Samaren Roy


BETWEEN 1804 AND 1931 most thinkers of India based their arguments on authoritative texts, mostly scriptural. Rammohun Roy's plea in the Gift to Monotheists, Tuhfat-ul-Muwahiddin for an adoptive approach to religion replacing the ascriptive, by its very nature could not have had scriptural  support, it was evocative of statements by the Buddha. The Derozians relied on European philosphers. The other controversies of the nineteenth century, religious or otherwise, burrowed deep into the scriptures till Ramakrishna Paramhansa took residence at the newly constructed temple at Daskhineswar in 1855.


Like Rommohun, he contended that all religions led to the same God but, unlike that early thinker, he did not hold that all religions contained an element of untruth. Being a pietist he did not look to the ugly side of any religion. By that time conversion to christianity had slowed down in Bengal and Debendranath Tagore had settled down to a benign withdrawal from controversies.


Keshubchandra Sen had caused a temporary flutter over inter-caste marriage but being a universalist he, the Brahmo, and Ramakrishna, the Hindu, got on very well and ushered in a period of religious tolerance. Only one problem remained: the nature and status of Hindusm. Several practices, such as widow burning, and the compulsory single lives for widows and child marriage, were offensive, and not all of them belonged to the past and could be forgotten. Hence, an escape into philosophy from religion was desirable.


Nishkam Karma as outlined in the Gita appealed to Vivekananda, though he had a senior contemporary in Bankimchandra Chatterjee equally enthusiastic. Vivekananda introduced ideals of charity and service to the poor which Hinduism had been lacking. He set up the Ramakrishna Mission to honour his guru. The Gita came to occupy a position similar to the Bible. Hinduism had been modernized and provided with institutions resembling those of Christianity. The karmayogi became the counter-part of the crusader Knight.


In the field of ideas Vivekananda accepted only that much of the Vedas ‘‘as agrees with reason’’. That was the approach that Brahmos had taken long ago. The difference was that Brahmos had reservations about Monism, while Vivekananda had none.


During the following forty years Calcutta University had two successive academics who stated Hindu Schools of thought in terms of European philosophy. The pioneer work was done in 1894 by Max Muller, a German teaching at Oxford, who never paid a visit to India. His six schools of Indian Philosophy, coming soon after Vivekananda’s address at Chicago, did attract attention to the subject, but the treatment was necessarily brief.


Brojendranath Seal, till 1919, and Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, thence till 1940, taught philosophy at Calcutta University. Surendranath Das Gupta wrote an extensive history of Indian philosophy. Neither of them was an original thinker. The effect of Vivekananda’s espousal of nishkam karma - rendering duties, without any consideration of personal gain, through actions, however unpleasant - nearest in time, was an outburst of political terrorism, robbery and murder from 1906 onwards.


Radhakrishnan’s contentions about Indian philosophy, though correct in geographical terms, constituted Indian and Western thought into two mutually exclusive systems, and negated the efforts of Rammohun Roy and Vidyasagar, more especially Vidyasagar's to reduce the scope of entertaining double truths. The phrase ''double truth'' as the unfortunate consequence of the parralelism and mutual exlusiveness of the two systems, was used by Vidyasagar as early as 1853.

Connected with those, though remotely, was Aurobindo Ghose who advocated the concept of karmayogi for a period, following it up by prolonged experiments in yoga in a hermitage. Ghose had been brought up in England from a tender age to fulfill a parental wish of having fathered a perfect ‘Brown Englishman’. Aurobindo wrote extensively. His main concern, as it was with Brojen Seal, Mahatma Gandhi and M N Roy was the nature of thruth and the efficacy of reason in arriving at it. Aurobindo's dictum pronounced around 1925 affter more than twenty years of contemplation was as follows: ''when we have passed beyond knowing, then we shall have knowledge. Reason was the helper, Reason is the bar.''


Born eleven years earlier than Aurobindo and growing up in Calcutta, Rabindranath Tagore went against the Brahmo approach to Monism. After having earned worldwide recognition as a poet, painter and writer of fiction he set down in writing ideas which were delivered as the Hibbert Lectures at Oxford and later printed. The publication was titled The Religion of Man, and the title was chosen to free the contents of all sectarianism, and denominational, territorial and national associations.


Tagore at the time of writing this affirmation of faith was 70 and had led a rich life, at once active as well as contemplative and creative. He had played a role in the rehabilitation of Brahmos among Hindus, and had a brief association with the swadeshi movement of 1905-09. He had been successful and acclaimed; he had been equally misunderstood and unappreciated, and he had borne successive bereavements.


He was not as insensitive as to have held the same ideas all through a long and hectic life, and in understnding The Religion of Man we have to take note of his earlier Reminiscences which deal with his childhood. He used to burst into tears when older people came to his place and exulted in atheism.We do not know who these garrulous visitors were. Neither Akshaykumar Datta nor Iswarchandra Vidyasagar could have been among them. The second memory to take note of is the observation: ''Our God'' is diffedrent from that of the Christians and Muslims. This is a hint that the

young Tagore strayed from the Dualism of his father towards Monism.


Tagore was not a systematic philosopher and it is quite possible that he attached meanings to terms different from those of others. So we should be prepared for a certain amount of vagueness, even for apparent contradictions, for these terms are not mathematical with fixed concepts. He had brought up on traditional Idealism, but his inclinations increasingly were towards modern Humanism.


Rabindranath's concept of an Infinite Mind is Vedantic, and he himself identified it with the Upanishadic Brahma. Yet he was aesthete enough not to reject the Universe perceived through the senses, imagination and reason as Maya, an illusion. So he coined the term Man's Universe. In fact he declated that the book The Religion of Man was about ''the idea of the humanity of our god, or the divinity of Man, the Eternal''.

Even the Universe was ''the sum total of what Man feels, knows, imagines, reasons to be and whatever is knowable to him now or in another time...... the world proves itself to him in its varied effects upon his senses, imagination and reasoning mind.'' The poet did qualify ''universe'' by preceding it by the word ''our''. The subjectivity extended further. In his conversation with Albert Einstein, Tagore contended that as the Truth called scientific was reached through logic it could not be more than human.

Apparently bewildering, this humanizing of God, Universe and truth led Tagore to be emphatically ''this Wroldly''. In a poem he affirmed, ''This world is sweet. I wish never to depart: I long for a dwelling within humanity's heart.'' Imagination was '' the most distinctly human of all faculties''. and the ''Supreme Person stood as a symbol constituting man's own essential being and truth''. Another was of saying that our ideas of God are fashioned in man's own image.

Tagore did not consider ''values'' as derived from religion. ''Our life gains what is called value in those of its aspects which represent eternal humanity in knowledge, in sympathy in deeds, in character and creative works.''

About the same time as Tagore was putting down his ideas, a younger man less than forty years in age had begun writing at length on the Philosophical Consequences of Modern Science. He was Manabendranath Roy (M N Roy), fugitive for sixteen years and then in prison where be would stay for more than five years for plotting to overthrow British rule in India. During the years of wandering around the globe he had outgrown cultural nationalism as propounded by Vivekananda, the dominant figure in the opening years of the present century and by Aurobindo Ghose whom Roy had followed for a brief period. He had become acquainted with many ''isms'' Buddhism. Confucianism, Western philosophy, including its Arab phase, and Marxism. He was in Europe in the twenties when science was changing man's view of the universe and his place in it.

The manuscript that Roy produced was too voluminous to be printed out of the resources at his command. Parts of it were printed after he came out of jail in 1936, and taken together they consititute a systemetic exposition of Roy's philosophy. He defined truth as what we know, and the means for our knowing are our senses. The Indian record in regard to accumulation of knowledge was so fragmentary as to be of little help to Roy: naturalist thinkers such as Kapila and Kanada as well as the Charvaka school in general were known only from the diatribes of opponents, the originals having been destroyed. The only indigenous materials were Jaina and Buddhist, and those too not such as to help build up a sustained account.

Under the circumstances Roy turned to the Western tradition, having rejected both Advaita and Dvaita Vendata, and having found Sankhya and Nyaya wanting in consistency. Those schools had not satisfied any of the nineteenth century thinkers. The Western tradition was complete, from the Greeks to the Alexandrians, thence to the Byzantines, the Arabs, and finally to Renaissance Europe. To Roy the Renaissance and the Enlightenment were great periods of advancment of Human knowledge. It was not a wilful omission of Indian contributions, but forced by the paucity of documentation in that tradition.

Another basic tenet to Roy's thought was that man derived his ethical ideas from the universe he lives in being law governed. Causes and effects are linked, which is the basis of reason and moral principles. The moral prescirptions may change but the intention to be benefical remians unchanging.

Roy did subscribe to an evolved universe and rejected the concept of a created world for the simple reason that concept postponed the inquiry to a later stage.Who created the Creator? Roy held that there was ''little reason to call man the unknown. Nor is there any ground for the venerable faith in his divine essence''.

Since his death in 1954, we know that the cortex is the centre in the brain which is concerned with rituals, routine and repetitive acts. The cerebellum is concerned with affection, altruism and innovation. Hence reptiles, who lack a cerebellum, do not care for either eggs or the young. The more evolved birds do, while the still more evolved mammals rear families. Both birds and mammals perform altruistic acts. Whereas family ties among  birds is for just a season, among mammals it is of longer duration, the longest being among humans.

While Aurobindo Ghose. brought up on a Macaulayan prescription spending twenty years in England, the Brown Englishman, overemphasised his Indian birth, M N Roy, on the other hand, lived up to the Derozian identity of being Hindu by birth and European by education. Of course, in his case the education was selfacquired after leaving school, and of the years spent abroad none included even a day in England or any other British territory. Roy drew his inspiration from the ''intellectual aristocracy'' of eighteenth century Europe and the Enlightenment in a way coming back to the light from the West which Rammohum Roy and Iswarchandra Vidyasagar had ackonwledged.