Bharat devised her indigenous thought system not just for knowing but for realising what we know. While keeping Moksha as the ultimate goal, which is to be achieved through Para Vidya, Indians have also excelled in Apara Vidya since the dawn of their intellectual evolution
By J Nandakumar
Vidya Ya Vimuktaye! Knowledge is that which liberates. This one line encapsulates the very essence of Bharatiya view of knowledge, which is inherently immortal, infinite, and value-based. Here a question naturally arises that cannot be left unanswered in pursuit of unfolding the much neglected Hindu epistemology: Why do we hold our knowledge system immortal? The answer in words of one syllable is, it is Arsha Vidya, the vision of Rishis.
What is perfection? or What is the highest level of human existence? Endowed with clarity of mind and purity of living, it was our Rishis, the greatest minds of all times, who sought answer to the fundamental question that surfaced in primordial minds. Through a life of self-discipline and meditation they endeavoured to find out the truth and revealed its timeless exposition to the humanity through impressive and vibrant dialogues and profoundly beautiful poetry. This novel and integral approach coupled with ardent devotion to Rita, the eternal principle of natural order, is what which has made our literatures and knowledge system immortal.
For us, unlike the Western perspective, knowledge is not just fact, information, or skill acquired through experience or education. In addition, it should be capable of liberating the humankind. It is not just about knowing but realising. It is inherent in Indian thought and ingrained in the very name of our nation, Bharat. As it connotes Bharat is the nation that finds joy in ‘give and take of knowledge’. Max Muller, in his book India: What It Can Teach Us?, has aptly put it in his own words, “If I were asked under what sky the human mind has most fully developed some of its choicest gifts, has most deeply pondered over the greatest problems of life, and has found solutions of some of them which well deserve the attention even of those who have studied Plato and Kant, I should point to India. And if I were to ask myself from what literature we who have been nurtured almost exclusively on the thoughts of Greeks and Romans, and of the Semitic race, the Jewish, may draw the corrective which is most wanted in order to make our inner life more perfect, more comprehensive, more universal, in fact more truly human a life… again I should point to India.”
The western view of knowledge system can be comprised into an organised structure and a dynamic process, which involves generating and representing content, components, classes, or types of knowledge. Adding on to the Western view, as noted academician Kapil Kapoor observed, we have always attached a great value to knowledge in India that is ancient and uninterrupted like the flow of Ganga and from Veda to Aurobindo knowledge or Jnana has been at the centre of all rational and speculative inquiry in Bharat.
Bhagavat Gita (4.33, 37-38) also views knowledge as the great purifier and liberator of the self. As far as India’s knowledge tradition is concerned, three terms have greater prominence in the discourse. They are Darshana, Jnana and Vidya. Darshana is the point of view or Philosophy that leads or yields to Jnana or Knowledge. When knowledge gathered about a particular domain is organised and systematised for purposes of, say, reflection and pedagogy, it is called Vidya or discipline.
India is home for an incredibly large body of intellectual texts. We can claim world’s largest collection of manuscripts which cover almost all domains of knowledge. For us, not a single stream of knowledge was treated untouchable, so the insights and inferences of our ancient thinkers are found fitting even for the modern superstructure of knowledge.
In Mundakopanishad, the entire body of organised knowledge is divided into two, Para Vidya (knowledge of the ultimate principle) and Apara Vidya (Knowledge of the worldly domain). We have 18 theoretical disciplines of Vidya. Complementary to that, there are 64 applied or vocational disciplines as well, that is known as Kalas. Vidya is spread across four Vedas, four Upavedas and six Vedangas or auxiliary sciences like phonetics, grammar, metre, astronomy, rituals and philology. Meanwhile, Kalas are very closely interwoven to ordinary life at the same time, it offered the masess the means of livelyhood. There was no scope for a comparison between art and craft in Indian tradition. So the art is neither superior to craft, nor is craft superior.
Oral tradition of Bharat (Ukti Parampara) is another great repository of knowledge. Knowledge has been constituted, stored and maintained in the framework of the oral culture. Ancient Indians used various techniques for memorisation of knowledge. Max Muller again hails our oral tradition in his India-What It can Teach Us? “This may sound startling, but what will sound more startling, and yet is a fact that can be easily ascertained… at the present moment, if every MS of the Rig Veda was lost, we should be able to recover the whole of it—from the memory of the Srotriyas in India… Here then we are not dealing with theories, but with facts, which anybody may verify. The whole of the Rig Veda, and a great deal exists at the present moment in the oral tradition.”
Still, we maintained a great lexicon like Amarakosa and grammar texts like Panini’s Ashtadhyayi which even details minute pitch variation of pronunciation. We also used different methods of text maintenance or renewal mechanisms like Commentary or Bhashya, Redaction, Adaptation, Translation, Popular exposition (Pravachana Parampara), Recreation etc. To ensure exact reconstruction of the texts, they were reanalysed and rearranged in various permutations and memorised by a number of scholars.
Many modern academicians have praised the deep knowledge of Hindus in taxonomy. Kapil Kapoor writes, “Bharatiya mind is acutely taxonomic and the layered structure of the texts reflects the structured analysis of the domain of knowledge. Four layered embedding enables the identification of statements through a 4 pt reference to their location in the overall text down to the particular sutra and karika… Veda Mahabharata Arthashastra etc. Though complex, it is stable too.”
More importantly, our highly institutionalised education system was all-inclusive that never refused to impart knowledge to any section of society. Contrary to the colonial and Leftist propaganda, our ancient Rishis have never kept knowledge esoteric or restricted only to a certain class.
As said before, in Indian thought system, Moksha is the ultimate Goal, that too not at the cost of physical world as it clearly suggests that every human being has four goals in life to be achieved, those are Dharma, Arthha, Kama and Moksha. Jnana is an instrument of liberation. Knowledge is not a repository of the few. Unlike other systems, we also consider Paramapara as a pramana that ensures the perennial characteristics of inclusiveness, which prevents terming Hindutva as Hinduism. ‘Ism’ is a closed book of thought that suits well with the dogmas of Semiticism. For the same reason, we have many books, from Vedas to Puranas and many masters, from Shankaracharya to Aurobindo. Hence, Vedas are said to have no beginning or end, are often compared with the stream of Mother Ganga.
The Indian thought has no parallel in the world as it celebrates the diversity and cordially accommodates various schools of thought ranging from materialism to Idealism, from Charvaka to Vedanta. However, in all junctures of acceptance and assimilation, we have ensured that knowledge is never divorced from justice. Will Durant, the famous American historian who penned the history of civilisations of the world in 11 volumes titled Story of Civilisation, was among the few modern historians and academicians who found the divinity and greatness of Bharat. He wrote “India was the motherland of our race, and Sanskrit the mother of Europe’s languages: she was the mother of our philosophy; mother, through the Arabs, of much of our mathematics; mother, through the Buddha, of the ideals embodied in Christianity; mother, through the village community, of self-government and democracy. Mother India is in many ways the mother of us all.”
Rajarshi Bhartrihari summed up our all-encompassing worldview as follows, “Mind acquire critical acumen by interacting with the other traditions. What does he know who knows only his tradition?” Yes, we never shut the windows of minds upon the breeze carrying the fragrance of other worlds. Hindu tradition is open to criticism, dialogues and engagements. In fact, Hindu knowledge system has prospered and progressed through meaningful debates and assimilation which are considered as essential and unique characters of Hindu Dharma. Owing to various reasons including a thousand-year-long colonial aggression and subjugation over our culture and polity, by and large our indigenous knowledge has been alienated from our collective mind and marginalised from the mainstream. It is the need of the hour to revive and reclaim our traditional system of knowledge and emulate it in our academic and intellectual realm.
(The writer is national convenor of Prajna Pravah)