Hinduism Through Its Scriptures -1: Personhood

Author : Ananth Sethuraman.

Featured Image Credit: Thesaurus.plus

Introduction

edX is a provider of massive open online courses [Ref 1]. It was founded by Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

One of the courses that edX offers is titled Hinduism Through Its Scriptures [Ref 2]. The course covers some concepts from the angle of Western Indology, rather than the perspective of adhyātma.

In this article, we will take up one of these concepts, apauruṣēya. We will see that the edX course covers apauruṣēya in a way that is far removed from how adhyātma understands apauruṣēya.

Koran and apauruṣēya

Observation

The edX course has a section titled Introduction to the Vedas. The section contains this excerpt:

“Hindus consider these texts [the Vedas] as “apaurusheya”—that is, not composed by humans … Similar to the Koran.”

Comment

From the excerpt, we infer that the edX course is translating apauruṣēya as “not composed by humans,” so much so that the Koran can be termed as apauruṣēya. This is how Western Indology understands apauruṣēya.

Change in the Notion of Personhood

The fundamental postulate of adhyātma is that there are two kinds of happiness, sukha and ānanda. Indeed, adhyātma is the theory and practice of achieving ānanda [Ref 3, Section “Of Adhyatma”]. The achieving of ānanda is termed as enlightenment, awakening, ātma jñāna, ātma sākṣātkāra, jñānōdaya, etc.

The achieving of ānanda has a connection with the words “I”, “me”, “mine” and “myself”. The usual referents of the words “I”, “me”, “mine” and “myself” [Ref 4] are termed vyāvahārika in Sanskrit and personhood in English. The individual who has achieved ānanda sees that the vyāvahārika referents do not completely capture the meaning of the words “I”, “me”, “mine” and “myself”; therefore another referent must be supplied in order completely to capture the meaning. This other referent, or the paramārthika referent, is variously termed ātman, brahmaṇ, tatva, tēj sthān, emergent property, Consciousness, Awareness, the Self, the Universal Spirit, the ‘I’, etc.

Let there be a poet who has achieved ānanda; let this poet compose a poem; let the poet be accessing the paramārthika referent at the time of composing this poem. Under these circumstances, the word apauruṣēya is used for the poem [Ref 5, p259].

In contrast, the Koran is satisfied with the vyāvahārika referents of “I”, “me”, “mine” and “myself”, and does not need the paramārthika referent.

Referent of “I” in Mira’s Poems

Observation

The edX course has a section titled Poems of Mira. That section quotes a poem titled I Do Not Care About Social Norms.

Comment

The edX course does not make it clear whether the word “I” in the phrase “I do not care about social norms” has a vyāvahārika referent or the paramārthika referent.

Social Norms

The paramārthika referent has the property that it cannot support phrases such as “social interaction”, “social norms”, etc.

In fact, if Mira were following the advaita school of thought, the paramārthika referent cannot be individuated, so much so that it cannot support even the phrases “other people”, “many people”, “population” and “society.”

Referent of “Husband” in Mahadevi’s Poem

Observation

The edX course has a section titled Reading and Video: Bhakti Poems from South India. That section gives [Ref 6] as a homework exercise. One student wrote as follows in her answer to this homework exercise:

“This inversion I thought was particularly apparent in the way she ends the poem, reversing the provocative image of sati, wife-burning, to husband-burning instead.”

The student must be under the impression that the poetess, Mahadevi, was using the word “husband” in the vyāvahārika sense.

Expressing Paramārthika in Poetry

Consider the following sentence:

`When individuals attempt to achieve ānanda, they must practice the lesson that the vyāvahārika referents do not completely capture the meaning of the words “I”, “me”, “mine” and “myself”.’

This sentence is suitable for prose, not poetry. How can the same idea be expressed in poetry? Here is how Mahadevi expressed it:

Chenna Mallikarjuna, the Beautiful, is my husband.

Fling into the fire the husbands who are subject

to death and decay.

The phrase “husbands who are subject to death and decay” refers to the vyāvahārika referents. The words “Chenna Mallikarjuna, the Beautiful, is my husband.” refer to the paramārthika referent.

Students who have not learnt the paramārthika referent cannot understand the poem in the way adhyātma understands the poem. Such students will attempt to understand the poem from the angle of feminism, and miss the point of the poem completely.

Action Item for Swadeshi Indology

When Swadeshi Indology prepares syllabi on adhyātma, it should devote some space to the vyāvahārika and paramārthika referents of the words “I”, “me”, “mine” and “myself.” [Ref 4] and [Ref 6] are useful in generating syllabi on the vyāvahārika and paramārthika referents.


About Author: –

Ananth Sethuraman has degrees from IIT Madras (Chennai) and Iowa State University. He is employed in a number of engineering companies. View More…


References: –

Ref 1 : https://www.edx.org

Ref 2 : https://www.edx.org/course/hinduism-through-its-scriptures-2

Ref 3 : https://www.academia.edu/9462514/What_Do_Indians_Need_a_History_or_the_Past_A_challenge_or_two_to_Indian_historians_Parts_I_and_II

Ref 4 : https://www.hipkapi.com/2017/01/10/nirvana-shatakam/

Ref 5 : R Malhotra, Being Different, HarperCollins Publishers India, 2011. ISBN 978-93-5116-050-2Ref 5 :

Ref 6 : http://www.poetseers.org/spiritual-and-devotional-poets/india/mahadevi/mahadevi-poems/i-have-fallen-in-love/

2 thoughts on “Hinduism Through Its Scriptures -1: Personhood”

  1. Very well written.

    More importantly, brought out a concept, that is so very important & unique to Vedanta but hardly known…Because of which, shastras are subjected to such an abuse through western frameworks…

    Efforts invested to make this concept clear in everybody’s mind cannot be over emphasised

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