The Story of Indian Philosophy

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The Story of Indian Philosophy
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This book is a must read for understanding this ancient wisdom. I congratulate Professor Gautam for this great accomplishment and wish him a long and healthy life." Dr Kashinath Nyaupane, Professor of Buddhism and Sanskrit, Nepal Sanskrit University, Kathmandu.

"Though born in a priestly Brahmin family, I was not made to learn Sanskrit and so I was not familiar at first with many of the terms used in this proposed book. Despite this, I found the book very interesting and felt proud to read it before its publication. The format used is nice and appropriate. Many thanks for this privilege". Dr Hemang Dixit, Professor, Tribhuvan University, Kathmandu.

"I believe that even-or perhaps specially-the most profound academic on India would gain new information and insight from this book". Clive Roberts, Belfast, Northern Ireland, UK.

"Divided into 23 chapters, the book discusses the various stages of Indian civilisations and their evolutions. This is a must-read book for those who want to understand the basics of Hindu Philosophy and civilisation". Keshav Poudyal, Editor, New Spotlight, Kathmandu.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dr Prasanna Chandra Gautam. This book is a distillate of the vast Indian literature on topics covered within it. This spans several millennia and has been presented succinctly, objectively and with authority. Professor Gautam is particularly qualified to interpret complex Sanskrit texts correctly and present them in a coherent, critical, and systematic manner. His highly acclaimed earlier publication, the word for word English translation of the entire Rig Veda Samhita, is the foundation of this presentation. This is a sufficiently brief and authentic introduction to our heritage, especially for the modern generation.

 

FOREWORD

Professor Prasanna Gautam is a serious scholar of ancient Sanskrit literature. He has been pursuing these studies in the tradition set by his grandfather, Vidwatshiromani Sri Kulachandra Gautam, who was a beacon of light for all of us. His exceptional original works are the pride of the Sanskrit literary world and make his presence felt amongst us even after his death so long ago. I have no hesitation in saying that Professor Gautam, too, has made an enormous with his uniquely insightful expose of the Rig Veda, by his word for word translation of that ancient literature. Readers will remain forever indebted to him for this scholarly work.

I was also amazed to read his book Reflections on Contemporary Values, Beliefs and Behaviours (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2018) which prompts us to follow our own inherent inquisitive nature for the benefit of ourselves and humanity at large. This is a unique work for which no amount of praise will be sufficient.

I felt privileged to glance through the draft of this book on Indian philosophy. I found this to contain the core of the eastern philosophical concepts. This has the thoughts of the Rishis (sages) of the Vedic era and reflects their debates found in the Upanishads in a lucid manner. The secrets within Mahabharata and Ramayana have been clearly uncovered from the old dogmas over the centuries. This also has shaken our usual way of interpreting Bhagavad Gita. The gravitas of the teaching of Buddha has been well elucidated. In short, he has tried to fill a jar with all the waters of an ocean.

 

PREFACE

Large parts of 2020-21 have been the most horrific period in our memory. Our belief systems have received the greatest jolt and made us re-examine our values and faiths. In addition, the unprecedented coexistence of wealth and poverty, and struggles for survival have precipitated global disharmony and conflict. It is in this context of deaths, devastation of families, and food banks and hunger that have compelled us to evaluate our concepts of quality of life, including mental and spiritual needs. The 'quality of living' in terms of a blissful existence in peace, equanimity and contentment had been foremost in the minds of the ancient Indian philosophers. This is different from the modern concept of 'quality of life', which does depend upon physical amenities and comfort. A true understanding of the evolution of our thought processes from the earliest time to the present may help us in this hour of need.

Indian philosophy appears at first to be a bewildering plethora of concepts. It is this curious potpourri of faith and logic that has made Indian philosophy an enigma. Although the original works appear in simple, short phrases or sentences in Sanskrit, they do require some knowledge of the ancient culture and religion of that land to comprehend them. Many Indologists of great renown have tried to explain this philosophy and have produced many tomes of learned literature. They had become. profoundly impressed to find that the Indian subcontinent had produced many great philosophers even earlier than the Greeks and Egyptians who had influenced their Christian world. These commentaries, while showing their reverence to the works of the great Indian philosophers, also indicate the insurmountable complexities of the diverse cultures and the prevailing conditions in that unknown era of that unknown land which they had to comprehend. This was realised by General Wellesley, who unilaterally established the 'Oxford of the East' in Calcutta but was not allowed to make this a great institution. A general reader cannot be certain to have grasped the actual message of the original philosophers by reading these commentaries, which mostly focus on single issues, suggestive of 'not seeing the wood for the trees.'

One needs to study the ancient literature from India in Sanskrit to try to truly comprehend the original philosophical thoughts, culture, and aspirations. Most words in Sanskrit can be used to mean many different things in different contexts. The key to their appreciation is grammar [or indeed the lack of it), the context and the prevalent cultural or social practices relevant to the subject. The accurate translation of an ancient work from Sanskrit into English is extremely difficult because of the brevity of the phrases, unavailability of equivalent words and corresponding grammatical equivalents. Even the transliteration in the Roman alphabet is difficult, and the diacritic marks do not always exactly depict the joined or compound letters. Hence there is ample scope for alternative interpretations, as seen by the contradicting opinions among the great scholars in Indology. I have found similar constraints in the works of modern Indian scholars too, who have been much influenced by their own cultural, caste and religious backgrounds, in addition to the Greek and latter European philosophies that invariably have been the foundations of their education. They too have continued the use of inaccurate terms, e.g., 'sacrifice' for Yagna, 'religion' for Dharma, Brahman' for Brahma, 'Atman' for Atma, etc., irrespective of the grammatical and original context. Equally perplexing is the continued usage of 'Aryan' to indicate an ethnic group or a race. There does not appear to be any appreciation of the fact the colloquial expressions of the ancient Sanskrit vernacular of terms like Dasyu, Naga, Dasa, Pani do not always indicate ethnicity and are choice words of verbal abuse, implying robber or thief, a deceiver who stings, a slave or one of no consequence, a cunning or cheating trader, etc.

Max Muller had also observed that the job of a historian of philosophy was "to winnow what is permanent from what is temporary and to discover, if possible, the vein of gold that runs through the quartz, to keep the gold and sweep away the rubbish." This 'winnowing' cannot be done by taking a cross-sectional view of the existing philosophical concepts. This needs a dynamic approach, Le., a three dimensional view of an idea at its beginning, after it took strong root, and eventually its modification as well as its influence on other ideas which appeared subsequently. This understanding of when and how an idea developed, how it influenced the thinking at that period and how it evolved over time and related to the newer concepts is essential to 'winnow' any philosophical concept. It was Pierre Hadot who said that philosophy was a way of life. Hadot goes further, saying that modern philosophers are of reason' while the ancient philosophers were 'artists of life'. Indeed, can we really justify any intellectual pursuit by ignoring our way of life which is evolving incessantly? It is undeniable that the process of evolution includes the whole of the organism, including its mind and not just the body. I have tried to produce this small work to demonstrate that philosophy is the reflection of thoughts evolved from the earliest to the present time.

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