DO WE NEED PHILOSOPHY-2 (Post No.8192)

                                                  WRITTEN BY R. NANJAPPA                          

Post No. 8192 Date uploaded in London – – – 17 June 2020   

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   DO WE NEED PHILOSOPHY-2             

                                     R. Nanjappa  

  Philosophy in India   Indian approach is anterior to Socrates and Plato, but its basic preoccupation too is with the Self of man and Self Knowledge. But first a word about ‘philosophy’ in the Indian context.   In India, there is no word which directly answers to ‘Philosophy’. We use two words: Tatva and Mata. Tatva means Reality= That which is. It can be experienced, but not adequately expressed in words. Once expressed, it becomes ‘mata’- something held with  the mind (mati) @ So it is our idea of Tat, not Tat as it Is! Tatva is one, and does not vary; matas do vary over time, and place and with persons!
@ There is no Indian word directly equivalent to ‘mind’. We have the concepts of manas, buddhi, chitta, ahankara which together constitute ‘antahkarana’.      

Knowledge of Reality is obtained through Darshana: sight or insight. It is an experiential understanding of Reality, not a verbal formulation. There is nothing outlandish or mysterious or irrational about it. We see this demonstrated in life. When we follow an argument or analysis, and understand the point, we exclaim: “Oh, I see!”. Socrates was trying to make us ‘see the point’ all the time, by leading us through questions to that point, making us do the seeing by ourselves! That would be a discovery by each one, not a belief forced on us by the conventions of the society or the command of the gods, or some authority.. The great scientists have arrived at their truths in this manner.

Einstein, or Ramanujam did not work in a lab to ‘discover’ their theories or theorems. They just “saw” through their mind’s eye. Einstein said:     The words of the language, as they are written and spoken, do not seem to play any role in my mechanisms of thought. The psychical entities which seem to serve as elements in thought  are certain signs and more or less clear images  which can be voluntarily   reproduced or combined…. The above mentioned elements are, in my case, of visual and some of muscular type   The chemist Friedrich Kekule relates how he saw the benzene ring. He fell asleep and again the atoms were gamboling before my eyes…My mental eye….could not distinguish larger structures….all twining and twisting in snake-like motion. But look! What was that?  One of the snakes had seized hold of its own tail and the form whirled mockingly before my eyes. As if by a flash of lightning I awoke.   Both these quotes are taken from : Howard Gardner: ‘Frames of Mind’.p190-191. Basic Books,1993.    

Man, World and God Investigation of Reality proceeds on three lines: Man, World and God. The whole cosmos is contained in these three categories. There are theories relating to each. And there is no unanimity or agreement among them. Thus we have many philosophies.   The Veda is the foundation (It only means knowledge, and no book). But the Europeans have got their own fancy ideas , inventing a date, a chronology, etc. The living Hindu tradition, which is much older than the Europeans’, and continuous, does not believe   in vain theorising. We know the facts. It deals with all three categories, but not in theory, as a system. It provides a series of  glimpses, for understanding and further investigation, and guidelines for practical action through life.    

The whole cosmos is the manifestation of and pervaded by One. There is just Unity or Wholeness. It is both Immanent and transcendent. This One cannot be named. (One can give it any name one wants and still he would not have exhausted it).For convenience, it is called Brahman, the Absolute, or simply as Tat, ie That, Unnameable! Man is also part of that Unity, because there is No other! But he imagines himself to be separate, and so he suffers. This is his ignorance, or forgetfulness of his real nature. His task is therefore to regain his memory and realise his true nature. This is called freedom or liberation (moksha ) One has to realise it in this very life!  (ihaiva- here, as the Veda says). It is not a post-mortem achievement. Thereby he is not getting anything new! He is not gaining a new status or new world. Like someone searching for a chain he is wearing, and discovers that he has been wearing it all the time, man regains the memory or knowledge of the original state. Arjuna exclaims at the end of the Gita discourse: “smritir labda” (I have regained my memory!) This is the purpose of human life. For, only man in the whole of creation can accomplish this. Thus, man is not an animal, rational or otherwise! Damn the scientists who say so!      


Man has to accomplish this while living in this world. So the question of the nature of the world comes in. Since we see the world, we sense that some one should have made it! So, he thinks of God.  But from where it could have come, since there is only One or Unity? It is therefore clear that Man, World and God are from the same source! (This Western word God has again no Indian equivalent. In a sense, it does not refer to the One ultimate Unity) In the Hindu system, that One in relation to the world is called Iswara. So long as one lives in the world, and has not realised his Unity, he has to consider  the world and Iswara as real . They cannot be wished away. They are real, as long as man thinks he is real, a separate  being. They are as real as him!     The Veda has given a practical scheme for going about the task. In the first part, it prescribes how man has to live in the world, with a responsibility to society. He has five obligations to discharge: to the Rishis who taught him about the One Reality and showed   the path for its realisation; to the manes who perpetuated the line through progeny, and thus endowed him with a human body so that he can Realise the Truth; to Iswara and the order of devas through which the world order is maintained; to other human beings; to other forms of life. The discharge of these obligations is the fundamental religious duty, and marriage and family life are prescribed only for this!     But he is asked to constantly remember that his end is not in or with this world! He has to live in the world by right means (dharma), earn and enjoy  (artha and kama) what is his destined lot  in the righteous way (dharma), but he should also remind himself that he has to make himself free (moksha) through all his activities. At an appropriate stage, after the discharge of his obligations, he has to detach himself from an active life in the world, and devote himself to contemplation on the aim of life and its attainment. At the last stage, he has to renounce all connections with the world, solely devoted to the ultimate purpose of life. In these last two stages, he is not an active part of the civic society! The latter portion of the Veda called Upanishads provide guidance through these stages of life.     


Indian philosophy is practice, not belief- to be mastered in life, not schools. Where does philosophy in the western sense come here? No, our struggle here is not an intellectual quest. We have somehow to connect with the centre of our being, which is more than intellect, which is also the centre of the universe! We have to have some general idea  about the nature of the world, about ourselves, about our final destination; but endless contemplation or mental cogitation, or fanatic adherence to any fixed dogma  about them will not achieve anything. We have to engage in practical work- ie sadhana. Only that will lead to experiential knowledge or realisation of truth .All else is mere belief.    



The Upanishads are like the Platonic dialogues. They deal with the Ultimate Reality though discussions, dialogue, arguments etc. They do not make a systematic treatise or provide any ready-made theory. They do not teach a dogma. They induce you to reflect. They take up the subject through different approaches, make us investigate and experience the Truth ourselves. They indicate the truth – hint at it, but no dogmatic statements are made. They provide a map- but we have to walk the territory. There is no magic, no trick, no short-cut. One has to work out his own liberation, with help from the One. It does not matter what God he believes in, (or whether he believes in one at all), what theory he believes in, what theology he follows. He has to find out what or who he is! This knowledge or wisdom when it dawns is not a belief, but an experience! This Truth alone will make him free!     Schopenhaurer called the Upanishads ‘ the product of the highest human wisdom.’


Wisdom: West and East The Socratic search for happiness led to Wisdom or knowledge of Truth (the One). This we state in Hinduism as Sat-Chit- Ananda. (the realisation (Chit) of the Truth (Sat) is Ananda (Bliss- this is beyond all the worldly categories , like happiness, pleasure, etc. All these categories have their opposites. Ananda is a word that does not have its opposite! It is beyond all the dualities of the world.)


The philosophical quest may be stated in terms of Kant: What can I know?What ought I to do?What may I hope for? Stated in Indian terms, these become:   Tatva : we have to ‘Know’ the Reality (Tat) ie Realise it, experience it. Purushartha, Hita :  the essential human endeavour. what is good. Moksha:  Freedom, Liberation which is but the recovery of the knowledge of the One Self.


The Upanishads are integral part of the Veda, not separate treatises. It is the unenlightened and ill-taught Westerners who have distinguished between the two. The Upanishads are called Vedanta- the end or conclusion of the Veda. What is the conclusion? This is stated pithily in some ‘grand declarations’ , called “Mahavakyas”. These are:  


Prajnaanam Brahma:   Pure Awareness, Supreme Consciousness, is the Absolute, the Infinite Aitareya Upanishad, Rig Veda.

Ayam Atma Brahma :  This Self is Brahman, the Absolute, the Infinite.
Mandukya Upanishad, Atharva Veda.



Tat Tvam Asi ; Thou art That.
Chandogya Upanishad. Sama Veda.

Aham Brahmasmi :  ‘I Am’ that Supreme, the Absolute’
Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. Yajur Veda.

There are innumerable other statements like these.

Sarvam khalu idam Brahma. Verily, all this is Brahman. Chandogya Upanishad.

Ishavaasyam idam Sarvam yatkincha jagatyaam jagat.
Whatever is moving in this universal movement is pervaded by that One Isha.   Isha Upanishad,

So’ ham. That I am. Isha Upanishad.  Ekam evadvitiyam Brahma. The Absolute is One. There is no second, no other. Chandogya upanishad.

Yo vai bhuma tat sukham. Na alpeti sukhamasti.
That which is Infinite alone confers happiness, blessedness.
The finite things do not give happiness.
Chandogya Upanishad.  

Ye tat viduhu: amrutaaste bhavanti.
Those who know That (Infinite) become immortal

Dwiteeyatvai bhayam bhavati.
It is from a second entity that fear comes. Atmanam Eva priyam upaaseeta.
One should meditate on the Self alone as dear.

Amrutatvasya tu naashassti vittena iti. There is no hope for immortality through wealth. Brahma va  ida magra aaseet
Tadaatmaana meva Vett aham Brahmaasmeeti
Tasmaat Tat sarvam bhavattu.

Brahman indeed was in the beginning.
It knew only Itself as ‘I Am’.


Therefore it became all.     (These original Sanskrit words are not directly translatable. Their meaning has to be grasped and understood  through study, instruction by a Realised person, reflection, sadhana and experience)       One thing should be clearly understood. These are not stated in a cogent formula, or with elaborate reasoning.These are the statements of the conclusion, arrived at after reasoning. As such, they are like the map, not the territory. This is the promise of the Upanishadic seers. They say; ‘ This is the discipline we followed, the method we adopted. This is what we saw. You too can do it. So, wake up, get up, approach a teacher who ‘Knows’ and learn from him’ ( Uttishta: jagrata: praapyavaran nibhodata) In this sense, the Hindu system is scientific: fulfill the conditions, and experience the result yourself. Don’t take anybody’s word for it. The Hindu experiment is repeatable; the Hindu experience is renewable.      Indian philosophy involves practice, discipline-not mere study

The Upanishads do not provide a magic formula or incantation which would take us to the Truth like a magic horse with magic wings. The student looks at  the sun and repeats:  That  Brahman  is in the sun ie the sun is Brahman. So am I.(Asavadityo Brahma: Brahmaiva Ahamasmi). But endless repetition of this statement will not make him Brahman! No, it is not an intellectual exercise, or a religious ritual. The work is hard, the path is narrow and sharp and we have to do the walking! This involves the whole being of man, not just his mind. This is not for the weak-hearted, or the weak-minded. 
Na ayam Atama Balaheenena labhyo:     This Self cannot be attained by the weak. This is for heroes. Nor is this for the week-end. This is a preoccupation, to be reflected through all of life. The Upanishads are couched in language which is not linear.  It hops like the frog, or flies like the bird. We have to undertake the discipline and connect the links. The Bhagavad Gita to some extent restates the aims and outlines the methods of practice. But it too advises us to approach a teacher who knows, (4.34) It is for realisation through discipline, not learning at leisure sitting in an arm-chair. It is mere verbal learning  which gives scope for the different schools of interpretation. Such schools cover the entire gamut from absolute atheism to total theism.   Take the first mantra in the Kena Upanishad. It says:

Keneshitam patati preshitam mana:
kena prana: prathama; praiti yukta:
Keneshitaam vaachamimaam vadanti:
chakshu: shrotram ka vu devo yunakti?


By whom commissioned falls the mind shot to its mark?
By whom yoked moves the first life-breath forward on its paths?
By whom impelled is this word that men speak?
What god set eye and ear to their workings?

It can be seen at once that this takes us away directly from the senses and the world perceived through them, and into  a reality which is behind them. This leads us to direct engagement with the Truth of things, not things themselves. This is the knowledge which in the words of Sri Aurobindo , “begins by a sort of reflection of the true existence in the awakened mental understanding”. It is this we have to investigate here in this world, and in this life, and find out.  
ha chedavedeedhata satyamasti
na chedihaavedin mahati vinashta:

If here one comes to that knowledge, then one truly is.
If here ones comes not to the knowledge, then great is the perdition. ( Kena 2.5.)

Atha martyo amruto bhavat yatra
Brahma samashnute.

Then this mortal putteth on immortality.
Even here he enjoyeth Brahman in this human body.
(Katha 2.7.14)

Atha martyo amruto bhavat yetaavad.

Even here in this human birth the mortal becomes immortal.
(Katha 2.7.15)   All these translations are by Sri Aurobindo.



  Sri Aurobindo provided fresh insights into the Veda-Upanishads, recovering the genuine  Indian tradition, free from European and colonial influences. Thus the stress is on seeking that Wisdom here on earth, in this very body. It is not a   search for any god in the heavens. But to obtain this knowledge, we have to seek one who ‘Knows”. The blind cannot lead the blind. And knowledge here does not mean knowledge of any book, or any system. It is knowledge of Truth by direct perception. This was what Socrates was leading his interlocuters into. This is how the Hindu system has been renewed and regenerated through the millennia. Sri Ramakrishna and Ramana Maharshi are two such “Knowers” who lived recently, who taught us how to apply these truths in the conditions of modern life. There must surely be others, unknown and unannounced.     The modern academic world has spread many falsehoods in the name of knowledge. Because the academic teachers know the words of the books, but not the wisdom behind them. They say the West is rational, the East is mystical or irrational. Someone who know neither the East nor the West properly, nor  the Truth may say “the twain shall never meet.” But Sages like Socrates have shown how they have met!  Philosophy primarily concerns the human condition here on earth. It has to tell us how to live here; but it also has to teach us how to exceed ourselves- how to transcend the merely human condition. These concerns have not changed over the centuries, but some societies have changed their priorities and forgotten the goals in the glamour of human achievement, or in the clamour for material comfort or progress. East or West they remain the same, because humanity is one. As a modern scholar says, with reference to the crude contrasts which are made between Western (supposedly based on reason and argument) and Eastern (supposedly based on mysticism and non-rational methods) philosophies:   ….crude contrasts which are unhelpful and  in large part untrue. This holds particularly with respect to the philosophy of India. Ancient India produced a large and wide philosophical tradition, encompassing materialism, scepticism and empiricism as well as schools tending to mysticism and forms of idealism- a tradition which is comparable to ancient Greek and Roman philosophy in extent and variety. Yet  both Westerners and many Indians have emphasised only those schools  that form a contrast to Western philosophy. Students often think that ‘Eastern’ philosophy, including Indian, will be all similar and nothing like the ‘Western’ tradition. We have yet to reach a completely post-colonial view, which can get beyond the false contrast  of ‘Western rationalism’ and ‘Eastern mysticism’ and recognise the strong affinities  between some of the Indian traditions  and ancient Greek and Roman traditions more familiar in the West.     Julia Annas: Ancient Philosophy- A Very Short Introduction p.115. OUP, 2000. Prof. of Philosophy at the University of Arizona.
Photo taken from: http://www.u.arizona,edu
Copyright status not stated.

East and West are both in search of the same Wisdom, because Wisdom is One. He who ‘Knows’ belongs to both!
Aa no bhadra: krutavo yantu vishvata:
Adabdhaaso apareetaasa udbheedah
May auspicious  thoughts, which harm no one, come to us from the whole Universe! Which are unimpeded, victorious over the forces of division.   Rg Veda “The empire of philosophy extends over a few”. David Hume, British Philosopher.                                                      ***      

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