There is a famous phrase in Rigveda – Ekam Sadvipra Bahudha Vadanti (एकं सद्विप्रा बहुधा वदन्ति) that means – Wise people explain the same truth in different manners.
The objective of this article is to adopt this spirit and reconcile the apparent differences among various philosophies and prepare a ground for their unity. Lack of unity among the wisdom oriented population of the world is one reason why foolish/ wily forces appear to be dominating. And hence, especially in the present turbulent era, it becomes utmost important that we seek commonalities rather than espouse differences.
Bharat (now known as India) has been the birthplace of many a great philosophies. Philosophy seems to be a second nature of this geography. You would find a philosopher in every other Aam Admi on street. So it becomes utmost necessary to differentiate philosophies of the wise from philosophies of the unwise.
Thus this Rigveda message acts as a double-edged sword. If we use it as a ploy to compromise and seek commonality with views of every other person, we may end up having a large pile of garbage without anything substantial. Unfortunately that is what mostly happens. The grounds of compromise are too hollow and sketchy. They are restricted to populist slogans and hence true unity never comes. It remains an opportunistic alliance that breaks down on every other pretext.
What this brief article would attempt to do is to create ground for unity based on truly firm principles. For sake of readability, we would keep the language simple and avoid boring references. This is perhaps the first time that such a holistic view of various philosophies is being considered in this manner. If there are errors, we humbly accept it. As our motto has been always – we don’t attempt to provide the final truth in a capsule. We merely try to show the path for each of us to explore.
Why so many contradictions in different philosophies?
Several obvious and not-so-obvious reasons:
A. All philosophies start with an attempt to model the perceptions of the world in a manner that we can understand them easily and generate lessons for future. Now to model the perceptions and be able to communicate them we need to have the following:
– Certain definitions
– Certain frameworks that establish relationships among entities that have been defined.
– Certain generalized principles based on these frameworks.
Now often the same words are used to define different things in different philosophies. This is first prime source of contradictions.
Often students of philosophy are found fighting over what is God and what is soul.
The reality is that God and soul are definitions. Depending upon how you define these entities, the relationship between soul and God would differ.
Please note that truth is beyond definitions. Definitions are merely means to comprehend the truth better through our bounded intellect by using frameworks and developing principles. An added advantage is that definitions help us exchange each others’ experiences so as to enhance our understanding better.
So when someone says turmeric is good for your teeth, we all understand what is turmeric and what is teeth. And hence we can derive benefits from these definitions. Had there been no such definitions or each of us would have defined ‘teeth’ differently, we might have been suffering from severe tooth-ache even though remedy was simple!
Coming back to definitions in philosophy, while there is rough standardization in definitions of entities like God, soul, salvation etc, there are enough differences to cause disputes.
This is like field of Finance. Return on Capital Employed (ROCE) is a popular ratio used to evaluate efficiency of a company. But there is no unanimity over what Capital would exactly mean. For some companies, Capital includes short-term loans as well. For others, even long-term loans are not included. Thus, different experts come with different numbers of the same ratio. Often there are debates and even PhDs on what should be right definition of Capital for a particular industry. However the point is that Capital still remains a definition. If you apply the same definition of Capital on manufacturing firms as well as a bank, you would have totally meaningless comparative analyses.
But this meaningless debate does carry in field of philosophy. Perhaps because most students of philosophy are not very comfortable with higher mathematics concepts! So they waste time arguing on definitions rather than analyzing the concepts.
B. A second confusion comes when some definitions of Philosophy A are used in framework of Philosophy B and compared with principles of Philosophy C. Any student of algebra would tell us that you cannot use definitions of x and y from one problem, definition of z from another problem and still be able to solve a third problem. Each problem must have its own definitions and equations.
For example, terms like God, soul etc have different definitions in different philosophies. We have to ensure that we use the correct definitions for each philosophy to understand it properly and do not mix them.
C. The third confusion comes out of package deal problem. Each philosophy has certain core tenets. Then there are extensions of the core tenets. Further, after the founder has died, his/ her followers keep adding more concepts to the philosophy. And then even rituals, practices, assumptions are added upon. Now the entire package is sold in market. Either you buy the entire package or nothing. It is impossible for any truly rational person to be in full agreement with the complete package without an element of doubt. So the group of followers largely include people who keep ego above reason, emotions above rationale. Instead of being truth-seekers, they become defenders of the package. Instead of being students of the subject, they become security-guards of the publishing house. Now whole game of conquest and expansion and inter-rivalry among different publishing houses begins and the core purpose as well as core tenets of philosophies are sidelined in more showy aspects of the publishing industry.
D. Fourth confusion comes due to commercialization. Many philosophers become philosophers primarily because they know philosophy sells. They would model their verbose but seductive talks to suit their client needs and harp on emotional pull. They bring further confusion in the business of philosophy and ensure that the common man is eternally confused. Now some students find the dialogues of such philosophers quite enchanting and repeat them to create their own impressions without knowing what they mean. Thus we have a fully developed philosophy market today comprising most hollow philosophies to truly deep ones but converted into publishing houses offering package deals. Too much of variety does not help the consumer in this case. It only adds to his woes by keeping him eternally confused.
E. A fifth and truly genuine cause of confusion comes from the very fact that many of these philosophies emerged in different periods of history to address the needs of their periods. They were also impacted by the competences, inclinations, education and background of their founders. So they have to be understood in their own contexts. Any extension that is out of context would be dangerous and detrimental to interests of society and individual.
If we attempts to clean the major philosophies of these factors of confusion, we would find that most point to the same direction. Let us see how:
Vedas offer a variety of models to understand the world around and our place in it. When it comes to issues of God, soul etc, it offers a very intuitive model that was equally succinctly presented by Swami Dayanand Saraswati.
It defines ‘I’ who is source of consciousness witnessing everything around as ‘Soul’ (S). There can be no denying its existence because if it is denied, then who is denying it?
It sees the world around which is different from the ‘I’ and defines it as ‘Nature’ (N).
Now it observes that the world around is being managed very smartly as per unchangeable laws. It defines the source of this smartness as Ishwar or ‘God’ (G).
Now it proceeds further to define the various properties of Soul, Nature and God.
For example, variety in life forms and the fact that Soul is beyond physical entities implies that it cannot be destroyed. Hence soul is immortal. Further soul has limited knowledge at a given point in time. Soul seeks happiness and eradication of miseries etc. It has free-will.
Nature is inert and simply puppet of unchangeable laws. Even the mind and source of sense-organs are inert.
God is smart because it is working smartly. Since universe is infinite in scope and complexities, God is also infinitely intelligent. Since God works for our benefits, He is kind. Since He ensures we do not skip our pursuit of happiness through right actions, He also punishes us and hence He is just. You can review more properties of Vedic God in the whole series of Vedic wisdom. Further knowledge can be found through self-introspection. We shall not dwell on it further.
In summary, Vedic Philosophy defines 3 eternal entities – God, Soul and Nature – that always existed and will always exist. This is a very honest model because we all see this directly in our lives.
It further states that creation and dissolution happen in continuous cycles. There comes a state when each soul is no more freely-willed. Either soul becomes unconscious during dissolution phase. Or certain souls act as per will of God after achieving salvation. Nature also comes to its root form and is under full control of God. Thus the three act as one single entity with one single command governing them.
If we talk of present, soul S has a separate Free-Will and nature N is governed by God G as well as Soul S. But in state of dissolution, both S and N act as per will of God G.
Then again creation happens and then once creation is complete, N and S separate out. This goes on and onelike day and night.
Note that all these are definitions and very intuitive from introspection and common observation.
Someone may ask – Does that mean God does not exist and in reality we are only ‘defining’ or ‘creating’ it for our own convenience?
Answer is that this question itself has little relevance. Actually the same question can be raised for each and every entity in world. The chair on which we sit is also defined for our convenience. In reality it is only empty inter-atomic space that our eyes cannot see due to limited vision, but we use it to sit down.
The reality is simply that we have an aid to sit down and relax. One cannot deny that. Whether you call it chair, or you call each limb of chair by a different name, or you call each atom differently, or you name each point in inter-atomic space by a different x,y,z coordinate matters least. That is only a definition. That does not change reality.
Similarly, God, Soul, Nature are words to define certain concepts. The very fact that we define them from our own observations imply that they are real. But whether you call something as God, or 3 traits of this God as ODG and the rest as GOD or whatever is only a naming convention.
I can define you as one single person or a group of 2 eyes, 2 nostrils, 1 mouth, 2 ears etc or in any other way I choose. But You as a concept exist!
In same vein, no one can deny that God G, Soul S and Nature N of Vedas exist.
Advaita (Vedanta) philosophy
Advaita tackles the same problem differently and uses some different definitions.
It defines, G+S+N = Brahma (B).
Since there is a sufficiently long period when S and N act as per will of G alone, it says that ultimately everything is Brahma.
So it says that whatever exists in world is Brahma. I am Brahma, you are Brahma, table is Brahma, God is Brahma. Note that this is NOT a prediction or claim. It is a DEFINITION.
It further states that Soul S does not realize that it is eventually going to lose its free-will and act as per will of Brahma during phase of dissolution or salvation.
Now this loss of free-will does not mean Soul becomes captive. It is just that it does not act against will of God as it does today because it is smarter then. Suppose I give you a beautiful glass toy. So far you are dumb, you may desire to break it for sake of adventure. But if you are smart and fully understand the futility of breaking it, you would keep it safe. This does not mean that as a smart person you are imprisoned to prevent breaking of the toy. It is just that as a smart person, you don’t have the urge to break the toy.
So Advaita states that we should all attempt to come closer to our most desirable state of being ‘uni’-willed with Brahma. The impediment is Maya or ignorance. And the way to get rid of it is to realize that this world is temporary and Brahma is the reality.
In Vedic philosophy, Maya is called Avidya. And it also appeals to have renunciation from temporary and conduct of actions for achievement of permanent.
So we see that if we replace Maya with Avidya, and Brahma with G+S+N, Advaita and Vedic Philosophy are one and same.
The great Shankaracharya who first gave this Advaita philosophy in this form himself stated that ultimately Brahma again divides into G+S+N and then Soul S again becomes one with Brahma. So there is absolutely no difference in two philosophies.
But as we said, problem comes when we take philosophies as package deals. What happened was that later followers started mistaking Brahma for G, and gave a ridiculous philosophy that we are already God. Only Maya prevents us from believing so. Thus the very philosophy which was supposed to excite us to put worthy efforts to get rid of ignorance made us a passive society. So passive that the era of slavery can be significantly to this Neo-vedantic modification of original Advaita theory.
This error perhaps happened because Vedas clearly state that God G is omnipresent. And hence Brahma being G+S+N also has to be omnipresent. So omnipresence and omnipotence of God started being attributed to each Soul S and each point of Nature N as well.
Now those who could not control their bladders started fooling themselves to believe that they can control the whole universe! And if that was not enough, they started looking at everything and everyone as God. So why fight an enemy who is killing our men and raping our women? Why counter the looters? After all the looter and the looted, the rapist and the raped, the killed and the killer are all one same God!
They forgot that Maya does not get eradicated by being an ostrich. The only way to eradicate Maya is by being proactive in worldly actions for a higher cause and being extra-energetic about countering the nuisances of health, society and world. If that had not been the case, even Acharya Shankar would have lived hiding in a cave chanting ‘Aham Brahmasmi’ rather than taking such arduous journeys across the whole country to establish Vedic religion and in process die a premature death!
During Acharya Shankars’s time, a very defeatist interpretation of Jainism/ Buddhism was getting popular. This was based on assumption that ultimately everything would end in a big zero. So the way out is to deny the Supreme and deny intuitive proactive responses to real-life through passive denial. The country of warriors was turning into land of escapists. Thus he counter-argued that whatever could be proved by considering that everything would end in ZERO can also be explained by considering that ultimately everything would tend towards infinite potential – Brahma.
And such was the impact of his charisma and arguments that Vedic Dharma got established forever and impacted all philosophies of the land.
Thus we see that Vedic Philosophy as propounded by Swami Dayanand Saraswati and Advaita as propounded by Acharya Shankar, both basically point towards the same concepts from different approaches.
Neo-Advaita that is marketed today is a later day aberration due to package-deal.
Buddhism emerged at a time when mindless rituals were considered ways to reach God or salvation. Vedic verses were stretched out of context to suit ritualistic meanings. This led to great decadence of society and subtler philosophical aspects of Dharma were getting wiped out.
Under such situations, Buddha gave a very practical concept – that the only reality I know 100% is ‘I’. This ‘I’ is impacted by many factors and hence keeps varying from time to time. To understand more subtle concepts, first this ‘I’ should be understood and controlled properly. So he laid stress on moral virtues, meditation and self control. Because all nuisance was happening in name of Vedas, he denied Vedas. Though in spirit he was following exactly the Vedas by teaching that blind mugging up of some scriptures and implementing them literally will only make us dumber. His focus was to end blinded belief and hence his philosophy focused on that.
But its an irony that the same Buddhism later transformed into the most superstitious cult we know today through the package deal phenomena.
But if we look at core philosophy, what Vedas call as God G is defined as ‘Laws of Nature’. Even atheism does exactly the same.
Also Buddhists believe that Soul is NOT eternal and keeps changing every moment. This is also as per Vedas, if we understand that Soul (Buddhist definition) = Soul (Vedas) + Mind.
Vedas state that Mind is attached with Soul and Mind keeps changing as per its experiences and actions. So both philosophies say the same thing but define the terms a bit differently.
Also Nirvana (Buddhism) = Mukti (Vedas)
The Zero philosophy of Buddhism is also in lines with Vedas. Because in Mukti, the uncontrolled fluctuations of mind tend to Zero. Now since Buddhist Soul also includes Mind, it states that ultimately fluctuations or rather the manifest function of mind will become Zero. In other words, the way we see world cannot exist for us when fluctuations of mind are zero. But since the very context in which Buddhism emerged did not allow further exploration of the concept of Soul by its followers, this Zeroism of Buddhism could not be expressed in more clearer framework. This resulted in Buddhism becoming an escapist cult. But if you consider the core essence of stillness of mind from fluctuations, that is exactly in lines of Vedas.
Interestingly, the 10 characteristics of Dharma as defined in Manu Smriti appear almost in same form in Buddhist texts as well as Jainism that we shall discuss next.
To review Buddhism and Vedas in further details, please refer http://agniveer.com/4020/buddhism-and-vedas/
The core ideology of Jainism also emphasized on basic tenets of Vedic conduct to de-emphasize focus on blinded rituals in name of Vedas. Like Buddhism, they also define God G of Vedas as ‘Laws of Nature’.
They say that universe in unchanging which is a variation of Vedic principle that universe does not get destroyed permanently and material forming universe is ever-existent.
Jainism defines God as those elated souls that have removed all seeds of ignorance.
So God (Jainism) = Soul of Vedas that has achieved Salvation.
As we have discussed in http://agniveer.com/3985/sikh-gurus-and-vedas/ Sikhism is nothing but Vedic philosophy in action without emphasis on verbatim belief on any particular text.
Atheism basically denies the concept of ‘God’ as given by Semitic religion of Church. However it has no basis to refute the God of Vedas. Perhaps the only 2 objections are:
a. The word God evokes different emotions due to its more prominent association with an anthropomorphic (human-like) Emperor of world. This can be eliminated by using a different phrase instead of God. Lets call that ‘Source behind all Laws of Nature’.
b. A second objection is the anathema against the optimistic perception that Laws of Nature are there to help us. But this is only a psychological problem that certain people tend to avoid optimism and yet seek happiness in their own lives indirectly! This pessimism in a very hardcore small group of atheist also emanates from a repulsion against the hype of a merciful forgiving God that is emphasized by Bible.
But if you suggest that Vedic God does not change His laws a bit, then even this objection is taken care of.
If atheism be associated with modern scientists, then scientists like Einstein only objected to the Biblical God. They could not explore the Vedic God due to lack of access to such a philosophy. But whatever views Einstein suggested for God was very much in lines of Vedas – an impartial God who does not change his laws and meddle with our personal lives.
Christianity and Islam
Christianity and Islam emerged in those geographies and those eras where superstitions and ignorance abounded the society. To expect such societies to understand or teach subtle concepts of Eastern Philosophies that emerge only after a very fine control of mind is a bit too much. So Christianity and Islam offered more simplistic philosophies for their target audience.
It was impossible for such a society to conceive of any entity that cannot be seen directly with eyes. So the notion of God being above 7 or 4 skies came up. To prevent people from conducting sins, fear of punishment by such a God was inculcated. To offer carrots, concept of forgiving and mercy were created. To explain and give examples of these properties of God, a lot of stories were created that included God, angels, Satan, miracles, heaven, hell and prophets. Even today, we often tend to use such models to control small children though their long term effects on personality is a matter of great controversy.
As modern science progressed, Christian society gradually gave up its insistence on Biblical superiority. And thus it progressed like anything. Islam could not progress due to political reasons. Hindu society today is a hybrid of liberal concepts, Islamic influence and pre-Islamic distortions. So it stands in middle like Dhritrashtra.
But if you look at core of Christian and Islamic philosophies (and not later day packages), their aim was to define an entity that ensures that all our actions are accounted for and we get rewards for good deeds as well as punishment for bad deeds. So a completely binary version of any Eastern Philosophy would simplify into these philosophies.
Conventional/ Modern Hinduism
Conventional Hinduism comprises a vast mix of a variety of worship methods, rituals, social customs and practices. The core philosophy behind this is that all souls are worth being respected which is sourced from Vedas. Thus Hinduism attempts to incorporate in a ‘non-confronting’ manner every possible ideology that tends to influence it. Its like the river Ganga that emerges as a pure stream of healing water in Gomukh glacier but becomes a carrier of enormous gallons of water by the time it reaches Gangasagar in Bay of Bengal.
Hinduism today embraces Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Atheism, Miracle Stories as well as Vedas that form the origin.
The Vedic philosophy of ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ (Entire world is my own family but extended to ‘entire world’s philosophy is my own philosophy’) that forms basis of this all-encompassing panorama of Hinduism is indeed a noble concept.
The very name ‘Hinduism’ testifies this.
As per needs of the time, Hinduism gave very relevant models to help societies of that particular era meet the real challenges. So neo-Vedanta and atheistic Buddhism was countered by variety of philosophies that considered God as an entity with form with whom human-like emotions could be evoked. Thus idol worship began. When that started giving rise to too much of casteism and superstitions, and the society was getting directionless in an era of attacks by invaders and lustful lives of rulers in name of emulating Sri Krishna’s fictitious gopi tales, an ideal model of Sri Ram was promoted. Similarly valor of Durga was emphasized. All this led to moral strengthening and preservation of valor preventing us from getting wiped away like Iran and Afghanistan.
The philosophy was simple – keep evolving to address immediate requirements without getting into confrontations.
But in its over-zealousness for embracing the entire world without risk of any potential confrontations, it could not leave out the black-sheep of the family – the villains. The short-sightedness led to much more challenging problems in long term. Also the humility to slow up own speed to keep pace with the laggards to avoid confrontations with them made modern Hinduism lazy and coward. So Hinduism included vices like caste-system, gender discrimination, superstitions, fatalism, servility, ambiguity, grave worship over the course which were not present in its source nor can be justified in any logical manner. Bulk of them were collected in very recent times in order to solve short-term challenges without confrontations or addressing the roots.
Hinduism would fight against any attempt to be cleansed of these to maintain its non-confrontational image. It would rather fight the internal voices that emerge against the AIDS disease that weaken us from within than see this AIDS as the cause of being bugged regularly by pettiest of external force. And instead of confronting the cause it would confront the internal voices that demand cleansing.
So Hinduism comprises even completely conflicting views of almost everything and yet revers all these conflicts to prevent any confrontation today.
There is that great story of King Harishchandra who would rather sell his own wife and children than confront the unreasonable demands of an outsider. King Rantideva preferred to have his wife and son die of hunger to feed the guest. Such modern Hindu folk tales where an external entity TESTS the hero and gives him a pass certificate when he tortures himself and his closed ones to meet the most ridiculous demands of the external entity form basis of our psyche.
So yes, if you consider ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’, ‘Atithi Devo Bhava’ (guest is great) and non-confrontation with outsiders as the ONLY philosophies of the Vedas, then modern Hinduism follows this better than any other philosophy. However if we keep aside this zeal to internalize as many external packages as possible so as to avoid confrontations and become a ‘mother package’ we see that modern Hinduism is an attempt to seek peace and universal brotherhood in lines of all other major philosophies..
We just gave examples from some of the major philosophies of the world to demonstrate how they all point to same direction. It is high time that we all shed the superfluous differences and embrace each other as part of one single family. We should learn from our mistakes and limitations and understand the truth better. That is exactly why humans have natural urge to live in society.
Instead of harping on differences, all well-intentioned forces should integrate together in the pursuit of truth. We should proactively debate each other, analyze each other, even refute each other – but not with purpose of ego-satisfaction or winning a war, but to genuinely understand truth better in a compassionate matter. We should be wary of only those forces who do not possess this genuine intention.
This mutual collaborative truth-seeking is the source behind all philosophies of the world. This Vedic religion is the fountainhead of all philosophies. Let this be the starting point. Let this be our mantra:
‘I promise to accept truth through a continuous process of rejecting falsehood every moment to best of my abilities in the most sincere manner.’