Deconstructing the Inanity of Brahman and the Vedantic Worldview

Written by February 16, 2012 9:38 pm 281 comments

In supposing the existence of a permanent reality, or ‘substance’, beneath the shifting series of phenomena, whether of matter or of mind, the substance of the cosmos was ‘Brahma’, that of the individual man ‘Atman'; and the latter was separated from the former only, if I may so speak, by its phenomenal envelope, by the casing of sensations, thoughts and desires, pleasures and pains, which make up the illusive phantasmagoria of life. This the ignorant, take for reality; their ‘Atman’ therefore remains eternally imprisoned in delusions, bound by the fetters of desire and scourged by the whip of misery.

—Thomas  Huxley on the worldview of  Vedanta

In studying the genealogy of Brahminism from the onset of the primary Vedas (Rig, Yajur and Sama) through its transition to the Upanishads and Puranas, keen insight will at times observe and marvel at how it has morphed progressively from its ritualistic origins to assume more and deadly forms, where caste, religion and spirituality were used as tools in the real scheme of power grab and exploitation of large sections of society.

Given that such a conclusion is not totally unwarranted by historical and sociological analysis, the overwhelming tide of reverence for and fetishistic following of the Upanishads or the Vedanta is a paradox that is a thorny challenge for critical refutation.

In one of my earlier articles concerning the folly of current fashions in the exposition of Bhagavad Gita, which is a particularly vicious and diabolical form of Upanishadic evangelism, I had represented its vision in a mocking vein thus:Rope and Snake

“The central conception of Advaita philosophy and its current evangelism, is more or less, building of elaborate ‘castles in the air’ around the definition of the Brahman as the one and only unchanging ultimate reality beneath which lies the illusion of  constantly changing appearances and motions of the physical and transient world, where the ‘rope and the snake’ play the game of ‘snakes and ladders’ with our deluded senses, where Rishis, Gurus and Swamis play the great ‘Indian rope trick’ or tighten the hangman’s noose of ‘Self-Realization’ on bewildered devotees and followers, who are made to walk the ‘tight rope’ of avoiding ‘sense-objects’ and senseless objects in crossing the ‘transmigratory ocean of existence’, then selling such spiritual snake oil concoctions through speeches, books, seminars, study sessions and what not and misguiding and cheerleading innocent, gullible and earnest seekers of religion alike into a grand ‘wild-goose chase’ of the Brahman.”

The few critics of Vedanta and their incisive observations

Radicals of India’s pre-freedom era like BR Ambedkar and Lala Hardayal were even more scathing and unsparing in their denunciation of the Upanishadic spiritual tom-foolery. Ambedkar spoke in these unrelenting terms quoting from the observations of Thomas Huxley and Lala Hardayal:

“Of what use is this philosophy of the Upanishadas? The philosophy of the Upanishadas meant withdrawal from the struggle for existence by resort to asceticism and a destruction of desire by self-mortification. As a way of life it was condemned by Huxley in scathing terms: “No more thorough mortification of the flesh has ever been attempted than that achieved by the Indian ascetic anchorite; no later monarchism has so nearly succeeded in reducing the human mind to that condition of impassive quasi-somnambulism, which, but for its acknowledged holiness, might run the risk of being confounded with idiocy.”

But the condemnation of the philosophy of the Upanishads is nothing as compared to the denunciation of the same by Lala Hardyal:

“The Upanishads claim to expound ‘that, by knowing which everything is known’. This quest for ‘ the absolute ‘ is the basis of all the spurious metaphysics of India. The treatises are full of absurd conceits, quaint fancies, and chaotic speculations. And we have not learned that they are worthless. We keep moving in the old rut; we edit and re-edit the old books instead of translating the classics of European social thought. What could Europe be if Frederic Harrison, Brieux, Bebel, Anatole France, Herve, Haekel, Giddings, and Marshall should employ their time in composing treatises on Duns, Scotus and Thomas Aquinas, and discussing the merits of the laws of the Pentateuch and the poetry of Beowulf?

“Indian pundits and graduates seem to suffer from a kind of mania for what is effete and antiquated. Thus an institution, established by progressive men, aims at leading our youths through Sanskrit grammar to the Vedas via the Six Darshanas! What a false move in the quest for wisdom ! It is as if a caravan should travel across the desert to the shores of the Dead Sea in search of fresh water! Young men of India, look not for wisdom in the musty parchments of your metaphysical treatises. There is nothing but an endless round of verbal jugglery there. Read Rousseau and Voltaire, Plato and Aristotle, Haeckel and Spencer, Marx and Tolstoi, Ruskin and Comte, and other European thinkers, if you wish to understand life and its problems.

“But denunciations apart, did the Upanishad philosophy have any influence on Hinduism as a social and political system? There is no doubt that it turned out to be most ineffective and inconsequential piece of speculation with no effect on the moral and social order of the Hindus.”

Spiritualists like the Bourbons learn nothing from history nor forget its wrong lessons

But does any of this deter the almost universal applause and reverential awe that is the constant companion of Vedanta and its myriad gyrations of studies and expositions? Not a whit, if one were to consider how the likes of Anil Mehta and other such spiritual faithful from cults like Chinmaya Mission can dismiss any effort of debate with cryptic 3-liner responses.

So when I heard a response from one of the leading lights of the Vedanta blogosphere, I was initially hopeful that meaningful debate will get its fair share at last. But as it eventually turned out that, such hopes were premature and I realized that I was actually up against a Trojan Horse from the spiritualist camp. After some initial pleasantries, this gentleman committed the same sin of most spiritual apologists, mixing science and religion, using scientific and argumentative generalizations to question the rejection of Vedanta. As another ploy, he sent me a link to a brain-fryer of a book called ‘Vichar Sagar’, another tedious apologia for Vedic and Vedantic scriptures.

I am reproducing below some parts of my exchange with this person, whom I’ll refer to as “H.A.” (not his real name or initials). 

H.A.’s first comment to article on Bhagavad Gita via email:

Subject: The Ultimate Scientific Truth.

There is divergence of opinions about the truth, strategy, nature of the people etc. I realize that opinions cannot converge unless we agree on common principles, the biggest of them being ‘the truth absolute or ultimate’. I don’t know what you consider the ultimate truth, if any.

Any way I am interested in knowing what made you question or doubt the following points about Vedanta. I think if i know them i would be in better position to satisfy you to the best. It is from your above referred discussion.

  • Questioning the suitability of the ‘rope and snake’ metaphor and its irrelevance to the question of interpreting real
  • Pointing out the fallacies of the nature of Advaitic conception of knowledge which seems to fail even most basic tests of reason and empirical inquiry.
  • Trying to reason that Consciousness has no real bearing on a comparison of illusion and reality

My response to H.A.’s question:

While there are many common principles which can form the framework of a living philosophy, these principles need to be practical and useful.

In all humility the principle of absolute or ultimate truth is not one of them since it is not practical as there is no definition of what constitutes ultimate truth.

To me, it is one of many jargons that abound in Hindu or vedic metaphysics. Vedanta claims that the ‘Brahman’ is the ultimate and only truth that is worthy of realization. But the texts are themselves not clear about the conception and identity of Brahman. Lot of arguments, opinions and riddles are posed about this entity without any conclusions being reached. One text contradicts the other with some texts even claiming that the ‘Brahman’ is beyond understanding and comprehension. If that is really the case, is not the quest of Brahman a futile exercise?!. Commentaries fare no better than the original texts, since there is not one but many flavors of  vedanta:

  • Advaita Vedanta
  • Dvaita Vedanta
  • Visishtadvaita Vendanta

and more that I can’t recollect. But honestly these don’t make any practical sense, because truth or facts cannot be established by arguments and counter-arguments and nit-picking and hair-splitting about verses of Upanishads and the syllables and sounds of ‘OM’. That the earth is round and other physical facts were not determined by round-table debates of misguided prophets and deluded saints, but by observation, experiments and corroboration, and by putting our faculties to right use. Modern science is using such same empirical methods to unravel wonders of our brains and not doubting and dismissing the utility and testimony of our senses.

Vedanta makes blanket statements and assertions of this physical world being an illusion without providing one shred of evidence to support such brazen claims.  All its recourse is to blind faith, devotion and surrender to a teacher and unquestioning acceptance of the scriptural word.

H.A.’s counter-argument to my first response:

Belief, confusion, contradictions, mysticism are few of the unscientific aspects of Hindu metaphysics as per your understanding and I agree to the same. But does this all sufficient to dismiss altogether ‘The Truth’ so established by the Vedanta? It needs matching rebuttal comparable to the content and intent of the mechanism followed by these shastras. I expect the same in your next email about the specific few points raised by me.

The ‘Ultimate Truth’ may be defined as the one ‘which reveals and accounts for the existence of the universe as it is’ with all its cause and accordingly the scientific advancement may be directed.

Before you reply I wish you would have read or referred the likes of the book ‘Vichar Sagar’ by Nischal Das ( ). If not taken as spiritualistic and viewed with scientific angle, it is formidable.

Before you explain the few points as referred by me I expect you would take the pros and cons of the issues as discussed in this analytical book. Of course you may not afford to spend such a time thing is different. Just like you I do believe Truth cannot be accepted just because Vedanta says. Let us arrive at it independently. Let us supplement science with the ideas of human beings. For I am satisfied with the ultimate truth ‘Brahman’ as realistically as E=mc2.

My rejoinder to his response above:

Skeptics are not dismissing the theories of the Vedanta. They are trying to question the claims of this school of ‘philosophic’ thought that their version of ‘truth’ or conception of the nature of reality is the real deal.

The playing field of a skeptic or a critical thinker is that of evidence, objectivity, feel, experience that is capable of validation by senses, perception, reason and logic, cross-verification of clues that must all tie to all threads and ends of a proposed theory that explains a phenomenon.

If this ‘truth’ that Vedanta is talking about of a unchanging reality super-imposed on an ‘illusory world of physical object and sensory experiences’ because senses are deluded into accepting illusion of physical appearances as reality, is an objective and valid one, as it sometimes claims, that claim should submit itself to objective and empirical verification.

But Vedantic apologists are not forthcoming with their proofs and evidences. They keep shifting the goal-posts, definitions, theories from time to time and hard as skeptics keep trying to pin them down, these idealists keep slipping out by changing the rules of the game. Vedantists cannot have their cake and eat it too.

Though commentaries, lectures and books on the Upanishads create heavy smoke-screens and fog around their theories, we can ferret out these recurring themes and components

  • Universal Soul
  • Individual soul
  • Transmigration of the soul
  • Karmic cyclicality and endless reversions of its cycles
  • Release of the soul from transmigratory agony
  • Final liberation of the soul and its unity with the Universal soul
  • Realms through which the individual soul passes on its journey of final deliverance and unity with the Brahman
  • Unified reality of the Brahman manifesting as the illusion of the physical world and sensory experience though the mechanism of Maya ( No explanation of why such an atrocity is being done by the Brahman is anywhere in the Upanishads)

I could go on and on, but the point is that all these things are in realm of speculation and imagination. The easiest way to resolve a controversy is provide a proof and experience of the claims that is at the heart of a controversy.

Skeptics have been waiting for centuries and no convincing proof or even good reliable evidence is forthcoming. All these airy-fairy concepts are resting on the shaky foundation of arguments, stories, fairy tales, tautological statements ( one example of a tautological statement is like this ( 1. “Since a higher reality exists, the current physical reality is not the ultimate reality” 2. “Because the the current physical reality is not the ultimate reality, therefore a higher reality exists and that is Brahman”).

The above is just one example, but the Upanishads, commentaries, its schools of thought are full of such circular arguments and reasoning. Upanishadic wisdom is worse than science fiction, it is metaphysical fiction.

When contradictions are pointed out, the defenders say that you have transcend your mind. My response is Good luck with that! As We  have better things to do in life.

The final critical punch that hoped to nip misleading and diversionary arguments  in the bud:

Further to my mail before this, let us briefly consider your statement
“So hope you will be as realistic as E=mc2 in your rebuttal of ‘Brahman'”

I see this as a trap that I don’t wish to fall into.

E=mc2 was proposed by scientists, which has been validated and accepted universally. It is upto the Advaitins and Vedantins, to contest and disprove it if they can with objective proofs and validations.

‘Brahman’ is a proposition of the Advaitins and Vedantins. The burden of proof is on them and lets us play by the rules of the game. As a skeptic I have the least eagerness or responsibility to provide a rebuttal. In my previous email I provided a few criteria that can serve to expose the lack of objectivity of the Vedantic propositions.

Don’t get me wrong, but refuting the Brahman or any other Vedic or Vedantic fantasy is like expecting to refute incontrovertibly the existence of fairies, ghosts, narasimha, pixies, flying monkeys, heaven, paradise, astral realms etc.

As the saying goes, “Fools can pose many many more questions than the wisest men can ever answer”.


This post was written by:

- who has written 13 posts on Nirmukta.

An accountant and a man of commerce by background and education, I am a Business Applications analyst by work and profession. I am a lover of diverse intellectual pursuits and interests. I have over time cultivated interests in literature, history and social sciences. In terms of beliefs, I have had in the past my share of swings between irrationality and rationality. As hopefully thinking processes and impulses mature, I am learning to cultivate the faculty of examining all systems and forms of thought and opinions, in whatever it is received and only accept those that accords with reason, logic and understanding.


  • You can convince on the common man the problems on ritualism…….but ur penetration into Vedanta is rather useless as very little effect is most probably going to be produced…….as the seers speak after seeing wht they see, more clearly than u see and more clearly than they perceive us……..let it remain though….all the best friends!!!

    • The reference to the “common man” as opposed to us ” more educated types” or what not is not a good statement to make. We are not “elites” here.

  • Pramod

    While you are free to throw up your hands, I nor any skeptical activist shares that defeatist perception or sentiment of yours.

    For all you know this may not produce any effect. But why easily give up.

    Also let us not give Vedanta and its ‘seers’ more credit than they deserve. And why do you want to speak on behalf of the ‘seers’.

    Besides, How do you know that they see and perceive more clearly than us.

    • Upanishad philosophy is difficult to understand because you are trying to understand GOD (Brahman) by the very intellect GOD is illumining. In the material world scientists have matter to prove their discoveries. For the Spiritual scientists who have realized GOD, they do not have any material evidence to show us, that is why we do not believe. So to realize you have to become a spiritual scientist yourself by having faith in the scriptures & Gurus. Choice is yours, you can continue to struggle in this world or realize you are GOD who is beyond space & time. Even material scientists do not understand the concept of space, what to say of GOD? Infinity concept is beyond the grasp of human mind.

      • Though you have put it quite crudely, I can understand the conflict involved here between the assumptions of faith and ‘mystical’ philosophy and the demands and rigor of reason and logic.

        But this is not something new and skepticism is not fazed or deterred by this challenge and problem. The problem is also not because of the complexity of Upanishads. This article and the follow-up critical comments have made the point that the Upanishads are absurd and full of empty and bogus rhetoric.

        Because of its contradictions and vagueness of the Upanishads, it is not even clear whether it makes a case for ‘GOD’ or theism or pantheism or some other metaphysical view. There is no way to know what view of the world, it upholds unlike what the Vedas and Puranas are able to convey (agreements and disagreements apart). Confusion reigns supreme in its doctrines. There are multiple and conflicting views of Karma, Samsara, rebirth and deliverance which were sought to be reconciled with a lot of difficulty and obfuscation by Badrayana and Adi Sankara in their exegetical works on the Upanishads.

        How do you know that your ‘Spiritual Scientists’ have realized ‘GOD’. Unless you properly convey the context of your spirituality, you term will be nothing more than an oxymoron. The shallow spiritualism of your kind resting on the mercies of faith and blind belief is in direct conflict with science and scientific attitude.

        As regards scientists’ problem with understanding of time and space(even if that were valid), the gurus and swamis fare no better. But your Gurus have the easier option of disdaining time and space and delude themselves that they are above those confines.

        By capitalizing ‘GOD’ you have not explained or answered anything (since blind faith can escape from that responsibility) and only made a capital FOOL of yourself.

  • “But denunciations apart, did the Upanishad philosophy have any influence on Hinduism as a social and political system? There is no doubt that it turned out to be most ineffective and inconsequential piece of speculation with no effect on the moral and social order of the Hindus.”

    Why would this be relevant? Most philosophy isn’t relevant to social and political systems. The Upanishads aren’t political philosophy or a system of ethics. And by the way neither is string theory, evolution, etc.

    • Kal

      The article on Vedanta is not only about this part of the opinion of Dr. Ambedkar on Upanishads.

      Many aspects of the absurdities of the Upanishads have been analyzed thread-bare in it. It would be useful if you have anything to say on that rather than just pick and latch on to this part of the quote.

      Regardless of what it really is, there is no doubt that Upanishads have heavily and negatively impacted the Hindu society. Its exegesis and the evangelism of the archaryas have been greatly influenced by it.

      Your rhetorical waiver does nothing to change that harsh reality.

      • In that case, please refrain from putting anything in an article which you aren’t prepared to defend. It is confusing and also provides you with an escape clause when people criticise your work.

        • Kal

          I have already defended the purpose of using that quote of Dr. Ambedkar.

          Lot more has been said and implied by him in his assessment of the Upanishads, than the typically narrow perspective that you are trying to force or railroad into it to legitimize your nit-picking.

          Thanks to Arvind Iyer, some instances have also been provided of the philosophic/moral and social didactic pretensions of those texts.

          You are entitled to your escapist hatches, but we are not obliged to submit to your censorship decrees.

          • Ranganath,

            First, you attribute that quote in your article to Lala Hardyal, not Ambedkar. Second, kindly do not divert the issue by calling me names.

            The matter is, you have put a quote in your article which implies that a philosophy is only good if it has moral or sociopolitical value. I disagree with that. And if you disagree with it too, I am asking why you put it in your piece.

            It is not wrong for me to ask you about this. If all you wanted me to talk about is why Vedanta doesn’t suck, I honestly have nothing to offer. With all due respect, I also dont have to read your article to realize that there is no proof for Brahman, or that the Prahlad story is impossible for that matter. Thus if you write something, Ill talk about what hou wrote, and I expect you to take ownership of everything you write. When criticized, please don’t put up a smokescreen.

            So I ask again: do you really believe that something is of utility if and only if ethics and politics are affected by it? Its a yes or no question. And then I ask: if not, what is that quote doing in your article?



          • Satish Chandra

            do you really believe that something is of utility if and only if ethics and politics are affected by it? Its a yes or no question.

            Is that question even necessary? If the Upanishads are a mere academic curiosity with no real world consequences, there’d be no need for articles like this which ridicule them. Isn’t that obvious to you?. If not, it should be. Your entire argument seems to be “I don’t think a philosophy should necessarily be relevant to social and political systems. Therefore I’m going to make a point about that on an article in which there is a very obvious implicit assumption that the philosophy it is talking about has social and political ramifications which necessitate the ridicule of the said philosophy”.

            Had your argument been “that quote says Upanishads have no social and political consequences, but the article/author thinks that they do” you’d had a real point to make. But that was not your argument initially, was it? It very much does come across as lacking anything of substance, an argument made just for sake of making it.

          • I should add that the quote does NOT claim that the Upanishads have bad negative social value. It claims that they have none. Have you perhaps misunderstood it? That’s all I want to know.

          • Satish,

            Not really. The article calls them metaphysical fiction and nowhere talks about society. It’s not so obvious without Arcind Iyer’s post. Anyway, you’ve cleared my doubt.

      • Oh and finally, PLEASE PLEASE stop assuming that anyone who disagrees with you is secretly trying to defend Hindu revisionism and is an escapist, Hindutvadi, apologist, or whatever you call it. Don’t be George W Bush or Anakin Skywalker. Don’t be a McCarthy. It’s annoying.

        Before using such terms, ask yourself:

        1) What do they mean? Should I look them up?
        2) What evidence do I see that the poster is an example of this definition? That he disagrees with me is not a good reason.

        It’ll get you far!

        • Kal,

          Your noises of injured innocence are not convincing.

          You were not called an escapist. Your tactics were termed escapist.

          You have applied the terms ‘Hindutvavadi’ and apologist yourself. Don’t put those terms in our mouths

          We should have called out the fallacies better.

          You were attempting an argument of a non sequitur kind and then were using it as a bait-and-switch tactic to drag us into a wild chase of irrelevant issues.

          It takes a while…but we surely get it.

    • The Upanishads aren’t political philosophy or a system of ethics.

      They aren’t entirely indifferent to those topics either, and their lingering loyalties towards the hierarchy of the times are never entirely concealed.Here are some instances:
      (i) Taittiriya Upanishad 11th Anuvaka, which has traditionally featured in some university convocations, lays out a code of obedience and conformism, emphasizing dynastic succession and ancestral rituals
      (ii)Chandogya Upanishad 10th Khanda, where food taboos (which permit accepting foods considered ritually impure only on pain of death) are illustrated in the episode of Ushasti Chakrayana
      (iii)Kathopanishad, 1st Valli, where Yama reiterates a belief of cosmic retribution for inadequately hosting a Brahmana guest

      Since these texts are treated as infallible by the orthodox, even stray references to social structures therein, ends up sanctifying them and serve to perpetuate them.

      • Arvind, I was just paraphrasing Hardyal’s quote. So is Hardyal wrong? Is he in the article by oversight? I’m not trying to heckle, was just curious. Thanks for taking the time.

        • Kal,

          You have got the quote completely wrong!!!

          The quote of 3 paras has been cited by Dr. Ambedkar out of which the first para is actually attributed to Thomas Huxley and the 2nd para to Lala Hardayal. The 3rd para of that quote is by Dr Ambedkar himself and he refers to the denunciations of the Upanishads by Lala Hardayal in preceding para and ends with the conclusion of how ineffective the Upanishads turned out to be in terms of their moral/social impact on the Hindu society.

          The forenote to the quotes clearly refers to this.

          • It is not religion, religiosity or righteousness codes, scripture, code, etc., that are to be faulted for the unstoppable moral degeneration. Nor science, which is neutral to its application – use or misuse. It is a certain inexorable force in a swift trend that no human force can resist or curb or reverse. That may sound supersititious. But on deeper reflection it ALONE is the explanation for the unstoppable decay in humanity. Any “rationalist” argumentation will only end up heating up both sides of the argument to no meaningful purpose.

          • I don’t think we are morally degenerating– we are getting better than ever.

            As far as the quote is concerned, I’ll have to disagree. The usefulness of a stream of though isn’t its effect on society.

      • @Arvind,
        Who approved the english translation of a sanskrit text is the correct one?

        A word generally will have different meanings
        Example: taptyasana

        Author’s Post
        E=mc2 was proposed by scientists, which has been validated and accepted universally. It is upto the Advaitins and Vedantins, to contest and disprove it if they can with objective proofs and validations.

        My reactions:
        What is the basis of validation of this Theory?. Is it scientifically proved? or generally accepted by you and the so called naturalists, atheists, that this is true?
        How can you Define the term universally without validating the existence of universe?.
        for the sake of argument, lets universally accept that the universe exist, By saying an unproved theory as universally accepted, you are trying to blindly accept whatever scientists say!

        Author’s post
        Brahman’ is a proposition of the Advaitins and Vedantins. The burden of proof is on them and lets us play by the rules of the game.

        My reactions:
        Brahman can easily negated when scientists define the universe.
        As per advaita, universe does not exist, so we need not proove it. As per the scientists , universe exists, so first proove the existence of the universe. The burden of proof is on the scientists and let us play by the rules of the game.

        • Prakar,

          Since according to You and Vedanta, this Universe does not exist, You also do not exist!!

          So then why are You existing and then commenting to this blog post which should also not exist! according to Vedanta.

          Please care to explain and prove that You don’t exist. Then we will see how to go about proving the existence of the Universe.

        • Cosmic Entity

          As per believers “God Exist” and as per non-believers God doesn’t exists !

          So going by the rules please first prove “God Exist” once you do that then we shall take the matter ahead from there on.

          As for the String Theory, irrespective of what it contains or claims, happened only in late 20th century, where as the claims of vibrations produced by energy is there since thousands of years in our scriptures. “OM” the primordial sound of the Universe that pervades everything etc are all the claims by religious people and scriptures, can you tell what’s the basis of all these things?

          Then there are claims that using those vibrations one can reach every corner of the Universe ! Can someone please tell how does sound waves travels in vacuum?

          • Wise rationalists may want to consider that for a long time after big bang there was less vacuum. And that in plasma waves can travel long distance both transverse waves as well as longitudinal waves. Even the light pressure can convert in to longitudinal waves when it encounters matter/air. It is proven by science that ordinarily men/women/creatures are sensitive to very very low sounds. The logarithmic response of organic sensors coupled with brain trained to concentrate on low sounds can detect them. It is no reason to confuse that ears of creatures have a large dynamic range. Infact such ‘anamolies’ are indeed the driving force for science research.

            Point is rather simple, It is good to know proper science properly. It is great to use technology in day to day life.

            It is a travesty to want older text to conform to new and latest discoveries.

            It is wonderful to marvel the human resourcefulness of all times.

            And of course wait gracefully to open up science to unravel greater secrets, known in different forms to older than us people.


      • Arvind Iyer

        Who approved the english translation of a sanskrit text is the correct one?

        If Max Muller’s translations are not sufficient, here are Aurobindo’s and S Radhakrishnan’s for corroboration. Come back if the translations of the portions quoted above don’t agree in these versions.

        How can you Define the term universally without validating the existence of universe?.

        A response has been provided here .

        As per the scientists , universe exists, so first proove the existence of the universe. The burden of proof is on the scientists and let us play by the rules of the game.

        Consider reading this thread that addresses similar misconceptions touted as profundity : Science and realism

  • Before I start commenting on my views of Vedanta, Upanishads or Vedas, I would need to first admit that my knowledge on ancient scriptures of Hinduism are limited and I have done at the best a little bit of selective reading based on views on certain topics of interest. My views on science is far more based on solid foundations of an education that was both structured and driven by passion.

    First let me spell out the good things about your posts. The best possible outcome that I can identify with your posts are that they are against superstitions. This in my opinion extremely important to reforming the Indian society. I do not mind a few of the superstitions to remain, as long as they are harmless, more out of cultural affinity rather than true belief. Whether we can temper the superstitions to reasonably harmless results along is a big question. In my life, I have been successful, and so hopefully it is not an impossible task to be not considered as an options. After all we do maintain 1000 year old structures standing despite their practical uselessness for the sake of heritage. Cultural affinity and pride is not always defined through practical utility theories, their value are often hard to judge, and is more implicit.

    Now I also have some criticisms on your approach to blogs. One is your insistence on existing scientific proof to explore a theory. Even in science do remember that theories unless invalidated using proofs is never rejected. The order in the scientific world is to endorse that theory among the group of existing ones that seems most likely. So your approach to dismissing the theories of Vedanta should be to postulate and alternative which need not have proofs, but at least reasons to be more acceptable and reasons for the same. I hardly find an alternative being suggested to push the theory of Vedanta behind in the current order of understanding of the world. My second criticism is the lack of specificity in your blog, when you criticize Vedanta. They seems as loosely generalized as your suggestion of a never ending round of verbal jugglery, mixing in between the beliefs of Hinduism in general, with those of the Upanishads. I would like to see you analyze why Vedanta is not true with reasons, not necessarily proofs, but at least with alternate theories until such time we have invalidating proofs. Remember tomorrow even the existence of electrons can be challenged if sufficient proof is provided for their existence is not proved beyond doubt. Its existence is constructed using scientific jargon, assumptions based on parallel evidences, in light of the failure of the senses of science to completely describe it. At the moment this explains best the scientific knowledge and observations and hence pretty much on a parallel to the experiential realization, science too employs a probabilistic model that cannot be described by scientific measurements that are absolute.

    • Mahesh,

      Your response is very typical of the stock Hindu apologist who also wants to appear to be on the side of science and modernity.

      I can summarize the message of your waffling rant against skeptical attacks on Hinduism:

      ” We are all for rationalism and removal of superstitions but please refrain from attacking our gods, scriptures, bigotry and cultural prejudices which we defend in the name of ethnicity and national pride”

      Sorry this pretense and hypocrisy will not work.

      And it also looks like you are expecting too much from a single blog post. But you don’t seem to have the patience to go thru the comment-trails of this blog post, where a more than a thread-bare analysis and detailed refutation of Vedanta has been attempted.

      From the general points on the blog post, we have advanced to minute details of medieval apologetic of the Vedanta from Badrayana to Adi Sankara, the catalogue of fallacies of today’s Vedanta apologists to exposing the fake profundities of faux intellectualism of Vedanta and Hindu fundamentalists.

      Plenty of reasons and arguments have already been delivered to nail home the inanity and nonsense of the Vedanta.

      You are most welcome to take the trouble of going thru all that.

      All this silly and pretentious threat of disproving electrons cannot rescue Upanishads and Vedanta from the ignominy of the absurd and barbaric nonsense that it truly is.

  • Ranganath:

    > But the texts are themselves not clear about the conception and identity of Brahman. Lot of arguments, opinions and riddles are posed about this entity without any conclusions being reached. One text contradicts the other with some texts even claiming that the ‘Brahman’ is beyond understanding and comprehension. If that is really the case, is not the quest of Brahman a futile exercise?!

    I think your questions are very clear and have occurred to me as well. I hope you will make it more public and take it to the mainstream media so as to provide a stimulus for either Vedanta to proceed to the next stage of memetic evolution or die!

    That said, even with its vagueness and lack of content, here’s a practical utility from Vedanta that I can think of. I will make use of the premise that there is a sense of deep “existential contentment” and a sense of “inner-peace” that comes from knowing answers to questions such as what is the origin of this universe and everything we see around us, what is the true nature of reality, how do we face the buffetings of life, what’s the meaning of it all, and so on. It may be that we might not know answers to these questions in our lifetimes, and even if known, the answers will be scattered over too many fields of natural science and philosophy that it’d be difficult to distill them into simple, coherent principles that we can understand.

    Vedanta may not be “truth” in a scientific sense, but it gives the “truth-experience” to its adherents. Thus Vedanta becomes a sort of psychiatric coffee you administer to yourself to have this pleasurable experience. This in my opinion forms a *lower bound* for the utility of Vedanta.

    • Captain Mandrake

      **Vedanta may not be “truth” in a scientific sense, but it gives the “truth-experience” to its adherents.**

      Also known as delusion.

  • There is some controversy about bestiality and sexual morality going on on Ranganath’s blog:

    • It looks like the brewing of a ‘perfect storm’ in a teacup.

      Also a classic case where the adversaries chose to deliberately miss the woods for the tress.

      On a related note, the objections and protestations of the cultural vigilantes seem very puzzling.

      Some of them claim to be skeptics and atheists, but yet say that they stand for truth. Truth of what? Of a fairy tale! Should not that be termed oxymoronic?!.

      • Hi Ranganath,

        Not to bring a debate from an external trail onto here (perhaps my first post was also inappropriate), but I feel like there has been a misunderstanding.

        The commentators simply seem to be worked up about the fact that you inaccurately called Satyavati a mermaid and thus said that Parasara was guilty of bestiality. I think it was an honest mistake. They seem to think that you were intentionally being misleading and have claim that you have done it on other posts (I haven’t read any of those).

        Nowhere do I think that they stand for the truth of a “fairy tale” though. In none of their comments is an indication that they are “cultural vigilantes” or “Hindus.” Indeed, one of their grievances seems to be that you by default assume that anyone who calls out errors in your works is a “cultural vigilante.” Well, I did just now– does that make me one?

        I think the ones who called you a homophobe were out of line. But perhaps the best thing to do would be to acknowledge the error and not label opponents as cultural vigilantes in such a way.

      • Indeed, amid all that noise, one of them admits that they’ve only been saying/asking two things all along:

        Ranganath… we are tired. Why can’t you just admit you were wrong about the mermaid bit? Why did you try and fudge the truth by including it?

        And if you really are so progressive, why did you term the liaison between Satyavati and Parasara debauchery? Are you against polyamory and group sex?

        These are direct questions. Forget everything else… and just answer this. And we will be happy.

        I highly doubt that a “cultural vigilante” would have such liberal sexual views. Thus I think that these are fellow freethinkers who are asking pertinent questions.

        • Hi Ashwin

          I did respond on that comment trail that free thinking and some degree of moral conservatism are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

          I did not find any reaction to that disclaimer.

          I can understand the existence and prevalence of unconventional practices/trends and their growing acceptance in some parts of society and yet not be personally supportive of them, though I don’t stand for their suppression or abolition or forcible corrections.

          Instead of interpreting the tendency and bias of the Mahabharata narrative towards licentiousness, the apologists seem to giving it the gloss of liberality and progressiveness or modernness, that no reasonable reading of it will support.

          These are needlessly loaded questions that have no relevance to ideas espoused in my post. They are meant to provoke and stoke animated/agitated response and misdirect the course of debate on the real issues of the post.

          • I read you post again, and unfortunately still think you misunderstand/overreact… you accuse the commentators of believing in the Mahabharata’s fantastic events. There is no evidence of that in the posts.

            They literally just said the two things I copy/pasted above.

            That’s fine though… I’ll not continue with this.

          • Needless to say, I was disappointed in the follow-up article… it certainly does verge on the McCarthyism they complain of.

            Are we not allowed to complain about factual errors in your articles without being termed cultural vigilantes and Hindu apologists?


          • Interestingly enough, you make another dubious claim in the post:

            “Pandu died after having sexual intercourse with Madri, as a result of some Sexually Transmitted Disease.”

            In the Mahabharata itself, it is clearly stated that Pandu dies after intercourse because of a curse.

            It seems like you are engaging in mythological revisionism that is also historical revisionism.

            It is academically dishonest to misrepresent source material in this way.

          • Thank you, Ashwin, for pointing out the pervasiveness of mythological revisionism aspiring to be historical revisionism in our society.

            We should note that history can never be written with just a book of myths in front of us. Myths can be insightful in that they reveal that attitudes of their authors, but I probably couldn’t write a history of medieval India if I only had the Agni Purana in front of me.

            A fallacy that many people have is that if they look at each event in a myth and purge the fictional elements of it, it automatically becomes history.

            That seems to be what has been attempted here in this post about ‘historicizing’ the myth of Mirabai.

  • I came across this interesting article with lot of claims.

    Found it difficult to understand. Can someone please provide points to clarify or refute the claims?

    Thank you

  • I think Dr. Ambedkar is worth a read, especially for his influence on the Tamil identity and his impact on how people look at culture and history in India today.

    But when it comes to ‘revisionism’ he pretty much just made things up without any real backing whatsoever. So I don’t really use him as a source to understand any Sanskrit source material including the Upanishads. From a political and social theory point of view, the Upanishads is of course ‘useless’ but this isn’t really the purpose of this document anymore than is Isaac Newton’s Principia.

    What I do find interesting is that Spinoza came to some of the same ideas as the Upanishads independently in his Ethics but was able to connect it to politics and social issues. It actually makes a good extension to these philosophical ideas and was very instrumental in bringing on European Enlightenment.

    The otherworldly concepts of reincarnation and letting go of karmas really are not Updanishadic but rather introduced by the Jains and later taken in by the later Vaishnava sects. It is mentioned in the Gita.

    In Upanishadic terms, karma is action in this world that have effects beyond the present time and beyond the individual, but this is not in any next world but effects things in this world even after ones death. So if you build a house now, it may be a dwelling of your children in the future and may be the reason a road does not get constructed through a specific region. These are things that are not apparent to the builder at the time building.

    In the Upanishads, the soul automatically returns to Brahma after death regardless and the elements decompose, become the earth and then the food for new life. There is not need for tapas or meditation. According to Adi Shankaracharya those practices are only used for understanding, perspective and inner knowledge.

    This kind of stuff may not be useful to most people but is interesting and philosophically advanced speculations that are worth reading as much as Wittgenstein, Schopenhaur, or even Spinoza.

    As I’ve read the western tradition of philosophy, which I highly respect, I have even more respect for Indian philosophy that I would have had otherwise.

    • Kit,

      I am sorry to put it very harshly. But You are mostly talking nonsense except when you are making observations on western philosophy.

      It looks like you know very little of the Upanishads or medieval Indian philosophy (Darshanas) or Dr. Ambedkar.

      Dr. Ambedkar did not analyze the Upanishads in detail, but his critique of the Vedas, Puranas and Shastras/Smritis is masterly and is invaluable in the development and appreciation of a contrarian approach to religion and feudalism in Hindu culture. That he had his own conspiracy theory about the counter-revolution of Brahminism, does not in any way detract from his immense contribution to the field of historical analysis and criticism of ancient and medieval India.

      The less said about your opinion of the Upanishads and Vedanta, the better. Any reading of the Brihadaranyaka Up., Chandhogya Up., Taittriya Up., Kaushitaki Up. and the Mandukya Up. will bear out the themes that were ridiculed in the post and the critical comments. The worldview of Vedanta considered in the post was not just restricted to primary Upanishads, but included the exegesis represented by Badrayana’s Brahma Sutra, Adi Sankara’s commentaries on it and Sankara’s own commentaries on the Upanishads themselves.

      Your conception of Karma does not agree with what the Upanishads state and without having proper acquaintance with the doctrines of the Upanishads and Vedanta, you are simply talking through your hat, when you are providing flimsy apologies for the medieval ideas of ‘samsara’ and re-birth.

      Sankara is himself fork-tongued on whether Upanishads are theistic, pantheistic or panentheistic (separateness and oneness at the same time). The desperation of Sankara would be evident when it is reported that when needled too much on his conception of Maya, he blurted out that Maya is neither real nor unreal. And I would like to be educated about Sankara’s and your concept of “inner knowledge”

      Other than making bogus and tendentious claims about being a ‘rationalist’, you seem to have very little idea of the social and political context of the composition of the Upanishads and its exegetical works. Upanishads and Vedanta are not as innocuous as Isaac Newton’s Principia. Their legacy is far more lethal in that they most probably inspired and instituted the theistic darshanas (Sankhya,Yoga,Nyaya,Vaisheshika,Mimansa & Vedanta) and provided metaphysical cover for the socially regressive and oppressive Shastras and Smiritis.

      • Actually I don’t think you understand Karma from the Upanishad view and you are mixing it with how it is viewed in Jainism.

        First of all, the shocker:
        Karma does not mean fate!
        This is purely new age dribble.

        The closest word for Karma is ‘action.’ So throwing a ball up in the air is the Karma which leads to Prarabdha which is the word that can maybe be translated as fate but really is the outcome of the action: the ball falls. But you still are able to act on Karma and either catch the ball or let it land on the ground. If you try to catch the ball from the location you through it up and not in another country, you are aligning your Karma (action) with Dharma (the movement of nature).

        But it gets more interesting…as what is more important than Karma is how it affects us mentally in the form of Vasanas which are tendencies. This is the mind pattern that creates our likes and dislikes and the directions we desire to go. We are created by our actions and thoughts.

        It is also interesting that the word ‘Jati’ in the Upanishads also have a different meaning in that it is referring to the categories we create through our tendencies. For example, why we see chairs as different from cats. Jati is an element of maya created by vasanas.

        You can see how this becomes very contradictory to the ‘oppresive Shastras and Smritis’ that you mention, especially Manu Smriti.

        In Shankarachary’s view meditation was not necessary for the commoner, but rather for those who wanted to have an experience beyond the ‘maya’. This experience can give brief awareness but has no other advantage in life beyond knowledge for knowledge sake.

        All this can be pure ‘woo’ but behind it there is some interesting thoughts. Even science fiction has lead to a lot of profound inventions and discoveries over time. The ability to see outside and beyond your immediate senses and use thought experiments and imagination to visualize what could be is very valuable.

        • Captain Mandrake

          **But you still are able to act on Karma and either catch the ball or let it land on the ground. If you try to catch the ball from the location you through it up and not in another country, you are aligning your Karma (action) with Dharma (the movement of nature).

          But it gets more interesting…as what is more important than Karma is how it affects us mentally in the form of Vasanas which are tendencies.**

          In short, “action” aligned with “the movement of nature” affects us mentally through “tendencies”.

          You call that interesting? I find it hilarious.

          **We are created by our actions and thoughts.**

          Also hilarious.

        • Kit

          The Jainist view and the Upanishadic view of Karma are not very dissimilar in the sense that both seem to be imputing to Karma as action a power of its own in determining and dispensing consequences to the doer across endless birth or transmigration until that cyclicality is broken thru realization of the soul.

          Chandogya and Brh. Upanishads refer to Karma as deeds and relate the paths through multiple realms of the unrealized soul accruing from such deeds ( though in the process betray the typical ignorance of cosmology and natural phenomenon that is often associated with primitive societies) There are also details the kinds of rebirths resulting from the effects of Karma.

          The Upanishadic view of Karma, rebirth and release (moksha) can be deduced from the main principles of Sankhya Darsana and of course Vedanta, with the difference being that Sankhya is atheistic and dualistic (like Jainism) while Vedanta is supposedly theistic and non-dualist with the twist of Maya borrowed from the Adi Sankara’s interpretation of the Mandukya Upanishad’s verses on the ‘unreality’ of 3 states of experience (waking,dream and deep sleep).

          Concerning Vasanas, your comment is very unclear. What is that ‘it’ which supposedly affects us mentally in the form of Vasanas (desires). The chain or link of causation between Karma and Vasanas is not clear from any of the principal Upanishads. In my opinion of the muddle-headedness of Upanishads / Vedanta, it may seem that both seem to feed into each other in a hopeless vicious circle.

          The concept of Varna has always superseded jati in the Vedic system and the opinions of certain Upanishads upholding the prohibitions (from Sastras) on Upanayana and spiritual learning for Sudras do not seem to contradict the Sastras or Smiritis.

          I suggest that you read Adi Sankara’s Vedanta Sutra bhasyas instead of proffering second-hand opinions from dubious sources about Sankara’s approach to Vedanta and Vedic metaphysics. You can also know about Sankara’s views on creation theories of the Upanishads and on his discrediting of the tools of reason and empiricism from these Bhasyas and from John Muir works on ancient Indian scriptures.

          I am sorry to be sounding pedantic, but you don’t seem to having any information or context of how these ideas were treated in the principal Upanishads and their exegesis and are simply parroting new age ideas based on current Swamis/gurus’ interpretations taken from the verses of the Bhagavad Gita, which is mistaken to be a proxy for Upanishads and Vedanta.

          If one goes by the interpretations that JN Mohanty, BK Matilal and Amartya Sen provide about purpose of the debates among the various darshanas in Medieval India, interesting theories and thoughts do emerge. But that still does not validate the purpose or substance of the whole metaphysical foundations of these systems. And their social implications are still open to inquiry and criticism.

  • These “hypotheses”” are all masculine constructs. Even science itself is sexist because it neglects fields that are deemed feminine.

    Why is the mechanics of rigid bodies so well known, but the Navier-Stokes equations
    are still not well researched in fluid mechanics? The answer is sexism in the subconscious that makes (mostly male) science researchers recoil from fluids, which are feminine, and go towards the rigid, which is masculine.

    So called “imaginary numbers” were also conjured up by sexist men to put a phallic symbol in mathematics.

    Look up Luce Irigiray.

  • Upanishads and Vedanta are esoteric dogma containing speculations about the Self(Soul).

    These books were initially available only for Brahmins but Vivekananda has written a lot about this and his books are available online.

    There is no consistency in assertions in different Upanishads. For example:- Some Upanishads states the Non-Dualistic approach while other assert the Dual approach.

    Of course the Dogma would fall apart considering if and whether the Atma(Soul) actually exists?…..Forget the Brahman element.

    I especially find the Advaita Vedanta Dogma particularly dangerous.. It essentially claims —-Everything is Brahman…..It is quite dangerous…..It can actually cause Narcissism in Humans who get trapped by such Dogmas.

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