Devdutt Pattanaik – Hinduism

It was after listening to the talks of Swami Boddhananda when I wondered if Hinduism is to be practiced in a particular lineage. That is, if to practice Hinduism, one has to select from among the darsanas.

It was then that I rediscovered Devdutt Pattanaik when he was interviewed in Hindi by Ranveer Allahbadia.

The screenshot is unfortunate and misleading. Pattanaik actually is against Hindutva and is often trolled for his statements. He goes on, nevertheless. This video led me to his channel where I watched many of his videos. This was followed by many videos with him suggested by the YouTube algorithm. He does not claim to be a guru nor does he accept any guru. He says that he consumes information and then write books and then you can take from it what you want.

I enjoy listening to and reading his 21st century interpretation of an ancient idea or way of life. The notes below are not only from the video above. These notes also get information from other videos of his posted on his channel.

He says Western scholars interpreted myths as untrue stories in the 19th century. The present thinking is trying to put myths into the realm of history but he would like myths to be interpreted in the 21st centuries as believed stories. These stories are believed to be true. It’s characters are alive not just in history but are alive today and will be alive in the future.

In one particular video, he mentions that Hinduism is to be practiced just like having a thali. A little bit of karma yoga, a little bit of njana yoga and a little bit of bhakti yog mixed in a proportion as per your liking. No one can say that the way you practice is wrong, just the way no one criticizes you for the way you eat.

He says Hindu thinking is cyclical. Hence, the concept of karma. Abrahamic traditions have the concept of justice because their thinking is linear. So, things can move from injustice to justice. Hindu thinking believes things are as they were, will be as they are and will remain as they are. As they say, some things just don’t change and only the characters change. Hence Indian gods smile when injustices occur because they are compassionate to the doer who is performing these actions trapped by his own ego and misunderstanding of his situation. The concept of karma necessitates belief in the concept of rebirths.

The other thinking he argues against is the difference between Hinduism and Buddhism. Buddhism looks at the world as filled with suffering caused by desire. Hence, they call for a rejection of desire. He says that this is a rejection of the real for the theoretical. He says Hinduism looks at suffering akin to hunger. So, the solutions to suffering is not rejection but trying to feed the hunger.

I had read from his book, Myth/Mithya about yajna being an exchange. His thinking on this has solidified now. He says the translation of jajna as sacrifice by Western scholars was due to their limited understanding. Hinduism sees yajna as an exchange. We give to get (as against give and take). The West sees exchange as a sort of commercialization of a spiritual practice. Hence, they translated as sacrifice which is giving without expecting anything in exchange. But, really, if we do not get, how can we give? We take from nature and give to others, as if we are doing something noble. The equation changes in the yajna where we give to get.

He has worked with corporations like Future Group and Reliance. He claims that businesses in India must not look to scale but to diversify. Allow each person to have a unique experience just like Hinduism offers. He says this diversity will bring profits in India. He says that no country can manage diversity the way India can. Europe and the US finds it challenging even with a few refugees.

Ranveer, in the video above, gets really good guests but asks really poor questions. He asked the standard how India can become a country like China and Korea. Pattanaik says that China can only live within walls. He quotes the Great Wall of China and Great Firewall of China as examples. China grows on obedience and conformity. Such a process would not work in India. We are also hence less likely to give up our freedom in conformity to a King or a ruler. He says that the Chinese do not understand India. He says one of the words used to describe India is luan which stands for chaos.

We are trying to order this chaos believing that everything cannot be many and needs to be one. We are trying to move from pantheism to monotheism because we think the West is better than us. Pattanaik says that China adopted Taoism and Confucianism, and rejected Western thought. India on the other hand adopted Western thought and rejected Indian thought.

Samkhya – Swami Bodhananda

I was reading the Wikipedia page on Hinduism when a link in the section, “External Links” caught my eye. The link lead to an article on Advaita Vedanta Hinduism by Dr. Sangeetha Menon. While I did not read that post, I scrolled down to see that Dr. Menon was from the National Institute for Advanced Sciences, where she leads the NIAS Consciousness Studies Programme.

Scrolling down on her homepage, I found a reference to the Sambodh Foundation and her spiritual guru, Swami Bodhananda. He is from the lineage of Advaita Vedanta. I reached the website of the Sambodh Foundation. It was here under the “Lectures” tab that I found a programme he had done in 2016 in association with Ahmedabad Management Association (AMA). AMA has a centre called Mamta, a Centre for Indian Wisdom for Management. It was Mamta that had organised this event.

The event sought to cover the entire spectrum of Indian philosophy including Buddhism and Jainism. The talk linked above was on Samkhya. I had last year written about my interest in Samkhya.

This post records how I found this video and some of the notes that I took from the video, for my reference. Once you see this video, I am sure you can find the rest of the series on the Sambodh Foundation’s YouTube channel.

Notes from the video:

  • Nyaya-Vaisheshika is pluralistic – Samkhya was searching for 1.
  • Kapila is the founder.
  • 3 references available
    • 15th century – Samkhya Sutras (gleamed from other commentaries)
    • Tattva-samasa – probably a Buddhist work
    • 5th century – Eswara Krishna’s Samkhya Karika (poem) – most authentic.
  • Important to understand for thought leaders from India today.
  • 2 tattvas (principles) – Prakriti (matter) and Purusha (consciousness)
  • Samkhyans believed that these two could not be further sub-divided. Their inter-play produces our world.
  • 3 sufferings (tapatreyas) – adhyatmika (from within – psychological, physioligical, etc.), adhiboutika (from outside – virus, bacteria, polluted water, environmental etc.), adhidevikam (unknown causes)
  • The escape from suffering is by enquiring the cause of the suffering. The purpose of philosophy is to release us from suffering.
  • Samkhyams did not have belief. They thought belief is the end of enquiry. To understand means to have the light of knowledge.
  • conscious I – content what I am conscious of.
  • world I am conscious of – inner world and outer world (emotions, thoughts, ego etc) – both are objects of my experience – Prakriti
  • matter includes mind, emotions, memory, ego other than solids, liquids etc.
  • purusha – person who watches all this – detached experience – like a person watching the movie – rasa
  • purusha – a point of consciousness – bokhta not a karta – that which lives in the city of body-mind complex – always present
  • snapshots of reality
  • suffering – purusha identifies with suffering in prakriti – aviveka -non-discrimination
  • diagnosis – viveka – discriminate between prakriti and purusha
  • Prakriti – sarga (manifests, unfolds) and pratisarga (infolds, close)
  • vishama (disturbance)
  • samya (silent)
  • progress is not linear – boomerangs
  • laya avastha – seed, point of singularity
  • mahath – explosion happens as a result of its nature, Prakriti wakes up, alert, alive
  • mahath – buddhi – lights up
  • Prakriti – 3 gunas – sattva (light), rajas (movement), tamas (asleep)
  • laya avastha – prakriti tamas overpowers – after sometime sattva overpowers
  • after mahath – ahankara – on waking up, feeling of I am – Prakriti splits into I (sattvik) and other (rajas and tamas) notion
  • 5 tanmatras – qualities – sound, touch, form, taste, smell
  • mana – combination of tanmatra – contact and co-ordinate
  • njan-indriyas – eyes, ears, nose, skin, tongue – receive
  • karma-indriyas – transmit –
  • panchbhootas –
  • Swami comments that the artificial intillegence we produce will be without a purusha
  • 24 tattvas – unfoldment of Prakriti

You have to learn to side-step his science references which are not full understanding of a subject or may feel out-dated. Some of his insights are interesting. He also continually almost says Patanjali instead of Samkhyans/Kapila.

Samkhya

In 2010, I wrote a blog post called Going back to the temple. A recent reading of the ISKCON’s version of Bhagvad Gita As It Is, felt like a push towards a non-questioning worship of Lord Krishna and it’s interpretation of the Gita felt like an effort to turn people towards the ISKCON movement rather than to enlighten people about the Gita itself.

I have also been reading the Stoics lately. I have read about them in Tim Ferriss’ videos on YouTube, Ryan Holiday’s newsletter called the Daily Stoic, a book on the Stoic Philosophy – William Irvine’s book on Stoicism.

These made me wonder about Indian systems of philosophy. This led me to this wonderful Wikipedia page. This further led me to Samkhya. Many have called Samkhya the philosophical backing for Yoga.

Like most Indian philosophical schools, the original works are lost. These seem to have either been not taken forward as an oral tradition at some point. There is likely to have been misinterpretations as these have passed down centuries.

I was comparatively reading two translations of Samkhya Karika, which survived since there was a Chinese translation from the 6th century that survived. The two are –

  1. The Samkhya Karika by Ishwara Krishna – An Exposition of the Sytem of Kapila – John Davies [PDF link]
  2. Samkhya Karika – Brahmrishi Vishvatma Bawra

The second book led me to this website of Brahmrishi Vishvatma Bawra. The site does not appear to have been updated since 2015.

It led me to look for modern Samkhya teachers. This led to a book called Modern Samkhya by D E Osto

This is where I am at learning about a rationalist and atheistic school of Hindu thought. Since, today is Buddha Pournima, I thought linking to this blog post which compares the study of Buddhism and Samkhya might be a good addition. The parallels are striking.

As D E Osto writes on his website about the book:

The ancient philosophy of Sāṃkhya can be applied to modern life in a number of valuable ways. Rather than becoming overly concerned with the metaphysics of the system, Sāṃkhya can be seen as a psychological tool to overcome suffering. Through rigorous philosophical and psychological analysis, a person can learn to detach or disassociate from the psychophysical entity, and realize witness consciousness or what I refer to as the transcendental subject.

D E Osto, Modern Samkhya

The parallels to Stoicism is striking to me.

How to write a good (enough) New Year resolution?

Philosopher Alain de Botton’s School of Life has a chapter on making New Year resolutions. They say it is important to make these resolution to improve ourselves as human beings but we need to be empathetic with ourselves. Hence, we should not be aiming to write good New Year resolutions but just good enough New Year resolutions.

You can read about good enough New Year resolutions on the School of Life website here.

Their newsletter had a three step process on writing on these resolutions which I did not find on their website. Hence, putting it here for reference:

First, write your list of resolutions in the usual way.

1. I will quit drinking
2. I will learn the guitar
3. I will get a 5k pay rise at work

Next, rather than thinking about the end result, try to distil the motivating value that lies behind them.

1. Prioritising my health
2. Making time for creative pursuits
3. Gaining recognition for my efforts at work

Finally, working solely from this value, applying a little strategic pessimism, set yourself a less lofty, more achievable goal to strive for.

1. I will aim not to drink 1 night each week 
2. I will set aside 15 minutes every other day to do something creative
3. I will try to demonstrate added value in my work

Hope that helps you make good (enough) resolutions this New Year.

Time Machine with Neelesh Misra

I just took advantage of the fact that I was down with a fever-cough-cold combination to listen to Time Machine with Neelesh Misra. I stumbled on to the show while looking for something to listen to whilst lying bored in bed.

Mystical retelling of the Mahabharata and Ramayana like those of Ashok Banker’s Prince of Ayodhya and Ten Kings are finding favour with a growing audience, it is sometimes lovely to hear these mythic story in their original. Neelesh Misra narrates stories written by members of his writer’s group called Mandali in this series on Saavn. The story telling is compelling with sound effects that we would have imagined as kids listening to the tale from our grandmothers lending the dramatic touch. Misra made me feel that in losing the art of storytelling, we have lost something significant in our busy life.

I shared it both with my wife and my brother and thought I should share it with you as well. If reading is not your thing, maybe listening to these stories might bring back fond memories.

Sandeep Maheshwari

Towards the end of 2015, I slowly began to loose interest in reading religious texts. They seemed repetitive to the extent I began to wonder that if the texts were so similar, what was there to fight about. D introduced me to Sandeep Maheshwari, an entrepreneur from Delhi who gave talks inspiring students. The first video of Sandeep that I watched was “Last Life-Changing Seminar” on YouTube.

Till then the only things I used to watch on YouTube are TED talks and Talks at Google. The Life-Changing Seminar was the first Hindi video that I heard from start to end. The full hour or so.

Basic Meditation - Sandeep Maheshwari

Slowly, Sandeep’s videos started to move towards the spiritual. This started, in my opinion with a how-to video on basic meditation. He understood that not everyone was interested in the spiritual and hence started a separate channel on YouTube for his spiritual stuff. This is the channel that interests me. His inspirational video and videos related to personal excellence continue. The first few times I watched the spiritual videos, I spent them trying to pin down what teaching he followed. I wanted to categorise them so that I could then read the books myself.

While I am still getting the hang of the basic meditation video through daily practice, I have continued watching his videos on his spirituality channel. Slowly, I concentrated more on what he was saying than trying to classify his talk. His spiritual talk, also in Hindi, seek to clarify and are linked to examples befitting the twenty first century.

These talks helped revive my own spiritual interest, helped clear my understanding and understand some things much better in Hindi than while reading some texts in English.

 

Going back to the Temple

Note: I wrote this on my earlier blog hosted as http://parallelspirals.blogspot.com. I recovered the text from the WayBack Machine. This post appeared on December 29, 2010 as per the time stamp. I’m trying to collect here again all my old writings spread on various blogs.

Between the age of 18 and 23, I didn’t go to temples off my own accord. I normally tagged along with family. It was during this period that I read Krishnamurthi and Osho. I was also a member of the skeptic gang and was trying to find a scientific way of defining God. In reference to this, at a recent lecture series, Jaydeep Mukherjee said that it was vital that science and religion be kept separate. Do not try to explain science with religion or religion with science.

The ice started breaking on my freeze on visiting temples when I read S Radhakrishnan’s book “The Hindu View of Life”. I then differentiated between visiting temple for spiritual aims and visiting temple for ritualistic aims. A look back will show you that it is this ritualistic Hinduism that spawned Buddhism and the various reform movements in the 19th century. The spiritual Hinduism is not totally devoid of problems, but it does its best under the circumstances.

It was Krishnamurthi who stressed on living from one moment to another, Osho re-emphasized it and introduced me to Zen Buddhism. My interest in Osho began when I read his critique of Krishnamurthi which was fun. It then went further when I heard the Malayalam film actor, Mohan Lal had “followed” some of his ideas. This turned out later to be not entirely true. It was around this time that my Orkut entry for religion turned from atheist to agnostic.

There are not many places where you get to go and sit alone in some place in India without getting disturbed by a long forgotten relatives (apologies to all such relatives, but you’re timing does not help sometimes). I thought the temple would act as a refuge but I have not tried it yet. I have considered the temple, though.

Aubrey Menen

Aubrey Menen was what I was reading over vacations. He’s actually a guy from the early 20th century with an Irish mother and an Indian father (trying to explain the name). He has some different opinions, which you might just as well read:

The Upanishads are held in awe by many people in the West, a number of whom had the satisfactory, not to say flattering, experience I have just mentioned. I did not. This may have been due to my Indian background. The Upanishads, though reverenced in the West are really not much read in India. The average Indian prefers the Bhagavad-Gita, a beautiful poem in which the Lord Krishna teaches us the noble lesson that we must do our duty to society. The duty under Lord Krishna’s attention in the Gita is to kill, maim or otherwise dispose of the enemy on a field of battle in a petty dynastic war. The Lord Krishna heartily recommends that this be done and done with a will. Indians, I have noted, have a liking for filling their minds with elevated notions which do not interfere with the business in hand. No book has ever been written which does this better than the Gita.

The Upanishads, on the other hand teach no moral lesson whatever. The attitude in them is much like that of the Scottish philosopher David Hume. He wrote a book proving that there was no such thing as cause and effect. At the end of it he remarks that he has no doubt that his reasoning is correct, but as for himself, he has not the slightest intention of letting it affect him or his way of life. In the same way the philosophers of the Upanishads, after having led the reader into the very depths of his being, with shattering results to all his dearest belief, advise him to get up and go and enjoy himself like anybody else, with, they specify, horses, chariots, food and women. The verses in which this is said are as coarse as a hearty laugh and a slap on the back. How people manage to find God in such a book I cannot say, but I think it may be that they have a natural refinement which puts things decently straight.

Liked it till here? Here’s some more:

The Upanishads are, in fact, a supreme monument to the fact that, in matters of religion, the Indians are eccentrics. From the earliest times, the Hindu faith was outlined in the Rig Veda. This described the gods to be revered and how to worship them down to the last detail. For centuries, they were believed to be the last word on the matter, but then some philosophers decided they were not. Having taken due thought, they came to the conclusion that the gods of the Rig Veda were probably fictitious and that to worship them was quite unnecessary. In any decent and ordered society – that of the Christian Middle Ages, for instance – these daring men would have been promptly burnt alive.

The Hindus, instead, studied these teachings, wrote them down, and then bound them up along with the Rig Veda. It is hard to find a parallel to this act in any other religion. It is as though in each copy of the Jewish and Christian Bible, the Pentateuch was followed by some lively chapters saying that Yahweh did not exist, that the Temple was a highly redundant institution and that the Ten Commandments were binding on nobody but Moses, who had probably invented them for his own convenience.

Now the Western world is brought up to believe that black is black and white is white and anybody who attempts to muddle the two is an idiot. This opinion has carried us along the a triumphal way of scientific discoveries which have culminated, for the time being (or forever), in the hydrogen bomb. The Hindu has never thought in this manner. He has always felt that anybody who could prove that black is not black, white is not white, but both are really the same thing, is a very clever fellow and worth listening to. The result is that the Indians have invented nothing at all, except some ideas. One of those ideas is that the only way of meeting violence is to do nothing about it, but to go on minding your own peaceful affairs. I might observe in passing that if the bombs do go off, this will, obviously, be the only way of putting the world together again.

These are lines from Aubrey Menen’s “The Space Within the Heart”, 1970. Read the book, if you can. Although there aren’t many paragraphs like the ones given above, you might find it an interesting read.