I have started a rather long post about
– understanding philosphy
– how to develop a personal philosophy for yourself
I will be posting these in Sections spaced about a month apart. Here goes the first section. You will notice that the format is Q&A. The mor equestions YOU ask, the more I develop this concept of understanding philosophy as a set of expanding questions and answers.
The Judge and the Philosopher
(Family Conversations at the Dining Table) An Introduction to Religion and Philosophy
Dr. P. V. Ramana Bungalow No.12, Gulab view, Chembur, Mumbai 400 074
Tel + 91 22 25200363, Mobile + 91 9821065645, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Why do we have this urge to know or even understand our Scriptures, Epics, and Vedanta, and religion? I believe that this is primal need beginning with the urge to understand how the world around us functions and why people, other beings, and how the forces of nature operate.
In essence all the questions reduce to three basic questions:
– Who am I?
– What is this world around us?
– Who or what is the great force which created me and this world?
Several thinkers from the oldest known written or transmitted records and oral traditions developed cogent and well ordered systems, which purport to give most of the answers. Some systems developed into Religion and Ritual, while some other systems remained as ‘Philosophies’.
Examples of Religion:
– Egyptian practices revolving around the Sun God
– Persian and Zorastrian systems built around the ‘Fire’ principle
– Confucian Religion
– Shinto in Japan
– Druidic Gods and primitive religion in Old England
– Norse Gods and the Valhalla system in the Nordic countries
– Nature and ‘Spirit’ worship among American Indians
Examples of Phiosophy:
– Stoics of old Greece
– Spartans of Old Greece
– Theories of Socratis and his desciples
– Mechanistic Theory of the Universe
These are one idea or one person centered social movements, usually, but not always, focused on doing good to the Society, by adopting a particular set of values, positive or negative, preached by that one individual. The idea remains after the person is gone. Examples:
– Original Sai baba
– Satya Sai Baba
– Maharshi Mahesh Yogi and TM
– Rajanish and ‘Free Love’
– Ram Dev baba
– Sadhu Vaswani
– Ramakrishna Paramahansa
Some of our revered Saints in the Hindu Traditions touched core human emotions through their song and sacrifice,
– Mira Bai
– Tulasi das
– Yogi Vemana
Some other could attract a great number of devotees who developed special belief structures around a principal God Vishnu, and these beliefs developed into sub-sects within the Hindu Tradition
The latest of such a system is the ISKCON movement, which has centred on the Love between Lord Krishna and his consort Radha Maayi
It is important to distinguish between Religion, Ritual, Doctrine, Tradition, Scripture, and Commentary, and Philosophy.
It is also important to distinguish between what is “written’ and what can be inferred by argument.
Why is it important to know about systems of religious beliefs and philosophies?
Personally I believe that every person should have a self-consistent set of ideas about how he or she relates to the Society and the world around us, and that set of ideas should serve to give us a certain mental and emotional stability as we go through our particular but insignificant journey through life. I call this set of ideas and beliefs as a “Personal Philosophy”
Example of the elements of a Personal Philosophy:
– I believe in God
– I acknowledge that He is the true witness to what I do
– I will not harm others by design
– I will do only good to others within my limits
– I do not wish to show any emotion publicly
– When faced with any situation, I will think of what to do immediately and set about to do it, instead of apportioning or sharing blame
– For me, to be seen as stable and equitable at all times is a virtue
– It is my duty to share my knowledge with others
– It is better to sacrifice what is mine than to grab what belongs to others
– I will try to tell the truth at all times
Any one can add or delete to these set of ideas, for themselves as long as these ideas or consistent in themselves. One does not need a Religion to have a philosophy!
This book is written as a set of questions, the main protagonists being a retired Judge and a Guru who visits the Judge frequently. I want all of you to send me more questions so I can introduce characters and ask questions and figure out the answers as well
Family Conversations : Section 1
Retired Judge Rao fidgeted and settled himself once again in the cane sofa in the outside verandah. He was still irritated a bit, being ousted from the comfortable sofa-recliner in the living room, now occupied by a Priest and his Paraphernalia. His wife Sakunthala is doing the “Satyanarayana vratam”. It was way beyond his lunch time, and I guess retired persons like the dear Judge put more attention on a regular lunch and siesta than we do! The making of a delicious lunch were wafting their flavors from the kitchen and inviting him in, while the drone of the “Mantra” chanting by the priest was keeping him out! Sakunthala came out to appease him with a glass of Horlicks, and he barked out her “How many times in a month you are doing this puja ? There is a limit !”
Sakunthala gave him a look, which all but said – “ You are incorrigible” and went back inside. Judge Rao retired as a Supreme Court Justice nearly a year ago, and as a man wedded to principles of law, factual analysis and Justice, and due to the niceties of his position and profession, developed very few friendships. Only now a days he is forced to engage in some conversations with the odd visitor. Before retirement, to have a decent conversation with him was nearly impossible for his family and children. The Hon. Judge is totally averse to ritual, Puja and celebration of religious days like “Ekadasi” etc, which were so dear to his wife. He argues – “Why even the Supreme God should be burdened with a body, wife, children , and problems in life ! “
This is all nonsense, he says. If the God cannot survive without offerings of food and clothes, what he can do for us? A God has to be different from ordinary humans. That is why the scriptures say “Nirguna Brahma” – The one without name or shape is the true God. The good judge has some ideas on this, but never had the time to do such reading. He likes such ideas since they are logical perhaps.
He has never dealt deeply in philosophical ideas before. Only recently, after the casual friendship with Acharya has developed, he is tolerating and sometimes participating in philosophical talks. Today Acharya has been invited to dine with the family and take the “Prasad “offering of the Satyanarayana Puja. Acharya has not arrived on time, adding to the irritation of Judge Rao. His mind dwelt on the foolishness of old ladies who believe in Ritual and Puja, and squander money on gifts to Swamis, Babas and Puja fees to Brahmin Priests. ”Not only Ladies, even, some educated men also see God in photos, pieces of stone, and metal and ritual chants. Why they cannot spend their time during useful works for good of Society? This is nothing but a big fraud!“. While musing so, the garden gate creaked, sounding the arrival of Acharya.
Sri Purushottama Acharya, a retired Professor of English Literature had recently settled in the same suburb. Casual meetings during Morning Walks led to a standing invitation to the Rao House. Sakunthala likes his religious bent of mind and easy way of explaining complex ideas and thus he has become a regular visitor on Puja days in the Rao Household.
The judge almost got up from his sofa on seeing Acharya, but remembered his position (Supreme Court Justice!) and sat down abruptly again. Acharya did not seem to notice this. Education and Culture do bring humility. Listening to the sounds from living room he remarked – “Sakunthala seems to be doing her “Satyanarayana Puja” today, What is the occasion ?”
“What is there? My wife believes that even if our dog has puppies, it is because of her God’s blessing !” replied the judge , showing a little resentment at the delayed lunch and disturbance to his set habits.
“Probably you do not believe that is the case“, Acharya said probing the Judge. During this past year, he has learnt how to drive the judge into a conversation.
“You two are a piece from the same cloth” Rao retorted hotly expressing his irritation and anger in a few chosen words. Hearing the raised tone, Sakunthala peeped into the Verandah and welcomed Acharya “Acharyaji, since how long you are here? At least you could have told me he has arrived!“ this last arrow at her husband. She hurried back inside, and brought him a glass of Buttermilk to drink. “It will take at least an hour more for the Puja to be completed. We can eat immediately afterwards”.
“One hour more! She is wasting her time. Instead she could use the time to do some gardening, or grow vegetables which would be time well-spent and has a useful product “ Rao is grumbling while his stomach is growling!
Thus given an opening, Acharya started a conversation.
“Judge sir, I am watching your irritation all this time. Do you really believe that the Prayer and ritual worship is a mere waste?”
“Yes! You tell to me what earthly use is there for self or society? This is all useless, utterly useless!”
“These prayers and Rituals for special days are in our culture and society since a very long time. Do you say that all our ancestors were engaged in a really stupid and useless ritual?”
“Yes, that is why our country is so backward! Look at Britain or America and see how fast they are progressing.”
“In your opinion, no one is wasting their time on prayer and worship in America or Britain?” Looking like a Defense lawyer, who has just caught the prosecutor in a major mis-statement, Acharya had a growing smile on his face.
“They have Churches and Prayers, no doubt” replied Rao, “But in India, it is the priests who are wasting everybody’s time.”
“I don’t see any difference in the work done by Pastors and Bishops and Imams in those countries and the work of our Brahmin Priests in India” replied Acharya. Rao had to literally bite his tongue! “After all these years as a Judge, I am caught in the words of an ordinary English Professor!” – he thought. Trying to justify himself quite unsuccessfully he tried another trick “Yes, I agree they have also their beliefs and rituals, but not as much as we have. We have to go really deep into this topic” – He tried his best to change the topic.
After ruminating for a minute, Acharya shot another arrow at him. “What I want to know is this. Do you believe that in the Ritual prayers that your wife is so fond of, there is no God; or that this is not the way to worship God; or that God is not in this shape or form we worship; or even that God does not need any of this ?”
A logical and structured statement appeals to the legal mind of a Judge. Rao’s mood changed and he replied with a smile “Acharya, you should have been a member of the Bar! I want to ask you something. What is the use of a God? Can we not lead our daily life without thinking about or worrying about a God? Why do we need the concept of God at all? We can earn, eat, live and die absolutely without any God! Why all this? Cultivating a small coconut farm is enough for a peaceful life!”
“What do you get from a coconut farm?”
“Coconuts! Eat what you can, and sell the rest”
“What do you get from a Mango garden?”
The judge was a little offended that Acharya is asking him childish and elementary questions. But since he is quite accustomed to Defense lawyers leading a witness, he contained himself and replied.
“Mangoes! Eat what you can and sell the rest!”
“Coconuts, or Mangoes, or Apples, or this or that, are we satisfied with this?”
‘Satisfaction? Satisfaction?’ The judge questioned himself and spoke his mind – “Yes we can say we are satisfied for the sake of argument, but it is human nature that all of us will want to buy some more land, a little bigger house. This desire is basic”
“You can buy more land for a farm, plant more trees, produce more, and if then you still want more, you can buy more lands and lakes and estates. Will you be satisfied then?”
Judge Rao became curious now. Acharya is really leading up to something and deserves to be humored. The leading questions continued.
“Suppose a man has got all possible fixed properties like lands and estates and farms and houses, will he be happy, contented and comfortable?” This has to be answered, thought Rao ‘No there is something lacking, what is it?’.
His grand daughter Vimi, an ebullient seven year old, came in with a flask of buttermilk and 2 glasses, kept them on the Tea table and ran back inside. That gave an idea to Judge Rao, pouring the buttermilk into the glasses, he said “only lands and houses are not enough, we need animals to give milk and food and labor.”
“Ok, suppose man acquires animals which give milk and food and labor also, will that lead him to happiness and contentment?” As Judge Rao lapsed into silence, thinking deeply about the issues raised by Acharya, a lull in the Puja chant allowed the cricket commentary from Vimi’s bedroom to seep into the verandah. As Judge poured the buttermilk into the glasses, Acharya spoke again – “I will also add this, in addition all lands and all animals, man also acquires products of technology and manufacturing. Will he then be happy and content? Will his satisfaction be complete?”
The Judge looked at Acharya in askance at the last word “complete?”
“Happiness being complete means that man should be able to say for himself – I have no more wants, and the happiness, comfort and contentment which I have acquired along with possessions of lands, houses, animals, birds and artifacts of manufacture will always be there and will continue to grow”.
The judge smiled and said, “This is all right, but a man needs a wife and children!” Acharya did not smile back, but said a bit seriously “Is that enough? Or, man needs mothers, sisters, parents, and friends?”
This put the Judge into a studied silence again, as he kept thinking that man needs other men and women and children and so on to get ‘Happiness’. Acharya continued in a lighter vein “yes we also need Lawyers, and Litigants and Witnesses and Clerks and Judge and Jury too!” Judge Rao laughed at these words along with Acharya.
“What I mean is that Humans need all the needful things from the animate and inanimate world, also these categories are mutually dependent. Even the Animals and lands need men!”
“Yes indeed” said the Judge, all these categories depend on each other for continuance of existence and mutual benefit. “You are a Professor Acharyaji, why don’t you write a booklet on this subject?”
“This is not such a great thing. As a lawyer and promoted as a Judge at an early age, you have given your life to the study of law and justice. That is why you have not used your power of learning and analysis in this direction! Almost everyone with a smattering of philosophy knows about his”
“No, no, I do not like philosophy at all. Philosophers exhort you to leave the society and community and lead a life of detachment and celibacy. Whenever I used to get cases with Religious angles, I have tried to get them transferred to another judge or even another court! I never tried religious cases in my court!”
“I am surprised that a person of your stature is committing two ordinary mistakes in understanding what philosophy is. The first error is to think that philosophy teaches detachment etc. Philosophy is nothing but a search for truth. The second error is to confuse philosophy with Religion. Religion has to do mostly with a system of beliefs. The average man, who confuses these two is really mixed up! Philosophy, and its study is quite distinct from Religion”
Judge Rao was not put off this curt observation. He never thought deeply about religion or philosophy. A life devoted to study of law and the constitution, he entered the judicial service very early in life. As a judge, he would not attend social or Religious functions or discourses as a rule, and would not even read the newspapers deeply lest they influence his judgment on the bench! Moreover he was never really interested in God or Religion or Philosophy and would be least bothered to read about the matter even if he had the time. But now after his retirement he is not unwilling to learn new things!
“Please explain to me a little more in detail about philosophy” asked the Judge bending a little forward to show his curiosity and attention.
When faced with any issue or topic, it is one of the first principles of Philosophy to ask the questions – why, how, when, who, what etc and obtain answers. For instance, we have just examined how the three great categories – the Humankind, the entire animate world and the inanimate world are mutually dependent! As we continue this inquiry along logical lines of thought, the set of answers will be the result of a “Philosophical” inquiry!”
The priest came in from the living room, and announced “The Puja is over, please come and get blessings and the offerings. His duffel bag was overflowing with fruits and sweets and the100 Rupee notes together with Betel leaves clutched in his hand showed that Sakunthala had already received her blessings!
“Oh God! At last the Puja is over, Acharyaji, I always thought Philosophy means the study of “Vedas” and “Vedanta”. Vedanta preaches that this world we know is not real; at least that is what I remember to have read about Sankaracharya and Ramanujacharya. Even Ramakrishna said the same thing!
” But your ideas are different ?”