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In Our Time - Hindu Idea of Creation

Thursday 5 December 2013, 17:20

Melvyn Bragg Melvyn Bragg

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Editors note. In Thursday's programme Melvyn Bragg and guests discussed the microscope. As always the programme is available to listen to online or download to keep.

 

Hello 

I learned such a lot from this morning’s programme.  I just hope I can remember the lot.  The culture of India, although we’ve been across there several times on the programme and I’ve been there several times myself, continues not only to fascinate me but in some ways to elude me.  The fact is it needs far more concentrated and sustained attention than I have hitherto given it.  But this morning was a tremendous prologue. 

Afterwards Chakravarthi Ram-Prasad talked about Indian astronomy in the thirteenth century, and the combination of an astronomer who had brought in ideas from Greece and the brilliant Indian mathematicians of the day, which led to discoveries in advance of those made by Copernicus.  The interplay between Greek and Indian culture was far more developed than I’d ever given consideration to.

  hindu gods.jpg

You might like some notes from the notes.  There’s a Vedic scholar, Michael Witzel (born in 1943), who is Professor of Sanskrit at Harvard University, and he’s just published a book called The Origins of the World’s Mythologies, in which he argues that a basic creation story is reflected in all the scriptures of the world and goes back to our ancient ancestors who came out of Africa. 

I was interested in similarities as well as differences between the Hindu ideas and Western Christian ideas.  And in the Hymn of Creation it was Brahma who was the first creature in existence and he and others were described as being “self-born”.  The parallel in scholastic thought is with the thinkers, like Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) who wrote on ipseity.  He and his contemporaries articulated the view that God was a self-existing being, an entity which existed by his own divine power and did not have to be created.

Nietzsche may have been influenced by the Hindu cycles of creation and destruction, especially the idea of ‘eternal recurrence’.  He gained his information through his colleague and friend Paul Deussen, who was a German Orientalist and a Sanskrit scholar who wrote a book called The Philosophy of the Upanishads.

And of course there’s the tantalising comparison between contemporary physics and ancient creation mythsGavin Flood thinks it’s dangerous to make such connections, but again and again there seemed to be connections to be made.  For instance, was the Big Bang the beginning of something or the recurring end of something?

 

Best wishes

 

Melvyn Bragg

 

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  • rate this
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    Comment number 1.

    I found this an interesting programme as much for what was left out, as much as what was said! The panel of guests were quite right in suggesting that the concern of the ancient Indians was as much to do with an explanation of the world in the "here and now" in its social dimension and how it came to be; rather than pure cosmogony of world creation that we see in equivalent myths in the west. One of the texts mentioned in the programme, as providing a creation story of this type - a justification of the prevailing historic and social order - is the Book of Manu. What was not mentioned was that this book is just as much despised by as many in the Indian populace, as much as it is venerated as a book of "Holy Writ" by others. Had it been written today it would have been instantly banned in the classrooms because of its advocacy of the violent oppression of the lower castes. Perhaps more than any other work, as the main ideological prop of the caste system, it was responsible for the enslavement and social degradation of millions through the stigma of untouchability throughout the centuries. And no doubt while we can all luxuriate in pseudo-spiritual mysticism of comparisons between modern physics and these ancient myths, not one of the guests saw fit to mention the disastrous political consequences that these self-same myths have had on the fabric of Indian social life.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 2.

    I get annoyed when the Christian tradition is misrepresented when comparing it with other traditions. There are three creation stories in the Jewish/ Christian tradition, two of them in the first three chapters of Genesis, not one. Christianity does not necessarily have a problem with Darwin, many commentators in the nineteenth century saw no problem at all. And the Bible does not talk about creation 'ex nihilo', its an ordering of chaos. 'Ex nihilo' was a later development and not biblical. These are basic things that I would expect educated people to know rather than reiterate popular, relatively modern, misconceptions. Having just returned from a month in India, I found the programme especially interesting and hope the vast canvas will be revisited.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 3.

    In the newsletter you say a basic creation story is reflected in all the scriptures of the world and goes back to our ancient ancestors who came out of Africa.Primitive man and primitive thought used passion and imagination,practice and observance,and the early priest dictated what was indeed an arbitrary primitive practical science. These
    systemizers formed the first religions. Restraints were placed upon the primitive egoisms of the individual to form the first tribes e.g. the fear of the father and respect of the mother,the natural jealousy of the old man of the group for the younger males.
    The mental adjustment of the needs of the primitive human animal to a developing
    social life.Human social life grew out the reaction between the instincts of the young to go off and pair vs. the dangers of isolation on the other.Man were nearer to the animals and could suppose them to have motives and reactions like his own.He could imagine animal helpers, animal enemies,animal gods..Dream and fancy created stories and legends that would become credible as they were told.Primitive man was not critical in his associations of cause and effect. Fetish was the system of cause and effect in such a mind;but fetish was simply savage science.

    It’s funny that the majority of Indians who convert to Christianity are from the untouchable caste. Jainism is anti-caste,more egalitarian.Founded in 500BC as a reformist movement against the dominance of priests and the complicated rituals of Brahminism.Jains believe that the universe is infinite and not created by a deity.They also believe in reincarnation and eventual spiritual salvation or moksha.A factor in the search for salvation is ahimsa,or reverence for all life and the avoidance of injury to all living things.Jains are strict vegetarians.

    Hinduism absorbed many varieties of belief and practice:fetichism,demon-cults, animal worship, sexual cults(like the rites of Kali in Calcutta).Today Hinduism is itself changing under the impact of modern conditions,new ideas are destroying old beliefs and customs.Militant political Hinduism(BJP) is now threatening the cohesion of India.Caste is alive and well in the Hindu community. What caste you’re born into.you cannot change, you’re stuck with it for life.17% of the Indian population is Dalit(untouchable).Forget about transmigration of souls,think more of migration of prejudices from India to England for Indians who move to England and are subject to the same attitudes as those that prevailed in Mother India.Discrimination according to caste should be stopped,for which anti-caste legislation discrimination is required. Temples in England are organised on caste lines.Caste should be irrelevant.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 4.

    Thomas Aquinas wasn’t aware of the concept of a field. One really does struggle with the concept of a creation once one realises the universe is actually wavelike in nature. "Beginnings" and "Endings" do not exist.

    Lord Bragg wrote:

    “For instance, was the beginning of something or the recurring end of something?”

    This sentence is mixing particle and wavelike language which is dangerous

    “Beginning” - particle-like, spatial and the language equivalent of a uniform field (E within Maxwell’s 2nd equation)

    Creationism – analogous to E (particle-like) – uniform field

    Evolution – analogous to dE/dt (wave-like) – non-uniform field [1]

    Nature – analogous to E (particle-like)

    Nurture – analogous to dE/dt (wave-like) (partial differentials intended)


    A uniform field cannot change with respect to time and so one does, by definition, create instantaneously.

    Haven’t a clue why, but the mind appears to have this desperate requirement to operate in a particle like manner. Lord Bragg’s sentence suggests that he isn’t sure if an event comprises a) a beginning and ending – with no in-between or intermediate condition or b) just an intermediate condition with no beginning or ending (i.e. a sine wave).

    It’s meaningless to argue that an event can comprise an initial and final condition. Waves do not possess either a beginning or ending – hence the importance of evolution and the apparent absence of a “creation”

    Reference

    [1] See: A.P. French and J.P. Tessman,
    Displacement Current and Magnetic Fields , Am.J.Phys.31, 201 (1963),

  • rate this
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    Comment number 5.

    Lawrence Jones I believe Lord Bragg had learned from the master of such statements, Winston
    Churchill,who said in America something like, "This is not the beginning of the end, but the end of the beginning".I think the mind has a natural need to roam and make broad statements and not be pinned down to being compared to waves or particles.The mind has been compared to computers, clouds, river deltas, branches of a tree. These are all just analogies. I think he was talking of the Big Bang, not being self-reflexive about his own thinking.

 
 

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