Friday, September 24, 2010

Aastikas and Naastikas - System of Religious philosophies in India

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1. From this previous post, I have argued that there is no term for "religion" in Indian world-view. One can say there was no religion before Islam came.

2. From this another previous post, we have seen that there are dharma-shastras (law-books dealing with societal, judicial, administrative matters etc) , Artha-shaastras (dealing with power, economics, politics, warfare etc), Kaamshastras (dealing with creative faculties of mind - finearts and performing arts), Moksha-shaastras (philosophical schools dealing with nirvana/moksha) in Indian "world-view" and no "one single Book" by "One single  author" to guide people in all aspects of life.

Continuing the line of discussion further, we find out that there were many schools of thought, ideologies, philosophies which were constantly arguing and debating with each other. Every ideology (religion in modern terms) was called as "mat (मत)" by our seers.

Buddhism was called Bauddha-mat (बौद्धमत) - Opinion of Buddhaa
Jainism was called Jaaina-mat -(जैनमत)  - Opinion of Jinendra
Vaishnavism was Vaishnava-mat - (वैष्णवमत)- Opinion of vaishnavas
Shaivism was called Shaiva-mat - (शैवमत) - Opinion of Shaivas
Sikh school of thought is called Guru-mat -(गुरुमत) - Opinion of Guru

So on and so forth for all the ideological schools....

Thus everything was "an opinion" onlee. Although all the philosophies claimed to be stating complete truth, all accepted and understood each-other's position and agreed to disagree without resorting to physical violence.

From this, what we follow is that in Indian system, Conversion == change of opinion. It is as simple as that. If I start finding "opinion of Gurus" logical than others in "given space and time" I will change my opinion and become a Sikh. The classical word used for "conversion" in Indian literature is Mataantar (मतांतर).

The Argumentative Indians:

The Vaad-vivaad (argumentative debate) tradition is age-old in India. The proponents of each schools used to go to other schools and hold debate sessions. There they put-forth the opinions in public forums and argued with each other (usually for days and weeks). 

There are rules of acquiring and displaying knowledge in Indian system. That system is called "Nyaaya (न्याय)". In this, there is categorization of "acceptable valid proof" (Pramaanam प्रमाणं). In that list of acceptable valid proofs, there were certain schools who placed "sentence in Vedas (वेदवाक्यं)" at first position (eg. Mimaamsa मीमांसा). Others place it far below in the list (eg. Saamkhya-Yoga-Vedanta-Vaisheshika). Others do not place it at all (eg. Bauddha, Jaina, Charvaka).

Those people in whose list, "sentence in Veda" finds a mention anywhere (even if bottommost position), those people are called "aastikas". Aastika comes from "Asti (अस्ति) - Yes, it is".

Those people who would cite a reference from Vedas but not consider it as a "Pramaanam" were Naastikaas. "Naa asti (ना अस्ति) - No, it isn't".

The syntax of a typical debate is something like

Statement X - Sarvam Khalu Idam Brahma - सर्वं खलु इदं ब्रह्म (Everything that "is" is parabrahman)..
Debater 1 (aastika) agrees. 
Moderator and/or the other party asks," Ko Pramaanam - को प्रमाणं?" (What is the proof?)
Debater 1 - Cites a verse from some upanishada and says "Iti pramaanam - इति प्रमाणं" (here is the proof).
Debater 2 (if he disagrees) - Naasti naasti - नास्ति नास्ति (no it isn't, no it isn't).
Debater 3 (if there and agrees) - Aasti aasti - अस्ति अस्ति (yes it is, yes it is).

Thus Debater 1 and 3 are Aastikas (Yes-sayers) and Debater 2 is Naastika (No-sayer). 

Now, consider a situation in some other time and place when Debater 1 and 3 meet (lets assume 1 is mimaamsak and 3 is Vedantist). They have debate going on for days on whether Veda-vaakyam (Statement in Vedas) should be given the "numero uno" priority as proof or whether it should be one of the subsidiary supporting proofs. The famous example of this kind of debate is the one between Adi Shankara and Mandana-Mishra. Adi Shankara gives "direct experience" more preference than abidance to scriptures. Here both are "aastikas" and yet oppose each other with almost equal vehemence.

The aastika schools of Saamkhya and Yoga are ideologically close to Bauddha school of thought compared to distance between Vedanta and Bauddha. All these schools of vaishnav, shaiv, shaakta, gaanapatya, Bhakti fall under a Sub-class of Vedanta known as "Dwaitmat (द्वैतमत). There are similar vehement arguments between dualists and non-dualists (Advaita-mat). 

Like pH scale if we make a scale from 0 to 10 with adherence/acceptance/influence of principles of Vedas as measuring factor with 0 being least adherence/acceptance/influence, we will find most of the naastika schools from 0 to 2-3. Because there is always some penetration of Vedic philosophy in every indian philosophy (including Islamic Sufism). The position on scale is determined by "to what extent do they allow this penetration/influence". Mimaamsak will fall on 10 (extreme adherence to vedic rituals and philosophies). Others will fall at different places.

This was just to explain the origin of terms like "Aastika" and "Naastika". There is nothing negative about any of them

From point of view of a Mimaamsaka, Samkhya and Yogis are Nastikas. from his (mimansak's) PoV, samkhya are "less Naastika" than Bauddha or Jaina. From point of view of Charvaka (sitting on 0), everybody else are aastikas because everybody have accepted some penetration of vedic philosophy to an extent greater than Charvakas. Similarly vice-versa. 

The system is furthermore complex because every individual is free to make and propound his own path (यतो मत, ततो पथ - As many opinions, so many paths). So every individual calibrates his position on the scale and relative to his position, others are Aastikas and Naastikas. The Followers of Ramkrishna mission (advaitists) and ISKCON (Achintya Bhedaabheda Dvaitists) have had similar arguments. Similarly J Krishnamurthy, Rajneesh and other modern philosophers. 

I have been labelled as a Naastika by many vedantists and Bhakti-maargi people in few forums. Some Buddhists label me as Aastika. Likewise I call them by these relative degrees just to know where I stand. This is what it is all about - Recalibration of Self.

Deracination: The loss of this understanding of Aastikas and Naastikas and their misinterpretation as "Theists" and "Atheists" respectively, has led to several instances of misunderstandings of the literature. The belief in god (as implied by the word theism) has nothing to do with "Aastika" and "Naastika" philosophies.  Out of 6 Aastika philosophies, 5 are atheists (they do not believe in existence of "Ishwara"). The term used for them in India is "Nirishwar-vaadi (निरीश्वरवादी)".

Categorization of few of the popular Indian religious philosophies to avoid further misinterpretations and confusions:

1. Aastika Atheist philosophies: Saamkhya, Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Purva Mimamsa, Yoga
2. Aastika Theist philosophies: Vedanta (with all its sub-categories)
3. Naastika Atheist philosophies: Buddhism, Jaina, Charvaka, Aajivika
4. Naastika Theist philosophies: Sikhism, Sufism.


Thursday, September 23, 2010

What is Existence (Satyam)?

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What is "Sat"?

नासदासीन नो सदासीत तदानीं नासीद रजो नो वयोमापरो यत | 
किमावरीवः कुह कस्य शर्मन्नम्भः किमासीद गहनं गभीरम ||  - Rigveda 10:129:1

THEN was not non-existent (Asatyam) nor existent (Satyam): there was no realm of air, no sky beyond it. What covered in, and where? and what gave shelter? Was water there, unfathomed depth of water?

The primary and most fundamental attribute of "Sat" which is acceptable by all philosophies in India (including Naastika ones like Buddhism and Jainism) is the one that "Exists" in all spaces and times. The Chidaananda attribute is strictly Vedantic interpretation of reality. In a way, the very term "Brahman" is one-sided description of reality. How? Nasadiya answers in following manner.

कामस्तदग्रे समवर्तताधि मनसो रेतः परथमं यदासीत | 
सतो बन्धुमसति निरविन्दन हर्दि परतीष्याकवयो मनीषा | - Rigveda 10:129:4

Thereafter rose Desire in the beginning, Desire, the primal seed and germ of Spirit. Sages who searched with their heart's thought discovered the existent's kinship in the non-existent.

Satya and Asatya are siblings - both came into existence together. The very "Idea" of "existence" comes with a corollary of "Non-Existence". Similarly vice-versa. Both these terms cannot exist without each other. In a way, this is also the origin of our "Saamkhya" philosophy. The sages here are describing a point when there was "Absolute Nothing".  This state of Absolute Nothingness (or what Buddha calls to as Shunyataa) is what is intriguing. 

तिरश्चीनो विततो रश्मिरेषामधः सविदासीत रेतोधाासन 
महिमान आसन सवधा अवस्तात परयतिः परस्तात - 10:129-5

Transversely was their severing line extended: what was above it then, and what below it? There were begetters, there were mighty forces, free action here and energy up yonder.

The term Brahman comes from the word-root "BRhat बृह" which means "expansion". One which "expands" is Brahma. One which expands extremely is "Para-Brahma" (usually they are used as synonyms.

This state of "absolute Nothingness" is what yogis, Saamkhyins, Buddhists, contemplate on. But hold on... Was there something even then? Can there be anything else which is more "fundamental" than "Existence"? Furthermore, if Brahman is "Satyam" (as proclaimed by Sri Adi Shankara) then what is "Asatyam"? And both "Satyam (Brahman) and "Asatyam" came into existence simultaneously (this is the "Ved-Vaakyam"). If we assume that time was there then (which isn't the case because the very concept of time requires a 3-D space which wasn't there. 

But for the ease of imagination (since our brains aren't evolved to run the simulations of such complexity to create images in mind) we assume that there is some axis relative to which all this is happening. So at point "X" satyam-Asatyam siblings are born. That means they weren't there "before that point". Thus the very term of "Satyam" is shown as "limited". And since Brahman == Satyam, this applies to Brahman as well. 

In this scenario, the factually correct statement would be "After that point X, Satyam (Brahman) refers to absolute and complete existence. As alluded in previous paragraph, Space-time came into existence after "Sat" came into existence. Thus Sat still holds true when it comes to its definition as "an entity which is changeless and existent in all spaces in all times". But what beyond/before that? Naasadiya leaves the question unanswered - 

को अद्धा वेद क इह पर वोचत कुत आजाता कुत इयंविस्र्ष्टिः | 
अर्वाग देवा अस्य विसर्जनेनाथा को वेद यताबभूव || RV 10:129:6
इयं विस्र्ष्टिर्यत आबभूव यदि वा दधे यदि वा न | 
यो अस्याध्यक्षः परमे वयोमन सो अङग वेद यदि वा नवेद ||RV 10:129:7

Who verily knows and who can here declare it, whence it was born and whence comes this creation?
The Gods are later than this world's production. Who knows then whence it first came into being?
He, the first origin of this creation, whether he formed it all or did not form it,
Whose eye controls this world in highest heaven, [b]he verily knows it, or perhaps he knows not

All the Moksha-Maargas of India (aastika and naastika who delve this far) are in fact various approaches taken by different people in the quest to answer this riddle which the sages have put. Every body makes their bunch of assumptions and hypothesis and puts forth a theory. But there is always something which remains. Just as it is described in Purusha-sukta. Hence multiple approach is recommended in Upanishads. 

As far as Advaita is concerned, this is where the anomaly unfolds as both beginning and end. The necessity of the assumption of "Maya" is required here, and with that, we require a concept of "Maayaadhipati Ishwara". This is a very useful assumption (the assumption that Ishwara exists). I guess to be able to imagine this state of "nothingness", our brain needs to be secreting some weird and special neurotransmitters and chemicals in some special part. All the training by Yogis, the meditative practices, the mind-influencing drugs, is perhaps to induce this state in one's brain. It is one of the life-altering experiences (as described by sages). Yogis call it Kaivalya (Only-ness/Singularity), others call is Advaita, Shunyata (zero-ness), Moksha, nirvana, fanaa (by sufis). 

As many saints have said, Bhakti is the simplest way to induce this. You love something which is very grand so intensely that the state is induced and you experienced that which sages state in last two verses of Nasadiya Sukta but couldn't elaborate or explain. But corollary to this is that it would be difficult to be a Bhakta (lover in essence) after knowing that Ishwara (the beloved) is probably just an assumption. But Adi shankara, Santa Gnaaneshwara, Swami Vivekananda and many others have shown that it is possible.

In any case, the spirit of inquiry and scepticism shown in final two verses of Naasadiya Sukta is least common denominator and perhaps the "originator" for all the Indian religions and Indian way of life.