MODERN RISHIS-1 (Post No.8217)

WRITTEN BY R. NANJAPPA                        

Post No. 8217

Date uploaded in London – – – 21 June 2020   

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R. Nanjappa

Rishi-Direct perception of Reality

We Hindus have a unique conception of how we perceive Truth. It is not by cerebration or strenuous mental effort. The senses and the mind are outward directed. The senses bring the impressions of the outer world, and these are filtered, coloured and interpreted by the mind, and acted upon by the ego. The ego is the master of the mind, and mind follows the senses. Such impressions and our reaction to them constitute the world of our normal consciousness. The world we thus get to know is a mental formula. It is not the Reality or Truth as it is.

Can we know Truth as it is? Yes, Hindu psychologists say. But for that we have to transcend the mind, and its modifications. We have to go beyond the mind, not just still it, temporarily.  (or make attempts to ‘strengthen ‘ it-whatever it may mean!) Patanjali Maharaj says it pithily: Yoga: chitta vritti niroda:. Controlling the modifications of mind is Yoga. All religious disciplines ultimately amount to controlling the mind and taming its master, the ego.

[Care:Yoga means being united, state of union. When the screen or filter of mind is removed, Reality alone remains as It always Is. This is what the jiva or soul experiences then. This is the state of Unity or Oneness. It is not a mental state. One may think one is a scholar, pilot or a carpenter. But one does not have to ‘think’ one is a man or woman! He or she is that already in being! Intervention of thought is not necessary for this ‘realisation’. The state of unity or oneness is like that. This is the real state of Yoga.This is what is meant by Patanjali. Most of what goes by the name of yoga in the world today is pure bunkum.] 

Those who can transcend the mind and ego and perceive the Truth (Tat- Reality as It is) directly are called Rishis. However, they cannot define or describe it in precise words.. We say the Truth is beyond expression in language. They can  just hint at it- give some indication in some inspired words-like pointing at the moon with the fingers. This cannot be imparted or conveyed by instruction. It has to be absorbed.

The inspired words the Rishis utter are called the mantra’ The Rishis  are therefore called ‘mantra drishta’: they perceive or literally “see’ the Truth. They just express it in a few words- they do not develop logical  theories. It is like a Newton ‘discovering’ gravity: he did not invent it. It is called Tatvam, as against ‘matam’, which is our mental formulation of it. Tatvam is one,eternal; matams are many, and vary.

Knowledge by Identity

This Tatvam is known by identity. It is like saying one can truly know a lion only when one becomes a lion oneself! We say: Brahmavid Brahmaiva bhavati: the knower of Truth becomes the Truth.

We say Truth can save us. Truth alone can save us, not our opinion  of it. And this Truth is known by identity i.e by realisation, by personal experience. Only such Truth can save us. It is said about mantra: Mananaat traayate iti mantra:- mantra is that which saves one who keeps it in mind. People generally take it that if one repeats a mantra, one is saved. In this case, mantra becomes a mental formula, verbal combination, and how can it save us? There are certain mantras which are used for mundane purposes like curing of a scorpion sting. Here, sound vibrations are supposed to be at work. But we should realise that Truth that we seek is Supreme, is sublime, and it cannot be captured by any quick-fix formula, trick or shortcut. Repeating “I am Brahman” a billion times will not make a man Brahman, any more than repeating E=MCwill make one an Einstein! Catching the finger pointing at the moon will not take us to the moon. What is meant here about mantra is that its Truth has to be reflected upon and realised in one’s very being! It is what Krishna means by “man manaa bhava”= become My minded. Gita 9.34, 18.65. It is not mere mental repetition. It has to be lived.

The Prophets

Though Hindus are justly proud of Rishis and the mantras they discovered, we should realise that God has not left himself without such direct witnesses among any people! There have been great souls who have perceived Truth directly at all times, in all places. The greatness of Hindus is that they did not hound or persecute such Witnesses, but honoured them! They preserved the words of the Rishis with utmost care. They did not seek to make a cult out of such works, and did not seek to impose them on all. It was always open to people to choose who they liked. In the Orthodox tradition, there were Rishis who were the originators of clans; here, it was usual for some Rishis to be grouped together- so that we have the system of three Rishis, five Rishis   (thrayrsheya, pancharsheya ) etc.

The Jews have their tradition of Prophets. They are the souls who are messengers of God, show their people the path and lead them, and admonish them for their faults. They also tell the people what would be the consequences of their actions. Here is a short description:

Roughly 2750 years ago (around the time of Homer in Greece)- a man named Amos..” a herdsman and a gatherer of sycomore fruit”… left the village near Jerusalem where he lived and traveled up to Samaria in the northern part of the Land of Israel. 

Immediately he erupted like a volcano, denouncing its people in the name of God for their sins and calling upon them to repent. 

Thus did the first of the so called classical prophets suddenly and mysteriously stride onto the historical scene, to be followed by, among many others, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, and Micah. They were some of the greatest men ever to walk the earth, and most of them, like Homer himself, were also, and not so incidentally, among the greatest poets who ever lived. Then, three centuries after Amos started this astonishing parade, (and just when Socrates and Plato were active in Athens), it ground to a halt as suddenly and mysteriously as it had begun.

From: The Prophets by Norman Podhoretz, Introduction. The Free Press, 2002.

 Jesus Christ and Mohammad were also considered essentially Prophets, though their messages have been messed up in theology and doctrinaire cobwebs. In course of time the messenger has become more prominent than the message! For all that, we do not even know the messengers properly! Though their messages were meant for their ‘own’ people, subsequent followers attempted to make them universal figures,  (one of them being termed ‘the only  begotten Son’ )convert their messages into universal ‘gospels’, and convert and conquer the rest of the world in their name- which effort is still going on, with great vigour. They have already destroyed most ancient civilizations as living systems.

 The Christians and others have their ‘mystics’ who too perceive truth directly. But the societies in which they lived largely persecuted them,, because the truths they saw and expressed did not conform to the doctrines that lesser men had invented! 

Perhaps, we may make a distinction between a true Rishi and a Prophet. A prophet brings a message about the future (hence prophecy) and seeks to actively direct a people ie a whole clan or society. A Rishi is more subtle : he gives an insight, but leaves it to people to follow. His insight has the role and effect of raising people’s consciousness to a new level of awareness. It thus paves the way for the future and further evolution of mankind.

But it does not work on the masses at once. The more evolved individuals take up the new insights, and it works gradually, and irreversibly, if also invisibly and slowly, over time.

Are Rishis and Prophets phenomena of the past? Do they belong to the remote antiquity? Not necessarily. It appears that they came in clusters, and the phenomenon stopped some time in the past. But such spirits have been always with us, though rare at all times. Only, because of our current culture of publicity and   promotion, of the press and the media, we have lost the ability to recognise a Rishi. (Nor are we short of bogus rishis and false prophets.) But we will see some modern Rishis here.

Scientists are not Rishis, nor Prophets

Since the 17th century, humanity has been under the sway of science. It explored the physical universe in an effort to understand its working. But soon, the objective changed from the pursuit of knowledge as such into exploitation of the knowledge so gained. Scientific knowledge was packaged into technology, and the rising industrial organisation converted it into commercial profit. Governments adopted scientific inventions to boost their military power, and thus we have the military-industrial-commercial complex. Scientists have become mercenaries of this establishment. The academic world is also a sub-system of this establishment.

One unfortunate consequence of this has been that the focus is on the short term. No one has cared to study the long term consequences, on man and Nature, of the new processes and products invented and introduced in the name of science. It is quite common to find products hailed as breakthroughs at one time become objects of risk later. Chlorination of water, fluoridation of toothpaste, iodization of salt, Teflon-quoting of cookware- the number keeps growing. There is debate about the radiation hazards of the mobile phone. It is proved that the high telecom towers are injurious to birds. Who knows what misery may yet come out of the microwave? But the science-industry-commerce juggernaut rolls on! The press and the media, with their nexus with industry and business (who can ignore the ad revenue which sustains them?) keeps a studied silence most of the time.  

Nowhere does it affect us more directly or intimately than in agriculture from which we derive our food. Agriculture is now highly chemicalised. From hybrid, GM seeds, fertilisers, pesticides, herbicides, weedicides, chemicals dominate agriculture. One observer (Donella Meadows?) said that now our food grows on oil, not on soil! Even after harvest, food grains are irradiated. The food industry takes over and uses chemicals as preservatives, flavouring and colouring agents, emulsifiers, etc. It is said that there are now more than 10,000 chemicals in use in the food industry alone. Almost all these chemicals are synthetically formulated. They are not water-soluble- not washed away by simple washing with water. Most of them are carcinogens- i.e they cause cancer, besides affecting internal organs like kidney and liver. No one has studied the long term effects of the sustained use of these chemicals on living organisms, especially on man. To the extent studied, they have invariably been negative. It has become almost impossible to obtain food in a natural form.

DDT the devil

DDT was a pesticide invented/formulated in 1939. It is the most powerful pesticide to date. It was first used by the US military to eradicate malaria-causing mosquitoes in areas where the troops were stationed. It was allowed for commercial use in 1949. Industry and agriculture lapped it up. Soon, it was used every where.

There have been pesticides dealing with specific pests, but DDT was one which killed all pests, and effectively. It disturbed some naturalist writers like Edwin Way Teale who said that 90% of the insects were not harmful and it was not desirable to eradicate them. “Things will go out of kelter”, he said. But such objections were brushed aside.

Anyone who had had anything to do with farming or even amateur gardening knows how intimately plant life is connected with insect and bird life. From the humble earth worm, butterfly, honey bee, numberless and unnamed birds, insects, flies help pollinate, propagate, preserve and promote plant life. How can poison- which pesticide is- for one form of life help permit, sustain or promote other forms of life?

Rachel Carson

Now Rachel Carson a marine biologist – only the second woman to be employed by the US Fisheries dept- entered the scene. She had studied the marine life in the oceans and had three books to her credit- all acclaimed works of the 1950s. She had found that all life forms are connected through the food chain. What affects one affects all.


Public domain via Wikimedia commons.
US Fish and Wildlife Service.

Her research revealed traces of DDT in marine animals and birds like penguins, which were thousands of miles away from  the areas where DDT was sprayed! She found that the chemical stayed in the system and accumulated in the fat tissues. The chemical’s effect stayed for weeks and months after they were sprayed. They were not washed away by rains. The targeted pests developed resistance, while the generally weakened ecosystem was affected by other organisms. She proposed to write a series of articles about these experiments in the much reputed Readers’ Digest, but they did not entertain the proposal.

Finally, she came up with her book THE SILENT SPRING in 1962. It encountered savage opposition from the chemical industry lobby, the likes of giant Du Pont, from establishment scientists and other interests. Some even questioned her scientific credentials. A former US Secretary of Agriculture is even reported to have alleged that she must have been a communist because she had not married in spite of being good looking!

From the Book of the Month Club promotional literature, with endorsement by Justice William O.Douglas.
Shown here for purely non-commercial educational purpose.

However the (then) academic community and the public saw the truth of her work and the book gained  esteem, and soon emerged as a cult book. She said that the chemical industry spread disinformation and the officials were uncritical in accepting industry’s claims. President Kennedy satisfied himself about the scientific validity of her findings through a committee of scientists. The public opinion turned so overwhelmingly against DDT that use of DDT was banned. It also led to the US govt creating the Environmental Agency!


But the real or core theme of the book was not just about DDT. It was far greater. Carson noted that the overall impact of human presence on the environment was negative. She questioned the very paradigm of scientific progress. She pleaded for a major change in modern man’s attitude towards nature. In an interview shortly before her death in 1964, she said:

Man’s attitude toward nature is today critically important simply because we have now acquired a fateful power to alter and destroy nature. But man is part of nature and his war against nature  is inevitably a war against himself.

We are challenged as mankind has never been challenged before to prove our maturity and our mastery, not of nature but of ourselves.

Silent Spring ranks as one of the epoch-making books of the last century. It is at base an indictment of the claims of the science establishment. It has permanently altered our consciousness about Nature, and alerted us to the dangers of human interference with eco systems, where things are interconnected in ways scientists have not fully explored or understood.

Rachel Carson’s scientific findings are entirely in accord with ancient Indian Wisdom.

Rachel Carson is the mother of modern environmental movement. She may or may not be openly recognised for her work, but she has changed the world’s consciousness about Nature in fundamental ways. Man cannot now go back.  I salute her as the foremost of the modern Rishis. 

Rachel Carson sought to bridge the gulf between the modern mind and Nature.
 Here is a bridge in memory of Rachel Carson at Pittsburg.
Jet Lowe, photographer.
Public domain via Wikimedia commons.

In the Hindu tradition, the Rishi is neither a philosopher nor a theologian. The philosopher speculates, the theologian imagines and invents. Both build systems, and schools. And both keep disputing among themselves. This results in endless proliferation of new schools.
A Rishi is not interested in disputes and arguments. He does not care to build systems or theories. His attitude is: ‘This is the discipline I followed, and this is what I found. If you follow the discipline you too may find it. In fact, you must find it yourself. Do not take my word as your truth. Try it, test it and take it if it is your experience’.
In this sense, the Rishi is the true “scientist.”#

To be continued……………………….


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