Quora answer: What are some mind-blowing facts about Hinduism?

Feb 20 2014

What blew the mind of the Westerners was when they discovered that Sanskrit was related to European languages and that the Hindu Tradition appeared to be older than the Greek tradition. It was the subject of Philology that discovered these facts about the history of the Indo-European tradition. Philology has turned into linguistics as it goes on to other problems beyond the Indo-European linguistic legacy.

Since this answer is fairly popular I will elaborate. What I said above is something very well known in almost all academic circles which know anything about the romance of philology and the discovery of the kinship between European languages and Sanskrit.

In Sanskrit the term for Being is Sat. In the Bhagavad Gita which is part of the Mahabharata the Indian Epic the goals of spirituality were Sat Cit Ananda. Being, Knowledge, Bliss I believe is the translation if memory serves. Only Indo-European languages have Being in them, it is a linguistic anomaly which seems pretty standard only because Indo-Europeans have taken over the known world multiple times spreading their language to cover 60% of the world population. Hinduism has a very interesting mythic tradition somewhat preserved in the Praise poems of the Vedas which is then enhanced by a philosophical tradition that appears first in the Upanishads. it is a rich tradition not studied enough by Westerners, but which went into decline with colonialization both by Muslims then the English. To me the most interesting episode in that tradition was the generation of the Buddhist nondual heresy, which basically said we should forget Being and return to Existence under the rubric of Emptiness. This was later incorporated back into the Hindu tradition by making Buddha an avatar of Vishnu, and through the works of Shankara that founded Advita Vedanta, which interpreted Being as Emptiness, and thus reconciled the Upanishads with each other via this semantic shift. This was the outcome of the work of Nagarjuna who pointed out that Emptiness is endemic to logic, being the discontinuities between the logical operators nand, nor, and, or. Emptiness is what stands at the heart of this conceptual minimal system that makes a tetrahedral structure. Associated with Sanskrit was a mass like pervasion logic that was adopted by Buddhism. This is in contrast to the set-like logic of the Syllogism that was popular in the West from the time of Aristotle. Mass logics are much better for dealing with nondual concepts such as Emptiness because we can say that the Emptiness pervades things, without reifying it into a thing. Set based Logics tend to reify characteristics into things causing cognitive fallacies galore. The differentiation of the Buddhist existential heresy within the Indo-European worldview and then its reabsorption into Advita Vedanta is very interesting when you contrast that with the Dualism of the Western worldview and its steadfast rejection of all nondual heresies, including the one it could not crush which was Islam. When Muslims conquered India they more or less left it intact from a religious point of view but there were many interesting encounters between Sufis and Hindu practitioners in India which caused Sufism to spread in India and let to the conversion of quite a few Hindu’s to Islam. Thus India was also receptive to a certain extent to the Islamic nondual heresy which came much later than Buddhism. The West which has a history of killing off all nondual challengers to its dualistic proclivity has a lot to learn from the Hindu tradition which seems to cope with Heresy much better than the Western tradition. This makes the Hindu tradition a great test case to compare to the Western tradition and to think what a more tolerant Western tradition might be like.

The point is that in Hinduism there was a technological development also but that was inner technology rather than the outer technology that has been developed in the West. But now that the West is up against the limits it is about time that the West starts learning from its Indo-European counterpart about the importance of inner technology, like meditation etc. Religion founded on spiritual experience rather than unfounded belief is a big step up in terms of sophistication compared to Western religions. However, although there has been various migrations of Guru’s from India to the West over the years much of that has been considered culturally too foreign and thus has not had much of an impact compared to the impact of first Zen Buddhism and then Tibetan Buddhism. On the discovery of the kinship between the obviously older and more sophisticated Indo-European cultural tradition in India and that of the Barbaric Westerners who colonized it, the west was open to this spiritual influence and Theosophy was the result. That was an Orientalization of Hinduism and Buddhism which were considered to be basically the same thing at that time. Later it was realized that Buddhism was really different and therefore it had a separate impact after WWII during the 60s and 70s through the discovery by the west of the Chinese and Japanese brands of Buddhism and the seemingly religiously neutral Zen sects. So the focus shifted from India to other countries as a source of spiritual inspiration of Westerners who found nondual approaches congenial.

What Tibetan Buddhism and Hinduism share is the seemingly endless variety of the forms of worship and spiritual dimensions of practice. Among the Tibetan Buddhist offerings the most interesting is DzogChen which seems to be their indigenous answer to the rejection of Chinese Zen. Buddhism died out in India but lived on in Tibet producing at least two of the most outstanding intellects of all time Dzog Ka Pa and Mipham who took opposite sides in the debate over whether consciousness was reflexive or not within the arcane debates of Buddhist Philosophy in Tibet.

But when you think that all this came from Hinduism, as its heresies spread around the world, heresies that it reabsorbed within itself, then it gives you some idea of the vibrancy of the Hindu Tradition. Hinduism from India has a lot to contribute to our cultural and social maturity in the West if we but knew, much more than a string of Gurus and Transcendental Meditation. But the active intellectual development that would make that tradition relevant to the transformation of the Western culture and civilization does not seem to be present. Seems that folks in India are still playing the Colonizer/Colonized game. Why they are not challenging the Western tradition more with their older and more sophisticated tradition is unclear.

Hinduism has shown resilience standing up to two onslaughts of nonduality first from Buddhism and then from Sufism reabsorbing many of these elements into their own tradition. Hinduism developed Advita Vedanta which was a reinterpretation of their own tradition based on nondual insights by Shankara. But it seems that these advances easily became reified and did not produce movements like Buddhism was as a departure from Hinduism. Hindus are famously very proficient in Math and Logic. So you would think that there would be a whole tradition in the application of nonduality to Math and Logic that they could leverage to challenge Western Philosophy and its dominance. Maybe this has occurred and I am just not aware of it. And you would think that there would be a critique of outward technology from the perspective of inward meditative technology. Hinduism is rich in cultural resources, in spiritual transformations, and in its deep Indo-European history but it does not seem to exploit these to show its superiority over the dualisms of the West, and their very narrow technical philosophy which is not motivated by spiritual insights.

We hope for more from the venerable Hindu tradition in the future. The tradition needs to be rethought. Much of my own work is motivated by this kind of Rethinking. I discovered the Meta-levels of Being in my research for my dissertation at London School of Economics called The Structure of Theoretical Systems in Relation to Emergence [See http://archonic.net]. Then I went on to become a Software and Systems Engineer. But I continued my studies, and eventually worked my way back to the study of the Vedas, via Dumazil, and discovered that the differences between the Hindu Gods in the Vedas were the same as the Kinds of Being discovered in Modern European Continental Philosophy and this caused me to write the book The Fragmentation of Being and the Path Beyond the Void [See http://works.bepress.com/kent_palmer] What I realized is that Continental Philosophy had rediscovered something always already known in the Western tradition previously and that was encoded into Myth. I developed the technique of Ontomythology to read back into the mythology the kinds of Being, and thus discovered a whole world within the Indo-European worldview previously unknown. This same tactic could I am sure be taken further if one actually knew more about the Indian materials than I do. But where I tried to push the envelope was in the relations between the Mahabharata and the Greek Epics. I think I have commented on that elsewhere in another post here on Quora to some question about the Mahabharata. The Mahabharata as one of Dumazil’s students is the lost mythology of the Titomachia brought down to the human plane. We have lost the epic of the Titomachia in the Greek materials too. But the Greek Epics we have repeats that on the human plane in a war between humans over Helen of Troy. And the struggle over Draupurdi in the Mahabharata is the same story. The trick is to understand that the heroes of the Mahabharata are the Trojans and the men of earth they fight are the Achaeans. Once you realize this and that the battle at the end of the Mahabharata is the killing of the Suitors in the Odyssey, then you can track back to discover the 13 common scenes that the two Epics share but which are utterly transformed in relation to each other. But that gives us some insight into what the proto-epic of the Titomachia might have been like. But when we apply ontomythology to these two Epics we see that they both give a rich picture of what it is like to live in a Worldview which has not only the linguistic anomaly of Being but also meta-levels of Being each level of which is emergent and qualitatively different transforming the aspects of Truth, Reality, Identity, and Presence at each meta-level. This gives us a much richer view of the structure of the Western Worldview through the lens of the comparison with the Indian counterparts to the Greek tradition. They were not just in Philosophy but also in mythology as well. More of this kind of research needs to be done comparing the roots of the two traditions to try to get a better picture of their common origin, and thus a better idea of the nature of the Western worldview in general.

I was further asked to elaborate what I meant by saying that Being is a linguistic anomaly. I have italicized the statement above where that has been mentioned.

If you go back in my various answers to posts on various questions I emphasize this over and over again, because it seem to me one of the most important points about the Indo-European worldview. Only Indo-European language have the concept of Being. All other languages have some form of existential but not Being. For instance they might have copula alone as with the Sumerian Me. Or they might have an existential like wajud in Arabic. But they do not have Being which is an artificial construct in Indo-European languages which we can see by the fact that the roots for Being and Having are the most fragmented in the Indo-European languages. There are multiple roots glued together to give us the concept of Being. For instance in Old English there are the roots Es/Er//Bheu/Wes/Wer. So what does this mean. It means that when Indo-Europeans say “Being” they are talking about something special that is not a concept in other languages. Other languages have to do extra work to say something like Being. But it means we project Being onto other worlds other than our own. We assume everyone has Being and knows what it means. But they don’t unless they know an Indo-European language. But since Indo-Europeans have been very successful via war machines like chariots and horses in taking over the known world there is a good chance that you will know an Indo-European language. And of course Sanskrit is one of the most venerable of these languages. However it seems that Hittite in terms of vocabulary is the oldest of the languages. There is a good chance that proto-Indo-European had a very different grammar than later Indo-European. So Sanskrit is a high point in grammar development. It is not clear how Being was developed in the proto-Indo-European language but it had something to do with the caste structure and something to do with the differentiation of the gods associated with caste. To me the key point was the discovery that the meta-levels of Being existed between the gods in the Vedas our oldest book. Thus the distinctions between the roots of Being, the Castes, the Gods all are differentiated out by the meta-levels of Being, which meant that our ancestors knew about those meta-levels and organized society, the language, and the sacred based on that knowledge. Probably the meta-levels of Being described many times in other answers were discovered and lost many times in the Hindu tradition. But ultimately Buddhism as a heresy rejected Being for existence in the form of emptiness (sunyata). However, once Shankara accepted Nagarjuna’s proof that logic contained emptiness then he wrote commentaries which basically interpreted Being as Emptiness, i.e. as nondual, and that allowed the Buddhist heresy to be absorbed back into Hinduism and Buddha became an avatar of Vishnu. Hinduism is a very sophisticated religion especially after the reabsorption of Buddhism, because now there was an internal check on Being where the meta-levels of Being are realized to stop with Ultra Being as a form of Existence.

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