Sunday, November 14, 2010

Knowledge, from a Vedic Perspective

This is from the book: "In search of the cradle of civilization" by Georg Feuerstein, Subhash Kak and David Frawley. It is a good read, for people who are just beginning to learn about Hindu culture. I was expecting a lot more about certain details but the authors have only skimmed across several important topics. Perhaps, that was their intention. Anyway, I am paraphrasing from passages which explained what was knowledge according to my ancestors, which for people like me, who are in the field of creating knowledge might be irrelevant since we need to know things in its exactitude. The problem with knowing things from a materialist perspective is that the knowledge gets locked from the general public and they cannot grasp it without sufficient investment of time starting from the basics of that branch of knowledge. This is alleviated by the Vedic method of conveying knowledge and the subtle metaphorical ideas that are more generalized and easier to grasp for the laymen, provided he accepts a Guru and knows or is shown how to decode the metaphors. The following is how knowledge was expressed according to the Vedas: -

1) Vedic theory of knowledge is based on a belief in the interconnectedness and unity of the whole universe, primarily the three components - viz. the cosmos (adhideva), the individual living being (adhibhuta), and the Spirit (adhyatma). Thus, the Vedas are meant to be interpreted in three ways.

2) The Vedic rishis acknowledged that straight logic cannot answer all questions and that scientific knowledge included some paradoxes for e.g. Yajnavalkya when he says in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad: "The Gods are fond of the invisible and dislike the visible." In this sense, the invisible is the vast realm of existence that is not perceptible to the senses.

3) The Vedic Rishis did not go into the details of any phenomenon, but communicated the essence of what they saw. And this was in the form of metaphors, which is why it is advisable not to read the Rig Veda superficially.

4) The Vedas are to be read with a questioning attitude and not with a closed sense of dogmatism. Asking questions are the first step towards acquiring knowledge, and in this the Vedic perspective mirrors functioning of today's science.

5) The Rishis proclaimed a unity that is inexplicable and can be seen only from an elevated state of mystical awareness. This is considered a creative reservoir or potentiality, also known as the Purusha and envisioned as a giant man.

6) The world was said to be created through the Purusha's self sacrifice. His mind was said to have given rise to the Moon, his eyes to the Sun, his breath to the air element, his navel to the midspace, his head to the sky and his feet to the earth.

7) The purpose of human creation was now to preserve the unity of the Purusha and all human activity including architecture, sculpture and literature was to be modeled on it. In fact, they set the goal of life to study the mystery of the Purusha.

We shall end this topic here, for as I said, the authors have only skimmed this important topic. I will revisit it when I get my copy of this great book by one of the best authors ever possible, on the topic.

Role of religion in a society and fault tolerance.

In this day, when people have started regarding science as their, blatant outspokenness is glorified - (whether it be for a better cause or by one woman mobile republics, that remaining of no consequence) and evangelical atheism is on the rise, religion has been relegated to the poor and lower - middle middle class of the society, it might be useful to understand some role of religion in shaping the society, that too from an engineering perspective. But let me first start with Machiavelli's views on how religion is useful in shaping the society.

Reading from the points Machiavelli makes in the chapter "On the religion of Rome" from the discourses on book one of the first ten books of Titus Livy, which are as follows: (it is necessary to make an attempt to generalize the points and not quote verbatim, since Machiavelli talks from an Italian/Roman perspective which many readers might not follow or find boring.)

1. After Romulus's reign in Rome was over, the Senate elected Numa Pompilius as his successor and Numa introduces religion into Rome to discipline civil society so as to put a fear of God into the people.

2. This facilitated easing of policy execution on the part of the leaders.

3. Citizens then stood in far greater fear of breaking an oath than a law, as though they had a greater fear of God's might than for man's.

4. Religion was useful in directing the armies, in animating the people, in keeping men good and in shaming the wicked.

5. Where there is religion, it is easy to introduce military discipline, but where there is no religion, the latter can be introduced only with great difficulty.

6. Without invoking God, intelligent people have many beneficial things which might not be directly acceptable to the people.

7. Thus, religion introduced by Numa into Rome was one of the primary causes of her prosperity, for that was the source of good laws, which in turn, bring good fortune, and from good fortune results all the good from the institutions of the land.

Along with the above, there is one major sector that religion has a role in, that is, designing the society according to the rules of fault tolerance. Now, what does fault tolerance have to do with it? Well, this is what fault tolerance means. (click) The theory here, is that while you can make an excellent system when you delete any mention of God, the sole responsibility of leading such a system depends on good rule by the ruling class and which over a long period of time, decays since the ruling class will invariably get corrupt with concentration of power in the hands of a cliche. Once the ruling class starts manifesting decay, and licentiousness, the society will start crumbling, for there is nothing to fall back onto (Remember the Sanskrit saying, 'yatha raja, tatha praja' really becomes true in this case, since there is no better ideal available for the people to follow. In case of a pre-existing religion, at least some people will try to emulate the Gods of the religion, and rise above their rulers). This is where fault tolerance comes into play, that the system keeps on running at sub-optimal conditions even when the key dominoes of the system have been withdrawn. This is where Machiavelli too realizes the importance of this concept, but of course, he doesn't call it by this name. As per Machiavelli, welfare of a republic or kingdom lies not in ruling it wisely while the ruler lasts, but in organizing it in such a way that the state endures after he has passed away. And the best effect of religion is here.

The obvious corollaries (my points) that emerge from such a religion would be that -
1) The control nodes of such a religion should rest solely within the state. If the control nodes exist outside, they can lead to external manipulation of a people.

2) The structure needs to be kept decentralized with checks and balances on the powers of each control node, otherwise we have to endure with a parallel power centre apart from the Central Government in the same state.

3) Towards the above end, the religion should be divided into different philosophical schools to not only cater to people of different tastes, but also so that there is constant competition between each school, something that would help each school of thought better itself and its followers. Yet, there should be a common meeting ground of each school rooted in Dharma.

4) The end goal of such a religion should be to make people do good during the existence of a good state, even after the good state has passed, and create a legend that enables the people to resurrect the same state, or resist an imperial power.

As usual, followers are invited to add more to this post.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Differentiating the pleasant and the good.

Many people can't differentiate the pleasant and the good. This is a big problem in a democracy, where people start voting themselves lollipops and vote a bread and circus democracy in, also check what that means by an excellent post from a close ally.

I know, Diwali prayers and the feeling of union with family, laughing and joking are all good, but if you have time, try to get your countries out of such a democracy if it is in one, and if it is not in one, keep it out of it.

In this, a part of the Kathopanishad can be of use. I am quoting an excerpt from a translation of the upanishads by Swami Prabhavananda and Frederick Manchester. I assume either you have a copy of the Kathopanishad, or can read the part before the part I have taken from online sources.

Nachiketa: "Tell me, O King, the supreme secret regarding which men doubt. No other boon will I ask.

Yamaraj: "The good is one thing; the pleasant is another. These two, differing in their ends, both prompt to action. Blessed are they that choose the good; they that choose the pleasant miss the goal.

Both the good and the pleasant present themselves to men. The wise, having examined both, distinguish the one from the other. The wise prefer the good to the pleasant; the foolish, driven by fleshly desires, prefer the pleasant to the good.

Thou, O Nachiketa, having looked upon fleshly desires, delightful to the senses, hast renounced them all. Thou hast turned from the miry way, wherein many a man wallows.

Far from each other, and leading to different ends, are ignorance and knowledge. Thee, O Nachiketa, I regard as one who aspires after knowledge, for a multitude of pleasant objects were unable to tempt thee."

Please read the rest of the Upanishad from your source. Let us resolve to be like Nachiketa and be able to differentiate between the pleasant and the good this year. At some places, that has already begun to happen. May that light spread and elevate us from this darkness. A very happy deepavaly and a happy new year to all of you readers.