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.

Jallikattu – Animal Rights or a Breaking India issue?

I saw this post from ShankNaad on FaceBook today:

jallikattu

Along with this text (emphasis mine):

It is only extreme cases of cruelty that need their lordships to ride in favour of hapless creatures. Jallikattu does not fall in that category. Off late we’ve seen frequent attacks on our traditional practices. These attacks are hidden behind the garb of animal rights, women rights, child rights, minority rights and so on.

Our cultural ethos, our scriptures, the roots of our belief system have ample provisions for every aforementioned groups and much more than that. Therefore, any traditional practice, if it strictly follows our scriptures, is guaranteed to be harmless against any group deemed to be one without a voice.

One doesn’t need to be a scholar of our belief system to confirm the same. Our upbringing and memory of our festivities is enough to see how that’s taken care of.
But then, how will the nexus of Indian deep state and conversion freaks of all kinds demonize your native culture and nation? Propaganda must be carried out to show us that we’ve, all this while, been a pukeworthy regressive society.

The court orders, the fatwas by NGT, the campaigns by the feminist groups, the biased outcries by animal rights groups.. they are not the end result, they are very much part of the propaganda and the actual end result is a complete disaster for us and our nation as people without their identity and core values run around in panic like headless chickens in decades to come.

I completely agree. But let me elaborate further on the topic at hand – Jallikattu.

Some might say that pointing out the cruelty of slaughter does not reduce the cruelty in Jallikattu. I agree that pointing out a greater evil does not make a lesser evil any less problematic. But selectively pointing out only the lesser evil does indicate hypocrisy. Also, it must be pointed out that the extent of animal abuse in slaughter houses that work on an industrial scale, all year round and all over the country (and world) is orders of magnitude greater than that in a once-a-year degree regional event of Jallikattu.

The degree of abuse is still not an excuse for abuse in Jallikattu, if any. For every news article or anecdote that expresses horror at the cruelty against animals in Jallikatu, I have found another report which says that either the news is fake or overblown.

My view is that any tradition, or for that matter, any institution, which has been around for hundreds of years runs a risk of accumulating distortions which may not be true to the intended spirit of the tradition. Do you think the founding fathers of US would consider the election of Trump a success of democracy as they had envisioned it? I doubt it. And would the solution be to do away with democracy or fix it? The later, I think.

Likewise, if there are distortions in Jallikattu, then it should be investigated and fixed. But it should be done by people who have respect for Indian heritage and tradition and are genuinely interested in reform, such as Sadhguru (this is what he has to say on this matter). Respect for animals and nature is a core value in Hinduism. You don’t need to learn it from these modern animal rights activists.

The Big Picture

PETA and other activists who are calling for a ban on Jallikattu, regardless of their rhetoric, are not really interested in mitigating animal abuse. In some cases, their hypocrisy is out in the open, for example in these tweets by Shoba De –

sobhade

But often it is not so obvious. To really understand the motivations of these activists, you need to look at who are funding them and why? What philosophies – Islamic, Christian, Marxist or some other – guide them? Are these activists evenly critical of all societies, cultures and countries (for example, do they have anything to say about bull fighting in Spain)?

Attacks on Jallikattu is not an isolated incident. Attacks on the Kumbh Mela, where human rights violation and caste discrimination is the cover up, are similar. These attacks are manifestations of the Breaking India forces aimed at undermining India by attacking her underlying Hindu culture. Remember that India is a relatively young and weak nation-state, but an ancient, highly developed and resilient culture-state. The Hindu culture is what defines the Indian civilization and has helped India resist colonization for nearly 1000 years. All this is explained in painstaking detail in Rajiv Malhotra’s book Breaking India.

(update) This detailed article on Indiafacts by Sankrant Sanu explains how these attacks on Hindu festivals fit into the larger strategy of Christian evangelical organizations.


Updates

  • Swamy speaking on 16-Jan-2017 in Bay Area US (watch for ~5min)
  • A first hand account of what happens in Jallikattu by Francois Gautier, an insider  journalist. It starts off like this:

I covered Jalikattu a few times and found that it was pretty harmless. Don’t let the intellectuals and the Marxists deny your Hindu inheritance, boys and girls …

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!

Bertrand Russell and Sadhguru on the Scientific Spirit

Recently I happened to come across two beautiful descriptions of the scientific spirit from two very different people – one by a Guru from the West and other by Sadhguru!

First, let’s listen to one of the greatest thinkers from the West:

When you are studying any matter or considering any philosophy, ask yourself only what are the facts .. look only and solely at what are the facts.                                                –Bertrand Russell (1872-1970)

And now Sadhguru:

[29 Dec 2016:  Unfortunately this video has been removed from youtube. I am looking for another clip where Sadhguru makes these points. If anyone has a suggestion, please share. Ideally please find me this clip – it was audio only with an image of an ash covered sadhu. Thanks.]

If you want to approach truth, the first thing is you don’t assume anything.                      -Sadhguru

Isn’t the similarity striking!

Sadhguru’s comments are interesting at many levels. First, it is one of the most elegant and passionate description of the scientific spirit that I have come across. And yet he is not a Nobel prize winning physicist, but a spiritual guru from a Dharmic tradition. Another illustration of the fact that the scientific spirit is at the core of Indian spiritual traditions. There was never any conflict between science and spirituality in India. So Sadhguru here is not an outlier. He is just rephrasing what has been practiced for ages in India. The West, on the other hand, discovered it only in Renaissance, and have not really been able to reconcile modern science with Abrahamic religions.

Another point is that the Indian tradition is that of seekers, not believers. In the above clip, Sadhguru does not mince his words in his criticism of believers:

Belief gives you confidence .. and fools getting confidence is dangerous; belief is death actually.  -Sadhguru

In the Abrahamic tradition, belief is absolute and unquestionable and leads people to get more and more trapped in their own echo chamber. Fanaticism and superstition are bound to take hold in such societies.

In the Indian system, the counterpart of belief is shraddha. In the context of education, shraddha towards a guru does not mean blind faith in the guru, but just allowing for the possibility that the guru knows more and may have something useful to teach. The questioning and seeking never ceases.

By the way, on the topic of education, check out this very thoughtful discourse by Sadhguru. Education is clearly one of his passions. Yes, gurus can, and ought to be passionate about things in the mundane world!