PHILOSOPHY IN EVERYDAY LIFE
A major, though unsuspected, scourge of Formal Education, offered by schools, colleges, and the universities, is that it brings about a steady alienation of the student from the rich resource of learning freely available in day-to-day human transactions. The resulting conditioned refluxing somehow convinces you that most subjects such as Philosophy, are esoteric: they are worthy of being taught to a select few. Unfortunately, Formal Education, with its exclusive emphasis on classroom teaching based on cramming ends up by killing both the intelligence and enthusiasm of an unsuspecting Learner. This is what must have led the American humorist Mark Twain to declare that “I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.”
“I have versified this idea in Urdu and its English rendering.
Sakool qatl-ga-i- josh-o-hosh hotei hain
Wahaan jo bhi gayei parhnei woh aayei rotei hain
Asool murshidon ka hai yahi azal sei raha
Hansein yeh khoob jab shagirdon ko dabotei hain
Schools are slaughter houses for enthusiasm and intelligence
Those who had gone there for education returned in distress
From the dawn of time has such been the teachers’ connivance
They’ve a hearty laugh seeing the death of students’ genius”
The word ‘Philosophy’, derived from the Greek: philosophos (love) and Sophia (wisdom), means Love of Wisdom. Originally, it meant the pursuit of wisdom and knowledge. A Philosopher is a Lover of Wisdom. A Philosophaster is a superficial philosopher. To philosophise is to reason like a philosopher; to form philosophic theories. Thus, a Philosophiser is a would-be philosopher; and Philosophism is a would-be philosophy. Incidentally, the word ‘sophistication’ also derives from ‘Sophia’, and means ‘fashionable air of worldly wisdom’.
There are other definitions too. Philosophy is
– The rational investigation of the truths and principles of being, knowledge, or conduct,
– The critical study of the basic principles and concepts of a particular branch of knowledge: the philosophy of science, and
– A system of principles for guidance in practical affairs: a philosophy of life.
Whether we know it or know the fact remains that we all are philosophers by nature, and practise Philosophy in Everyday Life with infectious enthusiasm. Let me familiarise you with the areas in which we do so. Aesthetics, Ethics, Logic, Metaphysics, and Politics are the five major branches of Philosophy which we press into service in human transactions everyday—without exception, with utmost regularity.
Aesthetics is the Science of Beauty and its opposite: Ugliness. When you get up in the morning, Aesthetics comes into play—beginning with the facing of the mirror to figure out how you look, for you believe that how a person looks makes a great difference in the success of his transactions with fellow beings during the day. Your looks are the physical aspect of your Personality, and your character its moral dimension. Your looks are composed of your face, hairstyle or turban, clothes, colour scheme, design, and so forth. The aesthetics of turban has since long been recognised in India, so much so that it has become a symbol of honour, dignity, and royalty.
In the Sikh Faith turban is an inseparable part of a Sikh’s dress and, when baptised, both men and women wear it with a sense of palpable pride. When you reflect on how five metres of cloth can produce innumerable styles you are being an aesthetician: a philosopher in the discipline of Aesthetics. Inspired by the aesthetics of the headgear a large-scale turban-tying competition among the Sikh youth is now regularly organised with great fanfare. It attracts crowds of sprightly enthusiasts—deepening the young Sikhs’ pride in their Faith.
Ethics is the Science of Right and Wrong; of Moral and Immoral. It is in this special sense that I said “Character is the Moral aspect of your Personality.” It is the potential for maintaining decency in human transactions; a voluntary acceptance of responsibility and accountability for all your thoughts, words and deeds. The most familiar word that expresses with unmatched succinctness the concept of Ethics is Dharma. In my doctoral thesis on Guru Nanak’s Japuji (Panjab University: 2000) I have called Dharma the Cosmic Moral Law. Guru Nanak calls it “Dhaul Dharma”(The Bull of Righteousness).
You continue using the terms right, wrong, moral, immoral, albeit subconsciously, without realising that you are being a philosopher when you do so. I have figured out a queer relationship between Aesthetics and Ethics. To wit, Ethics is the Aesthetics of human conduct. This means that our personal notions of Beauty and Ugliness remain only academic until we put them into practice through our behaviour during workaday existence.
Logic is the Science and Art of Reasoning correctly—with a convincing and compelling force. You practise Logic when you argue your case in favour of certain views—and question your adversary thus: “What is the Logic of your decision or preference?” Logic demands, in the first place, that there be a premise (a proposition stated or assumed for after-reasoning); then you build up your argument (a reason or series of reasons offered or possible towards proof or inducement) to reach a well-reasoned conclusion (in order to form a final judgement). Dr Amartya Sen (the Nobel Laureate in Economics) has dilated upon the attributes of his countryman whom he calls “The Argumentative Indian” erroneously because he is merely talkative.
When you indulge in specious but fallacious reasoning you are practising Sophistry not Philosophy!
Politics is the Art or Science of Government. It has nothing to do with ‘manoeuvring and intriguing’—which it has unfortunately become—to grab power and hold it for as long as one can manage to do so. In my view, Politics regulates the relationship between State and the Society. Whatever may be your notion of Politics, the fact remains that in India everyone is a politician from the pantry to the parliament! Be that as it may, you are indulging in the pleasures of Philosophy when you discuss Politics or make a comment on the political situation in the country or abroad. Now that Politics has become the malpractice of using strategy and intrigue in obtaining power, control, and status—with its attendant need to deal with people in an opportunistic and manipulative way, I call it ‘Pollutics’ and its practitioner ‘Pollutician’. Insofar as these coinages underscore the weird tendency to ‘pollute’ the centuries-old system, I expect these new terms to be received with joyous enthusiasm!
Why is Philosophy necessary?
Whether you know it or not, you cannot do without Philosophy as a human being. When you are trying to perceive the Objective World, you are combining sensations (awareness by the senses generally) into a recognition of an object, but when you are reflecting you are negotiating the Subjective World intellectually. But to make sense of the whole it is imperative that you take recourse to Philosophy. In other words, Philosophy conjures up a wholesome world of meaning and purpose in a bewildering context that is chaotic, to say the least. This is what must have led the American philosopher Will James Durant (November 5, 1885 – November 7, 1981) to declare that Life has no purpose except that which you yourself give it. And it goes without saying that you cannot do so unless you call your own philosophy into daily service.
Reflection is indispensable to human survival, as has been beautifully contained in the Biblical injunction: Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God. Guru Nanak repeatedly emphasises in Gurbani (The Revealed Word) the indispensability of reflection or veechaar. Lord Krishna, in The Gita (God’s Song), exhorts the seeker of truth to indulge in reflection.
In my view, the ability to reflect has been gifted by God to us as a substitute for what we lost to the ruminating animals like cows that chew the cud (food brought back from the first stomach to be chewed again). By this token, I would like to call Man ‘a ruminating social animal’! Only he chews the cud of food for thought.
William Durant wrote The Story of Philosophy in 1926, as “a groundbreaking work that helped to popularize philosophy”. It was so hugely readable that the American teenagers started reading Philosophy in preference to fiction! Durant conceived of Philosophy as total perspective, and sought to unify and humanise the great body of historical knowledge, which had grown too voluminous and become fragmented into esoteric specialisations, and to vitalise it for contemporary application.
India has a rich and diverse philosophical tradition dating back to the composition of the Upanishads in the later Vedic period. According to Dr S Radhakrishnan, the earlier Upanishads (called the Vedanta or the end of Vedas) constitute “...the earliest philosophical compositions of the world.” The Sanskrit term for “philosopher” is “dârúanika”, one who is familiar with the systems of philosophy, or “darœanas”.
From its everyday use Philosophy graduates to find its expression in artistic creation, both in its verbal and non-verbal forms. The verbal form creates Poetry through word-pictures; and the non-verbal, Dance and Music, besides Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture use other languages. Dance uses body-language in charming patterns of movements and mudras (hand gestures). Music is an Edifice of Sound. Architecture is frozen Music, as Goethe aptly put it.
I have expressed my ideas of Artists working in different mediums and Arts in the following verses using Poetry as a Philosophy-carrier.
Fan but-taraash ka hai niraala funoon mein
Rakhta hai kya byaan kee ravaani junoon mein
Baatin sei zauq-o-shauq sei zaahir usei kare
Duniya jo mooraton kee basei is kei khoon mein
Novel among the arts is art of the Sculptor
It has the flow of expression that in passion swells
From the hidden it manifests by taste ‘n’ fervour
The world of idols that in his blood dwells
Taab-i-tasawwuraat sei tasveer ban gayi
Takhleeq apni aap hee tadbeer ban gayi
Pesha sei hai musawwari ka martaba buland
Fankaar kei liyei to yeh taqdeer ban gayi
A picture gets done by the imagination’s power
Creativity by itself finds its own best technique
Art of Painting is higher than its vocational stature
For the Painter it’s his destiny unique
Main hoon navaaye rooh-i-bashar kaayenaat mein
Sun lo mujhe na aaoon nazar kaayenaat mein
Arpan Saraswati kei dar-i-paak par rahoon
Izhaar-i-haq hai mera hunar kaayenaat mein
I am the Sound of Man’s Soul in the Cosmos
Hear you may, but Me you can’t discern in the Cosmos
I pay constant obeisance at Saraswati’s sacred door
My Art is Truth’s divine expression in the Cosmos
Funoon-i-lateefa mein rutba sukhan ka
Buland itna jaisei iram kei chaman ka
Byaan-i-saleem iska wahid hunar hai
Taqaaza yahi to hai takhleeq-i-fan ka
Among the Fine Arts the status of Poetry
Is as high as that of the Garden of Eden
Perfect expression is its unique artistry
This, indeed, is Creativity signal condition
Khalvat kee fizaaon mein karoon jalvatein paida
Jo khaak mein pinhaan hain woh hon sooratein paida
Utroon main lahoo ban kei rag-i-sang mein jis dam
Hon Taj-o-Ajanta see haseen mooratein paida
In desolate Emptinesses I’m creating Habitations
Forms that lie hidden in dust become Manifestations
When I course like blood thro’ the veins of Stone
Taj-‘n’-Ajanta emerge as Beautiful Configurations
Using the mode of Poetry, Allama Iqbal, Poet of the East, makes a compelling comment on the wide acceptance of Darwin’s Theory of Evolution in the matl’a of his ghazal:
Khirad-mandon sei kya poochhon kih meri ibtida kya hai
Kih main is fikr mein rehta hoon meri intiha kya hai
What must I of the wise enquire about my genesis?
I am forever bugged to know the limits of my genius!
This is his way of using Poetry to express and promote his philosophy. Incidentally, to this ghazal belongs his famous couplet. It is safe to infer that this couplet was a precursor of modern man’s growing sense of self-importance.
Khudi ko kar buland itna kih har tehreer sei pehlei
Khuda bandei sei khud poochhei bata teri reza kya kai
Exalt the ‘Self’ so much that, before writing down thy fate,
God in asking Man: What’s thy Will? is compelled to wait!
In his own inimitable style, Ghalib says:
Bas kih dushwar hai har kaam ka aasaan hona
Aadmi ko bhi muyyasar nahin insaan hona
Too hard is it for each task to be easy of accomplishing
It’s not been given even to man to be a human being
In yet another masterly couplet he highlights the unsullied pleasure that comes from a detached observation of Life’s mesmerising play.
Baazeecha-i-atfaal hai duniya mirei aagei
Hota hai shab-o-roz tamaasha mirei aagei
To me, the World appears to be a Child’s Play
A Drama unfold before me during night and day
Here is one of my own couplets:
Meri hasti mein hai Ta’meer kul hangama-i-hasti
Qyaamat-khez hai mera pyaam-i-naama-i-hasti
Life’s entire commotion, Ta’meer, is contained in my life
Doom-acquainting is the message being carried by my life
My following qit’a (four-line Urdu verse) expresses my point of view on the human desire for longevity:
‘Umr-i-daraaz ttheek hai jab kaar-i-khair ho
Yaksaan sabhi sei dosti ho, dar na bair ho
Achha hai varna mohlat-i-hasti ho mukhtasar
Aaloodagi-i-gul sei pehlei khatm sair ho
The gift of longevity is OK for socially-beneficent action
Let equal friendship with all prevail sans fear ‘n’ enmity
Life would otherwise be much better of shorter dimension
To end walk in the garden ere polluting the flower’s sanctity
Here are a few examples of non-verbal forms of Philosophy.
Let me take up Architecture first. For the Hindus, a mandir (temple) is a House of God. For the Sikhs, the Golden Temple at Amritsar, the Vatican City of the Sikh Faith, is Sach Khand, the Realm of Truth where, Guru Nanak says, God, The Formless One, dwells.
The Egyptians built the Pyramids (which are among the Seven Wonders of the World) on the Philosophy of life-after-death. The Pharaoh’s body was mummified so that the soul finds it in good shape when it returns to resurrect it. An Islamic masjid (mosque) is designed on the model of Prophet Muhammad’s house. A Christian church is modelled on the Roman basilica (court) symbolising that it is The Court of God.
Among examples of Sculpture, Lord Shiva’s image sculpted in his world-famous pose choreographing Tandava, has won great critical applause from across the globe. Shiva is portrayed in this sculpture as Nataraja: the Dancing God. This divine art-form is performed by Lord Shiva and his divine consort Goddess Parvati. The dance performed by Lord Shiva is known as Tandava: a vigorous form of choreography that is the source of the cycle of creation, preservation, and dissolution. Tandava depicts his violent nature as the destroyer of the universe. His devotee named Tandu further spread this dance-form that became known as tandava nritya.
In the category of Painting, the frescos (paintings done on wet plaster) in Ajanta caves portray Buddhist Philosophy through striking images and tales taken from Mahatma Buddha’s life.
The practice of Non-Violence associated with Mahatma Gandhi is actually Jain Philosophy. The triune concept of God as Brahma, Vishnu, and Mahesh is Hindu Philosophy. Satyam-Shivam-Sundaram (Truth-Goodness-Beauty) and Sat-Chit-Anand (Truth, Consciousness, and Bliss) are also examples of Hindu Philosophy.
Philosophy, in its vast scope and extended uses, finds many applications: Philosophy of Science; Philosophy of Art; Philosophy of this belief or that ideal. Communism, Socialism, Capitalism, Pragmatism, and so forth are forms of Philosophy.
Human life as lived by seven billion peoples of the world is rooted in countless personal philosophies.
But yet, despite its universalness and timelessness, Philosophy is not properly understood even at the highest levels of thinking. The Nobel Committee, in its citation, commended Dr Amartya Sen’s contribution saying: He has raised the stature of the discipline of Economics to the level of Philosophy. This is a frivolous statement because no discipline worth its name has anything valuable to offer unless it is, first and foremost, a Philosophy. Many erudite scholars similarly misuse these two terms together: Philosophy and Metaphysics. But, as I have already pointed out, Philosophy is the Mother Discipline of which Metaphysics is a specialised branch.
Identifying its major components of Religion, Swami Vivekananda said that Religion consists of:
Rituals are for the common man who, with limited understanding, can figure out from their physical forms what is to be done and how.
Mythology requires the exercise of basic intelligence to connect one character with the others vis-à-vis the plot and theme of the story to make sense out of the narrative.
But Philosophy in terms of principles and concepts could be grasped by only a superior mind.
The status of Philosophy is thus beautifully highlighted in human life by Swami Vivekananda, the wandering monk, whose Chicago Address at the World’s Parliament of Religions (1893) hypnotised the entire audience.
Dr S Radhakrisnan’s lecture on Hinduism bowled over the great philosopher-mathematician Bertrand Russel so much that he quipped: “If I had heard you speak in my younger days I would have been a Hindu today!” He was the preeminent modern interpreter of Indian philosophy to the West, and a lifelong exponent of the “perennial philosophy”. Through his copious writings and lecture-tours, Radhakrishnan bridged the gap between the two cultures and fostered the growth of universal spiritual values.
However, Philosophy has its detractors too. C Rajagopalachari, the last Governor-General of India, famously said that “A philosopher is a blind man in a dark room looking for a black cat that is not there!”
An Urdu poet has a subtle dig at the Philosopher in this couplet:
Falsafi ko behs kei andar khuda milta nahin
Dor ko suljha raha hai aur sira milta nahin
The Philosopher can’t find God at his argument’s heart
He’s desperately disentangling the cord to get at the start
Exalting the status of Philosophy, Dr Dharmendra Goel, Professor Emeritus, Department of Philosophy, Panjab University, rued in his lecture on the occasion of the Department’s Golden Jubilee thus:
“Why haven’t we produced a single Socrates in these 50 years?”
I told him that the Formal Education, which places obedience to the teacher above independence of thinking that Socrates propagated (and paid for with his life by drinking hemlock), has systematically killed the students’ intelligence and enthusiasm—much to the heady delight of the teachers for their weird achievement and to the utter chagrin of the students who have been made to suffer intellectual paralysis at their hands. I started visiting the Department of Philosophy in mid-1960s, and have since been to most of the 70-odd departments—in quest of knowledge to broaden my outlook, and to complete my perspective of the inner and outer realities.
It was during these truth-seeking odysseys there that the founder of the Department of Philosophy, Professor Prem Nath, gave me the rare honour of lecturing to his faculty on “Some aspects of Aesthetics” when I was in my late-twenties!
Philosophy reinforces individuals’ convictions. And this is the discipline’s most valuable contribution in that it is not possible to live a human life meaningfully without ultimate convictions. For, even the sceptic is convinced that everything is doubtful. Formal education, with its exclusive emphasis on classroom instruction and the expectation of students’ servile obedience to their teachers’ diktat, systematically kills, as noted before, both their intelligence and enthusiasm. Intelligence implies the human mind’s unique inquisitiveness to observe coupled with its ability to analyse problems while Enthusiasm points to an irresistible emotive urge for finding their appropriate solutions.
In conclusion, let me say that Philosophy is the human mind’s unique ability to create order out of chaos so that the World—in its mind-boggling diversity of shapes, sizes, and sensibilities—makes sense in helping us lead a life of meaning and purpose, illuminated by the ‘dear delight of understanding’ made possible by Philosophy: our ‘love of wisdom’.
Using the method of de-ACRONYM-isation which I have developed, I have figured out that PHILOSOPHY means Perspective that Holisticises individual Insights in the Light of Observations Sensations Outlooks to produce a Picture that Holds together the opposing forces of Yin-and-yang.
Here is my Ode to Philosophy, specially written for the purpose of this article for Abstracts of Sikh Studies—thanks to Sardar Gajinder Singh, Editor, who found me worthy of accomplishing this rare task with aplomb!
An Ode to Philosophy
P-H-I-L-O-S-P-H-Y forms multi-point Perspective
That Holisticises individuals’ variegated Insights
In the Light of Observations become reflective
Of the phenomena’s many inner and outer fights
This discipline processes their palpable Sensations
Along with ever-changing personal Outlooks
Transcending their preferred hobbies and vocations
Putting to test the contents of many prized books
Produced thus is a lively multi-coloured Picture
Whose job is tough in that it precariously Holds
The opposing forces of Yin-and-yang in one mixture
To reveal individual’s uniqueness as life unfolds
Thus, “Life without convictions is not possible” becomes truthful
“For, even the sceptic is convinced that everything is doubtful!”
If this article persuades you, dear reader, to explore Philosophy with religious zeal my endeavour would be amply rewarded. Bon Voyage into the wonderful world of Philosophy!
ęCopyright Institute of Sikh Studies, 2012, All