Friday, 30 November 2012

Bal Thackeray: Identity Politics to the Fore

Ram Puniyani

The declaration of demise of Bal Thackeray (November 17, 2012) has brought the Mumbai city to a complete halt. Most of the news channels are relaying his death procession round the clock and having discussion about his tall stature most of the time. His grip on the city had been more or less complete from last three decades in particular. The methods he employed had some supporters on one side but for others it filled the people with fear, as his followers had been openly indulging in acts of vandalism time and over again. Today it is very difficult to say that city has come to a halt merely out of reverence for him alone or fear factor is also there behind this closure of the city will have to be assessed over a period of time.

As per some accounts Thackeray family had migrated from Bihar and finally settled in Maharashtra. Bal Thackeray came to prominence for voicing the need for jobs for ‘sons of the soil’ and with open threats to South Indians, Gujarathis, Biharis in that order. His initial role was that of breaking the left controlled trade unions, at the behest of the industrialists and section of the ruling party, Congress. This action of his had led to lot of violence between the leftist trade unions and Thackeray followers. The peak of this was murder of the CPI trade Unionist Krishna Desai, a blow from which the left trade unions could not recover.

He later jumped to bandwagon of Hidnutva politics, openly supporting the Bari demolition and playing an active part in the horrific Mumbai violence of 92-93. His writings in Saamna, the Shiv Sena mouth piece, were very provocative and could easily come under the clause of ‘Hate Speech’ but despite that the case filed by some Mumbai citizens fell through and Thackeray continued to spread his anti Muslim tirade through his speeches and writings. True later Election Commission disenfranchised him for six years from voting. After Babri demolition, someone suggested that the Shiv Sainiks were the one who demolished it; he cleverly lapped it up and said that if Shiv Sainiks have done it I am proud of that.

The violence which followed the demolition was probed by Shrikishna Commission. This commission’s findings indicted the Shiv Sena supremo. The celebration rallies were organized by Shiv Sena in Dharavi jurisdiction amongst others. The commission pointed out  

“These Celebrations by Shiv Sena had mobs which were chanting provocative slogans: Musalman Ka Do Hi Sthan: Pakistan Ya Kabristhan (Muslims can only be in: Pakistan or Graveyard). In retaliation Muslims shout: Jo ham se takarayega: Mitti me mil Jayega (Those who attack us will be decimated). 

To cite another example of Thackeray’s complicity and role in violence one recalls from Shrikrishna Commission report that “On 1st January 1993 there was an article in Samna under the caption 'Hindunni Akramak Vhayala Have’, (Hindus should become aggressive now) openly inciting Hindus to violence.” (Volume 1 page 13)

The more striking observation of the Commission was

"From the conversation which could be heard [by Yuvraj Mohite, Mahanagar Reporter, at Thackeray house during the riots], it is clear that Thackeray was directing Shiv Sainiks, Shakha Pramukhs and other activists of Shiv Sena to attack the Muslims, to ensure that they give tit for tat and ensure that 'not a single landya (a derogatory term for Muslims) would survive to give the evidence’ [vol.ii, Page 173-174]...the communal passions of the Hindus were aroused to a feverish pitch by the inciting writings, particularly in Saamna and Navakal.” [Volume 1, page 21-22]. “...and violence in January (1993) was taken over by Shiv Sena and its leaders who continued to whip up communal frenzy by their statements and acts and writings and directives issued by Shiv Sena Pramukh Thackeray.”

This is just a small sample of what was the role of Thackeray and his Shiv Sena in The Mumbai violence. After the Mumbai violence he started being called Hindu Hriday Samrat and had a total grip on the politics of Shiv Sena. He was unfazed by the impact of his beliefs and actions. In his famous interview to the time magazine (titled: Kick them out!) during this time he poured vitriol on the Muslims with all abuses and hate. As Muslims were fleeing Mumbai he said that Muslims need to be taught a lesson. If they are fleeing Mumbai, it’s OK; else they should be kicked out.

He has been an opponent of Indo-Pak friendship all through. Be it the question of Indo Pak Cricket match or the concert of Pakistani Gazal singers, Mumbai witnessed the ‘direct action’ of Shiv Sainkis in the form of digging the cricket ground pitch at Kotla cricket ground or vandalizing the Gazal concert in Mumbai. Much before the coming to fore of the terror of groups related to Sadhvi Prgya Singh Thakur or Swami Aseemanand, it was Thackeray who had called for the formation of ‘suicide squads’ by Hindus. A self avowed admirer of Hitler, he conceded that he appreciates Hitler and that he himself has many traits similar to Hitler. He believed in Thokshahi (Dictatorship) not Lokshahi (democracy).

The divisive politics of Hidutva or the identity politics built around ‘sons of the soil’ does run parallel to his opposition to the affirmative action and aspirations of deprived sections of society. True to that he opposed the implementation of Mandal Commission, indicating his anti OBC politics. He was the only one who stated it openly. The other party thoroughly opposed to Mandal, BJP, which is opposed to affirmative action for any weaker section of society, dodged the issue and intensified on Ram Temple issue to bypass this affirmative action for OBCs. Similarly Thackeray has been vehement opponent of dalit aspirations in any form. When the Maharashtra Government published Babasaheb Ambedkar’s book, ‘Riddles of Rama and Krishna, Shiv Sena stood to oppose it in a serious way and there was some violence between Shiv Sena supporters and dalits. When the issue of changing the name of Marathwada University to Ambedkar’s name came, Thackeray opposed it strongly leading to another bout of unrest. It is just a tragedy of our times that despite this clear agenda of Thackeray, some dalit parties are allying with his party at electoral level.

The massive turnout as his funeral is being read as that he was the voice of Marathi manoos. True a section of Marathi people adore him, but the larger section of poor peasants, the workers and dalits from Maharashtra know that Thackeray has been no representative of their aspirations. With so many problems nagging the poor of Maharashtra there is a need to shift the terrain of politics away from identity politics of the likes of Thackeray to the material issues related to bread, butter, shelter and employment. The politics of Hindu nation and Marathi manoos is against the values of Indian Constitution which call for the principles of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. How did Thackeray’s politics conform to these is a matter of introspection. 

Saturday, 24 November 2012

The Ontology and Epistemology of the Cārvāka/Lokāyata

Ramkrishna Bhattacharya 

What are the ontological and epistemological positions of the Cārvāka/Lokāyata? They may be stated as follows: The whole of the material world, including the human body, is made of four basic elements, namely, earth, air, fire and water; there can be no consciousness without the living body; the spirit has no extracorporeal existence and, far from being imperishable, it perishes with the death of the body. As a natural corollary to this ontological position, all religious acts, worship of the gods, paying obeisance to Brahmin priests, performance of post­mortem rites, etc. are considered absolutely futile.

The epistemological position clearly supports this ontology. Perception is admitted to be the only valid means of knowledge. Inference, in so far as it is based on religious scriptures alone, is rejected out of hand because the scriptures are not based on perception but on revelation, not amenable to verification by the senses, and thus tend to promote irrational faith in the after­life (rebirth) and the after­world (heaven and hell), God, and the omniscient being (like the Buddha or Mahāvīra) ( R. Bhattacharya (2010),21­34). In short, the Cārvāka system appeared in the Indian philosophical scene as materialismus militans, strongly objecting to and opposing all religious dogmas (not just Vedism but Buddhism and Jainism as well). Its epistemology was fashioned to match its ontology, which consisted of a series of negations. The insistence on empirical verification is the hallmark of this system. In fact one has a feeling that the Cārvākas first provided the epistemology to the ontology already current in India at least from the Buddha’s time, when Ajita Kesakambala had come out with his proto-­materialistic ideas.

Commentaries on the Cārvākastra

The question is: Do the commentators of the base text, whether or not they adhered to materialism, always reflect the intention of the author/redactor? The aphorisms in the base text, we must admit, are not self-explanatory; their brevity stands in the way oaf any satisfactory understanding. Fortunately, however, there are some aphorisms, the literal meaning of which is fairly transparent. When a commentator goes beyond the literal meaning of these aphorisms and tries to extract some other significance by resorting to grammatical and lexical acrobatics, there is every reason to suspect that he is not being true to the intention of the author/redactor. In most of the cases, however, the intention of the aphorism and its interpretations given in the commentaries are at one, although new instances and further arguments are provided to defend or to elucidate the position of the base text.

Invariance in intention and interpretation

Here is an example. There are two aphorisms: (1) “Perception indeed is the (only) means of right knowledge”, and (2) “Since the means of right knowledge is to be non­-secondary (agaua), it is difficult to ascertain an object by means of inference” (III.1­2. R. Bhattacharya (2009) 80, 87). This has led to a notion that the Cārvākas believed in one and only one instrument of cognition, namely, sense perception, while other schools admitted inference, word (verbal testimony), comparison, etc. in addition to perception. This gave rise to the obvious criticism that by denying inference, the Cārvākas proved themselves to be utterly naïve and unfit to be called logicians (cf. NM, I: 9, Vācaspatimiśra, Bhāmatī on Brahmastra, 3.3.53; C/L 154, 243).

Did the Cārvākas really hold such a view? A fragment from the commentary by Purandara has often been cited to disabuse the critics of this notion.3 Purandara said:”The Cārvākas too admit of such an inference as is well known in the world, but that which is called inference [by some], transgressing the worldly way, is prohibited [by them].” (qtd. TSP 2: 528)

Purandara was not the only one to explain the aphorism in this way. Aviddhakara, another commentator, also said: ”It is true that inference is admitted by us as a source of knowledge, because it is found to be so in general practice; (what we only point out is that) the definition of a inferential mark is illogical” (qtd. PVSV 19). He further explained: “A source of knowledge means an instrument which produces an awareness of an object not (already) cognized and therefore, is not a source of knowledge, because it is not an instrument for producing a definite awareness of an object” (ibid.). Udbhaabhaṭṭa too said so and distinguished between the (1) probanses well established in the world (lokaprasidhha­hetu) and (2) probanses established in the scriptures (tantrasiddha­hetu) (qtd. SVR 266). He resorted to the Nyāya­Vaiśeika terminology to establish why inference is to be regarded as secondary.

Some anonymous commentator4 further distinguished between two kinds of inferential cognition: (1) “some in case of which the inferential cognition can be acquired by oneself” (utpanna­pratīti ) and (2) “some in case of which the inferential cognition is to be acquired on somebody else’s advice” (utpādya­pratīti ) (NM, 1:184). He thereby suggests that the first kind is valid, the second is not.

Did all these commentators then desert the original position of the base text? Some modern scholars indeed think so (Frauwallner (trans.) 2:225, Franco (1991)159, and Franco­Preisendanz (1998)180). They postulate that the commentators who appeared in the wake of Dharmakīrti were forced to turn away from the original position of the Cārvākas, and the admission of inference in howsoever limited a way is a pointer to this Abkehr (Frauwallner’s word, 2:308).. What is proposed is that this acceptance of inference was a later development, not exactly consistent with the intention of the original author and his audience.

It can, however, be demonstrated that such a view is not well founded. When the philosophers of other schools speak of inference, word, comparison, etc., they never deny that perception is the foremost (jyeṣṭha) of all instruments of cognition (cf. NM, I:164). What they indeed assert is that inference, etc. are all independent means of knowledge, on a par with perception, not subservient to it: co­ordinate, not subordinate. Yet, as the Nyāyastra (1.1.5) declares, inference has to be preceded by perception. Hence, inference not based on perception cannot be admitted. Vātsyāyana in his commentary on the very first Nyāya aphorism (1.1.1) added “scripture” to “perception” (pratyakāgmāśritam anumānam, sā ’nvīkā, pratyakāgamābhyāmīkitasyānvīkaam anvīkā), which is unwarranted and amounts to interpolation pure and simple. The base text never speaks of scripture in connection with inference; it mentions perception alone. The independent status of perception is an admitted fact in all realist philosophical systems. So, when the Cārvākas denied the status of inference as an independent means of knowledge, they ipso facto did not reject all kinds of inference but accepted only such inference as was found true in everyday practice (lokavyavahāra). Thus, in the Cārvāka conception perception includes both what is sensually apprehended and inference based on such apprehension. Only such inferences as derived from the scripture, Veda and Smti, are not admitted. Therefore, all the four commentators, Purandara, Aviddhakara, Udbhaa and the anonymous one, were not deserting the original stand of the base text by admitting inference of a particular sort but only explicating the view of the base text on inference in relation to perception. Other non­-Cārvāka authors too were aware of this,5 as this was the view of earlier, pre­-Cārvāka Indian materialists too.

How do we know all this? A passage in the Mbh, Śāntiparvan (crit. ed. 211.26; vulgate 218.27) says:

The conclusion based on inference and tradition – both are rooted in perception. Perception and testimony (what we are told to believe in) are identical; reasoned­-out truth (=inference) too is nothing but perception.6

In the Anuśāsanaparvan too (147.9) three instruments of cognition are mentioned: (a) direct perception confirmed by the world (lokata siddha pratyaka), (b) doctrines propounded by the scriptures, and (c) the practice of eminent people (śiṣṭa). Dandekar, the editor of this parvan, observes: “Presumably, anumāna is to be understood to have been included in pratyaka ” (crit. ed., 1119).

It was only later, when the philosophical debates between the Vedists and the non­Vedists (the Buddhists and the Jains in particular) were raging, that the question of inference as an independent means of knowledge along with word (scripture) assumed a focal position. Both Vātsyāyana and Jayantabhaṭṭa spent much of their time and energy to establish the independent status of inference (cf.C/L, pp. 76ff and 128ff). Inference in fact is the chief, if not the sole, concern of the Nyāyastra itself.

Therefore, the explication of the two Cārvāka aphorisms (III.1­2) made by the commentators merely reiterates and reinforces the position of the ancient Indian materialists, both pre­Cārvāka and the Cārvāka/Lokāyata. The commentators, regardless of their differences of opinion concerning other issues, are unanimous in this regard: they do not admit the independent status of inference as a means of knowledge, and at the same time they clearly state that inference based on perception is definitely admissible and is actually admitted by the Cārvākas. Once we understand this, much of the lampoon and derisive remarks of its opponents such as Hemacandra (cf. AYVD, v.20) and others turn out to be mere calumny.

When commentators differ

So far, so good. The position of the Cārvāka/Lokāyata vis-­à­-vis inference is made crystal clear by the commentators. The problem arises when the same set of commentators differ in their interpretations of certain aphorisms.

Udbhaa’s interpretation of the aphorism, “Earth, water, fire and air are the principles, nothing else (iti)” (I.2. R. Bhattacharya (2009) 80) is a case in point. The word iti denotes the end.7 Since the Cārvākas accept only these four elements, not “space” (ākāśa) as the fifth, as some earlier materialists (cf. R. Bhattacharya (2009) 33­41 for sources) and many others did, they are called four ­elementalists (bhta­catuṣṭaya­vādins) as opposed to the five­elementalists (bhuta­pañcaka­vādins). Udbhaa, however, claimed that it was impossible to lay down any fixed number and essential characteristic of the sources of knowledge (NM, I:52), and objects of knowledge too are more than four: ‘the word, iti, in the (aphorism), “earth, water, fire and air iti ” indicates also the possibility of similar objects of knowledge, other than the earth, etc.’ (qtd. GrBh 1:100).

Vādidevasri quotes more extensively from Udbhaa’s commentary:

The word, iti, does not denote the end (but) it is illustrative. There are other principles such as consciousness, sound, pleasure, pain, desire, aversion, effort, impression and others (SVR 1087).

Not satisfied with these categories, Udbhaa further writes:

“There are also prior non­existence of the earth, etc., posterior non­existence, the mutual difference which are quite apparent and distinct (from the principles, viz., earth, etc.).” (qtd. SVR 1087).

Cakradhara clearly stated that Udbhaa was here forsaking the conventional interpretation (yathāśrutārtha­tyāgena) (GrBh 1:100).

Apparently Udbhaa was referring to issues that are well known to the Nyāya­Vaiśeikas. He knew full well that iti cannot be equated to ityādi (etc.).Yet he attempted to fit the Cārvāka aphorism into the Nyāya­Vaiśeika frame.

This may be considered ingenious, as is his defence of the Cārvāka position of viewing inference as secondary (see above). But there is nothing to show that the Cārvākas ever thought in terms of Nyāya­Vaiśeika categories. Udbhaa does not adduce any new argument in support of his novel explication (as he does in relation to inference). On the contrary, he flies in the face of the accepted meaning of iti and, maybe with the best of intentions, introduces Nyāya­Vaiśeika categories which are quite alien to the original Cārvāka/Lokāyata.

All this does show marks of what is sometimes viewed as “growth” or “radical innovation”, but at the same time it exhibits alien addition as well.8

The Cārvāka view on inference in the SDS

It is well known that all the Cārvāka/Lokāyata works, the base text and the commentaries, had disappeared from India before the SDS was composed. Not a single verbatim quotation from any Cārvāka work is found in the whole of the SDS, not even a single name (excepting that of Bhaspati). Whatever the author of the first chapter of the SDS (Sāyaa­Mādhava himself or someone else) knew about the system was not based on his reading but most probably on what he had heard from his guru. (It may be added in parentheses that in ancient India gurumukhavidyā was sine qua non; no amount of reading would be considered a fitting substitute for it. See Aiyangar 10. Cf. Jha’s regret, 1:x). Moreover, it is doubtful whether the guru himself had ever glanced at an authentic Cārvāka work. Apparently there was a guru­śiya paramparā (a continuum from preceptors to disciples) and that was the only source to learn anything about the Cārvāka. Yet a very cogent argument is found in the SDS (7­10;C/L, 250­-51) to justify the Cārvāka position regarding the admissibility of perception alone as a valid instrument of cognition, rejecting summarily the claims of all others (inference, word, comparison, and upādhi or absence of a condition).

Nevertheless it will not be advisable to accept the passage in the SDS as a statement reflecting the genuine Cārvāka/Lokāyata view. The reason is this: there is no supporting evidence in favour of such a representation. Since no authority is mentioned, the passage should be taken as a formulation made by the learned author of the SDS, not by a Cārvāka. This is an instance in which the view of the digest­-maker is not to be admitted because of the lack of any corroborative evidence.

Moreover, no mention is made in the SDS of the limited validity of inference, as Purandara and others have unequivocally declared (see above). This is another reason why the passage, like the so­-called Lokāyata aphorisms in the Kāmastra,1.2.26­-30, is unacceptable (see R. Bhattacharya (2009), 94­-95).

Contradictory interpretations offered by commentators

Now we come to an example of contradictory explanations. After stating that the principle is the four elements and that their combination is called the body, sense and object, the base text says, probably in the very next aphorism, tebhyaś (that is, bhtebhyaś) caitanyam (I.2­4). Literally it appears to mean:”From them (the elements), consciousness.” As is evident, there is no supplementary verb to complete the sentence (technically called adhyāhāra). What was in the mind of the redactor/s of the base text can only be guessed. Two different suggestions were made by two commentators. One (anonymous) said: the missing verb should be “is born”; the other (again anonymous) proposed “is manifested” (TS v.1858, TSP 2: 633­34). The two proposals are contradictory, for, if the first is admitted, the second cannot be true and vice versa. The first would assert that there can be no consciousness prior to the existence of a living human body. The second, on the other hand, would suggest that consciousness is already existent, apart from and quite independent of the human body; it is manifested when the human body is formed and born. The second proposal then would mean desertion of the monistic materialist position traditionally ascribed to the Cārvākas.

This is not all. Udbhaa, writing at least a century or so after these two anonymous commentators, reopened the issue by challenging the common understanding of the word tebhya as “from these”, taken in the sense of ablative case (fifth declension). In Sanskrit tebhya can mean “for these” as well. Preferring the second meaning, Udbhaa explained the aphorism as: it is for the sake of the four elements that consciousness comes into being.9 He did not concern himself with the missing verb but sought to establish a dualist view that consciousness existed apart from and even prior to matter. He had apparently taken his cue from the second interpretation (or it may have been derived from Sākhya) and explained this aphorism as follows: “Consciousness is for (the sake of) elements; consciousness is independent and aids the physical elements which constitute the body” (qtd. GrBh 2:257).

Udbhaa’s interpretation is not grammatically invalid. There is indeed a rule in Kātyāyana’s Vārttika (on Aṣṭādhyāyī 1.4.44) that provides for the use of the fourth declension to suggest purpose or intent (tādarthye caturthī vācyā, Vasu 352). But by saying that consciousness is independent of the four elements that constitute the human body Udbhaa leaves the door open to a non­-materialist position. The Cārvāka position was essentially monistic: no body, no consciousness. Even if we take Udbhaa to be a dualistic materialist, it clearly involves desertion of the original Cārvāka position.

All this does show signs of growth but at the same time exhibits a tendency to move away from the original doctrine. Quite appropriately, therefore, Cakradhara contrasts Udbhaa with Bhāvivikta and other ancient Cārvāka teachers (GrBh 2:257). Unlike them, Udbhaa did not uphold the old, traditionally accepted position. On another occasion, too, Cakradhara notes that Udbhaa forsook the conventional interpretation (GrBh 1:100).

Vādidevasri too writes, “This respectable veteran twice born (sc. Udbhaa) is revealing to us a novel way of answering criticism.” (SVR 764).

Here the assertion made by LaFrague is of seminal importance. Surely the redactor(s) of the base text could not have meant all three interpretations when he/they framed the aphorism. Since we have no way of knowing the author’s mind, we must go for a reasonable conjecture. If he had the second or the third interpretation in mind, the very basis of the Cārvāka/Lokāyata doctrine would be compromised. The first two aphorisms clearly state the primacy of the four elements as the principle (tattva). If consciousness were the principle or one of the principles, the second aphorism would have said so instead of naming all the four elements individually and stopping there with a decisive word, iti. So the second and the third interpretations of the third aphorism are unacceptable. What led the second and the third interpreters to defy the spirit of the first three aphorisms is not known to us. But one point is evident: the aphorisms could mean, both to the author and to his audience, only what the first interpretation says. The second and the third interpretations definitely suggest different lines of development away from the intention of the author.


Development and growth are only to be expected of all philosophical systems that continue to exist over the centuries. Thus we have the development of Sākhya, which becomes allied to Yoga and becomes a syncretic theistic system. The same story is repeated when the atheistic Nyāya merges with Vaiśeika and becomes a theistic system. Such syncretic doctrines doubtless reflect development and growth. Nevertheless, they are not to be identified with the original Sākhya or the original Nyāya or the original Vaiśeika. When we speak of development and growth, which are admittedly inevitable, we should not turn a blind eye to the fact that later works often move away from the original position of the system. It is not the case that all forms of development and growth necessarily reflect the original intention of the author.

The critics of the Cārvāka/Lokāyata, we have seen, knew only too well that Udbhaa had taken a position that was quite different from the original one. Are we to call this development? When new facts and arguments are proposed to affirm the contention of the base text in order to reassert its validity, as viewed by its later adherents or explicators, such events may very well be called development. On the other hand, when quite novel but contrary positions are proposed, presumably to support the contention of the aphorisms in a different way, the event cannot but be called inconsistency. Such inconsistencies may gain currency over the course of time and become a part of the tradition of this or that system, but they evince inconsistency all the same.

This happened to Nyāya, Mīmāsā and other systems. The Brahmastra in fact has been interpreted in a dozen different ways by its commentators, so much so that it is impossible to assert what Bādarāyaa, to whom the authorship of the base text is attributed, had in mind. Yet it cannot be denied that he must have had something in his mind which the commentators in their zeal to establish their own philosophical systems have more than once misused, sometimes going against the position he held. After all Bādarāyaa could not have been a dualist, a non­-dualist, a modified non­-dualist, a realist, a subjective idealist, etc. all at the same time! It is therefore futile to think of the Vedānta doctrine. We have several Vedānta doctrines. That is all.

Vedanta is of course an extreme case. But Nyāya, Mīmāsā and the Cārvāka systems also exhibit several different approaches, not all of which can be considered consistent with the view of the original authors and their audiences. In order to study these systems, instead of concentrating solely on the doctrine, a historicist approach is essential in order to trace their developments and note where and how some commentators moved away from the original position. Whenever there is a sign of any forced explanation, inconsistent with grammar and conventional use, it has to be taken as a case of inconsistency. The more the commentator tries to hold fast to the words of the aphorism but interprets them by doing violence to these two criteria (grammar and conventional use), the more certain it is that he is moving away from the original position. Udbhaa’s interpretations of iti and tebhya are cases in point. Polemicists like Jayantabhaṭṭa may not distinguish between the original position and the new position, but a student of philosophy cannot afford not to do so. Having no axe to grind either in defense or reputation of any system,10 one should first ascertain, as best as one can, what the doctrine meant to its author and its audience, and then proceed to study the development of the system over the ages. No other approach can do justice to the systems of philosophy in India that flourished and continued to hold sway over one or the other section of the people for several centuries.

Let me reiterate: there is no gainsaying that some changes are inevitable in any system of philosophy because of its constant interface with other systems. But we should not view all such changes on a par with one another. Doctrinal or religious bias should not make us forget that in pre­-modern India a master of philosophy was supposed to be a master of all philosophical systems, living or dead, the Cārvāka/Lokāyata not excepted. Consider, for instance, the praise of Vyomaśiva (or Vyomaśambhu or Vyomeśa) in the Ranode stone inscription (Epigraphia Indica, 1:358) in which Vyomaśiva is eulogized as lokāyate sadgurur bbuddho buddhamate jinoktiu jina, Sadguru (Brhaspati) in the Lokayāta, the Buddha in the doctrine of the Buddha, and Jina (Mahāvīra) in the sayings of the Jina (line 37). Had it been otherwise, the authors of philosophical digests and compendia from Haribhadra (eighth century) down to Cimaabhaṭṭa (nineteenth century) would not have included in their works all systems, both orthodox and heterodox, known to them.


3. S. Mookerjee (368­69), S. N. Dasgupta (3:539) and others (for instance, M.K. Gangopadhyaya, 32, 55 n1, 56 n4, 66 n51, and D. Chattopadhyaya, 52) drew attention to this significant passage from time to time, which however was completely ignored or overlooked by many modern scholars, as by ancient authors. They continued to ascribe the one­pramāa position to the Cārvākas (more appropriate to Bharthari, who considered āgama (scripture) to be the one and only valid means of knowledge. See R. Bhattacharya (2009) 117­18, 152).

4. Jayantabhaṭṭa ascribed this view to “the more learned ones” (NM 1:184). The use of plural may not be honorific but satirical. The identity of this commentator (or commentators) is not known. Cakradhara, however, mentions that by “cunning Cārvāka” and the “learned ones” Jayanta meant Udbhaabhaṭṭa (GrBh 1:52,100). Most probably the designation, “more learned ones,” refers to some commentator(s) other than Udbhaa, signified by the use of the comparative degree. It may mean Purandara and his followers.

5. Guaratna (TRD on DSam, v. 83), Ratnaprabhā (on PNTA 540. See R. Bhattacharya (2010) 30), and the anonymous authors of Avacri (on DSam, v. 83) and SMS (15) (R. Bhattacharya (2009) 116­17, 168) quite unambiguously refer to this interpretation. 

6. Bronkhorst translates this verse somewhat differently (310) but his interpretation too refers to direct perception as the root of all true knowledge.

7. Explaining KA 1.2.10 (sākhya yogo lokāyata cetyānvīkikī ) Jacobi says: ”According to Kautilya the essence of philosophy lies in systematic investigation and logical demonstration; in his judgement these conditions are satisfied only (iti) by Sākhya, Yoga and Lokāyata” (102) .

8. Karin Preisendanz (2008) apparently does not consider such alien additions to be of much significance. She classifies commentaries into two kinds: i) creative, ii) philosophically unproductive (609­11). In her usage Udbhaa would be considered creative in the sense of being “philosophically productive”. But as both Cakradhara and Vādidevasri noted (see below), Udbhaa was known to be an innovator and hence was contrasted to Bhāvivikta who apparently remained true to the spirit of the base text (GrBh 2:257­58). Udbhaa was not treated on a par with Bhāvivikta and others, since he did not represent the views of the ancient (cirantana) Cārvāka teachers. Similarly, when Solomon calls Udbhaa “a progressive Cārvāka” (990) she implicitly admits that he did not adhere strictly to the original stand of the school. 

9. This second position is reminiscent of Sri Aurobindo’s realist but anti­materialist stand regarding matter vis­à­vis consciousness . Unlike the non­dualist Vedantins like Śakara he admitted this world to be real but added: 

[T]here is a course of life and consciousness originally alien to Matter which has yet entered into an occupied Matter, – perhaps from another world. From whence, otherwise, can it have come…nothing can evolve out of Matter which is not therein already contained. (96­-97).

Sri Aurobindo does not accept the dualist position of Sākhya either, nor does he regard Śakara’s theory of illusion as valid (11).

10. No less a savant than Louis de Vallée Poussin, because of his idealist mindset, calls materialists “philosophers without philosophy” (8:494). Speaking of the parable of the Wolf’s Footprint (DSam, v.81), he writes: ‘A man who wanted to convert – let us say “pervert” – a woman to his materialist opinion…’ (ibid.). All this in an encyclopaedia article!

To cite another example, nearer home: B. Bhattacharya proposed to identify Kambalāśvatara of theTS with the Kambalāśvatara mentioned in the Sagītāloka on the following ground: “It is not at all strange that a member of a materialist sect should devote himself to music; disbelieving in transmigration of soul or in a future life the cultivation of pleasure in this life should seem logical and entirely proper” (xxxviii).

Abbreviations and Bibliography

Avacūri (1969), Anon. in DSam, edited by M.K. Jain, Calcutta: Bharatiya Jnanapith. 
Bhattacharya, B. (1926).“Foreword” to Tattvasagraha, ed. E. Krishnamacharya, Baroda: Oriental Institute.
Bhattacharya, R. (2009). Studies on the Cārvāka/Lokāyata. Firenze: Società Editrice Fiorentina.
Bhattacharya, R.(2010).” Lokāyata Darśana and a Comparative Study with Greek Philosophy” in: Partha Ghose (ed.). Materialism and Immaterialism in India and the West: Varying Vistas. New Delhi: Centre for Studies in Civilizations, 21-­34.
Bronkhorst, J. (2007). Greater Magadha. Leiden: E. J. Brill.
Chattopadhyaya, D. (1989). In Defence of Materialism in Ancient India. New Delhi: People’s Publishing House,.
C/L. Cārvāka/Lokāyata (1990), eds. D. Chattopadhyaya in collaboration with M. Gangopadhyaya. New Delhi: Indian Council of Philosophical Research. 
Dasgupta, S. (1975). A History of Indian Philosophy, Vols. 1­5, Delhi: MLBD (reprint).
Epigraphia Indica (1892), ed. J. Burgess. Vol. 1. Calcutta.
Franco, E. (1991). “Paurandarasūtra” in M. A. Dhaky (ed.), Aspects of Indology. Pt. Dalsukhbhai Malvania Felicitation Volume, Varanasi: Sagarmal Jain P.V. Research Institute, , Vol. III.
Franco, E. (1997), Dharmakīrti on Compassion and Rebirth, Arbeitkreis für Tibetische und Buddhistische Studien, Universität Wien, Wien. 
Franco, E., K. Preisendanz (1998). “Materialism, Indian School of”, in E. Craig (ed.), Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Vol. 6. London: Routledge.
Frauwallner, E. (1973). History of Indian Philosophy, Vol.2. Delhi: MLBD (trnslation of Geschichte der indischen Philosophie, Band II. Salzburg: Otto Muller Verlag, 1956). 
Gangopadhyaya, M.K. (1984). Indian Logic in Its Sources: The Validity of Inference. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal.
Guaratna. Tarka-­rahasya­-dīpikā (1905­14), comm. on Haribhadra, DSam, edited by L. Suali, Calcutta: The Asiatic Society. 
Goldin, Paul. R (2008). Review of Teaching the Daode Jing, eds. G. D. DeAngelis and W. G. Frisina, New York: Oxford University Press, 2008. Journal of the American Oriental Society, 128:4 (October­December 2008), 479-­52. 
GrBh. Cakradhara. Granthibhaga. See NM. 
Jacobi, H. (1918). “A Contribution Towards the Early History of Indian Philosophy”, Indian Antiquary, 47, 101­-109.
Jha, G. (1937­39). “Introduction” , The Tattvasagraha by Shantarakita. Vol. I­ II. Delhi : MLBD, (1986 reprint).
KA. Kauilīya Arthaśāstra (1965­-1972), edited and translated by R. P. Kangle, Bombay: University of Bombay, Parts 1­3.
KS. Vātsyāyana. Kāmasūtra with Jayamagalā, Varanasi: Chowkhambha, n.d.
Mahābhārata, The (1933-­1966). Critically edited by V. S. Sukthankar and others, Poona: Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute. 
——.Vulgate (1832 Śaka /1910 CE) with Nīlakaṇṭha’s commentary, Bhāratabhāvadīpa, ed. Pancanana Tarkaratna. Kalikata: Vangavasi.
Mookerjee, S. (1935). The Buddhist Philosophy of Universal Flux. Calcutta: Calcutta University
Namai, M. (1976). “A Survey of Bārhaspatya Philosophy”, Indological Review (Kyoto), No.2, 29­-74. NM. Jayantabhaṭṭa (1982­-1984). Nyāyamañjari with Cakradhara’s Granthibhaga, ed. G. Sastri. Varanasi: Sampurnanand Sanskrit Visvavidyalaya, in three parts. 
NS. Nyāyastra. Tarkavāgiśa, Phaibhūaa , Nyāya Darśana Vātsyāyana Bhāya (1981-­89) (in Bengali). Calcutta: West Bengal State Book Board (reprint).
 –––.Trans. M.K. Gangopadhyaya (1982). Nyya, Calcutta: Indian Studies. Preisendanz, Karin. “Text, Commentary, Annotation: Some Reflections on the Philosophical Genre”, Journal of Indian Philosophy (2008), 36: 599-­618.
PVSV. Karakagomin (1943). Pramāa­-vārttika­-svopajña-­vtti­-īkā, ed. Rahula Sankrityayana. Ilahabad: Kitab Mahal. 
Ratnaprabhā (1967), Commentary on Vādi Devasūri’s Pramāa­-nyāya-­tattvālokālakāra, English trans. and comm. by H.S. Bhattacharya, Bombay: Jain Sahitya Vikas Mandal. 
Sāyaa­Mādhava (1978). Sarvadarśanasagraha , ed. V. Shastri Abhyankar, Poona: BORI (reprint). DSam. Haribhadra (1969). adarśanasamuccaya, with Guaratna’s and Somatilakasūri’s cśommentaries, ed. M.K. Jain. Calcutta: Bharatiya Jnanapitha. 
Shastri, D.R. (1944). Bārhaspatyadarśana. “Cārvāka­pañcāśikā” (in Bnagla), Bharatavara, 32:1, Asadha 1351 Bengali year.
–––.(1959), Cārvāka Darśana (in Bengali), Purogami Prakashani: Kolkata (reprinted with additions in 1982 by the West Bengal State Book Board, Kolkata).
Solomon, E.A. “Bhaṭṭa Udbhaa”, Annals of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, Vols. 58­59,1977­-78, pp. 986­-87. 
SMS. Sarvamatasagraha (1915), edited by T.G. Sastri, Trivandram. 
Sri Aurobindo (2001). The Life Divine. Pondicherry : Sri Aurobindo Ashram (reprint). 
SVR. Vādidevasūri (1988). Syādvādaratnākara, ed. M.L. Osval, Delhi: Bhartiya Book Corporation (reprint).
TS. Śāntarakita (1981).Tattvasagraha, ed. D. Shastri, Varanasi : Bauddha Bharati. 
TSP. Kamalaśīla. Tattvasagrahapañjikā. See TS.
Vācaspati Miśra. Bhāmatī in Brahmasūtra (1982), The Brahmasūtra with Śakara Bhᾱṣya and Bhmatī, Kalpataru and Parimala, edited by Pandit Anantakrishna Sastri, Vasudeva Laxman Shastri Pansikar. Varanasi: Chowkhamba Sanskrit Series Office (reprint of the Nirnay Sagar ed.).
Vallée Poussin, Louis de (1908). “Materialism (India)“ in James Hastings (ed.). Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics. Edinburgh: T & T Clark. 
Vanamamalai, N. “Materialist Thought in Early Tamil Literature” in Social Scientist, 2:4, November 1973, 25­-41 (available in JSTOR archive). 
Vasu, S.C. (1982). The Siddhānta Kaumudī of Bhaṭṭojī Dīkita. Delhi. MLBD (reprint).

Acknowledgements: Dipak Bhattacharya, Amitava Bhattacharyya, Johannes Bronkhorst, Sanjib Mukhopahyaya.

This is the Part-II of the paper initially published in Journal of Indian Philosophy (Springer Netherlands) in 2010.   You can read Part I of the essay here

Monday, 19 November 2012

What the Cārvākas Originally Meant: More on the Commentators on the Cārvākasutra

Ramkrishna Bhattacharya 

Abstract: This essay proposes to review the problems of reconstructing and interpreting ancient texts, particularly philosophical commentaries, in the context of the Cārvāka/Lokāyata system of India. Following an overview of the Indian philosophical text tradition and the ontological and epistemological positions of the Cārvākas, three cases are discussed:

(1) when there is no invariance in the text and the commentary,
(2) when commentators differ among themselves in their interpretations, and
(3) when contradictory interpretations are offered.

The paper further discusses why certain commentaries are to be treated as inconsistent with the base text and concludes that innovations inconsistent with the intention of the author should be treated differently from glosses that seek to explain the author’s original intentions.

Reconstructing and interpreting ancient texts: two views 

Recently there has been a controversy on the task of a modern commentator on an ancient text. Michael LaFrague declared quite unambiguously:

I believe that either one is trying as best as one can to reconstruct what the Daode Jing meant to its original authors and audience or one is not. If one is not, there is no basis for placing any limits to what can be considered a legitimate interpretation. (Qtd. Goldin 750)

Paul R. Goldin has taken exception to this attitude. He writes:

While it is praiseworthy…to remind readers that authors and audiences of the past did not necessarily share our modern world­view, one cannot deny that twentieth-­century critics such as Gadamer, Ricoueur and Derrida – whose Hermeneutics LaFrague freely grants are opposed to his own – compellingly demonstrated the limitations of a narrowly historicist approach. (Goldin 750)

Goldin admits that “historically informed reading” has its merits and can be defended. Nevertheless, in his view, it cannot be contended that “reconstructing the author’s original intent is the modern reader’s only legitimate concern.” He controverts LaFrague by pointing out:

Texts that survive through the ages do so because people continually find new meanings in them. Texts that die, by contrast, are ones that have to be read as though we are all living in the third century B. C. (Goldin 750)

Goldin further seeks to refute LaFrague’s view by the following observation:

The weakness of the argument is apparent if one tries to apply it to jurisprudence. Lawyers would hardly agree that the only two alternatives in constitutional law are to reconstruct the constitution as it would have been understood by its original authors and audience, or to disavow any limits to what can be considered a legitimate interpretation. (Goldin 750)

This difference of opinion obviously has its bearings on ancient texts other than the Daode Jing. I find it particularly relevant to the field of my study, the Cārvāka/Lokāyata materialist system of philosophy, which flourished in ancient India and totally disappeared with all its literature after the twelfth century. The whole system has to be reconstructed on the basis of fragments, found quoted or paraphrased in the works of its opponents. The task of reconstruction is made all the more difficult by the fact that its opponents did not always follow the rules of fair play. Quite deliberately they distorted and misinterpreted the views of the Cārvākas (for example, their stand on inference). In spite of this, attempts made by scholars in the last two centuries have resulted in a tentative reconstruction of the system in broad outline (R. Bhattacharya (2009) 69­104).

Let me declare at the outset that I agree with LaFrague about the task of a reconstructor and am totally out of sympathy with postmodernist hermeneutics which is avowedly a­historical. The case of jurisprudence cited by Goldin is beside the point. No maker of a country’s constitution can foresee all later developments. Some clauses have to be reinterpreted and even suitably amended to keep pace with the changing times. The case of an ancient philosophical text is altogether different. It may very well be so that it had a considerable number of adherents in the past but is now as dead as a dodo. It is  also evident that not all adherents stuck to the original intention of the author and some reinterpreted the words of the base text to suit their own taste or to incorporate new elements quite alien to the system. Yet it is necessary to know first what the system was originally like, that is, what it meant to its author(s) and its audience at the time it had been first systematized. Then and only then we can judge where (and if possible, when) some later adherents turned away from the intent of the author(s) or redactor(s). This of course cannot and should not be the only legitimate concern. Later developments, too, have to be taken into consideration. But unless and until the original intent is fairly well understood, the study of later developments cannot be truly fruitful.

The Indian philosophical tradition: an overview 

In the Indian tradition the base texts of some systems of philosophy are first composed in the form of a collection of aphorisms (stras). The aphorisms are brief and terse to the point of being incomprehensible without some explanation provided by a guru or, in his absence, by a commentary written either by the author himself or herself (auto­commentary) or by some later author who is not necessarily an adherent to the system.1

Over the course of time further commentaries and sub­commentaries and, in some cases, independent works purporting to elucidate the basic ideas of the philosophical system (such as Jayantabhaṭṭa’s Nyāyamañjarī ) come to be written. The views of the opponents too are sought to be refuted in these works. This is how a vast literature consisting of explanatory material is created. The Nyāya system, for instance, has four such chief commentaries and sub­commentaries by four different authors writing in widely separated times. The non­dualist Vedānta system, initiated by Śakarācārya, similarly gave rise to a commentary tradition that continued for centuries. Other systems of Vedānta (dualist, non­dualist, modified non­dualist, both dualist and non­dualist, etc.) also offer a large number of secondary works, all claiming to be rooted in the base text, the Brahmastra by Bādarāyaa. Mīmāsā, Vaiśeika and Yoga systems too belong to this text­commentary continuum tradition.

The Cārvāka/Lokāyata too developed along the same line. It had a base text on which more than five commentaries were written. The base text is sometimes called the Bārhaspatya­stra .2 We also read of a Paurandara stram and Pauradarīyavtti, presumably referring to the aphorisms of Purandara and his auto­commentary (R. Bhattacharya (2009) 109­11). Whether Purandara recast the old base text of a now lost work or redacted the base text itself for the first time is not known. Did he add new aphorisms? Again we do not know. It is highly probable that he was the first to employ the name Cārvāka to mean a system that was previously known as Lokāyata in early Tamil epics, such as the Manimekalai (incidentally, these Tamil works and their commentaries, largely neglected so far, testify to the existence of two other materialist schools besides Lokāyata in southern India, namely, bhtavādins and the Sarvakas. Vanamamalai 36). In any case, excerpts from all these works, both aphorisms and commentaries, are found in the works of other philosophers, mostly followers of non­dualist Vedānta, Nyāya and two non­-Vedic systems, Yogācāra Buddhism and Jainism. Since the base text and all the commentaries are lost, the views of the Cārvāka/Lokāyata have to be reconstructed on the basis of these available fragments. It is not possible at the present state of our knowledge to determine how many aphorisms there originally were. Only a few that were at the centre of controversy are found quoted over and over again. It is almost certain that they were all taken more or less verbatim from the base text.

Over and above these two sources (aphorisms and commentaries thereon), quite a number of epigrams, purporting to contain the Cārvāka/Lokāyata view, have been cited in several philosophical digests. The best known of them is the Sarva­darśana­sagraha (A compendium of all philosophies). It is possible that not all of these satirical verses originated in the Cārvāka circles. Some of them seem to have Buddhist and Jain origins. In so far as the anti­Vedic attitude is concerned, the Cārvākas were regarded by the Vedists to be at one with these two religious­-cum­-philosophical schools.

Nobody will deny that a successful philosophical system cannot remain the same, exactly as intended by its original proponent and understood by his original audience. New interpretations are bound to arise, particularly when the system has to face criticism from the followers of other systems. The commentators of the base text of the Cārvāka/Lokāyata had to take into account the criticism leveled against their system by its opponents. The fragments of the commentaries of the base text exhibit how the commentators tried to defend the basic materialist position by means of arguments and examples. Most of the fragments appear to be verbatim quotations from the commentaries of Aviddhakara, Udbhaabhaṭṭa and Purandara. Thus, although the number of the aphorisms and the fragments from the lost commentaries are regrettably few, the fundamental ontological and epistemological positions of the Cārvāka/Lokāyata are fairly well documented. At least some conclusions can be drawn from the available fragments.


1 Vācaspatimiśra composed commentaries on the base texts of Nyāya, Sākhya, Vedānta, etc. Most probably he was a non­dualist Vedāntin but he is credited with being independent of all systems (sarva­tantra­svatantra), for he is reputed to have interpreted the base texts faithfully without introducing his own views. How far it is true needs further verification, since it is difficult, if not impossible, to be absolutely neutral in philosophical questions.

2 Both D. R. Shastri (1944, 1959) and Mamoru Namai (1976) have called their respective collections of aphorisms Bārhaspatya(stram), following the Purāic tradition of considering Bhaspati, the guru of the gods, as the eponymous founder of the doctrine. Jayantabhaṭṭa has indeed used the name Bārhaspatyastram once (NM 2:196). Elsewhere too there are references to bhaspate strāi, “the aphorisms of Bhaspatl” (see R. Bhattacharya (2009) 106 for details).The name “Lokāyata­Stra” occurring in Jha’s translation of the TSP (2:893) is not supported by the Sanskrit text (22.1871 in Baroda ed.), which has stram only, not “Lokāyata­Stra”. However, Cakradhara has once called it so (GrBh 1:100). But there are reasons to believe that the materialists in India such as Purandara called themselves Cārvākas (TSP 2:528. For a detailed discussion see R. Bhattacharya (2009) 76­77). All writers since the eighth century CE, when referring to materialism, indiscriminately employ all the three names and many more, some more fanciful than others (such as bhtamātratattvavāda (Malayagirisuri) and māhabhtodbhtacaitanyavādamata (Prajñākaragupta), both qtd. In Franco (1997) 274 and n3). 

This is the first part of the paper initially published in Journal of Indian Philosophy (Springer Netherlands) in 2010.  Part II of the essay is here. Bibliography appears along with Part II of the paper.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Perversity of Religious Belief

It is often asserted, even in the face of contrary evidence, by the believers of course, that the ‘truly religious’ people do not do any ham to others; that the terrorists are a misguided lot; that those who incite communal violence are in the grip of momentary passion; that the believers who commit human sacrifice and those who refuse to provide proper medical assistance to their nears and dears on religious ground are illiterate people; that these ‘aberrations’ cannot be used as a yardstick to measure the true nature of religion, which is essentially spiritual and hence benign, we are told.

Well, we reproduce a news item that shows, yet again, the darker side of religion. It shows, starkly, what grave harm people inspired by ‘true faith’ in religion do to others even in ‘normal times’.

Indian woman dies after being refused abortion

A woman of Indian origin has died after doctors in Ireland refused to perform an abortion, telling her that “this is a Catholic country”, sparking widespread outrage and renewed calls for immediate reforms to the Irish law to allow termination if the life of the mother is at risk.

Savita Halappanavar (31), who was a dentist, was 17 weeks pregnant when she died from septicaemia, according to an autopsy carried out two days after her death on Oct 28. Her family said she asked several times for her termination as she had severe back pain and was miscarrying but doctors at University Hospital Galway refused on the grounds that abortion was illegal in Ireland.

Her husband Praveen Halappanavar said he was certain that his wife would have still been alive if the termination had been allowed.

It was her first pregnancy, he said, and she was “on top of the world” before she started suffering back pain. When the pain persisted, she asked her consultant if she could be “induced” but was told “no”.
Savita Halappanavar
“They said unfortunately she can’t because it’s a Catholic country. Savita said to her [consultant] she is not Catholic, she is Hindu, and why impose the law on her. But she said, ‘I’m sorry, unfortunately it’s a Catholic country,’ and it’s the law that they can’t abort when the foetus is [alive],” he said.

The hospital has launched an internal investigation in addition to a separate inquiry ordered by Ireland’s Health Service Executive.

Mr. Halappanavar recalled that Savita “was so happy and everything was going well” until she was admitted to hospital with back pain.

“On the Saturday [Oct 20] night everything changed. She started experiencing back pain so we called the hospital, the university hospital... I got a call at about half [past] twelve on the Wednesday night that Savita’s heart rate had really gone up and that they had moved her to ICU. “Things just kept on getting worse and on Friday they told me that she was critically ill.” Savita died on Sunday.

Ireland Prime Minister Enda Kenny did not rule out an independent inquiry as pro-choice groups demanded immediate changes to the law.

“It would be very appropriate that we don’t rule anything out here, but there are two reports and investigations going on at the moment,” Mr. Kenny said.

Ireland’s strict anti-abortion law means that women routinely go abroad for abortion. Earlier this year, the government set up an expert group to make recommendations in response to a judgment of the European Court of Human Rights judgment that Ireland had failed to implement existing rights to lawful abortion where a mother’s life was at risk.
Left-wing MPs Clare Daly and Joan Collins, who had introduced a bill in Parliament earlier this year to allow an abortion in specific life-threatening circumstances, said that had their proposals been accepted, Savita would have been alive.

“A woman has died because Galway University Hospital refused to perform an abortion needed to prevent serious risk to her life.

“This is a situation we were told would never arise. An unviable foetus — the woman was having a miscarriage — was given priority over the woman’s life, who unfortunately and predictably developed septicaemia and died,” Ms Daly said.

We do not think that the medical fraternity who refused to extend the required medical facility to that unfortunate woman are ‘bad people’; except for their religiosity they are ‘good people’. It is their ‘true faith’ in religion inspired by their faith (not just ‘as small as the mustard seed’ as their holy book demands, but ‘enough faith to move a mountain’) in their compassionate god that prevented them from extending medical help that was well within their reach.

As Steven Weinberg said, “With or without religion, good people can behave well and bad people can do evil; but for good people to do evil—that takes religion”.

Science versus Miracles: Ringing a bell without its rod

B Premanand

A godman in Madras, Pandrimalai Swami (now dead), was caught with 76lakhs of rupees unaccounted money in 1976. He was a clerk in the Registrar’s office and resigned when he found that it is more paying to be an astrolo­ger and a tantrik. No one goes to them unless he has a problem. When people approached him, he told them that their stars were in very bad position. So unless they propitiated the Nava Grahas (9 planets) they would suffer. To see if his prediction was correct he would give them a bell without a rod. If divine grace was there it would ring. Otherwise, they would find that the bell did not ring. 

He collected Rs.50/- for the prayaschitta puja and after the prayers he moved the bell and it rang. He again gave the bell to the person and when he moved, it did not ring. He said that it was due to the very strong bad effects of the stars and so he would have to perform another powerful prayer which would cost the man Rs.5000/- The worried man went home and took a loan believing that his life would prosper afterwards. The Baba conducted an elaborate prayer to the planets, held the hand of the victim and moved the bell. Surprisingly it rang. He blessed him saying that everything would be all right within a few months. But nothing happened and he found no solution to his problem. Most of the godman's victims were unable to repay the loan and committed suicide.

Experiment: 80

A pair of cowbells
Effect: Ringing a bell without its rod (clapper).

Props: One bell without a rod (bell), and a cow-bell.

Method: The cow-bell is tied in the armpit. When you loosen the armpit and move the bell, a ringing sound is heard. And when the armpit is pressed and the bell in your hand moves, there is no sound. 

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Abraham Kovoor’s Case Diary: Resurrection of Vasanth Babu Rao

Abraham Kovoor

The following news item appeared in many Indian newspapers:-

"Vasanth Babu Rao, 48, of Poona was a consumptive and a diabetic. On January 6th 1965 he had a severe chest pain, and was rushed to a nursing home in the city, but died shortly after admission. The doctor at the nursing home certified that the death was due to cardiac failure. Later in the evening, the brothers of Rao removed the body in a taxicab.
About one mile outside the city the taxi experienced severe jolts due to numer­ous pot-holes on the road. One severe jolt caused the head of the corpse hit against the door of the taxi. The occupants of the taxi were alarmed to see the right hand of the corpse move towards the side of the head which knocked against the door. The panic-stricken brothers turned the car, and drove back at pall-mall speed to the nursing home.
Two days later the late Mr. Vasanth Babu Rao was discharged from the nursing home hail and hearty."

Life or vital energy in all living organisms, including this Vasanth Rao, is sus­tained by a chemical action which goes on in the protoplasm-containing cells of their bodies. This chemical action is the slow oxidation (respiration) of nutrient substances such as glucose, fats and proteins found in the living cells. The products of this oxidizing reaction are carbon dioxide, water and vital energy (life). Of these, the first two by­products are discarded as gaseous waste during exhalation, and the third - vital energy - is utilized for all the biological activities of the organism. Respiration is conducted by all cells containing active protoplasm, a complex proteinic substance.

Modem researches have revealed that the mitochondria - the filamentous bod­ies present in the cytoplasm of living cells - are the power-plants of all life on earth. These mitochondria, with the numerous enzymes they possess, extract a very special form of energy - life or vital energy - from the chemical bonds in glucose, fats and proteins during respiration. The end product of this chemical action is adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the universal supplier of life (energy) needed for the contraction of muscles, the transmission of nerve impulses, metabolic activity etc., in short, all life-activities of the entire organism or its component organs.

Soul carried to Heaven: Painting by William Bouguereau

An organism like Mr. Vasanth Rao remains alive only as long as it respires. Respiration comes to a stand - still when (1) the protoplasm-containing cells do not get oxygen, (2) there are no fuel bodies such as glucose,fats and proteins in the cells, or (3) the protoplasm undergoes decomposition.

Thus, respiration is not in any way different from the burning of a candle. The difference between the two lies in the speed of oxidation. The fast oxidation (combus­tion) of the candle, like the slow respiration of an organism, produces carbon dioxide, water vapour and energy in the form of heat and light. Respiring organisms produce vital energy in place of the heat and light of the burning candle.

As long as the substance (hydrocarbon) of the candle does not undergo decom­position, it is possible to rekindle a put-out candle. Similarly, it is possible to revitalize a dead organism by re-establishing its respiration before decomposition of the protoplasm sets in.

A rekindled candle gives out fresh heat and light. It is not correct to say that the heat and light 'depart' from the candle when the flame is put out, and return to it when it is rekindled. Similarly, a re-vitalized or resuscitated organism produces fresh life (energy). It is wrong to say that vital energy (life) "departs" from an organism when it ceases to repair (dies), and returns to it when it is revived by restoring its respiration. The organism simply ceases to live or to produce vital energy, as a put -out candle ceases to produce heat and light.

Though universally believed from primitive times, there is absolutely no evi­dence to think there is a soul or spirit for an organism (including man) to escape from it when it dies, and to come back to it if by chance it is revived.

Organisms breathe in various ways. Plants breathe through the thousands of stomata on the leaves, lenticels on the stems and pneumatothodes on the roots. Be­cause of the facility for breathing in carbon dioxide by any part of the bodies, plants can be fragmented, and each fragment made to live and grow under favourable condi­tions. It is absurd to think that such offspring of a plant share the fragmented soul (if any) of the parent plant, or that fresh souls get into the offsprings sprouting from the cuttings. We should not forget the fact that the life in a plant is not in any way different from the life in an animal. Biologically, both are living organisms, having common origin.

Higher up in the ladder of evolution, numerous animals like coelenterates, worms etc., conduct respiration by absorbing oxygen by their skins (cutaneous respiration). Such creatures also can be fragmented like plants, and each fragment will continue to grow into a new organism under favourable conditions. Here too, it will be absurd to think that such offsprings share the fragmented soul of the original organism if it had one.

Still higher up in the animal kingdom, insects breathe through numerous spi­racles (pores) along their bodies. The body of a cockroach or dragon fly will continue to live for a couple or more days even if its head is cut off, because that headless body can continue to breathe through the spiracles. It will die eventually when the fuel in its body gets exhausted. If the supply of the fuel is maintained in the headless body by some sort of artificial feeding, it can be made to live longer. In such a case, is it correct to say that the headless body, still alive, has a part of the original soul of the insect, the other part being lost in the severed head?

Pulmonary respiration carried on by still higher types of animals like Vasanth Rao, is slightly complicated and centralised; hence these animals are not dividuals like lower organisms. Though mammals are individuals, they too have a dividual stage during their early development in their mother's wombs. Identical twins, trip­lets, quadruplets etc., result by the division of one and the same fertilized egg-cell. Do identical twins share one soul or reborn personality divided into halves?

In pulmonary respiration air is breathed into the lungs and there the oxygen is absorbed by the hemoglobin of the blood. The oxygenated blood is then sent through the arteries and capillaries by the pumping action of the heart to all the living tissues of the body, where oxidation of glucose, fats and proteins takes place liberating vital energy. The by-products of this chemical action - carbon dioxide and water - are absorbed by the de-oxygenated blood, and brought back to the lungs to- be exhaled.

If the oxygenated blood is prevented to reach any part of the body by blocking the artery leading to that part, the tissues in that part of the body will die. But, if blood circulation to that part is restored before the protoplasm in the cells there start decom­posing due to bacterial action, it will be possible to revive the tissues in that part.

Similarly, if the protoplasm in the cells of tissues or organs severed from the parent body is preserved without decomposition under aseptic conditions, it will be possible to revive those dead tissues or organs by grafting them on the living bodies of other organisms even after many years. If a person has one or more such grafted organs in his body, does it mean that fragments of souls from the donors of such organs have merged with his own soul?

Tissues removed from organisms are made to live and grow in cultures in labo­ratories. There are numerous cases of such cultured tissues continuing to live and grow long after the death of the parent organisms. In such cases, are we to assume that a part of the soul of the dead organism is left behind in the tissues under culture? Do rebirths take place in installments in such cases?

Dismembered organs and tissues can be preserved for many years in glycerin at deep- freeze temperature to be used for future grafting. It is found that dead muscle tissues so preserved, contract like living muscles when exposed to the chemical trigger action of ATP (Adenosine triphosphate). Does it mean that such tissues still retain their souls?

Desiccated yeast can be preserved for years under aseptic conditions in vacuum containers. If a pinch of such dry yeast is put into sugar solution, and kept in optimum temperature, the dead yeast cells will revive and start multiplying. When yeast cells are resuscitated thus, do the departed souls of the dead yeast return after many years to reenter their old bodies? Or, is it a case of rebirths of other dead organisms?

Single-celled organisms like the amoebae do not ordinarily die but divide down the middle to form two new offsprings, leaving behind no father, no mother, no corpse and no spirits. In a sense, they are immortal. Have such organisms no ghosts or rebirths?

Death is the cessation of respiration. In higher animals, both breathing and blood circulation are necessary to enable the living cells in all parts of the body to respire. If the involuntary muscles of the heart and the diaphragm happen to stop functioning the animal will die even if the protoplasm in the cells of its body is in perfect condition. Such dead organisms can be brought back to life by artificial meth­ods of resuscitation such as cardiac massage, 'kiss of life' or mouth to mouth breath­ing, iron lung, electronic pacemaker, heart and lungs machine etc.

In the case of Vasanth Babu Rao of Poona, his death was due to cardiac failure. His resurrection was due to the re-establishment of blood circulation before the proto­plasm in the cells of his body started decomposing. The violent jerk the corpse expe­rienced when the car was driven along the pot-holed road· gave sufficient mechanical stimulus for the muscles of the heart and the diaphragm to resume their rhythmical movements. The dead cells of the corpse now began to get sufficient oxygen to respire and produce fresh life.

Peter Sellers, the well-known film star of America, it was reported, died seven times in 1963, and each time he was revived by the use of electronic pacemaker.

Neither in the case of Vasanth Rao of Poona nor in the case of Peter Sellers of America can it be said that their 'departed' souls came back to re-enter their resur­rected bodies. Do resurrected persons get fresh souls, the old ones having gone to heaven or hell, or even reborn in some other places?

Life and mind cannot exist without there being a living body to carry on respira­tion. Mind is the product of electro-chemical activity of the nervous system. Like life, mind cannot survive the death and destruction of the neurons which constitute the nervous system of an animal. Thus, it is absurd to contend that memories of past lives can be recalled in a later rebirth as alleged to have occurred in the case of Gnanatilleke of Talawakalle or Shanthi Devi of Muttra. More and more scientific evidences are forthcoming showing that memories are molecular based. Recent researches of Prof. H. Hyden have shown that "in the nerve cells of the mature organism, experiences retained in learning lead to more or less lasting alterations in the chemical composi­tion of the cell's R N A (Ribonucleic Acid) content; a fact of great significance for the problem of memory". Hyden's opinion that memory is RNA-based finds corrobora­tion in Prof. J.V. McConnell's researches on the memory of planarial worms at the University of Michigan.

The experiments of McConnell and Jacobson have shown the possibility of trans­ferring memory from one organism to another by injecting memory-carrying mol­ecules of R N A from one to another.

Thus, in dealing with accounts of rebirth, we are only dealing with human testi­mony and often with human gullibility. They are devoid of either scientific or intellec­tual merit. A molecular-based property cannot survive the destruction of the mol­ecules on which it is based.

Cessation of respiration is also the cessation of life. The idea of an immortal soul escaping the mortal body resulted from the instinctive desire of our primitive forbears to avoid total annihilation. It is from such groundless beliefs that the earliest of reli­gions, animism and ancestor worship originated.

Survival of numerous superstitious institutions and practices such as temples, churches, mosques, devales, sacrifices, offerings, worships, prayers, pujas, pilgrimages, vows, blessings, sanctifications, devotion, exorcisms, kattadiyas, kappuralas, priests, bishops, cardinals, popes etc., stem from the unfounded belief in a 'life after death'. Man spends a good deal of his time, energy and hard-earned money unneces­sarily to secure a happy future for his imaginary soul. If he knows that death brings the end of his conscious existence, he will spend his time, energy and money to make this life better here and now, instead of enriching the priests, churches and temples.

It is a paying job for priests of all religions to perpetuate the belief that death is only the beginning of an eternal life 'in the other world', for, it is on such beliefs in the minds of the gullible that their livelihood depends. Since priests have no possible means of brainwashing the domestic or wild animals into the belief of the survival of their spirits, they are free from being haunted or possessed by departed spirits, or from the fear of going to hell or being reborn in a miserable state.

Let us be rational, and work to make our present existence happy for us and our fellow beings. Let us learn to live at peace and harmony with our neighbours even if their languages, cultures and superstitions differ from those of ours. Above all, let us refrain wisely from brain washing our own children with superstitious beliefs handed over to us by our ignorant forbears. 


Twitter Delicious Facebook Digg Stumbleupon Favorites More