Ajai R. Singh MD

Ajai R. Singh MD | Editor, Mens Sana Monographs [2003- ] | At PubMed, PMC, NLM, OCLC etc | Short Bio [For talks] | Monographs, Book and Book Chapters | Lectures, Awards, Orations | Music, 'Musical Embrace' & Ghalib | Music: About the artiste | Poetry | Life and Influences | Contact

A peep into man's histority (Contd. I)




Indian History


The Vedic period, and even the Upanisadic one which followed it, accorded primacy to Vedic scriptures as divine authority. This was challenged little, if at all, even in the philosophical germinations that were the Upanisads. It was in the Epic period which arose, amongst other things, as a direct intellectual stir against the unquestioned supremacy of the Vedas that one finds it in its full-blown form. This was represented, on the one hand, by the Materialism of the Carvakas or the Lokayatikas, and on the other, by the Pluralistic Realism of the Jainas and the Ethical Idealism of the Early Buddhists. All three rejected the authority of the Vedas and were atheistic in their philosophy. The Carvakas were rank hedonists (the susikshit or educated Carvakas were a later development) and were first in breaking the fascination with the past that exemplified the Vedic age. They applied, "a judgement free from the fancies of theology and dictates of authority. When people begin to reflect with freedom from presuppositions and religious superstitions, they easily tend to the materialist belief, though deeper reflection takes them away from it. Materialism is the first answer to how far our unassisted reason helps us


in the difficulties of philosophy" (Radhakrishnan 1983; 285). It is also true that materialism has been the major driving force of most political philosophy in modern times. And for most of its proponents, as for their followers, this is its fundamental attraction. The reason as much for its study, as its inter­pretation for modernist paradigms, and pedigree linkages to supremacy of reason. One suspects that this is to consciously avoid looking beyond the frontiers of materialist belief for fear of ideological disruption, thinning in the ranks of followers, and dampening of an enthusiasm that is a major factor in keeping up the show, and the self-deception that goes along with it. Of course to remember that our first answers are often only impulses and a means to find easy solutions is to acknowledge the essential impermanence of thought itself; and to reject the simulation of finality that is the major need, and ploy, of such dogmatism as perpetually searches for some semblance of order in a universe of thought characterized fundamentally by unpredictable and chaotic responses. This dogmatism is a characteristic as much of the believer as its staunchest critic; for if belief can be blinding, its criticism can be no less so opinionated. And fanatic espousals are characteristic as much of one as the other.


The Ramayana and the Mahabharata were also products of the Epic period. Unquestioned authority of the so-called moral order was crumbling and needed reiteration by a Rama and a Krsna. Hence, though stories of the Vedic age, they became literary products of the Epic period. That these were attempts to offset the anarchical forays of materialist over-belief becomes obvious when one studies both the timing and the essential thrust of these works.


The Epic period was "... keenly alive to intellectual interest, a period of immense philosophical activity and many sided development... The people were labouring with the contradictions felt in the things without and the mind within ... (But) with the intellectual fervour and moral seriousness were also found united a lack of mental balance and restraint of passion ... Sorcery and science, scepticism and faith, lisence and asceticism were found commingled. When the surging energies of life assert their rights, it is not unnatural that many yield to unbridled imagination. Despite all this, the very complexity of thought and tendency helped to enlarge life. By its emphasis on the right of free enquiry, the intellectual stir of the age weakened the power of traditional authority and prompted the cause of truth. Doubt was no longer looked upon as dangerous" (Radhakrishnan 1983; 272; parenthesis added). Free enquiry of course weakens the power of traditional authority but does not necessarily prompt the cause of truth. This is especially so when lack of mental balance, of restraint of passion, or a surfeit of unbridled imagination gain hold over the creative capacities of the more fertile minds. The sickly minded and those suffering from reduced vitality and weak nerves the world over in the mean­while, "try to heal their sickness by either seeking repose and calm, deli-


verance and nirvana through art, knowledge, morality, or else intoxication, ecstasy, bewilderment and madness". (Radhakrishnan 1983; p. 272).

This was the beginning of the first robust questionings of established dogma in India. Doubt was no longer considered a taboo, enquiry gained ascendancy over faith, religion gave way to philosophy. "When attempts are made to smother the intellectual curiosity of people, the mind of man rebels against it, and the inevitable reaction shows itself in an impatience of all formal authority and a wild outbreak of the emotional life long repressed by the discipline of the ceremonial religion ... (But we also know that) when once we allow thought to assert its rights it cannot be confined within limits" (Radhakrishnan, 1983; 273; parenthesis added). Of course to suppress curiosity can arouse rebellion as a backlash. Rebellion by its very nature is impatient, rejects formal authority and is sustained by a surging core of emotionality. But the difficulty it causes is by refusing to believe in limits. To obviate this many revolutionary rebellions seek to channellize its raw power by well-worked out theoretical formulations. But all that the more successful amongst them achieve is to strait-jacket an emotion that must only burst its frontiers in the long run. Both the totalitarian aftermath of most such revolutions and their continuous endeavour to maintain conformity and stifle dissent, and the growing disillusionment with goals and methods that most earlier propaga­tors and champions experience, have to be understood in this perspective. For the veil must fall from the eyes sometime or the other, and the resultant ideological disruption becomes the first important step in search of meanings.

When the masses were dissatisfied with the brilliance of the Vedas and the interpretations of the Upanisads, it became difficult to continue upholding the old faith. Short-cuts to salvation appeared tempting. "When everybody thinks that life is suffering, at least a doubtful blessing, it is not easy to con­tinue in the old faith". (Radhakrishnan 1983; 274) So many metaphysical fancies and futile speculations were put forward because, "An age stricken with a growing sense of moral weakness is eager to clutch at any spiritual stay" (Radhakrishnan 1983; 274). When an order crumbles prematurely, anarchy of thought and governance is inevitable. Faith not only sustains itself, it sustains the semblance of an order that serves to prop up a crumbling edifice till the time a fresh one can be erected. That it may retard the erection of a fresh one is true only in case where it is blindly used. But the advent of free enquiry heralds the end of its reign. And this end becomes for some synonymous with the end of faith itself. An inability to allow for contradic­tions to co-exist coupled with a new found joy of conquest results in an annihilatory fervour to abandon all faith. For the tyranny of reason which cannot couple with faith, which cannot accept that their mutual contradiction is as complementary as ostensibly adversarial, matches the tyranny of blind subservience to faith itself. And paradoxically the blindness of conceit, malice and malevolence can be as much a product of unbridled faith as of unbridled enquiry. Idle fantasies and futile speculations are then only measures of the



short-cuts that such a free-thinking must inevitably engage energies in. Equally strong grows the urge to do away with the trammels of unleashed thought. What begins to grow almost imperceptibly in the background, and this is of importance, is an amalgam that combines the robust enquiry of the free-thinker with the steadfastedness of the believer. This lays the background of enquiry that is as resolute as persistent. It lays the background for all significant philosophizing.

Thus resulted what can be considered the three main parts of this intel­lectual stir in the History of Indian philosophy: (1) the systems of revolt represented by the Carvakas, Jainism, and Buddhism (600 B.C.); (2) theistic reconstruction in the form of: (i) Bhagavad Gita (where Krsna was repre­sented as the incarnation of Visnu and the eternal Brahman of the Upanisads); (ii) the later Upanisads (e.g. the Saivism of the Svetasvatara); and (iii) even the Mahayana form of Buddhism, where Buddha became an eternal god (500 B.C.); (3) the speculative development of the six systems of Indian thought namely, Samkhya, Yoga, Nyaya, Vaisesika, and the two Mimamsas, starting around 300 b.c. and attaining definiteness around 200 a.d. (Radhakishnan 1983; 276).

A small comment on the first major reaction to the Vedic dogma by the Carvaka materialists would not be out of place here. We learn from it where uncontrolled thought breaking loose from all restrictions lands us. Rejecting both Vedas and the ideal of God, Heaven and Hell, they considered religion a foolish aberration, a mental disease. According to them natural phenomena were falsely traced to gods and demons. They had to be differentiated from the old religion of custom and magic. Efforts at such improvement could not succeed unless the indifference and superstition of centuries of blind belief got shaken by an explosive force like the Carvaka ideology. For this it be­came necessary to declare that the spirit of man was independent. And it became equally important to reject the supremacy of authority, for nothing could be accepted by man which did not appeal to his reason. Thus the strangehold of dogma and obscurantism got loosened. Free enquiry and man's speculative genius flowered. Thus far Carvaka ideology makes sense, and that probably is its greatest attraction for today's man. But see where further extrapolation of this thinking led them. What was material alone was real, they said. Pleasure and pain were the central facts of life. Hence virtue was a delusion and enjoyment the only reality. When the material is given such exclusive significance, personal pleasure and pain become the prime moti­vators of human endeavour. Considerations of virtue and morals that promote societal good appear imposed upon, a burden to be overthrown as one over­throws the authority that appears to restrict one's quest for speculative genius and/or unbridled material enjoyment. For both have the uncanny ability to go together, if not at the individual level, as a subtle undercurrent that supports such articulation in others, whatever one's professed life-style for public consumption. This life, then, was the end of every thing for the


Carvakas. They proclaimed the doctrine of uncontrolled energy, of self-assertion and what significantly went with it, reckless disregard for all autho­rity, convention and norms. These become for them hindrances in assertion of one's rights, one's independence. The danger in this reasoning becomes immediately apparent when extended to its logical conclusions. This the Carvakas did not fail to by saying that it was not right for some one to govern and another obey, since all men were made of the same stuff. The result of such thinking was an adventurous indulgence in passions and reckless dis­regard for all authority. What started with resolute questioning did not take long to become a head-long dive into individual pleasure-seeking. And not all the Ethical Hedonism of the Sidgwicks and the Utilitarianisms of J.S. Mills has been able to save man from these blind pursuits the world over. This manifests as much in the stranglehold of consumerism and fashion-waves as in territorial hegemony and super-power rivalries, and the arms and other races, for fastness and speed (yes, even the other 'speed'), wherein the mad rush for material welfare must trample underfoot man's humanism itself. This, for all the hue and cry that thinkers of all persuasions, philoso­phers as well as others, have raised but fought a losing battle over. And, if this fight appears endlessly irresolvable, it also leaves in its wake a desert-track of demoralization, pessimism and a lack of exactly that pleasure that it professes to promote. For "in a stratified, if not fragmented, society, if we are exclusively concerned with our own sectarian or highly private needs, we deny, wittingly or unwittingly, others the means to satisfy their own needs which are not congruent with ours. Fastened to our own needs, we get alienat­ed from and become opposed to others' needs. In the process we harm the social cohesion" (Chattopadhyaya 1987; 2). Confusion, chaos, anarchy, in conviction and action, thus become inevitable.


Western History





Enter content here

Enter supporting content here