The Hindu Philosophy
T Subba Row (1856-’90)
In studying the ancient texts of Indian philosophy certain important points must not be lost sight of. The words gradually begin to change their meaning. In determining the meaning of particular passages, the age of those passages, the particular significance attached to certain words those times must be kept in mind. For instance, the word yajna: it is easy to translate it as animal sacrifice suggesting that they were imperatively demanded in ancient times. It will not be unreasonable to suppose that the primitive meaning of the word might have been what its etymology signifies. The word is derived
from the Sanskrit root yaja meaning ‘to worship’ and the word yajna meant ‘divine worship.’ The highest worship demanded of an aspirant after divine knowledge, is the surrounding or the sacrifice of animal passions or, what is called technically, the animal ego in man. Is it then difficult to conceive how the sublime idea of the sacrifice of one’s lower or animal nature got in time corrupted into the sacrifice of lower animals?
Whoever has studied the law of cycles and of progress, has probably noticed that generally there are three stages of progress or deterioration. At first the esoteric significance of the idea, for a time, remains intact. People gradually begin to lose sight of the primitive idea and fight for its shell of external rites and ceremonies. The age of ritualism then succeeds for a time. And lastly comes the stage of black negation. Ritualism, often degenerating into sensationalism, drives a thinking mind to deny the efficacy of every and anything. But this third stage cannot last long. It but precedes, and again ushers in, the era of intellectual inquiry, which finally brings society back to the recognition of esoteric truth.
The cycles run their rounds, and each nation, following after its predecessors, has sprung up, thrived and sunk finally into insignificance. Each had its day of glory, its rise and fall. And if the law of the survival of the fittest be applied to all nations, the only one that can stand the test is India. She has seen the rise and fall of many peoples, but herself standing yet erect amid their ruins, however worn out she may now look.
If one reads Mahanirvana-Tantra, a book recognized as an authority, it will be found that the word yajna does not mean the offering of animal sacrifices. Each age and era has its own ideas of literature; and the writers of a particular era may present their ideas in a language most suited to the tastes and requirements of their times. When we apply our modern standards to these times, the confusion of ideas becomes worse confounded. Moreover, there are no English equivalents for many Sanskrit words. For instance, there is but one word ‘soul’ to indicate the different entities of the Aryan philosophies. Now the West has begun to think that perhaps the body and the soul are not the only two factors which go to make up what is called Man and that there are several modifications to be taken into account. Another cause of confusion is the words Brahma and Parabrahman are used as synonyms, while in reality they refer to two distinct principles. Brahma is esoterically identified with the Divine Mind, the universal fifth principle, according to modern theosophical phraseology; while Parabrahman is the universal seventh principle, the boundless circle. As consciousness, which differentiates between subject and object and hence gives rise to the idea of existence, is the capacity or function of the mind, Brahma is called the Creator. It is the differentiation in, and consequent development of, the feeling of personality, which gives rise to the phenomenal world. Take away consciousness, which can cognize between subject and object, and what does the creation resolve itself into? Therefore this Brahma has also been regarded as the most mysterious being, constantly engaged in the work of creation. The popular mind cannot of course be expected to rise above the gross conception of a creator, and hence Parabrahman, the endless circle, was often mistaken to be Brahma itself.
Similarly, in talking of Prakriti, certain distinctions have to be kept in view. The Hindu philosophers recognized that principle in three aspects, namely:
If these different aspects of Prakriti and their correlations be not kept in view, the student gets entangled in the meshes of Indian philosophical disquisitions. If with these facts in view, one reads the Kapila’s Samkhya philosophy, a great number of passages will be found pregnant with thought. According to Kapila “Intelligence, the first product or evolute of self-evolving Prakriti is called great (Mahat) because it is a principle of ‘superlative purity,’ and occupies in creation the same place as the Prime Minister of a country. Mahat, in esoteric science, is Divine Glory. From this is evolved the ‘egoizer’ (Ahamkara), and then come the five tenuous elements. These seven principles are evolutes of Prakriti, and evolvent; and to their omnific activity, or prolific energy, creation in its multifarious aspects, is to be traced.
Who can read this without being reminded of the Hindu tradition that the Sapta(seven) Rishis are the creators of this world? And what is more, the subtler five elements are said to have their grosser counterparts. Thus it is the number twelve, which forms the basis of creation – a number which considered to be perfect according to the Pythagorean system.
Now, it is said that there is a Brotherhood in existence, which has received its Knowledge from the primary seven Rishis, and whose organization is based exactly upon the process of evolution employed by Nature. Tradition fixes its local habitation on Mount Kailasa, which is said to be somewhere on the other side of Himalayas. According to its organization, there is at its head a Mysterious Being who is supposed to be the guardian of the Ineffable Name, the Representative of the Highest Logos. He is in short a God, though not the God. His mysterious workings are shadowed forth here and there in some of the sacred writings; and very little of Him is known to the outside world. The other mysterious being, who is supposed to be the active agent, is now and then referred to as Maha--- . under them are said to be five Chohans who are never seen; but there are five other counterparts of these, who are occasionally visible to mankind. Each of them is credited with being a special representation of a particular principle, whose action is his action; and it is by a harmonious working of these principles together that the phenomenal is created and sustained. Veiled as these ideas may be, they come before the mental vision of the reader as he peruses the teachings of the sage Kapila.
Some think that Kapila’s system is entirely materialistic and Vedantism is pantheistic. After all, it all resolves into a quibbling of words; while the basic idea, represented by them, is one and the same.
Yoga philosophy is too to be understood in its right perspective. Some think that even the teaching that pleasure and pain, good and evil, are fictions of human imagination and they lead to immorality. So long a person is steeped in immorality, he cannot but feel pleasure and pain, happiness or sorrow,&c. it is imagination that gives rise to ideas and leads us to acts which involve us in misery, pain, sorrow,&c. therefore, he who would be free has to control his imagination. He should be the master, and makes of the imagination his slave. He then becomes, constitutionally incapable of doing anything (even in though, for thought is action on a higher plane ) opposed to the higher purposes of Nature. He, who, by self-control, has controlled his imagination, becomes a part of Nature in her higher aspect, and, in that position, his ideation guides the working of higher impulses of Nature. It is to this state to which reference is made by Hindu philosophers when they speak of the passivity a Yogi attains.
[Adapted by Dr N C Ramanujachary from a review article of T Subba Row published in The Theosophist, vol.VI, January 1885.]