Indian Culture and Philosophical Therapy

Agehananda Bharati

The topic is Indian culture and philosophical therapy. Now when we talk about philosophical therapy, we may mean a number of things. For instance when you think of professional British or American philosophy today, then what the school of analytic philosophers does, started with Wittgenstein and J.L. Austin and those people, is a particular way of handling philosophy, in showing that the job of the philosophy is not to solve problems but to dissolve them and that includes all the systematic philosophies including Kant and Hegel and whatever went before and after, which are analyzed in terms of proper linguistic usage. Now, this is of course not what we are going to do here because I’m interested here and you are interested, is in the systematic relation between Indian culture and philosophy. Now one thing is important, that’s, to this very large audience this might be news, that the term philosophy as used in English and also as used by Indian scholars who talk about Indian philosophy, that term does not translate any Indian word at all.
In other words, what is usually understood to be philosophy is not darshan at all. There are words which more closely check out the meaning of philosophy but darshan is not one of them. As was pointed out in another context, the closest term, the closest Sanskrit term, to philosophy is Anvikshiki. Anvikshiki means those sciences which are understood through anumana, through the powers of argumentation and of course through logical inference, syllogistic devices. Or in the context of the philosophy/ religion, the closest Indian word would be matha. It means the idea, the notion, so people talk of Jainamatha, bouddhamatha or Vedanta matha. You see, but the term darshan does not mean philosophy at all. It means sight, it means vision from as you know, from the root drish.
Now the reason why generally Indian philosophers who teachin English and write their material in English about the Indian philosophy, why they use and why they think it translates into darshan is, I think an error going back to about seventy years because somehow the feeling was that philosophy is something very dear to the Western intellectual and since darshan is equally dear to the Indian intellectual why don’t you identify these two terms, but in the long run it proved not to be very helpful and therefore Indian philosophy as darshan does not provide the goods which philosophy is supposed to provide namely intellectual clarification. So if you look into Vedanta or Bouddha or any of the other teachings which I call salvific, that means moksha or liberation oriented, when you do that, you don’t, of course, find anything that’s in any way distantly related to what philosophers otherwise do, namely the analysis of language use including the laws of logic and epistemology. So these things are not part of darshanshastra and of course, there, is plenty of philosophy in the Indian tradition, but it is not within darshan, or rather when you take the great philosophers who taught darshan and let’s say the six classical systems Nyaya and Visheshika and then up to Poorva and Uthara Mimansa or Vedanta, then you find a lot of logic in it but that is not the core. The core is not a cognitive or intellectual understanding. The core is Brahma Dnyana, the understanding, the kind of intuitive realization of some kind of religiously or metaphysically stipulated supreme truth. But that, of course, is not what philosophers do at all. So, therefore, as long as people here insist on darshan meaning philosophy, there can, of course, be no discourse with other philosophers from the western world if they do something totally different. But what is done and what should be done, what should be understood is that darshan does something which western philosophy, in general, does not do, namely, it is therapeutic. You see, in other words, if you stipulate as Hindus and Buddhists and Jains do, in fact, all traditions indigenous to India, that somehow the empirical life is some kind of a malaise, some kind of a disease, some kind of an illusion, some kind of an error which has to be overcome, then, of course, you need darshan to back it up. You see and in that, in the process of producing darshan, you also have to talk logically and rationally. Therefore all the great acharyas, let’s say from Shankara through Ramanuja and Madhava and Nimbarkan and all the acharyas in the classical period let’s say from the eighth century to maybe the 15th or 16th century, all of them also were good scholars in logic. But that was not their main object. Whereas for the philosophers in the West, logic, and epistemology are cognitive devices and the intellectual understanding, the discursive understanding of the world is what philosophy is all about. But because western philosophy is not therapeutic, when you take British analytic philosophy starting, may be, with Wittgenstein and J.L. Austin and John Searle in America, then that is therapeutic but only in regard to the other philosophy damage to the system builders. They show for instance that Kant and Hegel but especially Hegel whom they mark as a particular object of demerit, writes big fat books because it does not know the tricks of language, whatever language regardless of whether it’s German, English or Sanskrit or anything else for that matter because you can do many things with language, which you cannot really do, because language is very malleable. But you see, once philosophy is understood as darshan, then you have to forget the logical input. That’s secondary importance, but what is important is of course what Neo -Hinduism and Neo-vedanta, that means Hinduism reformulated by people around the turn of the century especially Swami Vivekananda, is really mokshashastra. The idea of achieving these states of mental composure and the state of approaching or assimilating or finally identifying with the deity or with the absolute principle all this, for that the term God-realization was created which is a very funny term, which is totally non-English.You see, when you read the text in English of the Swamis from the turn of the century, they always talk about god-realization. Anybody who knows even a bit of Sanskrit knows that it does not translate any Sanskrit word at all. It is one of the English words created in the wake of Neo-Hinduism and Neo-Vedanta. You should be very careful about it because all these swamis including especially Vivekananda and the Ramakrishna Mission and people like my friend Swami Chinmayananda and all these people somehow believe that they are talking philosophy when they’re talking about the Upanishads. Upanishads are not philosophy. For philosophy, you have to look into the NyayaSastra and into works of Dayanacharya, Gangesha, and Raghunadha Shiromani but not into Sankara and Ramanuja and certainly not in Upanishads because they do darshan, they are therapeutic. They postulate the claim that if you follow these teachings and practice them, then you will eclipse and overcome the vicissitudes of human life. In other words, the idea of these beautiful paths is to inure yourself against the changes in the unplanned duhkha, the general pain, and the grievances that constitute human life.
Philosophy does no such thing.
Philosophy as a professional job in the West is the clarification of the way in which language can be handled. We talk about logical errors. We talk about category errors you know and so it is therapeutic in that sense. But keep this very clear, we’re not talking about this in the Indian context, philosophy as darshanic therapy. Philosophy as mental anvikshiki is a mental illustration, it is intellectual clarification but it is not the core of it and very importantly in India the empirical, the logical, that means the proper philosophical effort always retained marginal importance. It never entered the core, you know.
Now people like M.N. Roy and other people thought that Charvaka was a philosopher but anybody who knows Sanskrit knows that there are the Charvaka Shashti that means six verses ascribed to a man of the name Charvaka are preserved. There’s lots of commentary against him by later scholars including Shankara and Ramanuja but the Charvaka itself was not a system because all that’s preserved are six verses of the charvaka shasty, okay, so presumably there was some kind of philosophy but it never entered the core in Indian thought because Indian thought was darshan oriented and is darshan oriented up to this very day, you know.
Now, the next step would be to give an analog to Western psychiatry or Western psychology. You see psychiatrists are very wealthy people, very powerful people in America and Europe and they claim that they produce some kind of therapy at the rate of about one hundred and fifty dollars for half an hour and if you’re lucky. But they also claim that they talk about the human mind. Now psychiatrists usually talk rubbish about the human mind. They know very little about it, in other words, all the cognitive structures which they think about in philosophical and technical terms are simply not there or they are fanciful or they simply don’t stack up. But I suppose and you have to give people the benefit of the doubt, they certainly help people in dire distress, you know, psychiatry is a science which is a therapy. It helps people who don’t know what’s happening, people who suffer from cognitive dissonance; people suffer from all kinds of social and mental problems. So psychiatry really is a social therapy. Now the fact that psychiatrists are MDs is simply an error. It’s a mistake, they shouldn’t be. For that, the reason is very simple. Dr. Freud happened to be a medical doctor so he thought and his disciples in America and Europe think that psychiatric problems are medical problems. They are not medical problems. They are all social problems. If they’re medical problems, then the physician has to deal with these problems. So there, you see, you have the parallel. The psychiatrist thinks he talks about the mind, but he doesn’t talk about the mind at all but he cures people’s bad unhappy minds if he is a good psychiatrist.
See, now, therefore, let us switch back to the Indian situation, the Indian Darshan or Vedanta, Bouddha, Jaina or whatever. What it says about the universe, the universe in a philosophical sense is sometimes quite childish and philosophically not tenable at all. In other words, when you want to talk about philosophies in India, you have to go to a Dayanacharya and Gauthamacharya, I mean the logicians and philosophers. But when you talk about the world and about objects out there like this table and other medium-sized dry goods which philosophers like to talk about, chairs and tables, I don’t know why, but that’s to give examples, then, of course, you can’t listen to Shankara. Now about 400 years after Shankara, there was a very very great scholar who is probably a Kashmiri. I mentioned him in another context in Hyderabad and that was Shri Harsha who said that commenting on Jaimini, who was a very old acharya probably a kind of a semi-mythical person, one of the first people who wrote commentaries on – on Vedic Samhita. He said that if in the sukta in the Veda, you find the sentence I am vruksha, this is a tree then it cannot be a real tree because if it were a real tree then it wouldn’t be in the Veda, it would be in a textbook on botany or whatever was parallel to it at that time because whatever is in the Veda must have to do with moksha, it has to be mantra, it has to be something that embellishes, that strengthens your psyche toward the acquisition of the supreme state of knowledge towards Brahma Dnyana. Therefore, if the term, if any tree or anything else is mentioned, it can’t be that, so there’s a differentiation there and you see this takes me to the next point, the main problem, an unresolved problem in Neo -Hinduism that’s the Hinduism created by the Swamis around the terminal century and of course up to this very day by the Swamis and the priests and the teachers who teach Hinduism in English, Indians who use English and think in English talking about these things they believe that since philosophy tries to correct things about the understanding of the world and about science as the philosophy of science, therefore, Vedanta is scientific or Buddhism, if you’re Buddhist teaching in English and come from Sri Lanka for instance, then you’ll hear things like these things are scientific. They’re not scientific at all. Hinduism is not scientific, thank god for it. Buddhism is not scientific. They have something else in mind, they want to free people from the miseries of life by yoga and other techniques, you know but it is not scientific. Because in order for something to be scientific it has to meet the criteria of scientificality set by Karl Popper in Britain about 40 years ago who said that for a statement to be scientific it has to be falsifiable in theory. Now no statement of the Veda or the Vedanta or of the Upanishads or of commentators is falsifiable because if you ask Shankar Acharya or any other body after him what kind of statement would falsify what the Vedas said, then of course they would have to say what the Vedas said can’t be falsified, because they are apourisheya. In other words, whatever is derived from that cannot be science because science is only what is falsifiable. Now as I said again in another context if a person makes a silly statement like the moon is made of green cheese on the other side which is turned away from us, that is a silly statement but it is a scientific statement because it can be falsified. When was it falsified? I think it was around 1965 when the astronauts went around the moon, took pictures from the other side of the moon which is turned away from the earth showing that it was not made of green cheese but made of the same matter as is made on the other side. Okay, then so that is science. Science rests on the possibility of falsification. If you cannot falsify a statement, it may be very beautiful, it may be highly religious, it may be profound, it may be poetic you know but it is not science. So, please my dear students in Andhra Pradesh, get rid of the notion, if you understand what I’m saying here in good plain English, that Hinduism is scientific. It is not scientific. No religion is scientific. Hinduism is not any more scientific than Christianity. Each of them is non-scientific. Scientific is science and philosophy because statements, any philosophical statements from the days of ancient philosophies starting in ancient Greece up to now and anywhere east or west. A philosophical statement is a (scientific) statement if it can be falsified in theory. If a statement cannot be falsified in theory then they are then like the logical axioms of let’s say Aristotelian syllogism. Then, of course, they are not really statements, they’re simply translations. When you say the law of the excluded middle and the law of identity and the law of contradiction, they are simply statements of human language. A thing cannot be A and B at the same time. But when it is profound philosophically and said, that’s possible in human language, they mutually link linguistic exclusives, all right. But what is scientific about Hinduism and Buddhism is, of course, the techniques propounded by the teachers of yogic exercises leading hopefully to states of higher insight into the connection or the essence of the human personality as the Atman or the soul, Jeeva whatever you call it. Okay, so that is scientific and why is it scientific because it can be falsified. When is a yogic technique falsified? If it doesn’t work or if instead of seeing God you become insane, that’s a clear falsification. So, therefore, Yoga is scientific because all the teachings of yoga are falsifiable in practice and that is important. In other words, the crux of Indian “philosophy “which is not philosophy at all but darshan- which I don’t like to translate at all – use the word Darshan – it’s a good noble Sanskrit word, Indian word, is therapeutic. It is not philosophy at all. It is therapy. Whatever philosophy there is solely for the purpose of getting it across in words to those who might be interested but the core of it is the sadhana and that, of course, is falsifiable only in the sense in which bad psychiatry is falsifiable, in the sense that the therapy does not help or it has opposing effect, it makes the person even sicker or even more unhappy or suffering or full of agonies, etc. Okay.
Now the next part I want to make here is rather more subtle, so I’ll try to speak a bit slow. It is possible, just possible at this time, it is possible that some of the statements of the revelation of the Sruthi of Veda also may be cognitively true but with our present state of knowledge there is no way to say it. There’s no way to know it. In other words, take for instance that very famous dictum in the Atharva Veda “bahusyAm  prajAyeya”. It says that Supreme Being, whatever it is, the Brahma, it says let me be many, let me come forth and then he or it emanated into various forms into the female principle etc. and into animals and into human beings finally we’ve got the Purushasukta. Of course, whether that supreme being takes on the shape of an enormous purusha which the god said then, cut into pieces in order to create humanity through the sacrifice which is a very complex, ancient, very poetical Vedic idea but of course philosophically it’s utter rubbish. Very beautiful poetry and it is inspiring. However, when you ask the question, isn’t it possible that the course of bahusyAm prajAyeya may have some kind of actual scientific truth in it, it is possible but the statement itself is so vague that it may well mean that, but it might also mean many other things so we simply do not know. Now the trouble in wrongly understood Indian philosophy, and very few scholars Neo-Hindus and Neo-vedantins are exempt from that problem, is that they somehow believe that you can homologize, that means that you can declare things as equal when they are not equal. For instance, I hear very often from my colleagues, Indian and some western colleagues as well, you know, the Buddhists, of course, don’t believe in the atman but their Shoonya, their concept of bodies like the Brahma. It is not, it is something very different. Now if you say but eventually they experience the anubhava, the mystical experience of shoonya and the mystical experience of the Brahma are the same, well that is very well possible, but since the experience is totally private and cannot be communicated, who knows it may be the case. Also it may be the case that the statement, the Vedic statement bahusyAm prajAyeya is something which could be described in the first origin of the world, with reference to the Big Bang but we simply don’t know that. But to say that bahusyAm prajAyeya means the Big Bang is utter rubbish. We don’t know that it is, it’s a possibility, I admit. It’s a very attractive possibility but with our present state of knowledge, it simply cannot be said.
All right
Now let me take a step further. When you go to the West today into America or Europe, you’ll find that there’s a great interest in yoga and you’ll find that the way in which Yoga is popularly understood in the West is purely therapeutic. So you’ll find things like Yoga for the West, Yoga for Christians, Yoga for Health, Yoga for Better Business, and Yoga for Better Sex and I’m not joking, I’ve seen all these things printed in respectable American and European journals. Now of course if you, as understanding Indians, if you read these titles, it probably will elicit a smile from you because that’s not the idea of yoga. You know or you ought to know that all the yoga teachers say that the object of yoga is the object of any other kind of darshan – Yoga is one of the darshans, is one of the six classical darshans, it is to realize, to understand that you are not what you think you are, that in reality, you are divine but for some reason you’ve forgotten it either through the divine Leela, something that depends on whatever sampradaya tradition you belong to. If you’re a Vaishnava, the follower of Ramanuja, you would say well this is the divine Leela, you are that you are really the divine but there is always a barrier between you or Shankar, will say well that’s like the snake and the rope, in other words, you think you see a snake but in reality you see a rope et cetera et cetera. These are all very apt and very important similes and parables and they are therapeutically helpful but philosophically they are negligible. They are not philosophy. This is very important so when we remember the title of this talk, it’s the Indian culture and philosophical therapy. Now I do not believe that philosophy in the professional sense can provide any therapy for anything except for philosophy. In other words, good philosophy is therapy for bad philosophy, you know, and as good politics is therapy for bad politics. That never happens but it could happen in theory. But I think good philosophy is terrible for man but good philosophy is no therapy for the human ills and somebody asked me yesterday at Osmania, can good philosophy cure the arms race? To which the answer is of course not. The arms race can only be cured by no arms race and of course if you talk about peace and love and kindness, you always talk to an audience which is already convinced but if you talk to Reagan and Republicans, they smile politely and may invite you for dinner but that’s all because they are not really interested in these things. So the people who believe that philosophy is good for the world because it’s good for them, they are not the same audience you know. For Pete’s sake, let’s be realistic about these things. You know. The philosopher’s job is not to cure the world, the Philosopher’s job is to cure the human mind of woolly thinking, you know. As Gilbert Ryle, one of the fathers of modern analytic philosophy once said you can of course, in English or in another language, say the lady comes with an umbrella and a bad mood. It’s perfectly good English but it’s a ridiculous statement. It’s what’s called a category error because the lady does come with an umbrella, that’s a physical statement. A bad mood is nothing with the umbrella nor with the lady. It is something in her mind you know, so the same when you say Hinduism is scientific like the lady comes with an umbrella and a bad mood. Hinduism is a religion. Please don’t say Hinduism is a way of life because everything is a way of life. If you ask Muslim, what is Islam? Is it not religious a way of life? Or we go to good Christians, is their religion not a way of life? So please don’t perpetuate all these trivialities started by Swami Vivekananda unfortunately and not cured. So therapy now is, when you want science, do science; when you want philosophy do philosophy; when you want Brahma dnyana, do yoga, you know. But just because the word philosophy sounds nice in English, it doesn’t mean that everything that’s in India has to be philosophy. There’s philosophy too, but to study philosophy, you have to study Sanskrit and logic or Prakrit and logic if interested in Jain logic which is tremendous and very large ,very sophisticated you know. Okay.
Now so the final point I’m going to make in in some detail is the question of the success of philosophical – darshanic therapy. In other words, how does it work and that takes us to a problem which I think most people, most literate people in India have been bothered about and are thinking about, at one time or the other and of course many people in the West as well. If you embark on some kind of sadhana which is the operationalization of darshan – you learn sadhana, you learn meditation on the yogic technique from some guru, from some person who identifies with a lineage, with a parampara, which is extremely important. I come back to this in a minute and you do what he or she tells you to do. You sit down, you meditate, you prepare your personality by purifying yourself morally by abstaining from certain things, by withdrawing from the outside world, by at least learning how to sit down and simply exclude the external objects, all these are techniques that can be learned. There’s nothing particularly meritorious about it. Just these are techniques you can do. Psychological techniques, psychotherapeutic, you do something to yourself, you try to do what a psychiatrist may be able to do, probably is not able to do, so you do it yourself and these are ancient hoary Indian traditions. So the success of philosophical darshanik yogic therapy can only be understood statistically. The same incidentally holds for Ayurveda. When somebody tells you that ayurvedic medicine achieves the cures of every disease as any other medicine, western medicine as well, you have to go by statistics. Now although there are great statisticians in this country, when it comes to yogic success, statisticians are not very popular, you see. Now, for instance, there are close to eight million followers of Satya Sai Baba, all of them including some PhDs in physics from Harvard University, actually believe that Satya Sai baba can generate a Murthy of Ganesha from the seashore somewhere near Bombay. Now, these are not, I mean these are not, country yokels, these are solidly trained scholars and scientists. All right, but that is a kind of a conviction which, of course, is very complex and to the extent that a person believes those things that particular Sai Baba like of yogic therapy has been successful whatever the ontological implications are. Is there really a Murthy down there which Sai Baba created out of his own mental powers or out of his siddhis or some rings or some jewels etc? Well, that is a very different question because it cannot be scientific. Because you can’t falsify, try to falsify or try to go to Sai Baba and say I want to test what you’re doing. I think you might probably get away with is a broken skull because there are all kinds of people of the Advaita party who will take care of you. Yeah, so that there is a lot of things alright but that’s not the point. I again, as I said at the beginning of this lecture, give the people the benefit of doubt. What you want from Sai Baba or what you want from any other real guru namely is therapy for your pain, for your attachments for all the things that give you grief, then, of course, you go. Then he will be a good guru for you. I am not attracted to him nor he will be attracted to me. But my gurus are of a different type. I stayed in Thiruvannamalai before Ramana Maharshi. This was the person I regard as my guru. For me the kind of therapy provided in Thiruvannamalai in the strict Advaita tradition, that is my therapy. It’s not, they say, don’t generalize across borderlands. The trouble is that science and philosophy, of course, should be generalized. A scientific statement is true only if it is universally true, if it has no exceptions. A philosophical statement is true if it has no exceptions, you know. But since therapies have negative cases, never the exact exceptions where nothing happens or something in the opposite direction happens, malfunctions then, of course, that is the kind of thing we are talking about, okay.
Now the final point I want to make, this was also pointed out in another context here in Hyderabad in the last 24 hours and that is that some very learned pundits and scholars think that if you do yoga properly, if you meditate properly and achieve some kind of spiritual insight then ipso facto you will also understand the sciences and what they often quote is the dictum Brahmai- vabhavati, that knower of Brahma becomes Brahman. Since Brahman is, of course, omniscient, the person who has religious experiential consummation would understand mathematics and physics which of course, is blatant nonsense. In order to understand mathematics and physics and logic, you have to study mathematics and physics and logic. No amount of Brahma dnyana will help you. Even the greatest “realized Souls” like Ramakrishna Paramahamsa or Ramana Maharishi etc or the Buddha knew anything about mathematics and physics. So pious followers will tell me, yes, but because they didn’t attend on it. Oh, this is nonsense. We can no longer talk like this at the end of the 20th century.
Now I would then suggest in conclusion that in order to make Hindu thought respectable not only in Indian terms but in universal pan-human terms, you have to use philosophical therapy. In other words please, this young generation of students, as you encounter the world at large since boundaries of a cultural and hopefully political order is shrinking day by day, year by year, don’t confuse popular science with science. In other words, when the swamis talk science, they don’t talk science, they talk popular and high school science. That is not science. If you check what they say by people who are devout followers of some yogic methods like Dr. George Sudarshan, he is a famous atomic physicist or Dr. Jayant Narlikar in Bombay, they will be kind of nonplussed. Vedanta and yoga are not scientific. These people are all private vedantins and yogins because they do some kind of sadhana but it has nothing to do with scientific knowledge. Okay. Now when you talk about the Indian philosophy, please remember and with this, I am concluding, that it is not philosophy in the sense in which the English word philosophy means philosophy. Because after all if you use the English word, you have to give the prerogative to the English dictionary that uses the term and that does not include what is meant by darshan. Okay, so – darshan is therapeutic and if you insist which will I suppose even in spite of this lecture, for another 20 or 30 or 40 years, people will use the word philosophy for darshan because they liked the term philosophy, it sounds nice, it means love of wisdom and isn’t that nice, you know but there is a lot of real philosophy in India but it is as technical as it is in the West. It is logic, it is epistemology, It is Nyaya, it is Nava Nyaya, it is Poorva Mimansa – very solid, tough, intellectual, sophisticated works, but they don’t help you to overcome your gripes. However what the West does not have and what the West has to learn from you is the therapy provided by yoga and yoga is a science, it can be falsified by bad yoga. With these terms, I now take leave from you and I also invite comments and questions from this audience and all of you here in Andhra Pradesh will hopefully derive some benefit from this presentation which might seem slightly antagonistic or hostile to you but it is not and this is simply these particular teachers and preachers and philosophers’ way of talking.
Thank you very much!

(Note: Transcript of the speech delivered by Agehananda Bharati in Hyderabad on the occasion of M N Roy Centenary at Ambedkar Open University. On Dr Innaiah’s invitation Agehananda Bharati accepted to deliver two talks on M N Roy and his philosophy during centenary year. He was professor of cultural anthropology in Syracuse university, New York, USA at that time. Mr Bharati was personally acquainted with M N Roy at Dehra Dun in the last days and that changed his life!)