Why study the past when there is so much to do for the future?

There are three types of responses by anyone to any topic – Acceptance, Rejection or Indifference. When we ask the question ‘Why study history?’ all of us would come under either one of these three categories. I’m listing down a few areas and a few thoughts as to why I believe that history has to be dealt more seriously than how it is done today.

Bharata’s Natya Shastra:
Written by Bharata Muni around 200 BCE deals with classical performing arts. In music, percussion instruments and dance, he deals in great detail with the topic of Combinatorics (Permutations and Combinations). He discusses about the rasas (unfortunately, there is no English word for rasa) that arise in a person while watching/listening to Classical art forms and how these rasas affect the mind of a person. In case of dance, he talks in detail about how the facial muscles have to be moved to generate a particular kind of rasa in the audience. It is the best guidebook for those who wish to pursue Classical art forms. Is there a detailed guide book in modern times that goes into the subtle nuances of art forms which will enable an artist to excel in his area?

Like any other shastra that originated in India, the goal of Ayurveda too is ‘Self-Realisation’. Ayuh+Veda=Ayurveda. Ayuh is defined as shareera indriya aatma samyogah – when all the three (body, senses and soul) come together, it is called Ayuh. Again, body, senses and soul don’t even come close to the exact definitions of shareera, indriya and aatma. The knowledge (Veda) that can lead one to Self-Realisation when all the three come together is Ayurveda. Ayurveda is not just a science of medicine. Major part of Ayurveda deals with the aspects of how to stay healthy. Follow the prescriptions in it and one will stay healthy. If someone doesn’t follow it well and falls ill, then how to cure their illness is discussed in the remaining part of Ayurveda. It is based on principles like – Kapha, Pitta and Vaata; Satva, Rajas and Tamas, which cannot be defined according to modern-day science. Based on these principles, the science of Ayurveda prescribes how a person can live a healthy life so that he can live a life of righteousness, become prosperous and fulfill his desires and get liberated from sorrows (Dharma, Artha, Kaama and Moksha). Before we put all this in the garage and label it as unscientific or primitive or based on some superstitions, let us look into the work of people like Prof. Thelma who are taking efforts to do experiments based on Ayurveda to see if we can find genes that cause disorders which the modern-day science have been trying to figure out and success seems to be a far away dream. A couple of links for a short read are:
It would be interesting to compare the definition of health given by WHO recently and Ayurveda millenniums ago.
1. World Health Organization: – “Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”
2. Ayurveda – ‘Health is a state where in the Tridosha, Digestive fire, all the body tissues & components, all the physiological processes are in perfect unison and the soul, the sense organs and mind are in a state of total satisfaction (prasanna) & content”

Being a Mathematics teacher, I will talk about the issues with Mathematics education. Today, a topic like Combinatorics is dreaded by most students. If we teach them the topic using Music and Poetry as given in texts like Natya shastra, Sangitaratnakara, it will make a lot more sense and make the subject very beautiful (I have tried and tested this since past 4 years). Texts like Lilavati by Bhaskaracharya II give very good pedagogical aspects of how a topic can be taught to students. Learning ancient Indian texts not just give the knowledge but also subtler aspects like pedagogy, ethics, etc.

Logical and Rational Thinking:
One can afford to be illiterate but by being illogical one might have to pay a heavy price. How to use different ways of proving/disproving things? How to evaluate if the given information is correct or not? These are things that people of any profession has to do. Today, there is hardly any course that enables a person to enhance his logical thinking. The millennium old philosophies like Vaisheshika, Nyaya, Vedanta, etc. develop a rational thinking. How? Because all these philosophies have evolved over a period of time through discussions, debates and dialogues. They are not dogmas that were given by one single person for the whole of humanity. This way of learning also allows a person to be liberal in the true sense because he is open to new ideas and ready to change his stance if needed. The fact that there were very many different philosophies that co-existed in India in the past, that itself proves that it has to do something with the religious teachings which allowed them to accept/tolerate/respect people from other belief systems and not try to wipe them off.

When we talk about Sanskrit, what is generally missed in the Grammar structure of Sanskrit that Panini gave. Generally people think it is just about the language Sanskrit. But what is fascinating is the robust structure of Sanskrit grammar that Panini gave which can be applied to any language. Panini’s Ashtadhyayi gives the grammar rules that can make any language strong and not just Sanskrit. He uses iterations, recursions, formulae that can generate different words and much much more in a precise text which will not run into more than 50 pages. It for these reasons that it is been studied today by Computer Scientists and Linguists to see how Computer Science can benefit from Sanskrit in creating a better Machine Language.
Above all the other advantages of Sanskrit, what is most important is that the treasure box of knowledge that our ancestors possessed can be unlocked only with Sanskrit. We need to learn Sanskrit for the sake of unlocking the treasure box and taking out the pearls.

To conclude, these are just few areas where India stood in glory in the past. The list is very long and probably endless. It cannot be completed, but this writing has to conclude. Hence resting with only a few subjects where India contributed. There are lot of other areas like Yoga, Meditation, Mathematics, Pure Sciences, Philosophy, Music, Martial arts, Architecture, Engineering, Statecraft, Ethics, where India has contributed to the world.

The study of history is not (and should not) be just confined to taking the pride of a great ancestry but to see how it can be used today to make ourselves as better human beings resulting in a better world. Today the people who accept that Indic studies should be taken more seriously, they themselves should take efforts to study and learn more about Indian history before commenting about something so that they don’t fall prey to false claims. We should also not forget that by learning Indic traditions and culture one can make the future bright.
For those who don’t believe that Indic studies should not be glorified/studied, need to first take an effort to study before they comment. Man is an emotional being that has the capability to think rationally. But by nature, man is not a rational being. Even after we watch a movie that has enthralled us, we would be tempted to share and glorify about the movie. It is very natural. Some of us are not feeling the thrill in the scriptures probably because we have just went through it superficially and the arrogance of a modern-day educated man is not allowing us to accept the fact that we haven’t understood it well. It is not just one philosophy that we have to fit into, there are many which can appeal to our thoughts and we can find a place there.
For those who are indifferent, make an attempt to study Indian scriptures. Try.


~ Notes from Seminar and Tutorials on Science and Technology in Indic Studies at IISc Bangalore Feb 3-6, 2017

Who discovered Zero?

Who discovered Zero? It is generally believed that Aryabhatta discovered Zero. But truly speaking, he did not. It is a wrong information that has been spread during the course of time for reasons unknown. One may ask how we can say that. It is because in the treatises written by him which is available today, there is no mention of discovery of Zero. Who then discovered Zero?

When we talk about discovery of Zero, we need to think what type of Zero are we referring to. For a layman, he would not be thinking beyond the meaning of Zero as ‘nothing’. But Zero degree Celsius doesn’t mean there is no temperature. Here, Zero is a place holder between positive and negative numbers. This notion of Zero must have come while negative numbers were first discussed by Brahmagupta (7th century Indian Mathematician) who was the first one to discuss about rules for operations with negative integers (12 centuries before the West started discussing about negative integers).

The Babylonians and Greeks had some notion of Zero but that was not the kind of Zero that we use today (refer the two links given at the end of this article). It was Pingala (300 BCE) the author of Chandass Shastra (one of the 6 Vedangas) who used Zero as a symbol for the first time in History. Pingala was also the originator of Binary Mathematics (Ref: ‘History of Mathematics in India from Vedic Period to Modern Times‘ online course on NPTEL, lecture on Pingala by Prof. M.D.Srinivas, Institute of Policy Studies). Pingala also dealt with Permutations and Combinations (2 millenniums before it was discussed in the West). It is very clear that for discussing such areas of Mathematics the knowledge of Zero is very important.

In other civilisations during the period of Pingala, Mathematics was not that advanced and they could manage without Zero. In fact, due to the lack of knowledge of Zero, they lagged behind in Mathematics.

So who discovered Zero? The answer is ‘we don’t know’. Looking at the kind of Mathematics that was dealt in India during the BCE period, it can be said that the use of Zero as not just a symbol, but as place holder and a symbol for nothing should have happened in India. But as Indians weren’t interested in accrediting their names to discoveries, it is not known who discovered Zero. As a matter of historical evidence, all that can be said is that it is in Pingala’s Chandass Shastra that we find the appearance of Zero as a symbol (as a digit) for the first time. In other civilisations, till that time zero was used only for absence of something. The development of decimal place value system should have developed somewhere between the period of Pingala (300 BCE) and Aryabhatta -1 (5th Cent CE) because by the time of Aryabhatta the decimal place value system was very much in use.

(Some interesting reads can be http://yaleglobal.yale.edu/about/zero.jsp


NPTEL Course on History of Indian Mathematics https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p2WankcGP3Q&list=PLbMVogVj5nJThf31TNSQzuN7zqxe7HdRN)

6 different means of knowledge explained in Vedanta

6 different means of knowledge explained in Vedanta

~ (Understandings from the Webinar series of Chinmaya International Foundation on Panchadasi)

Vedanta gives 6 different means by which knowledge is gained.

  1. Pratyaksha – Direct perception. Things that we directly perceive come under pratyaksha. E.g. Things we see, hear, taste, touch, feel or even the thoughts because we directly perceive them in our mind.
  2. Anumaana – Inference. Even though we might not see fire, from smoke we infer that there is fire. This type of gaining knowledge through inference is called Anumaana.
  3. Upamaana – Knowledge gained through similarity. E.g. A person is going to a forest. His friend warns him that there are bisons in the forest. If you see one, immediately run away. But this person has not seen a bison. So his friend explains to him that it is huge and looks like a cow. Now when the person goes to the forest and he see a similar creature, he understands that it’s a bison. Even though he has not seen a bison before (pratyaksha) nor has he inferred this knowledge (through anumaana), he has gained the knowledge through similarity, and this process is called Upamaana.
  4. Arthaapatti – Postulation. E.g. Devadatta is a fat healthy person. But no one has seen Devadatta eating during day time. So one can infer that he would be eating at night definitely otherwise he cannot stay so healthy without eating at all. Here, one postulates to explain what one has cognised. This method of knowledge is called Arthaapatti.
  5. Anupalabdhi – Non-comprehension. E.g. Someone asks a person to checck if Devadatta is there in the hall. He goes, checks and finds outs that Devadatta is not there. He comes back to say that Devadatta is not there. In this case, he has not seen Devadatta, but he has gained the knowledge that Devadatta is not there because of the absence. This process is called Anupalabdhi.
  6. Shabda – a trustworthy word/source. We know that the Alps and Andes exist even though all of us have not gone to there. That is because we have learnt about it through our geography textbooks. Such type of gaining knowledge through a trustworthy source is called Shabda.

There is nothing in this world that cannot be cognised by any of the above six. Any type of knowledge gained will come under one or more of the above categories.

How to argue and win?

An interesting profound discussion between a Vedantin and a Naiyyayika (follower of Nyaya philosophy).

Caution: Read only if you are willing to rattle your brains on logic.

In the 50th verse of Panchadasi, a Naiyyayika (follower of Nyaya philosophy) asks the propounder of the text who is a Vedantin (follower of Vedanta philosophy), that how can words (Mahavakyas like ‘Tat Tvam Asi’) indicate the Supreme Reality (as the Vedantin is claiming), because words have properties (JAti, GuNa, desha, KAla) and properties cannot indicate the Supreme Reality (as claimed by the Naiyyayika) for two reasons:

1. The Vedantin is saying that Supreme Reality is beyond name, forms and any other property. How can words (which always have properties) indicate something which does not have a property?
2. Because of point #1 one would be forced to conclude that the wordings of the Mahavakyas can only indicate something which does have a property. This means that the Supreme Reality is something which does have a property. This is again contradictory to what the Vedantin had earlier proposed (that the Supreme Reality is beyond name, form and other property).
Hence the Naiyyayika tries to establish that the words of the Mahavakyas cannot indicate the Supreme Reality.

This question is countered by the Vedantin. Since the question comes under the Vitanda way of argument (refer to my earlier post on three types of arguments), the Vedantin chooses to apply the ‘UShTra laguda nyAya’ which is to beat the opponent using the points from his own argument.

The Vedantin says, “Oh opponent, you say about properties and since you are a specialist in properties, before we discuss whether Mahavakyas can indicate the Supreme Reality or not, let us discuss what is the substratum of these ‘properties’…on what do they stand?” He continues, “There are two possibilities. Either the properties can come from something which has does not have a property or from something which has a property. Let us discuss on that case by case.”

Case #1: Assuming that properties come from something that does not have a property – This is would be self contradictory because something cannot come from nothing.
Case #2: Assuming that properties come from something that does have a property. Here we come across four different contradictions (doShAs)

Case #2.1: Contradiction of Self-dependence: – If the substratum of property A is dependent on property B, then there are two possibilities. Either A and B are same or A and B are different.
Case #2.1.1: If A and B are same, then it means B is the substratum of A and A is the substratum of B. How can B be the locus of A if A is the locus of B? How can A stand on something (B) where that (B) itself is standing on A? E.g. If we say, what is the substratum of an apple (A). The substratum would be some base (B). How can the base (B) be the substratum (on which it stands) be the same as the apple (A)? So this is contradictory. Hence there is a contradiction of Self-Dependence. Hence we are forced to assume that A and B should be different which leads to Case #2.2.
Case #2.2: Contradiction of Mutual-dependence: – If A and B are different, and if the substratum of property A is dependent on property B, and the substratum of property of B is dependent on property C, then there are two possibilities. Either C and A are same or C and A are different.
Case #2.2.1: If C and A are same, then it means that the substratum of B is A because in #2.2 we have assumed that the substratum of B is C and here we are considering C=A. In this case, it would mean that A is the substratum of B and B is the substratum of A which is contradictory by mutual-dependence because we cannot say that the substratum of the Apple is the Base and the substratum of the Base is the apple. Hence we are forced to believe that C and A are different which leads to Case #2.2.2
Case #2.2.2: Contradiction by Cyclic-dependence: – If we assume that C and A are different, and that the substratum of A is B and substratum of B is C, then the substratum of C should be something like D. Here again we have two possibilities. Either D and A are same or D and A are different.
Case # If D and A are same, then it means that C=A because in Case #2.2.2 we considered B as the substratum of A, C as the substratum of B, and D as the substratum of C which is contradictory because the dependence of A, B & C will be cyclic. How can the substratum of an Apple be a Base whose substratum is (let us say) a Chair whose substratum is again the Apple? This we are forced to believe that the D and A are different which would lead to Case #
Case # If D and A are different and the substratum of A is B, substratum of B is C, substratum of C is D, then the substratum of D should be some property E. Again there can be two possibilities. Either E and A are same or E and A are different. If E and A would be same, then it would mean that D=A (by the logic of cyclic-dependence). Else, E and A would be different. If they are different, then the substratum of E should be property F. This will go on infinitely. Hence we have a case of the fourth contradiction – Contradiction by Infinite Regression.

The Vedantin now asks, “Oh opponent Naiyyayika, please tell me, what is the substratum of a property? We have proved that the substratum cannot be something which does not have a property nor can it be something that does have a property. So before you argue that Mahavakyas cannot indicate the Supreme Reality because It is property-less, first tell me where does your ‘property’ come from? What is its substratum?”

Thus, using UShTra laguda nyAya, the Vedantin has muted the opponent.

This depth of this entire argument is covered in just one verse. One can only be left with awe on how deep and subtle the philosophical arguments explained in our scriptures like Panchadasi are!


Three types of arguments

There are three types of arguments explained in Hindu philosophy – Vaada, Jalpa, Vitanda

1. Vaada – When two or more people are arguing about a topic and the objective of the argument is to get clarity over the topic and arrive at a proper conclusion, it is called Vaada. A person engaged in Vaada doesn’t have a pre-conceived notion. For the same reason, the argument is not to prove his point right, but to arrive at the Truth.

2. Jalpa – When two or more people are arguing to prove their point is right and that the other person(s) is/are wrong, it is called Jalpa. Here, the person is already convinced that he is correct and the other person is wrong. So the whole argument is an attempt to win by proving the other person(s) wrong. Needless to say, there is a pre-conceived notion in the mind.

3. Vitanda – When the purpose of argument is only to prove that the other person is wrong and the opponent who places the argument doesn’t have any specific stand of his own, it is called Vitanda. If we ask a person whose argument is like Vitanda on his opinion is about the right thing, he would say that he doesn’t have an opinion (or rather, he is not bothered about it) but he knows that the other person is wrong.

These are some understanding from our weekly Webinar sessions on Panchadasi conducted by Chinmaya International Foundation.

During any argument if we are not in the state of Vaada, it is better not to argue.


Why celebrate Festivals?

holi 1
​Why celebrate Festivals, is a question that I have asked as a teenager and young adult to my mother and to myself. Off late I got some answers and here are some thoughts on them.

Festivals are usually seen as a religious occasion to celebrate. However, the only aspect behind festivals is not just to please God or to follow a custom blindly. Festivals give an opportunity for people in a community to come together. They are the occasions for us to get out of our routine and take a break. It’s an instance for people to mingle with each other, forgive and forget any past grudges and celebrate. It’s a chance for people of all ages to socialise. Certain festivals like Ganesh Chaturthi, Navaratri, etc happen at a large scale in many areas. One might think that they create a lot of noise pollution and pollute the environment, which is true. But the same things can be taken care of and the festivals can still be celebrated in an eco-friendly way. Those who see only the negatives in festivals fail to see the positives behind them. We see so many youngsters taking leadership skills and organising big events during such festivals. Those are opportunities for them to grow. The people who might have wiled away their time otherwise would now be associated with a cause and would be working selflessly. When we fail to see that, it is then we see only negatives.

Festivals, as I see, are most important in today’s times more than how much it was in the past. The stress that everyone, right from a primary school kid to elderly people, will be busted when they engage in festivals and celebrations. The children who are glued these days to gadgets, TV and computers will come out and do something more productive. If we take away all these opportunities, we are snatching away a great deal of opportunities from our children to learn a lot of life skills.

But many celebrations lead to polluting the environment? Yes, they do. The fireworks of Diwali does pollute the air. Water is consumed more in Holi and plastic also is used. So is milk ‘wasted’ in Shiv ratri. And Ganesh Chaturthi causes water pollution. Let us think over the air, water, noise and land-pollution in detail.

When we go to buy some grocery, the shopkeeper immediately gives the things in a polythene cover which is extremely harmful for our planet and we all know that. What are we doing against it? How many of us can vow that we will not use polythene covers and will cut down plastic consumption by atleast 95%? How many voices do we hear against this? Hardly any. Why? Because it requires effort to do that. It’s not easy. Voicing against the celebrations is easy, it does not require any effort to do year-long.

How many people resort to walking instead of taking vehicles atleast for minimum distances? Why is it that they don’t think of air pollution which many of us are suddenly reminded of before Diwali? The answer is simple…it requires effort. But voicing against ban of crackers doesn’t require any effort.

There are so many posts that come on social media on why milk is wasted on God. Why not give it to the poor and needy? How many of those who question this, have went out and given a glass of milk to the needy? Again why not? Because it requires effort and voicing doesn’t require any effort.

The submerging of Ganesh idols causes a lot of water pollution. This is true. Then why don’t we ban Ganesh idols that are made out of plaster of paris? Why not decide to buy Ganesh idols made out of mud? Why not? Because idols made out of clay are costlier.

Just before Holi every year, there is a huge cry on saving water by not playing Holi or helping poor farmers by not playing Holi. This is echoed blindly by many people because they don’t pause to think. Or may be it gives a happiness to their ego when they say that they have not played Holi and are concerned about the environment. Where are these people when the farmers need help and not their sympathy? Where are these people when the private swimming pools and pools in housing societies are functioning throughout the year? How is it that a ban on Holi is all that they can think of for conserving water? If they are so much concerned why is their voice not coming up on all the above mentioned occasions? The answer is simple. It is not their fault. They are not realising that they are getting influenced by someone else’s thinking.


By this I don’t mean that we should harm the environment. The point is ‘why all these points come up only before festivals of a certain community?’ This is a genuine question we need to think. We also need to think how we get influenced by such slogans raised by certain people against celebrating certain festivals. Do we see messages like ‘save animals’ before Bakri-Eid? Aren’t they part of the planet? Why is our concern about the planet prejudiced against only certain things? Why don’t we protest against smoking with the same aggression as against Diwali crackers? Why don’t we try to reduce our own consumption of fuel? Why don’t we try to save water everyday and reduce on plastic everyday? Rather than expecting not to do things on certain days and making a small difference, why not do small things daily and make a big difference?

Journey to the Himalayas – books available

​Journey to the Himalayas is a 108-page pictorial travelogue of the journey of two brothers and their 18-day stay in the Himalayas and trek upto 14600 feet. The travelogue will take you through their journey and land your mind into the Himalayas.

The book is a fundraiser for the project ‘Chinmaya Pradeep’, and outdoor multimedia multi-medium exhibition on the teachings of Swami Chinmayananda.

Now the book is available for purchase online as well as in select Chinmaya Mission centres in and outside Mumbai. Refer attachment for more details.


J to H available