Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Hanging of Conscience: Case of Afzal Guru

Ram Puniyani

The semi secretive hanging of Afzal Guru (Feb 2013) has come as a shock to some and as a feeling of triumphalism for many. Afzal Guru was hanged in early hours of morning and was buried in the prison yard. His mercy petition, which was pending with the President for long was finally rejected and even before the family of Afzal Guru could get a chance to appeal against the turning down of plea for clemency, Guru was hanged. While the ethical questions pertaining to death penalty are heavy on the conscience of many in the society, this is not regarded as the part of ‘collective conscience’ which has guided the judgment of Supreme Court and later the President turning down his petition for clemency. The section of society which thought that Guru’s sentence itself needs to be questioned also does not seem to form the’ conscience’ of the nation!

Kashmir valley was totally insulated from the news and TV channels gagged. The restive mood of the people led to the death of some. In the absence of the proper information, rumours are doing rounds and what disastrous consequences it can have needs a serious thought from the rulers in the corridors of power.

 Many a questions have been raised due to this hanging. Why hanging and why at this time?  Guru was one of the accused in the case of assault on the Parliament on 13 December 2001, in which, eight security personnel and one gardener were killed. Guru was not found to be part of any terrorist outfit, nor did he play any direct role in this attack. Supreme Court noted that there is no direct evidence of Guru’s involvement. The evidence was mainly circumstantial. All three courts including Supreme Court had acquitted him of the charges under POTA of belonging to either a terrorist organization or a terrorist gang. Court also noted that the evidence was fabricated.

At worst Guru was facilitator in the crime and not a part of directly perpetrating the crime, and the evidence against him was mere circumstantial and that the police lied about the time and place of arrest, fabricated evidence including arrest memos and extracted false confessions. Court noted that Guru was not a member of any banned organization, Court ruled "The conviction under section 3 (2) of POTA is set aside. The conviction under section 3 (5) of POTA is also set aside because there is no evidence that he is a member of a terrorist organization, once the confessional statement is excluded. Incidentally, we may mention that even going by confessional statement, it is doubtful whether the membership of a terrorist gang or organization is established." Further that since "The incident, which resulted in heavy casualties, had shaken the entire nation and the collective conscience of the society will only be satisfied if capital punishment is awarded to the offender." So does it mean that the punishment is being given to assuage the collective national conscience? One must add what is presented as this conscience is the consciousness of the section of dominant sections of society, the assertive social-political groups in particular. The conscience manufactured by the likes of VHP, Bajrang Dal and company, have come to be labelled and accepted as national ‘collective conscience’ by many, It is these groups who are who are celebrating the death of Guru, exhibiting their triumphalism.

In their petition to the President of India, many social activists and academics point out “The fact that the Court appointed as amicus curiae (friend of the court) a lawyer in whom Afzal had expressed no faith; the fact that he went legally unrepresented from the time of his arrest till his so-called confession, the fact that the court asked him to either accept the lawyer appointed by the Court or cross examine the witness himself should surely have concerned you while considering his mercy petition.”

His personal history of being a surrendered militant, victim of harassment and torture at the hands of STF, as well as his statement in open court that he had indeed helped Mohammad, one of the attackers on the Parliament, find a house and obtain a car, the same car used in the attack, but at the orders of his STF handlers, should have spurred a full-scale investigation into the allegations. The citizens of this country do not know if one was ordered at all.”

 The base on which Supreme Court gave the judgment was built by the police with methods which are questionable, which have also been reprimanded by the court in this case. The argument on the other side was that if Guru is not hanged it will be an insult to those who have laid their lives for defending the parliament

While Supreme Court deserves all the respect, one has to see that the primary investigation done by the police, with all its flaws formed the base of the judgment. When that investigation itself had holes in it, should it be accepted as it is presented? When the primary culprits are either dead are some of them absconding, can 'the whole truth be out'? Or is it that somebody has anyway to be punished to quench the thirst for revenge, and who better than the one who has a Muslim name and happens to be from Kashmir. The whole trial of Afzal needed to be relooked; the flaws of the investigation, the weakness of and deliberate violation of norms by police authorities in particular.

The question which comes is why the other assassins, the one’s of Rajiv Gandhi and the Punjab Chief Minister Beant Singh are being given a different treatment? The assemblies of Punjab and Tamil Nadu have passed resolutions against death penalties for these people, who were directly involved with the acts of assassination. The whole issue boils down to as to how Indian state has treated the Kashmir issue and how terrorism and Muslims have been associated in the popular thinking. This thinking has been deliberately promoted by the communal forces in the country. A section of media has played a very negative role in promoting the divisive thinking in the society. Section of media has acted as spokespersons for the police versions of investigation. So the ‘collective conscience’ is the common sense asserted by communal forces and imbibed by the others. It does reflect the state of our democracy overall. Can we call ourselves as a democracy and indulge in minority bashing; being high handed in matters of justice and citizenship rights in cases of the vulnerable minorities.

Kashmir had been limping towards better situation during last few years. While alienation amongst large section of Kashmiris remains deep set, there have been indications that people may reconcile to new situation, if democratization process in Kashmir is strengthened by and by. This hanging of Afzal Guru reminds one of the hanging of Maqbul Butt in 1984, which set the trail for a phase of enhanced militancy. One hopes that such an adverse thing should not happen this time. But still we need to take the issue of protest in Kashmir in a more balanced way. Congress should not join the game of aggressive jingoism launched by BJP and its affiliates. Such cases of yielding to the religious nationalism, promoted by BJP and company will surely be a recipe for disaster for the process of normalization and democratization in Kashmir. The communal mind set should not be allowed to rule the roost.  

Sunday, 24 February 2013

D. D. Kosambi’s Views on the Six Heretics and the Buddha: A Critique

Ramkrishna Bhattacharya

Both D. D. Kosambi (1907-66) and Debiprasad Chattopadhyaya (1918-93), two leading Marxist thinkers in India, discussed at length the teachings of the six heretics and of the Buddha during the sixth/fifth century BCE in their seminal works, An Introduction to the Study of Indian History (1956) and Lokāyata (1959) respectively. It will be interesting to compare and contrast their views and observe how, in spite of their basic similarity of approach, they arrived at almost opposite conclusions in the 1950s. It may also be stated in advance that Kosambi did not radically alter his views in his last work, The Culture and Civilisation of Ancient India in Historical Outline (1965), although he added much that was new. On the other hand, Chattopadhyaya gradually modified his views and came to a more appreciative assessment of the six heretics and the Buddha. His last work, History of Science and Technology in Ancient India, Vol. 2 (1991) records his mature opinion of these thinkers.

Kosambi, as is well-known, was not primarily interested in philosophy and in his magnum opus does not deal with the later developments of the orthodox (āstika) and heterodox (nāstika) systems. Yet he dealt with the six heretics and their legacy (as also of the Buddha) in some detail and tried to account for both their origin and extinction. Quite naturally the Buddha gets the lion’s share in his discussion but  other thinkers are not treated cursorily. Kosambi summarizes their teachings and assesses their views against the backdrop of the transition from tribe to state, from a pastoral economy to an agricultural one and what constituted the Buddha’s pre-eminence ((1956/75), 162-171).

Chattopadhyaya’s study in 1959 was directed to a single question: Why did the teachings of the Buddha’s contemporaries, especially the major five of the so-called sixty-two heretics, fail to survive while the teachings of the Buddha succeeded? Chattopadhyaya’s answer was: The Buddha had provided the right illusion to replace reality which his other contemporaries could not (506-07).

In this connection Chattopadhyaya refers to Kosambi but does not seem to notice his observation on the significance of majjhimā paipadā , the Middle Way ((1956/1975), 165).

Moreover, speaking of asceticism Chattopadhyaya misses the point that Kosambi pointed out quite empatically:

[A]sceticism was not their (sc. the heretical teachers’) discovery, for even brahmins had the tradition that the simple non-killing food-gatherer’s life in the forest was in some way specially meritorious. These new sects brought some practical conclusions  out of that simple life for the whole of a food-producing non-tribal society ((1956/1975), 165-66. Emphasis added).1
It is interesting to observe that Kosambi attempted to link the views of the six heretics to the later developments of Indian philosophy: Ajita to the Cārvāka/ Lokāyata, Pakudha to Vaiśeika, Praa to Sākhya, Makkhali to Yoga (1956/1975, 164) – not exactly as a philosophical system but as physical exercise.2

Chattopadhyaya initially ignored these aspects and paid no attention to the philosophical inheritance of the heretical systems either in Lokāyata or in his other works published before the early 1970s. It was only from the late 1970s when he devoted himself to the study of history of science in ancient India that he discovered new merits in the ideas of the six heretics as also in the Buddha’s teachings, particularly in the doctrine of dependent origination (paicya samuppāda/ pratītya samutpāda). He had viewed this doctrine in Lokāyata (500-02) exclusively in terms of its application to human suffering (dukkha /dukha), not as a universal principle applicable to all phenomena, human suffering being only one of them (as Rhys Davids (44) explains). Kosambi, on the contrary, discovered in the concept of nirodha (cessation), the third of the Four Noble Truths,3 the origin of the philosophical question of negation. Kosambi considered this aspect to be the quintessence of the Buddhist dialectics (as Moggallāna instantly understood it when Assajit told him in a nutshell what his master had preached. Mahāvastu-avadāna, 3:83). Kosambi then refers to the negation of the negation, which came to be formulated as late as the nineteenth century by Hegel and subsequently adopted by Marx and Engels in their materialist version of dialectics ((1956/75),171).4

I have already mentioned that Kosambi and Chattopadhyaya, in spite of their basic similarity of approach, had initially  arrived at almost opposite  conclusions in the 1950s. The starting point even then was the same: transition from the pre-class society (tribe) to the class-divided society (state). Yet Chattopadhyaya harped on the illusory nature of the Buddha’s teachings and the element of despair and frustration common to the five of the chief heretics. Kosambi, on the contrary, found many more positive elements in the teachings of the Buddha and the six heretics as evinced in the continuity found in later developments of Indian philosophy. Chattopadhyaya too came to the same conclusion much later, only in 1991, when he studied the philosophical systems in relation to the history of science and technology in ancient India.

Let us now concentrate on how Kosambi viewed the advent and historical significance of the six heretics and the Buddha.


Kosambi lays much stress on the rise of so many heretical views all at a time in ancient India at a particular juncture of history. He notes that the kings of those days “were deeply interested in religious matters and protected these sects” ((1956/1975),163). “It follows,” he says, “that the new beliefs were the expression of some urgent needs, some change in the productive basis” (164. Emphasis added).
Kosambi then points out three features common to these sects. They may be summarized as follows:

1) “Each of them (sc. the new sects) had involved considerable mental and physical effort on the part of the first proponent” ((1956/1975),166). They underwent years of painful asceticism before they began to preach their doctrines. In passing Kosambi remarks: “There is no point in arguing whether they were Hindu or not; Hinduism came to existence, with the indelible stamp of these sects, only when they had faded many centuries later.” (166. Emphasis added.)

2) “Without exception, even when the founder was a brahmin like Praa and Sajaya, they actively or passively denied the validity of vedic rituals and observances. In the study of these sects, the final metaphysical differences are of lesser importance than the background phenomena of tribal life and the monstrous cancer growth of sacrificial ritual in the tribal kingdoms. It is out of these and as a protest against their anti-social features that everyone of the sects appeared….[T]he new society had gone over to agriculture, so that the slaughter of more and more animals at a growing number of sacrifices meant a much heavier drain upon producer and production.” (166)

3) “[T]he new religions were at the beginning all much less costly to support than vedic brahminism. The śramaa monks and ascetics took no part in production, as their creeds forbade them to labour but neither did they exercise the least control over the means of production. They were forbidden ownership of houses, fields, cattle, the touch of gold and silver and trade….Not only the family but caste and tribe were also renounced by the monk upon ordination, which meant adoption into a quasi-tribal sagha.” (168)

In this connection Kosambi mentions the rules of the Buddhist sagha in particular and observes: “The Buddha himself followed the rule till his death at the age of eighty. His disciples went along new trade routes, even into the tribal wilderness, bearing the message of peace, but coincidentally the influence of Magadhan trade. Because they preached in the people’s languages, they lived closer to the people than the brahmin with his monopoly of the obscure vedic Sanskrit” (168-69).

Kosambi feels that the Buddha provided a ‘new religion [that] was the exact parallel, for the same economic reasons, of the move towards “universal monarchy”, the absolute despotism of one as against the endlessly varied tyranny of the many’ (169). Moreover, “brahmin ritual (sc. yajña, animal sacrifice) then served only the kings, nobles, chiefs or rich traders, but had very little use for the common man in contrast to the later fully developed brahmin priesthood which performed even the most trifling ritual for anybody for inconsiderable payment.” 5 The Buddhist doctrine, on the other hand, ‘called itself “Aryan”, thus admitting the right of indigenous tribal elements and lower castes to ennoble themselves merely by just action, contrary to brahmin theory’ (169).

Ethical code in place of magic ritual, frugal way of livimg instead of ostentatious display of wealth in performing costly sacrifices, and such like features are common to all the heretical doctrines, not exclusively of the Buddhist sagha. What then made the Buddha pre-eminent of them all? Chattopadhyaya’s answer was: the Buddha had provided the right illusion of the epoch which his other contemporaries could not. Kosambi does not think in terms of illusion and reality at all. Before getting into this issue he first frames an altogether different question: Why did so many alternatives to the Vedic religion rise in one narrow region in eastern India rather than in the strongholds of the Vedists?

If it were a matter of simple continuity and gradual evolution, the new religions should have arisen on the Indus with its ruined memories of a great civilisation, or in the north-west which had been and remained the centre of Vedic culture for centuries, or in Kuru-land which was the locus of the Mahābhārata story and the suitable place for the morality with which the great epic is overloaded, or at Mathurā from which a new and powerful cult of Krishna as all-god eventually to spread. Why did the newest and in some cultural respects rather backward land of the east take the lead in the most advanced form of religion?” (1965/1972, 100)

Kosambi then goes on to relate the rise of new religions (not only of Buddhism) to the rise of new classes in the Gangetic basin. There were free peasants and farmers there. “The neo-Vedic pastoral class of vaiśyas within the tribe was replaced by agriculturist for whom the tribe had ceased to exist” (100). Traders had become so wealthy that the kings also used to treat them with respect. The key to the change in society as a whole was the origin of private property in farm animals, in land and its produce. Killing of cattle in ritual sacrifices was now frowned upon and embodied in the doctrine of ahi, non-violence. “How completely the sixth-century reform drove this [Vedic sacrifice of cattle] too out of fashion is seen by the absolute Hindu tabu upon cattle-killing and beef-eating…. A modern orthodox Hindu would place beef-eating on the same level as cannibalism, whereas Vedic brahmins had fattened upon a steady diet of sacrificed beef” (102).
Moreover, “the new eastern teachers rose above all ritual and broke the strongest tabu by eating cooked food from the hands of another caste however low, or even left-overs of soiled food” (103). “The leaders of the various innovating sects and their monkish followers (not the lay believers) gained their livelihood mostly by alms. This was at base reversion to food-gathering….Celibacy and abstinence from holding property made the new teachers much more economic than greedy fire priests in an acquisitive society” (103-04).

Again, all this are more or less common to all the heretical sects, excepting perhaps Mokkhali Gosāla, who is said to have indulged in sensuous orgy before his death, drinking spirits, singing incessanatly and dancing. But he did all this in a state of delirium (Basham 61-62). Kosambi finds a clue to the victory of the Buddha over other heretics in this particular respect:

Buddhism stood between the two extremes: unrestrained individualistic self-indulgence and equally individualistic but preposterous ascetic punishment of the body. Hence its steady rise, and its name ‘The Middle Way’. (105)

This doctrine of the Middle Way then marks the superiority of Buddhism over all other anti-Vedic religions of the times. It did not provide an illusion but a viable way of life, no less real than the others.

Not only this, Kosambi considers the Noble Eightfold Path (ārya aṣṭāgika mārga) to be the core of Buddhism. This is why Buddhism was “the most social of religions; the applications of its various steps are carefully developed and expounded…” (106. Emphasis added). The early monks “would accompany caravans, but even then passed the night outside the camp. The Buddhist monk was forbidden labour for profit and for agriculture, having to live on alms or by gathering food in the forest without the taking of life; only thus would he be free to concentrate upon his social duties, the obligation to lead all to the proper Way“ (107. Emphasis added).

It was not merely the attainment of personal nirvāa that guided the Buddhist monk; his social mission is of cardinal importance. These features of Buddhism explain why it succeeded in its mission while other heretical doctrines could not.

It is apparent that Kosambi cares little for the metaphysics or ontology of Buddhism. It is the social philosophy of the Buddha that concerns and impresses him most. Dropping his customary reticence he waxes eloquent on the achievements of Asoka (Aśoka), “the great emperor,” and highlights this very aspect which marks him different from the Arthaśāstra king:

The Arthaśāstra king owed nothing to anyone; his sole business was to rule for the profit of the state, with efficiency as the one ultimate criterion. With Asoka, the social philosophy expressed in the sixth-century Magadhan religions had at last penetrated the state mechanism ((1965/1972), 158). 

In connection with the intellectual turmoil in the then India Kosambi acutely observes:

The sixth century B. C. produced the philosophy of Confucius in China and the sweeping reforms of Zoroaster in Iran. In the middle of the Gangetic basin there were many entirely new teachers of whom the Buddha was only one, not the most popular in his own day. (97, 100)

He might have added that Greece too witnessed the rise of Presocratic philosophers in the same period.6 Now that the time of the Buddha’s death has been brought down to c. 400 BCE (Norman 50-51), the period of the rise of several competing doctrines in Eastern India would be the fifth century BCE. Of all the teachers who dissociated themselves from the Vedic vara (caste) system, the Buddha alone was to propose a new way of life and put forward a new concept of the state. Speaking of the Buddha’s pronouncements of the new duties for the absolute monarch (such as, maintenance of peace and order, public works for the benefit of the subjects, etc., in short, a model of welfare state appropriate to the those days), Kosambi writes:

This is a startling modern view of political economy. To have propounded it at a time of Vedic yajña to a society that had just begun to conquer the primeval jungle was an intellectual achievement of the highest order. The new philosophy gave man control over himself. (113.Emphasis added)

At the same time, Kosambi does not fail to notice the basic limitation of this new philosophy in a backward society: “What it could not give was limitless scientific and technical control over nature with the benefits to be shared by all mankind according to individual and social need” (114).

That the doctrine nevertheless continued to grow even after the Buddha’s death is “because it was eminently fitted to the needs of a rapidly evolving society” (114).

To sum up then: Kosambi’s explanation of the rise of the heretical doctrines and the ultimate victory of the Buddha’s teachings over others provides an excellent instance of studying history afresh, as Engels urged Marxists to do (Selsam and others (eds.) 71). Instead of following what Marx had summarily dismissed as a “super-historical” theory (Selsam and others (eds.) 71), Kosambi attends to all the details of the socio-economic scenario prevailing in the Gangetic basin during the sixth/fifth century BCE. Nor does he undervalue the genius of the Buddha and his intellectual achievements, and explains his success both in terms of the crying need of the hour and how he alone could fulfil it, not the others. Yet Kosambi insists that “Buddhism cannot be treated solely as a personal achievement  of its unquestionably great founder nor was its decline due to the imperfections of humanity” ((1965/1972), 100). Thus, taking both the objective and the subjective conditions into consideration, Kosambi provided a model for Marxist historical analysis, radically different from any other “Marxist” interpretation offered by others.7

Notes and References

1Kosambi says all this in his later work in less detail ((1965/1972), 104-05). For Chattopadhyaya’s views see R. Bhattacharya 2010.

2 Kosambi’s observation on Yoga is highly sardonic and worth quoting:
Yoga within limits is a good system of exercise in a hot climate for people who do not live by muscular exertion and hard physical labour. The most that one can attain by it is some measure of control over normally involuntary functions of the body, and good health; but no supernatural powers [such as becoming invisible or flying through the air at will]. (1965/72, 105)

3The Four Noble Truths are: i) dukkha, suffering, ii) dukkhasamudaya, origin of suffering, iii) dukkhanirodha, cessation of suffering, and iv)dukkhanirodhagāminī paipadā, way to the cessation of suffering. (Dhammacakkapavattana sutta, 5-8)

4For a more detailed discussion of negation and the negation of negation, see R. Bhattacharya 2009.

5In his later work (1965) Kosambi says the same in another way: “The yajña was ended for the easterner in all but theory; the brahmin of the future would eventually agree to serve all castes as priest and to adopt new worships to old forms in order to gain his livelihood – paying lip service to the Vedas all the while” (1965/1972),104.

6Katherine Osborne has recently provided a short but lucid account of the Presocratics. The classic Marxist account by George Thomson is still worth studying.

7See, for example, Ram Bilas Sharma’s very “left-wing” but largely pointless study and contrast it with Kosambi’s. It is rather strange that nothing of Kosambi was included in a collection of essays entitled Buddhism: The Marxist Approach.

Works Cited

Basham, A. L. History and Doctrine of the Ājīvikas. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass (MLBD), 1981 (first pub. 1951).
Bhattacharya, Ramkrishna. “Basham, Kosambi, and the Negation of Negation”, Psyche and Society (Kolkata), 7:2, December 2009, pp. 71-75.
Bhattacharya, Ramkrishna. “The Buddha and the Six Heretics: How Debiprasad Chattopadhyaya Viewed Them”. Psyche and Society. 8: 2, December 2010, 17-21.
Chattopadhyaya, Debiprasad. History of Science and Technology in Ancient India, Vol. 2, Calcutta: Firma KLM, 1991.
Chattopadhyaya, Debiprasad . Lokāyata: A Study in Ancient Indian Materialism . New Delhi: People’s Publishing House (PPH), 1959 (third edition 1973).
Dhammacakkapavattana sutta in Sayutta Nikāya (5. Mahāvagga), ed. Jagadish Kasyap, Patna: Pali Pulication Board, 1959, p. 361. These four ariyasaccas are also mentioned in some other suttas that follow (pp. 363 ff.). 
Kosambi, D. D. An Introduction to the Study of Indian History. Bombay: Popular Book Depot, 1956 (Revised second edition. Bombay: Popular Prakashan, 1975).
Kosambi, D. D. The Culture and Civilisation in Ancient India in Historical Outline. Delhi: Vikas Publishing House, 1972 (first published 1965).
Mahāvastu Avadāna.  Ed.  Radhagobinda Basak. Vol. 3. Calcutta: Sanskrit College, 1968.
Norman, K.R. A Philological Approach to Buddhism. The Bukkyō Dendō Kyōkai Lectures 1994. Lancaster: The Pali Text Society, 2006.
Osborne, Katherine. Presocratic Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.
Rhys Davids, T.W. Dialogues of the Buddha. London: Oxford University Press, vol. 1, 1899.
Sankrityayan, Rahul and others. Buddhism: The Marxist Approach. New Delhi: PPH, 1978 (first published 1970).
Selsam, Howard, David Goldway and Harry Martel (eds.). Dynamics of Social Change: A Reader in Marxist Social Science. New York: International Publishers, 1983.
Sharma, Ram Bilas. “Some Aspects of the Teaching of Buddha” in Sankrityayan and others, pp. 54-65.
Thomson, George. Studies in Ancient Greek Society, vol. 2. The First Philosophers. London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1955.

Acknowledgements: Amitava Bhattacharyya, Arindam Saha, Krishna Del Toso

Ramkrishna Bhattacharya taught English at the University of Calcutta, Kolkata and was an Emeritus Fellow of University Grants Commission. He is now a Fellow of Pavlov Institute, Kolkata.

This paper first appeared in Psyche and Society (9:1, May 2010, 55-60), the organ of Pavlov Institute, 98, Mahatma Gandhi Road, Kolkata – 700007.

Friday, 22 February 2013

Science versus Miracles: Cooking Rice in Cold Water

B Premanand

The tantrik claims that through his mental power he can cook rice in cold water. He fills rice in a vessel, pours water, places the lid over it and chants incantations. When he removes the lid, the rice is cooked and apparently steaming hot.

Experiment: 95

Effect:  Cooking rice in cold water.

Props: Aluminum vessel with lid, rice, quick lime from the kiln, and water.

Method: Mix beforehand 1:1 of rice and the lime. Show the rice to test whether it is raw or cooked. Pour the rice into the vessel and fill it with water two inches above the rice. Then close it with the lid. Chant incantations for a few minutes. The burnt lime generates heat when it comes into contact with water and it cooks the rice. Remove the lid and show that the rice is cooked and hot.

Experiment: 96

The tantrik claims to have powers to prevent anyone getting burnt. He places a towel on the head of a girl with plenty of hair. Then he makes a fire on her head, boils water over it and prepares tea. After the fire is removed, not even one hair is seen to have been burnt, nor the towel.

Effect:  Preparing tea with fire made on the head

Props: Tea making pan with handle, water, Turkish towel, wick on metal ring, kerosene, matchbox, tea leaves, milk and sugar.

Method: A Turkish towel is dipped in water and excess water squeezed out. The towel is folded and kept on the head of the girl. On the towel fire is made, using the wick ring dipped in kerosene and lit. The pan with water is held over the fire till the water boils. Then tea leaves, milk and sugar are added and given to the girl to drink. Remove the fire when the tea is made and also the towel. The audience will be surprised that nothing has happened to the head or hair of the girl or to the towel.

Here the principle of boiling water in a paper cup is used. Until the water in the wet towel evaporates, the towel, hair or head, will not burn.

Experiment:  97

Effect: Creating fruits which people ask for

The godman shows an empty vessel, keeps it on a table and asks his devo­tees one by one to name any fruit he wants. He puts his hand in the empty vessel and picks up the fruit and gives it to him.

Props: A table with three sides closed and a door at the back, with a hole big enough for any fruit to pass with a collapsible lid at the top of the table. All kinds of fruits stored below the table and an accomplice inside the table. A vessel with collapsible bottom large enough to pass fruits.

Method: Show the vessel empty and keep it on the hole portion of the table. The accomplice under the table moves the collapsible portion of the table and the vessel. Call the audience one by one and ask each as to what fruit he likes best and put your hand in the vessel while the accomplice would feed the fruit to you through the hole. Take it out from the vessel and present it to the person.

Experiment: 98

Effect: Cloth does not burn when lit.

A handkerchief, or a piece of cloth, is dipped in oil and set alight. Though one can see the fire, the cloth does not get burnt.

Props: Carbon Disulphide, Carbon Tetrachloride, cloth and matchbox.

Method: Take 1:1 of the chemicals and mix. Dip the cloth in this solution and light it immediately, holding the fire on the top. Extinguish the fire when the solution has burnt or evaporated. The cloth does not get burnt.

Similarly currency notes dipped in the solution can be set on fire without getting burnt. Practise first with paper (so that you do not lose the currency note) to know at exactly what point you have to extinguish the fire. Do not bring the lighted match too near the currency note.

Experiment: 99

Effect: A metal ring hangs by a thread even after the thread is burnt.

A thread is shown and a ring is tied to the lower end. Then the thread is lit and it bums, but the ring does not fall.

Props: Saturated solution of alum or salt, saturated solution of potassium nitrate, thread, light-weight aluminum ring and painting brush. 

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Adi Shankara and Indian Materialist Philosophy (Materialism in Indian Philosophy – Part IV)

MN Roy

The dynamic view of nature attained a high degree of clarity with the Jains. The dialectic logic developed by the Jain philosophers was later on condemned by Sankaracharya as “an unsettling style of reasoning”. It was, indeed, unsettling for the rigid orthodox logic which set up an imaginary absolute standard. Once the abso­luteness of the standard of truth is disputed, the whole airy structure of doctrines and dogmas, reared upon that foundation, necessarily collapses.

The Jain philosophers maintained that contradictory attributes, such as being and non-being, could belong to one and the same thing. They subjected the conceptions of absoluteness, unity and eternity to their “unsettling style of reasoning”. The result was rejection of the doc­trine of the Brahman. The disruptive effect of their views and methods of reasoning can be judged from the charge Shaukaracharya brought against them: “If you maintain that the heavenly world and final release exist or do not exist, and are eternal or non-eternal, the absence of all determinate knowledge, which is implied in such statements, will result in nobody's acting for the purpose of gaining the heavenly world and final release.”

The Jains also believed in Soul; but they conceived it as a constantly changing entity-something very different from the orthodox “simple and immortal” divine spark in man. They thought that soul was composed of an infinite number of particles - “soul-atoms” - which was constantly increasing and decreasing. That, in their opinion, did not affect the permanence of the soul; for a thing can be permanent and non-permanent at the same time. For example, although the water is constantly flowing, the stream of water is always there. The ontological, counterpart of this logic is obvious: The phenomenal world is permanent and real with all its continual changes and transitoriness.

In the antique period, as well as in the middle-ages, Indian society never quite reached a level of evolution where the power and position of the priesthood could be successfully disputed by a new social class which, by its Very nature, would be the standard-bearer of scientific thought and thus lay down the foundation of philosophy.

The distinctive feature of Indian speculation, com­mon to all schools, including even those materialist and quasi-materialist ones, some records of which have come down in history, is the anxiety to find release from the bondage of the life in this world. This morbid conception of life originated in the chaotic and depressing conditions resulting from the disintegration of the antique social order. The picture of social conditions towards the close of the Epic Era, as depicted in the Mahabharata, is anything but bright. Such conditions were sure to beget pessimism as well as revolt. Legends, recorded in the Mahabharata, testify to the rise of the forces of revolt which sometimes were too powerful for the weakened Kshattriya ruling class. But that was an elemental movement, rather actuated by despair than inspired by the ideal of a new social order.

Pessimism was the prevailing spirit. All the schools of Indian speculation bear the stamp. All look upon nature as a source of bondage; the freedom was not to be had by bursting the bondage, that is, by conquering, nature, but by the easier, imaginary way of running away from the “evil”. The idea of conquering the external nature never entered Indian speculation. Therefore, it could not ever attain the level of real philosophy. Self mortification is not the conquest of nature. It is to block all the ways of knowing external causes. It means plung­ing into the dark ocean- of blissful ignorance.

Self-mortification, however, had no place in the pri­mitive Vedic religion which, like all natural religions, was "materialistic" in the vulgar sense of the term. Pessi­mism, begotten in the chaotic and miserable conditions of the disintegration of the tribal society, was seized upon by the priestly ruling class as the opportunity for expound­ing the pernicious doctrine of renunciation and self-mor­tification which became such an effective weapon in the struggle for maintaining their dominating position. Life ­is full of miseries, because the desires of man can never be' satisfied. Control the desires, you will be free from the evils of nature, and all misery will cease. Eternal bliss will be yours. The triumph of this "spiritualist" view of life reflected a tremendous social reaction which, in its turn, deeply affected speculative thought for a long time to come. Even revolutionary Buddhism could not fully live down that corrupting tradition of a previous social reaction, and was eventually vitiated by the poison. The triumph of the doctrine of self-mortification as the way out of the miseries of life represented the defeat of the ­forces of dissatisfaction with, and revolt against, the esta­blished order of things.

The discontent with things as they are is the condi­tion for their change. The replacement of discontent by resignation, of revolt by indifference, means stagnation of social energy. All striving for material progress ceases, and ideological evolution is correspondingly affected. The triumph of the reactionary priesthood in the class struggle of remote antiquity determined the peculiar feature of Indian speculative thought. The triumph of reaction, in its turn, was possible because there had not yet arisen a class which could lead Indian society out of the crisis resulting from the downfall of the tribal social order. In course of time, the relation of classes changed. More or less disruptive schools of speculation flourished. But they all bore, in a greater or lesser degree, the distinctive stamp which signified a very slow process of social evolution, and the consequent continuation of sacerdotal supremacy.

The urges of life compel man to take up the endless struggle with nature. In course of this struggle, man penetrates deeper and deeper into the mysteries of the Universe, and progressively these mysteries cease to be mysterious. Primitive empiricism gives birth to philosophy; philosophy is the mother of science, and finally science enthrones the venerable mother as the "science of sciences". The taboo on the joy of life, the perverse pre­judice against the natural urges of life, emasculates man. It holds him back from the mission, given to him by his very being. Consequently, it precludes a free spiritual evolution. Man creates science and philosophy; when the conditions of his social existence set limits to his human existence, his thoughts are naturally distorted. Indian speculation presents such a picture of distorted thought.

Therefore, the rationalist, materialist and naturalist teachings of Kanad, Kapila, Brihaspati, Gautama, Mahabir, and others were ultimately buried under the ruins of the Buddhist revolution. Brahma­nical reaction, reasserting itself in the scholasti­cism of Sankaracharya, choked all spiritual pro­gress so successfully that a renaissance of the ancient liberating thought was delayed until it was too late. The Hindu ruling classes were so exhausted by the delirium of having overwhelmed a mighty revolution that the country became an easy prey to foreign invaders. General prostration and stagnation, on the other hand, precluded the rise of new social forces corresponding to those which rescued Europe from the darkness of the pious and spiri­tual middle-ages.

Whatever record exists about the various schools of philosophical thought in ancient India, bears testimony to the fact that dissatisfaction with the Vedic Natural Reli­gion gave rise to speculations about the origin of the world, which inevitably developed tendencies to explain the world in physical terms. In India also, physics preceded metaphysics. Much of the really philosophical thought of ancient India has unfortunately been lost. But from the fragmentary evidence recorded, that forgotten chapter of the spiritual history of India can be reconstructed. As everywhere, originally, in India also philosophy was materialism. The materialistic outcome of the speculations of the rebels against the Vedic Natural Religion, contained in the three systems of philosophy proper, namely, Vaisheshik, Sankhya and Nyaya, provided the inspiration for the greatest event in the history of ancient India - the Buddhist Revolution. The spiritual development of India during nearly a thousand years, be­ginning from the seventh century B.C., was very largely dominated by materialist and rationalist tendencies. It is highly doubtful whether the Vedanta system was formu­lated before the end of that Golden Age of Indian history. Internal evidence dearly proves the opposite case. The main purpose with which Vedantist pantheism was deve­loped was to combat the materialist systems of Kanad and Kapila as well as the revolutionary doctrines of Buddhism .and the unsettling logic of the Jains. That being the case, it is permissible to maintain that in ancient India, until the fall of Buddhism, philosophy was largely materialistic. Even as late as the fourth century A.D., in the period of triumphant Hindu restoration under the Gupta dynasty, the Chinese traveller Fa Hien found in India no less than "ninety-six heretical sects, all of whom admitted the reality of world y phenomena."

Sankaracharya constructed his rigidly logical, but philosophically ambiguous system of monism for combating Buddhist idealism. But the real enemy he had to contend with was the materialist traditions of the pre-Buddhist philosophy. His works are full of long polemics against materialist and naturalist doctrines, so much so that the fragments, profusely quoted by him, can serve as a reliable foundation for reconstructing the latter.

The following can be reconstructed as the summary of the "atheism and materialism" that ankaracharya combated, from fragmentary evidences contained in his own works:

Religious doctrines are all meaningless words. Their foundation is the idea of God whose very existence can­not be proved. The God is the Creator, but he has no origin. If it is admitted that there must be a Creator and ruler of the world, then, there arises the question: Who created the Creator? Whence did he come? The Creator is said to be without beginning and without end; without any limit. But after all, he is a Creator, which implies a personality on his part. The God is, indeed, considered to be the Creator. But a person cannot be without begin­ning and end and other limits. If the God is limited, then, is it not possible that there may exist a power over and above him? The God is believed to be all-powerful and, all-pervading. But these attributes of the God cease to be what they are believed to be, as soon as they are imagined by man. Thus, the essence of the God, the Creator, disappears. Then, it is taught that desire is the cause of creation. From this, it follows that God himself is not free from desire. Further, if the Universe is created by the Will of God, then, God himself must have the feeling of want; for, wish grows out of want. The feeling of want destroys omnipotence, omniscience and all other superhuman attributes ascribed to the God.

What has come down to us as the most authoritative and representative Hindu philosophy, was the creation of Sankaracharya. He was the ideologist of the Brahmanical reaction and patriarchal sacerdotal society which were re- established on the ruins of the Buddhist revolution. But all Sankaracharya's efforts for liquidating the traditions of the really philosophical thoughts of ancient India were a failure. This very important fact of the spiritual history of India is not realised. Yet, it is obvious from a critical study of Sankaracharya's work. He failed to meet the materialists on their ground. He could not refute their arguments. He had to fall back on the authority of the Scriptures, the repudiation of which had been the starting point of all philosophical thought in ancient India. Of all the great ancient rationalists, Kapila alone had admitted scriptural testimony as evidence. But that was only a formal concession. While declaring that the existence of God could not be proved, because there was no evidence, Kapila does not take scriptural testimony into account. Even the Vedanta Sutras themselves do not accept the Scriptures as answering all the questions raised by those dissatisfied with the dogmas of natural religion. "Not having found the highest bliss in the Vedas, Sandi­lya studied the Sastras."[1] The latter contain primitive rationalism which rejects the childish faith of the Vedic religion.

So highly developed and powerful were the materialist and naturalist schools combated by Sankaracharya, that, whenever he tried to refute their arguments logical­ly, he was driven to take up an essentially materialistic position. His pantheistic monism is inverted materialism. The Mayavad is a shame-faced recognition of the reality of the external world. It is only by degenerating into a dogmatic system of theology, which tries to reconcile even ­the gods of the Vedic natural religion with the metaphy­sical conception of Brahman that Sankaracharya's system apparently escapes the glorious fate common to all sys­tems of consistent pantheism. The fate is to corroborate the materialist view from the opposite direction.

Sankaracharya begins his commentary of the Vedanta. Sutras with the assumption, that it is a matter not requir­ing any proof that the object and the subject are opposed to each other as much as darkness and the light are, and therefore cal not be identical. Starting from this absolute dualistic conception, his monotheism could be established' only by the absurd sophistry of the doctrine of Maya. In order to establish the "reality" of an existence, which is simply assumed, and which, by its very nature, as well as ­admittedly, cannot be proved, the perceptible and prov­able existence is declared to be an illusion. The Brah­man is associated with a certain power called Avidya ­which is the cause of all the appearances of the world. This power cannot be called "Being", for Being is only Brahman. But immediately it is also admitted that it cannot be called "non-being"; for, at any rate, it produces the appearance of this world. It is in fact a principle of illusion: the undeniable cause owing to which there seems to exist a material world. Maya thus constitutes the Upadhana, the material cause of the world. It be­longs to the Brahman, as a Sakti. The material cause of the world is Brahman in so far as it is associated with Maya.

This doctrine obviously contradicts the conception of Brahman as a unitary and absolute existence. Brah­man is destitute of all qualities; it is devoid of all attri­butes-thought, activity etc. Yet, Maya is assumed to be its Sakti. Moreover, Maya is conceived as an existence parallel to Brahman. The idea of "association" presup­poses two entities; similarly, that of belonging. Since it is admitted that Brahman may be regarded as the material cause of the world, it cannot be an immaterial entity. Two qualitatively different things can never stand in re­lation of causality. On the other hand, if the position of Brahman is not compromised by placing it in a relation of causality with the material world, then, the latter must he granted an independent existence. Whatever may be its cause, the Brahman cannot be its origin. San­karacharya gets out of this difficulty by falling back on religion. He argues: "If it be objected that on the Vedanta doctrine there is no room for a moving power, as in consequence of the oneness of Brahman no motion can take place, we reply such objections by pointing to the -fact of the Lord being fictitiously connected with Maya." This sort of argument carries little conviction to those who do not start from the fundamental dogma of religion. To begin with, the material world is dismissed as an illu­sion. The "real" existence has nothing to do with it. Then, the question about the moving forces of the phenomenal world is answered by asserting dogmatically that the metaphysical entity Brahman becomes a personal God and maintains a fictitious connection for causing the phe­nomenal world. All these curious devices and grossly fal­lacious arguments were adopted to combat materialistic monism.

The unreality of the phenomenal world is the funda­mental dogma of the Vedanta system. But in order to refute the idealistic school of Buddhism, Sankaracharya himself rejected the very dogma. The Buddhist idealists held that cognition was exclusively an internal process; not that it had no connection with the external object, but that it was self-contained; the external objects existed only in their relation to the mind. The substantial resi­due of objects is atoms, the rest being form; but the atom cannot be conceived by mind.

In combatting this doctrine, Sankaracharya writes: "The non-existence of external things cannot be main­tained, because we are conscious of external things. Why should we pay attention to a man who affirms that no such thing exists?" Why should we, then, take Sankaracharya seriously when he talks of Maya? He proceeds: "That the outward thing exists apart from consciousness, has necessarily to be accepted on the ground of the nature of consciousness, Nobody, when perceiv­ing a post or a wall, is conscious of his per­ception only; but all men are conscious of posts and walls as objects of their perceptions. Even those who contest the existence of external things, bear witness to their existence when they say that, what is an internal object of cognition appears like something external. No one says that Vishnumitra appears like the son of a barren mother. If we accept the truth as it is given to our con­sciousness, we must admit that the objects of perception appear to us as something external. Because, the distinc­tion of thing and idea is given in consciousness; the in­variable concomitance of idea and thing has to be consi­dered as proving only that the thing constitutes the means of ideas, not that the two are identical. It cannot be asserted in any way that the idea, apart from the thing, is the object of our consciousness; for, it is absurd to speak of a thing as the object of its own activity. The variety of mental impressions is caused altogether by the variety of external things perceived. This apparent world whose existence is guaranteed by all the means of knowledge cannot be denied."

Here, Sankaracharya is combating his whole philo­sophy. Once the issues are joined on the philosophical ground, the triumph inevitably goes to materialism. When Sankaracharya himself had to expound the above purely materialistic theory of cognition, it is evident how powerful was the current of materialist thought which in­fluenced the spiritual life of ancient India for nearly a thousand years, until the downfall of Buddhism.

The rise and fall of materialism in ancient India ap­proximately coincided with the same events in Greece·. The period of spiritual darkness following thereupon was brought to a close in Europe by the reassertion of materialist and rationalist thoughts on the strength of the achievements of modern science. That did not happen in India. Consequently, the spiritual heritage of India still remains to be rescued from her cultural ruins. What pre­vented India from following the same course of spiritual development as Europe, after having done that, up to­ only several hundred years ago, from the remotest days of human history?

In ancient Greece, philosophy was created by the class of merchant princes, whose social position was antagonis­tic to the power and privilege of the priesthood. In ancient India, the trading class never attained such a posi­tion in society. Self-sufficient village economy prevented the growth of trade on a national scale. The small surplus product of the village artisan was exchanged in local markets. Practically, the entire surplus agricultural pro­duce went for the payment of taxes. It is recorded that 'during the centuries immediately preceding the Christ­ian era, commodities such as precious stones, spices and silk, were exported from southern India to Greece and Rome. But the maritime trade was carried on by the Javans (Greeks), who arc reported to have crowded the markets of southern Indian ports, and even been em­ployed as soldiers by the Dravidian kings. Later on, the carrying-trade on the same route passed on to the hand of the Arabs. Foreign trade over-land, developed after the foundation of the Bactrian Kingdom, also was mostly car­ried on by the Javans. Some trade in large volume, how­ever, appears to have grown in the south, which fact ex:-, 'plains the establishment and persistence of Hinayan Buddhism (the original philosophical form) in those parts. In the Brahmanical society of the north, development of trade was discouraged. In the earlier Brahmanical laws - of Manu and Kautilya - the trader does not figure as one of the main social classes. In this connection, it will he instructive to cite what Havell discovers as the cause of the spiritual superiority of Indo-Aryan culture.

"They (Vedas) represent the culture of a race of war­riior-poets and philosophers who despised the arts of com­merce and lived mostly by agriculture, with one hand on the sword and the other on the plough. They built no temples, but worshipped nature-spirits with simple sacrificial rites … … Toe Aegean, Babylonian and Dravidian cultures were essentially mercantile civilizations with a more limited spiritual outlook, though in the nature of things, they were more concerned with the happiness which lies in material possessions than in spiritual thoughts.”[2]

When the more civilised Dravidians were subjugated -by the pastoral Aryans, the latter imposed upon the for­mer, social Jaws which checked the growth of the trading class, and consequently of free thought. As regards "the happiness of material possessions", the beef-eating and soma-drinking Vedic priests were not averse to it. But in order to maintain themselves in the position of power and privilege, they could not let the masses participate in that happiness. Hence the "spiritual superiority" of the Indo-Aryan culture. The concern for the happiness of material possessions, not in the vulgar sense as was the case with the Vedic Rishis, but in the wide sense of con­quering the forces of nature for the benefit of humanity, is the impulse to philosophic thought. Since the "spiri­tually superior" Indo-Aryan culture of the Vedic era did not feel this concern, philosophy remained unknown until the rise of the more progressive class of traders could not be altogether checked by priestly domination.

Buddhism is usually interpreted as the revolt of the Kshattriyas against Brahmanism. To some extent, it was so; but the mercantile class also entered into the social background of the revolution. For example, according to Hiuen Tsang, the famous University at the great Nalanda Monastery was founded by the munificence "of five-hundred merchants who were disciples of Buddha." The merchants must have attained some social importance under the Buddhist kings. Upon the restoration of Brahma­nism, under the Guptas, they were again subjected to eco­nomic limitations and social discriminations.

The codes of Manu, compiled in the fourth century A.D., placed the merchants under all sorts of disadvan­tages. It was from that time, that sea voyage came to be counted as one of the causes of "impurity". The mission­ary work of Asoka had promoted the habit of travelling over sea. Indian traders had been visiting the Malayan Islands and China. The resu1t must have been a widening of vision which found its reflection in the Hinayan (philosophic) school of Buddhism which for a long time resisted Brahmanic reaction in southern India. Sea voyage prohibited by Manu because it encouraged heretical views. In the absence of a mercantile class, as an independent and powerful social force, Indian speculative thought could not become philosophy, in the correct sense. And the absence itself was the product of .the given social relations. Land was held by the Kshattriyas and the Brahmins - classes which, by their very social being, were hostile to trade. In order to be so powerful as to dispute the ideological monopoly of the priesthood, the freethinking merchants must grow out of the rich landed aristocracy. But in India, the latter was closely associated with the Brahmins. That relation was esta­blished in consequence of the ruinous civil war recorded in the Mahabharata. The Kshattriyas were so seriously weakened that they had to re-admit the supremacy of the Brahmins. This pecu1iar complex of social relations determined the specific form of Indian thought, and explains why materialism practically disappeared, after it had flourished so well in an earlier period.

[1] Bhagvata
[2] Aryan Rule in India

Sunday, 17 February 2013

"Begone Godmen" - An Interview with Premanand

Shinie Antony

The down town North railway station yawns with studied boredom. The pearls-and-pumps travelers delicately dodge the poor-and-perspiring passengers. All are scurrying by; catching, leaving, or meeting trains that chug in and out of the Station with routine indifference. But when a certain man walks - no, strides into the platform, all eyes follow him. His beard is white and flowing, his voice, as he spots and greets me, is the confident kind, and he's able to scale curious stares with ease. This tiny kurta-clad man settling comfortably onto a crumbling cement bench is committed to a certain cause - The cause of eradicating ignorance from the layman's mind regarding his fixation with miracle-merchants and self-appointed godmen. The mercenary 'messengers' and the religious message merge into one marathon messiah of materialistic manipulation. A crowd gradually gathers around him - the locals can't help gawking over their inflatable pillows and the tourists stop sipping their mineral water - to which he is completely imperious.

Born of theosophist parents in Calicut (1930), B. Premanand has had no formal education He was dismissed from school in 1942 during the Student Freedom movement. At home, so as to be able to debate with his father, Premanand immersed himself in the works of Madam Blavatsky and the main religious texts like Koran, the Gita and the Bible. "I cannot argue over something I'm ignorant about," he points-out. He then perfected the art of magic into a fine one and set out to haunt and harass the godmen minting money out of the poor public. His irreverence has often been deemed controversial. In an era of sell-styled gurus who promise peace at a premium, this magician sticks out like a sore thumb with his brand of nirvana minus a price-tag. The man has a mission and that is to take science out of the school-rooms to the masses.

B Premanand
Courtesy: Barry Pittard
The Indian Committee for Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranoral came into existence in 1959 and Dr. Abraham T. Kovoor was the lone light in India around whom the rationalists gathered. With his 'Begone Godmen' stance, Kovoor attracted quite a following. In 1976 Premanand took over from Kovoor as the latter was too old and sick to continue traveling to the villages of India explaining the tricks behind miracles and superstitious psychic phenomena. Premanand, who is the author of about 26 books, presides over the Vijnan Yatras arranged- by state organisations which take him to more than seven thousand villages and cities in India where he lectures to about two crores of people. He also conducts workshops - where he choreographs about 150 miracles and spread awareness about the history of gods. Religion and miracles in each religion. Thus for the exploited, the dancing in the dark comes to an end.

While waiting for his train to Madras, Premanand answered whatever -questions were put to him.

Q: Is your crusade against godmen rooted in atheism or a distrust of institutionaIised religion?

A: Belief or non-belief in a god is a matter of personal choice. It doesn't harm anybody as long as there is no exploitation by impersonal external forces. When there is nothing called God, except as a concept, he can do no harm. All definitions about God are washed out today. How can he be the Creator when nothing can be created or destroyed? The need for a god doesn't exist for some people. The issue becomes irrelevant. There is no god protecting the Hindus and Muslims. It is they who are destroying each other to protect Him at Babri Masjid and Ramajanmabhoomi. This is the mischief of the agents who claim to be the prophets or avathars of gods. People go to them in despair, an emotional state which is easy to exploit. Religion is a part of our cultural ethos. Certain laws and philosophies prevailed and were carried over. God is necessary to those who need a crutch, to those who'll go mad without this crutch. But I'm concerned about those who believe more than they can handle and go mentally berserk. So instead of arguing over the existence of any nebulous entity, I try to arouse the curiosity and scientific temper of people. Once they start asking 'why', there is no regression.

Q: What made you the natural successor of Dr. A. T. Kovoor?

A: At first I believed all that I read about gods and gurus. I wanted to possess all the siddhis available. At the age of 19, I set out to find myself a guru. I went to Aurobindo and Tagore was father's friend. Like Swami, who in his book 'In Search of God' writes about his tour around India without money and claimed that God took care of him, I set out on a trip around India penniless. But I didn't see any god helping me, only human beings. I met a lot of swamis who told me they'll teach me all this kundalini stuff. Kundalini, or sexual energy, is pushed up by creating a vacuum inside the body by yoga through sushumna nadi. Scientifically speaking, it is the semen that rises up, but where is this nadi? They say it's a mental nadi that can be perceived only in meditation, that is sheer imagination. Sexual energy cannot be transformed into mystical strength. Celibacy affects the prostate gland most painfully. I found all the yogis and rishis to be tricksters.- Then I grew interested in the tricks. I can make a lot of money as a godmen if I want. I know about 1500 miracles as opposed to 50/60 that an average godmen knows. Dr. Kovoor used to come from Sri Lanka and hold miracle exposure campaigns from 1969 onwards. I wrote a book called 'Lure of Miracles' on Satya Sai Baba. Publishers refused to touch it, so I published it myself and Kovoor released it for me. I was with him in that tour as he was ill and there were also a lot of people who wanted to kill him. I became a member of the Rationalists Association. We used to go to village interiors where first I used to burn my body to attract attention. Then we used to give our lectures.-

Q: Are efforts to combat Sai Baba's miracles with science always successful?

A: When you go to buy Sai Baba `s pictures from the samiti, they first make a pretense of wiping the frame. Actually they are anointing it with mercuric chloride solution. When the aluminum frame dabbed with this comes into contact with moisture a gray powder mistaken for holy ash falls out. While Karanjia used to write Pro-Sai Baba articles in his Blitz I used to write anti ones in 'Current'. And all the Karanjia writers were advertisements. They were sponsored articles.

Q: How can you discount palmistry and astrology when even educated people are turning to these for solace and information?

A - When you have a joint in your body there has to be some loose skin to support it. This loose skin will be creased naturally. If you take up a different kind of work you'll find that the creases have changed direction. It all depends on how we use our hands. A person who writes will have more lines under his thumb. But what about handless people, what about their futures? People with stiff joints have no lines on their palms. I have a monkey at home which has foreign travel and immense wealth in the lines of his palms. Once when I went to Rome people flocked around me thinking I was an Indian spiritual person. l pretended to read their palms. The all thanked me and even offered me money! Take Nostradamus. His original predictions are vague. It is the interpreters who give it meaning. And it is only after something happens that the interpreters make a noise. not before. Erica Chetham. the main interpreter. says Indira Gandhi's death was predicted. If you read the original quatrains you will see that only an assassination is foretold. It could be any one from Mahatma Gandhi to Indira Gandhi. Mrs. Gayatri Vasudev who brings out an astrology magazine. had predicted that there will be political assassination during elections and that Rajiv s era will dwindle down. But when has there ever been an election without a death? And what about the second part of her prediction? That she conveniently forgets.

Q: What is your opinion about the latest trend of mixing religion with politics?

A: It is the cocktail that sends the cash-registers and the ballot-boxes ringing. The BJP's claim that the Indian religion is the Hindu religion is not true at all. There has never been any religion in India. Only philosophies. In the Vedas and the Upanishads there is no mention about god. Only debates and discussions. In the Rig Veda there is a chapter called Nasadiya Sutra where it is discussed whether God created us and the conclusion is that we were created from heat and that God is a creation of the human mind. Even the Bhagavad Gita is originally an atheistic philosophy. Shankaracharya changed it into a theistic philosophy. The Dhyana Sloka says: "Dhyana vartita tathgatena manasa pashyantiyam yogino" - you can perceive God only in the mind. It is true, he has only existed in imaginations. Religion is big business. The Gita was therefore given religious touches and transformed from its original impressions of the Buddhist philosophy on work and materialism. In Nagpur once while I was talking about 'Om' being the 'shrishti mantra' (symbol of creation) and therefore a sexual emblem. a mob of 200 RSS students rushed towards me in anger. I pacified them and was invited over for a debate on the issue. When I reached there they began to hoot at me. I went towards the stage hooting and prancing madly like them. This made them silent. l then talked about 'lode'.

After the debate they agreed that, hitherto 'love' to them had been a selfish and possessive emotion and they became fans of the rationalist movement.

Q: What is the extent of your commitments today?

A: I bring out a magazine called "The Indian Skeptic". Rahul Singh and Mrs. Margaret Bhatty are members of the editorial board. Once in two years I tour abroad. This month I'm going to Australia. I've done more than 70 TV shows abroad, here not a single one. Maharashtra was our first base outside Kerala. There we have about 12 associations affiliated to us. NCSTC connected me to North India. National Council for Science & Technology Communication has also given me a Fellowship. The work includes the following:

l. Lecture-cum-training sessions for selected students and teachers to be used subsequently as resource persons.
2. Working with some film/TV producer(s) to create a library of tricks. miracles etc. with their detailed scientific explanations, including using animation, if necessary.
3. If possible help with the above material in conceptualizing, planning and/or making a dramatized serial of video programs.
4. Help put selections from this material into the form of publications to supplement (2) and (3).

It is a challenge to face fundamentalists. When they take off the taavezes and 'sacred' threads from their bodies I know I've reached them. Religion thus encounters rationalism and not emotional forces.

Q: What about this dial-a-guru scheme?

A: You know Nirmala Devi Srivastava is the first god-woman to hold a dhana outside the PM's house asking for protection from us! We had sent her a notice under the Magical Remedies (Objectionable Advertisement) Act and under the Medical Practitioner's Act which says no one can treat without a medical license. And we exposed her. I had gone to meet one Prabhaar Yogi in Kottarakkara who claimed to be 800 years old, older even than Kerala! He refused to meet me. He had a photograph taken when he was youth! In 1980 one man calling himself Jappanam Siddhan came from Sri Lanka and claimed it was God who helped him to break a 100 coconuts with his bare head. We watched him carefully and saw that he used only tender coconuts that even we could break. We exchanged one of his coconut bags for one filled with hard coconuts. In the temple he found he couldn't crack the nuts. He tried to save face by saying that he had seen a woman bathing in that morning and this had disturbed his concentration. But the people had already understood his trick. All these Muktanandas and Amritananda Mayis refuse to meet us in the open. In fact the often go underground

Q:-How do you hope to accomplish your work?

A - My desire is to build a research centre where all the miracles and psychic phenomena will be exhibited and explained with a library on religion magic. science etc. But this costs money and I cannot conjure up money from thin air!

B Premanand was born on February 17, 1930. He expired on October 4, 2009. This interview forms part of the book “Science versus Miracles” which we have serialized in this blog over the last two years.


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