Monday, July 7, 2008

Conviction Vs. Devotion

Conviction and Devotion seems like synonyms. Conviction in something can be considered as Devotion, and vice versa. But the difference between two words, if seen through real life examples, becomes quite apparent. This doesn’t mean these two words denote opposite spectrum. They can be consider as counter-weights. Let’s try to first figure out the differences.

Devotion to God, for example, is seen as a spiritual way to life. Conviction in God can lead people to do horrific crimes in the name of God. Devotion is a personal choice, a personal issue. There is not competition with anyone; there is no comparison with others. Conviction makes people take obligatory moral high ground in comparison with others. ‘I believe in this and I know this is a better thinking line than yours.’ ‘I know I am correct and I know you are wrong.’ This sort of conviction brings humans back to realm of harsh reality. Or perhaps, it creates harsh realities. Devotion on the other hand has power to lift the soul to higher bliss that can transcendence any sort of division and helps identifying individual with greater power. Mere conviction needs defense to survive while Devotion thrives on embraces. Devotion inspires people rather than imposing ideologies.

Conviction helps individuals dissociating themselves from their acts – mostly satanic acts. The thinking line is that this sort of thing has to be done. For the betterment of humanity, this killing has to be done. For the better future this cleansing has to be done. Hitler for example was convinced that his is the superior race and with this conviction he proceeded to slaughter millions of people. Spanish conquistadors were convinced that their faith is the only faith to be followed and with this conviction they wiped off native races of American continent. It blinds people to think rationally, see clearly and act without prejudices. The irony is that conviction drugs people into belief that their heavily prejudiced acts are in fact best example of unpartisan behavior. Conviction makes people see world in only one way. If that’s not the case then they go to any extent to make it their way. To motif is to stand corrected is the only aim and any other way is starkly sacrilegious.

In spite of differences I think conviction is a first step towards devotion. An individual needs to believe in something to begin with. But then he needs to understand the reasons behind his beliefs. If he stops there and becomes rigid, then the belief system won’t stand against the tide of time. Of course, there will be damage. If that person continues his journey by refining his thought process; continues to believe that there still lays unexplored territory in his mind and the ultimate aim of mind is to search for truth then conviction becomes devotion. Such thought process doesn’t try to proselytize others. It attracts people with its intelligent fragrance.

This I think should be the goal for everyone.

Thursday, December 27, 2007


I am currently reading Indian Philosophy Volume I by Shri S. Radhakrishnan – honorable president of India and one of the greatest philosophers of 20th century India. I intend to post the important points from Radhakrishnan ji’s historical commentary followed by his philosophical commentary.

The Italics are directly from the book. I have given the page number after Italic letters, so that it’s easier for anyone to cross check the information in these posts. Also, the thoughts that are mine, I am starting them by clearly saying “I think”. Some of these thinking lines can be wrong but rest of the material is inferred from the book itself.

The intention of these posts is to give basic outline about Buddhism as a special school of thought in Hinduism. In the book there are further two chapters on Buddhism and I will go over them too and will post them in different thread.

Literature -:
For the earliest accounts of Buddhism we refer to Pitakas or the basket of Law. (343) These laws weren’t transmitted when Buddha was alive but they are closest to the Buddha’s life span.
(Radhakrishnan states that these Pitakas were written possibly in 214 B.C. but I don’t agree with them. Recent archeological evidences takes the time line of Indian history further into the past. Such evidences were not available to Radhakrishnan and hence, he sticks to the Aryan invasion around 1500 B.C. and constructs the following historical events accordingly.)

Right after Buddha’s death, there was a dispute among his disciples about Buddha’s actual teachings. To solve this dispute there was council meeting among the most learned Buddhist Bhikkus which includes Upali,(343) the oldest disciple of Buddha, took place near Magadha. Various bhikkus read the actual teachings and it seems that they solved the dispute. (Though, Radhakrishnan doesn’t make this clear.)

The teachings of Buddha were written down only around 80 B.C. Before that the teachings were orally transmitted. The Pali (344)canon has three divisions
I) Sutta or tales -.
II) Vinaya or discipline -
III) Abidhamma or doctrine.

There are further divisions in each of the above three main categories. But I didn’t go into the details.

The basic outline of Buddha’s life - :

He was born to King Shuddhodhan and his wife Maya. His birth name was Sidhartha. The meaning of the word Sidhartha is “he who have accomplished his aim.” (347) All though, Radhakrishnan gives the birth year of Buddha as 567 B.C., I think he was born way before that for the reasons stated at the beginning of this project.

The meaning of the Buddha is the knower or the enlightened one. Sidhartha was heir to to Sakya dynasty. His mother died when he was just seven days old. He was brought up by Shuddhan’s second wife Mahayapati.

Sidhartha was married to his cousin Yashodhara and they had son named Rahul. As most of the people know that Prince Sidhartha was disturbed by the pain and suffering of the human beings. Though he was a prince and hence, enjoying all the benefits and luxuries of life, he failed to understand the transience and uncertainty of life.(347).

“Impressed by the emptiness of the things of sense” (349) Sidhartha decided to follow the old tradition of ascetic lifestyle and left his family and life of luxuries for good. After years of prayers and meditation, he found the truth and became Buddha. After realizing the truth he “felt charged with the mission to announce to the doomed multitudes the way to everlasting felicity”. (349). He gave first sermon Dharmachakrapravartan to the five of his ascetic friends who became his first disciples. The movement grew from there as more and more people joined this sect which talks more about ethical way to lead the life rather than bulky metaphysical philosophy.

He is said to have attained the Mahaparinirvan at the age of 80.

Prevailing conditions -:

According to Radhakrishnan it is imperative for us to learn the prevailing conditions during the rise of Buddhism in India. It helps us to understands the way certain aspects of Buddhism developed.

According to him, Veda’s had gained the mystic sense of respect in the society. The six major schools of thoughts in Hinduism weren’t developed but they seems to be under construction. He says that moral life was suffering in the society as people were more concerned about the metaphysical world rather than reality. I guess, he means that the violence and ritualism was at it’s peak and people were missing out on the real purpose of their existence. “Buddha was stuck by the clashing enthusiasms, the discordant systems, the ebb and flow of belief, and drew from it all his own lesson of the futility of metaphysical thinking”. (353)

From the little history I know about that period, I think, there was rampant wars between all the petty kings in order to expand their empire. With so much violence, morality and ethics of working properly were questioned. And, common people couldn’t find answers to their moral conundrum from the religious authorities. Hence, Buddhism picked up quickly because “Buddhism is essentially psychology, logic and ethics, and not metaphysics”. (353)

But did Buddha wanted to form different religion at all? Personally, I don’t think so. The basic nature of Buddhism does not point towards prosylitization as it’s objective. It is more about .”.resembles positivism in its attempt to shift the centre from the worship of God to the service of Man. Buddha was not so keen about founding a new schee of the universe as about teaching a new sense of duty”. (357) Further, Radhakrishnan suggests that Buddha didn’t set out to start something radical and didn’t intend to completely destroy the old way of life. He saw his contemporary society as exerting more on rituals and not-so-useful metaphysics rather than figuring out the truth. He had positive attitude towards changing the situation rather than grudge towards the old traditions. His main concern was societies dependence on supernatural power rather than rationality.

I think Buddha was telling people to stick to the Karma and figure out the actions and reactions from the Karma point of view rather than thinking in terms of God’s boon or curse. He was rationalist “Buddha had so firm a grip of the connectedness of things that he would not tolerate miraculous interferences of the cosmic order or magical disturbances of mental life.” (359)

Buddha and the Upanishad
Radhakrishnan constantly refers to Rhys Davids when it comes to referring Buddha’s life. So, I am beginning this topic with rather reassuring quote from Rhys Davids. He says “Gautama was born and brought up and lived and died a Hindu” (361)

Radhakrishnan says that Buddha’s philosophy wasn’t aberration or “it’s not freak in the evolution of Indian thought” (360).

As I said earlier, Buddha was restructuring the concepts of Karma for his contemporary society. He was a rebel not in a sense of iconoclast but rather in a sense of rejuvenator and reformer. “To develop his theory Buddha had only to rid the Upanishad of their inconsistent compromises with Vedic polytheism and religion set aside the transcendental aspect as being indemonstrable to thought and unnecessary to morals, and emphasize the ethical universalism of the Upanishad.” (360-61) According to Radhakrishnan the unnecessary importance towards rituals can be seen in Upanishad too. Furthering this thought, I think Buddha tried to imbibe in the common man the possibility of attaining moksha through pure Karma-yog. Radhakrishnan says that Buddha “classed the Brahmins along with the Buddhist mendicants, and used the word as one of honor in reference to the Buddhist arhats and saints” (361)

This part is bound to be controversial. But we have to realize that Radhakrishnan clearly states that Brahmins in later period, realizing their mistakes, accepted Buddha as the 9th incarnation of Vishnu. So, when Radhakrishnan says that Buddhism is a off-shoot of Hinduism and Buddha never intend to form something radically different by destroying the existing (i.e. Hindu) structure, he can’t be accused of being biased here.

Radhakrishnan dealt Buddhism as a religion (i.e. more political in nature) in later chapters and I will go over it in coming days.

Now we are starting our journey towards the core of the Buddha’s philosophy. And, it wouldn’t be overstatement to say that Buddha was obsessed with the nature of the sufferings in the world. He started his journey in the quest of figuring out the essence of sufferings. According to Radhakrishnan, “In the whole history of the thought no one has painted the misery of human existence in blacker colors and with more feeling than Buddha” (362)
According to Buddha there are four noble truths:
1) Suffering i.e. Dukha
2) It’s cause i.e. Samudaya
3) That it can be suppressed i.e. Nirodha
4) That there is a way to accomplish this i.e. Marga

Talking more about suffering, Buddha believes that “death is painful, decay is painful, disease is painful, death is painful, union with the unpleasant is painful; painful is the separation from the pleasant, and any craving that is unsatisfied, that too is painful. (362)

In order to not to be besieged by the grief, Buddha believes that soul has to escape from this cycle and attain Nirvana. According to Radhakrishnan Buddha emphasized so much on sorrow and grief “ to make people long for escape from this world, its blackness is little overdrawn” (362)

Radhakrishnan himself believed that life is not only sorrow and grief. It’s much more than that. He refuses the assumption that pain dominates over the pleasure. But Buddha wasn’t the first one to take such a dark view of life, Upanishad talks similar to this too. Though, Buddha takes a sort of pessimism a step further. In Katha Upanishad, Nachiket asks Yama “Keep thou thy houses, keep dance and songs for thyself. Shall we be happy with these things, seeing thee?”

But in spite of Buddha’s decidedly negative view of life, Radhakrishnan says that earlier Buddhism can not be defined as pessimistic in nature. Some of the sects that developed in later Buddhism are definitely pessimistic but Buddha himself sought people to discern world of maya from the reality and then realize the true path of Nirvana. Early Buddhism believes in “liberating power of ethical discipline and the perfectibility of human nature” and (Buddha) “ asks us to revolt against the evil and attain a life of a finer quality, an arhata state” (365)

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Buddhism & Hinduism

Why am I writing so much about Buddhism? There are two main reasons, first, in today’s politically charged atmosphere it is all most impossible to get correct information. Forget about the reality of scriptures, politicians and so called ‘Samaj-Sevak’ will go to any extent to achieve their selfish agenda. In such times, it is imperative for educated people to propagate the reality. Second, need of the time is unity of Dharmic religion. Now, what is Dharmic religion? Any religion that originated from the land of Bharat is a Dharmic religion. The basic tenet of Sanatan Dharma, Sikh, Buddha and Jain Dharma are similar to the extent of being same. Yet, we keep squabbling among ourselves. The aim of Abrahmic religion is complete annihilation not only of Sanatan Dharma but also of Buddhism, Sikkhism and Jainism. If we want to survive the onslaught 2.0 of Islam and Christianity then we better stand together otherwise we are destined to join the Mayan or Incan civilization.

I have no intention of saying that Buddhism is Hinduism. How can a daughter be same as her mother? She can’t be. Yet, they are attached to each-other by umbilical chord for whole of their life. If politics dictates us to cut that chord then that’s shame on us- the educated class.

According to L.T. the similarities between Hindu and Buddhist scriptures are remarkable. The nature of a Purush who can achive Moksha are quite similar in Geeta and host of other Dhamma-pad. But the similarity doesn’t just stop here.

When ever we say that Sikhism, Buddhism and Jainism are branches of Sanatan Dharma, we usually get heated response from respective communities. But they being branches of Sanatan Dharma is as true as Sun rising at east and setting up at west. The basic tenet of all Dharmic religions i.e. Santan Sanstha, Buddhism, Sikhism and Jainism is same.

They all believe in –:
• In Karma theory
• In reincarnation
• In Moksha or Nirvana.

The world is actually a myth and humans don’t realize this ‘Maya’ and keep repeating same mistakes again and again. As in accounting, humans have to take multiple birth to negate effect of Karma. The cycle of birth and death is nothing but ‘Dukhha’ and it is imperative for a human being to work incessantly towards escaping from this cycle. Even though, ‘Yagya-Karma-kaanda’ are considered as helpful in Santan Sanstha, Upanishad clearly mentions that doing rituals isn’t ultimate way for Moksha. Buddha goes a step further and pronounces these rituals as violent and absolutely usless. (Geeta Rahasya 482) Once a person realizes this, he detaches himself from the work he is doing and achieves the Moksha.

Buddhism pretty much treads on this concept except for some minor changes. It is as if they are running along with us on this ‘Karma’ path except for certain distance where Buddha takes detour and runs parallel to Sanatan dharma for time being before joining the mainstream.

Buddha believes in the concept of Karma and reincarnation but he doesn’t agree with Sanatan Dharma that there is a ‘Brahma’- ultimate energy or gate to eternal bliss at the end of Moksha. He believes that Brahma and Aatma are myths and hence, working towards assimilation of Aatma and Brahma is useless. But if Brahma is myth then what is the ultimate way to achieve Moksha i.e. Nirvana?

Buddha believes that in order to get rid of an ailment, we need to nip it at it’s source. Similarly, in order to get rid of all ‘Dukkha’ in our life, we need to find the source and destroy it at its source. For that a person need to renounce ‘Gruhastha-aashram’ and take ‘Sanyas’. Once a person destroys Dukkha at its source, he/she don’t need to take multiple birth and they escape from the cycle. (all though, where does ‘Aatma’ goes after Nirvana is a mystery to me) The four concepts of Pain (Dukkha), it’s source ( Samuday), destruction of source (Nirodh) and way to do it (Marga) are known as Aarya-Satya.

The important concept to understand here is the ‘Marga’ that Buddha talks about is pretty similar to what Upanishad advices. But instead of calling the state of eternal bliss as Brahma-Sanstha, Brahma-bhutata or Aatma-Nishta, Buddha simply calls it as Nirvana –i.e. death of death. (Geeta Rahasya 483)

Once a person achieves Nirvana, he or she doesn’t care about human body and they are dissociated from the concepts of Paap-Punya or Karma. This concept that appears in Bruhadaranya-Upnishad comes word to word in Buddhists scriptures like Dhammapad or Milind-Prashna.

In short, Buddha firmly believes that it is impossible to achieve Nirvana while still practicing Gruhasth-Aashram. And, only way that a person can achieve Nirvana is by taking ‘Sanyas’. Then what about common man? Any peson who believes in Buddha, his Dharma and oraganization of Buddha Bikkhu is a Upasak. i.e. Buddham Sharanam gacchami, Dhammam SharaNam Gacchami, Sangham Sharanam Gacchami. All though, unlike Jain Tirthankar who rejects everything including clothes, Buddha doesn’t go this far.

An Upasak is not supposed to get tangled into rituals (as in rituals of Santan Sanstha) but he is supposed to stick to the Dharma of Ahimsa, Satyasheel behavior, philanthropy, Neeti-yogya behavior. In Sanatan-Sanstha these behavior is also expected and they are known as Smarta-Pancha-yagya. It’s quite obvious that Buddha took thise Smarta-Pancha-Yagya concepts from Sanatan Sanstha. In fact regarding this behavior Buddha himself gives example of his contemporary Brahmins. (Geeta-Rahasya 484)

Tuesday, July 3, 2007


There are three ways to comprehend our surroundings -:

Aadhi-Bhautik - which means to see world in literal form. It is akin to scientific way of seeing the world. For example, instead of saying that a beautiful flower is gift of God or gift of nature, Aadhi-Bahutik person says that this flower is a part of a-sexual reproduction process of a plant. And, flower has to be beautiful in order to attract insects and there by spreading the spores.

Aadhi-Daivik - People of this category believes that there is certain unknown reason why a flower is so beautiful. There has to be certain Devata that governs the beauty of the nature. Perhaps, Nisarga-Devata. Thus these people see the nature or world as amalgamation of various Devatas. For example - Varun-Devata for rain, Surya-Devata, Vaayu-Devata etc. Basically, these Devatas runs 'business' of Srishti.

Adhyatmik - Instead of saying there is Varun Devata or Vayu Devata or Nisarga-Devata, Adhyatmikata believes that there is all pervading Sat-Chit energy transcends everything. This energy governs natural order. It resides in human body too. I think attaining Moksha basically means leaving this world -which can only be sensed through sensory organs - and becoming part of this energy which is supreme. The idea that the supreme energy that we worship as 'God' in varoius forms and essence of human life is same is similar to Advait philosophy.

In a way there is nothing wrong in either of the three philosophies. We can think these three philosophies as steps towards Moksha i.e. understanding the reason and goal of our existance. First way is more of Naastik. With Second way we can understand that the world we see is not result of chemical and physical interactions but there is certain underlying entity that governs our existance. Worshipping different Devi-Devatas and following different rituals is an attempt to be in sync with this energy.

While third way i.e. Adhyatmik is realizing that we are in fact part of underlying entity and our final aim is to assimilate with this energy.

(Source -: Geeta-Rahasya by Shri Lokamanya Tilak)

Monday, January 15, 2007

Bhagwat Sect and Christianity

The Bhagawata sect in Hinduism exclusively worships Bhagwan i.e. Shri Krishna. I think the word Bhagwan means the one who posses all the virtues of Bhag. In the second stanza of third chapter of Bhagwad Gita, the definition of Bhag encompasses the virtues of Dharma, Aishwarya, Yash, Sampatti, Dnyan (knowledge) and Vairagya (Asceticism)

For some western philosophers, such a unquestioned devotion (Bhakti) towards Shri Krishna looks quite similar to the devotion towards Jesus Christ. And, it is true to the certain extent. But when they (western philosophers) concluded that Bhagwat sect derived its inspiration from earliest Christianity, their effort seems kind of outlandish. The reason behind this conclusion is that they think concept of monotheistic Bhakti does not appear in any of the Indian philosophy prior to the birth of Jesus Christ.

But the incidence that is usually cited as a support to the argument of Christianity influencing Bhagwat Sect goes like this -: In the Narayaniya section, Narada Muni is said to have visited Sveta-dvipa which literally means white island and the residents of this island are described as monotheistic. So, the scholars of 19th and early 20th century started arguing that some Brahmins of India actually visited the area of Asia minor in or around 1st century A.D. And, they came across the devotional monotheistic faith of Christianity which looked attractive to them. They tried to incorporate Jesus Christ as incarnation of Vishnu, similar to the something they did with Buddha. For some reason, Jesus Christ wasn’t included into the incarnations but this effort left indelible mark on those Brahmins and Bhagwatiya sect emerged from this adventure to Sveta-dvipa.

I am not sure if such theories emerged from the extreme euro-centrism or genuine confusion in interpreting the Sanskrit but as it turns out that the monotheism Bhagwat sect has nothing to do with earliest Christianity. The Bhakti yoga i.e. supreme devotion to certain god is an integral part of Indian philosophy since Rig-Veda. There are number of hymns in Rig-Veda that talks about unequivocal longing and Bhakti towards supreme energy, something akin to the monotheistic faith.

Furthering the counter argument, according to Radhakrishnan, Christianity reached India only in second or third century after Christ. Even if we believe that St. Thomas came to the Kerala, even then Christianity reached at least 50 to 60 years after Christ. Also Panini refers to Vasudev i.e. Shri Krishna and Panini lived at least seven centuries before Christ. Similarly, Chandogya Upanishad talks about Narada Muni learning Ekayana religion. Buddhism and Jain school of thoughts also talks about Bhakti. And, Jain Tirathankars lived at least eight centuries before Christ. Thus the Bhakti concept similar to the monotheism not only predates Christianity but the Bhagwat sect also existed way before Jesus Christ.

About the Sveta-Dvipa referred : It’s probably the region north of Mount Meru.