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Those blindly following rituals forget: Indian tradition has 'encouraged' scientific temper

By Rit Nanda*
In the Covid-19 pandemic raging around the world, two very contrasting news stories stood out in India. One was how a seller was exploiting the foolishness of masses those who were willing to pay for cow dung and cow urine. The other, much more uplifting, news story was of India sending Hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) to countries in need for researching viability.
Within a period of a single crisis, India was shown to be both foolishly hanging on to traditions and contributing to medical science.
But the question is what if Indian tradition is not anti-scientific? What if Indian tradition actively encourages following the path of spirituality while ignoring false rituals? We know from history about Aryabhatta and Sushruta. We know about Ayurveda too. But do Indian traditions support just science or do they support scientific temper?
We do a great disservice to millions of Indians when we frame India as a land of age old rituals, which was a caricature given to us by the West. Let us look at distinct periods in Indian history (Ancient History, Medieval History, and Modern History) and how Indian tradition was way ahead of many international counterparts when it came to rational belief – even as providing contemporary examples.
In Ancient History, going back to the times Before Christ, Indian philosophy had two main branches: Astika and Nastika. These are traditionally translated in English as Believers and Atheists for the lack of better words. But these translations could not be further from the truth.
Astika simply means those who believed the orthodoxy of the Vedas. Nastika meant those who did not believe in the supremacy of Vedas like Jainism and Buddhism which broke away from Hinduism.
The six schools of Astika are: Nyay, Vaisesika, Samkhya, Yoga, Mimamsa and Vedanta. None of these schools talk of believing rituals without question. In fact, Nyay says there are four proofs needed to gain knowledge: perception, inference, analogy and testimony. 
Vaisesika only accepts perception and inference and rejects the other two. Samkhya accepts perception, inference and analogy. Yoga’s spirituality is strongly related to Samkhya’s. Mimamsa takes all the four proofs of Nyay and adds circumstantial postulation to that. Vedanta takes the proofs up to six by adding cognitive proof to the five proofs in Mimamsa.
Six schools of Astika are Nyay, Vaisesika, Samkhya, Yoga, Mimamsa, Vedanta. None of these believe in rituals without question
Hence, our ancient Vedic tradition asks us to believe in the six Pramana (proofs): Pratyakṣa (perception), Anumaṇa (inference), Upamaṇa (comparison and analogy), Arthapatti (postulation, derivation from circumstances), Anupalabdi (non-perception, negative/cognitive proof) and Sabda (scriptural testimony/verbal testimony of past or present reliable experts). All of these are supremely scientific approaches that are used even today in the modern world in fields ranging from science to law.
RSS pracharak Parameswaran, who 'opposed' BJP-RSS orthodoxy
Coming to the Medieval Ages, we may choose to turn our attention to Madhavacharya, the patron saint of the Vijaynagara Empire. His famous work Sarvadarsanasangraha’s first chapter focuses on Charvaka. Charvaka is a Nastika philosophy that deals with perception being the sole proof. It says that anything that is inferred must be subjected to doubt. This let Hinduism open to radical questioning at all times, without accepting anything as definitive. That such a materialistic and atheistic philosophy should lead the work of a Hindu saint shows how important scientific rigour was in our culture. It ought to be remembered that in these times, Europe was in the Dark Ages as it struggled to reconcile Biblical Gospel to perceived truths.
Thereafter in the Modern Era, where unfortunately we had fallen far behind Europe in terms of science leading to us being colonised, we had people like Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar and Swami Vivekananda leading the way.
Ram Mohan Roy, given the title Raja i.e. King by a Mughal emperor no less, was the Father of Indian Renaissance. He fought against traditions like child marriage and Sati and today such practices are rightly considered barbaric. Ishwar Chandra, conferred the title Vidyasagar for being an ‘Ocean of Knowledge’, fought against opposition to widow remarriage. Swami Vivekananda believed firmly that scientific temperament was must and it was his meeting with Jamshedji Tata that led to the conceptualisation of the Indian Institute of Science.
And in these contemporary times, we had prominent RSS Pracharak Parameswaran, who opposed the ruling party BJP, which is aligned with RSS, and orthodoxy to promote gender equality in entry to Sabarimala.
Hence, it is eminently false that Indian tradition does not encourage scientific temper. In fact, those who ignore scientific methods and follow rituals blindly are the ones who most strongly violate the Indian tradition of Pramanas, Charvaka and Modern Renaissance. We must move forward in science and lead the world by returning to our true roots.
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*M Sc energy, trade and finance, City University, London; supply chain and human resources supervisor and consultant

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