected and presented in an axiomatic form by Euclid of Alexandria around 300 BCE. The fact that this subject could be presented as a deductive system—a large number of consequences or theorems following logically from a very few ‘self-evident’ axioms or ‘obvious’ truths—must have made a deep impression on the Greek mind. It led in course of time to the idea that the behaviour and laws of nature could be derived from pure reason, without the help of direct inputs from experience. This was the so-called rationalist philosophy of science, which lay in stark contrast to the initial empiricist approach of Thales and Democritus. Plato held that ‘knowledge of Nature does not require observation and is attainable through reason alone’. Before Plato, Pythagoras too espoused this point of view, other illustrious followers being Aristotle and, in much later times, René Descartes, Wilhelm Leibniz, and Benedict de Spinoza. One may say that this rationalist philosophy accords a privileged position to human beings in the scheme of things.

The opposite—empiricist—point of view holds that knowledge comes ultimately from experience of phenomena and not from reason. As we saw, this was the attitude of both Thales and Democritus; and in later centuries it was revived by Francis Bacon and carried forward by John Locke, George Berkeley, and David Hume as a reaction to the rationalist view on the European continent. We shall return to some of these contrasting philosophies later, only noting now that empiricism goes with a more modest attitude towards our place in nature.

From Galileo and Newton to Kantian Philosophy Modern science emerged in Europe during the Renaissance— the reawakening of classical ideals in arts, literature, and philosophy during the fourteenth to seventeenth centuries, brought about by a combination of social, political, and religious factors. This is not the place to go into this crucial advance in any detail, but we note that it occurred against the background of a liberating intellectual and philosophical atmosphere to which many—including Descartes, Leibniz, and Spinoza—contributed.

Empirical Advances • Nicolaus Copernicus initiated the movement away from a human-centred view of nature with his heliocentric model of the solar system, and Francis Bacon showed the way to freedom from reason alone as the source of all knowledge. Indeed, Bacon said of Aristotle: ‘He did not consult experience as he should have done … but having first determined the question according to his will, he then resorts to experience, and … leads her about like a captive in a procession.’ Copernicus’s work, as well as Kepler’s discovery of the three laws of planetary motion during the years 1609–19, was but preparation for what was to come in the work of Galileo and Newton.

Galileo, rightly regarded as the founder of modern science, not only discovered the law of inertia in mechanics, the kinematic description of motion, and the law of free fall, but also stressed the importance of performing controlled experiments, of quantitative measurement, and of the use of mathematics in expressing experimental results. He stated this last point with particular emphasis, saying about the ‘book of nature’: ‘It cannot be read until we have learned the language and become familiar with the characters in which it is written. It is written in mathematical language.’

It was Isaac Newton, born the year Galileo died (at least by one calendar), who completed the work initiated by Galileo and his other illustrious predecessors, and paved the way for the systematic scientific investigation of physical phenomena over the succeeding centuries. We can say that without Newton’s crowning achievements, this tradition— the Galilean-Newtonian world view—would not have been securely established. Speaking of the importance of what Galileo and Newton achieved, Max Born says: ‘The distinctive quality of these great thinkers was their ability to free themselves from the metaphysical traditions of their time and to express the results of observations and experiments in a new mathematical language regardless of any philosophical preconceptions.’

Scientific Method • Newton expressed clearly his views on the independent and absolute natures of space and time, stated his three laws of motion for material bodies as axioms, enunciated his law of universal gravitation, and established mechanics as a deductive system. His whole approach and accomplishments made explicit and clear all the steps in the chain of scientific work: observation and experimental data → analysis using mathematics →discovery and enunciation of fundamental laws → further mathematical deduction → predictions to be tested by new experiments. As he put it: ‘To derive two or three general Principles of Motion from Phaenomena, and afterwards to tell us how the Properties and Actions of all corporeal Things follow from those manifest Principles, would be a very great step in Philosophy, though the causes of those Principles were not yet discover’d.’


Absolute Space and Time • For the purpose of developing mechanics, Newton invented the calculus. In his presentation he adopted the Greek attitude to geometry and the style of Euclid. Thus he converted knowledge obtained inductively from (refined!) experience—extension from the particular to the general— into a deductive style of presentation. From his laws of motion and universal gravitation, all the empirical laws of Kepler and Galileo followed as logical mathematical consequences. His clear statements about the natures of space and time were of critical importance at this juncture. They mark an important phase in our understanding of these key components of nature, and as we emphasize later, this understanding is never final but develops continually ‘in time’ as we gather more and more experience. Who better than Einstein to express all this: ‘It required a severe struggle [for Newton] to arrive at the concept of independent and absolute space, indispensable for the development of theory. Newton’s decision was, in the contemporary state of science, the only possible one, and particularly the only fruitful one. But the subsequent development of the problems, proceeding in a roundabout way which no one could then possibly foresee, has shown that the resistance of Leibniz and Huygens, intuitively well-founded but supported by inadequate arguments, was actually justified. … It has required no less strenuous exertions subsequently to overcome this concept [of absolute space].’

Theory and Experiment • In Newton’s work we see a confluence of the inductive and deductive methods, each playing its due role. There was a unification of celestial and terrestrial gravitational phenomena, and many previously intractable problems became amenable to analysis and understanding. At one point he went so far as to claim that he made no hypotheses—‘Hypotheses non fingo’—hinting at pure empiricism; but this actually shows that modern science was still young. As Einstein aptly said: ‘The more primitive the status of science is the more readily can the scientist live under the illusion that he is a pure empiricist.’ Today the level of sophistication of the physical sciences is such that every worthwhile experiment is heavily dependent on previous and current theory for its motivations, goals, methods, and analysis.

Over the course of the eighteenth century, the Galilean-Newtonian approach to physical science was amazingly successful. It was applied to problems of celestial mechanics or astronomy, fluid dynamics, and elastic media among others. A distinguished line of mathematical physicists—Leonhard Euler, Joseph Lagrange, Pierre Simon de Laplace, and many others—took part in this endeavour. At one point Lagrange complained that, after Newton, there was nothing left to be discovered! Towards the end of the century, the laws of static electricity and magnetism also fell into the Galilean- Newtonian pattern.

Thought as a Synthetic A Priori • Around this time, the philosopher of the Enlightenment, Immanuel Kant, was so impressed by these successes of the Galilean-Newtonian approach that he created a philosophical system to explain or justify them. We mentioned earlier the contrasting rationalist and empiricist schools of philosophy. Kant tried to bring them together and offered an explanation of the triumphs of Galilean-Newtonian science along the following lines. He distinguished between a priori and a posteriori forms of knowledge—respectively in advance of, and as a result of, experience of nature— and between two kinds of statements: the analytic, which are empty (such as definitions and statements of a logical nature), and the synthetic, which had nontrivial content and could in principle be false. He saw two paths to knowledge about nature—that which is a priori, and that which results from experience. Some of the basic physical ideas underlying Galilean-Newtonian physics, which were actually the results of long human experience and experiment, were regarded by him as synthetic a priori principles. Thus they were claimed to be available to us innately—as a result, one might say, of pure reason—and were necessarily valid and obeyed by natural phenomena. Some of these synthetic a priori principles were the separate and absolute natures of space and time, as expressed by Newton; the validity of Euclidean geometry for space; the law of causality; and later on even the permanence of matter and the law of conservation of mass. In effect, Kant took the knowledge of physical phenomena available in his time and made some of it necessarily and inevitably true and binding on nature. These synthetic a priori principles were present in our minds before any experience of nature; they were thought of as preconditions for, rather than results of, science.

Kant’s attempt was made about two centuries ago, and today it is clear that it was tied to his age and to the science of his time. Schrödinger characterizes well the impulse that lay behind Kant’s attempt: ‘One is very easily deceived into regarding an acquired habit of thought as a peremptory postulate imposed by our mind on any theory of the physical world.’ We will shortly look at some of the ways in which physical science has gone beyond Kant’s framework, and will describe a fascinating new way of understanding the origin of synthetic a priori principles of thought.

Physical Science in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries Fields as Distinct from Matter • At the start of the nineteenth century the fields of optics, electricity, and magnetism were separate from one another and from mechanics. Chemistry was a distinct discipline. But over the century many advances were made, which we can only briefly describe here. An early step forward was in the understanding of the nature of light. Thomas Young’s experiments on interference brought the wave theory of light back into favour, as against Newton’s corpuscular ideas. This was carried forward and firmly established by Augustin Fresnel. Then, as a result of fundamental experimental discoveries by Hans Oersted, André Ampère, and Michael Faraday, the concepts of timedependent electric and magnetic fields came into being. There were things in nature in addition to and distinct from matter.

Meanwhile, celestial mechanics continued to record stunning successes. Perhaps the most striking example was the prediction by both John Adams and Urbain Le Verrier, based on Newtonian mechanics and gravitation, of the existence of a new planet, Neptune, to account for the observed discrepancies in the motion of Uranus. In 1846 it was found exactly where the astronomers were told to look. (However, a later similar attempt to trace discrepancies in the motion of Mercury to a perturbing planet Vulcan was unsuccessful. The answer came from an entirely unexpected direction—general relativity.)

Electromagnetism and Light • After Faraday’s powerful intuition had led to the idea of electric and magnetic fields, James Maxwell put all the known laws in the subject of electricity and magnetism into a coherent mathematical form. He then found an important discrepancy, saw the way to correct it, and was thus led to his comprehensive classical unified theory of electromagnetic phenomena. A prediction of this theory was the possibility of self-supporting electromagnetic waves whose speed when calculated turned out to be exactly the known speed of light. Then Maxwell identified light with these waves, and optics became a part of electromagnetism. During this period, following Fresnel’s work, it was believed that the propagation of light needed a material medium, the so-called luminiferous ether, and this concept was taken over by Maxwell as well.

Non-Euclidean Geometry • In the area of mathematics, the subject of geometry witnessed a major advance. We saw that Kant in his philosophy had made Euclidean geometry an inevitable or inescapable property of physical space—it was a synthetic a priori principle. Within mathematics, for centuries the status of one of Euclid’s postulates—the fifth one, the parallel postulate (that there is exactly one parallel to a given line through a given point)— had been repeatedly studied: was it logically independent of the other postulates or a consequence of them? During the first half of the nineteenth century, three mathematicians—Karl Gauss, Nikolai Lobachevsky, and János Bolyai—independently showed that it was a logically independent statement. It could be altered, allowing one to create logically consistent alternatives to Euclidean geometry. Thus was born within mathematics the concept of non-Euclidean geometry, which, as we will soon see, was to enter physical science just under a century later.

Statistical Physics • Over the latter half of the nineteenth century, statistical physics and statistical mechanics became established as foundations of thermodynamics. Thus by the century’s end the principal components of the physicist’s view of the world were Newton’s mechanics, Maxwell’s electromagnetism, and statistical ideas and thermodynamics. Relativity • The important departures from the Kantian picture of physical science—from the framework Kant developed to justify the successes of Galilean-Newtonian ideas— came one by one with the revolutionary theories of twentieth- century physics. First came the special theory of relativity, the resolution of a clash between Newton’s mechanics and Maxwell’s electromagnetism. It turned out that Newton’s views of separate and absolute space and time, and the Galilean transformations that go with them, were incompatible with Maxwell’s electromagnetic equations. These equations led to a profoundly different view of the properties of space and time. What special relativity achieved was to make clear these properties, show that there was no need for ether as a carrier of electromagnetic waves, and then amend Newton’s mechanics of material particles to make it consistent with electromagnetism. The earlier separateness and individual absoluteness of space and time— included among Kant’s synthetic a priori principles— gave way to a unified view in which only a combined space-time was common to and shared by all observers of natural phenomena. However, each observer could choose how he or she would split space-time in a physically meaningful way into separate space and time. The earlier absoluteness of the concept of simultaneity was lost, and now varied from observer to observer. For each observer, though, space continued to obey the laws of Euclidean geometry. Special relativity took one step beyond the Kantian framework—now only a combined law of conservation of matter and energy was valid, not separate laws for matter and for energy. (To be concluded)

The other major twentieth-century development in physics was the discovery of the quantum nature of phenomena and the formulation of quantum theory. In many ways quantum theory is more profound in its implications than the relativity theories. Quantum theory arose out of a clash between Maxwell’s electromagnetism and the principles of statistical physics, which, as we saw, provide the foundation for thermodynamics. We can only try to convey why quantum theory has had such a profound influence on the philosophy of science, and cannot venture into much technical detail. The view of the nature of light has swung back towards Newton’s corpuscular conception— with important and subtle differences—expressed in the concept of the photon. As for the mechanics of matter, the Galilean-Newtonian picture and description of motion has given way to a much more mathematically elaborate and subtle complex of ideas, which goes by the name of quantum mechanics. Material particles no longer travel along well-defined paths or trajectories in space in the course of time. Their evolution in time can only be given in the language of probability—that is, all the predictive statements of quantum mechanics are probabilistic in nature. The quantitative description of physical properties of systems undergoes two important changes in quantum mechanics: on the one hand, many physical variables show a quantization of the values they can possess—thus, typically, energies are restricted to a discrete set of values rather than a continuum. On the other hand, the physical variables of a given system have such mathematical properties, or are of such nature, that we cannot imagine that each of them always possesses some numerical value which, if we so wish, can be revealed by a measurement. According to Bohr, we can never speak of a quantum system as having such and such a value for such and such a physical property on its own, independent of our measurement of it. And with a pair of so-called incompatible properties, an effort to measure one of them automatically precludes any effort to simultaneously measure the other as well.

We have to learn to use language with much more caution or circumspection when speaking of quantum phenomena than was the case earlier. Many classically meaningful and answerable questions become devoid of meaning in the quantum domain. The kind of ‘visualizability’ of physical systems in complete detail which was possible in classical physics is denied by quantum mechanics.

From the perspective of Kantian thinking, quantum mechanics has made us give up strict determinism, substituting a kind of statistical causality for it. On the other hand, it has supplied the basic theoretical concepts for all of chemistry, for atomic, molecular, nuclear, and elementary particle phenomena, and for all processes involving radiation. The old law of the permanence of matter has gone, as it can be converted to radiation, and vice versa. Up to the present time, the agreement of quantum mechanics with experiments has been outstanding— nature does seem to behave, in many situations, in classically unreasonable ways.

The Reinterpretation of Kantian Ideas It is understandable that when physics advanced into new territories involving the very fast, the very large, and the very small—as judged by everyday standards and experience—some of the Kantian synthetic a priori principles had to be given up. As we said, Kant’s ideas were rooted in the physical science and Galilean-Newtonian tradition of his time; he could not have foreseen the revolutionary developments that were to come later. This much is natural. However, what is remarkable is that the ‘problem’ with his philosophical basis for physical science has been illumined during the midtwentieth century from a rather unexpected direction— namely, biology and the theory of evolution by natural selection. One might wonder if, apart from having to give up particular synthetic a priori principles as a result of advances in physical science, the very concept of such principles has also to be given up. After all, one might ask how principles supposedly known in advance of experience could necessarily constrain our later experiences. The answer to this question involves a subtle reinterpretation of Kant’s notions, using ideas not available to him. This fascinating development—the work of Konrad Lorenz—leads to a better understanding of the entire situation, and has been eloquently presented by Max Delbrück.

The basic contrast is between the slow evolution of species governed by the force of natural selection, involving innumerable generations and enormous stretches of time; and the relatively short life span of an individual member of the species. In the former process—phylogenesis—those abilities thrown up by random genetic changes which are beneficial to biological survival are retained and refined. The others are discarded. Those retained include the ability to recognize the most important physical features of the world around us at our own scales of length and time, because it is just these scales that are relevant for biological evolution. Thus, gradual evolution of species governed by natural selection develops these useful capacities, and then endows each individual with them at birth. From the point of view of the individual’s development over a single life time—ontogenesis— the capacities in question seem to be given readymade at birth, in advance of experience; they seem to be a priori. But this argument shows that from a longer time perspective there is nothing a priori about them, as they are the fruits of experience of the species. In Delbrück’s words: It appears therefore that two kinds of learning are involved in our dealing with the world. One is phylogenetic learning, in the sense that during evolution we have evolved very sophisticated machinery for perceiving and making inferences about a real world. … Collectively and across history, the human species has learned to deal with signals coming from the outside world by constructing a model of it. In other words, whereas in the light of modern understanding of evolutionary processes, we can say the individual approaches perception a priori, this is by no means true when we consider the history of mankind as a whole. What is a priori for individuals is a posteriori for the species. The second kind of learning involved in dealing with the world is ontogenetic learning, namely the lifelong acquisition of cultural, linguistic, and scientific knowledge.

The one added subtle point is that species evolution endows each individual with the capacity to acquire knowledge about the world outside, but not the knowledge itself. This has to be acquired through the experiences of infancy and childhood, and indeed is a lifelong endeavour. The difference between capacity and content is profound.

In this way Kant’s conceptions acquire new meaning. We also learn that the biologically evolved Kantian a prioris can only be expected to work for a limited range of natural phenomena, and our ‘sense of intuition’ is based on this range alone. We should therefore not be surprised if Galilean- Newtonian principles do not extend beyond this limited world to the world of the very fast, very large, or very small. But the truth is that our intuition is so much a part of us that it is very difficult to escape from or transcend it.

Some Important Features of Physical Science Returning to physical science, there are several important features it has acquired, some more recently than others, with significant philosophical implications. The descriptions and understanding of natural phenomena given by physical science are always developing or evolving, always provisional and never final. Since this is so very important, let me cite several examples which lead one to this sobering point of view. There have been occasions in the past—with Lagrange in the eighteenth century, and William Thompson (Lord Kelvin) at the end of the nineteenth century—when the feeling was expressed that all the laws of physics had been found and nothing remained to be discovered. Our experiences since then have made us much more modest in our claims. We both recognize the existence of limits of validity for every physical theory or body of laws, even for those yet to be discovered; and admit that future experience can always lead to unexpected surprises. In this important sense nature is inexhaustible: we will always be learning from her. The lack of finality of every physical theory in this sense means that we can only continually increase the accuracy of our description of the phenomena of ‘the real world out there’, but can never say we have been able to describe them exactly as they are, or have reached true reality. Our first example to drive these points home is connected with the Newtonian description of universal gravitation as an instantaneous attraction between any two mass points governed by an inverse square law. Before Newton, the prevailing idea was Descartes’ theory of vortices—all physical actions or influences were by contact alone. Newton’s law was a major change, giving rise to the concept of action at a distance. Privately, Newton himself expressed uneasiness at what seemed an unreasonable aspect of his law—how could material bodies influence one another instantaneously across intervening empty space? But his law worked, its quantitative predictions agreed with experience (at that time!), and with the passage of time the idea of action at a distance became gradually accepted. Even the initial laws of electricity and magnetism—in the static limit—were expressed in such a framework. The return to action by contact via an intervening field came about in the case of gravitation only in 1915 with Einstein’s theory of general relativity.

The next example concerns the nature of light. As we have discussed earlier, the corpuscular viewpoint championed by Newton was replaced by the wave concept after Young’s experiments on interference. After Maxwell’s classical electromagnetism arrived, light was identified with the propagating waves of Maxwell’s theory: now one ‘knew’ what the waves were made of. But when Einstein developed the photon concept in 1905, our understanding moved once more in the direction of the corpuscular viewpoint, involving a subtle combination of wave and particle concepts which can be properly expressed only in the language and imagery of quantum mechanics. At none of the above stages of development could one claim that one had finally understood the real nature and properties of light. It was always a movement towards improved understanding.

Our third example concerns the explanation of the spectrum of the simplest atom in nature, hydrogen. Bohr’s 1913 theory was the first breakthrough; it gave the vital clue to the wealth of data in the field of spectroscopy. Spectral lines corresponded to transitions of electrons between atomic states with various discrete energies. His model for the hydrogen atom was able to explain the spectral lines of the so-called Balmer series, and also several other series. This vital first step fell within the framework of the old quantum theory. A few years later, Arnold Sommerfeld introduced special relativistic corrections to the Bohr model, and was thus able to explain the so-called fine structure in the spectrum. This was then regarded as a triumph of the existing theoretical framework. But after the advent of quantum mechanics in 1925–6, the ‘correct’ understanding of the spectrum of hydrogen was supplied by the Schrödinger equation and its solutions. The framework of physical ideas was completely different from Bohr’s, but the data explained was the same. Then in 1928, after Dirac had found the relativistic wave equation for the electron, the fine structure came out as a straightforward consequence. After this, the Sommerfeld explanation became a fortuitous coincidence, not to be taken seriously anymore. Almost two decades later, as improved experimental techniques and measurements revealed new and finer details of the hydrogen spectrum—the so-called Lamb shift—one had to go beyond the Dirac equation and appeal to the theory of quantum electrodynamics (QED) for an explanation. This turned out to be one of the triumphs of that theory. Clearly at no stage could we have said that we had understood the origin of the lines of the spectrum of hydrogen in complete detail, or that we had the complete and real truth in our possession.

Turning from physics to mathematics, in the field of geometry we have seen a similar evolution, though over a much longer period of time. As we mentioned earlier, only after almost two millennia was it realized that Euclid’s geometry is not the only logically possible system of geometry for space; other non-Euclidean geometries are certainly conceivable and consistent. And after general relativity, the changeable geometry of space-time has become an ingredient in the laws of physics, specifically of gravitation. Today there is talk of the quantum features of geometry, one more step in the continuing effort to understand the natures of space and time.

These examples, and many others, teach us that the problem of what is physically real is a time-dependent one: it always depends on what is known at each epoch in the growth of physical science, and can see dramatic changes at certain points. Concepts like phlogiston and ether seemed essential at certain stages in the history of physics, but were later given up in the light of improved understanding.

The accuracy of observations and measurements and the sophistication of the instruments available for experimental investigation also continually increase, so they too contribute to the transitoriness of physical theories. But it should also be pointed out that at any given time we have trust in certain tested and successful ideas and theories, and keep working with them until we are compelled by new experience to go beyond them; then we modify them or in some cases even abandon them. Thus at the present time we have full confidence that, within their respective domains of validity, Newton’s mechanics, Maxwell’s electromagnetism, and the nonrelativistic quantum mechanics and its later developments can certainly be used.

Mathematics: The Language of Nature Next we turn to the important role of mathematics in physical science. Galileo’s remark about mathematics being the language of nature has turned out to be true, at least in physical science, to a degree far beyond what anyone might have imagined. In the eighteenth and much of the nineteenth centuries, as the concepts about the physical universe grew in complexity and subtlety, so did the mathematics used to describe them. The same gifted individuals contributed to both disciplines in these periods— Euler, Lagrange, Laplace, Fourier, Gauss, Hamilton, and Jacobi, to name a few. Thereafter, there was to some extent a parting of ways. The relativity and quantum revolutions in the twentieth century exploited mathematical ideas previously and independently developed purely within mathematics. In any event, there has been a steadily increasing role for mathematical ideas in physical science. In one sense this is connected to the reinterpretation of Kantian ideas sketched in the preceding section. As we move away from the domain of normal daily experience and into unfamiliar realms, it is understandable that our intuition often fails us, and then we depend increasingly on the mathematical structure of physical theory for guidance. Furthermore, the accuracy with which effects can be predicted by modern physical theories, and then checked by experiments, is truly staggering. In Eugene Wign-er’s view, there seems to be no rational explanation for this to be so.

There are some who regard the body of mathematical truths as an independently existing ‘continent out there’, and the process of mathematical discovery as the result of continual exploration of this continent. However, it is likely that this is a psychological response from some gifted individuals who have made really deep discoveries in mathematics based on a variety of motivations. A more modest and less problematic attitude is to regard mathematics as a human invention, similar to but far more compact and rigorous than language, given that in the first place evolution has equipped us with the capacity to create it. But then the extraordinary degree of detail and verification of physical theories via their predictions—this is what seems difficult to explain, and what Wigner terms a miracle. In Dirac’s view, the reason why the method of mathematical reasoning works so well in physical science is along these lines: ‘This must be ascribed to some mathematical quality in Nature, a quality which the casual observer of Nature would not suspect, but which nevertheless plays an important role in Nature’s scheme.’

Another related point stressed by Dirac should also be mentioned. It turns out that in the long run the deductive method is not suitable for physical science. One cannot base one’s ideas on a fixed, initially stated, and unchanging set of axioms, and then rely on logic to obtain all possible physical consequences. One may adopt this strategy—inspired by Euclid—to a limited extent to grasp the logical structure of a particular set of ideas in a compact way, but one is bound sooner or later to transcend the confines of such a structure. This has been the case, for instance, with Newton’s axiomatic approach to mechanics—witness the changes wrought by special relativity on the one hand, and quantum theory on the other. Such may well be the case with the present highly successful quantum mechanics as well. Turning to Dirac:

The steady progress of physics requires for its theoretical formulation a mathematics that gets continually more advanced. This is only natural and to be expected. What, however, was not expected … was the particular form that the line of advancement of the mathematics would take, namely, it was expected that the mathematics would get more and more complicated, but would rest on a permanent basis of axioms and definitions, while actually the modern physical developments have required a mathematics that continually shifts its foundations and gets more abstract. … It seems likely that this process of increasing abstraction will continue in the future and that advance in physics is to be associated with a continual modification and generalization of the axioms at the base of the mathematics rather than with a logical development of any one mathematical scheme on a fixed foundation.

Looking Back Philosophically Philosophical insights into and speculations about nature go far back in time; modern science in comparison is very recent. We have followed the growth of physical science from its modern beginnings at the hands of Galileo and Newton, and the impact it had on philosophy in that period. We saw how classical physics seemed to have achieved a kind of completeness at the end of the nineteenth century, after which the relativity and quantum revolutions occurred.

In discussing or evaluating ancient philosophical ideas in the light of knowledge attained much later, a great sense of balance is needed. Such comparisons can easily be misunderstood. On this point, Heisenberg explains :

It may seem at first sight that the Greek philosophers have by some kind of ingenious intuition come to the same or very similar conclusions as we have in modern times only after several centuries of hard labour with experiments and mathematics. This interpretation of our comparison would, however, be a complete misunderstanding. There is an enormous difference between modern science and Greek philosophy, and that is just the empiricist attitude of modern science. … This possibility of checking the correctness of a statement experimentally with very high precision and in any number of details gives an enormous weight to the statement that could not be attached to the statements of early Greek philosophy. All the same, some statements of ancient philosophy are rather near to those of modern science

It is important to stress, as Bohr particularly did, that science is a social human activity crucially dependent on communication among individuals. Each scientific theory is properly viewed as a human creation. Here is Yakov Zeldovich’s expression of this aspect: ‘Fundamental science is … needed, among other things, because it satisfies man’s spiritual requirements. Scientific endeavour is a remarkable manifestation of human intellect. It perfects human intelligence and ennobles the soul.’

We have seen how difficult it is to give precise definitions of what is physically real; any statement reflects the state of knowledge at the time it is made, and may have to be revised later. From a philosophical stance, the importance of mathematics in physical science, and the changing ways in which it is used, are noteworthy. In the discussions about quantum mechanics we see the extreme care required in the use of language (not to mean, of course, that we can be careless in other realms!).

Again, from a philosophical standpoint, we see that pure empiricism and a purely deductive approach are both limited in scope. We need to combine caution, flexibility, and rigour—all at the same time. Nature is inexhaustible, and only experience hand in hand with reason can guide us to dependable knowledge. These seem to be the characteristics of a philosophy useful for the physical sciences.

Bibliography 1. Benjamin Farrington, Greek Science (Nottingham: Spokesman, 1980). 2. Erwin Schrödinger, Nature and the Greeks (Cambridge, 1996). 3. Hans Reichenbach, The Rise of Scientific Philosophy (Berkeley: University of California, 1959). 4. Werner Heisenberg, Physics and Philosophy (New York: Harper and Row, 1962). 5. Konrad Lorenz, The Natural Science of the Human Species (Cambridge: MIT, 1997). 6. Max Delbrück, Mind from Matter? An Essay on Evolutionary Epistemology (Palo Alto: Blackwell, 1986). 7. Jean-Pierre Changeux and Alain Connes, Conversations on Mind, Matter and Mathematics (Princeton University, 1995). 8. Eugene P Wigner, Symmetries and Reflections—Scientific Essays (Woodbridge: Ox Bow, 1979).




The Philosophy of Mathematics Swami Sarvottamananda

‘Ah! then yours wasn’t a really good school,’ said the Mock Turtle in a tone of great relief. ‘Now at OURS they had at the end of the bill, “French, music, AND WASHING—extra.”’

‘You couldn’t have wanted it much,’ said Alice; ‘living at the bottom of the sea.’

‘I couldn’t afford to learn it,’ said the Mock Turtle with a sigh. ‘I only took the regular course.’

‘What was that?’ inquired Alice.

‘Reeling and Writhing, of course, to begin with,’ the Mock Turtle replied; ‘and then the different branches of Arithmetic—Ambition, Distraction, Uglification, and Derision.’

—Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

The following story is told about the reputed mathematician Norbert Weiner: When they moved from Cambridge to Newton, his wife, knowing that he would be absolutely useless on the move, packed him off to MIT while she directed the move. Since she was certain that he would forget that they had moved and where they had moved to, she wrote down the new address on a piece of paper and gave it to him. Naturally, in the course of the day, he had an insight into a problem that he had been pondering over. He reached into his pocket, found a piece of paper on which he furiously scribbled some notes, thought the matter over, decided there was a fallacy in his idea, and threw the piece of paper away. At the end of the day, he went home (to the old Cambridge address, of course). When he got there he realized that they had moved, that he had no idea where they had moved to, and that the piece of paper with the address was long gone. Fortunately inspiration struck. There was a young girl on the street and he conceived the idea of asking her where he had moved to, saying, ‘Excuse me, perhaps you know me. I’m Norbert Weiner and we’ve just moved. Would you know where we’ve moved to?’ To this the young girl replied, ‘Yes Daddy, Mummy thought you would forget!’

The world of mathematics is beautifully reflected in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland—a world of ideas, where absurdity is a natural occurrence. Mathematics takes us to a world of ideas away from the ordinary, so much so that the archetypal mathematician is typified by the absent-minded professor. In fact, the world of mathematics is an imaginary world, a creation of brilliant minds who live and thrive in it. Mathematics, and the mathematicians who live in its abstract world, alike create a feeling of unworldliness in the common mind. Mathematics is itself abstract; more so is the philosophy of mathematics—the subject of the present article.

Why Study the Philosophy of Mathematics? Before we enter the subject, we must answer some questions: What is the utility of studying the philosophy of mathematics? And what specifically is the utility in the context of a journal dedicated to Vedanta?

The word philosophy is derived from the Greek philo-sophia, ‘love of wisdom’. Thus, in essence, philosophy as a subject tries to supplement our knowledge by finding out what is knowable and what is not; just as, in essence, logic as a subject deals with what is provable and what is not, ethics with what is right and what is wrong, aesthetics with what is beautiful and what is ugly, and religion with what is good and what is evil. Vedanta deals with what is real and what is unreal, and asserts satyam-shivam- sundaram as a triune entity—that which is real is also good and beautiful. So if we view Vedanta from this angle, then it is religion, ethics, aesthetics, and philosophy—all rolled into one.

The philosophy of mathematics deals with metaphysical questions related to mathematics. It discusses the fundamental assumptions of mathematics, enquires about the nature of mathematical entities and structures, and studies the philosophical implications of these assumptions and structures. Though many practising mathematicians do not think that philosophical issues are of particular relevance to their activities, yet the fact remains that these issues, like any other issue in life, do play an important role in shaping our understanding of reality as also in shaping the world of ideas. This is attested to by the fact that both the ongoing scientific revolution and the concomitant phenomenal rise of technology borrow heavily from the progress in mathematics—a dependence that can be seen throughout the evolution of civilization by the discerning mind.

The importance of mathematics can be judged by the fact that it is used in every walk of life—and this is no overstatement. It is invariably present wherever we find the touch of rational thought. It is the ubiquitous guide that shapes and reshapes our thoughts and helps us in understanding ideas and entities, both abstract and concrete. Moreover, the foundations of mathematics are rock solid. Never has a mathematical position needed retraction. Even in physics, considered a glamorous field in present-day society due to its numerous applications, one finds scientists backing out from positions they held some years earlier. But it is not so in mathematics. Once a mathematical truth Is discovered, it seems to remain a truth for eternity. Why is this so?

Contrary to common belief, the real importance of mathematics does not rest in the fantastic theorems discovered; it is in the way mathematics is done—the mathematical process or methodology. It is this that is the matter of our careful scrutiny. Physics has its own methodology too, which is of equal importance. Though it may not appear obvious, both streams stress equally their respective methodologies more than the laws, theories, and hypotheses—that is, the content of physics or mathematics—that they discover or propound. That is one of the chief reasons why there is no crisis in scientific circles when one scientific theory fails and another takes its place.

Contrast this with the philosophies of old, particularly those which were not based on the firm foundation of logic. There the methodologies, the facts and theories, the lives and teachings of the proponents, and, to a lesser extent, the mythologies and cosmologies, were so intermingled, with no clear cut demarcations between them, that systems stood or fell as a whole. It was a favourite technique of opposing schools of thought to point out a single fallacy or discrepancy somewhere in a gigantic work: that was enough to invalidate the whole philosophy. Seen in this light, the strange method of proving the supremacy of one’s philosophy that is often seen in Indian philosophical dialectics— through intricate and abstruse arguments as well as ludicrously naïve squabbling—is not likely to surprise us. There will be much to gain if we incorporate the logic of mathematics and the methodology of physics into our classical philosophies, and give up the esoteric dependence on classification, enumeration, categorization, and obfuscation. We need both the fine edifice of logic and the firm foundation of methodology, because most of the Indian darshanas are not mere speculative philosophies but are also empirical—they have many elements of philosophical realism. Of course, the contribution of the Indian philosophies in the realm of mind and abstract thought is enormous. Equally important are the bold proclamations of the rishis about consciousness and transcendental realities, which are beyond criticism.

Defining the Term In his Introduction to Mathematical Philosophy, Bertrand Russell takes the ‘philosophy of mathematics’ and ‘mathematical philosophy’ to mean one and the same thing. His argument is that formal philosophy is mathematics. And, because of the explanation given by him as well as similar arguments advanced by other influential people, traditionally, works on mathematical philosophy also deal with the philosophy of mathematics, and vice versa. But a more commonsensical differentiation between these terms may be made thus: Mathematical philosophy is essentially philosophy done mathematically, hence falling within the purview of mathematicians, whereas philosophy of mathematics deals with the philosophical issues in mathematics, something that is to be done by philosophers. Philosophy of mathematics, as we treat the subject in this article, is indeed philosophy taking a look at mathematics, and therefore is not the same as mathematical philosophy.

Thus, we shall only try to look at answers to abstract questions related to mathematics—the form, language, and content of mathematics; the nature of mathematical concepts; and the truth and reality of mathematical discoveries and inventions. Philosophy of mathematics, hence, is truly the metaphysics of mathematics—meta-mathematics, the higher knowledge of mathematics. ‘Normal mathematics’, on the other hand, deals with the relatively mundane, the concrete, the useful, and the visible.

The Subject Matter Let me clarify a misconception. We are apt to think that when we talk about the philosophy of mathematics we are dealing with all that is abstruse and complicated. Nothing can be further from the truth. It is the simple facts and elementary theorems of mathematics that pose the greatest difficulty to philosophical understanding, by virtue of their fundamental nature, a nature with essential properties which we unknowingly take for granted. To illustrate the point, we list here some of the questions that philosophy of mathematics examines and the classical philosophical domains to which they belong:

• Are numbers real? (Ontology) • Are theorems true? (Rationalism) • Do mathematical theorems constitute knowledge? (Epistemology) • What makes mathematics correspond to experience? (Empiricism) • Is there any beauty in numbers, equations, or theorems? (Aesthetics) • Which mathematical results are astounding, elegant, or beautiful? (Aesthetics) • Is doing mathematics good or bad, right or wrong? (Ethics) • Can non-human beings do mathematics? (Philosophy of Mind) • Can machines do mathematics? (Artificial Intelligence) It is customary to consider philosophical theories like mathematical realism, logical positivism, empiricism, intuitionism, and constructivism when studying the philosophy of mathematics. But we shall try to steer clear of these murky depths here.

Nature of Mathematics Mathematics is a formal and not empirical science. What is a formal science? A formal science endeavours to extract the form from a given piece of deductive argument and to verify the logic on the basis of the validity of form, rather than directly to interpret the content at every step. Thus, a favourite technique to prove the fallacy of an argument is to substitute hypothetical axioms in its form so that it leads to an obvious absurdity—reductio ad absurdum.

Another important distinguishing feature of a formal science such as mathematics is the use of the deductive method in its arguments, unlike empirical sciences such as physics which use the inductive method to arrive at generalizations

Nature of Mathematical Entities Are mathematical entities real? If they are not real, then whatever name we choose to call them by— abstract or conceptual—the fact remains that they exist only in our mind, a figment of our imagination— not unlike our feelings, though possibly a bit different.

It is common to acknowledge only the second possibility—that mathematical objects are definitely conceptual entities. But what does the word conceptual mean here? Conceptual, with respect to mathematical entities, means that they are hypothetical— they may or may not have any correlation with reality. In that case, these entities could be represented and interpreted in any number of ways. This fact has surprising consequences. For example, if numbers are represented by some well-structured sets—as we shall do in the section on number theory—and the operations addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division are redefined for thesesets, then the sets themselves may be thought of as numbers without any loss of generality. Yet another example is that of spherical geometry. The lines of the Euclidean plane can be thought of as equatorial circles and points as poles on a spherical surface without any loss of understanding. Only the operations on lines and points will have to be redefined so that Euclidean axioms still hold true. But what are the consequences of mathematical entities being conceptual?

On Concepts being Hypothetical The mathematical universe consists of conceptual objects alone. There is no direct relation between mathematical entities and the phenomenal objects of the empirical world. And these mathematical objects are only indirectly correlated to existent objects and interpreted as such by the human mind. For a given system of mathematical truths, we try to interpret factual truths of the external world in such a way that they fit the mathematical model we have developed. And it may not be possible to match every mathematical model with some external reality. In other words, our mathematical models and external objective reality are connected only by our interpretation of the model. Nevertheless, it is worth noting that there is no one-to-one relationship between these two domains. There can be different mathematical explanations for the same event and, conversely, there can also be different physical interpretations of the same model. This is illustrated in the example below where we try to model realworld addition. Let us define two operators P and Q, such that we have the following relations: • 1 P 1 Q 2 • 1 P 2 Q 3 • 2 P 3 Q 5, and so on. Given the above axioms, the operators P and Q could be interpreted as plus and equal to respectively; thus 1 plus 1 equals 2. Are other interpretations of P and Q possible? Yes. P and Q may also be interpreted as equal to and subtracted from respectively so that 2 P3 Q 5 could be read as 2 equals 3 subtracted from 5. Again, Q could also be interpreted as greater than or equal to instead of equal to, in which case the above statement would read 2 plus 3 is greater than or equal to 5. In each of these cases we have a reasonable interpretation of the axioms, though the different interpretations of the operators P and Q are not mutually compatible. Thus we see that the same model can be interpreted in three different ways.

I always like comparing this triad of the mathematical model, the objective world, and our interpretation to that of śabda, artha, and jnāna—word, object, and meaning. The mathematical model of the world is equivalent to śabda, the world to artha, and the interpretation to jnāna. This is the way in which mathematical concepts relate to the objects of experience through an interpretation of events that is entirely a product of our thinking.

Mathematics and Physics Let us now compare the theories of mathematics and physics. What we first notice is that mathematical truths are necessary truths, that is to say, truths deducible from axioms, and true in each and every alternative system (or universe) where the axioms hold. In other words, mathematical truths are true by definition and not incidentally. Immanuel Kant, the celebrated German philosopher, called them a priori truths. Empirical truths, on the other hand, are a posteriori truths, only incidentally true. All physical facts are, surprisingly, only incidentally true. They may not be true in an alternative world or in an alternative physical system.

For example, take the speed of light. Physicists tell us that the speed of light is a constant, nearly 300,000 km/sec. Now why should the speed of light be this value? Can it not be a different value? Would the physical world appear different if the speed of light were different? When we say that ‘The speed of light is nearly 300,000 km/sec’ is not a necessarily true statement, then we mean that we can postulate, without fear of any technical objections, another universe where the speed of light is different, say, 310,000 km/sec. Of course, that world would be unlike ours and is not known to exist, but this line of thinking gives us a hint that there is no a priori reason for physical constants to have the immutable values that characterize them— however real they may be for us. In fact, Vedanta boldly proclaimed a long time ago that the physical universe does not have any a priori reason for its existence, and Buddhist thought has also followed this great tradition.

Here it may be of interest to draw a comparison with Nyaya, the traditional Indian system of logic. Nyaya is an empirical philosophy and is fully imbued with realism. Therefore, in its traditional fivestep syllogism (pancāvayava anumāna), it is mandatory to cite a real-life example (dṛṣṭānta) while drawing an inference from given premises. This step is much like deducing a specific instance from a general principle. And because of this thoroughly realistic approach, postulating a hypothetical universe within Nyaya discourse is virtually impossible, because that would lack real-world examples. In the mathematical domain, on the other hand, every entity is hypothetical, and entities get connected to the real world only through the interpretations applied to them. So we can postulate a hypothesis anytime and anywhere. Though Nyaya too, as a system of formal logic, has its own hypothetical concepts, its grounding in the real world restricts its conceptual flexibility. Hence, Nyaya as a logical system is able to deduce only a subset of the truths which mathematical logic is able to derive.

The Mathematical Method Having understood the nature of mathematical concepts, we now need to briefly examine the mathematical method. What is the method by which we arrive at the truth or falsity of mathematical statements? In a mathematical system, we have axioms, which are facts taken to be obviously true (‘If a is less than b, then a is not equal to b’ is one such axiom—the axiom of linear order), and some nonfacts (which we shall call non-axioms) by the help of which we prove or disprove theorems. Proving theorems means deriving them from known axioms. If we are able to deduce a theorem starting from these basic axioms, then we say that the theorem is true. However, proving the falsity of a theorem is different. If we are able to derive a non-axiom from a proposition, then that proposition is false—a nontheorem. So, here we go the other way round—we start from the theorem itself, not from non-axioms. Hence proving the truth and falsity of theorems are not mirror processes. The underlying assumption of this method is that we cannot derive a non-fact from facts. Such a system is called consistent. If a system is inconsistent, it is ‘trivially complete’; that is, every statement, true or false, is derivable in an inconsistent system. An inconsistent system, therefore, is of little practical use.

Propositional Logic In the study of mathematical method we also need to study propositional logic. Propositions play an important part in mathematical proofs. What is a proposition? A proposition is a statement which is either true or false. Note that there are certain stainterrogatory and exclamatory statements are neither true nor false. Also there is this classic example of a paradoxical self-referential statement, which is neither true nor false: P: The statement P is false We have referred to the term theorem. Now is the time to define it. What is a theorem? A theorem is nothing but a proposition for which there is a formal proof. What then is meant by proof ? A proof is simply a sequence of deductive steps governed by well-defined logical rules that follow from a set of axioms. An axiom, of course, is a proposition that is given to be unconditionally true. The following deduction illustrates the rule of specialization, which is one of the many rules of logic: All men are mortal. Socrates is a man. Therefore, Socrates is mortal Thus, a mathematical system is a set of axioms and non-axioms with predefined rules of deduction, which are also referred to as rules of inference. The rules of deduction or rules of inference are nothing but rules that add, remove, modify, and substitute operators and symbols. Let us try an exercise to understand how the rules of inference work. Suppose we have been given the following rules of addition, removal, and substitution of symbols I and U (the other symbol M remains there as in the starting axiom). The starting axiom is MI, and x and y are variables: (i) xI → xIU (Derive MUUIIIU from MUUIII) (ii) Mx → Mxx ( Derive MUUIIIUUIII from MUUIII) (iii) xIIIy → xUy (Derive MUUU from MUUIII) (iv) xUUy → xy (Derive MIII from MUUIII)


Now try constructing the theorem MU starting only with the axiom MI using the above rules of inference. Is it possible to derive MU? The crux of the matter discussed above is that in mathematics, as well as in logic, the operators, the constants, and the functions can all be viewed, as in this example, as symbols which are added, removed, and substituted by predefined rules of inference, without ascribing any interpretation to them. Gödel exploited this fact beautifully in proving his famous theorem on incompleteness.

Is Mathematics a Uniquely Human Activity? Since doing mathematics involves intricate reasoning and abstract thinking, it is often thought to be a very creative process requiring a lot of intuition. Kant was of the opinion that since mathematics requires human intuition it cannot possibly be done by non-humans. But several later philosophers have shown that it really does not require any human intuition to understand a mathematical proof. Finding a proof for an open research problem, though, might be an altogether different matter—computers have failed till date to automatically generate proofs for even very simple non-trivial mathematical problems. This is not to suggest that proving mathematical theorems is a uniquely human activity incapable of computer simulation—it is simply a matter of selective processing power. Computers cannot distinguish between boring mathematical truths and interesting mathematical results and keep happily churning out one mathematically uninteresting result after another, ad infinitum.

Mathematical thinking, in fact, is apparently not unique to humans. Rudimentary mathematical understanding is also seen in other animal species. And, of course, computers are ‘doing’ mathematics all the time. If one is to argue that finding and discovering mathematical truths rather than understanding proofs constitutes the test of mathematical intelligence—and computers fail this test— then it may be pointed out that this will also place the majority of humans at par with machine intelligence, because the vast majority of humans do not participate in the exciting activity of mathematical discovery.

Important Branches of Mathematics Among the important branches of mathematics, number theory, set theory, geometry, and logic are historically very old. The oldest civilizations—the Indian, Greek, Chinese, Egyptian, and Babylonian— had all developed these branches, in one form or other, for general use. This is substantiated by the fact that without a fair understanding of geometry the remarkable architectural and civil- engineering feats for which these civilisations are famous would not have been possible. Even such elementary constructions as a rectangular wall or a field, or the more intricate hemispherical dome, require at least a rudimentary knowledge of geometrical constructions. Incidentally, ancient Greeks gave much importance to geometry, whereas Indians gave up geometry for abstract mathematics during the Buddhist period.

As far as number and set theories are concerned, no one really knows when humans developed these. Numbers surely came with the need for counting. Most civilizations seem to have been formally using numbers right from their inception. It was needed for commerce, and in earlier tribal societies to quantify one’s possessions.

Set theory is more fundamental than number theory, for it deals with classification rather than counting. Formal logic was a later development. But its rudiments were probably coeval with the development of language—with the need to coherently and intelligently communicate one’s opinions, arguments, and deductions to others. In fact, logic and language are so interlinked that many consider logic to be merely a linguistic construct. Historically, both Nyaya and Aristotelian philosophy had formalized logic for their respective civilizations, the Indian and the Greek.


Number Theory Let us begin with numbers. We may ask: What is the nature of numbers? Are numbers real? In the Nyaya and Vaisheshika philosophies, for instance, numbers are real entities, belonging to one of the seven categories of real entities. However, there are conceptual difficulties if we grant numbers an objective reality. Consider the following: We have two books. So, we have books and we have also the number two. Let us add another pair of books to our collection. Does it destroy the number two and create the number four? Or does the number two transform into the number four? Suppose we add two notebooks, to distinguish them from the original pair of books. Then we have got a pair of twos as well as a four. None of the original numbers is destroyed or transformed and yet a new number is created. The ancient Buddhists were therefore not wrong in pointing out that numbers are in fact mental concepts. They do not have any existence outside the mental world.

Furthermore, mathematicians say that numbers can also be thought of as properties of sets, being their sizes (though the Buddhists would not feel comfortable with this either). Numbers as properties of sets were called cardinal numbers by George Cantor in contrast to ordinal numbers which represented positions in a series (first, second, and so on). Again, these are not to be taken as real properties, for there is an equally long-standing debate on substances and their properties. Essentially, therefore, numbers are abstract properties of equally abstract sets. Or, with greater ingenuity, the abstract concept of set itself can be thought of as representing numbers—not just the properties of sets but the sets themselves. Thus, we may have: { } = 0 {ϕ} = 1 {ϕ, {ϕ}} = 2 {ϕ, {ϕ}, {ϕ,{ϕ}}} = 3, and so forth. Does anyone find this remarkable example illuminating or fascinating! All the same, this is what we meant by our statement that mathematical entities are not real but are merely conceptual entities. Historically, the notion of numbers was formalized in the following succession. The notion of natural numbers (1, 2, 3, …) was developed first.

‘God created the natural numbers; everything else is man’s handiwork’, the German mathematician Leopold Kronecker had famously observed. The incorporation of zero as a number was the great contribution of the Indian subcontinent. The natural numbers are complete as far as the operations of addition and multiplication are concerned—if we add or multiply two natural numbers we get another natural number. However, the class of natural numbers is not complete with respect to subtraction (you don’t get a natural number if you subtract 3 from 2). So if the result is to belong to the set of numbers, we need to extend the list of natural numbers to include negative numbers. The result is the set of integers.

Again, we see that the class of integers is not complete with respect to division. So the set of numbers is further extended to include ratios—rational numbers. The word rational here is derived from ‘ratio’ and not ‘reason’. Next we get surds or irrational numbers, when we extend the set of numbers to include limits, sums of series, square roots, trigonometric functions, logarithms, exponential functions, and so on. This gives us real numbers. Actually, this gives us only a subset of real numbers because these constitute only what are called computable numbers (which can be computed to any desired degree of precision by a finite, terminating algorithm). Not all real numbers can be so constructed. To be mathematically precise, we need to see each real number as a partition which divides the set of numbers into two groups A and B. If the partition is such that there is a largest element of A or a smallest element of B then the (partitioning) number is rational. But if there is neither a largest number in A nor a smallest number in B then the divisive number is irrational. This is the concept of ‘cuts’ developed by the celebrated mathematician Richard Dedekind.

The other day I was arguing with a friend that every real number can be seen as a decimal expansion which can be computed one digit after another using a suitable algorithm. I was, however, wrong. Alan Turing has proved this mind-boggling truth that not all real numbers are computable.

People found out very quickly that negative numbers could not have real square roots. In order to make the set of numbers complete even with the operation of determining square roots, the domain of real numbers was again extended to that of complex numbers, which are nothing but the sum of a real number and an imaginary number (i.e. a number expressed as a multiple of √−1). The historical choice of the names imaginary and complex was, however, unfortunate. For this makes one think that complex numbers are not numbers at all. One could on the other hand look at complex numbers as a dyad such that the subset of this dyad with the second term as zero is actually the set of real numbers. Moreover, all algebraic operations that can be carried out using real numbers can also be applied to the complex number dyads when these are suitably redefined. This interpretation is much more appropriate than the one commonly taught in schools. It is also worth noting that the class of complex numbers is ‘complete’ in the sense that if we apply any normal operator or any common function to complex numbers we always get a complex number.

With the introduction of complex numbers, one would think that the number system was at peace. But that was not to be, for serious trouble was brewing with the inclusion of the concept of infinity. There is a common misconception that there is one and only one mathematical infinity. And the people who seem to be more prone to this misconception are people from a Vedantic background! I wish to point out that here we are not merely thinking of +∞ and −∞, or even ‘radial infinites’ in the complex plane. It was George Cantor who proved that there are numerous infinities in relation to numbers. As a matter of fact, while the set of integers and of rational numbers are countably infinite, the set of real numbers is uncountably infinite. (Countability or denuWith the introduction of complex numbers, one would think that the number system was at peace. But that was not to be, for serious trouble was brewing with the inclusion of the concept of infinity. There is a common misconception that there is one and only one mathematical infinity. And the people who seem to be more prone to this misconception are people from a Vedantic background! I wish to point out that here we are not merely thinking of +∞ and −∞, or even ‘radial infinites’ in the complex plane. It was George Cantor who proved that there are numerous infinities in relation to numbers. As a matter of fact, while the set of integers and of rational numbers are countably infinite, the set of real numbers is uncountably infinite. (Countability or denumerability refers to being able to be counted by one-to-one correspondence with the infinite set of all positive integers.) More remarkably, Cantor was able to prove that even uncountably infinite sets have different cardinalities: that if ℵ0 is an infinite set then there exists a set (ℵ1) which can be proved to be larger than this set, and this process can be extended to obtain infinites with still greater cardinality. Cantor’s treatment of infinities, however, was abstract rather than constructive. And this cost him an appointment at Berlin University—though his work was mathematically sound—as Kronecker, a firm believer in constructions, opposed him. Mathematicians, after all, are also human!

Zeno’s Paradox Besides the problem of infinity, mathematicians working with numbers had also to tackle the problems of limits and series. To appreciate the problem with series, we consider one of Zeno’s paradoxes— a set of problems devised by Zeno of Elea to support Parmenides’s doctrine that ‘all is one’. This doctrine asserts that, contrary to the evidence of our senses, the belief in plurality and change is mistaken, and, in particular, motion is nothing but an illusion. This is much like the Buddhist doctrine of kṣaṇikavāda.

‘Achilles and the Tortoise’ is the most famous of these paradoxes. Fleet-footed Achilles, of Battle-of-Troy fame (in Homer’s Iliad), and a tortoise are participating in a race. Achilles is reputed to be the fastest runner on earth; and the tortoise is one of the slowest of living beings. However, according to Zeno, Achilles can never win the race if the tortoise is given but a little head start. This is how it happens: Suppose the tortoise is, say, ten feet ahead of Achilles. In an instant Achilles covers the distance of ten feet. But dura short distance. Again in another bound Achilles covers that small distance, but to his dismay, during that time the tortoise has advanced still more, and so on. Thus, Achilles can never possibly catch up with the tortoise.

But this clearly is nonsense. In reality, things never happen like that. This is actually a graphic description of the problem of the sum of an infinite series of decreasing terms which yields a finite value. Of course, not every such series will yield a finite value. The harmonic series (1 + ½ + ⅓ + ¼ + …) is one such

Set Theory Now that we are on paradoxes, let us start our discussion of set theory with Russell’s paradox. In set theory, we have finite sets as well as infinite sets. For infinite sets it is possible that a set contains itself. {ϕ, {ϕ}, {ϕ,{ϕ}}, {ϕ,{ϕ},{ϕ,{ϕ}}}, …} is one such set. Keen observers would have noted that this is the number ‘infinity’ in the ‘illuminating’ example of a previous section. Now call a set abnormal if it contains itself. Define a set R of all ‘normal’ sets: ‘the set of all sets that do not contain themselves as members’. Now ask the question: Is R normal or abnormal? We see that this question cannot be answered in either the affirmative or the negative. The ‘axiomatic set theory’ was developed to address such paradoxes by incorporating an ‘axiom of choice’ within the theory. But this goes beyond the scope of our discussion, although it may be mentioned in passing that a surprising corollary to this theory is the fact that a universal set—the hypothetical set containing all possible elements—does not exist.

In practice, sets are normally related to groups and collections of objects in the external world. Here too, a similar question, as with numbers, arises: are sets real? In Indian philosophical thought too, the same question appears repeatedly. The Buddhists, for instance, argue that the axe which is a combination of the handle and the blade does not exist ‘in itself ’. It is absurd, they say, to call an axe a family heirloom of great value if its blade is changed just five times and its handle just fourteen times. This question of absurdity, however, does not arise in mathematics because sets as well as their constituent members are all hypothetical entities— conceptual objects which are granted no intrinsic reality.

Geometry In contrast to sets and numbers, it is easy for us to see that geometrical objects are conceptual. But it was not so for the Greeks—they took their geometry seriously exactly for the opposite reason: they thought geometry was real. Take, for instance, the case of a point and a line in a plane. What is a point? A point, as every schoolchild knows, is a geometrical object that does not have any length or breadth (all its dimensions are zero). And what is a line? A line is a geometrical object that has only length but no breadth. These very definitions make it obvious that true points and lines cannot exist in the real world distinct from our mental constructions. Credit goes to Euclid for formalizing the field of geometry into a body of axioms and theorems. Though his treatment of the subject was fully conceptual, it took a really long time—two thousand years—for people to see that these concepts do not quite match the real world. All this time everyone had been mistakenly assuming that the world is Euclidean. Geometrical results seemed to fit our experiential world so very nicely that people failed to see that they could be unreal. Nevertheless, with the advent of Einstein’s theories of relativity—both special and general—the realization dawned that the world is in fact non-Euclidean; it is more accurately described in terms of several Riemannian (or elliptic) geometries. Another point to note is that, in formalizing geometry, we try to arrive at proofs which do not appeal to our intuition or visual sense but are logically correct. For though original mathematical insights are often derived through intuition, these ‘insights’ also run the risk of being proved wrong. Even the great Euclid—though he was well aware of this and therefore tried very hard to avoid intuitive judgements— himself committed a few mistakes in his proofs, because these proofs relied on the way he drew the illustrations. All the same, this does not take away any of the credit due to him in recognizing what is correct mathematical procedure. And certainly the momentous task of formalizing the great body of geometry already known at his time was not an easy task by any standard.

Logic

Mathematical logic is the final edifice of mathematics. And every logical system has to deal with the question of completeness and consistency. Completeness means that every true statement must be verifiable, must have a proof. Consistency is slightly different: it means that we should not be able to ‘prove’ false statements as true, that is, false statements must not have valid proofs in the theory in question. At the beginning of the twentieth century, David Hilbert posed the ultimate problem of logic to mathematicians—to prove the consistency of mathematics as a system. This challenge came to be fondly called the Hilbert programme. Hilbert observed:

When we are engaged in investigating the foundations of a science, we must set up a system of axioms which contains an exact and complete description of the relations subsisting between the elementary ideas of that science. The axioms so set up are at the same time the definitions of those elementary ideas; and no statement within the realm of the science whose foundation we are testing is held to be correct unless it can be derived from those axioms by means of a finite number of logical steps. Upon closer consideration the question arises: Whether, in any way, certain statements of single axioms depend upon one another, and whether the axioms may not therefore contain certain parts in common, which must be isolated if one wishes to arrive at a system of axioms that shall be altogether independent of one another. But above all I wish to designate the following as the most important among the numerous questions which can be asked with regard to axioms: To prove that they are not contradictory, that is, a definite number of logical steps based on them can never lead to contradictory results.

The questions of consistency and completeness are important because if mathematics as a system were both complete and consistent, then it could well yield an easy path to new discoveries by way of a method to automatically discover mathematical theorems, what with superfast computers with super- memory and super processing power as tools

Kurt Gödel, however, proved that mathematics is in fact incomplete. He further showed that the consistency of mathematics cannot be proven from within the field of mathematics itself, or to be precise, from within Peano’s axiomatization of the number theory. So with this dual stroke he delivered a terrible blow to the human quest for ‘knowing everything’. In brief, Gödel’s theorems have the following twin consequences: First, there exist true statements which do not have any proof, and second, even if we have a proof for such a statement, we do not also know (by means of a valid proof ) that its converse is not true. The wording and formulation of the second part is important as it makes a distinction between the truth of a statement and having a proof thereof.

A question may naturally arise at this juncture: Is Gödel’s incompleteness theorem applicable to every logical system? Turing is credited with extending the results of Gödel’s theorem to the field of computation. He has shown the non-existence of several kinds of computational procedures that could have helped us circumvent the implications of Gödel’s theorem, enabling us to find the truth and falsity of statements in a circuitous way. Thus, he was able to draw our attention to the far-reaching consequences of Gödel’s incompleteness theorem. In short, this theorem brings under its purview every kind of logical system—ancient or modern or postmodern—that is powerful enough to deduce facts. It only leaves out trivial theories like those based on first-order predicate calculus (logic).

So it would not be correct to say that Gödel’s incompleteness theorem applies only to formal logic or axiomatic mathematics, and not to the Nyaya or Buddhist logical systems, because these systems also involve predicates and possess deductive (anumāna) power.

Mathematics, Mind, and Maya Let me conclude with some personal reflections: First, mathematics has to constantly fight off utilitarians who accuse it of a lack of concern with reality—at least pure mathematics does not concern itself with applications. In fact, many pure mathematicians think that applied mathematics— being more interested in the results than in the process—is a degradation, and hence no mathematics at all. It is a mundane fact that less-advanced disciplines further their cause with the assistance of more advanced ones. The latter, however, can keep advancing only by keeping intact their pristine purity. Thus even though others may use mathematics, mathematics stands to lose if it starts catering to the demands of other disciplines: the only way for mathematics to advance is by concentrating on its lofty aims. Thus it should be left to other disciplines to find the applications for and uses of mathematics, so that pure mathematics remains pure. Second, Gödel was able to prove that there exist true theorems for which there is no proof. Some take this as proof of the superiority of the human intellect—after all, we know indirectly about the truth of these theorems even though they cannot be proved. This is not correct. Gödel only showed that both the theorems and their converse have no proof, and so if a system is consistent, one of them is bound to be true. Thus we have, by inference, a true theorem which does not have a proof. But we do not know specifically which of the two (the theorem or its converse) is true. A further corollary to his theorem is that only inconsistent systems are trivially complete. And our hopes of omniscience are further dampened when we remember that the consistency of a system is impossible to prove from within the system itself.

Third, Vedanta as a system of philosophy is an empirical system. However, the only empirical facts that it sticks to with heart and soul are the reality of Brahman, the unreality of samsara, and the oneness of Atman, the individual soul, and Brahman, the supreme Reality. These are empirical truths according to Vedanta because Vedanta firmly holds that Atman, Brahman, and maya are mere statements of facts—a posteriori truths, truths that need to be experienced or realized. However, as the world is granted only a conceptual reality—as a construct of the cosmic mind (hiranyagarbha)— Vedanta remains within the purview of empirical sciences only very loosely. Strictly speaking, then, Vedanta as a system with a single composite empirical fact—brahma satyaṁ jaganmithyā jiva brahmaiva nāparaḥ; Brahman is real, the world unreal, and the individual soul is no different from Brahman— which is not provable by sensory perceptions, becomes a system independent of physics and mathematics alike. Nevertheless, care should be taken, when we talk (as Vedantists) either about the world that is a product of maya or when we use a deductive process to infer the unity of existence and the unreality of the world, for then there is no escape from the sciences, both empirical and formal— physics and mathematics. Within the realm of maya, Vedanta cannot go against the findings of physics and mathematics.