In Search of Reality makes a comparative analysis of the philosophical systems of the Upanisads, Advaita Vedanta and various schools of Buddhism in a comprehensive manner. It expounds the philosophical stand points of various Buddhist school and Advaita Vedanta of Gaudapada and Sankara.
O. N. Krishnan, an engineer by profession, is an avid student of Indian philosophy and is involved in the comparative studies of the Upanisads, Advaita Vedanta and Buddhism.
The present work "A Layman's Journey Through Indian Philosophy" by O.N. Krishnan is a philosophical treatise in itself. Although the title claims that it is a 'layman's journey', this is indeed an erudite attempt and a sincere search to know the ultimate truth of existence and to grasp the essentials of the Indian philosophical teachings over the ages on the sources of pains and miseries of beings and the means of attaining liberation from these pains and miseries. It is an attempt with an objective to gain an insight into the ultimate reality and a realisation of the summum bonum of life.
One, who is seriously interested to know the teachings of Indian philosophical works throughout the ages, is easily bewildered by the innate complexities and enormous con tradictions coupled with the lofty linguistic difficulties he comes across in these works. The author has spared no pains to present, in a swift, smooth and exegetic way, what all he has learned from the wealthy treasures of Indian philosophical works, so as to fill the brains of readers only with a clear and comprehensive analysis of the essential elements of these teachings. Hair splitting, dogmatic and enigmatic presentations in abstruse style usual for philosophical works are studiously avoided in this work. In his search for profound philosophical truths, the author has unveiled many a hidden golden discs.
This Indian philosophical journey starts at a natural spot, the beginning portions of Vedas. Polytheism of the Vedas is analysed and presented objectively. How polytheism of Vedic period has evolved into monotheism is lucidly depicted by the author. The anachronistic fundamentals of uarna theory are boldly brought out in this study. Vedic study is followed by a comprehensive study of the Upanisads in a very systematic and analytical manner bringing out all the essences of their teachings. In his study the author has covered many minor Upanisads as well, such as Maitri Upanisad. This is a different approach, but all the more welcome.
The significance of Samkhya, as the earliest theory of evolution far ahead of Darwinism, is wisely imparted in this work. After journeying through the timeless darsanas of Indian . philosophy, the author enters the golden vistas of Buddhism. All different schools of Buddhism are closely analysed.
Gaudapadiya-karika is the original fore-runner of Sankara's Vedanta and, in its turn, Gaudapadiya-karika has inherited a lion's share of its teachings from Buddhism. This little-exposed truth and the indebtedness of Vedanta to Buddhism are brought into daylight by this present work very authentically with a brilliant comparison. The last chapter gives a concise overview of the various philosophies and ends with a clear exposition of what ultimate truth is. Attaining Buddha consciousness is the ultimate end; this is the consciousness, that is an incarnation of selflessness itself, suffused with love and compassion. This can be realised by one in oneself.
This work is an unbiased and undaunting study of Indian philosophy which is unusual in the tradition where faith is more praised than reason. The author has travelled throughout the breath-taking marvellous hills and vales of Indian philosophy arid has brought to us many a treasure of lofty logical conclusions as gifts. Any student of philosophy as well as any commort man can gain much from this work- not only as a food for thought but also as a memento for motivation and a searchlight for finding the path to realise the ultimate reality.
I personally consider this work as a very significant contribution that no seeker after Truth can afford to miss.
Having come under the spell of Spinoza 's Ethics in the formative ycars of life, I hold strongly to the rationalist view that life should be guided by reason and intellect and not by blind belief or faith.N0 doubt faith has a unique place and plays a very important role in the religious life of individuals; but this faith also should be based on reason and logic and not rest solely on imaginary constructions of the mind. With the mind having been conditioned by Spinoza's mathematical method of philosophizing with axioms and proofs, when I first started reading Indian philosophical and religious works like Upanisads, Bhagavad Gita and Advaita Vedanta, I was at a loss to understand and grasp them. But my accidental foray into the Buddhist philosophy dramatically altered the position I found myself in with respect to the Indian philosophy. I then came to discern a rational foundation for the faiths because Buddhist teachings happen to be more a rational philosophy than a religion.
Like any ordinary Hindu brought up in the religious, cultural and social milieu dominated by Brahmanical world-view and traditional belief systems, I had earlier-I should not say an antipathy-but an ambivalent attitude to Buddhism. Accidentally I drifted into Buddhist works in the course of my search when I could not understand the philosophical works of Hinduism. Only after I started reading Buddhist philosophical literatures, could I actually comprehend the Vedantic views and what they mean and place them in the proper perspective. From then onwards, my interest has been in the comparative study of the philosophical ideas of the two traditions.
Even though Gautama, the Buddha, is considered an avatar of Supreme God Visnu in Hinduism, the study of his religious teachings and philosophical ideas is neglected in India and in fact, not encouraged, The Hindus normally take it for granted that the best of the Buddha's teachings have been absorbed in their religion and that there is no need for them to undertake a separate study of the teachings and philosophies of Buddhism. They do not realize how far away they are from the truth and what they miss. Even scholars like Dr. Radhakrishnan had not been fair to Buddhism when they tried to establish that it is but only an off-shoot of the Upanisadic thoughts. The radical philosophical differences in the two religious traditions have been overlooked or brushed aside by them. They also tend to interpret wrongly the passages in the Buddhist literatures like Udana and read an affirmation of the Upanisadic view of Self or Brahman in the Buddha's concept of Nirvana, The import of the concepts of sunya and selflessness in Buddhism has been missed by them. It is also not generally recognized and appreciated how the middle and later Upanisads and the philosophy of the Advaita Vedanta have been influenced by the Buddhist thoughts.
Hinduism and Buddhism are undoubtedly the two most outstanding philosophical and religious traditions of India. They are vibrant living religious traditions which have played and continue to play most significant roles in the lives not only of countless individuals but also of a great many communities. They are the objects of study not only for the respective religious communities and professionals and researchers but also for any seeker of Truth. These traditions have not grown in a cultural vacuum and in separate independent water-tight compartments. They have interacted with and impinged on each other, in the process each affecting the other and itself getting affected. Hinduism was enriched by its interaction with Buddhism and transformed itself from a crass materialistic religion to one of high ethical ideals. Buddhism evolved into Mahayana Buddhism with the devotional (bhakti) element drawn from Hinduism and the Bhagavad Gita. The decline of Buddhism in India and the circumstances leading to its extinction in the land of its birth are subject matters for separate study by scholars and researchers. But what is of interest and relevance to any seeker of Truth is the study of their teachings and what they offer as philosophical solutions for application to our problems in modern times.
This work is an attempt to undertake an analytical study of the teachings of Vedanta and the various Buddhist schools in a comprehensive manner and present a comparative assessment of the philosophical ideas of the two traditions. In spite of its coming from a layman and any limitations or shortcomings that may be perceived in this work, its purpose will be deemed to have been served ifit evokes interest in such a comparative study and succeeds in generating a flow of further works from more able and learned hands in the scholastic community as a counter to this one or as providing more insight and knowledge into the philosophical questions discussed and compared here.
Fundamental Philosophical Questions
The mysteries of the universe and the existential questions have exercised the minds of the Indian sages from time immemorial. How has the universe originated? What is sustaining it and "the stellar dance of teeming suns and planets that are whirling through the vast etherial space?" How has life emerged? What is the fundamental principle underlying existence? Is" there any first cause of existence? Is there any supra-cosmic Reality, a transcendent God or Creator? Is there any soul? What happens to the individual after his death? Is there any life after death? Is there any purpose or meaning in life? What is the ultimate goal of human existence?
In the Upanisads dating back some 2200 to 2600 years in time, we find such philosophical and existential questions being asked by devout disciples desirous of gaining the saving knowledge.
" What is the cause? Is it Brahman? Whence are we born? By what do we live? And on what are we established? 0 Ye who know Brahman, tell us, presided over by whom do we live in our different conditions of pleasures and pains, happiness and miseries?" (S.U 1.1)
"By whom willed and directed does the mind light on its objects? By whom commanded does life, the first, move? At whose will have the people gained the power of speech? And what God is it that energies the eye and the ear?" Kena I.l)
" 0 Venerable Sir, from where is this prana (life-force) born? How does he come into this body? How again does he distribute himself in the body and carry out the different functions? How does he depart?........" ( Prasna III. 1)
"......This body is like a cart without intelligence. To what superior being belongs such power by which such a sort of body has been made intelligent? In other words, who is its mover? ......... " (Maitri II.3)
Who is the mover and energizer of this body which is only just like a cart without intelligence? How have the eyes and ears gained their respective powers of seeing and powers of hearing? How is the mind cognizing the objects and how has it gained the power of thought, intellect and discrimination? How has the tongue gained the power of speech? How has the' power of speech emanated?
The world is surfeit with pain and misery. What is the source of these pains and miseries? Are there any means of liberation from these pains and miseries, sufferings and sorrows? What is the ultimate goal? What is the ultimate reality behind the ever- changing flux of things experienced in this world? These are the profound philosophical questions to which the Indian seers have attempted to find satisfactory answers since the dawn of Indian civilisation. Their search has been for the ultimate truth, ultimate reality behind the impermanent scheme of things in this phenomenal world. Their soul-stirring cries and prayers have been:
"From the unreal lead me to the real, from darkness lead me to light, from death lead me to immortality (life-eternal, amaratvam)" (B. U. 1.3.28).
"The face of truth is covered with a golden disc. Unveil it, o Pusan; so that I who love the truth may see it" (Isa. 15) Early man in his primitive past when faced with the inimical forces of nature was struck with awe and fear. His instinctual fears were the ones which first gave rise to the ideas of supernatural powers and gods controlling these forces of nature. As he evolved, his intellectual powers and analytical reasoning developed and his ideas became more and more refined and new thoughts and discoveries added to the collective wisdom of men.
In the fertile cultural ground and climate of India grew many different systems of philosophical thoughts and spiritual insights answering to the different human needs and meeting the different levels of understanding and spiritual consciousness of men. A vast corpus of philosophical and spiritual wisdom has been developed and bequeathed from ancient times as precious legacies for the posterity. But bewildering complexities and contradictions characterize these Indian philosophical systems. The present attempt is a search through the maze of these teachings from a layman's point of view to find out the core meanings of the answers given by some important philosophical systems to the above profound existential questions.
The basic objective, as in any such enquiry, is to gain an insight into the ultimate reality or ultimate truth of existence and an understanding of ultimate goal in life, the summum bonum of life. For, unlike western philosophy, Indian philosophy is closely linked to the way of life. The enquiry into the truth or reality here is not for the sake of knowledge or love of wisdom alone, but also for the sake of defining the ultimate goal in life. Here the knowledge of ultimate reality determines and fixes the ultimate goal in life and also dictates the path to be traversed in life to achieve this ultimate goal and realize the ultimate reality.
At the outset, it would be appropriate to define clearly what we understand by the term ultimate reality. What is it that qualifies to be designated as the ultimate reality? Reality, as generally understood, is the one that must always be. It is the one that is ever present in all the states of existence conceivable and without which no state of existence can be conceived. The test of reality is existence for all times. It remains unchanged through all the changes of existence. It is eternal and immutable. It is birthless, deathless, it is unborn, uncreated, uncaused. It was, it has always been, it is and it always will be. Further, as the Chiindogya Upanisad describes, it is the one "that is free from evil, free from old age, free from death, free from grief, free from hunger and thirst" (C. U VIII 7.1). Having defined thus, is there any thing we find in existence that answers these criteria? Is it God, isvara or Brahman as variously described?
First let us study the concepts of many gods in the Vedas.
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