He surely knows… or perhaps He does not!

There was this talk by Jairam Ramesh, the Union Minister for Environment and Forests, at JNCASR today. I’ll write about the talk and the questions and answers at the end in a day or two; I had a fascinating discussion with Roddam Narasimha, this professor of mine – who knows just about everything – about the talk, and something Jairam Ramesh said came up in the discussion.

Jairam Ramesh quoted Alberuni’s comment about Indians that (this was a thousand years ago, mind; it seems like we haven’t changed one bit), presented with a choice between two things, Indians choose both. The minister used this to point out that the dithering usually involved in saying no to haphazard industrial development even when we know it will cause environmental destruction is symptomatic of this.

RN agrees that this is true, but says that this isn’t always a bad thing. He says, and I agree, that this is perhaps the most fundamental difference between Indian and western philosophy – we are all right with saying ‘maybe this. maybe that. maybe both, or neither’.

Here’s a for-instance: the creation stories of the world are usually full of unseemly certainties – god created man and earth and all the shit within and without starting on a Monday, working through the week, and resting on Sunday. What the Rig Veda (which is the text that deals with creation) says is delightfully skeptical. Amartya Sen quotes this stanza in The Argumentative Indian.

iyam visrstir yata ababhuva;
yadi va dadhe yadi va na:
yo asyadhyaksah parame vioman,
so anga veda, yadi va na veda.
[/end stanza]

That translates (roughly) to: “Where did this universe come from? Did He create it, or did he not? Only he who is the master of all this knows; Or perhaps he doesn’t.”

To be sure, there are other places in the vedas and other texts where the creation story is told in more descriptive – and more ‘certain’ – terms: there was an egg that gave rise to Brahma, who went crazy and pooped all over. Or something. Also, that stanza seems to presume a creator, and that ‘he’ is male, and that ‘he’ is the master; the nice thing about the stanza, though, is that it leaves the options open, and leaves the ‘creator’ a completely impotent being.

I can very easily imagine somebody from that tradition, on being told that Adam was created on Saturday, 30th of September, 4004 BC and that the woman was created from the man’s rib, and that God rested the next day, would do exactly what I would do today – point, and laugh.

[End. Fini. Kaputski.]

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6 thoughts on “He surely knows… or perhaps He does not!”

  1. Such mythological stories exist in almost all religions but its sad that people still believe it,even though philosophers started questioning such myths from as early as 600 B.C.

  2. If you’re referring to the date of the Rig Veda, it isn’t 600 BC. The Vedas are much older.

    If you weren’t, I have no idea what happened in 600 BC that philosophers suddenly started questioning these myths. Do you?

  3. around 600 B.C. in Greece a new breed of philosophers started searching for natural explanations for things that happened around us rather than super-natural explanations. These philosophers are called as Natural Philosophers. Till then people relied mainly on super-natural explanations which seems irrational.

  4. Ah, you jumped to Greece. Good good. I know pretty much nothing about Greek history. Socrates, Aristotle, Plato who taught Alexander. Those four names I mugged up in class 6. That’s all I remember.

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