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Vedic Vision of Consciousness and Reality

Vedic Vision of Consciousness and Reality
Item Code: NAF373
Author: D.P. Chattopadhyaya and Satya Prakash Singh
Publisher: Centre for Studies in Civilizations
Language: English
Edition: 2004
ISBN: 8187586184
Pages: 531
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details: 11.0 Inch x 9.0 Inch
About the Book

The volumes of the PROJECT ON THE HISTORY OF SCIENCE, PHILOSOSPHY AND CULTURE IN INDIAN CMUZATION aim at discovering the main aspects of India's heritage and present them in an interrelated way. These volume insipte of their unitary look, recognize the difference between the areas of material civilizations and those of ideational culture. The project is not being executed by a single group of thinkers and writers who are methodologically uniform or ideologically identical in their commitments. In fact contribution are made by different scholars with different ideological persuasions and methodological approaches. The project is marked by what may be called methodological pluralism.

In spite of its primarily historical character, this project both in its conceptualization and execution has been shaped by scholars drawn from different disciplines. It is for the first time that an Endeavour of such a unique and comprehensive character has been undertaken to study critically major world civilization like India.

Vedic Vision of Consciousness and Reality is an attempt at a systematic presentation of the visions of Vedic seers concerning consciousness in relationship to reality. The relevance of this attempt has got enhanced today due to latest discoveries in quantum physics tending to accord some sort of substantiality to consciousness. This is the position Vedic seers held long ago as is evident from the Vedanta. The Vedanta, however, has ignored the Vedic Sarnhitas on metaphysical Issues including consciousness. The present work has come in fulfillment of this lacuna in the tradition of Vedic thought. It has been shown here strictly on the basis of textual evidence how the vedic seers were involved in the search for consciousness in its purest form coinciding with Reality. The coincidence of the modern science in its latest developments with the Vedic viewpoint in this regard, suggests the necessity of a paradigmatic shift in the human thinking at this juncture from matter to consciousness as the most fundamental reality. These issues have been discussed here from various viewpoints including scientific, philosophical, psychological, theological and epistemological.


About the Author

D.P. CHATTOPADHYAYA, M.A., LL.B., Ph.D. (Calcutta and London School of Economics), D. Litt. (Honoris Causa) researched, studied Law, Philosophy and History and taught at various Universities in India, Asia, Europe and USA from 1954-1994. Founder-Chairman of the Indian Council of Philosophical Research (1981-1990) and President-cum-Chairman of the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla (1984-1991), Chattopadhyaya is currently the Project Director of the multidisciplinary 96-Vol. Project of History of Science, Philosophy and Culture in Indian Civilizations (PHISPC) and Chairman of the Centre for Studies in Civilizations (CSC). Among his 32 publications, authored 17 and edited 15, are Individuals and Societies (1967), Individuals and World (1976), Sri Aurobindo and Karl Marx (1988), Anthropology and Historiography of Science (1990), Induction, Probability and Skepticism (1991), Sociology, Ideology and Utopia (1997), Societies, Cultures and Ideologies (2000), Interdisciplinary Studies in Science, Society, Value and Civilizational Dialogue (2002) and Philosophy of Science, Phenomenology and Other Essays (2003). Besides, he held high public Offices like Union Cabinet Ministership and State Governorship.

SATYA PRAKASH SINGH, M.A., Ph.D. (Banaras Hindu University, D. Litt (Aligarh Muslim University) was Professor and Chairman of the Department of Sanskrit and Dean of the Faculty of Arts in Aligarh Muslim University. He has also been Director of Vraja Academy, Vrindavan, Dharam Hinduja International Centre of Indic Research, Delhi and Vedic Research Centre, New Delhi. He has received several prestigious awards, such as Dr. Ganganath Jha Award of the Uttar Pradesh Sanskrit. Academy, Rajaji Literary Award of the Bharatiya Vidya Bhawan, Bombay, and Swami Pranavananda. Best Book of the Year Award of the IndianScience Congress. He has published more than 75 research papers including The Rgoedic Base of the PaSupati Seal of Mohen-jo-daro. His published books include Sri Aurobindo and Whitehead on the Nature of God; Sri Aurobindo, Jung and Vedic Yoga; Upanisadic Symbolism; Vedic Symbolism; Philosophy of Dirgluuamas and Life and Vision of the Vedic Seer visvamitra.



The present work is the result of several decades of my study of the Veda which is coming down to us from untold ages in four grades, namely, the Sarnhitas, Brahmanas, AraI). Yakas and Upanisads. Being the oldest literary monument of the world preserved so carefully and cherished so faithfully for millennia, it must have got something very precious in it to deliver to us even now. This expectation gets strengthened by the stability it has provided to the Indian culture and civilization surviving beyond all its contemporaries. The most valuable thing about the Veda is that it has given us an ethos in the form of the spiritual tradition and secret knowledge which is still living in practical shape in the midst of the enlightened making their appearance here and there at times and standing head and shoulder above the entire product of the modern age. That valuable thing by virtue of which India excels in the gift of saints and sages of highest calibre is the consciousness as envisioned by the seers and kept enshrined in the words of the Veda.

A highly significant fact about the Veda is that in spite of having involved thousands of seers and sages spread over the major part of India and articulating their experiences in a span of thousands of years, it evinces perfect structural uniformity in its ideation. This point of uniformity was very well recognised as far back as in the Veda itself as is evident from seer Dirghatamas' famous statement that the truth is one which is articulated differently by seers: ekarn sad viprii bahudha vadanti. The same gets confirmed subsequently in the Katha Upanisad identifying the quintessence of the whole of the Vedic teaching in the form of the secret and sacred word Om representing the integrality and essentiality of consciousness as the most fundamental reality.

The achievement of Vedic seers, in this way, runs parallel to that of the modern scientist, though poles apart from each other in regard to subject matter and approach as also the times. Just as through their systematic investigation for the last about half a millennium scientists have explained matter threadbare to its almost last grain in concurrence of one another, so the Vedic seers seem to have accomplished in regard to consciousness. Through their searches, researches and discoveries if the scientists have sought to prove that it is in terms of matter and energy that everything in the universe is explicable, Vedic seers through their tapas and investigation within themselves have found out that it is consciousness which is the most fundamental reality things are made of. Their conclusion in this respect is evident from the Taittirtya Upanisad's axiomatic statement how it is from the absolute concentricity of consciousness called i it man that has been born space, from space the universal dynamics called air, from air the energy called fire from, fire the matter in the liquid state called water and from water the same in solid state called earth.

As a result of this parallelism of paradigms presented before us today by the two traditions, namely, the scientific and the Vedic in the form of matter and consciousness each one of them claiming to explain the other in terms of it, that is, consciousness in terms of matter and conversely matter in terms of consciousness, the humanity is made to stand at the cross-road of choice between the two. The Cartesian dualism cannot last long, as could not last long the dualism of Prakrti and Purusa advocated by the Sankhyas at a certain stage in the Vedic tradition.

Fortunately, a point of rapprochement has dawned from the side of science itself in the form of the theory of complementarily attributing the duality in the ultimate shape of matter as particle and wave to the viewpoint the observer takes at the time of observation. Now, if the viewpoint of the scientist conducting the experiment to determine the ultimate shape of matter can be so effective as to bring a radical change in its shape at that fundamental point, it does not seem unlikely to infer that consciousness has to do something with the origin of matter itself. If this inference has any iota of truth in it, it does not seem absolutely unlikely that the humanity treading even on strictly scientific lines is going to accept consciousness as more fundamental than matter. Many of the top scientists' turning, at the height of their investigation, into philosophers, particularly of the Vedantic variety, instead of indicating their vagrancy from the rigour of their discipline, is certainly a presage of the course science is most likely to take in future.

This being the most probable direction science is gradually leading us to, sticking any more to its old materialistic paradigm seems not only unnecessary but also injurious to the health of humanity. Indeed, it is due to adoption of this paradigm today almost sweepingly that the humanity has got very much eroded on the front of the value of life, all the amenities provided by science to it notwithstanding. This, obviously, is due to matter having nothing to do with value. As all values proceed from consciousness, subordination of it to matter is sure to eat up all the values in course of larger and larger acceptance of the materialistic paradigm.

If this suicidal progression is to be stopped and to be turned the other way round, a paradigmatic shift in man's outlook towards life and the world is absolutely necessary today at this crucial juncture of the human history. Vedic Vision of Consciousness and Reality is an humble attempt towards motivation for such a shift. The points of motivation are derived from direct statements as well as figurative expressions of Vedic seers and sages occurring throughout in the Veda. And this is quite specific to the present attempt. Vedantic Acaryas, commentators and expounders also have dealt with this point and quite elaborately in their respective works. But their deliberations on it suffer from two kinds of limitations. In the first place, they have kept themselves pre-occupied with the concepts of Atman and Brahman seeking to define their relationship with each other and sparing little time to devote to the status and creativity of consciousness as such. Thus, in their deliberations, consciousness, though forming the essence of Atman and Brahman, has been relegated to the secondary position of subordination to them. Due to this conceptual subordination, it could not be given the attention it actually deserves. In the second place, their deliberations are confined practically to the Upanisads to almost total negligence of the Sarnhitas and Brahmanas on which the Upanisads themselves are primarily based. If a true picture of consciousness is to be drawn in all its ramifications, including its creativity of the world, immensity, variety of manifestations and accessibility to the human mind in its myriad states and forms, perusal of the Samhitas is a must. And this has been accomplished in this work in close coordination of relevant Upanisadic accounts. On account of this kind of approach having been made here, not only the idea of consciousness, as envisaged by the seers, comes out in a better perspective, but understanding of relevant Vedic texts also is expected to have got facilitated, to a great extent, owing particularly to the clarification on the common gestalt of ideas borne out by them.

While seeing to it that the basic standpoint of the seers on consciousness is presented here as faithfully as possible, care has also been taken to assess the value of their findings in terms of modern science, psychology and some of the relevant philosophical systems of the world. It is how besides quantum mechanics and the theory of complementarily, the idea of string, mooted out only in the last decade of the twentieth century, has been brought in and discussed in some detail. The infinitesimal size of the string calculated to be somewhat equal to 10-30 cm in length and hence as equal to a hundred million billionth part of an atomic nucleus reminds one of the Upanisadic idea of the Ultimate Reality as smaller than the atomic and yet as bigger than the biggest. If the physicist has crossed the limits of the physical in his postulation of the idea of the string today, the Vedic seer did the same all the more powerfully millennia ago in his idea of sutra as envisioned by seer Atharvan and expounded by sage Yajtiavalkya. If the string is the physical stretched to the psychological, the sutra is the spiritual commissioned to explain the physical by virtue of coming to form the ultimate constituent as well as the thread of integration of it into a compact whole as the universe is.

Coming to the psychological, special attention has been paid to C.G. Jung's ideas of the collective unconscious and archetypes as they come structurally somewhat close to the Vedic psyche and the view of gods. But care has been taken not to confuse the two orders of ideas together as they are accessed to via different routes. While the Jungian postulates have their source in inference made on the basis of experiences of the abnormal, Vedic ideas are based on direct spiritual experiences of the seers themselves obtained through rigorous self-discipline and perusal of self-consciousness in its deepest possible state of awareness. This difference of approach is marked in the characterisation of the inmost depth as unconscious by Jung and the same as the supremely conscious, turiya chaitanya, by the Vedas-In the understanding of the nature of the demonic in the Veda, however, the Jungian theory has been found as immensely helpful. The dark demons with their destructive propensities are taken to be forces of the unconscious, a perversion consciousness, and hence are found as opponents of gods in all respects. That the Jungian unconscious is not a total absence of consciousness but some sort of a perversity of consciousness, is evident from the erratic behaviour of his archetypes in contrast to the enlightened activities of the gods. Any confusion of the Vedic sacramental with the Jungian unconscious, therefore, is held here as uncalled for. The Vedic consciousness, thus, instead of being a product of the unconscious of the psychologist, is, indeed, the most fundamental source of everything including the unconscious itself. In fact, psychology, as a whole, would do much better if it were to redeem itself of its unnecessary presupposition that consciousness is a product of the physical via its passage through the intermediate stage of the unconscious.

As regards the philosophical possibility of the viewpoint elaborated upon here, that is immensely salutary to the discipline as a whole. If the architects of the Indian philosophical systems had a clear idea of the Vedic standpoint in this regard, they would not have been necessitated to conceive of the ultimate creative force in the form of the inert Prakrti as have done the Sankhyas, in the form of the mechanical niyati as have done the Mimarnsakas, in the form of the deceptive maya as have done the Vedantins and in the form of the atoms as have done the Vaisesikas. So is the case with the inexplicable of the Buddha and the unknowable noumenon of Kant. Just as the Prakrti becomes irrelevant on the admittance of the creativity of consciousness and the mechanical niyati loses its necessity on the admittance of Rta as the operative force of consciousness, even so the deceptive nitiyti has to forego its deceptiveness on the admittance of consciousness itself as the creative force with all the discreteness inherent in it. Similarly would become irrelevant the inexplicability and unknowability of the Reality on this assumption with self-consciousness as an essential feature of consciousness. Consciousness short of self-consciousness is the very denial of consciousness. The noumenon can afford to be absolutely unknowable only if it were to be conceived as something other than consciousness. In that case, it becomes either coincident to something mechanical or absolutely irrelevant to human ideation as a source of moral imperative.

Kindred are the bearing of this work on the process philosophy including that of A.N. Whitehead. On the admittance of it as smaller than the smallest and bigger than the biggest, anor aniyiin mahato mahiyiin, the entire dynamism involved in the process of meeting the two extremes devolves on consciousness itself. By virtue of being stasis and dynamics both, consciousness, thus, becomes capable of owning all process whatever well within itself. With all its organism leanings, the process philosophy is predominantly materialistic and mechanical and hence unmindful of the possibilities of consciousness. Had it become mindful of these possibilities of consciousness, it would not have been required to accord that independence to process as actually it has done. Process, indeed, is a product of consciousness proceeding from its concentricity of self-consciousness to the extensity of objectification.

Bearing of the proposition that consciousness and Reality are coincident to each other fundamentally, has an important lesson to impart to champions of religious differences. If God is real, He cannot stand apart from the Reality. And when the Reality is taken as coincident to consciousness, God must be consciousness itself in its highest possibility. This being admitted, as has already been done by Vedic seers and Upanisadic sages, all questions relating to His immanence, transcendence, creativity, relationship with the individual and the community, get boiled down to the interface of consciousness with consciousness itself in different states, ranges of manifestation and comprehension. Once this truth is accepted, all the religious acts would be used as the means of purification, expansion and elevation of consciousness rather than that of creation of communal differences and discords. The feasibility of this expectation can be measured from the fact that it is a Vedic seer who for the first time and perhaps until now has conceived of the whole world as a resort of birds living together in perfect harmony without any quarrel with one another, while another one has advised everybody to look at everyone else with the friend's eye since he himself has done like this and hence has come to think of peace and welfare universally for all-sarvam sanih, In fact any ideal of universal peace and welfare is a misnomer without the acceptance and inculcation of the idea of one and the same consciousness being enshrined within all.

My role in bringing the work to this end has simply been that of the presenter calling upon seers and sages to speak directly for themselves about their relevant experiences except for acting as an interlocutor at intervals to turn the presentation into a dialogue relevant to modern times.

I have no words to express my gratitude to Professor Kireet Joshi, Chairman of the Indian Council of Philosophical Research, to have created the opportunity for working out the thesis in the present form and to have facilitated the work at every stage in all possible ways. But for his initiative and encouragement, the work would not have been made possible at least in this form, all my study of the Veda notwithstanding.

I also feel profoundly grateful to office-bearers of the Centre for Studies in Civilizations, particularly to Professor D.P. Chattopadhyaya, the Chairman, to Professor Bhuvan Chandel, the Project Co-ordinator and to Shri A.K. Sen gupta, the Advisor to the programme of PHIS PC, to have granted a fellowship to develop the work to this extent as also to have accepted it for publication in their magnificent series of mega- volumes. I thank them all for this kind gesture.

Though study of consciousness has been my fete for decades, the most significant impetus to it has come from my association with the greatest yogin I have ever met in my life, namely, Baba Sripada of Vrindavan, a great visionary and advocate of the idea of a University of Consciousness. Though no more physically, he must be present everywhere in consciousness by virtue of having realised his essential being in it. Dedication of this work to him is in fulfillment of his expectation from me, though materialized only in this humble form.



It has been argued that the Veda presents a picture of primitive worshippers praying to gods representing natural forces such as fire, rain, wind, dawn, night, earth and sky, for wealth, food, oxen, horses, gold and other kinds of richness and victories. And if so, it has been further argued, how can Veda be regarded as a book related to the theme of Consciousness and Reality? But this argument rests upon a certain line of Vedic interpretation which is neither conclusive nor in consonance with that Indian tradition which looks upon Veda literally as Veda, namely, as a book of knowledge. Not only do the Vedic Rishis themselves declare that their hymns contain secret knowledge, not only do the Upanishads refer to the Vedic declarations as an authority of their own discoveries of knowledge, but even in a later period, we have Shankaracharya's view that the Vedas are mines of knowledge, knowledge of all the planes of consciousness, and that they fix the conditions and relations of the Divine with the human and the animal element in the being. Moreover, we have in recent times, two great interpretations of the Veda which bring us to the deeper profundities of the Vedic knowledge. These are the interpretations of Maharshi Dayananda Saraswati and Sri Aurobindo. In particular, Sri Aurobindo's method of interpretation which has been illustrated at length in his "The Secret of the Veda" and "The Hymns to the Mystic Fire" gives us conclusive assurance and opens up before us a large body of the knowledge of Consciousness and Reality which is contained in the hymns of the Rigveda, even though the language of these hymns baffles us from time to time by its antique obscurity. As Sri Aurobindo points out:

"In the deep and mystic style of Dirghatamas Auchathya as in the melodious lucidity of Medhatithi Kanwa, in the puissant and energetic hymns of Vishwamitra, as in Vasistha's even harmonies we have the same firm foundation of knowledge and the same scrupulous adherence to the sacred conventions of the Initiates."

It may still be argued that the Veda is centred on the institution of "sacrifice", yqjna, and that Veda is rather karmakiinda and not jiuinakiinda. In continuation of this argument, it may be contended that the Veda is, a book of ritualistic materialism and that we need not look for any profound knowledge of Reality.

Now we may admit that the Veda is centred on the institution of "sacrifice", but we may question whether "sacrifice" is merely a matter of outer ritualism. There is no doubt that there is an exterior aspect of the Vedic hymns and that the Vedic hymns were used for ritualistic purposes; but a deeper study of Vedic ritualism would suggest that this ritualism was symbolic in character. Moreover, karmakanda went beyond mere ritualism and Veda, in one of its aspects, may be regarded as a gospel of karmayoga which was continued in the karmayoga of the Bhagavadgita where, too, significantly, we find that the concept of yajna is not only accepted but also shown to have a profounder psychological meaning by the help of which it could be declared that every action is yajna, provided it is done in the spirit of inner sacrifice to the cosmic and transcendental Reality. As in the Gita, where yajna is Yoga, even so, in the Veda yajna can be so understood as to be Yoga.

There are, again, in the Veda a number of other terms which are used symbolically, and if we try to understand them in the light of Sri Aurobindo's interpretation, we would be able to enter into the heart of the methods of Vedic Yoga as also into the richness of the great results, which were achieved by the Vedic Rishis by the application of these Vedic methods.

What exactly where the methods of Yoga and what were the results achieved by the Vedic Rishis should be a very important subject matter of a long and detailed study. But there is no doubt that these methods were those of purification of our ordinary consciousness, methods of concentration of our consciousness on higher states of being and consciousness, methods of perfection by which the lower can be transcended into the corresponding higher realms of being,-and these are again the same methods which we find repeated in the same way or in a more modified manner in subsequent developments. And we find in the Veda the affirmation of a hierarchy of levels of consciousness to which the normal existence of man even in its higher and widest flights is still a stranger. And these levels of consciousness are achieved in the Vedic Yoga by the transcendence of the lower triple being and our lower triple world, a transcendence which has been described by the Vedic seers symbolically as an exceeding or breaking beyond the two firmaments of heaven and earth. Commenting on the basic nature of the methods and results of the Vedic Yoga, Sri Aurobindo refers to the Vedic movement of the ascent and the descent. As he points out:

"The link between the spiritual and the lower planes of the mental being is that which is called in the old Vedantic phraseology the vijnana and which we may term the Truth-plane or the ideal mind or the supermind where the One and Many meet and our being is freely open to the revealing light of the Divine Truth and the inspiration of the Divine Will and Knowledge. If we can break down the veil of the intellectual, emotional, sensational mind which our ordinary existence has built between us and the Divine, we can then rake up through the Truth-mind all our mental, vital and physical experience and offer it up to the Spiritual-this was the secret or mystic sense of the old Vedic 'Sacrifice' - to be converted into the terms of infinite truth of Sacchidananda, and we can receive the powers and illuminations of the infinite Existence in forms of a Divine knowledge, will and delight to be imposed on our mentality, vitality, physical existence till the lower is transformed into the perfect vessel of the higher. This was the double Vedic movement of the descent and birth of the gods in the human creature and the ascent of the human powers that struggle towards the Divine knowledge, power and delight and climb into the godheads, the result of which was the possession of the One, the Infinite, the beatific existence, the union with God, the immortality.

If we wish to study consciousness and its relationship with reality or realities, a rich treasure of knowledge is available in the Veda, which is humanity's earliest extant composition. This knowledge can be further enriched by the study of yogic methods and their results as we find in the esoteric core of a number of religions such as Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Buddhism, Jainism, Christianity, Islam, and Sikhism and even in systems like the Chinese Taoism. Our latest researches in Consciousness can probably be fulfilled, if we take into account this vast treasure which we need to revisit, even though this revisiting will require a difficult process of research.

In this context. Professor S. P. Singh's presentation of the Vedic vision of consciousness and Reality in this volume assumes great significance. Professor Singh is one of the leading Vedic scholars of the present day. His mastery of the Vedic symbolism is evident in his earlier book "Vedic Symbolism", which sheds a new light on the secret meaning of the Veda. Professor Singh is not only a Vedic scholar but he has also made a vast study of the modern philosophical literature as can be seen in his book "Sri Aurobindo and Whitehead". He has also made a detailed study of the latest psychological researches, the results of which have been expounded by him in his "Sri Aurobindo, lung and Vedic Yoga". I feel grateful to Professor Singh for having responded to the request made by the Centre for Studies in Civilizations to prepare this study of the theme of "Vedic Vision of Consciousness and Reality". The study presented in these pages is both extensive and profound, and it makes significant contribution to the pursuit of the theme of Consciousness which has emerged today as perhaps the most important theme at the highest frontiers of research.




It is understandable that man, shaped by Nature, would like to know Nature. The human ways of knowing Nature are evidently diverse, theoretical and practical, scientific and technological, artistic and spiritual. This diversity has, on scrutiny, been found to be neither exhaustive nor exclusive. The complexity of physical nature, life-world and, particularly, human mind is so enormous that it is futile to follow a single method for comprehending all the aspects of the world in which we are situated.

One need not feel bewildered by the variety and complexity of the worldly phenomena. After all, both from traditional wisdom and our daily experience, we know that our own nature is not quite alien to the structure of the world. Positively speaking, the elements and forces that are out there in the world are also present in our body-mind complex, enabling. us to adjust ourselves to our environment. Not only the natural conditions but also the social conditions of life have instructive similarities between them. This is not to underrate in any way the difference between the human ways of life all over the world. It is partly due to the variation in climatic conditions and partly due to the distinctness of production- related tradition, history and culture.

Three broad approaches are discernible in the works on historiography of civilization, comprising science and technology, art and architecture, social sciences and institutions. Firstly, some writers are primarily interested in discovering the general laws which govern all civilizations spread over different continents. They tend to underplay what they call the noisy local events of the external world and peculiarities of different languages, literatures and histories. Their accent is on the unity of Nature, the unity of science and the unity of mankind. The second group of writers, unlike the generalist or transcendentalist ones, attach primary importance to the distinctiveness of every culture. To these writers human freedom and creativity are extremely important and basic in character. Social institutions and the cultural articulations of human consciousness, they argue, are bound to be expressive of the concerned people's consciousness. By implication they tend to reject concepts like archetypal consciousness, universal mind and providential history. There is a third group of writers who offer a composite picture of civilizations, drawing elements both from their local and common characteristics. Every culture has its local roots and peculiarities. At the same time, it is pointed out that due to demographic migration and immigration over the centuries an element of compositeness emerges almost in every culture. When, due to a natural calamity or political exigencies people move from one part of the world to another, they carry with them, among other things, their language, cultural inheritance and their ways of living.

In the light of the above facts, it is not at all surprising that comparative anthropologists and philologists are intrigued by the striking similarity between different language families and the rites, rituals and myths of different peoples. Speculative philosophers of history, heavily relying on the findings of epigraphy, ethnography, archaeology and theology, try to show in very general terms that the particulars and universals of culture are 'essentially' or 'secretly' interrelated. The spiritual aspects of culture like dance and music, beliefs pertaining to life, death and duties, on analysis, are found to be mediated by the material forms of life like weather forecasting, food production, urbanization and invention of script. The transition from the oral culture to the written one was made possible because of the mastery of symbols and rules of measurement. Speech precedes grammar, poetry and prosody. All these show how the 'matters' and 'forms' of life are so subtly interwoven.


The PHISPC publications on History of Science, Philosophy and Culture in Indian Civilization, in spite of their unitary look, do recognize the differences between the areas of material civilization and those of ideational culture. It is not a work of a single author. Nor is it being executed by a group of thinkers and writers who are methodologically uniform or ideologically identical in their commitments. In conceiving the Project we have interacted with, and been influenced by, the writings and views of many Indian and non- Indian thinkers.

The attempted unity of this Project lies in its aim and inspiration. We have in India many scholarly works written by Indians on different aspects of our civilization and culture. Right from the pre-Christian era to our own time, India has drawn the attention of various countries of Asia, Europe and Africa. Some of these writings are objective and informative and many others are based on insufficient information and hearsay, and therefore not quite reliable, but they have their own value. Quality and view-points keep on changing not only because of the adequacy and inadequacy of evidence but also, and perhaps more so, because of the bias and prejudice, religious and political conviction, of the writers.

Besides, it is to be remembered that history, like Nature, is not an open book to be read alike by all. The past is mainly enclosed and only partially disclosed. History is, therefore, partly objective or 'real' and largely a matter of construction. This is one of the reasons why some historians themselves think that it is a form of literature or art. However, it does not mean that historical construction is 'anarchic' and arbitrary. Certainly, imagination plays an important role in it.

But its character is basically dependent upon. the questions which the historian raises and wants to understand or answer in terms of the ideas and actions of human beings in the past ages. In a way, history, somewhat like the natural sciences, is engaged in answering questions and in exploring relationships of cause and effect between events and developments across time. While in the natural sciences, the scientist poses questions about nature in the form of hypotheses, expecting to elicit authoritative answers to such questions, the historian studies the past, partly for the sake of understanding it for its own sake and partly also for the light which the past throws upon the present, and the possibilities which it opens up for moulding the future. But the difference between the two approaches must not be lost sight of. The scientist is primarily interested in discovering laws and framing theories, in terms of which different events and processes can be connected and anticipated. His interest in the conditions or circumstances attending the concerned events is secondary. Therefore, scientific laws turn out to be basically abstract and easily expressible in terms of mathematical language. In contrast, the historian's main interest centers round the specific events, human ideas and actions, not general laws. So, the historian, unlike the scientist, is obliged to pay primary attention to the circumstances of the events he wants to study. Consequently, history, like most other humanistic disciplines, is concrete and particularistic. This is not to deny the obvious truth that historical event and processes consisting of human ideas and actions show some trend or other and weave some pattern or another. If these trends and patterns were not there at all in history, the study of history as a branch of knowledge would not have been profitable or instructive. But one must recognize that historical trends and patterns, unlike scientific laws and theories, are not general or purported to be universal in their scope.


The aim of this Project is to discover the main aspects of Indian culture and present them in an interrelated way. Since our culture has influenced, and has been influenced by, the neighboring cultures of West Asia, Central Asia, East Asia and Southeast Asia, attempts have been made here to trace and study these influences in their mutuality. It is well-known that during the last three centuries, European presence in India, both political and cultural, has been very widespread. In many volumes of the Project considerable attention has been paid to Europe and through Europe to other parts of the world. For the purpose of a comprehensive cultural study of India, the existing political boundaries of the South Asia of today are more of a hindrance than help. Cultures, like languages, often transcend the bounds of changing political territories.

If the inconstant political geography is not a reliable help to the understanding of the layered structure and spread of culture, a somewhat comparable problem is encountered in the area of historical periodization. Periodization or segmenting time is a very tricky affair. When exactly one period ends and another begins is not precisely ascertainable. The periods of history designated as ancient, medieval and modern are purely conventional and merely heuristic in character. The varying scopes of history, local, national and continental or, universal, somewhat like the periods of history, are unavoidably fuzzy and shifting. Amidst all these difficulties, the volume-wise details have been planned and worked out by the editors in consultation with the Project Director and the General Editor. I believe that the editors of different volumes have also profited from the reactions and suggestions of the contributors of individual chapters in planning the volumes.

Another aspect of Indian history which the volume-editors and contributors of the Project have carefully dealt with is the distinction and relation between civilization and culture. The material conditions which substantially shaped Indian civilization have been discussed in detail. From agriculture and industry to metallurgy and technology, from physics and chemical practices to the life sciences and different systems of medicines- all the branches of knowledge and skill which directly affect human life- form the heart of this Project. Since the periods covered by the PHISPC are extensive-prehistory, proto-history, early history, medieval history and modern history of India-we do not claim to have gone into all the relevant material conditions of human life. We had to be selective. Therefore, one should not be surprised if one finds that only some material aspects of Indian civilization have received our pointed attention, while the rest have been dealt with in principle or only alluded to.

One of the main aims of the Project has been to spell out the first principles of the philosophy of different schools, both pro-Vedic and anti-Vedic. The basic ideas of Buddhism, Jainism and Islam have been given their due importance. The special position accorded to philosophy is to be understood partly in terms of its proclaimed unifying character and partly to be explained in terms of the fact that different philosophical systems represent alternative world-views, cultural perspectives, their conflict and mutual assimilation.

Most of the volume-editors, and at their instance the concerned contributors, have followed a middle path between the extremes of narrativism and theoreticism. The underlying idea has been this: if in the process of working out a comprehensive Project like this every contributor attempts to narrate all those interesting things that he has in the back of his mind, the enterprise is likely to prove unmanageable. If, on the other hand, particular details are consciously forced into a fixed mould or pre-supposed theoretical structure, the details lose their particularity and interesting character. Therefore, depending on the nature of the problem of discourse, most of the writers have tried to reconcile in their presentation, the specificity of narrativism and the generality of theoretical orientation. This is a conscious editorial decision. Because, in the absence of a theory, however inarticulate it may be, the factual details tend to fall apart. Spiritual network or theoretical orientation makes historical details not only meaningful but also interesting and enjoyable.

Another editorial decision which deserves spelling out is the necessity or avoid ability of duplication of the same theme in different volumes or even in the same volume. Certainly, this Project is not an assortment of several volumes. Nor is any volume intended to be a miscellany. This Project has been designed with a definite end in view and has a structure of its own. The character of the structure has admittedly been influenced by the variety of the themes accommodated within it. Again it must be understood that the complexity of structure is rooted in the aimed integrality of the Project itself.


Long and in-depth editorial discussion has led us to several unanimous conclusions. Firstly, our Project is going" to be unique, unrivalled and discursive in its attempt to integrate different forms of science, technology, philosophy and culture. Its comprehensive scope, continuous character and accent on culture distinguish it from the works of such Indian authors as P.C. Ray, B.N. Seal, Binoy Kumar Sarkar and S.N. Sen and also from such Euro-American writers as Lynn Thorndike, George Sarton and Joseph Needham. Indeed, it would be no exaggeration to suggest that it is for the first time that an Endeavour of so comprehensive a character, in its exploration of the social, philosophical and cultural characteristics of a distinctive world civilization-that of India-has been attempted in the domain of scholarship.

Secondly, we try to show the linkages between different branches of learning as different modes of experience in an organic manner and without resorting to a kind of reductionism, materialistic or spiritualistic. The internal dialectics of organics without reductionism allows fuzziness, discontinuity and discreteness within limits.

Thirdly, positively speaking, different modes of human experience-scientific, artistic, etc.-have their own individuality, not necessarily autonomy. Since all these modes are modification and articulation of human experience, these are bound to have between them some finely graded commonness. At the same time, it has been recognized that reflection on different areas of experience and investigation brings to light new insights and findings. Growth of knowledge requires humans, in general, and scholars, in particular, to identify the distinctness of different branches of learning.

Fourthly, to follow simultaneously the twin principles of: (a) individuality of human experience as a whole, and (b) individuality of diverse disciplines, is not at all an easy task. Overlap of themes and duplication of the terms of discourse become unavoidable at times. For example, in the context of Dharmasistra, the writer is bound to discuss the concept of value. The same concept also figures in economic discourse and also occurs in a discussion on fine arts. The conscious editorial decision has been that, while duplication should be kept to its minimum, for the sake of intended clarity of the themes under discussion, their reiteration must not be avoided at high intellectual cost.

Fifthly, the scholars working on the Project are drawn from widely different disciplines. They have brought to our notice an important fact that has clear relevance to our work. Many of our contemporary disciplines like economics and sociology did not exist, at least not in their present form, just two centuries ago or so. For example, before the middle of the nineteenth century, sociology as a distinct branch of knowledge was unknown. The term is said to have been coined first by the French philosopher Auguste Comte in 1838. Obviously, this does not mean that the issues discussed in sociology were not there. Similarly, Adam Smith's (1723-90) famous work The Wealth of Nations is often referred to as the first authoritative statement of the principles of (what we now call) economics. Interestingly enough, the author was equally interested in ethics and jurisprudence. It is clear from history that the nature and scope of different disciplines undergo change, at times very radically, over time. For example, in ancients India arthasiistra did not mean the science of economics as understood today. Besides the principles of economics, the Arthasiistra of Kautilya discusses at length those of governance, diplomacy and military science.

Sixthly, this brings us to the next editorial policy followed in the Project. We have tried to remain very conscious of what may be called indeterminacy or inexactness of translation. When a word or expression of one language is translated into another, some loss of meaning or exactitude seems to be unavoidable. This is true not only in the bilingual relations like Sanskrit-English and Sanskrit-Arabic, but also in those of Hindi-Tamil and Hindi-Bengali. In recognition of the importance of language-bound and context-relative character of meaning we have solicited from many learned scholars, contributions written in vernacular languages. In order to minimize the miseffect of semantic inexactitude we have solicited translational help of that type of bilingual scholars who know both English and the concerned vernacular language, Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Bengali or Marathi.

Seventhly and finally, perhaps the place of technology as a branch of knowledge in the composite universe of science and art merits some elucidation. Technology has been conceived in very many ways, e.g., as autonomous, as 'standing reserve', as liberating or enlarge mental, and alimentative or estrange mental force. The studies undertaken by the Project show that, in spite of its much emphasized mechanical and alienative characteristics, technology embodies a very useful mode of knowledge that is peculiar to man. The Greek root words of technology are techne (art) and logos (science). This is the basic justification of recognizing technology as closely related to both epistemology, the discipline of valid knowledge, and axiology, the discipline of freedom and values. It is in this context that we are reminded of the definition of man as homo technikos. In Sanskrit, the word closest to techne is kala which means any practical art, any mechanical or fine art. In the Indian tradition, in Saiuatantra, for example, among the arts (kala) are counted dance, drama, music, architecture, metallurgy, knowledge of dictionary, encyclopedia and prosody. The closeness of the relation between arts and sciences, technology and other forms of knowledge are evident from these examples and was known to the ancient people. The human quest for knowledge involves the use of both head and hand. Without mind, the body is a corpse and the disembodied mind is a bare abstraction. Even for our appreciation of what is beautiful and the creation of what is valuable, we are required to exercise both our intellectual competence and physical capacity. In a manner of speaking, one might rightly affirm that our psychosomatic structure is a functional connector between what we are and what we could be, between the physical and the beyond. To suppose that there is a clear-cut distinction between the physical world and the psychosomatic one amount to denial of the possible emergence of higher Iogico-mathematical, musical and other capacities. The very availability of aesthetic experience and creation proves that the supposed distinction is somehow overcome by what may be called the bodily self or embodied mind.




  Table of Transliteration ix
  List of Abbreviations x
  Preface xix
  Foreword xxv
  General Introduction xxix
1 Critique of the Contemporary View of Consciousness 1
2 States of Consicousness and the Vedic Seer's Search for the Superamental 20
3 Exitence and Consciousness 44
4 Range of the Human Mind 74
5 Divine Mind 92
6 Anatomical and Physiological Bases of Consciousness 114
7 Heart as a centre of Consiousness 131
8 Role of Consciousness in the Design of the Human Personality and Determination of its Environmental Setting 151
9 Cosmic Creativity of Consiousness 165
10 Rta and Consiousness 182
11 Life and Consiousness 205
12 Atman and the Concentricity of Consiousness 235
13 Consciousness and the Supreme Being 260
14 Phenomenology of the Unconsious 283
15 Role of the Unconscious in Vedic Legends 304
16 Soma as an Antidote to the Unconscious 334
17 Consciousness and the Antipathy betweem gods and Demons 358
18 Consciousness, Immortality and Liberation 379
19 Vidic Psychology 401
20 Consiousness and human Values 429
  Select Bibliography 466
  Index 472

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