Author: Ananth Sethuraman.
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 angle of adhyātma.
In this article, we will take up one of these concepts, the unity and coherence of Hinduism.. We will see how the edX course covers this topic is deeply connected with our own failure to understand that adhyātma is a mind science.
Hinduism as a Unitary, Coherent Package
The edX course has a section titled Reading Hinduism: Some Distinctive Aspects. One of the sentences in this section reads as follows:
“[Hinduism emerged] as a unitary, coherent package of beliefs and rituals emerged only in the 19th century”
The sentence contains the adjectives “unitary” and “coherent.” These adjectives trigger the reaction that, before the 19th century, adhyātma must have existed as an incoherent package of beliefs and rituals.
Proximal Knowledge of Sanskrit Words
Let us consider some Sanskrit words: manas, manōvikāra, citta, citta-śuddhi, ahaṅkāra, pramāṇa, anumāna, pāpa, puṇya, dharma, etc. Most followers of adhyātma only have a proximal knowledge of these words. “Proximal knowledge” means this. We know how to use these words in grammatically correct sentences. We know how to put these grammatically correct sentences in a paragraph such that the grammatically correct sentences do not contradict one another. Yet, the paragraph does not present a coherent train of thought. Therefore we are not able to articulate well a theory using these words;we are not able to solve a problem, nor do research, nor refute an opposing theory. All this is the referent of the phrase “proximal knowledge.”
Is it true that we have merely a proximal knowledge of words such as manas, manōvikāra, citta, citta-śuddhi, ahaṅkāra, pramāṇa, anumāna, pāpa, puṇya, dharma, etc., and not a thorough knowledge? Yes. This is proved in [Ref 3, Chap 5], [Ref 4, Sec 12–19] [Ref 5, Sec 2–9]. In addition, [Ref 4] offers the hypothesis that, from circa 1200 CE. An argument could be made that Indian society failed to invest in intellectuals who could teach the public the sort of mind sciences that provide the foundation to these words. Not knowing the mind sciences led to the public having merely a proximal knowledge of the words, as opposed to a thorough knowledge.
The argument goes that when Westerners started arriving in India, they observed that jñāni-s could teach jñānōdayam, but could not articulate well the theory of jñānōdayam; they observed that vaidika brāhmaṇa-s could perform hōmam-s, but could not articulate well the theory of those hōmam-s; they observed that bhakta-s could perform pūjā-s, sing bhajan-s, go on tīrtha-yātrā-s and so forth, but could not articulate well the theory of bhakti-mārga. All this was because the Indians had only a proximal knowledge of words such as manas, manōvikāra, citta, citta-śuddhi, ahaṅkāra, pramāṇa, anumāna, pāpa, puṇya, dharma, etc. Whatever be the veracity of this argument , this situation is still mostly true today.
In the 19th century, Western Indologists attempted to articulate adhyātma on their own. It was popular for them to use an analogy that Hinduism is similar to the Catholic denomination, Buddhism to the Protestant denominations [Ref 6, Sec 4.2.2]. Their articulation of adhyātma did not represent adhyātma very well, but it was not challenged by Indian intellectuals in the 19th century. This was natural, given that the Anglicized Indian intellectuals did not know have a foundation of the mind sciences that gave meaning to words such as manas, manōvikāra, citta, citta-śuddhi, ahaṅkāra, pramāṇa, anumāna, pāpa, puṇya, dharma, etc. and those who did have a foundation were unable to challenge the articulation, for various reasons. Not being challenged, the portrayal of adhyātma that Western Indologists had articulated was inserted into social science textbooks as a valid portrayal of adhyātma, and even received praise as being “unitary” and “coherent.”
Action Item For Swadeshi Indology
Swadeshi Indology needs to assign high priority to provoke a pedagogy of the mind sciences into the mainstream curriculum right from school even , to provide a foundation to words such as manas, manōvikāra, citta, citta-śuddhi, ahaṅkāra, pramāṇa, anumāna, pāpa, puṇya, dharma, etc. The objective is to give the public a thorough knowledge of these words, and not merely a proximal knowledge.
Ananth Sethuraman has degrees from IIT Madras (Chennai) and Iowa State University. He is employed in a number of engineering companies. View More…
Ref 1: https://www.edx.org
Ref 3: R Malhotra, Being Different, HarperCollins Publishers India, 2011. ISBN-13: 978-93-5116-050-2
Ref 6: S N Balagangadhara, The Heathen in His Blindness, Brill, 1994. ISBN-13: 978-90-0409-943-2