Know Your India: How Well Do You Know Hindu Wisdom?

Our rich past must remain our greatest inspiration and inform our engagement with the world

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Hindu wisdom and the broader framework of Eastern philosophy talked in the same language as modern physics was beginning to do. Wikimedia Commons
Hindu wisdom and the broader framework of Eastern philosophy talked in the same language as modern physics was beginning to do. Wikimedia Commons

By Bikash Sarmah

No matter how our self-styled secularists vilify ancient Indian or Hindu wisdom, there is an element of eternity and universality about that treasure trove. It is a great work of reason and analysis. And there is no confusion in the discourse. Such is its universality that the intelligent Westerner woke up to it long ago and discovered the wealth therein. Such is its practicality that when Albert Einstein deconstructed the long-held Newtonian worldview in the early part of the 20th century, and when quantum mechanics from the other side revolutionized the whole course of physics and brought about a paradigm shift in our perception of matter and energy, the founding fathers of the evolving field had already taken resort in Hindu wisdom, and to their utter surprise found that Hindu wisdom and the broader framework of Eastern philosophy talked in the same language as modern physics was beginning to do. And it was not restricted to physics or mathematics alone. Even Western writers and philosophers began to appreciate Hindu wisdom, but not without struggling to comprehend the non-Newtonian Hindu worldview — used as they were to a discrete, Newtonian notion of fundamentalism, both in the material and non-material world.

As an acclaimed physicist and thinker Fritjof Capra says in his classic The Tao of Physics, ‘‘The picture of an interconnected cosmic web which emerges from modern atomic physics has been used extensively in the East to convey the mystical experience of nature. For the Hindus, Brahman is the unifying thread in the cosmic web, the ultimate ground of all being… In Buddhism, the image of the cosmic web plays an even greater role. The core of the Avatamsaka Sutra, one of the main scriptures of Mahayana Buddhism, is the description of the world as a perfect network of mutual relations where all things and events interact with each other in an infinitely complicated way.’’

In Buddhism, the image of the cosmic web plays an even greater role. The core of the Avatamsaka Sutra, one of the main scriptures of Mahayana Buddhism, is the description of the world as a perfect network of mutual relations where all things and events interact with each other in an infinitely complicated way.’’ Says Fritjof Capra. Wikimedia Commons
In Buddhism, the image of the cosmic web plays an even greater role. The core of the Avatamsaka Sutra, one of the main scriptures of Mahayana Buddhism, is the description of the world as a perfect network of mutual relations where all things and events interact with each other in an infinitely complicated way.’’ Says Fritjof Capra. Wikimedia Commons

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Such worldview brings a lot of discomfort to the typical Western mind brought up in a culture that emphasizes only rigid fundamentals and overlooks the varied possibilities beyond the confinement of fundamentals, unlike in the Hindu system that rejects such fundamentalism and espouses a notion of the world, both material and spiritual, that jells wonderfully with the implications of the theories of modern physics. But how well is this known? It is in this context that a compilation of Western thoughts on India and its ancient wisdom, titled ‘Great minds on India’ compiled by Salil Gewali and published by Academic Publications, Shillong, is pertinent. It captures the best of comments by Western intellectual giants on Hindu wisdom and its timelessness, reflecting also on the parallels between modern physics and Hindu wisdom. Let us hear some of them. Werner Heisenberg, one of the founders of quantum mechanics and celebrated for his epoch-making Uncertainty Principle in quantum mechanics that rejects the Newtonian assertion of predicting the position and momentum of matter simultaneously, glorifies Hindu wisdom thus:

‘‘After the conversations about Indian philosophy, some of the ideas of quantum physics that had seemed so crazy suddenly made much more sense.’’ If Einstein says that ‘‘we owe a lot to Indians who taught us how to count, without which no worthwhile scientific discovery could be made’’, Julius R Oppenheimer, the father of nuclear bomb, goes further: ‘‘What we shall find in modern physics is an exemplification, an encouragement and a refinement of old Hindu wisdom.’’

‘‘Indian philosophers’ subtleties make most of the great European philosophers look like schoolboys.’’ Says TS Eliot. Wikimedia Commons
‘‘Indian philosophers’ subtleties make most of the great European philosophers look like schoolboys.’’ Says TS Eliot. Wikimedia Commons

Coming to TS Eliot, who needs no introduction. He says: ‘‘Indian philosophers’ subtleties make most of the great European philosophers look like schoolboys.’’ What Eliot means, in other words, is that when it comes to subtlety — that is, to the delicate refinement of ideas — most of the great European philosophers should rather be huddled in a classroom with an Indian philosopher teaching and guiding them. That is why Francois M Voltaire, one of the greatest French writers and philosophers, admits thus: ‘‘I am convinced that everything has come down to us from the banks of the Ganga — astronomy, astrology, spiritualism etc. It is very important to note that some 2,500 years ago at the least Pythagoras went from Samos to the Ganga to learn geometry… But he would certainly not have undertaken such a strange journey had the reputation of the Brahmins’ science not been long established in Europe.’’ And that is why Ralph Waldo Emerson, great American author, and essayist, confesses to having been ‘‘haunted’’ by the Vedas. ‘‘In them (the Vedas),’’ Emerson says, ‘‘I have found eternal compensation, unfathomable power, unbroken peace.’’ And hence the candor, again, of Arthur Schopenhauer, one of the greatest German philosophers and writers: ‘‘In the whole world there is no study so beneficial and so elevating as that of the Upanishads. It has been the solace of my life, and it will be the solace of my death. They are the product of the highest wisdom.’’

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Perhaps the best eulogy for India, as it truly deserves, has come from Frederich von Schlegel, acclaimed German writer, critic, philosopher, and one of the founders of German Romanticism: ‘‘There is no language in the world, even Greek, which has the clarity and the philosophical precision of Sanskrit, and this great India is not only at the origin of everything, she is (also) superior in everything, intellectually, religiously or politically, and even the Greek heritage seems pale in comparison.’’

The booklet, ‘Eat minds on India’, is doubtless a unique venture, and the publishers deserve kudos for having accomplished such an onerous task as to compile comments on India and Hindu wisdom by a galaxy of Western intellectual giants and then to choose the best and the most relevant ones. The tragedy, however, remains: a pseudo-secular dispensation as we are blessed with at the Centre would hardly initiate any move to popularize ancient Indian wisdom, which is essentially Hindu, and call upon the youth of the country to rediscover their past and marvel at the sheer effulgence of Hindu wisdom — stemming not from any dogmatic, fundamentalist and conditioned worldview, but from a holistic way of life and its liberating experience. This is so because the word ‘‘Hindu’’ will invariably echo in any discourse on ancient Indian wisdom and the country’s perverse, self-styled secularists will discover a ‘communal’ agenda there — ‘against our pluralist ethos’. These poor souls do not realize — nor do they want to — that whatever pluralist ethos the country today takes pride in and will sustain for all times is due solely to the Hindu way of life, a preponderant way of life in India. Why, look at how the other by-product of Partition, including Bangladesh, has evolved.

Our rich past must remain our greatest inspiration and inform our engagement with the world. Even quantum mechanics and all of its later avatars recognize that fact of life. Let us all be proud of it all.

(The writer is the former consultant Editor of ‘The Sentinel’, a Guwahati-based
daily. He currently resides in Guwahati)

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Showing Support to The Chanderi weavers Amid Lockdown

In tough times, it is difficult for weavers to sell their products, showcasing their work online can be immensely helpful

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Lending support to Chanderi weavers in these times becomes immensely important. IANS

In tough times, it is difficult for weavers to sell their products and sustain their craft during these difficult times. Showcasing their work online can be immensely helpful. One needs understand that the lockdown has had a severe impact on artisans as it has severely affected their sales and production.

“With artisans and weavers having been hit badly because of the lockdown, Weaverstory a specialised online marketplace, has decided to give reasonable prices, so that customers can buy different products from across India and abroad too. This is helping the weavers sell their products to sustain during these difficult times. Every artisan or weaver is given a separate space to exhibit their products and this is the first time they are trying something like this,” said Nishant Malhotra co-founder of Weaverstory.

WeaverStory launched an “Authentic Chanderi Collection” which helps artisans to become self-reliant. Chanderi, from central India is one of the best-known handloom clusters, particularly famous for its sarees, made with a mix of silk and cotton.

weavers
India is one of the best-known handloom clusters, particularly famous for its sarees, made with a mix of silk and cotton. Pixabay

“Most of them sustain themselves only by selling their products and what is really important is to sell their products on time. Hence, this is the only way to sell whatever they have produced in the past two months. We ensure that the money goes to the artisan’s account within three working days and provide financial support to them during the lockdown,” Malhotra added.

The chanderi saree is a handwoven variety from the traditional weavers of Madhya Pradesh. Woven predominantly in cotton and silk yarn, the material has a subtle sheer surface. The assortment has in store the variety of sarees, dupattas, suits in vibrant colours, royal blues, and red and mustards.

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There have been changes in the methodologies, equipment and even the compositions of yarns over the years, but there is a heritage attached with the skill associated with high quality weaving and products. The weavers from this area a have even received appreciation and royal patronage. WeaverStory has been focussing predominantly on the weaves, reviving designs from museums and traditional forms, and working with weavers themselves. (IANS)

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Here’s how we Overlook the Sufferings of Migrant Workers in India

The death toll of migrant workers is increasing everyday

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India
Migrant Workers in India are stranded thousands of miles away from their families and homes. WIkimedia Commons

By Muskan Bhatnagar

India is going through a situation of crisis from all aspects. From the virus to national border tension, from financial losses to rising death tolls. Not only India, but the whole world is in a state of emergency. The crisis is so huge that we tend to forget the problems on the grass-root level. While the world is busy fighting Coronavirus, protesting against injustice, grieving the deaths of celebrities, let’s take a look at the migrant workers in India who’ve been battling the pandemic in an altogether different way.

It has been over six months since the outbreak of the Novel Coronavirus. The first case in India was confirmed on 30 January. Since then, the nation has seen a constant rise in the number of cases as well as death tolls. The imposition of lockdown had put the privileged in their homes while the migrant workers had much more to worry about. No money, no savings, no shelter, and no resources to get back to their homes.

Even if we try our best, we’ll still fail to understand or feel the pain and suffering they have been put through. There are thousands of such workers across the nation who were forced to walk hundreds of miles to their native place with their families and kids, as there was no transportation available due to the lockdown which was imposed in the wake of COVID-19 pandemic.

Their story isn’t over yet. A recent report suggests that 198 migrant workers were killed during 1,461 accidents which took place over the course of the nationwide lockdown – from March 25 to May 31. The accidents killed at least 750 people, including 198 migrant workers. Migrant workers who were putting all their efforts to go back home comprise 26.4% of the overall deaths during the lockdown caused due to road accidents.

Not just road accidents, but migrant workers have also lost their lives due to starvation and heat sickness. Image walking thousands of miles the hot weather conditions of the summer season, with mercury shooting to 45 degrees Celsius, carrying all your belongings amid an ongoing global pandemic. What worse could you happen to them?

Migrant workers across India have lost their lives due to various causes. Pixabay

Last month a train in Maharashtra ran over 16 migrant workers who were sleeping on the tracks. The workers were walking to Bhusawal from Jalna to board a “Shramik Special” train to return to Madhya Pradesh amid lockdown. 14 of the 20 died on the spot and 2 lost their lives in hospital. The accident took place when they decided to take rest and sleep on the railway lines.

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If you start reading and researching more about the stories of migrant workers in India, you will come across incidents that will break your heart and move you to tears. Women, children, joint families, elderly, everyone has to suffer and starve on the roads during this global emergency.

Rather than discussing and grieving the losses in India, the attention is put to other worldwide issues, easily overlooking the problems of our people. Why do we mourn the loss of a celebrity so much? A simple answer will be because they were legends in their field. That’s right. But we feel devasted because they die, and not because they were legends. It is a matter of loss of life. Similarly, when such a huge amount of people die on the streets, we tend to overlook. In both cases, someone dies.

The migrant workers in India are losing their lives every day, and it’s probably just a news piece for us all.

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Yoga: A Sacred Gift, with Love from Hinduism and India to the World

Yoga as a means of exercise for the body and mind is a deeply rooted concept of Hinduism for centuries, it is a gift from India to the world

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Yoga
Yoga as a means of exercise for the body and mind is a deeply rooted concept of Hinduism in India. Pixabay

BY Varuni Trivedi

Lord Krishna said to Arjun in the Geeta, “Restless senses, O Arjuna, forcibly carry away the mind of even a wise person striving for perfection.” Patanjali’s description of the practice of yoga after the yamas and niyamas, directs towards the pratyahara, meaning turning inward of the senses. In simple terms when one is unable to restrain the senses, they become powerless to direct their minds. No matter how well-read or wise they sound while talking, it carries little importance without the practice discipline. The word “yoga” comes from the Sanskrit word ‘yuj’ (“to yoke”) which is more literally translated as “union of the individual’s Atma or soul with Paramatma or god (the universal soul). This is often understood as a union with the divine power by the integration of body, mind, and spirit. Thus, Yoga is what imparts an internal discipline, not only to the body but also to the mind and spirit. 

 

History of the art of Yoga

Bhagavad Gita, the holy scripture of Hindus also states the importance of yoga, “Yoga is the journey of the self, to the self, through the self” it beautifully quotes. The history of Yoga is accurately is difficult to trace its has many places of obscurity and uncertainty. In those ages, texts and teaching were passed down orally. Not only was the oral transmission of sacred texts is a common occurrence but the secretive nature of its teachings was also a recurring phenomenon. Furthermore, earlier writings on yoga were transcribed on fragile palm leaves that were easily damaged, destroyed, or even lost making it difficult to trace the exact time of its inception. However, experts claim that the development of yoga can be traced back to over 5,000 years ago, some researchers even think that yoga may be up to 10,000 years old old. 

The word yoga was first mentioned in the oldest sacred known to mankind, the Rig Veda. These Vedas are sacred Hindu texts and were a collection of songs, mantras, and rituals to be used by Brahmans and Vedic priests. Later on, Yoga was slowly refined and developed by the Brahmans and Rishi munis who documented their practices and beliefs in the Upanishads, which contains 200 scriptures. However, to date, the most renowned Yogic scriptures where Yoga and its benefits are mentioned in the Bhagavad-Gita which was composed in around 500 B.C.E. 

Yoga’s long rich history can be divided into four main periods of innovation, practice, and development or the pre-classic, classical, post-classical, and the modern period. Yoga as a means of exercise for the body and mind is a deeply rooted concept of Hinduism in India for centuries.  Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Jnana Yoga, and Raja Yoga are considered the four main yogas, but with time and development now there are many other types. 

Yoga and meditation
Yoga is more of a spiritual act and it remains a vibrant living tradition. Pixabay

 

Yoga in the modern period

Yoga is more of a spiritual act and it remains a vibrant living tradition. It is seen all across the world as a means to enlightenment for the mind and soul. In the 1800s and 1900s, yogic gurus traveled to the West, gaining attention, and followers and making Yoga more and more famous. Essentially this spread can be traced back to, 1893 when in the Parliament of Religions in Chicago, Swami Vivekananda left the attendees spellbound with his speech. His lectures on yoga and wellbeing were a great catalyst in spreading the word about this art. Late, in the 1920s and 30s, Hatha Yoga was strongly promoted in India as the work of T. Krishnamacharya, Swami Sivananda, and other yogis became popular.

Krishnamacharya was the first to open a Hatha Yoga school in Mysore in 1924. Sometime later in 1936 Sivananda founded the Divine Life Society on the banks of the holy river Ganges, he aroused three students that continued his legacy and increased the popularity of Hatha Yoga. They were B.K.S. Iyengar, T.K.V. Desikachar, and Pattabhi Jois. Sivananda himself wrote over 200 books on yoga and established nine ashrams and many yoga centers across the world, making yoga popular worldwide. In the western world, the importance of yoga and its popularity soared when Indra Devi opened her yoga studio in Hollywood in 1947. 

Yoga is popular in many parts of the world. Especially in the United States, yoga has become associated with the asanas (postures) of Hatha Yoga, which have gained immense popularity as fitness exercises. Even though Yoga is central to Hinduism, other religions like Buddhism, Sikhism, and Jainism, have also been greatly influenced by it throughout the world. Some of the most important Hindu texts which have laid the ground for yoga worldwide include the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, the Bhagavad Gita, and the Hatha Yoga Pradipika.

 

Yoga
The practice of Yoga asanas and meditation provides natural support to the immune system. Pixabay

Yoga and Modi

PM Modi has been a patron of yoga, practicing and propagating the idea of yoga and its importance worldwide. Recently at a yoga event called “Yoga for Peace” in Argentina’s capital Mr. Modi addressed the participants saying that the practice of Yoga connects everyone to happiness. The Prime Minister further said that if the mind is at peace, there would be peace in family, society, country, and the world as well. He went on to say that “Yoga is India’s gift to the world for health, wellness, and peace.” Yoga can be credited to connects us with wellness and happiness and bring peace of mind to many across the globe.  PM Modi further said that Yoga is bridging the vast distance between India and Argentina. It is connecting people worldwide and binding them in a positive light. PM Modi has on other occasions termed yoga as the “unifying force of the world”

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Yoga In the Times of Pandemic

The multiple benefits that the practice of yoga has on a person’s wellbeing are accepted all across the world. In these tough times when people are locked inside their houses as anxiety and worklessness eat them up, Yoga can be a great support. It would not only help to bring the mind at peace but also help with the body at such times when physical activity is low. Yoga could help deal with anxiety and stress which commonly surround people in a lockdown. In fact, recent studies have said that Yoga even helps in quitting smoking and other tobacco products. This can be a great time for people to quit their bad habits and turn to a path of spirituality. Yoga in every sense of the world is excellent support in these stressful times or literally every time. It brings harmony and peace not only to the mind but also to the body.