Monday, July 22, 2024

Ancient wisdom: A journey beyond boundaries


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By Salil Gewali

The article published in your daily, “Searching within, the eternal way” by Hammarsing Kharhmar (ST April 30, 2024) and a letter “Faith imbued with scientific temper” by Deepa Majumdar (ST April 29, 2024) in reference to the Aryan Invasion/Migration Theory, give a deeper insight into what the Vedic people were known for. Both writers praised India’s “boundless knowledge”— a concept that remains somewhat elusive to modern intellectuals.
Of course, ancient Indian wisdom, which some may prefer not to call ancient, is synonymous with “seeking within” and finally realizing “You are everywhere,” not just in India or Central Asia. The concept of TIME proposed by ancient seers baffled the brilliant modern planetary scientist, Carl Sagan. The Vedic people meticulously documented every detail of the deep metaphysics in the Vedas and Upanishads, along with an endless trove of stories of various kingdoms, their kings, adventures, battles, warfare, and achievements. Regrettably, those sages missed out on mentioning a “single word” about their arduous journey into India. That became rather a matter of more discussion in the country than the profound WISDOM those enlightened sages expounded. Perhaps for this reason, the German scholar Max Müller put in considerable effort into inserting speculative theories at the behest of British administrators in India. Consequently, Max Müller, being true to his salt, aligned himself with British imperial interests, at the expense of his own scholarly integrity, as many believe. David Frawley, a scholar from Wisconsin, United States, has dedicated a major portion of his life to researching and finally exposing the ulterior motive of the British administration in employing Max Müller.
To delve a little deeper into “seeking within” as emphasized by Hammarsing, I wish to quote Swami Vivekananda and Sri Aurobindo, who realized how ancient sages of India lost themselves in the cosmic sea of Supreme Consciousness — the doctrine of ‘Aham Brahmasmi’, as mentioned by Deepa Majumdar.
However, I intentionally refrain from quoting Indian spiritual masters to avoid potential slander. Instead, I refer directly to the thoughts of one of the greatest thinkers and scientists of modern times, Erwin Schrödinger. Renowned for his groundbreaking contributions to quantum mechanics, Schrödinger found solace in the Vedantic teachings of ancient Indian sages. He was particularly struck by the concept of the INSEPARABLE relationship among invisible particles, human beings, the universe, and Divine power. Unfortunately, some prolific writers persistently harp on the notion that Indian literature lacks scientific temper.
In his acclaimed book, “My View of the World,” the father of quantum mechanics, E. Schrödinger, expounds the ideas enshrined in Vedanta by asserting: “This life of yours in which you are living is not merely a piece of the entire existence, but is in a certain sense the whole; only this whole is not so constituted that it can be surveyed in one single glance. This, as we know, is what the sages (of India) express in that sacred, mystic formula, which is yet really so simple and so clear: ‘Tat tvam asi’ — THAT IS YOU. That denotes ‘universal consciousness.’” Schrödinger further writes, “Or, again, in such words as ‘I am in the EAST and in the WEST, I am below and above, I am this whole world.’ Thus, you can ‘throw yourself flat on the ground’, stretched out upon Mother Earth, with the certain conviction that you are ‘one with HER and SHE with you.’ Though very difficult to understand, this is how.”
In essence, when one achieves purification through unwavering meditation or selfless action without attachment and aversion, being free from materialistic trappings and transcending the dimension of “mine and yours,” one begins to perceive all elements of nature- streams, flowers, trees, hills, mountains, seas, stars, etc. —nothing but his or her extension floating in “one” super consciousness.
In amazement at the universality of the ancient wisdom of Upanishads, Schrödinger further, with conviction, writes in another book, “What is Life?” – “Vedanta teaches that consciousness is singular, all happenings are played out in one universal consciousness, and there is no multiplicity of selves.” That means there is no question of ‘who is who’ and ‘who comes from where’. This human life in this “impermanent” abode is just like a bubble in water that may burst at any moment. All beings are here for their self-purification or to burn out their past accumulated karma. Yes, when one’s mundane identity and boundaries cease, the enlightenment gradually overwhelms one. All material opulence and luxury seem puny and trivial thereafter. Knowingly or unknowingly, every human being is striving “for that goal” ever since he/she comes out of the mother’s womb.
In my understanding, in the modern context, what Schrödinger encapsulated about Vedantic thoughts in some paragraphs, particularly concerning LIFE and the relationship between invisible particles of an object, space, and the universe, as well as the laws of karma, is far more compelling and intriguing than thoughts expressed by revered Aurobindo, Vivekanand, and Dayanand Saraswati. This is because most of us do not hold the thoughts of Indian spiritual masters in high esteem, nor do we have time for meditation or self-enquiry practices; instead, we place our blind trust solely in the assertions of Western scientists. Furthermore, the “Unified Theory of Upanishads” has emboldened 20th-century scientists, who encountered similar concepts in their quest to advance science. One of the greatest physicists and the Nobel Laureate Werner Heisenberg acknowledged this influence, stating: “After conversations about Indian philosophy, some of the ideas of Quantum Physics that had seemed so crazy suddenly made much more sense. This was a great help for me.” The interrelationship, interconnection, and interdependence of all things (animate and inanimate), as enshrined in the Upanishads, opened up a new perspective for modern scientists, including the Nobel laureates Niels Bohr and Brian David Josephson.
Nothing is a bigger paradox than that the scholars who initially struggled to distort Indian history with their speculative theories later in life came to appreciate and praise the knowledge of India. Max Müller, the main architect of the controversial Aryan Invasion/Migration Theory, was one of the first among them. Later in life, Müller eventually opened himself up to lauding India’s contributions to the world. In his book “India: What Can It Teach Us?” he proclaimed: “If I were asked under what sky the human mind has most fully developed some of its choicest gifts, has most deeply pondered over the greatest problems of life, and has found solutions of some of them which well deserve the attention even of those who have studied Plato and Kant, I should point to India. And if I were to ask myself from what literature we who have been nurtured almost exclusively on the thoughts of Greeks and Romans, and of the Semitic race, the Jewish, may draw the corrective which is most wanted in order to make our inner life more perfect, more comprehensive, more universal, in fact more truly human a life… again I should point to India.”
When the scholars, initially entrusted with the devious assignments by the British administration, began to express contrary views and praise India, key colonial administrative figures such as Thomas Macaulay, John Strachey, and Sir Charles Trevelyan fumed with indignation. It was as if the carefully constructed narrative was falling apart under the weight of “inconvenient” truths.
What’s more, H.H. Wilson, Müller’s predecessor at the Oxford chair of Sanskrit and a stalwart of British administrative loyalty, found himself in an utterly embarrassing position. His discomfort was obvious as he tried to salvage his reputation, ultimately, in anger, calling Müller a traitor!
Alas, under the brute force of colonial oppression, the logical murmurs of dissent of Indian patriots about Indian history were ruthlessly silenced. Wrothe ng became right, right became wrong. From frying pan to the fire, the British baton of legacy was swiftly taken over by a new breed of intellectuals driven with specific ideology.
Finally, I sincerely wish we had brushed aside what Max Müller propounded while under the employment of British colonial masters and embraced the profound truths he fervently asserted about India once he was liberated from his employer’s obligations. Had we done so, we all might certainly have been freed from the burden of prejudices against our own country and be inspired to “seek within, the eternal way” as underscored by Hammarsing.


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