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Monday, October 29, 2012


Recently, I heard a man who was boasting of his life’s accomplishments. I could not help think how arrogant his statements were.

For one thing, none of us can accomplish anything by ourselves. So many others contribute directly or indirectly.

Who is this “I” who has done so much?

“I” am an impermanent inter-being. I cannot take credit for my brain, mind and intelligence. They were “given” to me. I did not earn them. The best I can do is to use them by learning, reflecting and re-learning.

The environment was favorable. But, I had no control over it either. They came as they came. The only control I had was over how I used the equipment given to me by Nature or a Divine Force through my parents, in facing the circumstances thrown in my way.

How can I talk about “my” accomplishments given these “facts”?

Friday, October 19, 2012


According to the Nyaya philosophy of Gauthama,  there are two kinds of dogma. One is called dhrishtantha, one about which a common man and  expert can agree on. The other is called siddhantha, an established dogma or tenet resting on the authority of a school of thought.

Since one of my interests is to bring old writings in line with current knowledge, let me restate these two dogmas with examples. The root word for Dhrishtantha is dhrsh, to see. When this word was coined, most discussions were based on rules of logic and not empirical evidence. Therefore, it was acceptable to say that if a common man also can come to the same conclusion as an expert, it is dhrishtantha.

Drishtantha cannot follow this definition in this time in history because science has proofs for many things which only experts can interpret and understand. Common man, even an educated one, cannot understand some facts unless he works in that specific field. Therefore, common man will have to accept items that most experts in a specific field can agree on based on solid scientific evidence and without outside pressures, political, religious or monetary. 

This brings us to dhristantha defined as scientific dogma, which is an oxymoron. Unfortunately many conclusions arrived at by scientific methods do get ossified as dogmas. This is against the entire principle of scientific enterprise. The common man has to accept (dhrishtantha) a statement of fact if all or most experts agree on that view based on currently available evidence. But, that is just a plateau. It is not a dogma. It has to be challenged and will be challenged so we can reach a higher level of understanding.

The best example that comes to my mind is peptic ulcer disease. I remember the various theories that were generated based on science such as hyperacidity and stress. When it was considered as secondary to hyperacidity, the treatment was antacids. When it was considered psychosomatic, counselling was the mode of therapy. Someone questioned these dogmas which made it possible to investigate further and show that an infectious agent is the culprit. Now, the treatment is more specific, based on solid facts.

Siddhantha is based on a school of thought. It is just that, a thought, an idea followed by proponents of that thought. I have no problem with our developing our own ideas on philosophical issues. My problem comes when we become fanatic, insist that mine is the only correct concept and start pushing it on others. In my view the word dogma, should be confined to such concepts.

True dogmas as defined above may be one of four kinds, says Gautama:

          A dogma that is claimed by at least one school and not opposed by any other school is called sarvathanthra siddhantha. In other words, it is accepted by all schools of thought. “Every individual is entitled to freedom of thought” is one such concept.
          A dogma that is peculiar to one school and rejected by some other school is called prathi siddhantha. Karma concept of Hinduism is an example.

          A dogma that is hypothetical and if accepted will lead to acceptance of another tenet is called adhikarana. For example, Karma concept leads to concepts of rebirth.

          A dogma that is not explicitly declared ( only implied) is called apyubhagama. I do not have an example and I do not know what Gautama had in mind.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Consolations of Philosophy

Boethius was a philosopher and senator in the Roman Empire (5th century CE). Boethius was a very honest, successful and highly respected individual. However, he fell into disfavor with the king who kept him in house arrest for almost a year. Subsequently he was executed.

During the period of house arrest he had time to reflect on his life. He wondered how he, who had been a honest and upright citizen, and who had practiced truthfulness and virtue, could suffer such a fate. He wondered why good people suffer. He has written his doubts and his lamentations in the form of a conversation with the Lady (Goddess) of Philosophy. This text is a classic and the title is Consolations of Philosophy.  Here is a summary.

Many of Lady P’s remarks resemble passages from Bhagvat Gita, Yoga Vasishta and Buddha and teach equanimity .

Lady Philosophy asks Boethius what the source of Universe is. He says “God”. She asks what the direction of Nature is. He says he does not know. She asks: “How is it that you know where it is from and do not know where it is going?” Then she asks who he (Boethius) is. He says that he is a man endowed with reason and subject to death.  

Chapter 2 and 3 are the lamentations of Boethius and tough questioning by Lady P. She tells Boethius that the natural characteristic of Fortune is to be unpredictable and mutable. “Mutability is her constancy” says Lady P and compares the activities of fortune to a wheel and says: …”if it takes to standing still, it ceases to be the Wheel of Fortune” and also
“And great the marvel,
when in one brief hour She shows her darling lifted high in bliss
Then headlong plunged in misery’s abyss”.

Madame Fortune gives and takes as she pleases and one cannot depend upon her for happiness. “Happiness cannot be obtained from worldly goods and is not dependant on what Fortune gives us but something to be sought after within oneself” says P.

She says that wealth and rank are not the rightful property of man and they are at the whims of lady Fortune. She tells him that “ what now thou believest to be calamitous passeth also”. (This comment is similar to Buddha’s talk on passing clouds covering the Sun?) Finally she says: “Things created may not last” and “nothing is wretched but thinking makes it so. Conversely every lot is happy if borne with equanimity”.

When talking about riches like gems and nature’s beauty, Lady P says that they are the natural qualities of the things themselves and says: “ …they derive not their preciousness from being counted in thy riches, but rather thou hast chosen to count them in thy riches because they seemed to thee precious”. She challenges Boethius:  “Have ye no good of your own implanted within you than ye seek your good in things external and separate?”

Section IX and X of Book V are worth reading again and again. They are the same as in the Upanishads, talking about the ONE SOURCE of all that we see, the one Godhead warped into this universe.

Book VI discusses Providence and Fate and their interactions. Although I am not sure, it appears that the word Providence is close to the concept of Dharma of Buddhist philosophy because it talks about cycles. It also sounds similar to the rtha or cosmic order. Fate is defined by Boethius as “inherent in all that is” created by Providence. In some ways it looks similar to the concept of the three gunas of Prakriti (of the Samkhya philosphy) with Providence being similar to Prakriti itself.

At the end of Chapter II of Book V, Song II has these words:  “All that is, hath been, shall be, In one glance compass…”  This is the English translation of the Latin version of the Upanishadic statement: “ bootha, bhavya and bavishya”.  
Chapter III of Book V is an excellent section in which Boethius discusses free will and how it is incompatible with the idea of Divine Predestiny as the explanation for chance.  Somewhere there Lady P points out how Free Will itself requires reasoning for deciding what is implied in the exercise of free will.

There is one section on the subject and object of thoughts. There is a long passage on the chain of events in the process of “knowing”.  This passage is similar to the first 10 slokas of Atma Gnana Upadesha Vidhi of  Adi Sankara. What eye sees is known by the mind. What mind sees is known by buddhi. What buddhi sees is known by the chitha. What chitha sees is known by the ahankara. What  ahankara sees is known by the atma.   We can complete this list with a question from Brahadranyaka Upanishad: “By what can we know the knower”?

These passages also seem to suggest that perception is what senses and the mind cognize. This is as things appear to be. But, you have to see things as they are. This is apperception.  In Boethius’ words:  “…everything that is known is cognized not in accordance with its own nature, but in accordance with the nature of the faculty that comprehends it”.  Sankara has expressed similar ideas and differentiates between vastu tantra (the object as is) and purusha tantra (object as perceived by the human mind). Buddha also talks about this view of things as they seem and as they are.

 After all those discussions about senses, imagination, thought and intelligence, Boethius defines thought as belonging to human and intelligence as that of the Divine. In that scheme of things, you can then say that Divine Intelligence predetermines events and things.

The way Boethius defines “eternal” is also interesting and different. Eternity is not about endless life or infinite time. “.. eternity is the possession of endless life whole and perfect at a single moment……………that which includes and possesses the whole fullness of unending life at once, from which nothing future is absent, from which nothing past has escaped, this is rightly called eternal"