Sunday 17 March 2013

The story of philosophy

Philosophy is rather a very difficult and complex subject and more so if it is closely linked with religion as it is in India.
India is not only a diverse country in terms of geography but its philosophy too has a distinct and diverse touch. There are six main streams of philosophy in India, each different from the other and all of them tracing their origin to the compositions of the Upanishads and the Vedic Ages.
One of the India’s modern philosophers, Dr. S. Radhakrishnan himself has acknowledged that the oldest of the Upanishads composed during the later Vedic Age constitute “the earliest philosophical compositions of the world”.
The period in north India between 1000 BC and 600 BC is generally accepted as the Later Vedic period. This is also called as the Epic Age because the two great epics- Ramayana and Mahabharata- came to be written during this period.
By then the centre of Aryan civilization had shifted from the Saraswathi to the Ganges. It was during this time that the philosophical streams slowly emerged from the Upanishads.
The central theme of the Upanishads or rather earlier philosophy  was to seek unity in diversity. Truth was the overriding concept and earlier philosophy is indebted to Ajatashatru of Kashi, Janaka of Vaidehi and Asvapathi of Kaikeya and Pravahana Jaivali of Panchala who contributed in no insignificant manner to the earlier philosophical concepts.
The principle of Karma and rebirth first came into existence during this period. Though Janaka was a Kahstriya, his learning was highly respected. There is a story about how he taught a Brahmin the philosophy of life.
There was once a great sage and his disciple. The sage sent his disciple to the court of King Janaka and told him that Janaka would tell him the secret of meditation.
The disciple was surprised that his master had asked him to go to a Kshatriya. What would a non-Brahmin teach him, he sneered. However, he had to go and he went reluctantly to meet the King.
When the disciple reached the court of  Janaka, he saw the King living in luxury. He appeared disgusted and he did not want to stay in the palace any further. Janaka understood his mental turmoil and he said the disciple could leave the next day, provided he spent the night in the palace.
The disciple agreed and he was escorted to a beautifully furnished bed room. The disciple went to sleep and when he looked above the bed, he found a sword hanging by a thin stand of hair. Even the slightest breeze would make the sword begin to shake. The disciple spent the entire night trembling with fear and he did not even sleep a wink.
The next day, he went to the Janaka and raged against him. Janaka told him that was the way to meditate. Stay awake when while you meditate and understand the nuances of the world.
The sword, Janaka said, represented death and death is inevitable. “Learn to accept death and spend the time before it in learning”, was his philosophy.
This was Janaka, the philosopher king of Videha whose capital was Mithila, the present Janakapura in Terai of Nepal. He is more known as a philosopher more than as a King. So he is aptly called a philosopher-king. He is still remembered for his outstanding contribution to Hindu philosophy.
Janaka was the disciple of  Yajnavalkya and attended his discourses regularly. One day, when Janaka was listening to the Karma and rebirth theory being expounded by Yajnavalkya, a royal messenger came and informed the gathering that the royal palace had caught fire.
Many of the disciples and people who had gathered to hear the sage, ran to the palace. If some were worried about the fate of their relatives and friends, others wanted to loot. Janaka was unperturbed and continued listening to the lecture.
The royal messenger once again repeated the message. He thought that his King had not heard him. Janaka said he had heard the messenger but said he would not come. He said the pearls of wisdom are more valuable and more important pearls of  wealth.  Therefore, I am not disturbed. Besides, if the people loot the palace, it cannot be reversed. What is bound to happen, will happen. Every thing depends on God.
Janaka further said he had people to guard the palace. Let them do their job and I will do mine, he said. Even Yajanavalkya was  surprised at the words of wisdom. This is why Janaka is even regarded as one of the greatest sage kings of  India.
The Upanishads mention that Janaka convened a philosophical discourse under the leadership of Yajnavalkya. Many scholars, seers, philosophers and logicians participated in the event in which woman philosophers like Gargi and Maitrei of Mithila also gave discourses.
The women philosophers even challenged Yajnavalkya on the issue of Atma (Soul) and Parmatma (God). This Janaka was none other than the father of Sita.
The Brihadaranyaka upanished says Janaka was highly generous and he gifted Yajnavalkya a royal prize in 5 padas of gold attached to each of the horn of 1,000 cows.  
Ajatasatru of Kashi (his capital was the legendary Magadha) propounded the theory that consciousness as prajnatma pervades the human body and also ensures that the senses remain alert. However, prajnatma  absorbs the functions of the organs and withdraws into the space within the heart when one goes to sleep.
Another King, Pratardana, the son of Divodasa of Kasi, asserted that Prajnana, the right understanding, is what controls all other faculties and senses such as sight, sound, speech, breath, limbs and  even mind. He spoke about employing the symbolism of the Yajna and self-control (samyama) as an inner sacrifice (antaram agnihotram). Many of these concepts are in the Kausitaki Upanishad but Pratardana managed to further add to it.
He argued that breathing is essential for a living being but, breathing is only a symbol of  prana. One can hold his or her breath for some time, and still be alive, but one cannot be alive even for an instant, without prana. “Death occurs when prana departs and when it resumes, life arises”.
Another seminal concept of  Pratardana is that one cannot breathe and speak simultaneously. When a man speaks he cannot breathe and when he breaths he cannot speak.
 Similarly, King Asvapathi Kaikeya put forward his own theory of vaisvanara vidya or super soul which pervades all existence as Atma - vaisvanara.
Many Brahmin scholars learnt the doctrine of atma from Asvapathi. The Vaisvanara concept is explained as a higher form of meditation.  
Pravahana Jaivali, the King of Panchala, was extremely well versed in Udgitha or  recital of Sama. Many of his theories are about the path taken by the dead and how the departed soul fares on its way to rebirth. He was of the view that rebirth is only after the merits of earlier birth.
Pravahana was thus among the first to propound the concept of  karma and rebirth.
It was also during this period that the orthodox and  non-orthodox forms of philosophy emerged. This classification depended on whether the Vedas were regarded as an infallible source of knowledge.
There are six schools of orthodox philosophy and three unorthodox or heterodox schools. The orthodox schools are Nyaya or logic, Vaisesika or atomist school, Samkhya or enumeration, Yoga or the metaphysical school of Patanjali,  Purva Mimamsa or Vedic rituals and Vedanta which is based on Vedic texts and Upanashids.
The Heterodox are Jain, Buddhist and materialist or Carvaka. However, Vidyaranya, the guru of  Hakka and Bukka,  classifies Indian philosophy into sixteen schools where he includes schools belonging to Shaiva and Rasesvara thought with others.
The main schools of Indian philosophy were formalised chiefly between 1000 BC to the early centuries.
The Vedanta school is further divided into six sub-schools: Adwaitha (monoism or nondualism) which also includes the concept of Ajativada, Visishtadwaitha (monism of the qualified whole), Dwaitha, (dualism), Dwaithadwaitha (dualism-nondualism), Suddhadwaitha, and Achintya Bheda Abheda schools of thought. Besides these schools, Vidyaranya also includes Pasupata or school of Shaivism by Nakulisa: Shaiva, the theistic Sankhya school: Pratybhijna, the recognitive school: Rasesvara, the mercurial school and Panini Darsana, the grammarian school.
If Shankara was the chief proponent of Adwaitha, Madhwacharya propounded the Dwaitha school of thought and Ramanajucharya the Srivaishnava school.
Madhwacharya termed his Tatwavada the philosophy of reality.
The Madhwa line of thought gave a new turn to Indian Philosophy. Madhwa's philosophy accepts pluralism.
He accepts accepts three sources of  knowledge: Pratyaksha or perception, Anumana or inference and sabda or testimony. Another important thought was that God can only be known through the scriptures.
Madhwa said there are two tatwas or categories of reality-swatantra tatwa  or independent reality and asvantantra tatwa  or dependent reality. Vishnu, as creator of the universe, is the independent reality and his created universe is the dependent reality. The created universe comprises of jiva and matter.
Madhwa then comes up with his famous five fold division or Panchabeda concept between God, Jiva and matter. The crux of his philosophy is that no one man is like another. Just as each man is different, man and god too are different.
Madhwa  stresses on the supremacy of Hari or Vishnu. For him, the world is not maya or illusory as per Shankara but real. Bhakti is the sure way to God.
Madhwa is considered one of the most influential theologians in Hinduism. His philosophy led to the birth of bhakti or dasa movement in Karnataka, Maharashtra, Bengal and Assam.
The Dasa Koota and Vyasa Koota trace their thought to Madhwa, and Vyasa Raja, Vadiraja, Sripadaraja, Purandara, Kanaka, Vijayadasa, Jagganatha Dasa were some of the most important Vaishnava poet-composers.
Others like Jayatheertha, Raghuttama, Raghavendra Swamy, Vadiraja, Sripadaraja, Vyasa Raja, Vijendra Theerta took forward the concept of  Madhwa.
Nimbarka, Vallabhacharya, Chaitanya were also influenced by Madhwa. The Madhwa seer, Vyasa Raja was the guru of  Chainatya.
Madhwa offered a new insight and analysis of  classical Vedantic texts like the Vedas, Upanashids, Brahmasutras, Puranas, Mahabharata and Ramayana.
He laid emphasis on Taratamya or gradation of Gods and put Hari in the supreme position.
He finds a difference between atma and paramatma and says both cannot be the same. He also attacks the Adwaitha concept that God is Nirguna or without attributes.
For Madhwa, God is supreme and there is a world of difference between atma and paramatma.
“Yadhi Namaparo Na bhavet SriHari,
khathamasya vashet Jagatedabhoot.
Yadhi Namanatasya Vashe Sakalam,
Khathamevath nitya sukham Na Bhaveth.”
What this shloka means is that if man and God are one and the same, then how come man is not always happy. Why is man subject to pain and sorrow and this cannot be if man is in control of everything

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