The scholar …the drifter

11 Sep


Rahula Sankrityayana (1893 – 1963)

In my article on Tibetan Buddhism, which I posted quite sometime back, I made a brief reference to the efforts of Mahapandita Rahula Sankrityayana in bringing back from Tibet, precious books and ancient manuscripts that were no longer available in India. In that context, I wrote a few lines about the scholar and his life. One of the readers exclaimed “Wow..! He seems to have been quite a cool guy: a one-time Arya Samaji turned Tibet-travelling, Scripture-collecting, travelogue writing, Soviet-loving former Brahmin turned Buddhist founder of the Communist Party of Bihar.” And said” You have been too short on him. Why don’t you write more about him?”

I am not sure if the Mahapandita ever regarded himself a cool-guy. I wonder, despite his scholarship, whether the term cool-guy meant anything to him. His time was much before the slang entered into books. Even in case he was wise to the term, I suspect, he could not have cared less.

I had no opportunity to meet the Mahapandita. I did, of course, send him a few letters. He replied in Hindi to my letters in English. That was during 1960 – 61, my hard times, the years of great stress and total confusion. He was, at that time, teaching in Vidyalankara Pirivena, a Buddhist Institution in Sri Lanka. He advised me to dig into Pali texts if I have to understand the Buddha and his teachings. I later came to know that soon after that he returned to India; and died of caner, in the year 1963, at Darjeeling. I could not pursue Pali studies. I had other priorities; I had to earn a living. That took me to the wilderness called Bombay. (Please see my earlier years in Bombay and  Dorabjee )

I was initially attracted to Rahula Sankrityayana through his books on travel, especially his fascinating experiences in that land of mystery, Tibet. The other book of his that I liked was “Volga to Ganga”, a literary adventure spread over 22 short stories. It attempts to reconstruct early human history from pre-Vedic times to the then modern India (1944). It focuses on various stages in the civilizations that flourished in the regions between the basins of the two great rivers the Volga in Russia and the Ganga in India. The remarkable thing about the book is the way it presents history as a series of stories of imaginary characters. That was very fascinating. During those days I regarded the books of Will Durant and Sankrityayana, among a few others, as   self-learning tools, since my formal education  had snapped at that stage.

He was born as Kedarnath Pande in an orthodox Brahmin family in a small village in Azamgarh district of Eastern Uttar Pradesh. He lost his mother Kulawanti at a very early age; and, his father Govardhan Pande, with the aid of the boy’s grandmother brought him up . His basic education was in Urdu and Sanskrit at the village school.

In his autobiography titled “Meri Jivan Yatra’, he writes that while learning Urdu , the lines : “Sair kar duniya ki gaafil zindgani phir kahan / zindagi gar kuchh rahi tau naujavani phir kahan?” ( Oh !ignorant, go and travel all over the world .You will not get this life again . Even if you live long, youth will never return) gripped his attention ; and , he was much fascinated by its import. He was bitten by the travel-bug quite early in life. Travel or Wanderlust  became almost the theme song of his life. 

His education , of course ,  did not last long. Restless by nature, he ran away from home at the age of nine, to ‘take a look at the world”. He survived by doing odd jobs; and serving the groups of wandering mendicants, sadhus. Some say; he learnt Devi Upasana during this period. After staying with the sadhus for nearly a year, he returned home for a brief period ; and, then again left for Varanasi to study Sanskrit under a Vaishnav pundit, Baba Ram-udar Das. He also taught himself some Indian languages and English. He learned photography as well.

He again left Varanasi on a long pilgrimage of South India. On return, he settled down at the Arya Samaj, Lahore; and pursued Vedic studies. He , at that time, was in his twenties; and, his writing career started here. He wrote for Sanskrit and Hindi periodicals. The massacre at Jillian wallah Baugh (1919) shook him rudely; and , he decided to plunge into the national movement.

He was imprisoned for three years, during 1925-27. It was while he was serving his term in the prison, Kedarnath got acquainted with the Buddha and his teachings. It had a profound impact on him.  He, later in his life, wrote “I had given my heart and mind to Arya Samaj. But, I had to take them back when I discovered the Buddha”.

Soon after his release from prison , he traveled to Sri Lanka (1928) and got admitted to the renowned Buddhist monastic college, Vidyalankara Pirivena. He learnt Pali and Sinhalese languages; and studied the Buddhist texts – the Tipitakas – in the original. He assumed the name Rahula (after the Buddha’s son) Sankrityayana (the assimilator).

After a stay of about three years, he left Sri Lanka and joined Dr. Rajendra Prasad (who later became the first president of the Indian Republic) in social constructive activities. He also became the president of the Azamgarh unit of the Indian National congress.

Bitten by the travel bug, he quickly left for the forbidden land of Tibet. The India – Tibet border, during the British Raj, was virtually sealed; and, it was extremely difficult to enter Tibet from India. Sankrityayana, therefore, took a circuitous and a very hazardous route to Tibet, which was hardly traveled. He entered Tibet through Kashmir. Ladakh and Kargil and traveled on foot in company of petty thieves, smugglers and petty merchants desperate for trade and a small profit.

While in Tibet , he traveled extensively, in company of a Tibetan monk, Gendun Choephel, searching for copies of ancient Sanskrit texts that were destroyed in India, centuries earlier; but had survived , hidden away in the thousand-year old libraries in remote monasteries in Tibet. Gendun Choephel was Rahula’s translator and guide  as well as his mediator for Tibetan culture. The two  visited many monasteries and discussed with many Lamas. Some say; he even got secret initiations. Sankrityayana’s main purpose was to collect and bring back to India the ancient Sanskrit texts or their translations that were no longer available in India. For Rahula, historical research was a part of his political fight; for him researching  and understanding history was the key to the present. He did succeed in this , to a certain extent.  Appreciating Gendun Chopel’s  help and learning, Rahula invited him to join his entourage;  to visit the Buddhist holy sites in India . It is said; Rahula returned to India after fifteen month’s stay in Tibet with  twenty-two mules loaded with Sanskrit  and Tibetan manuscripts; and Thanka paintings  obtained from Tibetan monasteries.


Incidentally, his friend and guide Amdo Gendun Chopel (1903-1951) was no less a colorful person. He too lived an interesting and an adventurous life. Gendun Choephel visited India and was thoroughly taken up by the turbulence of the freedom movement. It is said, in India he experienced the most creative phase of his life. He traveled across the country as a Buddhist pilgrim, lived in the crowded city of Calcutta, saw the ocean, visited brothels and libraries, wrote his first newspaper articles and translated the Kamasutra in to Tibetan, enriching it with notes based on his newly gained experiences.

Gendun Choephel returned to Tibet in 1946. Rahula’s leftist ideology obviously seemed to have rubbed off on him. He got associated with the Tibetan Revolutionary Party ; and, designed its logo: a sickle crossed by a sword. The Tibetan Revolutionary Party’s goal was to overthrow the tyrannical regime in Lhasa. He began to write the political history of Tibet ; but this attempt was abruptly stopped by his arrest.

He was accused of insurrection and thrown in jail for three years. In 1949 , he was freed. But his heart was broken ; and, he promptly drowned his desperation in alcohol. Soon afterwards, in 1951, the Chinese army overran the Tibetan troops in Eastern Tibet.  Shortly after the occupation of Lhasa by the Chinese army, Gendun Choephel died , in the middle of October, 1951.

His, often quoted, famous last words were “Now, we are fucked.” Though the remark , in his characteristic blunt manner, sounds rather obtuse ; in retrospect, few would argue against it.

During his last years, Gendun Choephel  gained reputation as a scholar , a revolutionary thinker and a radical intellect. And, he became a role model for many young Tibetans in Chinese-occupied Tibet; as also  for those in exile in India; particularly,  for the members of the ill-fated Tibet Improvement Party in the Kalimpong region .

A film titled “Angry Monk – Reflections on Tibet“, based on Gendun Choephel’s life , was made, in 2005, by Luc Schaedier, a filmmaker from Zurich.

The following are some quotes attributed to Gendun Choephel :

“In olden days, even in Europe, the world was thought to be flat. And when some intelligent people claimed the opposite, they were exposed to various difficulties, such as being burnt alive. Today, even in Buddhist countries everybody knows that the world is round. However in Tibet, we still stubbornly state that the world is flat.”… Newspaper article, Tibet Mirror, Kalimpong, 1938


In Tibet, everything that is old
Is a work of Buddha
And everything that is new
Is a work of the Devil
This is the sad tradition of our country… Poem, Tibet 1946


“As for me — I have little shame I love women. Every man has a woman. Every woman has a man. Both in their mind desire sexual union. What chance is the for clean behavior? If natural passions are openly banned, unnatural passions will grow in secrecy. No law of religion — no law of morality can suppress the natural passion of mankind  ‘… Foreword of a Kama sutra- translation, Calcutta 1939

Please check:


[It is said; the Mahapandita Rahula Sankrityayana visited Tibet – the land of the Lamas –  four times during 1929, 1934, 1936, and 1938 , spending fifteen months in the first; and six months in each of the subsequent journeys; discovering, examining, copying and photographing   rare texts that were lost to India. He succeeded in bringing back to India, in all, photographs of more than eighty works which , later, were deposited with the Bihar Research Society at Patna, Bihar]

On his return, Rahula Sankrityayana  with the help of his friend Kasi Prasad Jayaswal, the reputed Indologist,  arranged and classified the manuscripts; and , also identified some of the manuscripts, the originals of which were lost. Most of the books and manuscripts he brought back from Tibet had been lost in India; but preserved in Tibet. What he had brought back was a literary treasure. All his later writings revolved around this collection, in one way or the other.

He settled down in Patna for a while, researching into the Sanskrit and Tibetan manuscripts he brought back from Tibet. He even toyed with the idea of setting up a Buddhist University in Nalanda.

[His dream was fulfilled years later when his disciple Dr. Jagdish Kashyap founded the Nava-Nalanda Maha Vihara, during 1970.]

While working on the Buddhist manuscripts in Patna, he was asked by the Mahabodhi Society, Calcutta to go to England to spread the message of the Buddha. Sankrityayana accompanied by Ananda Kausalayana, a Buddhist monk and scholar, left for Europe and England during the year 1932.They traveled together in Europe for nearly one year.

While in England, the celebrated Indologist Theodor Stcherbatsky was greatly impressed by the scholarship of Sankrityayana ; and , invited him to Russia. He stayed in Russia for more than ten years, until 1948. Sankrityayana did not have formal education and degrees; yet, in consideration of his learning and scholarship, he was appointed professor of Indology (1937-8) at the University of Leningrad. At the University , he taught Indology , Sanskrit and Bengali. He published about ten books in Bengali while he was there.

He became a member of the Communist Party, around 1938. By about this time , he gave up his monastic status.

There at the University, he came in contact with a Mongolian scholar Lola (Ellena Narvertovna Kozerovskaya). She could speak French, English, and Russian;  and could write in Sanskrit. She helped him in his work on Tibetan – Sanskrit dictionary. They got married; and had a son, Igor. This was Sankrityayana’s second marriage. He   was married when very young; but, nothing much is mentioned of his child-wife or what became of her.

He traveled to Tibet again, in 1944, for an extended stay of three years. He also visited India to participate in the peasant’s movement. He was now a full-fledged member of the Communist Party. He wrote books and pamphlets on communist ideology. “It was easier” , he later wrote, “for a student of Buddhist philosophy to understand Marxist philosophy.”

Despite such bonhomie, the communist party found it hard to tolerate his radical views and behavior. He was promptly expelled from the communist party and USSR, after about a decade of his life as a communist. His Russian wife and son were not allowed to accompany Rahul to India. Stalin was then in control of the Soviet Union.

On his return to India, he resumed his Buddhist work. He again took to travel and visited Sri Lanka (where he taught Sanskrit), Japan, Korea, China, and Manchuria. He saw a fire temple in Baku ; and , discovered an inscription in Devanagari script. From there, he went to Tehran, Shiraz and Baluchistan ; and, finally returned to India. It is said that during his lifetime he visited Tibet four times.

Sankrityayana  was a multilingual linguist, well versed in several languages and dialects, including Hindi, Sanskrit, Pali, Bhojpuri, Urdu, Persian, Arabic, Tamil, Kannada, Tibetan, Sinhalese, French and Russian. He was also an Indologist, a Marxist theoretician  and a creative writer.

As regards his physical appearance, it is said Rahula was a very handsome person, standing over six feet tall , with wide forehead, broad shoulders and chest. He had a pleasant and a winsome disposition.


He started writing during his twenties ; and , wrote , in all, around 150 books and dissertations, covering a variety of subjects. Apart from travelogues he wrote extensively on a verity of subjects such as sociology, history, philosophy, Buddhism, Tibetology, lexicography, grammar, textual editing, folklore, science, drama, and politics, He also produced two huge dictionaries, one Tibetan – Sanskrit; and the other Russian-Sanskrit. He also prepared a glossary of Hindi terms for administrative use. He also collected and wrote about the ecstatic songs (Doha) in Apabramsha dialect spoken by the eccentric Siddha saints of Bihar and Bengal. In honour of him, Patna Museum, Patna, has a special section, where a number of rare manuscripts, paintings and other items collected by him are displayed.[many however fear that Sankrithyayana’s manuscripts are allowed to be stolen from India.

[Please check]


The publication of Rahula Sankrityayana’s two-volume History of Central Asia in 1956-57 in Hindi was a benchmark in historical writing in India. The book however appears rather incomplete; because , he could not finish it in the way he wanted. Rahula wished to document the transition in Central Asia from Tsarists exploitation to the socialist epoch, giving a clear picture of the economic, cultural and educational achievements of the Soviet period. He envisaged that as the ‘most important’ part of the book.

In a representation dated 30-04-1946 addressed to “Our dear teacher Comrade Stalin”, Sankrityayana requested “I am writing this letter to you, our greatest leader, with the request that I may be allowed and granted facilities for six months (or whatever times) trip for the central Asia to collect the necessary materials.–With the best regards, I am one of your millions of followers”

But he was not allowed to visit the region and collect field data. Because , the Central Committee of the CPSU considered his visits to Central Asian Regions of USSR was ‘inadvisable’.  That decision was conveyed to Sankrityayana through a letter dated 4th Oct 1946 signed by M. Suslov  :  In the secretariat of Comrade Zhdanov A.A.—  In connection with the letter of Rahula Sankrityayana addressed to Comrade I.V. Stalin we inform you that this question was discussed in April this year in the Secretariat of the CC of the A-UCP(b). The journey of R.  Sankrityayana to the Central Asian Republics then was considered to be inadvisable”.

[  Please check ]

No reasons were assigned in the letter of Suslov as to why Sankrityayana’s visit to Central Asia was considered inadvisable. Sankrityayana was , of course, mystified and bitterly upset about the decision handed down.

With the permission to visit central Asia being denied ,  he was unable to collect further materials he needed: the planned three-volume history was  reduced to two volumes.

He later  wrote that if there was any major fault of the Soviet administration it was  the extent of suspicion which had reached its highest point there.


He wrote his diaries in Sanskrit. But his passion was Hindi. He wrote almost all his books in Hindi. He wrote forcefully, elegantly and charmingly. His prose was magnificent. He strove hard for the cause of Hindi. He was , for several years, actively associated with All India Hindi Sahithya Sammelan. He was a major figure in the field of Hindi literature. One of the reasons for his expulsion from the communist party was perhaps his strong emotional attachment to Hindi.

The well known historian Kashi Prasad Jaiswal wrote:

“A perusal of his remarkable works does not only make dead history return to life and comprehension of Indian history easy, but it also helps unravel many a historical knots. The great compiler and interpreter of his limitless data, which from their unbounded range in quantity make their handling extremely difficult, deserves unqualified gratitude of the reading public. The world of Hindi may take this achievement for a piece of pride, for no language either in the east or west has produced such a work.”

Explaining his association with Buddhism, Sankrityayana said he was attracted to the personality and the teaching of the Buddha ; and, was impressed by the Buddha’s advice to the Kalamas: “Do not accept my words only because they come from me. Reflect on them and accept them only in case you find them acceptable.” Later, Sankrityayana, in turn, advised his students “Do not accept scripture or tradition. Accept only what you learn with your own mind and agree with that.”

His favorite line from the Buddha was: “I’ve used ideas as boats to cross the river with, not to carry them around upon my head.” It was this attitude that made him embrace Arya Samaja, Buddhism, Theravada, Mahayana, monasticism, communism, and lay life in turn. He was ready to accept change; he refused to be tied sown to a fixed idea or to an ideal.

He was convinced that Buddhism, far from being different from or antagonistic to, Vedic ideas and ideals, was in fact a part and an extension of Vedic tradition and its  way of thinking. Buddhism , he said, was very much a voice from within the Hindu fold. Sankrityayana argued that his conversion to Buddhism was for him, not a change from one religion to another, but just a change in emphasis on certain things.

He explained, the Buddha himself said what he taught was the Veda and Upanishads (esa vedopanisado). The principles were there; but , the method of reaching those principles was what the Buddha discovered. This was the original contribution of the Buddha to human weal and welfare.

He quoted , in his support, the great Mimamsaka Kumarila Bhatta (c.620 AD) “The Buddhist denominations and other faiths are all derived from the Upanishads. And inasmuch as they advocate the withdrawal of one’s excessive attachment to objects of sense-pleasure, they are all authentic and praiseworthy.”

For some reason, Sankrityayana did not seem to think highly of Yoga or meditation. He called them “indulgence of old men.” That, coming from a former monk truly queered the pitch among the orthodox Buddhists.

He was not free from controversies in other areas too. He was accused of using history as a vehicle to carry his Marxist ideologies. For instance, the Gupta era is regarded the golden age; a very prosperous era during which the arts, literature,   culture and economy in general flourished. But , Sankritiyayana tried to project it as an age of tyranny and oppression. He seemed to argue that “suppression was the foundation of economic progress in history. How could an Empire be prosperous unless its common people are exploited? ”. In a way, he was the forerunner of historians like Romilla Thapar, RS Sharma and a few others.

Kamala_Sankrityayan Late in life, Sankrityayana married, for the third time. He married Dr. Kamala (1920-2009) , a Nepali lady of Indian origin. She, in her own right , was a highly regarded and  a well known Nepali  and Hindi writer, Scholar and Translator . They had a daughter (Jaya) and a son (Jeta).

For a stretch of time he settled down to a quiet married life with Kamala and their two children – Jaya and Jeta – in the   placid and cool Hill-town of Mussoorie , often described as the Queen of  Hills . They resided in a house (Hern Lee Cottage) in  the picturesque Happy Valley that was provided by one of his admirers – Smt. , Kamlendu Mati Shah, who belonged to the royal family of Tehri. These were ,  perhaps, some his happiest years of his life.

Thereafter, Sankrityayana  accepted a teaching job (as a professor of Buddhism)  at Vidyalankara Pirivena, in Sri Lanka, (which eventually emerged in to the University of Kelaniya in 1978), where he fell seriously ill. Memory loss, diabetes, high blood pressure and a mild stroke struck him down .

Rahula Sankrityayana (1893-1963), the stormy petrel of Indian intellectual world, described as a ‘polyglot and world traveler’; ‘a lover of Himalayas who went beyond Himalayas and became one with those ranges’ ; and, ‘a liberal humanist ever in search of knowledge  and an insatiable quest for freedom’ , was  one of the most widely traveled scholars, who spent forty-five years of his life on travel and away from home, searching for India’s soul and a meaning to his existence; died , at the age of seventy , in Darjeeling, in 1963.


[ Please also check the opening paragraphs of MN Roy: brief outline of life-events and thoughts- Part One]




Posted by on September 11, 2012 in Rahula Sankrityayana


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13 responses to “The scholar …the drifter

  1. sreenivasaraos

    March 20, 2015 at 4:17 pm

    dear sir,

    thanks for introducing the story of this amazing scholar. i have never heard about rahula sankrityayana. we treat our history with a passive and uncaring attitude. i am sure many such jewels are buried under our collective ignorance about our own past.


    • sreenivasaraos

      March 20, 2015 at 4:20 pm

      my dear shajan,

      thank for the comments. yes i agree there were many such jewels in our not too distant history. somehow, we appeared to lost sight of them and their ideals. that might perhaps be because of the way we treat and teach our history.

      please also see my response to bijaya ghosh.

      thanks for coming.


  2. sreenivasaraos

    March 20, 2015 at 4:17 pm

    excellent article on a great personality.
    i never heard his name before– amazed that such personalities existed

    Bijaya Ghosh

    • sreenivasaraos

      March 20, 2015 at 4:21 pm

      dear bijaya ghosh,

      i am delighted to see you. thanks for coming.

      yes. there were some stormy personalities like mn roy, sankrihyayan , sharat babu, ramaprasad bismil and others who lived their lives out of the ordinary. they were all brilliant, highly charged and often courted controversies rather too willingly. they all were not happy, in the conventional sense of the term, but were passionate about their beliefs. the persons close around them did usually suffer, while they appeared like shining beacon lights to their distant admirers.

      during those days the international borders were not sealed and constipated by the regimen of passports, visas, permits etc.the footloose, brave hearted or rather reckless adventurers could roam about the earth as if it was one huge exhilarating playground.

      i trust you are keeping well. i have not seen your poetry of late.

      please take care.

      please keep in touch.

      warm regards

  3. sreenivasaraos

    March 20, 2015 at 4:22 pm


    womderful telling of the life of a great scholar, adventurer,. i remember seeing a book called ganga to volga in kannada long time ago. except for his name i did not know much about him. glad you brought him alive. wonder what his response would have been to the presentturmoil in tibet. (you say he died in 1963. i wonder what were his thoughts about tiber those days)



    • sreenivasaraos

      March 20, 2015 at 4:28 pm

      dear palahali,

      delighted to see you after a longtime.

      unrest had been brewing in tibet against the repressive rule of the then government in lhasa. the tibetan revolutionary party, an underground organization, formed in 1939 was fighting to overthrow the regime in lhasa. gendun choephel, rahula’s friend and guide, very much a part that struggle and was thrown into prison. rahula with his marxist leanings sympathized with the struggle. but, when the chinese army overran the tibetan troops in eastern tibet and occupied tibet during 1951; and the dalai lama had to seek refuge in india; everyone reacted in pretty much the same way as gendun choephel did. the issue had gone out of their hands.

      it was not the first time that the dalai lama flew lhasa to escape the wrath of the regime in peaking. it had happened in the past too; and the dalai lama had returned to his seat in lhasa after reaching agreement with peaking. it was hoped this time too the dalai lama would return to lhasa. when this did not happen, hopes were pinned on the visit of the chinese prime minister to india during nov-dec 1956.chou en-lai had however other ideas. he virtually toyed with nehru in semi-mock. please see the record of the nehru-chou en-lai talks. it became apparent that new delhi had little say in the matter.

      the war of 1961 resulted in defeat and humiliation of india; and it robbed india of what little credibility it had. nehru died a broken man. the foreign policy of subsequent indian governments was so timid and hapless that it scarcely had any influence even on its small neighbors burma, nepal, and sri lanka. with the growth of chinese might and the escalation of demands for self rule in nagaland and kashmir, india was scared to put forward tibet’s case for self. even today the position remains virtually unaltered.

      thanks for asking

  4. sreenivasaraos

    March 20, 2015 at 4:31 pm

    this was an interesting write-up. if such scholars are forgotten, how little will be remembered and how less mourned.


    • sreenivasaraos

      March 20, 2015 at 4:31 pm

      dear shobna,

      thank you for the comments.

      there were many such scholars and stormy petrels in our not too distant history. somehow, we appeared to lost sight of them and their ideals. that might perhaps be because of the way we treat and teach our history.

      as i mentioned to bijaya ghosh ,personalities like mn roy, sankrihyayana , sharat babu, ramaprasad bismil , subrahmanya bharathi and others lived their lives out of the ordinary. they were all brilliant, highly charged and often courted controversies rather too willingly. they all were not happy, in the conventional sense of the term, but were passionate about their beliefs. the persons close around them did usually suffer, while they appeared like shining beacon lights to their distant admirers.


  5. sreenivasaraos

    March 20, 2015 at 4:33 pm

    Dear Sreenivasa Rao Sb,

    [1] How could an Empire be prosperous unless its common people are exploited?

    This question indeed troubles me even now. If not its people then it will be other countries or over exploitation of nature.

    [2] Thanks for this blog sir. I heard about “Ganga se Volga” but I did not read it. While reading this blog I rang up my daughter and asked her to get a copy and then continued reading.

    [3] The biggest problem with communist ideologues is that they suffer from Eddington’s Psycho Syndrome, Karl Marx, Frederick Engels and Vladimir Illyanovich Lenin however appear to be exceptions.

    [4] I read your blog on Sharat Chandra. Have you written about mn roy, ramaprasad bismil , subrahmanya bharathi also?

    Thanks a lot.

    DMR Sekhar.

    • sreenivasaraos

      March 20, 2015 at 4:33 pm

      Dear Shri Sekhar. Thank you. I am glad you read this. Among the stormy petrels of India’s recent past that you mentioned I did try writing about MN Roy but could not complete that. It is strange; such fiery figures have almost disappeared from scenes of the present-day-world. No longer do you see such colorful, rebellious, brilliant and larger-than life personalities passionate about their beliefs, either in India or anywhere else. It may perhaps have lot to do with the nature of things and the sense of values of the world we live in dominated by faceless corporates chasing after virtual curves on electronic screens. Even the leaders of the so-called revolutionary parties have gone soft, corrupt and rotting from within.

      MN Roy was a multifaceted personality: a revolutionary, political activist and theoretician and a philosopher –thinker whose sphere of influence spread beyond India into far distant lands. I was fascinated by his thoughts on the relationships, as he saw, between philosophy and religion; philosophy and science. The task of philosophy according to him is “to know things as they are, and to find the common origin of the diverse phenomena of nature, and, nature itself; to understand Man and his Universe…To explain existence as a whole”. As regards Religion he thought that “Faith in the super-natural does not permit true understanding of the nature of the Universe. Therefore, rejection of orthodox religious ideas and theological dogmas is an essential pre- condition for philosophy”. However, when he lauded the role of Islam, I wonder, had been alive today whether he would continue to hold such views. But, he saw an intimate relationship between science and philosophy. With the ascendency of science, he said, philosophy can now exist only as ‘the science of sciences — a systematic coordination, a synthesis of all positive knowledge’.


  6. sreenivasaraos

    March 20, 2015 at 4:55 pm

    Sreenivasa Rao:

    Thank you for presenting this very interesting biography of Rahula Sankrityayana.

    Buddhism, while based on Vedic thought and upholding many of its doctrines, makes the leap to atheism by denying any existence of the soul or of God or of an eternal Universal Consciousness. In his book on Buddhism, Ambedkar stated that there is no reincarnation because there is no soul.

    I do not accept the literal interpretation of religious mythology and I admire the simplicity of the Buddhist ethics. But the question that the Buddhists have never answered to my satisfaction is “what or who is the experiencer?” If the ‘experiencer’ is only an illusion, then what is accomplished by doing anything? If there is no life after death, why should it matter what one does or does not do while they are alive?

    If ‘accomplishment’ is an illusion and the Buddhist goal is the detached, noetic experience of ‘being’, who or what is the ‘experiencer’ who ‘experiences’ the state of ‘being’? If no one experiences Nirvana, how can it be said to exist? If there is no experiencer, how can there be an experience?


    • sreenivasaraos

      March 20, 2015 at 4:55 pm

      Dear GregoryFegel , Pardon me for the delay in responding. The Laptops and PCs in the house were requisitioned for watching cricket matches online. Now, there is a two-day lull. Let me try.

      Thank you. You have raised number of issues. I fear my response might be a bit lengthy; and, you may also have to click on a few links.

      As regards Atheism, it was not a sudden leap either for Buddhism or similar other streams of thought. In every age there have been skeptics, agnostics and atheists, though technically not labeled as such. A streak of atheism had always been there in Vedic texts as also in pre-Vedic traditions such as the Vratyas. The other ancient traditions: Samkhya, Lokayata, Charvaka and Sramanas et al, all based in the Eastern part of India, rejected the idea of a god; stated that universe was run by its natural laws and not by a god; viewed universe as a system (not an entity) propelled by conditioned causes and effects; rejected authority of texts; appealed only to ones experience; and, all of them aimed to remove human suffering. The Buddha was basically a Sramana a wondering monk; and, as Prof AK Warder said”by far the most successful among them”.TheBuddhist philosophy is not only an integral part of

      of Indian philosophy, but is a whole in itself. It therefore shares many characteristics of the other streams of Indian thought, and at the same time asserts its own beliefs. [Please click here for more on the thoughts of Charvaka- Lokayatas and the Buddha]

      The Lokayatas rejected the concept of a ‘soul’. The Buddha too did not accept ‘soul’ as an eternal entity. Yet, he argued in favor of a sort of continuity spurred by clinging to desire (cause); ’Becoming –again’ or rebirth of the past effects. To explain; the pre-condition of death is birth; while the condition for birth is existence, the existence of a being (bhava). The thirst or drive for experience leads to clinging. It is propels continued sequence of conditions or re-birth (punar-bhava).

      There had always been debates arguing for and against a soul which is eternal and a soul that perishes with the body. The Buddha suspended his judgment on both the alternatives, suggesting that there could be other points of view. And, he opted for an ‘intermediate’ one: continuity with change. It is a sequence of events each derived from the previous experience. Nothing remains unchanged; yet, each event is the effect of the previous one (cause).It is neither ‘eternal’, nor is annihilated and totally separated from the preceding one. There is no agent or a soul; but there is causality of conditions.

      When faced with questions such as ‘who desires’.’ who creates’, ‘who controls’,’ ‘Whether he who acts is the same as the one who experiences? Or whether the one who acts is different from one who experiences?’ etc , he replied that the questions were framed wrongly and were not ‘sound questions’. The proper form of questions should be, he said, ‘through what conditions do desire or becoming etc occur’ (Samyutta Nikaya-2.13).In other words, he did not talk in terms of an agent that causes/ brings about changes, but he brought focus on the order of things itself . There is no person or agent or soul whatever who does things. But there is only the process or the series of events which occur under certain conditions. Nirvana is the cessation of the process of sequence of events. It was arrived at as a process of becoming; and not as a state of soul or being.

      The Buddha almost always addressed the individual and his consciousness; and, did not speculate on the Universal. According to him, Consciousness is conditioned; it is not independent; it is changing continually and rapidly; and, it is even less stable than the body. Consciousness is a necessary event, each carrying forward to the next event being aware of what has just happened. All experience is real within its context. He asked his disciples to be guided by their won experience. There is no ‘illusion’ or Maya in his scheme of things.

      The Buddha also rejected the idea of the universe (loka) as an entity which had a definite beginning or an end; or as a changeless eternal. He, on the other hand, held universe as a process (samsara) which had no definite origin (Samyutta Nikaya-2.178).Universe, according to him, is of natural and impersonal forces and processes driven by conditions; and not an enduring substance.

      “Leave aside the questions of the beginning and the end. I will instruct you in the Dhamma: ‘If that is, this comes to be; on springing of that, these springs up. If that is not, this does not come to be; on cession of that, this ceases’. (Majjhima-nikaya, II. 32).

      Pardon me for the delay and the length. If you have read up to here, I admire your patience.


  7. sreenivasaraos

    March 20, 2015 at 4:57 pm

    Dear Vijay , thanks for the visit.

    Sorry ; I do not know Igor Sankrityayana .
    I had no personal acquaintance with his father , the scholar.

    No; I have not attended any Vipasana course either.

    Please check my posts concerning the Buddha/Buddhism/Buddhist meditations



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