Decolonizing the Indian Mind
Keynote address delivered on February 18, 2001
at the National Seminar on Decolonizing English Education,
Department of English, North Gujarat University, Patan (Gujarat, India)
When I talk of the ‘Indian Mind’ I refer to the mind of the English/University educated Indians.
I am reminded of Ananda Coomaraswamy who uses the expression “educated Indians” and then gives a footnote — “That is how victims of Indian education are described.” One of the effects of mainstream education is to marginalize inherited learning which though much restricted is still very much alive. We all know through the letters of Macaulay to his sister (1813) about the history of the purpose of English education, which was to produce people who might appear of look-like Indians but shall be English in spirit and habits of mind and this is too well-known a story. But the mainstream education has certainly had one very clear effect and that is — it has uprooted us in the sense that there is complete disjunction with our tradition of thinking. It infuses in us some kind of a spirit of self-denigration (heenabhavna). Apart from being ignorant that there is something like Indian thought, there is a presumed opinion about that thought (‘purana hogaya hai’ — it has been superseded by new structures of knowledge etc. etc.). This self-denigration then produces a loss of self-respect (absence of swabhimana) and we become uncritical receivers and applicators of ideas. I must, however, at this juncture add a point. I never argue that one must not study other traditions. Let me quote Bhartrhari (5th c.) who says, “What does he know who knows only his own tradition?” That was a confident India — internally, intellectually rich, with three very powerful sampradaya — Brahman, Bauddha and Jaina — also interacting with the then centers of learning — China, Middle East. But today we have to change that statement a little — “What does he know who does not even know his own tradition?” So, that is the unfortunate effect.
We have, by and large, broadly, entered into a relationship of intellectual subordination. The Indian academy is subordinate to the West — they are the theory and we are the data. So, that is the unfortunate effect and this is self-evident when we make comparisons with what Europe achieved through interaction with Indian studies in the nineteenth century and what we have done with Western studies.
I would now like to come to the point of “what is this colonizing of the mind?” What does it mean? O.K., we do not study our own thought and study only received thought. We are uncritical receivers. So what? What is the decolonization of mind that we are talking about? What is colonizing itself? Colonization is a contact situation and this contact is of two kinds — one motivated by food and the other by profit. By food, I mean settlements, migrations, people in search of livelihood. We had a settlement history of India and we have a settlement history of Indians going outside. Even today, there are large segments of Indian population in the U.S.A., in Europe and so on. This is one kind of contact. The other kind of contact begins with trade and commerce and ends up with political and military subjugation. Generally speaking, we have a Valmiki followed by Rama. We can think of a third type of contact — which is of the Buddhist monks going all over Asia or the Christian missionaries going all over the world. There is, however a difference — incidentally, there is no history that Buddhist monks were followed by the Mauryan armies. There is in effect no such history. But Buddhist monks went all over Asia and this brought about contact between Indian thought, Asian thought and therefore Buddhism has become a thinking language of a large number of Asians and the name of Asoka as H.G. Wells informs us a ‘by-word’ in the central Asian, Eurasian and other parts of the world — ‘from the Volga to the Ganga’. So this is the least problematic contact where there is a purely intellectual influence and India has had the good fortune of being a donor intellectual tradition for centuries. There is, in such situations, bound to be resistance — resistance to the subjugation of the land and the subjugation of the mind (terra firma and terra cognita). But why is this resistance there? Obviously because there is something about the identity, something about our own self-definition which gets altered or affected by such experience. Further, there is a natural/neural response to retaining the balance — the equilibrium that is there in our self and it does not matter whether it is the individual self or the collective self, cultural self or the social self.* So there is bound to be resistance particularly from strong intellectual cultures with living codes, living systems of ideas of those who have valued for long those living codes and systems. Because I look at culture as a set of codes — set of idea systems — civilization as a set of institutions, which are founded on the bedrock of those codes. For example, you may have a code of grammar, a code of music, a code of society, a code of political system. And then you may have institutions that are founded on them.
So there is resistance and such cultures resist such subjugation. But this subjugation of the mind still needs to be looked into. Is it simply this that we start speaking another language or we start using others’ ideas? But does that mean that our mind is subjugated. What is this mind? If you ask in our own context you have to think about our own understanding of our knowing self — the cognizing self and the layered knowing self. You have the outermost layer of the senses, then you have the mind, then you have the intellect — mana-buddhi, then you have the citta (no English equivalent possible) that is the inner location where the experience is stored and judged and valued. So you have this knowing self and when we talk about the subjugation of the mind we have to ask what is it that gets subjugated or affected. To me it appears that this whole system — this whole structure of knowing self is to be looked upon as one whole system. For instance, in one of the seminal texts — Adi Shankara’s Vivekachudamani — the mind is called as mana because of sankalpa-vikalpa. I tell my students my eyes are open — I am looking but I am not watching. So I don’t really see. When my mind gets attached to something I say I watch this. So that sankalpa-vikalpa is the function of the mind and of the intellect. This is a continuum. Knowledge begins in the experience at the outermost layer. Annamaya, pranamaya, manomaya, vigyanmaya, anandamaya — are the five levels/stages through which knowledge is processed, according to Samkhya philosophy. And then it becomes knowledge — jnana. This knowledge then is your constituted self. So we have the mind — sankalpa vikalpa — and the buddhi which is padarta vishayak nirnaya — the region where you constitute the objects — the information — the structure of the whole system of material objects and mental objects. For example, what is a flower? You constitute that and say this is different from a leaf. So that is the intellect. Then there is citta, which is ishta nirnaya — what is desirable or desired by you or what is anukul (anukul vedana sukh; pratikul vedana dukh) that which is in harmony with your own self. We, ultimately, judge when we look at something. We decide to look on a horse or a flower and then we say it is very beautiful. That identification is a function of the citta. Because beauty is not there in the object. You say it is beautiful for you or it is very pleasant. Ultimately this is involved in all our decisions and actions. What we should and what we should not do — all our actions are controlled by this. This whole operation of our knowing self is performed in terms of a language of the mind — what you call as Kantian concepts — but to me it appears that an analogy can be drawn from computer software where there is a platform language and a programming language. There is something with which the mind operates. There are certain meta-assumptions (mool siddhanta). Those ideas are what we may designate as drivers. They help you to develop certain systems, which are then useful to you in achieving what the drivers seek to achieve. Say my mind is so turned that I am told or I am driven to act in such a way that I above all have to free myself from all this suffering and sorrow — this driving concept is the driver. This concept will lead me to various structured systems such as I have to perform nishkama karma, I have to give charity, I have to forget myself — these are methods for the realization of the goals of the driver. So you have two levels. There is a basic ideational level which is in functional relationship to a whole structured set of mental objects and things which you may call shastras or systems — whatever. So subjugation of the mind would then mean that the basic drivers are affected. The ideas that drive us are either weakened or they are disturbed — affected by a virus. Then the point is not that my mind is subjugated but rather that I have become a fragmented self — in effect, a vikshipta mana — a splintered, fragmented, mind and then all the problems begin that a modern educated man would normally experience or feel. This kind of thing happens — mind splintering/mind subjugation — in various contacts, various situations which I talked about in the beginning — the worst of that being when you are also politically or militarily subjugated.
This kind of thing has happened and has happened repeatedly in India when our own thought has appeared to recede and we have an institution to handle such recession called vyasa parampara. Vyasa parampara is simply a renewal institution. There were thirty Vyasas. What do we mean by Veda Vyasa? It means the last 28th Vyasa who was a contemporary of Janmajaya whose Nagayaya was performed at Nigambodh Ghat in Delhi. The Mahabharata texts, the Vedic texts were all re-constituted there after the great disturbance — the great cataclysmic war in which the scholars were driving chariots and got killed. Texts were lost and then they were reconstituted. So this institution is a loss-and-recovery phenomenon and this has gone on in India a number of times. So it is not something new. It is something new after the 18th-19th century British contact. We are in the process / in the midst of (in the last fifteen, twenty-five years) various modes of recovery in different ways. So this is something that ought not to be really very disturbing. It is a part of the dynamism of Indian culture. It has valued (though we are not a bibliolatrous — book-worshipping people) certain texts as texts of knowledge. You can say anything about them. It doesn’t matter. You can express any opinion about the Bhagavadgita, the Vedas. It doesn’t matter. But then, they are, nonetheless, texts of knowledge. They have been maintained with unique success. If you compare the history of the maintenance of Indian texts and say Shakespeare’s plays which were printed in his own lifetime, we note that five hundred years later a major industry is Shakespeare’s authentic texts but over thousands of years Indian texts have come down intact. So we have maintained them, the community has maintained them. Why has it maintained them? It must be because of the great premium put on knowledge. And Arjuna, who in the Mahabharata is told by Krishna he must take to karma, he should take his bow and start, does not worry about knowledge systems as he is advised to choose the path of action. But we are told by Sri Krishna that nothing liberates like knowledge, that there is no greater purifier than knowledge. So ours is a knowledge-centered civilization. This is evidenced by another fact. We know the history of the destruction of manuscripts in India and still, it is remarkable that there are more than a million manuscripts, if not more. Compare it to how many manuscripts elsewhere you may find. The fact that there exist one million manuscripts speaks of a very learned civilization. It is a proof that knowledge has been highly valued. So it has happened again and again — this loss and recovery.
But what is it that happened in the British period? As I have just said, culture is a set of codes, civilization is a set of institutions. To my mind, the British period was more remarkable for its civilizational changes — new institutions, civilizational institutions, judiciary, parliament, democracy etc. They were both the instruments of subordination and also the instruments of liberation. There was a duality as far as the culture and texts are concerned because of what had happened by the 19th century. The other day we had a workshop on Brahmilipi, so I told them “fine, many lipis” — during Asoka’s period there were four scripts — but the truth is by the 19th century we could not read any one of them. So we had lost them and it was Princep who taught us how to read Asoka’s inscriptions. And you have the much-maligned Lord Curzon. If he had not been there, we would not know about people like the king of Benaras, who told his general that he wanted to build a new palace and therefore the main stupa in Sarnath had to be demolished for bricks in 1794. It was standing with the Dhamekha stupa and was twice its size and it was demolished. This is what was the state. I also recall that when the British resident told the ruler of Bhopal about the magnificent sculptures in Vidisha, he was told to take them away if he liked them to which the resident had rejoined by saying, ‘You do not know what you are saying.’ That was the state. And therefore there has to be some sort of recovery.
In the 19th century a stark opposition is set up between the characteristically Indian ‘All-life-is-one’ view and the Western man-centered view. It was this intellectual opposition that was introduced at that stage in the Indian mind. I will share my speculations with you and I know that you will disagree with me. You must have already disagreed with me on a number of issues. But kindly bear with my free-wheeling speculation. The Western civilizational intervention was not really a reinforcement of what Islam had first brought — both, because Islam did not succeed in intervening intellectually in that manner as this 18th-19th century Western influence did. I am referring to the man-centered world-view. The principle of man’s centrality in the universe — that man is the center (please go to the Old Testament — Genesis — God said, “I have made you in my own image and I have made all this world for you to enjoy. All these fruits and birds and plants and trees and fish and fowl are for you to enjoy.”) Man is the lord and master. He is the chosen creation. He comes at the end of the evolution as the best. So the concept of evolutionism incorporates in it the belief that all this is for man and man is central. Now this was, is and continues to be in sharp opposition to the core driver in our minds that man is just a link in a chain of beings and not the privileged, best one or one who has come at the end of a long claim. But he is just one of them. Being and non-being doesn’t matter. So this grand idea has this concrete gross reflex — a shopkeeper refusing to kill a mouse and voluntarily giving him cheese (‘the mouse has his rightful share in food’). Or a housewife getting up in the morning, feeding birds, dogs, cows, keeping some food for the incapacitated, then giving food to the elderly, then to the guests, then the children, then the husband and then herself, the last. It is a whole way of life which stems from a core driver. Human beings are a part of the chain. Reality is not separate from human beings. You are a part of it. You are linked to it and somewhere linked to a superior entity. You can call him by whatever name you like — Allah, Brahman, the Almighty God. In effect, there is a superior entity who is there and there are laws also, which are powerful, universal and general to which you are subjected and they are very fair laws. If the law operates adversely for you, you have only yourself to blame, not the law. This is the broad view. I am putting it in very general broad common terms. This is in strong opposition to many sides of the Western meta-assumption.
See. Man is central. Man is the best being that God has created. Everything is for man. It leads to a philosophy of self-indulgence, to producer-consumer society — a philosophy of comfort — search for comfort, a philosophy of individualism, imperialism, everything — because you are the lord and master. You have to pander to your self — not cater only. For example this will lead to a very different relationship with the environment. The belief that you are the best, you are the chosen, you come at the end of a series of evolutionary accidents — you come as a perfect realization. Descartes in On Method says the goal of knowledge is to bend nature to man’s purpose. And the Western civilization has been harnessing nature till it has brought about a virtual ecological disaster. So, you bend nature. I often make a very contentious point: Renaissance was a turning point. Till then God was an adversary — God was watching you; and, in turn, God had to be watched when you were acting and living your life. This is the unending tension. Because if you do something wrong, he will punish you. And then, of course, he is merciful — you have to repent, you have to confess, you have to seek redemption. It may come; it may not come. So God was a great opponent, a powerful adversary. God made you a neurotic. Then after Renaissance God was replaced by nature. God was dead. They killed God. Then the opposition is to nature. Nature is very harsh — cold, permafrost. So, nature becomes the adversary. This adversarial relationship has moved on — man against man and to man against woman. So they have progressed through various adversarial relationships. There is this whole philosophy of environment, which is controlled by this view.
Here I need to say — how do we look on Nature — what is our basic system? I am not talking of the victims of education, I am talking of the average small Indian living in a village, in a small town, in these places much more than in, say, Delhi. I remember that in my childhood, in the evening if a child plucked a flower, the grandfather would stop him. He would say, “The flower is also sleeping.” There is a whole different relationship with the environment. You worship the tree. You do the tarpan under a mango tree. So many benefits flow. The tree is watered. Your ancestors may not be gratified but you will certainly get good fruit. This affinity with everything (to raise things to the level of a god, to perform worship, to light the lamp), all this which has been dismissed as mere ritual — they are an expression of — a recognition of the need of man to be one with Nature. Just as the self can be your friend as well as your enemy, so too Nature is your friend and can be your enemy. Now with denudation, nature is becoming your enemy with floods and all that. So this philosophy leads to a different thinking about environmental relationship. Also, I have a note that tells us that there was a King Prithu, the Puranas tell us, who was the king of a town near Karnal on our way to Amritsar from Delhi. It is now known as Pehova and was then called Prithudaka. He was an ancient king. Five times he ‘milked’ (dohna) the earth. This is exploitation of the land. Taking three crops instead of two out of land. I remember in my childhood, in my village, my own uncle, used to tell us, we take two crops, and in between for three months we leave the land fallow to rejuvenate it. Because we must return to the land something we have taken from it. We give it back. That was a cycle — that was the system. Now with pesticides, new seeds, intermediate crops, why are you doing it? Because you have now different economics generated by the new principles. It is an economics of surplus. Not the economy of need but of surplus that you can sell. There was a time when people would not sell milk. It is not far back. It was in practice in all parts of India. They would not sell things. This producer-consumer economics also stems from the desire to eat more than one needs — that’s why you ‘milk’ the land and therefore you will pay for it.
For the first time saline lands are appearing in otherwise fertile Panjab on account of over-exploitation. It leads to a different economics. Freedom from replaced by freedom to as noted by the Venezuelan scholar, Jorge Armand (2000). And I have a word here, we have the concept of sanyama. This sanyama is completely opposed to indulgence. Also in the same way it leads to a different ethics. Once you have that driver that man is the master — man is at the center — then what follows? There is then a different relationship with environment — a different economics and a different value system or ethics. I think the Jaina — Jaina vegetarianism and ahimsa — stems ultimately from the driver that you are a part of a chain of Beings and the purpose of somebody’s existence is not to be determined by you. You are not going to determine what is going to be the purpose of a cockroach. Why is a cockroach there? The purpose is there is the very fact of its being. It’s there — that is its purpose. So that’s the purpose for the rest of life — all life. Vegetarianism is that way the culmination of civilization — that way you don’t hurt any living being. It sounds very easy but think of — what centuries of thought and practice must have gone into this — to produce this concept. How easy, how willing we are to harm and how difficult it is to restrain oneself from doing violence of some kind. So the whole value system — a different value system will emerge: everything that exists has a purpose and has consciousness — a mouse or a cat or a cockroach or a bird. And just as I have a thinking-feeling system, birds also have a thinking-feeling system, nay even the stone. Why does the stone glow? It glows as Dr. Kavita Sharma put it because there is someone seeing it. The word here is niyama — a concept from Mimamsa. It means that if there are two ways of doing something, one of them is to be preferred. If I want water I can shout at the girl and demand water — that is one way — the second way is to ask gently if I can have some water — that is the preferred way of asking for it. If you are hungry you can feed your appetite with anything but you are told ‘eat this, not this (niyama)’. When in my childhood I used to go out like this, my mother used to say tie this button and even now though I like to keep it open, when I go to the class the first thing I do is to tie this shirt button. Compare this with two kinds of nakedness — one that I saw in Singapore in public and the other of a Jaina Digambara ascetic. One is naked, the other is not naked. The other is naked because you see him naked. He is not naked. But the other ones are naked. In fact they want to be seen as naked. So there is an absence of niyama. In purushartha — in various value systems the controlling word is this, as against indulgence.
The principle leads to a different politics and a different value system. It leads to a system founded on the survival of the fittest. There is no room for an idiot. There is no room for an incapacitated person. There are asylums. In a way of life that is fast changing again I go back to my childhood village, when every village had an idiot, who was looked after by the whole village. If there were an incapacitated man — he too would be looked after by the whole village. And if there were a singer of bhajans who did nothing except sing, he too would be looked after by the whole village. These may sound like very pleasant thoughts but some of them have been seen as real. In fact, some of them are seen as vanishing and some of them are even seen as returning in a cycle where we are often back at the beginning. Eternal progress is the myth of the west. Our myth is the myth of eternal return to use once again the telling expressions of Jorge Armand, the Venezuelan scholar I quoted above. Things come back in the same way. So, it also yields a different political system — one, which is based on the survival of the fittest — a political system which is based on the concept of rights. From that great falsehood of the French Revolution that all men are born equal to the theory of rights — to rights oriented civilizations and institutions. A right is directed towards your own self. Therefore ‘rights’ is in the conflict mode. Rights are always in the conflict mode, just as the notion of progress is in the conflict mode, because you progress by shedding the ‘garbage’ — you clean up — let only the best and the clean survive. Against ‘rights’ our culture’s driver is duty — dharma. As the eldest son, I never thought of what I wanted for myself, I always thought of what I have to do for my father who would retire without much money, about my brother and sisters. And I have not become a neurotic by doing that — by not bothering about my own rights. Dharma is duty. What is duty? Duty is directed towards the other — therefore it is in a harmony mode. So the political system, the whole constitution, your fundamental rights are enunciated but duties are only in the directive principles. I wish it was the other way round, which would be more in tune with our drivers. Hence this conflict. We feel this tension between what we can do / are doing and what we ought to be doing.
It also leads to a different aesthetics because in that system where man is the master, the artist is a great crafter — he is a maker and he crafts. But in our system, the artist is not a maker — he is a sadhaka — he is a manifester — he manifests the unmanifested. The paradigm artist in the Western framework is a carpenter (Plato’s carpenter). What does he do? He takes his reality, which is wood — measures it, segments it, re-arranges it and makes it. So the reality for the geometrically minded Greeks, and in the subsequent trail in the Western part, is quantifiable, segmentable, measurable, changeable. You can re-arrange it. Man is the one who rearranges it as the master. The paradigm artist in the Indian context is the potter — kumbhakara. What does he do? He has the clay rotating before him. He has his hands on the clay and there is a figure that he sees in his mind. That figure is in the clay. He shuts his eyes and lets the figure in his mind flow through his fingers to the figure in the clay and when the two figures become one he opens his eyes. What has he done? He has not measured it, he has not segmented. He has merely made manifest what was non-manifest — dravya (substance) ko rupa (form). If he is not satisfied, he would make it into a lump and start again, for the figure is there in the mind. So he is not a maker. You are a devotee of the clay and you are a devotee of the figure in the clay. Your mind attaches itself with reverence to the object. Beauty is not therefore something of form, something of appearance but beauty is in the object to which your mind attaches itself with reverence. It may be your old grandmother. She is beautiful because your mind attaches to her with such reverence. It is the quality of reverence, which in the socio-economic framework is opposed to utility. So you had a Lambretta and now you have graduated to Mitsubishi Lancer. But the Lambretta still stands in your courtyard — “we have seen very good days. The Lambretta has made me what I am” — the idea of reverence. We don’t dispose of. These are people, not things. As late as 1995 my daughter would not let me sell off my old car. When I said that it would only stand here, and not perform any function, she replied that the grandfather also used to do nothing. He never did anything. Yet he was there. So this car should also be there. Where has this driver come from? It must have come from somewhere. It must have been in the air. But today some people have got alienated from that ethos. And this is the cause of my great dispute with those who say “revive this thought” — I said ‘No’. The thought does not need revival. We have to revive ourselves to the thought.
So, I have initiated this distinction of two or three levels of thought. I haven’t got a clear understanding of the structure except for this meta-analogy from the computer where you have Windows 98 and you have Excel and Word and which may not be a perfect analogy — there are none, in any case. So you have two languages. There are drivers and utilities. So you have the driver driving the thought and you have the utilities, the applications — the thought, which then codifies itself — which helps you to realize those ideas. So some operational concepts are needed. For example, one operational concept is that of time. You know that time is linear in the West (linearity means succession, linearity implies progress and therefore evolution and future), and future is the great mass hysteria of the West. What would happen in the coming time? Apocalypse or the Messiah? What will come? There are two keywords for an understanding of the drivers in the Western consciousness. One is ‘future’ — in the concept of time and the second is ‘teleology’ — purpose — everything must have a purpose. A thing that is there must have some purpose — so teleology and future — two things. You have here on the other hand cyclicity. You have the notion of a cycle. In a cycle there is no future. Past is future — future is past. So there is no anxiety. Neither an apocalypse nor a messiah. We are psychologically a very secure people — if we believe this. We become anxiety-ridden people if we stop believing in this. So first there is this concept of time, which is crucial and this evolutionism — the idea of progress etc. Our second concept is the notion of equilibrium. We are always trying to strike a balance. We do not believe in elimination. Again let me come back to the conflict and harmony mode. The integral synthesis mode versus the exclusivist selective mode — the dichotomous mode, where in binary choices you select this and reject that — or, alternatively when you have thesis and antithesis you try to find where does the synthesis lie. That is where the equilibrium comes in. Equilibrium vis-à-vis conflict. Rta was the word for this equilibrium / poise in the Vedas. This equilibrium / poise — it is there in the individual — our negative and our positive — our bad intentions and the good — anger is balanced by love. The moment the balance is disturbed, the action begins, the narrative begins as it indeed does both in the Mahabharata and in R. K. Narayan’s fiction. Once the balance in the individual is disturbed, either you go to the psychiatrist or some place to recover that balance. As against the conflict mode where something has to be excised, eliminated and, only then X can be — we have the harmony mode, self in the other, the other in the self. So this notion of Rta is an operational concept. It is different from the drivers. It is operational.
The third one that I have here, I have already mentioned this — is that where duty is the key. You have to think of others. It is not for nothing that the word dharma is very problematic and has been commented upon and made very metaphysical and confused. So also moksha and Brahma. The more you read about them the more you are confused. But the ideas are simple. Moksha is defined in Samkhya philosophy as dukh nivritti — freedom from dukh and dukh is of three kinds — accidental, physical and spiritual — of the spirit adi bhautik, adi daivik and adi adhyatmik — freedom from this dukh here and now is moksha. Somebody has a term paper to write — till he finishes his term paper he will not attain moksha, for example. The moment he finishes he will experience moksha. It is as simple as that. Now the key question in Indian philosophy (people say Indian philosophy is very metaphysical), the goal of Indian philosophy is dukh nivritti. The answers may be different. The Mimamsa says, do the enjoined duty. The Nyaya says, develop proper judgment. The Vaisesika says, acquire proper knowledge of the material world — the objects — like this they give different answers. One of the later answers is the one that Krishna gives to Arjuna when he asks him to transcend this opposition between the self and the other and to do his allotted duty for the welfare of the people — niyata karma — for loksamgraha — welfare of the people. So you get the answer this way. One of the other answers is Brahman, jnana — Vedanta. Brahman becomes a very complex word — but it is again a very simple word, Brahman. Bhartrhari talking of the philosophy of language uses Brahman — Sabda Brahman. How is Brahman sabda? There must be something to the concept. As we know in the Indian philosophical systems there are increasingly fewer ontological categories as we move from the Mimamsa to the Vedanta. For example in Vaisesika there are 24 ontological categories. In Samkhya they are collapsed into two — purusa and prakriti — Matter and Energy principle. Then in Vedanta the great realization that matter and energy are not separate. They toggle. So that is Brahman. Brahman is energized matter. All this energized matter is Brahman. Once you know this that all this is energized matter — that all of us are all the same, we have had our realization. So Adi Shankaracharya says, brahman atam ekatva bodhena moksha sidhyate nanyatha: once you realize you are one with everyone — one in the large sense, you are one with everyone and everyone is part of one in the larger sense — only then will you be free of suffering, not otherwise — very simple. This transcendence it may be a metaphysical category, but this transcendence requires you to rise above or beyond the oppositions, which are created if you put yourself at the top and others at a distance.
So this leads us to the fifth concept. The terms used by Bhartrhari are nanatva and ekatva — what is the relationship between plurality and singleness — between pluri-theism and monism — between multiplicity and unity — oneness. This is the great question. Though there is not enough time to go into great details, I will briefly touch upon it. The Indian civilization has always been plural-civilization — pluri-cultural — while seeking at the same time some kind of unity. You see it in grammar, where you begin with the phoneticists and you come to sabda Brahman, you see it in rasa theory, where you begin with eight rasas and come to Abhinavgupta’s one — shantarasa. But pluri-theism is never rejected. There is some kind of a transcendental materialism in the Indian mind — that all this pulsating matter creates different forms — so this principle Bhartrhari upholds of ekatva buddhi because difference is an overrated category these days — difference thanks to Derrida — bheda. In our system bhedabuddhi is referred to as avidya. Why? Why should we rise from bheda to abheda? Bhartrhari asks us to think about it. Or as Plato tells his disciples in Cratylus — addressing his students he recalls what Heraclitus says, “Everything is in a flux. There is nothing to be known and there is no knowledge. I am too old to investigate this,” says Plato to his students and asks them to “go out into the world. Find an answer. If you get come back and tell me.” In the same way one posits Bhartrhari’s statement, “ekatvabuddhi sarvavadavirodhini.” Ekatva is superior because it is opposed to no veda. It is in opposition to no veda, no point of view — grand synthesis or tolerance if you please. Experience it and then confirm its truth.
The next stage is that where organized systems reflect this. These are two levels of thinking languages. The organized systems are your shastras, your philosophical texts and your Dharmashastras — they are the organized systems, which are codified on the basis of both your practice and these thoughts. Then in the fourth stage you can see the intellectual merry-go-round of India. There are no pre-s and post-s — pre-modern-modern-post-modern, pre-structure-structure-post-structure — there is no linearity, there is no sequencing; there is simultaneity instead. In a given home the grandfather is pre-structural, the father structural and the son is post-structural. Everything coexists at the same time not only in the same community but an individual may be all the three at any given moment in his thinking system. So I have things here like sequence vs. simultaneity — the intellectual merry-go-round of India — monism alternating with pluralism, synthesis with antithesis and materialism with idealism, transcendental materialism and scriptal illusion / the reality of the visible script alternating with the validity of sabda-sound.
These foundational assumptions and the systems built upon them have to be customized, activated to decolonize the Indian minds.
©Kapil Kapoor, JNU, New Delhi
* There is this prayer in the Prithvi-Sukta of Atharvaveda – “O mother, destroy those who seek to subjugate me by sastra (weapons) or sastra (ideas).”