Calcutta Notebook


Economist Angus Madison has estimated that the share of Asia in global income in the year 1000 was about 67 percent while that of Europe was nine percent. The picture had changed dramatically by 1998. Share of Asia had fallen to mere 30 percent while that of Europe had increased fivefold to 46 percent. India and China were major contributors to Asia's decline. India had enjoyed nearly 4000 years of continued prosperity. Starting with Indus Valley Civilization, Indraprastha of Mahabharata times, Licchavis of Buddha's times India had series of prosperous periods. This continued with Maurya, Vikramaditya, Gupta, Harsha and Chalukya empires. India's main scriptures—the Vedas, Upanishads, Ramayana and Mahabharata had already been composed. The progressive stance of these texts towards the material world was reflected in the prosperity of the society.

India's decline appears to have started around the year 1000. Indians were not able to face the attacks by Mahmud of Ghazni, Mughals and the British. Question is what happened at this time such that India could not face the invaders'?

It seems misinterpretation of Sankara's teaching led to this decline. There is dispute regarding Sankara's time. Some hold he traversed this earth around the year 800. Others place him much earlier. Either Sankara himself or one of his prominent disciples arose around the year 800 and India's decline started thereafter.

The teaching of Sankara is "God is real, world is unreal". Sankara taught that the one God has expressed himself in the various forms such as plants and animals. Man too is His expression. Thus the statement "I am Brahman." He said that man should focus on the underlying unity of all material existence and not get entrapped by the worldly attractions. Then he will be in harmony with other living beings, he will be happy if he behaves as per will of God just as an employee is happy who behaves as per will of the employer.

What is the will of God though? God is not like an employer who will give clear and audible directions. It is here that trouble starts. Various philosophers have given different views on what God wants. If God is considered to be inactive and introvert then a person should also become inactive and introvert. He should withdraw from the material world and contemplate on the divine sitting in a cave. On the other hand if God is progressive and active then a person should act in the world to attain progress.

Upanishads stated that "God was One and He desired to become many.' God was one undifferentiated entity something like space or the black hole. He was unhappy being alone. He created many from Himself. He enjoyed the multiplicity of being stones, plants and animals. God likes this world made up of these differences that is why he became many from one.

The multiplicity is painful, however. Plants fight for scarce water. Animals eat each other. Brothers in a family start fighting if they think of themselves as separate from each other. They are friendly and harmonious if they think of themselves as one family. Sankara gave the mantra of "God is real, world is unreal" to establish this oneness and harmony. The mantra was a strategy to get people to focus on the larger good of the entire creation instead of their petty individual self. For example, the family will become happy if it is said "Family is real, individual is unreal." Each member of the family will start thinking about the welfare of the family as a whole. On the other hand there will be infighting and acrimony if it is said "God is real, family is unreal". Each individual will define 'God' in his own way and harm the family because he would be freed from thinking of welfare of the family. Similarly purpose of the mantra "God is real, world is unreal" was to get the person to focus on the welfare of the entire creation rather than his limited self. Idea was that by detaching from personal worldly attractions a person would be able to perceive the true welfare of the entire creation. The mantra does not mean that the world does not exist and it is a mere imagination. The Koran likewise states that the world was not created in a jest.

In a small lifespan of 32 years Sankara engaged the Buddnists in debates, reestablished broken temples, wrote commentaries on the Upanishads and established four Maths. There was no need to undertake these activities if the world was indeed unreal.

Problem started sometime after the year 800. Sankara's disciples interpreted the mantra "God is real, world is unreal" to mean that the world is actually non-existent and a mere imagination. In truth it led to the decline of India. There was no motivation left for the kings to fight and work for the welfare of the people. A family would be scarcely happy if the breadwinner states 'God is real, Family is unreal' and stops earning. Similarly India was unhappy because best of her minds stopped acting in- and guiding the society. They sat in caves trying to attain oneness with God saying 'world is unreal" when the country was being attacked by marauders. They negated God—as manifested in this material world in the quest of attaining God.

Another consequence of the mantra was that the individual was freed of the responsibility of working as per common good. Only the individual remained after the world was negated. This led to an anti-poor tendency amongst India's rulers and the poor sided with invaders against their own cruel masters. This led to the defeat of Indian rulers. This sane mantra gives license to be corrupt. The controlling factor of social good is no longer existent.

India is under pressure nowadays. Few years ago India was being looked as an emerging global power. But India is slipping once again. Crass self-interest prevails all around. This can be controlled only by reestablishing the primacy of social good. That can be done only if people accept that the world is real. It is necessary to redefine the mantra "God is real, world is unreal." It should be read as "Creation is real, individual is unreal." The hidden energy of this country will once again get manifested if people come out of the misinterpretation of Sankara's teaching.

Vol. 46, No. 10, Sep 15 - 21, 2013

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