[Advaita-l] Is the Acharya's remark correct

Jaldhar H. Vyas jaldhar at braincells.com
Wed Sep 15 15:47:58 CDT 2004

On Wed, 8 Sep 2004, venkata subramanian wrote:

> this is too quite reasonable.  the Jyothisha talks about apparent
> movements and that Anga being taken in the Upanishadic language.

Note this this is the actual quote from mundakopanishadbhashya

sUryAchandramasau yasya shAsane'lAtachakravadajasraM bhramataH

The sun and moon by that rule move about in the manner of a whirling

Couple of interesting words here.

shAsana = the rule or governance of paramatma.

alatachakra = a motif used in Indian philosophy is that of a man whirling
around a fiery stick in a circle.  Although the firebrand is one point of
light, by moving it around fast enough, it appears there is a ring of
fire.  Gaudapadacharya uses this image too (See alatashanti prakarana of
Mandukyakarika.)  I am told Buddhists used this image too.  It is the same
principle of how video works.  On a TV screen for instance, a still
picture is shown 30 times a second but because of the slow processing
speed of our optic nerves, the illusion of movement is created.

The idea being expressed I believe is this: In a purely idealistic view,
(i.e. that all perception is in the mind) we would expect the sun and moon
(and by extension other natural phenomena) to appear willy-nilly.  Or
perhaps not appear at all.  Yet in fact we observe order in the universe.
The sun and the moon move in predictable courses.  This is because of the
rule of the paramatma.  Note this is different from the monotheistic
religions--eastern and western--which say that it is God the creator that
is responsible for the order of the universe although Advaita Vedanta does
hold that Brahman is the material cause of the universe.  Rather it is
consciousness and the fact that our individual consciousness (atma) is the
same as the universal consciousness (paramatma) are responsible for the
perception of order.  This is why we can say we are all-knowing (sarvajna)
and all-knowledge (sarvavid)

"But", I can hear readers say, "I am not a sarvajna."  Well let me give
an example.  I can say I know the Perl computer programming language.  In
fact I have even taught classes on it.  However yesterday, a colleague
asked me a question about Perl and I couldn't answer straight away.  I had
to look it up and as soon as I read the description in the book I thought
"oh yes that's it."  It's not that I didn't know but the memory of that
knowledge had temporarily become inaccessible to me.  In the same way, the
goal of Advaitic sadhana is not to learn new facts but to recollect the
self-knowledge that has been hidden under the veil of Maya.

Note the above quoted passage does not necessarily imply a geocentric
model only that the celestial bodies move in an orderly fashion.  However
Shankaracharya most probably did understand astronomy in a geocentric
model.  More precisely Jyotisha follows the epicycle theory of the Greek
astronomer Ptolomey where the planets as well as orbiting the earth also
follow an orbit of their own around a central point.  This is why I cannot
agree with Bhadraiah and Kiran who say "Indian mathematics was destroyed
due to colonization"

In fact Indian astronomy and astrology has gained more from foreigners
than it has given back.  In the earlist stages both east and west adopted
the 12 signs of the zodiac, base-60 timekeeping etc. from the Babylonians.

Later the Greeks were a big influence as shown in the central texts of
Jyotisha, the 5 siddhantas.  One of them is called Romaka Siddhanta.
Romaka means Rome but most probably refers to Alexandria in Egypt which
was a central meeting point between east and west in Roman times.
Another is called Paulisha Siddhanta.  This is based on a very famous at
the time (4th century AD) introduction to astronomy and astrology by
Paulus of Alexandria which explained Ptolomeys theories.

The Muslims in their invasions brought further knowledge of Greek
astronomy and astrology which was gratefully assimilated by Hindu
jyotishis.  The "yavana" (Ionian i.e. Greek) origin of this knowledge is
acknowledged in many Sanskrit works.  They also spread this knowledge
westwards--Ptolomeys Synoptikon is better known by its Arabic name

To be sure Indians did improve upon the Greek models and even
innovate--the so-called Arabic numerals for instance.  The point is that
many different cultures contributed and even colonization was a two way
street.  While it may be flattering to us to think everything came out of
India, in some cases it is just not true and believing it isn't even
necessary.  As far as Dharma is concerned physical theories come and go.
We appreciate Gaudapada for being Gaudapada.  Whether or ont he was Newton
is immaterial.

Jaldhar H. Vyas <jaldhar at braincells.com>

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