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My futile foray into Indian philosophy

May 19, 2011

 I think it all started last month with a single question from mom when we were having one of our atheism vs. theism discussions.

She asked, “How can you claim to be an atheist when you know nothing about the other side (religion)? Rather that saying that you don’t believe in God; I’d be happy if you say that you choose not to believe in God.”

This struck me as being a valid statement for which I did not have a suitable riposte. I never like it when I am in such a position.

Hence, I deemed that it was time for some basic “education” and joined the wonderful public library nearby. There were also a few ground rules that I decided on. I’d separate “religion” from “theology” and I’d read up only about Hindu philosophy.

This was because:

  1. I just do not have the patience to read up on everything. This is also one of the reasons I have not yet read the Vedas, which I believe are more about religion than theology.
  2. Frankly speaking, I have little respect for philosophies which keep harping on the claim that only they show the right path. Most do that, but some do not go easy on it. It is like garlic in my food. I don’t like garlic, but I am willing to eat food laced with garlic in it as long as it is subtle. But the moment, it starts getting overpowering, I am put off immediately.


And so, from my initial research, I decided the best place to start was by reading about the History of Hinduism and the Bhagavad-Gita.

Well, many of the ideas raised in the BG pertaining to basic living make strong/valid/wonderful points about doing one’s duty correctly and not care about the result, but on the whole, I got the feeling that the book was clever Vaishnavite propaganda.

Then after that, I moved into Shiva (more familiar) territory and read a wonderful book called “Shiva and the Primordial Tradition: From the Tantras to the Science of Dreams”.

Thankfully, this book was more about history, samkhyas and cosmos than mere propaganda and it was a wonderful read. I really enjoyed it, especially reading about Lord Nataraja, his cosmic dance and the agamas. The concepts described in the book resonated with many of the things I like to believe in.

I have to say that the concept of Lord Nataraja in his Tandava pose, crushing the roots of ignorance and bringing in the destruction of the universe with a detached expression on his face is pretty awesome! When I read about Lord Nataraja, the first thing which came to my mind was this line, “No Krishna, you cannot be the destroyer of the Universe as you claim to be in the BG, we already have the best God for the job!”

Then it was time to move into the philosophy part: The Vedanta and the theories of “Dvaita”, “Dvaitādvaita”, “Vishishtadvaita” and “Advaita Vedānta”. The book called “A Survey of Hinduism” was pretty good and presented a non biased view of all these philosophies.

I was familiar with the concept of Advaita as it is something I have learnt right from childhood and from what I have read so far, the very concept of “Advaita Vedanta” runs very close to my concept of rationalism in a strange way. If the concept is interpreted in a slightly different manner, it is rationalism in many ways. Maybe I should start calling myself an “Advaita Vedantic Yuktivadi”.

The concepts of duality or “dvaita” are again rooted in the same external God and Bhakti (pray to me and save your soul) worship which is something I cannot relate myself with.

And hence after taking stock, I started reading the book called “Talks with Ramana Maharishi”, who was supposed to be a leading expert in Advaita Vedanta and the book called “Autobiography of a Yogi” by Swami Yogananda and more about the Upanishads in general.

The second book felt more like a fantasy tale than a description of actual events (I am not judging though), but the first book was hard reading. It required an immense effort to just get through the initial portion of the book, but again, it answered none of my questions (am still plodding through it hence I reserve my judgment).

I think I will read about yoga (not the physical aspect) and Carvaka/Lokayata (which is right my alley) next.

My roommate was initially astonished when he noticed me with a book about religion and I explained to him, the rationale behind it.

But last week, he presented a challenge, “Ok pagle; tell me one single thing what you learnt from all these books so far?”

The obvious answer to that question was that I had absolutely no idea. But, saying the words “I don’t know” has never been a particularly strong trait in me.

Hence in true cryptic Ramana Maharishi style, I replied, “Firstly, you need to identify the “me” and “you” that you used in your sentence! Maybe then, you will find the answer to your question.”

What do you mean?” he asked.

Inspired by my previous reply, I replied, “You already know all that you need to know when it comes to purusha/prakriti, brahman/atman. You just have to realize it from within!”

And he walked away, a bewildered man.

So what have I learnt in the past month? Absolutely nothing; except for the fact that I can basically act like a learnt man now and can throw about a few technical terms particularly reserved for future conversations with “other people” (read mom). The other good thing that has come out of this whole exercise is that I discovered this wonderful public library, where one can rent books without any cost. If you live in the Bay Area, you have got to go here.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. May 19, 2011 5:50 am

    You actually read all that OG? Most ‘thiests’ would have not read even a third or fourth of what you have read 🙂 Btw, your ‘learned answers’ are awesome. I could do with some reading myself 🙂
    OG: haha. It helps 🙂
    On a serious note, I think what you wrote is actually correct. WHAT DO we learn from all these books? We realise what we are. And we are , basically nothing! Such books only help us to be more humble and down-to-earth, knowing that we are nothing.
    OG: makes a lot of sense…… danku

  2. May 19, 2011 7:26 am

    But Vishnu and Shiva are the same . The suguna manifestation of the Brahman .
    OG: dost, care to explain or provide some reference?

    • May 25, 2011 7:18 am

      God/The Universe/The One/Brahman is perceived as an abstract formless entity , nirguna brahman ( without any attributes ) and suguna brahman ( with attributes ) . The Trinity that we worship , Lakshmi, Saraswati and Durga, they are the manifestations of this Suguna Brahman . That is, God is Shiva and Shakti , Brahma and Saraswati , Vishnu and Lakshmi . Vishnu and Shiva would be suguna Brahman when it preserves and destroys .
      OG: Thanks man!

  3. May 19, 2011 10:02 am

    OG, U really read them all, just to prove a point to mom ???
    OG: kinda

    Anyway, read any book on hinduism by Ramakrishna math publications – it makes more sense to ppl like us. The religions stated in all these are not the way it was formed. But respecting and helping the fellow human beings is the core of all religions, in the beginning. Which changed so selfishly catering to the needs of the humans who propagated it.
    OG: wokays, thanks!
    But, I shld say, I am impressed man. 🙂 🙂
    OG: 🙂 🙂

  4. Rajani permalink
    September 29, 2011 4:41 pm

    Hey.. I just read a blog by Destination Infinity about Shakuni’s role in Mahabharat. Was he a negative character? and I remember somewhere in your blog that you had mentioned something about reading Mahabharat too. Thought may be you would want to read his blog and shed some more light to that topic. Didn’t want to leave this as a comment, but there is no other way to get in touch with u… hope u dont mind. :-).
    OG: hey! sorry for the late reply but was away! I cannot find this blog or the post? care to post a link?

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