This year, 2018, Dharma Civilization Foundation has resolved to revitalize and renew the Hindu University of America, Florida. This project shall be DCF’s flagship project at least for the coming few years. In any case, creating and sustaining a University is no small task, and certainly not for the faint of heart. It needs long-term vision, a community of donors who can support it financially, good curricula, faculty who are sought after by students, administration that can manage its affairs responsibly, accreditation from the appropriate agencies and ever-growing student body.
What is the basis for our efforts to revitalize the Hindu University of America? Indeed, what is our Vision for this University? At the outset, the Vision for this University ought to be a creation of many minds; In this article, I am presenting a set of ideas, that may be construed as a starting point, merely input into the process of reflection and deliberation, that may give rise to an appropriate vision and mission.
It will not be an exaggeration to say that we are living in a supremely dangerous moment in history, where our world is faced with a new kind of threat i.e. information warfare, where deliberately orchestrated mis-information campaigns, the camouflaging of falsehood as truth, the assault on facts as fake news, all fanned by the advancing capabilities of our digital and social age has taken an angry hold of our everyday life and discourse, and threatens constantly to turn individuals into a mob in service of various warring ideologies. It may be the greatest challenge of our era, to teach our younger generation how to distinguish truth from falsehood, at least what is truer and what is less true, in the spectrum of possibilities between absolute truth and total falsehood.
I envision the Hindu University of America as an incubator of knowledge, particularly of self knowledge, i.e. of the individual self and the world-self, of the uncompromising, where spiritual and intellectual development unfold together, where self-knowledge flowers into self-less service. This vision is best embodied in a prayer from the Veda: May we move from the Unreal to the Real; From Darkness into Light; From Mortality to Immortality:
ॐ असतो मा सद्गमय ।, तमसो मा ज्योतिर्गमय ।, मृत्योर्मा अमृतं गमय ।,
ॐ शान्तिः शान्तिः शान्तिः ॥
Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, I.3.28, Shukla Yajur Veda
This transition from the pursuit of knowledge to action that embodies the spirit of self-less service that makes a difference in the world, is exemplified by Sri Krishna in his counsel to Arjuna: Keeping in view the wellbeing of the world, alone you ought to perform your actions.
Bhagavad Gita, III.20
But before actions (Karma), must come knowledge (Jnana): The Search for Self-Knowledge “Para” Vidya is the master-key to understanding Hinduism: What is the nature of this Self, this Subject, who engages with all these objects in this Universe?
Wealth, people, relations, friends, youth – all these are snatched by time in the blink of an eye… This world, like a dream full of attachments and aversions seems real until the awakening… Know thyself as undifferentiated awareness, unaffected by time, past, present or future …Thus you shall attain the supreme
More than anything else, the study of Hinduism is a matter of character, re-ordering goals and ends, (Purushaarthas), living a disciplined and spiritual life, the attainment of liberation from mortal limitation, Moksha and the promotion of life in harmony with all other beings on this planet, Dharma. A life of Dharma ultimately translates into the protection, preservation and promotion of Dharma itself as extolled in this famous aphorism from the Manusmriti.
धर्मो रक्षति रक्षितः Dharmo Rakshati Rakshitah
The opposite of Dharma, is the Adharma, amounting to the unchecked exploitation of the poor by the rich, of the weak by the powerful, of the people by the state or politicians, one people by another, of one group by another, of one nation by another, of one civilization by another, of nature by humanity, and so on and so forth that breaks down the harmonious cycle of life, and introduces disharmony, error, ignorance, falsehood, propaganda, polarization, opposition, division, discontent, discord, hatred, disorder, suffering, inequity, poverty, crime, violence and war. Arresting this constant and ever-present degradation and descent from Dharma to Adharma, promoting the ascent from Adharma to Dharma, inspiring the evolution from darkness to light, from ignorance to knowledge, from falsehood to truth, transcending the tendencies of polarization and opposition, and the attendant preparation and nurturing of spiritual and intellectual ambassadors for Dharma; these commitments must underlie the unfolding of the vision of the Hindu University of America.
We must begin with the questions: What indeed is Truth? And what is knowledge? And how do we distinguish Truth and Knowledge from skillful propaganda based on falsehoods and incomplete truths, that nevertheless sounds likes the Truth? Regardless of whether the source of our knowledge is the empirical, observable and objectifiable world (i.e. Science), a supra-normal, transcendental divine revelation (i.e. Religion) or rational speculation and the application of human reason (i.e. Philosophy), or a deep Yogic intuition (i.e. Spirituality) all that we hold to be valid knowledge, is ultimately a mere approximation to the “Truth” about Reality. The word Reality here, may be taken to denote all that is here in this universe, both revealed to our senses, and hidden from them, the objects of our consciousness and possible comprehension, as well as the subject, i.e. the one who beholds all of these, and strives to bring at least some of it into the ken of one’s understanding.
In today’s world, Science has acquired enormous prestige, since it at least tries to reconcile its theories and speculations with empirical observations, and furthermore, scientific pursuits have unlocked many a mystery of nature, and given us ways of advancing technologies that previous eras could scarcely have imagined. No good Scientist would however ever confuse their theories about the natural world, with the Truth about it, as Albert Einstein explains: “Science is the attempt to make the chaotic diversity of our sense-experience correspond to a logically uniform system of thought. In this system, single experiences must be correlated with the theoretic structure in such a way that the resulting coordination is unique and convincing. The sense experiences are the given subject matter. But the theory that interprets them is man-made. It is the result of an extremely arduous process of adaptation: hypothetical, never completely final, always subject to question and doubt”.
In other words, the world we live in is one thing, our theories and ideas about this world, are merely models, giving rise to practically useful applications. If this is true of Science, it is even more so for the subjective world of human beings and our answers to fundamental philosophical questions regarding consciousness, self, existence, nature, god, reality, truth, love, courage, honor, commitment, beauty, family, culture, civilization and so on. It may very well be that “the belief that science itself constitutes complete knowledge may be nothing more than the fashionable ignorance of our age”. It is useful to recognize that as human beings, we have a limited window of access into the Universe, and ultimately our current understanding devolves into a perspective, a possible theory, a hypothesis, we might even say a plausible or likely story, a mere viewpoint, even as we move towards the truth. Recognizing this, the ancient Rishis of India said “Ekam Sat Vipra Bahuda Vadanti”, i.e. wise humans (Vipra) have different ways (Bahuda) of relating and speaking (vadanti) of the one Reality (Sat). While there may be a “Truth” out there, independent of our apprehension of it, our access to that “Truth” is nevertheless limited by the machinery of our own conditioning, our “imperfect human instrumentality”, that filters through that truth into our conscious understanding.
What is significant is that our human knowledge, both individually and collectively is always incomplete or partial, which is what makes for the possibility of advancement of knowledge. We may have a workable theory, that both explains and predicts phenomena that we can observe, but our theory about Reality is not the Truth about that Reality, but merely an approximation. There was a time, that humanity was convinced that the Earth was immovably at the center of the Universe, and it was held to be the Truth, since the Bible said so. Later, this Truth gave way to a more improved Truth, i.e. that we live in a Helio-centric System where the Earth revolves around the Sun, even though it gives us the appearance of being at the center while the Sun moves around it. Even Light as a physical phenomenon, is sometimes an electromagnetic wave, but sometimes a particle, sometimes neither and both, depending on how we look at it: We are faced with a new kind of difficulty. We have two contradictory pictures of reality; separately neither of them fully explains the phenomena of light, but together sometimes they do – at least for now. What appears to be solid like our own human body is just a mass of chemicals, aggregates of floating atoms and molecules, interspersed with space, and even those atoms and molecules devolve into mere vibrations of energy according to our modern science; we cannot even observe the position and momentum of a particle, together with any degree of certainty.
This fundamental uncertainty is reflected in the Rig Veda, which speculating on the origin of all creation, says (translated), “Whence all creation had its origin, the creator, whether s/he fashioned it or whether s/he did not, the creator, who surveys it all from highest heaven, s/he knows – or maybe even s/he does not know”. And it has been a tradition in India, of maintaining an attitude of skeptical questioning and unselfconscious humility before the great cosmic mysteries for while the world we live in ‘appears’ to us a certain way, but do we really have access to how it really ‘is’? Who amongst us therefore can claim to be free from the ever-present possibility of error, from mis-construing the way things are, and imagining a snake where there is but a rope? It is this world of appearances, where things are almost never what they seem to be to us, which is referred to by the words “Mithya” or “Maya” in Vedanta, alluding to the seemingly magical inter-play of consciousness, energy and matter, giving rise to human experience and the possibility of knowledge as well as error and ignorance.
We may ask – Is Truth accessible to the human being, or are we left merely to search for and speculate about the truth, build models that approximate Reality, even move from a lower truth to a higher truth, a partial truth to a more complete truth, but never to be sure about the real nature of Truth or Reality? Perhaps it is more important to live our lives with certain questions, than to find lazy or convenient answers.
The greatest danger that faces humanity, however, is the “Certainty” of those who have found “The Truth”, whether Scientific, Philosophical, Religious or Spiritual, and stand ready to impose their “Truth” on others and engage in propaganda to persuade them of its inviolability. The gravest of transgressions throughout human history have been committed by those who have become “certain” about some Truth that they now seek to propagate and are able to skillfully turn “individuals into a mob” in that service. When we move from the uncertainty inherent in the pursuit of knowledge, to the certainty of propaganda, we abandon humility for arrogance, we turn from the power of logic to the logic of power; we are entering the realm of ideological warfare, and “Political language, designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind”.
Certainty is seductive – it seeks to displace the vulnerability of uncertainty, with a pretense of strength, and deteriorates a dialogue among human beings from potentially being a shared pursuit of Knowledge and Truth, (Samvada), into the noise and fury of propaganda, politics and ideological battle. And everywhere such a devolution takes place, conflict, violence, terrorism and war are not far behind. Certainty hardens points of views into ideologies and effectively draws the curtains on the possibility of future knowledge and wisdom. Can we teach our younger generation to maintain a value for the seeking of Truth, suspend the temptation to reach a quick judgement, learn to think and explore for themselves, as they evaluate ideas and perspectives both ancient and new, and above all dialog with each other respectfully (Samvada), retaining their skepticism while also remaining open to the possibility of “reciprocal illumination”?
I envision this search for “Truth”, and a value for the attendant movement in consciousness from “Unreality” to “Reality” (Asat to Sat), to be the foundation for the revitalization of the Hindu University of America, its educational programs and curricula.