Philosophy is usually the starting point of our spiritual pursuit. There are hundreds of examples of those who took an interest in philosophy out of curiosity about life’s deeper questions, with some among them, plunging deeper into a spiritual quest. But, it is only once in a while that we do get to meet rare personalities like Ramana Maharshi, whose spontaneous spiritual experiences were so powerful that it changed their course of life.
The arc of Sri. Chittaranjan Naik’s life journey was also changed by a powerful spiritual experience which led him to a life-long study of Indian and Western philosophy. Sri. Naik has also studied philosophies of major world religions and has engaged in philosophical discussions with both Western academicians and Indian scholars.
Academically, Sri. Naik has degrees in Aeronautical Engineering (B-Tech) and Industrial Engineering (M-Tech), both from IIT Madras. He has worked in various corporations such as Rashtriya Chemicals & Fertilizers Ltd., Indian Express Newspapers Group, Starcom Software, 3i Infotech Ltd., and as a free-lance consultant. He quit his job in the year 2007 to devote more time to his spiritual quest and to work towards the revival of the timeless Indian intellectual tradition that had once prevailed in the country.
Naik’s upcoming book ‘Natural Realism and Contact Theory of Perception’ challenges the contemporary paradigms of knowledge rooted in physicalism and materialism, using insights and frameworks from Indian Philosophy.
On behalf of Indic Today, I interviewed Sri Naik regarding his life journey, his upcoming book, the problematic areas of contemporary worldview and the importance of Indian philosophical approaches. Here is the full text of the interview.
Nithin Sridhar (NS) : Namaste Chittaranjan ji. Many congratulations on your upcoming book. Can you share with us more about the book? Why this book? How was it conceived? And how does it contribute to modern philosophical discussions?
Namaste Nithin ji, thank you for your wishes. The book was written as part of my contribution to a larger enterprise – the enterprise of reviving Indian culture, and especially the Indian intellectual tradition. A philosophical investigation into the topic of Perception, which this book is about, is of crucial importance for bringing about such a revival. The fact that perception is one of the central pillars on which the Indian intellectual tradition stands is not obvious to most of us today because we have been acculturated for over 200 years in Western modes of learning and have lost connection with our roots. The Indian civilization is a knowledge-based civilization in which the pramanas (the valid means of obtaining right-knowledge) form the central foundations of the culture. And among the pramanas, pratyaksha or perception is the first and foremost pramana. It is therefore called the jyeshta-pramaana. If this pramana should be discounted, the entire foundation of Vedic culture would come crashing down. In our culture, even inferential logic (anumana) is based on the validity of an invariable relation (vyapti) that has been established beforehand through perception; so if perception should get discounted, inferential logic too would get discounted.
But in the contemporary culture that we have inherited from the Western tradition, the perception has no efficacy in revealing the truth of the world. This is because the Western theory of perception is a physicalist theory in which we perceive objects as it gets represented to us by the brain and not as they exist in nature. This dichotomy between the character of the world as it presents itself to us in our perceptions and as it exists in nature was first pointed out by the British philosopher, John Locke. Locke said that we perceive the qualities of objects in the manners that the faculties of perception we are endowed with, present them to us rather than the qualities as they exist in the objects themselves.
He called the qualities that we perceive secondary qualities as distinct from the primary qualities that exist in the objects themselves, and about which we can know nothing. In contemporary language, Locke’s thesis would be called ‘Representationalism’. Though there have been many variants of representationalism over the years, a kind of Lockean dualism continues to colour the speculations of both science and philosophy up to this day. If therefore, our culture is to be revived, it would become necessary for us to refute the Western theory of perception and to reinstate the Indian theory of perception. This is what the book seeks to do.
NS: The subtitle of the book reads ‘Indian Philosophy’s Challenge to Contemporary Paradigms of Knowledge’. Can you shed more light on this? What are the important contemporary paradigms of knowledge and how Indian Philosophy challenges these paradigms?
The word ‘paradigm’ was first used by the scientist-philosopher, Thomas Kuhn, to indicate a scientific system with a set of fundamental premises that defines the interpretive framework of the system. And a paradigm shift is said to occur when there is a change of such a fundamental nature in the foundations of the system that the new paradigm becomes incommensurable with the old paradigm. The term ‘incommensurability’ indicates the absence of a common measure by which the theories of one paradigm can be judged by the judgmental criteria of the other. Though the terms paradigm and paradigm-shift were originally used in the context of scientific disciplines, they were subsequently extended to cover many other disciplines including philosophy, sociology, history, etc. In the domain of science, the change from classical physics to modern physics (comprising Einstein’s Relativity and Quantum Physics) exemplify such paradigm shifts.
In the context of this book, however, we are alluding to not one of two specific paradigms in the contemporary world, but to the overarching paradigm that underlies them all and which may be called the physicalist paradigm. It is essentially the paradigm of the Charvaka philosophy having its equivalent in the West in the Epicurean philosophy of the Greeks and which was further buttressed at the onset of the modern era by the writings of Francis Bacon. It provided the broad framework under which pioneering scientists such as Newton, etc, operated and under which scientists continue to operate until this day. Stated simply, it is the paradigm which holds that all things in the universe can be explained by naturalistic explanations proceeding from a physicalist framework. Over the last 300 years or so, the empirical sciences have been so successful in explaining a great many things in the universe that it has now become almost anathema to question the validity of the science or its overarching paradigm.
Indian philosophy’s challenge to contemporary paradigms of knowledge is essentially a challenge to the overarching paradigm of physicalism that characterizes contemporary culture. And by choosing perception as the area of investigation, it directly focuses on an area that can never be explained by a purely physicalist explanation, since the inherent capacity of perception belongs to the atman, the sentient self, and not to inert matter. The world we perceive is the kshetra, the percipient of the world is the kshetrajna; and the causal relationship between one perceptible object and another perceptible object can only exist within the boundaries of the kshetra without it having any causal efficacy to make the kshetra itself manifest to the kshetrajna.
From the perspective of Indian philosophy, any attempt to explain perception, the manifestation of the kshetra to the kshetrajna, through a purely physicalist framework would result in mutual inter-dependencies and logical absurdities. This has been amply demonstrated in Chapter 2 of the book in which a detailed refutation of the scientific theory of perception has been undertaken.
I must say, however, that it was easier to refute the scientific theory of perception than to present the Indian theory of perception as an alternative. This is due to the fact that the Indian theory of perception is a contact theory of perception in which there is a conjunction of the sense-organs with the object at the instant of perception and this conjunction would not be possible if a certain belief promoted by science were true. This is the belief that there exists a time interval between the occurrence of an event in space and its perception by a human observer. According to science, we perceive a visual object only after the light from the object has reached our eyes and they are converted into sensory signals which are then transferred to the brain after which the brain makes a representation of the object to us. This long causal chain of processes entails a time delay between the actual occurrence of the event in space and its perception by a human percipient. In the case of objects located in our immediate vicinity, this time delay may not be apparent due to the high velocity of light and the rapid operations of our neural networks but for objects that are located at great distances from the earth, such as the distant stars, many years may pass before human observers on earth would actually perceive the event. It is possible that the star may not even be existent by the time it is perceived. Now, if this belief should be true, then it discounts the Indian theory of perception right at the outset since it precludes the possibility of there being conjunction between the sense organ and the object at the instant of perception. The hurdle that this claim of science poses to the Indian contact theory of perception was debated at length in the Workshop that was held at the Karnataka Sanskrit University on the 4th and 5th of March 2016 on the topic of ‘Perception’.
So, given this major hurdle, how does the Indian theory still pose a challenge to the Western theory of perception? From the perspective of Indian philosophy, the claim of science that the velocity of light has been measured with respect to an observer is false. What science has observed in the experiments that it has conducted so far, according to the Indian perspective, is the velocity of light from one observed object (the source of light) to another observed object (the object illuminated by the source of light) and not from an observed object to an actual (sentient) observer. Science has conflated the observer and the measuring instrument because of its physicalist paradigm which takes a measuring instrument to be the equivalent of a human observer; this assumption is false. A detailed analysis of the scientific claim has been undertaken in Part 2 of the book. Part 2 of the book also proposes an alternative empirical experiment to determine whether or not there really exists a time delay between the occurrence of a visual event in space and its perception by a human percipient. Conducting this experiment may not be feasible today with the technological prowess we currently possess but its proposal, and bringing it to the stage of debate, would remove a major obstruction that stands in the way of proposing the Indian theory of perception in, as much as, the time-lag argument can no more be taken to be a ‘settled fact’ but becomes a proposition that is still open to debate. And in the process of doing so, it would shake up the contemporary physicalist paradigm in as much as the conjunction of the senses with objects in space cannot be explained by the laws of physics. To summarize, I would say that reinstating the Indian theory of perception would amount to a radical change in the way we look at the universe today and would pave the way for opening up a domain of knowledge beyond the boundaries of science.
Part 2 of the book also deals with certain common objections that may be raised against the Indian theory of perception by showing, for example, how the case of the time-lapse between the auditory perception of the sound of a lightning in the sky much later than the visual perception of its flash would be explained through the framework of Indian philosophy.
NS: In your bio at the end of the book, it is written that a powerful spiritual experience made you study both Indian and Western Philosophies. Can you share more about that experience?
It happened in the year 1977 when I was in college. I had developed an interest in Relativity Theory and Quantum Physics, as also in Cybernetics and I used to visit the library regularly to read up on these subjects. It was my interest in cybernetics that led me into a wondrous intellectual journey and ultimately into the spiritual path.
The spiritual journey began as an inquiry into the question: Would it be possible to make a cybernetic machine that replicates the intelligence of a human being? After pondering over the question for some days, it struck me that the direction cybernetics was taking, which was based on the Turing Principle, was not the right direction as it ignored the essential aspect of intelligence: the presence of consciousness as the first prerequisite for intelligence to appear. And then, it struck me that consciousness cannot emerge from material processes at all; for if consciousness were to be produced from those very material processes which constitute the field of the universe that the cognizer that is conscious of, it would lead to mutual inter-dependence. These were not idle thoughts, the arguments for and against the proposition raced through my mind and left me with apodictic certainty that consciousness was an entity distinct from matter and that it could not be produced by material processes, that is, that the material processes could not be the source from which consciousness arose, a consciousness which then went on to become conscious of its own material origins.
One after another, ideas unfolded in my mind with such rapidity that I was wholly absorbed in the spiraling vortex of an exhilarating exploration to the point that I had become practically lost to the world. Everything else became insipid and uninteresting in comparison. It dawned on me then that I could not recognize a thing if the prescient notion of the thing was not already present within me, that is, I would not be capable of recognizing the colour red, unless a fundamental notion of red, or a basic value of what the colour red is, was not already known to be a priori. And if this were so, it meant that the object I saw in this world was in some way a crystallization of this notion into concrete form. In other words, the matter could not exist without consciousness because they were the inherent notions present in consciousness brought forth into concrete forms. Strangely, I had begun with the question of whether consciousness could be produced from matter and had ended with an answer that matter itself could not exist without consciousness! A sort of a magnificent obsession took hold of me then. I decided to test out my ideas in ‘practice’.
I sat in the padmasana posture and focused on the idea that the world which presented itself to me was a kind of valuation, a crystallized form of notions that were already present within me. I don’t know how long I sat in that posture. I subjected every thought that arose in my mind to a rational reduction: to an inherent value that existed within me including the thoughts of the objects of this world. After a while, the initial distractions began to subside, and a deep quietude began to pervade my being. The focus on inherent values as the heart of objects and ideas became natural.
Then it happened, all of a sudden, without warning. A blaze of light shot through me and everything began to dissolve, the walls, the room, the world around me and along with it my own body. That split-second, that moment, was more intense, more living, more awesome than anything I had known in my life. It was like a blaze of a thousand suns exploding. The foundation of the world was knocked off, as it were, and there was no foothold anywhere. An intense terror took hold of me at the thought that my very individuality was dissolving, and I woke out of the experience in a wild convulsion. But there was also a great elation in my heart. A great Living Presence seemed to be near as well as all around me. I don’t know how I passed the night, but the next morning I felt transformed. There was a deep feeling of humility in my heart, and an aversion to meeting people. I longed for simplicity, to go away from the great façade of deception that the world was perpetrating on itself. I went to the library and looked up books on religion. I got hold of the Upanishads. A thrill passed through me as I read its pages. Many of the passages seemed as clear and obvious to me as if they were my native thoughts as if they were giving voice to what I had discovered and experienced. Soon I began reading whatever literature I could get hold of on philosophy and religion.
Well, this is how it began. Over the years, there have been many discoveries, sometimes gradual, sometimes a sudden uncovering of symbolism or concept of the ancients, but they all have their roots in the experience of that day. There were also other spiritual experiences in the next three months but none as powerful as the first one, but there is one particular experience that that stands out from the rest. It was about a month or so after I had had the first spiritual experience when one day I was sitting on the bed when all of a sudden I became detached from the body and experienced myself as a distinct flame of unflickering consciousness, of the size of ‘a thumb’ within the body. And though I knew that consciousness had no spatial relationship with anything in the world, there was a definite sense of that which I now experienced as the self-being located in the heart, slightly on the right side in the chest. Yet, the word ‘heart’ as I experienced it then had a sense of meaning as when it is evocated through the expression ‘the heart of all things’ rather than of being the physical heart. This experience had a powerful effect on me because it coincided with what I had read in the Upanishads as also in a book describing the experiences of Ramana Maharshi just a few days earlier – that the self, like a flame of consciousness of the size of a thumb, resides in the heart, and that it is experienced as being slightly on the right side in the chest. If there was any doubt left in me still that the Upanishads revealed knowledge that cannot be obtained from any other source, all these doubts were now set to rest.
The next phase of my spiritual pursuit consisted of extensive reading of philosophical works – both Indian and Western – as also of the world’s major religions. The readings of Indian philosophical texts were sometimes accompanied by sudden insights into some aspect or the other of the tenets and principles of the Vedic tradition. Sometimes, I would sit and stare at a word or sentence in the text because it would pierce my consciousness and reveal some deep hidden meaning. This has happened to me not only with Vedanta texts but also with those of Yoga and Nyaya. It was during this period that the various traditional schools of Indian philosophy seemed to me to be not six disparate philosophies but to be six strands of the body of a single overarching philosophy in which each one of them appeared as an auxiliary discipline of knowledge to Vedanta. This integral view of Indian darshanas has not only stayed with me in all my subsequent years but has been substantiated by a careful reading of the texts. I spent more than a year in this phase before I joined up for my first job, primarily because I couldn’t continue to live off my father nor could I get to take to a life of sannyasa.
NS: In your long years of study of both Indian and Western philosophy as well as interaction with philosophers and academicians from both sides, if you were to point out one important common element as well as one important difference between the two philosophical systems, what would it be?
I would say the most important common element between the two traditions is that they are both rooted in human rationality. Of all the ancient civilizations in the world, reason had developed to the greatest extents in India and Greece. Western civilization owes its rational inheritance to the Hellenistic world. In India, rationality has been a central part of the natural fabric of our culture and though it might have somewhat dimmed over the last 300 years, I believe it is a temporary phase and that our intellectual culture will revive itself again in due course of time.
About the single-most-important element that distinguishes our tradition from not only the Western tradition but from all other traditions of the world, it is undoubtedly the centrality of Sabda in our culture. Sabda or Veda is the well-spring of our civilization; it is the very life-breath of our tradition and without it, our civilization wouldn’t be what it is. I do not believe people nowadays appreciate the extent to which the Veda has defined every aspect of Indian life, from the most mundane matters of life to the rarest flights of philosophy, and raised this civilization to such heights as has not been achieved by any other civilization or culture of the world.
NS: In your opinion, which approaches better explains deeper existential questions?
This is not a matter of opinion with me. I am convinced with a kind of certainty that dissolves my doubts that it is the Indian Vedic approach which facilitates a far better understanding of the deeper existential questions that trouble us than is facilitated by the Western approach. Lest I should be accused of taking a sectarian view, let me clarify that I hold certain Western philosophers like Socrates, Plato, Parmenides, Spinoza and even Kant and Husserl in very high regard. I also hold the human mind to be essentially the same whether it is in the West or in India, so my ascription of superiority to the Indian approach is based not on the intellectual capacities of philosophers of the two traditions but on a factor that provides validity to the conclusions reached by philosophers. This factor is Sabda. When it comes to ascertaining the truth with regards to the gross physical objects of the world, perception provides the grounding factor; but what is it that can ground the levitating power of human thought when it undertakes explorations into the domain of metaphysics and philosophy? The Western tradition does not have any, and it thereby lacks the wherewithal to ground its philosophies. The question of how Sabda provides the grounding factor for Indian traditional philosophies is the subject matter for another book but I have briefly provided the contours of the theme in the Preface to this book.
NS: Can we really, think about Indian philosophy as one wholesome approach, considering the diversity of Darshanas – six astika and 3 nastika – that exist?
At the outset, let me clarify that by Indian philosophy I mean the philosophies of the Indian Vedic tradition which comprise the central mighty current of the flowing river of Indian intellectual thought. Other philosophies such as Jaina, Bauddha and Charvaka philosophies may have sprung up around this river but they do not constitute the perennial philosophy, or set of perennial philosophies, of Sanathana Dharma. In the Preface to my book too, I have clarified that by Indian philosophy, I mean the philosophies of the Indian Vedic tradition only.
Now, concerning the question whether Indian philosophy can be considered as one wholesome approach, I would say that the very criterion by which philosophy in India is classified as astika or nastika provides the binding factor that makes astika Indian philosophies into a single integral body of knowledge despite there being differences between them. For unlike in the Western tradition, in the Indian tradition the classification of philosophy as astika does not depend on its acceptance of God but depends on its acceptance of Veda as pramana. This is significant because the acceptance of a set of words or vakhyas as pramana at once brings in the stipulation that the philosophy would have to conform to the meanings of those words and vakhyas. This is true not only for Mimamsa which deals with vakhyartha-jnana (knowledge of sentence-meanings) but also for Nyaya-Vaisesika which deals with padartha-jnana (knowledge of word-meanings) since the words and their meanings are bound together by an objective connection that derives out of the Vedas and is not conferred by human beings. So, the yathartha-jnana that forms the aim of every astika philosophy cannot stray from the word-meanings as they spring out of the Vedas. This is a powerful factor that binds together the six astika philosophies. As regards the differences between them, it is due to the different roles that each philosophy plays in the scheme of Vedic vidyas as described in texts such as the Nyayamanjari of Jayanta Bhatta and the Prasthanabheda of Madhusudhana Saraswati. One may also note that these six philosophies form part of the fourteen vidya-sthanas, commonly referred to as the Chaturdasa vidyas, which the Yajnavalkya Smriti enlists as the vidyas for conferring knowledge of the eternal dharma.
NS: Tell us about your journey into Advaita Vedanta? Have you studied Advaita Darshana under any Acharyas or has it been mostly individual effort? Share with us your experiences being a Sadhaka in the path of Advaita.
I described how I came into the path of spirituality through a powerful spiritual experience. The directions that my intellectual contemplations took during that time fell in line with the Siddhanta of Advaita Vedanta. Also, among the first few books that came into my hands after the spiritual experience was the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita and the Brahma Sutra along with the Bhashya of Shankaracharya. I didn’t know until I had read the introduction to the Brahma Sutra Bhashya that these three texts were the Prasthana Traya; strangely, without any conscious effort on my part, the texts of the prasthana trayi happened to be among the first books on spirituality I read.
I haven’t studied Advaita Vedanta under any Acharya. I am not qualified to do so because I am not a traivarnika. My ancestors were kshatriyas once upon a time, but I have personally not undergone the upanayana rite. Studying the Upanishads in the traditional style under an Acharya without having undergone the upanayana rite is a proscribed activity and I did not wish to transgress the prescriptive norms set by the very Shastras that I would be setting out to study. Sri Shankaracharya says in the Sutra Bhashya that there is no beginning to this path; that one picks up from where one left off in a previous life and continues the journey. I see my journey into Advaita Vedanta in the light of the words of the Acharya and I am content with what Divine Providence has brought to me.
I would also like to say here that even though my inclination is towards Advaita Vedanta, I have been inspired by a great many philosophical and religious texts including the Old and New Testaments, the Zend Avesta, the Jewish Qabbalah, the writings of Plato, the writings of Lao Tse and Confucius, the Hermetic philosophy, etc. And as I mentioned already, I take all the six Indian astika philosophies to be auxiliaries on the path to the Supreme Knowledge. I would specifically like to mention here that I find the bhashyas of Sri Madhvacharya to be almost as inspiring as those of Sri Shankaracharya. This may sound bizarre to many people considering that some of the tenets of Dvaita – such as the eternal difference between Brahman and jiva, etc – are diametrically opposed to that of Advaita, but I find a deep significance to this difference and am able to even reconcile them in the light of the manners in which the two Siddhantas consider the denotation of words and the essential constitution of a jiva . I seem to have been endowed with a disposition that naturally embraces a universal outlook and I am grateful for being graced with such a trait. Among the few articles that I have published so far, I would consider my main article to have been on this theme; the article is entitled ‘The Sword of Kali.
Presently, my sadhana takes the form of niskamya karma. I have often looked back upon my first spiritual experience and wondered why it is that I exited from that experience with such terrible fear at the prospect of losing my individuality. The inability to confront the Infinite Formless Being and the awesome fear of what seemed to me, at that time, to be an abyss without a foothold indicates that there is some obstruction that requires to be removed. And in all the years thence, I have not been able to cross the threshold. According to our Shastras, such obstruction can only be removed by karma. So, here I am, at this stage in my life, on the path of niskamya-karma, trying to provide my service in some small measure, such as it may be, for the revival of the timeless tradition of the Vedas and Vedic dharma.
NS: Please share with our readers the challenges you faced while writing this book and how you overcame them.
The first challenge, as I mentioned earlier, was a challenge of such proportion that it seemed to make the presentation of the Indian theory of perception a non-starter right at the outset. It was the challenge of the time-lag argument, the almost ubiquitously held belief that we perceive events in the world after some time has elapsed from the occurrence of the event in the world. From my interactions with people, both lay, people and scholars, it seemed to me that almost everyone, including many of the traditional scholars too, had accepted the conclusion of science as something that had already been ‘proved’ or ‘demonstrated’. I realized that if the Indian theory of perception was to stand a chance of being proposed in the contemporary world, the first and foremost task that one would have to undertake is to show that this belief is a myth and that the erroneous idea of time-lag in perception had taken root in the minds of people on account of science having conflated between the observer and the measuring instrument. So the first task I undertook was to write a paper on this topic. I intended to present this paper in a seminar that was planned to be conducted through ICPR (Indian Council of Philosophical Research) but the seminar never took place. The paper now forms Part 2 of the book.
The challenge in the form of the time-lag objection essentially came from outside the Indian tradition. But the bigger challenge was the challenge which came from within the tradition itself – due to the gradual erosion of vibrancy of the tradition since the beginning of the seventeenth century. For various reasons ranging from the cultural atrophy caused by 300 years of colonization, the introduction of an alien education system, lack of state support, etc., the Indian intellectual tradition has lost the vigour and vibrancy that it had retained for thousands of years. Unfortunately, this is the same period when there was an intellectual resurgence in Europe in the form of the European Renaissance followed by the European Enlightenment and the Scientific Revolution. This resurgence was of such a magnitude, encompassing the entire spectrum of human knowledge and human institutes to such a degree, that it resulted in what came to be called a New World Order. Unfortunately, due to the loss of vigour in our own tradition during this period, we failed to engage in a debate in which new ideas are generated and take the world stage.
So, what we are left with today is a world in which alien ideas and theories rule the roost, as it were. The very language and platform of discourse is coloured by the ideas and notions of the Western tradition which has engendered the contemporary culture we live in today. In the context of perception, certain words which have different denotations such as ‘consciousness’ and ‘mind’ were clubbed together and treated as if they were one entity. So, the two distinct kinds of relationships that abide between these two entities and perceptible objects were indiscriminately treated as a single mind-matter relationship – under the label of Cartesian dualism – leading to problems that have turned out to be intractable up to this day. Also, contemporary Western culture treats the qualities that inhere in sensory objects as subjective ‘phenomenal’ mind-dependent qualities that merely present how objects ‘look to us’ and not as properties of the objects themselves. This, in turn, has prevented the Western tradition from comprehending how an object with these qualities may be mind-independent. To present the Indian theory of perception, the first challenge, therefore, was to disentangle the indiscriminate mixing up of principles that were present in contemporary culture and to segregate them and lay them out in accordance with the tattvas of the Indian tradition. An entire chapter of the book entitled ‘Prolegomena to a Theory of Direct Perception’ has been dedicated for this purpose.
As I mentioned earlier, it was easier to refute the Western theory of perception than to present the Indian theory. This is because the Indian philosophical paradigm is entirely different than that of the Western tradition. Today, we have been acculturated to look at the world through the lens of Western ideas and notions. For example, what would it mean to a person today when I tell him or her that the eye makes contact with an object is space? We all see the eye to be remaining quite fixed within the sockets in our heads when we perceive visual objects, so what is this eye that is supposed to make contact with the object in external space? Obviously, the Indian texts are not speaking about the physical eye but of something else that forms the reference of the word ‘eye’. To the modern man, this at once translates into a kind of occult entity. So, how can we make the Indian theory of perception comprehendible to people in the present day? Again, one may note that the physical body and the physical sense organs have very trivial roles to play in the Indian theory of perception. In particular, I would like to mention that the brain does not even figure in the Indian explanation of perception. We can imagine how a modern person would be flummoxed by the idea that the brain has no direct causal role to play in the perceptual process! This was the biggest challenge of all: how to present the Indian theory of perception within the field of a predominantly physicalist contemporary culture. I have tried to do the best I can by devoting an entire chapter to the Indian Weltanschauung before actually attempting to present the Indian contact theory of perception. This chapter deals with two primary topics: firstly, the topic of embodiment and liberation which explains how the physical body has practically no direct role to play in the process of perception and, secondly, the Indian perspective of causality that operates in the universe and by the comprehending of which alone the Indian theory of perception may be made meaningful. I do not believe that one chapter of a book, or even one book, can do justice to this topic but I have done what I can to facilitate the presentation of the Indian theory of perception in today’s world.
One of the primary aims of writing this book was to promote engagement of the Indian philosophical tradition with the ideas and theories of the contemporary world. In consideration of this aim, I have, in the first chapter of the book, traced the thread of Western thought that has a bearing on ontology so that it would facilitate the identification of those ideas and tenets that form the nodes from which the Indian tradition and Western tradition branch out in different directions and thereby provide the Indian traditional scholar with suitable handles to go deeper into the topics and to come up with his or her own response to the problems. I do hope that Indian traditional scholars take up the gauntlet because what is at stake here is the living preservation of our timeless dharma. I realize that much work needs to be done to enable such an engagement – such as the translations of these kinds of books into Sanskrit, etc – but it is crucial that our traditional scholars, who are the primary repositories of knowledge of our ancient vidyas, are not left out of the discourse that will shape the contours of the future world.
Having said all this, I would like to raise a certain question here, and the question is this: What is it that really afflicts our intellectual tradition today? Why has our intellectual tradition – a tradition that had once made this country into a world-centre of learning – lost its vigour and vibrancy in the contemporary world? The Vedic intellectual tradition has an in-built mechanism to ensure that it perpetuates in the world as a living tradition; and yet, this tradition has gone into hibernation today. Why is it so? I would like to submit that it is because we have lost sight of the beginningless nature of the Vedic tradition itself. The meaning of the word ‘Siddhanta’, as used in the Vedic tradition, indicates that it has always already been an established philosophy. It springs into the field of manifestation in every cycle of creation and flows as the body, or one of the tributaries, of the river of Vedic knowledge. Unlike a philosophy in the Western tradition, a Siddhanta is not something to be established by human speculations. Its origins are in Sabda; the only thing that is to be done to preserve its status as a Siddhanta in the world is for the doubts raised against its tenets to be removed as and when they crop up. In the scheme of Vedic vidyas, the special Shastra that has the role of removing such doubts is Nyaya Shastra. It is for this reason, says Jayanta Bhatta in the Nyayamanjari, that Nyaya is the vidya meant for upholding the authority of the Vedas. Unfortunately, we have lost sight of this essential nature of Vedic philosophies and have allowed alien theories to take root in the last 300 years without making any attempt to remove the doubts cast by them on Vedic Siddhantas. This, according to me, has been our greatest weakness. The real enemy has not been foreign rule or colonization but the neglect of this essential element of our tradition: the employment of Nyaya or Tarka to remove the new doubts that modern culture has implanted into our minds. As a result, our traditional vidyas became fossilized somewhere around the seventeenth century. What goes on in the traditional circles today is not the handing over of living teaching from teacher to disciple but the handing over of a vidya that became frozen and fossilized at the beginning of the seventeenth century. If we are to revive our culture today, we must make up for the omission of the last 300 years and take up the sword of Tarka again to breathe new life into our vidyas and resuscitate them as living teachings and living traditions; and I am convinced that if we can do this, it will without a doubt catapult India onto the world stage as a great centre of learning once again. I have tried to explain this nature of Indian Vedic philosophies in the Preface to the book.
NS: Any suggestions/advice to young students who have just started their journey into philosophy?
I am not a teacher Nithin ji, so I don’t believe I am qualified to proffer advice to students of Shastra or philosophy. But I will share my convictions as a wayfarer.
We cannot have both the world and philosophy. If our goal is truly the pursuit of philosophy, then we should strive to become dead to the world. Only then can we be intoxicated with the heady wine of philosophy; only then can we truly seek the Rebirth that is the sole goal of philosophy.
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