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A peep into man's histority: the lessons for today (full text)

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Reprint from

Journal of Indian Council of Philosophical Research(JICPR)


(Editor Daya Krishna)


Ajai R. Singh M.D.

Shakuntala A. Singh Ph.D.


A peep into man's histority: the lessons for today



KEM Hospital, Bombay



Joshi’s College of Arts, Thane


' "The reason why I was born a jackal", says a character in the Mahabharata, "is that I was a counterfeit pundit, rationalist and critic of the Vedas, being devoted to logic and the useless science of reasoning, a proclaimer of logical arguments, a talker in assemblies, a reviler and opposer of priests in arguments about Brahman, an unbeliever, a doubter of all, who thought myself a pundit".' (Radhakrishnan 1983; 484-5, wherein he quotes from the Mahabha­rata thus).


No. We shall not be led into justification or rebuttal of the stand-point that this quotation almost tempts us to launch into. For if, reason and logical arguments, coupled with opposition to priest-hood and the attendant dogma is precisely what makes for philosophy for some (and also why the label philo­sophy to whatever goes on in the name of Indian philosophy is suspect accor­ding to them, since it often boils down to the authority of this or that precep­tor) it can be equally forcefully argued that what goes on in the name of the defense of reason and conceptual analysis is more hair-splitting argumenta­tion of aimless meanderings whose internal coherence and apparent consis­tency only camouflage the essential lack of inclination, or ability, in its profes­sors to rise above their own encapsulated world-viewing. If the proper, or rather only, concern of philosophy is to be the analysis of concepts, then it is analysis which is supreme, and concepts qua concepts, their worth, their expanse, their intrinsic merit or otherwise become secondary to its domain. Now of course it can serve the purposes of some to view philosophy thus. But it serves their purpose, and the purposes of their philosophizing. It is a moot point whether it serves the purpose of philosophy itself.

Reason and its justification have worth only up to the limits of their own expertise. Stretching it beyond this serves the purpose neither of the under­standing of concepts nor their analyses. This indeed is what the above quota­tion can be said to mean when it talks of counterfeit pundits, of rationalists who criticize the Vedas and revile assemblies, unbelievers and doubters who oppose authority and seek thereby, albeit unconsciously, to establish their own. And now if we deem it worthwhile to re-read the above quotation it may not appear as shocking and sacrilegious to our modernist sensibilities as it seemed. For it anticipates the way arguments about Indian philosophy, or for


that matter about Indian thought itself, has bared of its psyche over the last few years to those who must both study and guide it, either on a course of pluralistic heterogeneity or seek to extract a homogeneous substratum and reject all the residue. This is the essence of the Karl Potter-Daya Krishna controversy (Daya Krishna 1984, Karl Potter 1985), for example; but it only reflects a wider difficulty with the systematization of Indian thought that has stumped most reasoned analyses. For it seeks thereby to stretch the limits of reason itself, probably considering it limitless; and unable to see therein the relevance, and irrelevance, of varied viewpoints, whether of our rationalities or our beliefs. And it is not reason, neither is it cognition, nor faith, nor even a judicious amalgam of all these that can serve as a master-tool. Simply be­cause there is no master-tool, here as anywhere else. There are only reference-points, intersecting issues, and relevant or irrelevant departures. This need apply to all enterprises of man, whether his forays in the fields of the natural and physical sciences, the social sciences, or the humanities. His philosophy is no less immune to this generalization. Philosophy, rather, should project this cognition in its utmost brilliance, and not straitjacket itself in adventitious barricades of simulated orderliness. Lack of order is not necessarily disorder, nor is presence of order a guaranteed protector against disorder. Lack of order is often necessary to the vitality of thought, and when order is only the second name for regimentation of thought, is the sign of a philosopher's personal search for order in the midst of a plethora of anarchical mushroom-ings that bombard his sensibilities and make him react to them with the weapon he has honed to perfection, his reasoning. But to realise that the weapon is good and efficient only up to a limit is probably the first important landmark in the philosopher's respect for man's cognitive enterprise and genius. And probably also just compensation he must repay to the branch that has offered him so much. It is not a compensation, really. It is only a repay­ment that must ensure a fresh loan to launch a more robust enterprise of enquiry on.

Suffice it for the present, for this is a topic by itself and indeed much can be said for either side, whatever one's personal inclinations or likings. We only need to keep at the fore-front of our consciousness that we do not hoist our personal needs and likings on to our philosophizing; personal needs and likings, mind you, not personal cognitions. For cognitions cannot but be hoisted. In fact what are we doing but that? And needs have two aspects, one, creative and positive, the second, alienative and negative (Chattopadhyaya 1987; 2). While the former needs to be forwarded, the latter which often impin -ges on and obstructs its genuine articulation, has to be assiduously guarded against. We realize you may be itching to point out holes in this argument. We shall discuss the further ramifications of this in the last section. Preserve it till then, if preserve it you must.

But, then, let us come back to the quotation with which we started. We Indians are a funny people. We have been big-talkers, often boasters of empty


slogans of a glorious past, of religion and of ethics, ever ready to offer advice, hair-splitters and hypocrites, sycophantic pen pushers and avaricious god-men. And yet we are also one amongst the few great ancient cultures to have survived, whatever that may mean. There is also no doubt that for most skeptics and India-baiters of yester-years, its attraction is its incredible disparity, its chaotic responses, its two-faced outlook to faith and finance whose tangles one finds in every sphere of Indian life. This is also the India to which they come back, again and again, from which they can never totally alienate them­selves even if they are never able to identify with it consciously. Perhaps in this lie shades of their racial unconscious.


Reason and criticism have always been looked down upon in the true-bred Indian Brahmanic tradition. It upholds the testimony of one or the other authority, whether the Vedas, dharma (moral order), or the ruler. The reasons for this may not be far to seek. In a cultural milieu that must breed and encourage conformity, sycophancy and loyalty are prized qualities as much as dissent, criticism and the will to differ become dangerous and subversive. Again, when the wish to uphold order, any order (disorder included) against lack of order is accorded primacy, there cannot but result opposition to radical change, and to such questioning of authority as appears to undermine its power. This means to uphold rule, even if despotic, against anarchy, even if promising of reform.


But such reasons and answer seeking appear correct only when one turns a blind eye to the lessons of History. Their superficiality becomes apparent immediately on any serious discussion of the subject. Let us see how.





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