Saturday, October 5, 2013

Differences between hindu and western sciences.

The objectives of this paper are as follows:

1) To describe traditional Indian knowledge systems in branches of science and tech and qualify their scientific nature.
2) To show how Indian knowledge systems differed from the western knowledge systems
3) To explore possibilities of inter-linkages and cooperation with western knowledge systems.

1) To describe traditional Indian knowledge systems in branches of science and tech and qualify their scientific nature: 

The author identifies a knowledge system in an ancient civilization as scientific if it shows the following three characteristics: - methodological, epistemological and sociological. 
Methodological criteria:

1) That it is based on a sufficiently large body of observational data.
2) It has a sufficiently elaborate theoretical framework to classify the data.
3) The basis of legitimisation of theoretical speculation is based in observation.

Epistemological criteria:

1) The above method is a legitimate method for acquiring knowledge about reality.
2) The knowledge so acquired is always limited and subject to modification in the light of new data.

Sociological criteria:

1) In the society there is a professional community of practitioners of knowledge in the above sense, well governed by some social norms.

The paper then continues and describes such criteria in traditional medicine as an example.

2) To show how Indian knowledge systems differed from the western knowledge systems

The author finds that traditional knowledge systems differed from the western systems in the social organization of knowledge, the nature of the parameter used to build scientific theories and measurement quantification and achieving rigor. With respect to social organization, the author finds that in the instance of traditional medicine, there is a classical system as well as the folk system. The classical system consists of the codified systems such as Ayurveda, Siddha and Unani traditions. These have institutionally trained practitioners, a body of texts and highly developed theories to support their practices. The folk tradition is passed down from one generation to another. With respect to theory construction, in the Indian tradition there is a lack of formalization in the sense that theories cannot be applied outside of the context of formulation. The institutionalized theories match folk tradition to a great degree and hence less centralized in terms of people knowing it. In terms of parameters used to build theories, the choice of parameters is such that they are universal and can be generalized for all conditions. The author gives the example of the Ayurvedic view that all disease is caused by the imbalance of Vatta, Pitta or Kapha (these are the parameters that Ayurveda uses). While Western sciences use numerical values in universal units to make precise measurements, traditional knowledge systems use different kinds of units. For instance, a person's height is measured in units of Anguli - which is the dimension of a finger of the same person rather than a universal standard external to the individual. 

3) To explore possibilities of inter-linkages and cooperation with western knowledge systems.

The author notes that the current status of interaction between western and Indian scientific tradition suffers from several limitations which is a result of the colonial hangover. He takes a look at two of them - (1) the current trend of 'prospecting' traditional knowledge and (2) the assumed universality and neutrality of the methodology of modern science. Prospecting traditional knowledge means to look at physical resources, technologies and knowledge as a raw material that needs to be scanned, prospected and refined with the aim to incorporate it into modern/western framework. While this can lead to outstanding success stories, such as making quinine from the Cinchona bark, it does not cause the revitalization of traditional knowledge and endogenous development of the local communities. The author gives the example of the plant Rauvolfa Serpentin which was abundant in India and was well known for treating hypertension. Exploitation of this plant has led to it being driven to the brink of extinction. The effects of prospecting also include patenting of knowledge and violating the intellectual property rights of the original carriers of the knowledge. With respect to the assumed universality and methodology of modern science, the author observes that modern scientific methods at their root have a stamp of their origin. He gives an example of how the modern scientific method of drug assessment by employing blind trials, double blind trials and placebos at their root assume that the patient is a passive recipient of therapy. In Ayurvedic treatments where a patient has to follow a certain ritual, the same method cannot apply. Thus, the modern method is the product of a cultural context where the patient is a passive recipient of the treatment.

To improve collaboration between Western and Indian scientific traditions, the author suggests again with the example of the medical field how either modern medicine or traditional medicine may form the main line of treatment based on the disease while the other plays a complementary role. Such collaborations are now happening at the level of institutions. 

The author concludes that throughout the course of history, every geographical location of the world has nurtured and produced sciences and technologies that resemble the nature of the civilization of the people therein. It was found that western tradition of science and technology is not universal and unique, and there is an urgent need to have a second look on traditional sciences, technologies and knowledge systems to revive them before they are lost.

A thanks to @KVSarmaJ on twitter for sending me this paper.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Savarkar's Strategic Agnosticism

Today, I am attempting a paraphrase of the paper "Vinayak Damodar Savarkar's 'Strategic Agnosticism: A compilation of his Socio - Political Philosophy and Worldview" by Siegfried O. Wolf that was published by the Heidelberg Papers in South Asian and Comparative Politics in January 2010. Readers are encouraged to finish the paper after the paraphrase to capture what I couldn't.

Paraphrase: -

The author recognizes that there are two mainstream views on Savarkar, one where Savarkar and his socio - political vision (Hindutva) are seen as the greatest enemy for a modern secular society. The other is one which considers it to have a legitimate place in political life. But according to him, the big picture of what Savarkar thought, is lacking and his piece seeks to cover that gap in people's understanding of Savarkar. The tool used for that is an analysis of Savarkar's philosophical tenets and worldview. This is done by taking fragments from all of Savarkar's various writings, which can be split into three different categories: 1) the non political literature, 2) Historical studies, and 3) Political statements.

Siegfried recognizes that the basis for Savarkar's thoughts is strategic agnosticism. The three major premises that one must hold while analyzing Savarkar's works are as follows:

1) The supremacy of Western political and social thought in Savarkar's philosophy and worldview: While Savarkar had gone over the holy scriptures, he was also impressed by Western literature, which related to rationalism in religion, liberty in thought and equality in fundamental rights. 

2) The 'clash' of two different worldviews: The two worldviews are 'world and life negation' and 'world and life affirmation'. Believers of 'world and life negation' think that man's existence on earth is meaningless and sorrowful and (a) live a life of self denial of pleasures, (b) do not try to improve their living conditions. Believers of 'world and life affirmation' think the opposite. Savarkar developed a critical attitude towards aspects of 'world and life negation' in Indian literature and endorsed 'world and life affirmation' aspects. 

3) Savarkar's agnosticism - Religion as an extension to the portfolio of political strategies: Savarkar accepted only those aspects of religion that seemed rational. He never accepted religious books as the final word, and always sought to evaluate them according to current times. Other aspects of Savarkar's agnosticism include accepting that rules of physics govern the universe and Hinduism as a collective identity for all Indians. He wanted to instill the idea that service to the nation ought to be the religion of his countrymen. He accepted that 'holyland' can be a place where one earns merit through patriotism. In this context, it is possible for non Hindus to accept India as a 'holyland'. 

Savarkar's philosophical outlook included five aspects: (1) Utilitarianism (2)Rationalism and Positivism (3) Humanism and universalism, (4) Pragmatism and (5) Realism. He wanted social reform with these in mind. His idea of philosophy of life included a portfolio of elements drawn from classical Indian thought, western social and political philosophy and his own experience and observations. Savarkar's strategic agnosticism comes from rejecting some aspects of the Hindu faith that could not fit in with this portfolio. With this background, the author wishes that Savarkar be viewed through a new analytical and scientific study in order to learn the foundations of Savarkar's vision of the Indian nation-state.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Sudharma needs help..

 Sudharma needs help (more subscribers). Readers are encouraged to subscribe to the daily.

A brief introduction of Sudharma is quoted below.
Sanskrit, A glorious language : Most of the gems of our cultural and religious heritage (the Vedas,Upanishads, Ramayana, Mahabharata, Subhashitams, the Puranas) originated in this language. Even today,Sanskrit is taught in a few Sanskrit Veda Paathashaalas. Unfortunately, its spread outside these specialized schools is limited. Even worse, vested interests have been somewhat successful in spreading the idea that Sanskrit is the preserve of a select few from a particular stratum of society. All this has gone towards creating a general impression that Sanskrit is an inaccessible language that has negligible if not zero relevance in daily life.
This misconception about Sanskrit has been a powerful tool for vested interests to denounce language as dead substance. To remove this misconception, it is necessary to demonstrate in practise that Sanskrit is indeed an accessible language that is versatile enough for practical use.

This thought motivated Pandit Girvaana Vaani Bhushanam Vidyaanidhi Kalale Nadaadur Varadaraja Iyengar to start Sudharma. From its inception to date, Sudharma has been the only Sanskrit Daily Newspaper in the World.

Rest of the appeal in the link: (click). A thanks to Gandaragolaka for the link.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

How to 'save' dharmic techniques from the west?

This post should be read in continuation to the previous one. That is because one needs to see religious practices as a money making enterprise for the ideas discussed in this post to be possible. 

Let's get to the title-question. One way to save 'dharmic' techniques is to obviously hide these items from the west by teaching them in only very minor circles. The other way is to continue the current trend by claiming the Indian/Hindu origin of the items through publishing news articles when and where things seem to be slipping out of hand. Both of these have their flaws. Could there be a third way?

@_Mauna_ has the following view (click):

There seems to be some anxiety about various Dharmic techniques and designs being taken over by non-Dharmic or restricted belief systems for purposes of tactical cultural pollination or more genuine motivations. 

The larger point is can Hindu society and its keepers stop it? Not unless we turn ourselves into a McDonalds lookalike and hire a bunch of lawyers with a brief - the making of which would be incredibly complex and unworkable, because that's control. Push, not pull.

Or can we guide the building and usage of our techniques and designs for a fee? The clincher would be, "since you've chosen to steal, at least let us show you how to use it well".

Let's assume the VHP opened town & city offices of Temple Architecture or created an online network of such experts with a brief to accept assignments from proposed Temples and Churches (Those wishing to install dhvajastambhas for eg.). Let's also assume this network creates easily available literature with a license for use mechanism. 

Let's take the case of Yoga or Bharatanatyam/dance forms. In China, martial arts are taught by family based schools who control innovation through franchise & licensing. Why can we not encourage our current experts to build and develop their own schools with the authority to license and franchise out.

In my opinion, these methods are eminently workable for both ends of the value stream. Branding is maintained, money is made and the users don't feel they are stealing something which will be called out.

It is true that such a thing needs the backing of a powerful authority. Preferably a strong Hindu State. However, in the meanwhile, an organization like the VHP is eminently positioned to take up this challenge. 

Perhaps experts in the field, including branding experts can debate the idea more and take it forward?
The point is that the current trend does not allow us a lot of innovation which Palahalli's idea appears to allow. By keeping our ideas in the market and working together with people interested in them, we have some chance of innovation and continued development of them. This of course is not a solution for outright aping of religious practices by semetic religions with an objective for conversion, but for other items being stolen it could be. 

P.S.: If any branding experts chance upon this blog post, my appeal remains the same as @_Mauna_. 

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Why are godmen corrupt?

Because the good people don't see religion as a money making enterprise. When that happens, the good people are for the most part diverted into occupations that afford them a livelihood. And the bad guys move in to fill the vacuum.

The problem is universal and extends itself to charity organizations. Far too many people dislike when things that used to be charitable are involved in making money. In times past, life was pretty simple and perhaps affordable without big money. But when money has become the be all, we should lower the moral bar on our social and religious foundations. Otherwise corruption in religious institutions will keep growing.

We could however raise the bar on whether or not they get stuff done. Dan Pallotta shows how. He talks about the non profit sector of which religion might be considered a part of.

Note: This post although inspired by recent events does not claim to doubt anybody.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Of temples and temple endowment acts

It has started to dawn on some sections of the net chatterati that socialism in India has failed. This realization has started a movement towards endorsing free market reforms. Much of this is welcome, but some of it is travelling too far into libertarianism. This causes some problems.* For instance, it is widely known that the goal of libertarianism is dismantling the welfare state. To a question that who will look after the poor after the welfare state is dismantled, one 'secular' libertarian friend suggested that it is our responsibility to take care of them.
This is a very romantic and very appreciable thought, and it also has MILTON FRIEDMAN written all over it*. In the west which gets ample of skilled labor from around the world, this might click. But in India, there is a serious dearth of talented professionals and innovative people in many fields. These are the people who are most vulnerable to long periods of exposure on libertarian forums and believing in a minimalist state. We need these people to work hard and make profits for their companies and drive the nation into the new age. Now if these people go on to do charity without burning their potential, it will be a tragedy to the nation. There is also the problem of how far these individuals will reach on their own, because there's simply so much to do. We will therefore not have to stop on that part of libertarianism associated with individual charities and examine another long forgotten element of the society to do charity and public service - your neighborhood temple.

I will try to encapsulate the message of this booklet (ref) and this paper (ref) about what Hindu temples were able to do earlier and can do so again today:

1) Educate people about concepts of Hindu dharma and the threats facing it.
2) Be service oriented and do charity and public work in the neighboring area.
3) Initiate inter-faith dialogs with Abrahamic faiths.
4) Build irrigation facilities for neighboring villages.
5) Invest in enhancing productivity for places from which endowments are sourced (which was the concept behind point 4.
6) Run educational institutions (mathas).
7) Support musicians (probably related to aarti sessions) and scholars (do research?)
8) Support pilgrimage housing.
9) And do maintenance of the building.

It thus was able to serve as an independent business and probably operated like a big private company today. With regards to south Indian temple activities, these were enabled by assigning village grants to temple and the temple would then collect 51 to 75% of the village income. We might not be able to implement that kind of stuff, but we can at least allow for voluntary donations to the temple. However, except for a small part of point 9 of the above, today's temples can't do any of the above activities. The reason: endowment acts.

These acts are actually a continuation of British policy (ref) towards interference in temple affairs. Through endowment acts, the government enters into the management of hindu religious institutions using the argument that funds available to these are mismanaged. This is viewed so because each temple manages its funds differently. The scope creep of endowment acts is progressively getting worse. However, this might not be constitutional since according to article 26 every religious denomination is allowed:

1) to establish and maintain institutions for religious and charitable purposes.
2) to manage its own affairs in matters of religion.
3) to own and acquire movable and immovable property.
4) to administer such property in accordance with law.

Clause 2 and 4 should be sufficient to allow for an argument of the financial freedom of temples. The temples have started their own agitation for this, as in the Tirupathi declaration. The thing about endowment acts that nobody seems to ask is why is not the same argument (about government control being better than local control and the constitutionality premise of it) being forwarded for other religious places? The financial and operational freedom of Hindu temples can start the long process of recovery of Hindu traditions that have been suppressed since the past millennium.  There are several projects that await execution by temples, including writing a smriti for this age*. Financial freedom to temples would also allow them to compete with the Abrahamic faiths in public service. Unwinding the welfare state to some extent is also assured, as temples have the profit incentive for public service in furthering the cause of Hinduism while government run welfare schemes are known to operate badly for the lack of it.* And as Sun Tzu would say, a general should put his men in a tough spot, that is where they will fight the hardest. Our hindu priests are in a tough spot, and from here, there is nowhere to retreat. We can help them by campaigning to dismantle the endowment acts. 

* = edited later to improve flow of logic.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Hindu Economics: More brass-tacks

In a previous post (click), I had proposed that think tanks for the Hindu right should work on a Hindu field of economics. The reasoning behind the proposal was that if it is anybody in the Hindu fold that doesn't take for granted what the West designs for its society, it would be the Hindu right. To build on this, the book on Hindu Economics by M.G. Bokare might be useful. Mr. Bokare has done a yeoman's service to the Hindu cause by giving some basic principles on economics after delving into the Vedas, the epics, Shukraniti, Viduraniti and the Arthashastra by Kautilya.

So let's start with the basic definitions. We will use a not yet outdated and at the same time easily understandable and less controversial definition for economics as was given by Alfred Marshall: 

"Economics is a study of man in the ordinary business of life. It enquires how he gets his income and how he uses it. Thus it is on the one side, the study of wealth and on the other and more important side, a part of the study of man."

Quoting this paper (ref), Hindu economics in the past has been proposed to have a similar definition:

"The objective of Hindu economics is to guide individuals to lead a meaningful satisfying life complete with all resources in abundance." 

(Barring the focus on money, this is similar to how economics is being defined in that it seeks to find a perfect distribution of resources to needs, and maybe it was apt for its time because money was not the centre of all activity in earlier times.)

Now let's talk about money making. There are three major ways, (not including a zeroth way) which in the order of outcomes in terms of income security are as follows:

0) The zeroth way of money making is soaking up government welfare. A brilliant indictment of one such scheme can be found here (click). I have numbered this type as zero because of the outcome, which is that such schemes lead to no productivity and this method of earning money ends as soon as the government runs out of other people's money. Besides, productivity lost due to badly prepared schemes make government tax revenues fall and thus "other people's money" runs out faster. 

1) The first important method of money making is based on skill development. Suppose a person X is to get vocational training for a certain skill, and labor endlessly at a set wage till kingdom come, live within his means and be satisfied with it. The risk is that some Y who can do the same thing as X might come up in the same job who is willing to work for less. Or let's say that Y belongs to a country that doesn't even have a minimum wage law like X's country and it is easier to set up shop there. Then, the risk is that X will lose his job to Y. We thus see that basing wealth generation on mere skills is a risky proposition and sooner or later, we'll be left dry. 

2) The second is resource extraction and sales. Suppose a country X has a large population of salmon in its water bodies, a large reserve of oil below its soil and so on. A simple way is to exploit these resources to the hilt and build the economy on that. However, sooner or later these resources will run out and so basing the country on resource generation as a wealth source might be more secure than basing it on skills, but in the long run it is also not a good proposal.

3) A more secure way of money making is that the person X in case 1 mentioned above gets genuinely interested to make a change in his living conditions, reads up more in his field, trains more in his spare time and comes up with a brilliant idea/invention that can make him more productive and can give his employer huge profits. That is how he eventually turns out to be different than Y and his employer would be pleased with him even though Y provides cheap labour. This is the way of success that rich countries promote. An economist who wants to design a good economic system must recognize this importance of innovations and bring out concepts in economic policies that promote or make a case for innovativeness. 

It is upto future Hindu economists and associated think tanks to decide what path of the above 3 (or a combination of two or more paths) they wish to take but my earnest desire would be that they take path 3.  It is impossible that India had the biggest economy in the world until the British arrived without a model for innovation and Hindu economics must be geared towards finding remnant pieces of this innovation model along with incorporating some western practices (credit for this idea goes to Rajeev Malhotra's yahoo discussion forum on breaking india). Taking M.G. Bokare's tome on Hindu economics and other papers by prominent current Hindu historians, we will now see what concepts of his Hindu economics promote innovation. The ultimate efficacy of Hindu economics will be in how it manages to outperform the western capitalist systems in the race of developing new science and technology. 

The basic principles that Bokareji sets out with are:

1)  Doctrine of Abundance (proposed in the Vedas)

2) Doctrine of self employment (proposed by Vidura)

3) Principle of competition (proposed by Shukracharya and Kautilya)

4) Principle of pricing (proposed by Shukracharya and Kautilya)

5) Principle of taxation. (proposed in Shanti Parva)

Much of this is similar to the free market system promoted by libertarians*. The doctrine of abundance is similar to the argument made in the west for more efficiency (i.e. a larger output from the same input). A more efficient system would have a higher production and hence provide for abundance. Self employment provides for an argument for capital intensive investments in R & D to promote production, reduce labor requirements, have higher wages and ultimately provide for laborers to go it alone in their economic life. Competition too provides for scientific progress when one company is trying to beat another at a certain activity, thus resulting in either better quality goods or services. It also requires a deregulated* system with minimum interference of the state to allow participation in a certain activity by smaller players. The principle of pricing suggests that with abundance and competition, it will always tend towards going lower.  Taxation in the Vedic era was low (at max, the Manu Smriti mentions it as 1/6th of income), thus allowing for significant accumulation of capital in the hands of entrepreneurs and giving them room for investing in research and development. We might thus have answered a question raised in an earlier post: that the Indian economic system was similar to a capitalist system but of the austrian school of economics. A break in the education system as proposed earlier could have caused a bend in the development of Indian economics and caused it to veer off onto a socialist trajectory. The utility of a study in the Hindu economics will lie in convincing at least the Hindu right to get off socialist or even Keynesian economics.

Somewhere along the lines of increasing tech development, Bokare has a problem with people going unemployed due to tech improvements in companies and the resultant reduction in requirement of manual labor. But this affection for getting people employed contradicts with his preference for self employment. If people don't get unemployed from existing jobs, how do they make out alone? Hindu economics will need an answer to this in the future. Another weakness of Bokare's economics lies in his opposition to large companies and an appetite for 'small is beautiful', but justification for this* is not provided in his work. There is a contradiction here as well, if large companies are hated, one means of establishing abundance, low costs and a source of tech development will be quenched. Hindu economics of the future should support a model where both large and small companies can exist mutually in a certain field.

In addition, some new practices to Hindu economics might be added. Previous iterations of Hindu economics have asked for interest free banking (ref) and so does Bokare. The necessities of interests in banking have been elucidated by Bastiat before in one his books (ref). While this debate might continue, we clearly see that there is a need for low cost capital. A compromise solution can be proposed here to allow community banks with low interest to operate. One such example is the foundation of sakhi mandals in Gujarat where women folk of families are prompted to save money and lend to anybody they know at low interests. Alternatively, this power can also be trusted to caste based orgs for loaning money out to their members. With local generation of capital, local problems in the trade might also be solved with local innovations, and this will give the Indian penchant of Jugaad some institutional support along with supporting research projects for local needs.

Another recurring theme that keeps featuring in Bokare's book is that Hindu culture promotes not the rape of nature as the west does but milking it. While the veracity of this claim against the west can be questioned, there is something that we should not miss. The traditional way of protecting mother nature for some time has been to simply block the consumption of some natural resources through use of force by building sanctuaries, national parks, etc. This results in displacement of people from the vicinity of such natural resources while needing a massive drain of resources to allow protection. At the same time, the need for the resource is not quenched, encourages illegal poaching and if the people displaced are not absorbable into the local economy, it leads to unemployment and poverty. This might be resolved by local management of natural resources. Adoption of these principles are already yielding success. Hindu economics can very well absorb this practice into its fold. Kautilya's Arthashastra has hints of a similar practice when he writes about maintaining special elephant forests to supply large numbers of elephants for the elephantry in the Mauryan army. 

A more complete reading of Bokare's book is still needed and probably I might discover more contradictions in Bokare's thoughts, propose solutions for them and review the book in the future. As for the field of Hindu economics, a new book by Subramanian Swamy is set for publishing this year, which seems to be promising for the field considering his expertise in both Hindu history and economics.

* = edited later to improve the flow of logic.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Aurobindo on Mahatma Gandhi's non violence

I generally don't like to do posts of these types, but I just couldn't resist myself this time.

source: (click) hat-tip @projectdharma on twitter

“Many educated Indians consider Gandhi a spiritual man. Yes, because the Europeans call him spiritual. But what he preaches is not Indian spirituality but something derived from Russian Christianity,non-violence, suffering, etc. The gospel of suffering that he is preaching has its root in Russia as nowhere else in Europe—other Christian nations don"t believe in it.”
“Purification can come by the transformation of the impulse of violence. In that respect the old system in India was much better: the man who had the fighting spirit became the Kshatriya and then the fighting spirit was raised above the ordinary vital influence. The attempt was to spiritualize it. It succeeded in doing what passive resistance cannot and will not achieve. The Kshatriya was the man who would not allow any oppression, who would fight it out and he was the man who would not oppress anybody. That was the ideal. Gandhi"s position is that he does not care to remove violence from others; he wants to observe non-violence himself.”

P.S.: We will hopefully see more of the above mentioned Kshatriya spirit when I read some books on my reading list on it (War in Ancient India, The wrestler's body: Identity and ideology in North India (which you can find in the link list under books in the right hand side bar of the blog) and a book on Vajramushti). Regular programming on Hindu economics needs more reading and will return next week.