Thoughts on economics and liberty

Tag: Indian culture and heritage

Clearing the mist around Max Muller

A few weeks ago, one of the commentators on this blog had very unpleasant things to say about Max Muller –  basically alleging that Max Muller had deliberately mistranslated the Vedas (and that Macaulay had set him up to this!).

I'm not an expert on such matters but even a casual look at the literature quickly allows us to reject such claims. Let's check a few texts:

FACT 1: HINDUS DID NOT WANT TO TEACH SANSKRIT TO FOREIGNERS

First, the Hindu priests generally did not either want to teach Sanskrit to others nor translate ancient texts into other languages. When even Hindus themselves were not all allowed to read these texts, how would others be so permitted? This is evident from the following statement from Nehru's Discovery of India (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1981, paperback, p. 317) 

"If the British Government in India was reluctant to teach English to Indians, Brahmin scholars objected even more, but for different reasons, to teach Sanskrit to Englishmen. When Sir William Jones, already a linguist and a scholar, came to India as a judge of the Supreme Court, he expressed his desire to learn Sanskrit. But no Brahmin would agree to teach the sacred language to a foreigner and an intruder, even though handsome rewards were offered. Jones ultimately, with considerable difficulty, got hold of a non-Brahmin Vaidya or medical practitioner who agreed to teach, but on his own peculiar and stringent conditions. Jones agreed to every stipulation, so great was his eagerness to learn the ancient language of India. Sanskrit fascinated him and especially the discovery of the old Indian drama. It was through his writings and translations that Europe first had a glimpse of some of the treasurers of Sanskrit literature. In 1784 Sir William Jones established the Bengal Asiatic Society which later became the Royal Asiatic Society."

FACT 2: RAJA RAMMOHUN ROY MADE SOME OF THE EARLY TRANSLATIONS

Later, in 1835, RRR, a Brahmin, translated many of the Upanishads into English. These included:

  • Translation of an Abridgment of the Vedant, or Resolution of all the Veds
  • Translation of the Moonduk Oopunishad of the Uthurvu-Ved
  • Translation of the Cena Oopanishad, one of the Chapters of the Sam Ved
  • Translation of the Kut h-Oopunishad of the Yajoor-Ved
  • Translation of the Ishopunishad, one of the Chapters of the Yajoor-Ved
  • Translation of a Sunscrit Tract on Different modes of Worship

FACT 3: MAX MULLER's WORK WAS AS GENUINE AS ANY WORK CAN BE

Max Mueller came next in the series (I think!).

Nehru outlines Max Mueller's work in DOI (cited above, p.93):

"Max Muller says: "Schopenhauer was the last man to write at random, or to allow himself to go into ecstasies over so-called mystic and inarticulate thought. And I am neither afraid nor ashamed to say that I share his enthusiasm for the Vendanta, and feel indebted to it for much that has been helpful to me in my passage through life." In another place Max Muller says: "The Upanishads are the … sources of … the Vedanta philosophy, a system in which human speculation seems to me to have reached its very acme." "I spend my happiest hours in reading Vedantic books. They are to me like the light of the morning, like the pure air of the mountains – so simple, so true, if once understood."

Vivekananda considered Max Mueller a true Vedantin
Vivekananda wrote an extensive essay on Max Muller (here).He says:
  • What an extraordinary man is Prof. Max Müller!
  • Max Müller is a Vedantist of Vedantists. He has, indeed, caught the real soul of the melody of the Vedanta, in the midst of all its settings of harmonies and discords — the one light that lightens the sects and creeds of the world, the Vedanta, the one principle of which all religions are only applications.

CONCLUSION

Even if Max Muller made a few errors in his translation from Sanskrit, we must not forget that in his time there were not many Indians who understood both Sanskrit and English/German, to help him out in case of difficulties.
 
But more importantly, if there had been a major mistranslation then Vivekandana would have long picked up on it. But clearly he was happy with it. 
 
I am convinced that painting Macaulay and Max Muller with a black brush is totally unwarranted. Let's look at the facts dispassionately. Indeed, given the huge effort they put in, both Macaulay and Muller were India's great friends. 
 
I am loathe to have their memories blackened by commentators who use the lack of rigour of analysis, typical of internet commentary, to made highly inaccurate and biased claims against them. It is important that we study the outstanding scholars and leaders of the past with due diligence and not rush to conclusions either in favour or against them.
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Indian culture #3

Indian culture is (was) vibrant beyond imagination. If only Indians open their eyes to its majestic quest for freedom. In this third instalment of my occasional posts on Indian culture, I'm posting an extract from Vivekanada's letter to his Madras disciples, written from New York on 19 November 1894.

I have said practically the same things many times before. So, as I flicked though this letter yesterday at my bedside, and got a shock of my life at its boldness, I realised how impoverished the Indian mind is today, fed on the droppings of pygmies who have taken over our leadership roles.

To me  Vivekananda's boldness is what India is all about. In this letter, he has literally predicted India's plight today: a nation slave to its own corrupt rulers.

Listen to Vivekananda. Does your heart not skip a beat?

We talk foolishly against material civilisation. The grapes are sour. Even taking all that foolishness for granted, in all India there are, say, a hundred thousand really spiritual men and women. Now, for the spiritualisation of these, must three hundred millions be sunk in savagery and starvation? Why should any starve?

How was it possible for the Hindus to have been conquered by the Mohammedans? It was due to the Hindus' ignorance of material civilization. Even the Mohammedans taught them to wear tailor-made clothes. Would the Hindus had learnt from the Mohammedans how to eat in a cleanly way without mixing their food with the dust of the streets!

Material civilization, nay, even luxury, is necessary to create work for the poor. Bread! Bread! I do not believe in a God, who cannot give me bread here, giving me eternal bliss in heaven! Pooh!

India is to be raised, the poor are to be fed, education is to be spread, and the evil of priestcraft is to be removed. No priestcraft, no social tyranny! More bread, more opportunity for everybody!

Our young fools organise meetings to get more power from the English. They only laugh. None deserves liberty who is not ready to give liberty. Suppose the English give over to you all the power. Why, the powers that be then, will hold the people down, and let them not have it. Slaves want power to make slaves. 

Source: Letters of Swami Vivekananda, Kolkata, Advaita Ashram, 15th impression 2006, p.128

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Indian culture #2

What is Indian culture? I raised this issue yesterday, and then dilated a bit on it in my comments here.

A few days ago I showed how Swami Vivekananda valued freedom above everything else. His writings open our mind to the often neglected majesty of Indian philosophy. 

Indian culture can't be compressed into a few blog posts, so I won't attempt to do that. But I think it is very important to not allow people like Baba Ramdev or the Hindutva brigade to claim sole ownership of Indian culture. That would be the end of this great culture as we know it. One thing Indian culture is NOT, and that is it is not closed of mind, and it is not violent

At its best Indian culture represents the very best that mankind has so far achieved. At the same time, the actions of the current crop of Indian leaders represent almost the worst that mankind has achieved. Such are the contradictions of India. I include in this (worst) group members of the BJP who claim to somehow own India's culture. I totally dispute their specious and ill-founded claims.

I'm going to, over the next few months, occasionally present what I believe is the BEST of Indian thought and philosophy.

I want to begin with my notes from Swami Suddhananda's lectures that I attended in September 2009 in Melbourne. Apart from listening to his lectures, I listened to a DVD set that I bought, and also read his book, A Path to the Pathless. From my conversations with him as well, at my home, I found him to be on a different plane to someone like Baba Ramdev who has so far come out (to me) as an extremely shallow thinker in comparison (from the videos I've so far watched, and his extremist demands to kill everyone who doesn't agree with him).

Swami Suddhananda's views

Following are my notes. I encourage you to read and listen to Swami Suddhananda at http://www.selfknowledge.in/.

a) Without understanding ourselves first, let's avoid wasting time asking about God's existence (or denying it). If God exists he/she/it can't be made to vanish simply by not believing in him/her/it. If he/she/it doesn't exist no amount of believing can make him/her/it come to life

b) All religions and godmen have led us badly astray. We need to stop assuming things and start by scientifically understanding our own body, our mind, and our selves. We will soon find we are all the SAME within. So why these artificial and stupid distinctions between religions and 'groups' of people? Why limit ourselves by narrow definitions and boundaries when we are not made to be limited in any way? We are capable of thinking of infinity. Let's think broadly and not narrowly.

c) To be able to do any good for anyone else we have to be fully at ease with ourselves. We have to love ourselves. We have to be happy and content; at peace. Taking care of our body and mind is therefore the most important task we have before us. This is not selfishness. Only after we have taken care of ourselves can we or should we think of trying to help others. We can't give money to others if we don't have money to give.

d) Our mind is an instrument, somewhat like a screensaver that continuously generates images and thoughts. We should observe and understand our mind, and aim to become its MASTER, not be its slave, like the vast majority of humans in this world are.

e) Don't carry books on your head. They are merely pieces of paper. The paper and binding of the book is immaterial. Absorb them – get them into your head. Act on the books. Don't worship a map that leads to gold. Go get the gold. And don't worship anything. Learn to be just a normal human being with an open and clear mind.

f) Also, he notes that exclusivity destroys. For example, if there is God (and he 'knows' there is – according to Upanishadic philosophy – an argument which is rationally persuasive and emprically 'testable' in a way, but which I still baulk at validating until I fully explore it further) – then it makes no sense whatsoever to say that God is constrained in any way by one's beliefs or definitions. Such claims merely create fanaticism. It is a terrible shame that exclusive religions exist on this earth, disrupting the life and natural happiness of mankind.

Quotations from the Swami that I particularly like:

"The mind has no male mind or female mind; no male anger or female anger; no male emotion or female emotion: the body is different but the mind is the same".

"The child is born with a sentence of 'hanging' – capital punishment: of death. A leaking boat, our body, guaranteed to die. Self knowledge gives us the power to swim away from the leaking boat".

"The knife doesn't get up to kill somebody." So, hence, understand your own mind; understand who you are; close your eyes and watch the landscape within you …

"If anything pulls you, you are less than that" (e.g. a bottle of liquor, a cigarette, a man, a woman, anything).

"If you want to understand yourself, you have to dissect your mind".

"Education gives you false confidence. If when asked 'Who are you?' you reply, 'I am PhD' you get a -2 because you neither know what a PhD is nor you know who you are"

"Like or not, false confidence is one stage of life. At this stage when some religion comes and gives you an 'identity' are they giving you the truth or another false identity?". [Elsewhere he talks about how stupid it is for some religious people to be considered holy because they eat (or don't eat) particular foods. How is food related to holiness?] 

"You have to feed everyone around you as a professional. Therefore you get stressed. Note that only professionals get stressed – hence 'stress management' books. And when professionals get stressed, religions come to you like a vulture, to feed on you!"

"When perception is questioned, science begins. When the perceiver is questioned, thinking begins."

"Falsehood needs groups, the truth stands alone".Thus, those who believe in falsehoods resist truth by not asking questions and thus behaving like cults. For example the Vatican pardoned Galileo (in March 2008) after denying his findings for over 350 years. But the issue here is this, though: Who should pardon whom?! Vatican should pardon Galileo, or vice versa?!" 

Conclusion

Suddhananda is an excellent speaker and preacher of common sense. I see him as a philosopher not as a religious person (despite his wearing orange clothes). Do not be misled by his orange dress! This guy is more irreligious than most atheists, but a theist he is in the end. I may not agree with some of his conclusions, but he is worth listening to. He would be almost a classical liberal if he broadened his views beyond self-knowledge, for his approach is tolerant and individual-oriented.

If you are interested you can join the Facebook group I created to make note of Swami Suddhananda and his approach to our shared humanity.

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I am an equal co-owner of India’s culture and heritage

A young friend on Facebook wrote this: "India is NOT just another western country. Our culture, our heritage, is far different than theirs, and we cannot afford to compromise on it, just for the alleged "freedom" of a few criminals."

This claim was made in the context of my questioning Baba Ramdev's intent to kill up to 5 billion people, labelling them as criminals, just because they eat beef.

Let me assert vigorously and forcefully that I object to anyone claiming sole ownership of India's heritage and culture.

I am EQUALLY an owner of India's heritage and culture. I know what it stood for in the past and what it stands for today.  And one thing India's heritage does NOT stand for is killing up to 5 billion people labelling them criminals just because they eat a particular meat. It also does NOT stand for killing crores of MPs, MLAs, and government servants for their corruption. Regarding corruption that is a disease that NEHRU brought to India. It has NOTHING to do with India. It is western disease (socialism) that has failed everywhere in the West but ONLY WE THE INDIANS, allegedly with our great heritage, have not only adopted it BLINDLY, BUT WON'T LET GO!

It is objectionable in the extreme for ANYONE in India to take over sole ownership of India's great and diverse heritage on their shoulders. India belongs to ALL Indians, regardless of what they eat or wear or say. I therefore request my young friend and everyone who lives in India or cares for India to NEVER try to take over sole ownership of India's culture and heritage on your shoulders.
 
India's heritage and culture is represented by great stalwarts including Raja Ram Mohun Roy, Vivekananda, Rajaji, Gandhi, Sardar Patel and many, many others. These people have taught us NON-VIOLENCE, and NON-AGGRESSION. Killing 5 billion people is not their approach to society. Particularly on an issue where there is 100% evidence that Hindus ATE COWS in the past. But whether they did or not is not the issue. There is no basis to kill people for the food they eat. To link this kind of terrorist language with Indian culture is reprehensible. 

Our great stalwarts  have taught us to think for ourselves. They taught us to be FREE. These people not only kept their own eyes and ears open, they taught us to LEARN. They didn't ask us to shut our minds. 

This openness and tolerance, my dear Facebook friend, is India's culture. NOT the culture represented by Baba Ramdev's "solution" for corruption (kill 10 crore people) about the cause of which he doesn't have the SLIGHTEST CLUE, or his fanatic outbursts about capital punishment for cow slaughter (and God knows what else! For everything he seems to have the most simplistic and ill-conceived "solutions").

That is NOT Indian culture. Let this be clear. VERY CLEAR! India has not come so far, and been a world leader in freedom and tolerance, by labelling 80% of the world's population as criminals, and then starting a pogrom (as Baba Ramdev seems to want) to kill them all.

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