Tyagaraja and Philosophy; SRI TYAGARAJA-6 (Post No.7981)

WRITTEN BY R. NANJAPPA                        

Post No.7981

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         Tyagaraja and Philosophy

Sri Tyagaraja is generally regarded as saint-philosopher, besides being a music composer- vaggeyakara. But what exactly do we mean by philosophy or philosopher?

This is one of those words in the English language which has no precise meaning, like God, Truth. Love, Wisdom, Democracy, Socialism, Freedom, etc. It can be made to mean anything,almost.

In its primary sense,it means love of wisdom. In the ancient world, it was understood that wisdom meant knowing the real meaning of phenomena, ie the meaning  or truth of existence. So, it naturally involved ideas about creation, meaning and purpose of existence, God etc. In the beginning, only those who had had some direct knowledge or experience expressed ideas on the subject. But once verbal communication began to flourish, it came to be dominated by intellectuals who indulged in speculation and semantic disputes, so that today in the West, philosophy means mere intellectual speculation on any subject.See this definition in the Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy,2008:

The study of the most general and abstract features of the world and categories with which we think: mind, matter, reason, proof,truth,etc. In philosophy, the concepts with which we approach the world themselves become the topic of enquiry… In this sense, philosophy is what happens when a practice becomes self-conscious. The contemporary spirit …prefers to see philosophical reflection as continuous with the best practice of any field of intellectual enquiry. 

Or this entry from the Penguin  Dictionary of Philosophy,2nd Edition,2005:

….it is often held that philosophy has as a distinct subject-matter the most fundamental or general concepts  or principles involved in thought, action and reality. It is also a common view that philosophical inquiry is a second-order inquiry which has for its subject matter the concepts, theories and presuppositions present in various disciplines and in everyday life.

If philosophy is taken to be a pure disinterested search for knowledge, it is understood not to have an ulterior purpose, but to be a quest undertaken for its own sake.
So, you can talk of a philosophy of anything ! It has no relation to Truth or Wisdom, but the act of philosophising for its own sake! In this sense, we may say philosophy is what the philosopher does! It is primarily preoccupation with concepts, or words.

The practical result of this state of affairs is that we have a plethora of views and opinions on everything, and no certainty on anything! The practical implication of this is terrible for humanity: In the ancient days, philosophy everywhere was concerned with the good life and involved concepts like ethics, virtue, justice, happiness, beauty, etc. Socrates believed that philosophy was not mere belief in doctrines, but virtuous conduct (Knowledge is virtue). True wisdom results in virtuous conduct, since wrong choice between good and evil  is due to ignorance, and not any original sin. He gave up his life, rather than his way of life! 

It is not that ancient philosophers or philosophies had all the right answers, or even the answers. But they were concerned with a deeper reality behind phenomena, however variously conceived, and constantly reminded man of his place in the scheme of things in the universe. What was he here for? Is there any meaning to life or the universe? What is man’s end? The answers were diverse: the Epicureans for instance said that what senses conveyed was infallible. The Stoics said there is no certainty about anything. But they developed a way of life which gave  some direction to people, based on some notion of moral virtue.

 But modern civilization does not  entertain or employ or encourage any idea of ‘virtue’ in the public domain.There is no sense of right or wrong. Public support may be drummed up for any cause. Modern secularists will even claim that to discuss morality in the public domain is itself an infringement of human rights! As Prof. Michael Sandel of Harvard says:

Some consider public engagement with  questions of the good life to be a  civic transgression, a  journey beyond the bounds of public reason. Politics and law should not become entangled in moral and religious disputes, we often think, for such entanglement opens the way to coercion and intolerance…Citizens of pluralist societies do disagree about morality and religion.

From: ‘Justice’- What is The Right Thing To Do? ,, Penguin,’2010. This is an important book which discusses this issue with current examples.

In short, modern society has become amoral in the name of progress. If people do get any guidance at all to the conduct of life, beyond civic order, it is from private religious sources, which are not honoured but may be just tolerated. 
But this is not the way the word ‘philosophy’ is ( or,was?) understood in India. In fact, we do not have a word for philosophy in the Western sense- we may call it ‘matam’ ie something held with the mati ie mind. It is just opinion, not Wisdom or Truth, which we call Jnana or personal experience of Tat- that which is. This Jnana is knowledge by identity, through personal experience-aparoksha anubhuti. It is almost impossible to find English equivalents for these words.  

Philosophy in India is essentially spiritual. It is the intense spirituality of India, and not any great political structure, or social organisation that it has developed, that has enabled it to resist the ravages of time and the accidents of history.

Throughout its life it has been living with one purpose. It has fought for truth and against error.

The spiritual motive dominates life in India. Indian  philosophy has its interest in the haunts of men, and not in supra-lunar solitudes.    The great works of Indian philosophy do not have that ex cathedra character which is so prominent a feature of the latter day commentaries. The Gita and the Upanishads are not remote from popular belief. They are the great literature of the country, and at the same time vehicles of the great systems of thought. The Puranas contain the truth dressed up in myths and stories, to suit the weak understanding of the majority. The hard task of interesting the multitude in metaphysics is achieved in India.

The founders of philosophy strive for a socio-spiritual reformation of the country. When the Indian  civilisation is called a Brahminical one, it only means that its main character and dominating motives are shaped by its philosophical thinkers and religious minds, though these are not all of Brahmin birth. The idea of Plato that philosophers must be the rulers and directors of society is practised in India.The ultimate truths are truths of the spirit,and in the light of them actual life has to be refined.

Religion in India is not dogmatic. ….It is the intimate relation between the truth of philosophy and the daily life of people that makes religion always alive and real.

From: Dr.S Radhakrishnan, Indian Philosophy,Vol.I, p.25-6,  Blackie,Second Edition, 1929, reprint 1977. 
This rather long extract explains the position admirably. Though written 90 years ago, no academic has written a better account yet. 

The Veda, Upanishads and the Gita constitute the fountain head of our philosophy, which is more appropriately called Darshana or Insight.Those who gave the truths were Rishis, and Avatara Sri Krishna in the Gita. These do not contain speculation, but spiritual truths directly experienced by the Rishis. They did not make a system out of their insights, but left for earnest people to undertake the discipline and find out for themselves. Later on, some thinkers tried to clothe them in intellectual garb, made formulae/ sutras out of it, built systems of doctrine. What was pure spiritual truth became theological dogmas, held on by different schools which often disagreed and argued with each other. So, sects were formed and quarreled among themselves. It is to be noted that all the sages/saints whom we saw  in earlier postings avoided all philosophical controversy and were only interested in showing a practical way to people to meet  the challenges of changing conditions.
Once dogmas and sects based on them arose, every aspect or question of life was subject to detailed analysis by each and a mind-boggling and sense-bewildering variety of propositions was given. These controversies concerned questions such as Advaita V.Dwaita, God with form or formless. Saguna or Nirguna, Who is superior or ultimate-Shiva, Vishnu, Shakti etc, Which way to follow- Jnana, Bhakti or Karma, etc, Freewill V. Fate or predetermination, karma or Grace, etc. It is an irony that while all the commentaries claimed to be based on the  same prastanatraya, people were satisfied with the commentaries and did not go to the original sources themselves!

By the time of Tyagaraja, the position was quite bad. But he avoided all commentaries and commentators and  went to the original sources, and restated the truths based on his own personal experience and insight, in contemporary idiom and language. He has dealt with and answered all the controversies mentioned above. He has shown a practical way for changing times, but based on perennial truths. In this sense, he is a great philosopher in the Indian meaning of the term, besides being a preeminent Sadguru. We shall see his position on these matters, by and by. 


tags – Tyagaraja and Philosophy, SRI TYAGARAJA-6

to be continued……………………………………………..