A Case Study in Digestion of Vedic Mind Sciences?

In my other post, I explained that mind sciences is at the core of the Yogic world view and can be considered the organizing principle for the Indian civilization. Various Dharmic schools (including Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism), Sanskrit, Yoga, meditation, Pranayaam and Ayurveda were all developed to create an ecosystem for exploring the mind. Needless to say this is not generally appreciated, not even by Hindu Indians, forget the rest of the world. I myself didn’t appreciate this until a few years back when I was still an IBCD!

Why so?

One of the reasons is the systematic decoupling of the Indian mind sciences from Hinduism and, consequently, India. RM’s talk in this earlier post (India’s (unacknowledged) contributions to Mind Sciences by Rajiv Malhotra) presents numerous examples of famous westerners indulging in this appropriation and digestion. They are all from recent times (last 100 years); some are around today. I think I have found one more which can be added to that list — David Chalmers, a professor of philosophy and a cognitive scientist in NYU and Australia.

I came across this episode of NPR’s TED Radio Hour titled the Unknown Brain. Last segment of the show is on the below TED talk by Chalmers. With over 600,000 views, this is one of the most popular TED talks. Watch it before reading further –

Amazing, isn’t it?! It could hardly have been grander. With his following two “crazy” ideas, Chalmers is sketching the outlines of the next scientific revolution which might well be much more fundamental than quantum mechanics and relativity combined (!):

Idea 1: consciousness is fundamental – in the same sense as space, time, mass and charge are; he calls it his “postulate”.
Idea 2: consciousness is universal – everything is conscious, even the rocks. There is even a word for it — panpsychism!

I was stunned when I heard this talk, and not at all by the grandness of his vision or the originality of his ideas. Even a casual reader of Vedanta would recognize the ideas as the core tenets of the Vedanta, as I explain in the other post using references to a talk by Sadhguru. In fact these ideas would not be novel to any one who knows about the philosophies of any of the Indian-origin Dharmic traditions. Still, all that Chalmers says about the eastern connection is a casual side comment – these ideas are not all that alien to people from the eastern traditions. But an unsuspecting viewer might not pick it up and may well get the impression that these are radical new ideas and that Chalmers has pioneered them!

At this point, you may say – all right, he is not crediting the source adequately. Why is this such a big deal? A friend of mine actually said this to me. And he is certainly not the JNU-type with any allergy to anything Hindu. He is just confused! In other words – my target audience!

Ok, so what is the big deal? For starters, using an idea without crediting the source is considered academic misconduct. Chalmers, being a professor, ought to know this. Perhaps he is not aware of the Vedic philosophy? Possible, but unlikely. He is a philosophy professor, after all! So yes, I do suspect that he has plagiarized from Indian thinkers, but I can’t make that  claim just based on a 15 min video. I am raising a red flag, just like RM raised a red flag for Wendy Doniger, Sheldon Pollock, Devdutt Pattanaik and many more. Readers should investigate further. But certainly, if Chalmers ever applies for a patent for a product (say a new “mindfulness” app!) based on these not-really-that-crazy ideas, I hope the patent office considers Vedic mind sciences as prior art. (Related – Dr Mashelkar on The Turmeric Patent Battle and KSRI, Chennai)

Now, whether or not Chalmers has plagiarized from Indian thinkers or is “inspired” by them is not really my main concern. Ignoring the ethics of all this, look at this from the point of view of the end-user — a layman who has no exposure to this stuff but is curious about meditation, brain, mind, etc. I happen to be in that category. Recently, I have been listening to an (authentic) lectures series on Patanjali’s Yog Sutra, the master text for meditation. And I am completely awe struck by the depth, sophistication and rigor of it. Patanjali, unlike Chalmers, is not iffy about things. He does not use words like “postulate” or “crazy” to describe his theories, presumably just to be safe, in case he turns out to be wrong later! Patanjali has developed the whole thing from theory to application. And by the way, Yog Sutra is just one of the many Hindu theories of the mind.

My point is that, not only is Chalmers not original, his formulation is likely also crude. So, a new student would be well advised to refer to authentic Hindu material along side Chalmers and see which makes more sense. For me, Patanjali’s Yog Sutra is the real deal. Why would you go for something like scotch when scotch is available; or, since it is mango season now, why go for any other mango when Indian mangoes are available?! RM has often commented – the digested versions of Indian traditions are invariably inferior to the original. And it is not always due to an ulterior motive. For a westerner, it may just be due to a lack of context.

Now, let us change the point of view to that of a nation or civilization. Imagine a TED talk which starts with these words: Imagine if we could cure diseases without any chemical drugs or surgery .. just by poking on your skin with micro needles. We call this technology micropoking! And it continues for 15 min without any mention of accupunture or China. Anyone, even an IBCD, would smell something fishy. The fact that people do not associate meditation with Hinduism, in the same way as they associate accupunture with China, or, for that matter, burger with the US, shows how India has squandered it’s greatest soft power. Even today, in India, Vedic mind sciences are not given enough attention in school curriculum nor in medical training. The centers of excellence in mind sciences are all in the west and that is were most the innovation (new apps, courses, etc) is also happening. The situation is very much like that of yoga 25-30 years ago. India had nearly lost the adhikaar on Yoga till PM Modi intervened a few years back. Different matter that the intervention may be too little and too late. Ayurveda and meditation are fast heading in that direction.

Finally, I think I should make a disclaimer which should really not be necessary for those who know me or those who have read the rest of this blog. But then, this is on the internet and people have short attention spans! Some of you might be asking – so, you think all of modern neuroscience — fMRI based brain mapping, human-computer interfaces, artificial intelligence, moon shot projects like BRIAN — are all pointless? I never said that. And I don’t think so. But I am asserting that the Vedic mind sciences are useful and have relevance today. The object of study for both the Hindu rishis and modern neuroscience is the same – the human mind. The two approaches have to be complementary, not at conflict with each other.

[Proof reading TODO: using Hindu, Vedic, Yogic and Dharmic interchangeably. Sort out and standardize the terminology.]

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Yogic World View – India’s Soft Power

Sadhguru was recently (May 2018) on a panel on The Technologies of the Future. He shared the stage with three scientists and innovators, including eminent physicist Michio Kaku, also a great communicator of science, in the league of Carl Sagan and Arthur Clarke. Kaku kicked of the discussion by presenting a fantastic science fiction like vision for the future — exoskeletons, thinking robots, humans upgrading themselves by merging with robots and so on. And according to him all this will happen in the next 100-200 years and he was very optimistic and upbeat about everything! I don’t quite share Kaku’s optimism for the future, but I respect his opinion and would consider his predictions within the realm of possibility. The two speakers after Kaku were far less eloquent than Kaku, but just as high on science!

Sadhguru spoke in this science-is-God context! The link below starts with Sadhguru (~43 min) but I would recommend that you sample a few minutes of Kaku first.

I feel Sadhguru elevated the whole discussion to a completely different level. More important than what he said is what he did not say, given that he is from the fluffy world of spirituality as against that of the real world of science. Sadhguru did not dismiss Kaku’s vision or that of the other speakers, nor did he minimize the importance of science or pass any moral judgements of any sort. Neither did he say that all of modern science is already in the Vedas! In fact, Sadhguru whole heartedly acknowledged the contributions of modern science and embraced it for the future.

In any such discussion, someone always mentions the problem that every technology is a double edged sword, and then the science-is-God panelists will use phrases like human rights or democracy (Kaku used it) or corporate social responsibility and the religious-types would resort to high morality using cliches like love thy neighbor. In the end there is no concrete suggestion on how to blunt the evil edge of the sword. This is because responsible use of science is no longer within the domain of science. And of course, science is out of the domain of the Abrahamic religions.

But this panel was different because of Sadhguru bridged the two worlds of science and spirituality in what he called the yogic science of mind and consciousness.

His framework is basically that of Vedanta or Upanishads. In fact, an undergraduate level student of vedanta (like me) can easily draw parallels between Sadhguru’s ideas and those in Upanishads, Gita and Yoga Sutra. In other words, Sadhguru here is articulating a well developed world view. I can imagine many other gurus rooted in the Vedas giving a similar vision.

Sadhguru eloquently explained how modern science nicely fits into the yogic world view but does not really address the big picture. In other words, there is no conflict between modern science and the yogic world view; there never was. However, if pursued within the yogic world view, science would automatically be used responsibly. Sadhguru argued that, in fact, the yogic world view will become more and more relevant as science advances. I agree with him.

All this is not just a theoretical framework like most social theories (e.g. Marxism) which look great on paper but are just not practical. Indian civilization actually implemented the yogic framework for thousands of years and developed elaborate social structures around it. No wonder ancient India achieved incredible heights in all spheres of life till the islamic invasions disrupted the process around 1000 year back. Of course, it is not all gone. After all Sadhguru exists today!

This yogic world view is India’s soft power. The final frontier of science (and humanity), is not the outer space, it is the human mind. And no civilization other than the Indian Vedic civilization has placed more importance on the mind and actually developed theories and methods to understand and enhance it. India today should be owning, developing and exporting this soft power.

Amish gets it!

Barkha Dutt’s new incarnation is as the host of a talk show #openmind. Ah, the irony of Barkha Dutt being associated with an openmind!

In this video she asks Amish all the usual libtard questions on caste, tolerance and women’s rights.

Amish gives quite thoughtful and well articulated responses with which I almost completely agree. He seems to get the idea of Indian Grand Narrative. Got to read his books.

He made one insightful remark on the secularism and tolerance debate

Indian society is and has always been inherently secular, but post-independence Indian state has never been secular.

Glad he mentions RTE and government control of temples as examples of state not being secular. Got to read his new book Immortal India.

India’s (unacknowledged) contributions to Mind Sciences by Rajiv Malhotra

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Indian embassy in Washington DC kick started their Third International Yoga Day (2017) celebration with the below lecture by Rajiv Malhotra. The main theme of the talk was appropriation and digestion of Indian ideas and techniques by the west. It charted the developments in Mind Sciences in the West since Swami Vivekananda’s trip to the west. In one-hour Rajiv Malhotra mentioned all the people (in yellow), institutions (in red) and techniques/ideas (in blue) in the image above! That should be reason enough to watch the lecture!

Every time I hear RM speak on this topic, I realize something that I was overlooking earlier. Digestion clearly violates the ethics of academic and scientific research since the references are not properly cited and acknowledged. By weakening Indian culture and tradition, digestion also facilitates various Breaking India forces. I appreciated all this earlier.

However, all that is a problem for the Indian government and Swadeshi scholars. Should the aam aadmi care? How does it matter whether one gets the authentic version of a technique or the digested one? In other words, should it matter whether you learn Vipassana or it’s digested version of mindfulness; yog nidra vs lucid dreamingTranscendental meditation vs relaxation-response? Rajiv Malhotra argues that it does matter because the digested versions are usually just a small subset of the source body of knowledge, and often are also substandard. He mentions that authentic Vipassana is much more advanced than mindfulness, yet mindfulness is projected as the “new and improved” version and is all over the town today! In a few generations, people may not even know that something called Vipassana even existed. I can easily imagine this. Indian scriptures and rituals can be very complex with many layers of meanings and symbolism. Same idea can often be interpreted and implemented in many different ways and combined with other ideas in numerous different ways. Once the source has been reduced to one or two digested forms, such experiments will no longer be possible. Paraphrasing from the talk:

digestion effectively plucks the fruit on a tree and leaves the tree behind to atrophy thereby eliminating the possibility of future harvests.

Another thing I realized is the difference between the way rest of Asia treated knowledge from India and how the west did it and is still continuing. Buddhism spread to China, Japan and south-east Asia over millennia and steadily became less prevalent in India. Yet, Buddhist scholars and practitioners in those countries even today respectfully acknowledge their Indian roots. Western appropriators, on the other hand, go out of their way to avoid crediting India. RM gives a powerful analogy to illustrate this point:

it is like you run 100m faster than any one before and the credit goes to the guy with the clock who timed you and reported it to the world!

RM mentioned that he is writing seven books based on this talk. I can’t wait for it!

Sri Ramanujacharya according to Modi and Ambedkar

Watch the below speech of PM Modi on the occasion of 1000 year birth anniversary of Sri Ramanujacharya, one of the great philosophers of Hinduism, in the same league as Ādi Shankaracharya and Madhvāchārya.

PM Modi presented a biography of Sri Ramanujacharya most of which I was not aware of. Particularly interesting was the fact that Sri Ramanujacharya’s guru was a non-bhrahmin! This was a big deal then. Removing caste-based discrimination was one of the big themes of Sri Ramanujacharya’s life. And this was duly acknowledged by Ambedkar in an editorial to which PM Modi heavily refer to in the speech. [Readers, if you find the soft copy of Ambedkar’s editorial, please share.]

So, two points:

 

What is the Indian counterpart of American Exceptionalism?

This is a very important talk by Rajiv Malhotra delivered in Feb 2017 in New Delhi at an event organized by IGNOU. It addresses the question – what is the Indian counterpart of American exceptionalism?

The answer is – Bhartiya Exceptionalism. RM defines it, lays out the need for such a thing and compares it with the Grand Narrative of other nations. Of course, the sad thing is that there is need for articulation of Bhartiya Exceptionalism 70 years after independence!

For any student (this is, an honest student – not the Pollockian variety!) of Indian history and Hindu philosophy, it would be clear that Bhartiya exceptionalism would derive from Hindu heritage and philosophy.

The immediate next question, most likely from a confused Hindu, would be – what about the non-hindu minorities? Is there room for them? How can you right wingers be so intolerant?! First, let me remind you of the name of this blog: this-is-not-right-wing! Second – calm down. These would be non-issues in a society built on Hindu principles. That is because mutual respect (watch this short clip, ideally read Being Different) has always been a defining characteristic of Indian civilization. It has not just been an abstract idea but a ground reality and has actually facilitated integration of multiple immigrants over the ages.

So, how would we go about implementing Bhartiya exceptionalism in today’s India? Towards the end of the talk, RM clearly lays out there requirements that minorities ought to meet in order to integrate in a nation built on Hindu values. These are :-
1. Mutual respect should be a two-way street
2. Minority religions should disown foreign authority (apparently China has done this)
3. Minorities must accept the history of violence and oppression perpetrated in the name of their religions (think Aurangzeb).

I think these are perfectly reasonable requirements.

On the third point, note that no apology is being demanded from the minorities today. What is being asked is a recognition that, just like Jewish holocaust is a fact of history, so is Hindu holocaust. Anyone denying the Jewish holocaust in the west is promptly labeled fringe. But in India, Hindu holocaust deniers can easily be found writing for The Hindu, appearing on NDTV and, of course, raising slogans in JNU!

Sadhguru on the Damage done by 1000 years of Colonization of India

Greatly enjoyed and impressed by Sadhguru’s views and observations in this video. It covers a wide range of topics including who is a good student and a good guru? what is leadership? what is needed for a democracy to work? 

The things that impressed me the most was Sadhguru’s take on Indian history. He says clearly that we have been colonized for 1000 years by barbarians who had no respect for the inward looking vedic culture. And the reason that we fell to these invaders was that in the pursuit of higher knowledge we neglected the mundane task of building a good army. He also explains why we did not completely vanish like the Pagans and other civilizations who were demolished by western expansions.

His take on the history of education in India also hit the nail on its head. He correctly points out that the British systematically destroyed our superior education system to create subservient clerks instead of free thinkers. More importantly, he states clearly that the situation hasn’t been remedied after independence. In other words, we are still colonized. He also hinted at the need for Swadeshi Indology.

In short, Sadhguru gets Rajiv Malhotra’s message and is doing an excellent job of propagating it.

Gurus who impart abstract Vedic spiritual and philosophical teachings are important and should be revered. However, sometimes the teachings become too abstract and world-negating. We need more gurus like Sadhguru who bridge the gap between the spiritual and the mundane and take a stand on current issues – politics, corruption (Sadhguru on Demonetization), environment, science, other religions, individual responsibility, identity, and so on. I may not always agree with their stand, but that is a different matter.

By the way, Subhash Ghai’s interruptions in the video were quite dumb!