Indian Philosophy and European Science – Pythagoras to Heisenberg

Indian philosophers’ subtleties make most of the great European philosophers look like school boys.
– T. S. Eliot
Firstly, it’s my great love for the country. Secondly, I learned much about the Indian wisdom when I was introduced to the works of Swami Vivekananda by my father from early age. Frankly speaking, Vivekananda, Sri Aurovindo, Paramhansa Yogananda, Mahatma Gandhi and Ralph Emerson were my initial eye-openers and inspirations. Their works embedded deeply in my heart inspired me to read more and explore more. I fondly treasured those boyhood days, I was not even 10 years then, when a small booklet ‘Call to the Nation’ by Swamiji I would read as and when I would have free time. It wholly changed my perspective to look at the country and even the life we live in this mundane world. The Bhagavat Gita and Upanishads were other books I was quite drawn to read again and again and ponder over the higher meanings of life.
Here let me narrate how the seed of inspiration was sown and how it germinated which now has taken root to grow into a tall standing tree.
It was a winter day in 1988, when I was traveling to Delhi I picked up a book ‘The Discovery of India’ by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru from a newsstand at Guwahati Railway station. I had heard a lot about this work of Pandit Nehru. It contained the wealth of knowledge / information as to the country and about the significance of her ancient heritage. I read it very attentively throughout my journey of over 56 hours. What amazed me most was a few of the quotes in the book by the world-famous western scholars and philosophers. Those quotes were in deep appreciation of the Indian ancient wisdom, its language and culture. For months together I felt much haunted by those words of western luminaries.
The second book that fascinated me again was ‘Autobiography of a Yogi’ by Paramhansa Yogananda. Here even I had come across such profound opinions by great thinkers like Ralph Emersion and Schopenhauer who were close to my heart. These quotes had left deep imprints – both in my inner mind and heart. I had begun to realise that this country is far more than what we have known or made to be known as.
But the turning point happened when I read a book entitled ‘We are not the first’ by an UFO scientist Tomas Andrew where I encountered incredible facts based on Modern science. I clearly saw that great many discoveries of the modern times had already been mentioned in the ancient scriptures of India. I got the vivid references and precise theoretical illustration of atomic structures and the time scales which are far inconceivable to the scientists of even the early 19th century. My science background immensely helped me to go deeper into the subject.
I strongly felt then, these western scientists would not have applauded and approved of those ancient wisdom and knowledge had there not been any scientific validity and significance. I gradually got to know that scientists like Schrödinger, Neils Bohr, Julius Oppenheimer, David Bohm, Heisenberg, David Josephson, etc. had sufficiently got the ideas relative to Quantum Physics from Upanishads and Vedas. It dawned upon me that the ancient treatises had greatly emboldened those scientists to plunge deeper into the atom, moreover into the inner core of the Quantum Mechanics. Here are the words of approval by Werner Heisenberg –
After the conversations about Indian philosophy, some of the ideas of Quantum Physics that had seemed so crazy suddenly made much more sense.
All these facts consequently strengthened my conviction about the infallibility of ancient literary archives from my early age.

I kept reading, peering through the pages. I was constantly on the lookout where I might stumble upon the ‘great words of great minds’. I rummaged through the pages of probably over 100 more such books on the ancient philosophy. The works on linguistic, astronomy, astrology, spiritualism, Ayurveda, mostly written by the western scholars also captivated me, intrigued me. Well, the books like ‘The Tao of Physics’ by a famous American physicist Fritzof Capra, ‘Indian and the world Civilization’ by DP Singhal, ‘Hinduism Invades America’, by Wendell Thomas, ‘Mathematics for Million’ by Thomas Hogben, ‘The Great Secret’ by Maurice Maeterlinck and so on and so forth added to firming up my determination to do something unprecedented and substantial for the country. I saw this great country being much neglected and also underestimated and undervalued by her own children. With the time I grew more inquisitive and felt that I should know my Mother before I develop kinship with others mothers.
The thing that pricked my conscience incessantly was one question. Why in my over sixteen years of academic studies in several prestigious institutions I could not find even the sporadic references to these amazing facts. Why have these proud truths about the ancient knowledge of the country never been taught to our Indian students while their minds are stuffed with rather controversial information that only leaves behind negative impression about the country and her ancient heritage?

I was startled to know that Pythagoras from Greece came to India to learn Geometry and spiritualism. Also that I did not get this information from any of my textbooks, nor even from mathematics books published from the home country, but from the work of one of the greatest thinkers of all time Francois Voltaire.
voltaire-on-pythagoras

Perhaps the majority of our literate folks have heard about Ralph Emerson. But barely a few know this world-renowned poet had written a solemn poem ‘Brahma’ and an essay ‘Over-soul’ inspired by our ancient wisdom. I sense many things amiss in the country. Yes, we in India swell our chest to quote TS Eliot but hardly we take our cue from his world famous poem ‘The waste land’ that ends in Sanskrit word ‘Shanti, Shanti Shanti’, and finally speaks of cardinal truths as expounded in Brihaddaranyaka Upanishad. One wonders why Indians never get to learn such higher facts about the country and her rich heritage from the prescribed academic books. It’s bewildering, such profoundly lofty data are missing from the textbooks. So, it’s no strange now our children grown to have less respect for our own heritage and values. Yes, strongly realised the present Education has only made us the country hating and culture-hating Macaulay children!
Well, to me nothing would be more intriguing than to know that Erwin Schrödinger (the Nobel laureate, the father Quantum Mechanics), David Josephson and Robert Julius Oppenheimer (father of Atomic Bomb), Jack Sarfatti — who held the Indian literature in the highest esteem, had studied Upanishads, besides the Bhagavad Gita deeply and had drawn lots of ideas pertaining to Modern physics and other research works. Schrödinger had even supported his theory in his revolutionary work on Quantum Mechanics by the phrases of Upanishads. He boldly pointed out in his famous work
‘My view of the World’ – ‘In all world there is no kind of framework within which we can find CONSCIOUSNESS in the plural; this is simply something we construct because of the temporal plurality of individuals, but it is a false construction…. The only solution to this conflict in so far as any is available to us at all lies in the ancient wisdom of the UPANISHADS.’
Thanks to the works of Ravindranath Tagore whose Vedantic wisdom spellbound even Albert Einstein, while Vivekananda’sspeeches bewitched Nicholas Tesla, Romain Rolland, Ella Wilcox, J. D. Salinger and the like.
Of course I started casually collecting such quotes by world-famous scholar about 22 years ago. But making a book occurred to me while reading the world famous books – ‘The Tao of Physics’ and ‘Uncommon Wisdom’ by Frijtof Capra for the second time in 1995. Yes, it really put me in the most pensive mood and got me lost in the depth of thoughts for years together when I had come upon Oppenheimer’s bombshell-like quote —
‘What we shall find in Modern Physics is an exemplification, an encouragement and a refinement of old Hindu wisdom.’
This statement so deeply touched me wherein I clearly saw great messages by the ‘father of Atomic Bomb’ — not only for the modern scientists but for the whole mankind. I deeply felt that this must be spread among every citizen of India who is less aware of the higher truths about the ancient treasure troves. At least to make the citizens aware, who otherwise tend to dismiss the ancient literature as a load of myths and superstition or irrelevant to the modern time, as often depicted — as being scientific, universal and secular to the core. Paul Deussen has rightly eulogised
‘Whatever maybe the discoveries of the scientific mind, none can dispute the eternal truths propounded by the Upanishads’.
The years 1996-98 saw me frantically preoccupied. I exhaustively worked for this compilation. I would regularly visit a number of libraries of Shillong like State Central library, RK Mission library, St. Anthony Library, NEHU library and the like. Because, I didn’t have enough money to buy books. I can’t miss to mention here, apart from our own bookstall where I got to read many kinds of books, how I would frequent the junk yard – a popular a second hand market just near our shop in Shillong. This was my preferred rendezvous. I had come across a rare collection of books here. I had chanced upon to read rare books of great intellectuals — like the translated works of, Voltaire, Gottfried Herder, Sir William Jones, Friedrich Hegel, Max Muller, Henry David Thoreau from a few shops in this shabby market at Bara Bazar, Shillong.
Life is not always a bed of roses. The dreams one cherishes often meet with stumbling block of adversaries. No matter however I tried I could not save enough money to publish the book for many years though the compilation was ready in 1998 itself. Family responsibilities had begun to weigh heavily on me. However, I never had lost my heart. I would do lots of Xerox of those compiled quotes and share with anyone whom I believe would appreciate. Some would get awestruck and also shed a few tears, some would remain indifferent, while some would just become critical. I would feel something wrong in them as because they find uncomfortable when their own heritage, their own great Motherland, being appreciated by none other than the Western thinkers whom they so far held them in the highest esteem as men who brought significant changes to the world.

At last my weary and dreary wait of over 11 years brought a sunny light of hope. Yes, with a little improvement in my economy I could see my treasured dream fulfilled. At last I published the book entitled “Great Minds on INDIA” in glossy format in 2009. I was delighted, the book was instantly gloried, – so appreciated that the Governor of Meghalaya heartily consented to release it in the most fitting manner.
I have reasons to feel blessed. The work immediately caught the attention of the scholars from across the world which I hardly expected. A shower of compliments began to pour in. To my immense delight I received phone-calls even from great many eminent scholars, writers throughout the world. I was too thrilled when Prof. A. V. Murali, an eminent NASA scientist, called up me to express his gratitude for the work. He remarked –
“This compilation is simply outstanding! I never knew that such a compilation exists and we all should be thankful to the researcher! These great quotes should be embossed on plaques and displayed on the walls of our Parliament, State Assembly Halls, and at all our educational institutions. Most importantly, the material should be made a compulsory reading for all the school students (elaborating more on ‘who is who’ and the monumental contributions of these intellectual giants).”

— Prof. A. V. Murali, Ph. D, Former NASA scientist, Houston, Texas
Lastly my sincere prayer — may this ancient wisdom of the country evoke awe and reverence among the intellectuals. Let no children of the country speak ill of the mother whose womb gave birth to those mystic rishis whose works mesmerised even the great minds like Voltaire, Hegel, Goethe, Einstein and many more.

(Author: Salil Gewali is the author of the Book “The Great Minds of India” and lives in Shillong)

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