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object:1.09 - A System of Vedic Psychology
book class:Vedic and Philological Studies
author class:Sri Aurobindo
subject class:Integral Yoga
class:book
collection class:cwsa

A System of Vedic Psychology - A (Prefatory)

The successes of European science have cast the shadow of their authority & prestige over the speculations of European scholarship; for European thought is, in appearance, a serried army marching to world-conquest and we who undergo the yoke of its tyranny, we, who paralysed by that fascination and overborne by that domination, have almost lost the faculty of thinking for ourselves, receive without distinction all its camp followers or irregular volunteers as authorities to whom we must needs submit.We reflect in our secondhand opinions the weak parts of European thought equally with the strong; we do not distinguish between those of its ideas which eternal Truth has ratified and those which have merely by their ingenuity and probability captivated for a short season the human imagination. The greater part of the discoveries of European Science (its discoveries, not its intellectual generalisations) belong to the first category; the greater part of the conclusions of European scholarship to the second. The best European thought has itself no illusions on this score. One of the greatest of European scholars & foremost of European thinkers, Ernest Renan, after commencing his researches in Comparative Philology with the most golden & extravagant hopes, was compelled at the close of a life of earnest & serious labour, to sum up the chief preoccupation of his days in a formula of measured disparagement,petty conjectural sciences. In other words, no sciences at all; for a science built upon conjectures is as much an impossibility & a contradiction in terms as a house built upon water. Renans own writings bear eloquent testimony to the truth of his final verdict; those which sum up his scholastic research, read now like a mass of learned crudity, even the best of them no longer authoritative or valid; those which express the substance or shades of his lifes thinking are of an imperishable beauty & value. The general sentiment of European Science agrees with the experience of Renan and even shoots beyond it; in the vocabulary of German scientists the word Philologe, philologist, bears a sadly disparaging and contemptuous significance & so great is the sense among serious thinkers of the bankruptcy of Comparative Philology that many deny even the possibility of an etymological Science. There is no doubt an element of exaggeration in some of these views; but it is true that Comparative Philology, Comparative Mythology, ethnology, anthropology and their kindred sciences are largely a mass of conjectures,shifting intellectual quagmires in which we can find no sure treading. Only the airy wings of an ingenious imagination can bear us up on that shimmering surface and delude us with the idea that it is the soil which supports our movement & not the wings. There is a meagre but sound substratum of truth which will disengage itself some day from the conjectural rubbish; but the present stage of these conjectural sciences is no better but rather worse than the state of European chemistry in the days of Paracelsus.But we in India are under the spell of European philology; we are taken by its ingenuity, audacity & self-confidence, an ingenuity which is capable of giving a plausibility to the absurd and an appearance of body to the unsubstantial, an audacity which does not hesitate to erect the most imposing theories on a few tags of disconnected facts, a confidence which even the constant change of its own opinions cannot disconcert. Moreover, our natural disposition is to the intellectuality of the scholar; verbal ingenuities, recondite explanations, far-fetched glosses have long had a weight with us which the discontinuity of our old scientific activities and disciplined experimental methods of reaching subjective truth has exaggerated and our excessive addiction to mere verbal metaphysics strongly confirmed. It is not surprising that educated India should have tacitly or expressly accepted even in subjects of such supreme importance to us as the real significance of the Vedas and Upanishads, the half patronising, half contemptuous views of the European scholar.

What are those views? They represent the Veda to us as a mass of naturalistic, ritualistic & astrological conceits, allegories & metaphors, crude & savage in the substance of its thought but more artificial & ingenious in its particular ideas & fancies than the most artificial, allegorical or Alexandrian poetry to be found in the worlds literaturea strange incoherent & gaudy jumble unparalleled by the early literature of any other nation,the result of a queer psychological mixture of an early savage with a modern astronomer & comparative mythologist.
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A System of Vedic Psychology - B

Is there or can there be a system of Vedic psychology? To us who are dominated today by the prestige of European thought and scholarship, the Vedas are a document of primitive barbarism, the ancient Vedanta a mass of sublime but indisciplined speculations. We may admit the existence of many deep psychological intuitions in the Upanishads; we do not easily allow to an age which we have been taught to regard as great but primitive and undeveloped the possibility of a profound and reasoned system in a subject in which Europe with all her modern knowledge has been unable to develop a real science. I believe that this current view of our Vedic forefathers is entirely erroneous and arises from our application to them of a false system of psychological and intellectual values. Europe has formed certain views about the Veda & the Vedanta, and succeeded in imposing them on the Indian intellect. The ease with which this subjugation has been effected, is not surprising; for the mere mass of labour of Vedic scholarship has been imposing, its ingenuity of philological speculation is well calculated to dazzle the uncritical mind and the audacity & self-confidence with which it constructs its theories conceals the conjectural uncertainty of their foundations. When a hundred world famous scholars cry out, This is so, it is hard indeed for the average mind and even minds above the average, but inexpert in these special subjects, not to acquiesce. Nor has there been in India itself any corresponding labour of scholarship, diligence & sound enquiry which could confront the brilliant and hazardous generalisations of modern Sanscrit scholarship with the results of a more perfect system and a more penetrating vision. The only attempt in that directionthe attempt of Swami Dayanandahas not been of a kind to generate confidence in the dispassionate judgment of posterity which must be the final arbiter of these disputes; for not only was that great Pundit and vigorous disputant unequipped with the wide linguistic & philological scholarship necessary for his work, but his method was rapid, impatient, polemical, subservient to certain fixed religious ideas rather than executed in the calm, disinterested freedom of the careful and impartial thinker and scholar. Judgment has passed on the Veda & Vedanta by default in favour of the scholastic criticism of Europe which has alone been represented in the court of modern opinion.

Nevertheless a time must come when the Indian mind will shake off the paralysis that has fallen upon it, cease to think or hold opinions at second & third hand & reassert its right to judge and inquire with a perfect freedom into the meaning of its own Scriptures. When that day comes, we shall, I think, discover that the imposing fabric of Vedic theory is based upon nothing more sound or lasting than a foundation of loosely massed conjectures. We shall question many established philological myths,the legend, for instance, of an Aryan invasion of India from the north, the artificial & unreal distinction of Aryan & Dravidian which an erroneous philology has driven like a wedge into the unity of the homogeneous Indo-Afghan race; the strange dogma of a henotheistic Vedic naturalism; the ingenious & brilliant extravagances of the modern sun & star myth weavers, and many another hasty & attractive generalisation which, after a brief period of unquestioning acceptance by the easily-persuaded intellect of mankind, is bound to depart into the limbo of forgotten theories. We attach an undue importance & value to the ephemeral conclusions of European philology, because it is systematic in its errors and claims to be a science.We forget or do not know that the claims of philology to a scientific value & authority are scouted by European scientists; the very word, Philologe, is a byword of scorn to serious scientific writers in Germany, the temple of philology. One of the greatest of modern philologists & modern thinkers, Ernest Renan, was finally obliged after a lifetime of hope & earnest labour to class the chief preoccupation of his life as one of the petty conjectural sciencesin other words no science at all, but a system of probabilities & guesses. Beyond one or two generalisations of the mutations followed by words in their progress through the various Aryan languages and a certain number of grammatical rectifications & rearrangements, resulting in a less arbitrary view of linguistic relations, modern philology has discovered no really binding law or rule for its own guidance. It has fixed one or two sure signposts; the rest is speculation and conjecture.We are not therefore bound to worship at the shrines of Comparative Science & Comparative Mythology & offer up on these dubious altars the Veda & Vedanta. The question of Vedic truth & the meaning of Veda still lies open. If Sayanas interpretation of Vedic texts is largely conjectural and likely often to be mistaken & unsound, the European interpretation can lay claim to no better certainty. The more lively ingenuity and imposing orderliness of the European method of conjecture may be admitted; but ingenuity & orderliness, though good helps to an enquiry, are in themselves no guarantee of truth and a conjecture does not cease to be a conjecture, because its probability or possibility is laboriously justified or brilliantly supported. It is on the basis of a purely conjectural translation of the Vedas that Europe presents us with these brilliant pictures of Vedic religion, Vedic society, Vedic civilisation which we so eagerly accept and unquestioningly reproduce. For we take them as the form of an unquestionable truth; in reality, they are no more than brilliantly coloured hypotheses,works of imagination, not drawings from the life.
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