Everyone finds India to be enigmatic. The country has hoary history, rich culture, vibrant energy and penchant for progress. Yet, the country has huge contradictions such as sparks of plenty amidst swathes of poverty, genuine order in chaotic disorder, and quest for growth amidst bouts of stagnation, to name a few. India is today as industrial as agricultural. India is as materialistic as spiritual. India is as reverential as iconoclastic. India is as independent as conformist. India loves huge cars but puts up with narrow roads. India is full of resources, human and other factor, but lacks the will to utilize them productively. India as unified as diverse. Indians are global but for one Nadella in Microsoft, possibly there are scores in TCS or Infosys. India is awe inspiring for its religious, spiritual and yogic gurus. India is surprising also for its craving for all things that are Western and materialistic. India has a singular desire for progress but loses focus ever so often. Are these contradictions real or imaginary?
Indian literature and culture have a Sanskrit word called ‘maya’, meaning illusion. The Vedas have several references to the word maya, one of which refers to power. The question, not unnaturally, is whether the Indian hypothesis of economic growth and global dominance is an enigmatic maya, an illusion, or a powerful reality, another shade of maya? As certain Indian products and processes get the flack in certain markets, the question arises as to whether the global product conquests of Indian firms constitute illusory transience or sustainable reality. As rapid-growth Indian startups as well as highflying corporate firms suddenly stutter and stop, the question arises as to whether the great Indian entrepreneurship is illusorily strong or conspiratorially buffeted by adverse winds. As with the essence of maya as a concept, there is no realistic description or quantification of maya. The debate of contradictions can continue endless but this blog post has a different take on maya as the core of a uniquely Indian enigma, MAYA.
MAYA, the four dimensional conceptThere are four parts of the Indian tradition that have not been evident in any other civilization, from so many centuries ago and in a deeply scientific manner. These are Mythology, Ayurveda, Yoga and Astrology, making for an acronym MAYA. What connects these four heritage domains of India is a great and powerful thread of logical emotion, respect for the Divine, holistic understanding of human body and mind, and discovery and application of science in an age in which people had nothing to help in analysis and computation except the mind and fingers. As more and more scientific concepts get validated, reflecting the knowledge embedded in MAYA, it is clear that the Indian forefathers imagined and analyzed several centuries ago what modern science is now focusing on. Probably, a bit of this is true of other oriental civilizations but the Asian civilization does have a strong shade of the exquisite Indian MAYA.
MAYA for the modern Indian is a tradition, deeply ingrained in the psyche despite all his or her external trappings. MAYA, as a framework, ought to govern the emotional and physical health of an Indian as an integrated paradigm. What is equally important, however, is the logical and scientific fervor, and also possibly years of research, that has gone into establishing these four domains of knowledge. Envisioning, strategizing, perfection, accuracy, attention and discipline, and several other virtuous aspects that are required to be a part of modern day thinking, and critically viewed as missing in the current Indian way to an extent, had all been integral parts of the MAYA framework. Even more importantly, these have been carried through generations and across centuries without any modern means of communication such as printed paper! Clearly, there was far more competence in the Indian ethos than is apparent today. A deeper look at each of the MAYA components reveals that.
Every religion and nation has its mythology. But no nation or religion has the mythological diversity as the Hindu religious mythology has. Mahabharatam (scripted by Maharshi Veda Vyasa, in and around 1600 BC, in fact believed to be dictated to Lord Ganesh), Ramayanam (written by Maharshi Valmiki, in and around 200 BC) and Bhagavatham (also by Maharshi Veda Vyasa) are three of the great epics (oe Puranams), and so are several other mini-epics of diverse Indian cultures. They are more than epic stories of divinity, statecraft or governance; they are principles of human and family dynamics in all dimensions, including the emergence of evil, nurturing of good, and the triumph of the good over evil. Purely from a scientific viewpoint, one must also admire the great imagination that brought in, several centuries ago, the concepts of darting arrows (villu and ambu), flying chariots (pushpaka vimanam), and virtual reality (maya sabha), which are the scientific discoveries of the very recent generations. As we go contemporaneous, the society must start abhorring the evil and accepting the good so that the modern society can be built and developed more on togetherness and collaboration rather than on craftiness and jealousies. Every Indian must wonder if the ancient society could visualize such dramatic scientific apparatus, with nothing except the power of mind, why the modern Indian cannot visualize new products with all the knowledge and tools now available!
Ayurveda is the ancient Indian science of natural healing. It understands the body through its natural phases and cures it through the natural plants and herbs. Several compounds developed or now understood by modern medicine have been of integral use as the traditional Indian herbs and spices. While a few like turmeric and cinnamon may have captured greater fancy, every herb and spice used in the Indian cooking has had a curative or wellness property. More importantly, the combination of such natural food ingredients with an ayurvedic way of dealing with the body toxins makes ayurveda a holistic science. Equally relevant are the various Indian food styles which have certain certain scientific rationale, in terms of the recipes and sequences. Unfortunately, while so much research goes into the Greek mediterranean diet or the Japanese Okinawa diet, practically no research gets done on the various types of Indian diet and their impact on human health. In fact, without understanding the subtle nuances of the Indian dietary systems, there is a tendency to blame them uni-dimensionally. It is time that Indian institutes and laboratories start understanding the Indian dietary systems and ingredients. Just as another example, something as traditional as Ugadi Pachadi (a special offering prepared on the occasion of the Telugu New Year) has significant scientific logic! Charaka (in and around 300 BC) wrote the ayurvedic medical treatise Charaka Samhita while Sushruta (in and around 600 BC) wrote the ayurvedic surgical treatise and Vagbhata (in and around 600 BC) wrote Ashtanga Hridayam and Ashtanga Sangraha.
Yoga probably is the most universally popular components of the Indian tradition. It has two important dimensions. Yoga as the Hindu philosophy teaches one how to control one’s body and mind in the belief that one can become united with the spirit of the universe through that. It also represents a system of scientific exercises for one’s body and for controlling one’s breathing, to become more relaxed and fitter, synergistically. While it is so well appreciated and accepted, its adoption by the educated class, let alone the common man, in India has been extremely wanting. People seeking fitness are open to running on tread mills for hours but are unwilling to spend a few minutes on the all-curative yoga. Integration of yoga in the curriculum of students from the primary school stage, integrating yoga in physical therapy courses, offering specialized yoga courses leading to diplomas, making yoga studios part of all fitness centres, and developing community yoga centres could be a holistic strategy to make yoga an integral part of everyone’s daily life. Maharshi Patanjali (in and around 400 BC) probably wrote the greatest of the Yogic texts.
Nothing demonstrates the ancient Hindu knowledge and competencies in mathematics, physics and natural phenomena more than the Hindu astrology. Astrology plays an integral part of every devout Hindu’s life, from birth to death, and for individual activities or family matters. It is based on the premise that the positioning and movement of heavenly bodies, including the grahas (or planets) have significant impact on the lives and living. While a part of the scientific community fails to accept astrology, especially the predictive astrology, the population as a whole has total or subtle beliefs in the Hindu astrology. More than the outcomes, and the rituals, the exact science used by the Hindu sages (Sages Agastya and Bhrigu, in and around 2500 BC) and the Hindu mathematicians and astronomers (Arya Bhatta and Varaha Mihira, in and around 500 and 550 AD, respectively) in developing the Hindu astrology without any scientific and technical aids whatsoever is truly amazing. While being respectful and reverential to astrology as a spiritual science and religious branch, it is equally important to recognize the power of the human mind to undertake complex calculations and develop sophisticated theorems all by itself. The spirit and science of astrology would continue to strengthen the scientific way.
MAYA: less of illusion, more of power
We started off with the semantics of maya as being reflective of two most important concepts of several concepts relating to the word in the Hindu tradition. The review of the four components of Mythology, Ayurveda, Yoga and Astrology, as above, suggests these four together as MAYA represent a deeply embedded nature-driven and scientifically sharp holistic approach to human living. Even as Indians must learn modern curricula and contemporary skill-sets to be relevant in a global scenario, the traditional knowledge base and application practice of MAYA must continue to be promoted and revived with greater understanding from the Indian society and the Indian governments. This blog post could touch upon only a few of the ancient Indian works, several scores remain to be mentioned in various Indian languages. Institutes dedicated to traditional Indian studies could revive this process. Eventually, India will need more than one Nalanda University to support the process. Each State would need an Institute for bringing the best of the embedded traditional Indian knowledge into the bodies and minds of the Indian society, for greater good and sharper focus towards growth and equity.Posted by Dr CB Rao on March 30, 2014
(Note: Any mistakes or approximations in the mentions, in this blog post, of the periods of the great Indian sages, writers and experts of the previous centuries may kindly be excused)