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Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Aśvatta Tree

                The origin of this universe is represented as an inverted pipal tree (aśvatta) in the Rg veḍa. (I do not have the exact reference but is said to have been referred to as santana aśvatta) Another meaning of this word is a indicating “no” and śvatta meaning “tomorrow”. Thus the word  aśvatta indicates impermanence. It is in the latter meaning that the front entrances of temples of south India are modeled after the inverted aśvatta tree with narrow top and wide base.

                Tilak describes this concept of aśvatta tree based on Samkhya system as follows: “The imperceptible matter (avyaktaprakrti) is its seed. The reason (mahat) is its trunk. Individualism (ahamkạra) is its foliage. The mind (manas) and the ten organs of senses and action are its hollow inside the trunk. The tanmạtra form the five large branches and their support are the sub-branches. They are covered by leaves, flowers and fruits which are the live forms of this universe. All these leaves and fruits depend on the root which is above – in the cosmos. This is brahma vrika”.

                The temple structure is thus a reminder of the connection between the cosmos and the individual, the brahmạnda and the pinda

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Books for Every Generation

With rapid advances in information technology and availability of different media for the transmission of knowledge, it is easy to forget some of the classics published as books over the centuries. Many of the young folks do not even know that such books exist. This is in spite of the fact that all of them are easily available in the cyberspace. There is even a publisher with the name “Forgotten Books” who brings out these classics at an affordable price. Then, there are the Project Gutenberg and the Google Book Project.

If I were to be the President of a modern university, I will recommend that all students be exposed to the following books to expand their horizon. I certainly intend to send this list to my grandchildren. It is up to them to make use of ideas expressed in these classics. I certainly hope they do.

Here is the list. The titles are in no particular order. You may wish to add a few more that you feel strongly about. Please add them and give the list to your children, grandchildren and your students. I consider this to be our service to the future generation.

Lessons of World History – Will and Ariel Durant
A Historical Review of Progress of the Human Mind (published in 1802) - Marquis de Condorcet
Emile – J J Rousseau
The Tragedy of man - Imre Madach
Art of Worldly Wisdom – Balthazar Gracian
De Bono’s Thinking Course – Edward De Bono
The Proper Study of Mankind -  Stuart Chase
The Cloud of Unknowing -  Anonymous
Filters against Folly – Garrett Hardin
Consolations of Philosophy - Boethius
Are you Listening? – Ralph Nichols
My Deep Abyss – Christian Wiman
People in Quandries – Wendell Johnson
The Beginnings of Infinity – David Deutsch
The Art of Scientific Investigation – W B I Beveridge
On Becoming a person – Carl  Rogers
Mirror for Man – Clyde Kluckhohn
Man’s search for meaning – Victor Frankl
The last Lecture – Randy Pausch
The Discoverers – Daniel Boorstein
Six Great Ideas – Mortimer Adler
Language in action – S I Hayakawa
Sophie’s World – Jostein Gaarter
The comforts of Unreason - Crawshay Williams Rupert
How we think - John Dewey
As a Driven Leaf - Milton Steinberg
The Five Great Philosophies of Life - William De Witt Hyde
Sapiens - Y.Harari
Rossum’s Universal Robot (R U R)  Karel Čapek
Hadot, Pierre. Philosophy as a way of Life. (Michael Chase. Translator).  Blackwell, UK. 1995
Browne, L.  This Believing World. Macmillan. New York. 1926
Hecht, Jennifer M. Doubt: A Review. Harper One (Reprint), NY  2004
Thoreau, Henry.  Walden. Several Editions. 
Kempis Thomas A. The Imitation of Christ. Several Editions
The Phantom Tollbooth - Norton Juster
       I am sure there are books in your native language which you would like your children to learn. Please add them. For my part, I will add
Thirukkural (Tamizh language, translated in almost all languages of the world)
Bhagvat Gita (Sanskrit, translated in almost all languages of the world)
Vidura Nithi (Sanskrit, available in English translation; book similar to Art of Worldly Wisdom of Balthazar Gracian)

This is not a new idea. During my younger years, I was aware of the Great Book Series organized by Mortimer Adler. That list included books written by Plato, Aristotle, Plutarch and Machiavelli. I like that list, of course. But, in my personal opinion, we need to add to that list to make it relevant to the world of the 21st century.

These books will help our young folks to expand their knowledge and vision, help develop living skills such as listening and communicating, stimulate creative thinking habits and create excitement in learning.