Like atheism, decolonization is a rejection, a creation of empty space. But unlike atheism, decolonization carries a forward implication. The empty space created must be filled with a native lens. In the Indian context we speak of a Dhārmika OET- ontology, epistemology, teleology¹. These technical terms make for a psychological and cultural paradigm, connecting things that are core to existential human queries. Simply put, ontology describes what we know- things that make up reality, epistemology studies how we come to know- the methods of acquiring knowledge, and teleology points us to purpose or value- what do we do with this knowledge, or what is it for?
Decolonization is the installation of an alternative psychological and cultural operating system, in our case one encoded with Dhārmika OET. And Dhārmika code is written in the language of Sanskrit. This is not a claim of superiority to inflame Sanskrit vs. Tamil debates, it is a simple statement of fact. The Indian civilizational consciousness has emerged with Sanskrit as its root, even as it has naturally found expression and aesthetic in a wide variety of languages.
What this means is that a Dhārmika OET must question hitherto innocuous paradigms- Sacred, God, Technology, Reality, Disruption, Progress, etc.- in native code. For us to reconnect to our civilizational consciousness, we must be able to deploy and derive from a native-rooted framework. Such a framework would, in turn, help reconnect synaptic nerves to the civilizational consciousness. In three essays of which this is the first, we propose a preliminary schema for this endeavor. The terrain is inevitably technical, and the attempt here leans on generalizations and reductive descriptions for ease. It will thus overlook nuances that the technically-informed may consider salient, and we apologize for the licence.
Synaptic Reconnection: Meaning
Graham Hancock is right- we are a species with amnesia. And among our species, Indian consciousness is arguably the most broken and ruptured of them all. One of the only few pre-Abrahamic civilizations left, it has suffered incalculable ravages in recent memory. A damaging consequence of this has been severance with our civilizational code- Sanskrit. The revival of Sanskrit into contemporary language is a fair and valid mission, but even short of that there are other ways to engage with it.
The crux of this is in internalizing a Sanskritic mindmap– the installation of a base firmware built on ontology and semantics rooted in Sanskrit.
To whatever extent it is true that language shapes reality, Sanskrit’s profound rooting and etymological web gives more insight into reality (cognitive reality, even if not the manifest) than does any other language. And by synaptic reconnection we mean the re-establishment of civilizational cognition, as it might have existed among our ancestors. What did the ṛgvedic ṛṣi hold in his mind’s eye when he chanted on Indra or Agni? What did the upaniṣadic guru mean by the advaita brahman and ātman? When our ancestors turned to īśvara and when they thought of bhagavān, what were the differences internalized in their minds, the ones all diluted to us in the modern world by speaking only of “god?” Not that ready answers are forthcoming in this piece. These questions reflect a larger intent that requires a personal learning curve and much project work, only a preliminary schema for which is being proposed here.
In doing so we follow ancient footsteps, such as those of Amarasiṃha who wrote the Amarakoṣaḥ Nāmaliṅgānuśāsanam- a Sanskrit thesaurus with words classified into ontological categories. Even prior, systems such as Nyāya and Vaiśeṣika bequeathed well defined ontologies. And of course, we always live under the high shadow of Pāṇini, Yāska, Bhartṛhari and more- the earliest known linguist ṛṣis of India. As far as generalizations go, it is safe to say that Indian ontology is a flat one, relatively non hierarchical. It distinguishes only between that which is real – सत्, and that which is not – असत्[^2]. Even when it argues for the existence of more than one ontological, as Sāṅkhya does with puruṣa and prakṛti, the real is still the unchanging, the underived. Dualism/ non-dualism, monism, substance essentialism- all these and more have been considered by Indian thought over its long existence, and even if there are disagreements here and there, a coherence does emerge. Let us see how.
Preliminary Schema: Objective and Overview
In its preliminary form, the schema is envisaged as a combination of classifying/qualifying layers and the design principles embedded in them. The first two layers are ontological classifications of reality. Doing this over two instead of one layer allows us to bring in the dimension of ontical vs. ontological- a distinction cardinal to the field ever since Martin Heidegger. In reductive terms, ontical describes objective, clinical categorisations- stuff that makes up existence; while ontological describes existing- Being- what a thing/entity is to itself, its innate nature or properties.
To Heidegger, ‘ontical’ signified specific and tangible reality while ‘ontological’ referred to the deeper, underlying structures of reality in comprehension of their own existence. Rendered in native terms, the ontical refers to categories that come into being- bhavat (भवत्), while ontological refers to being-ness itself- as/sat (अस्/सत्). Our first ontological layer is thus an ontical classification, of categories of reality. The second layer is ontological in earnest- reality as classified by the Self. Both are patterned alike, the difference being that the latter occupies a subjective vantage point.
The third layer is epistemological, outlining an Indic framework to qualify sources of knowledge and methods of acquiring it. The fourth layer deals with teleology, the purpose of knowledge and being- or what is called artha in Sanskrit. The four layers together thus propose a schema for OET, rooted in Dharma. And in detailing these layers we are informed by Indic design principles, or what we call sūtramaṇḍalas.
To bring the Indian centrality of Mind into focus, our two-fold ontological classification is split along ṛta, the Natural Order, and ātma, the Self. Thus these levels are called Ārtava and Ātmya respectively (of ṛta and of ātma). A significant chunk of whatever we know is predicated upon our means of acquiring knowledge, or on how we know what we know. Another way of approaching this is looking for what we derive certitude from, of what constitutes to us as yielding truth, satya. Design principle 3 will lead the way, giving to us layer 3 and thus called Āsita, the seat (of truth). But there must be a purpose to this intellectualisation, a value we can derive from it. Drawing from design principle 4, we do thus under teleology and create layer 4, suitably called Pauruṣārthika.
What we seek here is a kind of civilizational parser and compiler– a schema where we could input any value and extract in return what Indian civilizational consciousness would make of it.
For native notions, such as deva or ṛta, the schema should show us their true place within the Indian ontological context. For non-native notions, the schema must compile them into indigenous cognition, or at least highlight pathways to take for compilation. Bear in mind the raw nature of this schema. It is to be taken as a presentation of a project at ideation stage. The test of its validity is whether-
- Rooting our thinking in Sanskrit opens new pathways, or seeds reconnection to civilizational core; and
- Doing so enables us to approach modern problems with novel cognition.
At all levels, the key thing to do is examine core Sanskritic etymologies- for the Pāṇinian dhātu’s potency in re-establishing synaptic connections is, as yet, unrealised. We will do this through processes of ontical bloom/ ucchvas- a term used here to mean the generation of hitherto dormant cognitive pathways, which in turn bring new realizations on matters of being, reality, and existence. In this essay, we will detail layers 1 and 2- the ontical and the ontological.
Sūtras, or Design Principles
As Shri Shivakumar expertly details in (this article)[https://www.indictoday.com/research/sutra-system-realizing-ruta/], sūtras represent an essential unit of Bhāratīya cognition. They are aspects of ṛta encoded in aphorisms or principles in concise, computational forms. Using sūtras we can generate objects- or ontical forms- representing the same truth a given sūtra contains. To quote from the article:
At times, these Sūtras are too specific and limited in scope. At times, they expand themselves into containing very large parts of the universe and hence they assume the form of a Fundamental Principle/Mūla Tattva.
What’s being described above is a generative fractal. Bhāratīya consciousness displays multi-level coherence precisely because it is encoded with sūtras- fundamental elements that represent a universal or essential aspect of ṛta and/or sat (ऋत, सत्) . An example of a system that’s generated with interplay of such sūtras is Pāṇini’s Aṣṭādhyāyī, which with its derivational system as applied to dhātus informs much of our schema. We refer to such an internally-coherent string of sūtras as a sūtramaṇḍala, or a set of design principles. Such a set can be of two types:
- A conceptual set, one that represents fundamental reality without any recourse to action, and has ontologically generative properties.
- An operational set, describing principles that can be felt, seen, validated and deployed in the material world.
Another way to understand these are as ṛtasūtramaṇḍalas and kṛtasūtramaṇḍalas. Ṛtasūtramaṇḍalas, or conceptual sūtra sets, simply are- they generate and exist to a code of their own. Kṛtasūtramaṇḍalas, or operational sūtra sets, enable us to manifest/generate aspects of truth in this realm. Ṛtasūtramaṇḍalas describe existence, kṛtasūtramaṇḍalas prescribe being. While Indian civilizational consciousness is generated by a ṛtasūtramaṇḍala (as we will come to see), a schema to reconnect to it must necessarily be operational. In this context it becomes a set of design principles- a cognition/awareness to embed into the entire system to give it consistent generative properties.
Indeed, it can be said that colonization is the internalization of foreign design principles by another civilization.
It follows naturally then that decolonization is the return to native design principles. Some such design principles are known to us as mahāvākyas. Others are found uttered pithily in forgotten ślokas of civilizational memory. There are four that we take as guiding in construction of our schema, to be visited in Part 2 of this series. They thus form a kṛtamaṇḍala- an operational set of design principles that can be deployed and/or implemented. In turn, such deployment to the 4 layers of our schema can return a ṛtasūtramaṇḍala, or a generative set of design principles that describe aspect(s) of reality. This essay will conclude with a critical ṛtasūtramaṇḍala.
Schema Layer 1 – Ārtava (of ṛta; ontical categories)
Ṛta, or the Natural Order. The cakra of being and existence. Given that dharma is the Indian endeavor to organize life and society in consonance in ṛta, and that this consonance at various levels is indeed the civilizational imperative that makes it a coherent fractal, at L1 we organize things by their positioning within or in context of ṛta. And since the goal here is seeding synaptic reconnections, we design a dhātu-led consistency. Dhātus are represented in standard form as prefixed with the √ symbol, such that a dhātu will be represented as √dhā. In addition, the primary classificatory categories- or notions to wrap our thinking around- are represented as category. These are simplistic visual aids to give some tether to cognition as it travels through technical terrain. There are seven proposed ontical categories:
Derived from √ṛ Everything pertaining to emergent and perceived reality- the natural order. Ex: nature, cosmos, consciousness.
That which exists independent of humanity. It is what the Western mind understands as reality– “that which doesn’t go away when you stop believing in it.”
Derived from √kṛ Everything that is kṛta, or done/ created, by life forms- where they are the kartā.
This includes information, except that of exclusive qualia classified separately. Some art will be a part of kṛta, but others could be in the next two categories.
Commerce, trade and economic activity are also kṛta
Derived from √dhṛ All things phenomenologically part of humanity- culture, history, tradition- or displaying aspects of emergence.
Is Marxism a kṛta or a dhṛta? We decide on the basis whether something is a created ideology vs. whether it is emergent, and it should be clear where Marxism slots, for example.
Derived from √ghṛ The best, most exceptional products of humanity- be they things or ideas. The most ghṛta, well refined or clarified like ghee, output of the ongoing mānava yajña. A ranking category to separate some kṛta from others.
This category is essential to our objective, for it helps understand what Indian civilizational consciousness values, and what it would not.
Derived from √bhṛ Stuff pertaining to leadership, governance, policy, education and learning- institutional and individual human endeavors to bear, to lead, to be bhartṛs (bearers) or bharaṭas- potters that shape clay. Usage of this category helps us internalize the self-identity of Bhārata.
Derived from √mṛ Things of mortal concern- to individual, nation, species or planet. A callout category to highlight the most pressing dangers and threats. Things that could bring death, or martya. All akṛta, adhṛta, aghṛta or abhṛta things- by definition.
7- ANṚTA or NṚTA
Derived from √ṛ or √nṛ Everything else- stuff that cannot be classified into any of the previous. It is a nartaka- a dancer that defies category. It mimes, it tricks and deceives. It is both this and that. The category of mystery and ambiguity, of unknown unknowns. Of things for which we’re unsure- are they even ṛta to begin with?
What Value Does Such Classification Have?
For one, notice that it contains the seemingly hard boundaries of humanity, nature and man-made. But an ontic bloom happens at the borders, pivoting around a range of prefixes to the roots, such as- ati, adhi, pra, abhi, anu, upa, ud, prati, vi among others, and a compact but versatile set of rules to derive verb forms. Coherence maintains across the spectrum, found at any level we look at. The root of √dhṛ expands to dhartṛ, dharma, dharmatvam, dhāraṇa, dharita, dhārmika and more. The seemingly incoherent sound √bhṛ becomes bhartya, abhartya, bhārata, bharaṇa and more.
There is a built-in qualification of human output- a sensitivity increasingly lost in the modern world of technology and disruptive innovation. It also allows for differences or nuances by dimension. For example, capitalism- as an idea- is simply kṛta. But for the factory worker or the delivery rider, or even an entire forest tribe, it could be mṛta, while appearing to society as anṛta. This allows us to reflect on the kind of world we’re hubristically creating, where convenience and innovation imply subserving a large part of the nation’s young male populace into delivering material to consumers within record timings – as one example. Notice also the distance built-in between kṛta and dhṛta, which in turn yield karma and dharma- it’s important to distinguish between things that humans do or create (like religion) and things that are emergent in humanity (like culture and civilization).
It makes sense to have mṛta as a separate category- especially in the modern world with stuff like singularity and climate catastrophe looming large- for it directs at least part of our vision towards things that could kill us or the planet. Lastly, notice the civilizational cores built into this classification. Ghṛta, or ghee, or the clarified output from the yajña, is in fact a metaphor for the purified consciousness each of us can generate within us, the agni of our personal yajñas. Ghṛta is extracted through tapasyā, through pariśrama, through havana and yajña. As we laud the latest technological inventions, as we remember how great a product manager Steve Jobs was, we should take time to also ask- is humanity even producing ghṛta now? What would ghṛta of the 21st century look like? All of this ought to be parsed to detail, but in this essay we leave it here and move to layer 2.
Schema Layer 2 – Ātmya (of ātma; ontological categories)
Notice a cognitive elegance to these derivations:
√kṛ, manin : karma √dhṛ, maniṇ : dharma √bṛh, man : brahman √at, manin : ātman
No matter which angle we approach from, the Indian civilization makes it abundantly clear that at its center lies Mind, or Consciousness, or Intent– √man (considering, knowing, thinking).
This is not a solipsistic paradigm, but one of extreme responsibility, engagement and empowerment[^3]. It also affirms that, as much as dharma is predicated upon community and tradition, it has exalted space for the individual. We give accord to this in L2 by affixing subjective meaning to the natural and lived orders, ie, mapping meaning along subjective aspects that differ person to person. Indeed, what is considered a technological ghṛta of humanity often leads to severe anṛta conditions for the individual. Our matrix must be able to capture these kinds of dissonances, because dissonance is antithetical to the civilizational imperative of being in consonance with ṛta- it is anṛta by definition.
We design this layer along the pattern set in the previous one. Every category in reality- the ontical- has a certain form in the experience of being- the ontological. Ever since Martin Heidegger used these notions, the Western mind has been trying to come to terms with them. But the Indian mind has grappled with the fact of consciousness long ago and to profound detail. The anecdote abounds that late in his life, when Heidegger encountered Zen Buddhism, he remarked- “this is what I’ve been trying to say all my life.”
Derived from √smṛ Things of the inner mind-space, ie, thoughts, feelings and emotions- the felt-experience of consciousness. Not as a phenomenon, but as a subjective experience of being. The same thing can leave different impressions on different people- creating as many smṛta categories.
For example, there are today 3 fundamentally different Indias, when classified by smṛta. There is an India, a Bhārata, and a Hindustan.
Derived from √ṛc Things you/I create, or conduct racanā of. Things we fasten together, bind or bring into existence. A subjective order equivalent to kṛta of L1, where something of the smṛta category is brought to life/form.
We may argue to eschew this category and simply allow for two kṛta classes, but in doing so would miss a vital chink in the ontic bloom of ṛ > ṛc > ṛcas > rac > ratha > artha and a lot more, which we will come to.
Derived from √dṛ The innate skills and traits in us, the individual selves. Our emergent personalities and behaviors- the fundamental reason why being you and being me are different things- our svabhāva (though not our svadharma).
Derived from √śṛ The best, most refined aspects of us- or the L2 equivalent to the ghṛta of L1. All of Pāṇini’s smṛta, for example, is a distilled śṛta into his opus- Aṣṭadhyāyī.
It is the stuff that emerges in us after pariśrama, a miśṛt output of our self-application, or adhyātma. Many of us go though lives never caring to produce śṛta, and thus never experience the reward of a personal yajña. The qualification allows us to understand why śruti is given greater accord than is smṛti in Indian tradition. It is the clarified output- ghṛta- of mind.
Derived from √pṛ Things of love, affection, fulfillment and nourishment. A way for us to qualify the soundarya and rasa of our lived experience. This may appear quite different to bhṛta of L1, but in reality we are led by, informed by and find basis in pṛta much like civilization is led, informed by and finds basis in bhṛta.
It can be said that the objective of bhṛta is to create a situation when denizens are able to live in and enjoy pṛta. The first cakravartin, Pṛthu Vainya, is lauded in the Purāṇas for bringing joy to his people.
Derived from √vṛ Things of personal subsistence, activity and commerce- the dincaryā. Stuff of vartana, or movement, or of dealing, day-on-day, with vartamāna- the present. Stuff we do for vetana- wages.
Though the connection to mṛta of L1 is tenuous, we make it because the mindless, drone-like vṛta of modern world are indeed akin to mṛta- or death of the self. True death is that which dies inside of us while we are still alive, and who would disagree that most vṛta of the modern world are soul crushing.
Derived from √sṛ Stuff that distracts, tempts and misguides us, for example drugs to the addict. Stuff that deceives us into thinking it gives us pleasure/benefit but in reality eats away the ātma. It sways this way and that, like a sarpa. This ambiguity allows us to correlate it to anṛta of L1. The phonetic closeness to śṛta, which is a positive category, helps reiterate a degree of ambiguity and iterates caution.
This preliminary schema is a top-down design patterned to what is emergent bottom-up. There is bound to be over-engineering at this stage, but we can whittle that away as the project progresses. For now, we’ve kept as many ātmya classes as ārtava ones, and drawn correlations between the two. What we try to capture is both the sum of parts and the parts themselves- the pūrṇamaṇḍalam. Both the ārtava and ātmya layers classify meaning along the same paths, except in the former we speak of meaning as general, and in the latter it is meaning as understood/realized by the individual.
Setting a coherent classification matrix, or ontology, rooted in Sanskrit allows us to move a step deeper- to how meaning is arrived at in the first place, or to put it simply- to epistemology. Beyond that we would have to tackle with purpose, or teleology.
It is with all four layers that the schema begins to show shape, but not before the layers are placed across some universalizing principles. That is the road ahead, for Parts 2 and 3. By the end of Part 3, we would have also seen some examples of how to use this schema. But recalling the diagram shared earlier, one output of such a schema is a-
Ṛtasūtramaṇḍala, a set of generative design principles that we are calling the 4 aphorisms of civilizational consciousness. Let us conclude with them, so that by Part 3 we may recapitulate back to an established tether.
Ṛtasūtramaṇḍalas, and Civilizational Consciousness
Civilization begins to appear when a workable system for living, that is a proper relationship between man and nature, is established in accord with the features of a given region.
In this quote, though Prof. Yasuda Yoshinori speaks of the ancient Jomon civilization, he gives us a glimpse into why our ancestors called dharma “sanātana”, and why they conceived of a word such as ‘saṃskṛti’ long before the French conceived ‘civilisé.’ The “proper relationship between man and nature” may well be translated as yuktaḥ bhavati svadharmaḥ ṛtam- ie, it connects directly to an ontical core of Bhāratīya saṃskṛti. We are confronted here with the notice of emergence- the origination of new categories, categorial novum- properties or behaviors in a whole that are not found in its parts. Simple examples of emergence are the fractal patterns of a snowflake, or the jagged yet elegant hills of a termite colony. Complex examples of emergence are life and consciousness.
Reducing a wide range of ‘scientific’ opinions on the nature and etiology of consciousness to a generalization, consciousness is what is thought to emerge when information inside a closed system is processed in increasingly complex ways- giving rise to “novel and coherent structures, patterns and properties during the process of self organization.” It is what information “feels like,” to “itself.” Five generally accepted qualities of emergence are:
- Radical novelty,
- Coherence, correlation,
- A global, or macro level- ie, a property of wholeness
- Evolution through dynamic processes
- Ostensibility- ie, can be perceived
We can see that consciousness, at least of the human variety, satisfies these speculated conditions. In fact, some thinkers have seriously contended that property 5 alone is enough as proof and description of consciousness, echoed famously in Descartes’ “I think, therefore I am.” On the matter of civilization, though debates abound, we should take information from Huntington’s definition of civilization as “the highest cultural grouping of people and the broadest level of cultural identity people have, short of that which distinguishes humans from other species.” This definition is helpful because it facilitates the application of a design principle and the retrieval of a generative insight- yathā piṇḍe tathā brahmāṇḍe, and vice versa. Thus:
If consciousness is what emerges when information inside an individual is processed in increasingly complex ways, then civilization is what emerges when information inside a collective/group is processed in increasingly complex ways.
Among known life forms, the emergent phenomenon finds maximum expression in homo sapiens. Among known collective groups, it finds maximum expression in civilizational super-aggregates.
This is how over a long course of time (itihāsa) a civilization (Bhārata) has come into consciousness (dharma). And this emergence is along four principles, or sūtras.[^4]
यथा स्मृति: चैतन्यं चैतन्य: जीवं च। तथा इतिहास: संस्कृतिं संस्कृति: समूहं च।। yathā smṛtiḥ caitanyaṃ caitanyaḥ jīvaṃ ca tathā itihāsaḥ saṃskṛtiṃ saṃskṛtiḥ samūhaṃ ca
Or, as memory is to consciousness and consciousness to the individual, so history is to civilization and civilization to the group.
Memory is core to the conscious experience. You feel you because of an unbroken memory chain that goes deep into your childhood. You identify as that same person, through the years, because it is your mind where the chain of imprints resides. This memory underpins your consciousness, which in turn makes you you.
In similar form, history- or more accurately itihāsa- is core to the civilizational experience. A civilization, or a samṣkṛti, emerges because of an unbroken aitihāsika chain that goes indeterminably far back in time- such that it can only be conceptualized as sanātana. We call the samūha’s trajectory over thousands of years an unbroken civilizational chain, because it is in the civilizational psyche where the chain resides. The itihāsa underpins the civilization, which emerges in form of saṃskṛti.
Profound realizations dawn with even this single principle internalized. Broken memories, false memories, implanted memories, subverted memories, contested memories- these are some ways a consciousness can be disturbed, limited and manipulated. Broken histories, false histories, implanted histories, subverted histories, contested histories- these are some ways a civilization can be disturbed, limited and manipulated. To subvert an individual, to make them doubt their sense of self, to bring their self-identity into question, we may toy with their memory. To subvert a civilization, to make it doubt its existence, to bring its self-identity into question- we may toy with its history.
We use the word samūha for collective/group to evoke phonetic kinship with saṃskṛti- it is our collective kṛti. And just like consciousness, though phenomenological, it is a unique felt-experience. Decolonisation is shedding the acquired syntactic-semiotic-semantic memeplex of teṣāṃkṛti – their kṛti- or a foreign civilization.
2 यथा चैतन्य: उभावस्ति कर्ता कृत्यं स्मृते:। तथा संस्कृति: उभावस्ति कर्ता कृत्यं इतिहासस्य।। yathā caitanyaḥ ubhāvasti kartā kṛtyaṃ smṛteḥ tathā saṃskṛtiḥ ubhāvasti kartā kṛtyaṃ itihāsasya
Or, as consciousness is both the observer and the subject of memory, so civilization is both the observer and the subject of history.
We form within our mind’s eye a vision of ourselves- the brain looking at a self-model, the homunculus inside the gray matter. And we are in conversation with it, such that memory and consciousness are in constant interplay. We recollect images and impressions from our memory bank as conscious reflection in the present, and the memory bank is where all conscious experience is stored to create who we are. There is conscious experience even if memory is broken, but it contributes nothing to the sense of self, dissipating ephemerally if not stored in the bank. Similar is itihāsa to the civilisational consciousness, as Prof. Vishwa Adluri writes-
Itihāsa represents the empirical world aesthetically to problematize both being-in-the-world and the relationship of ontology, text, and the world. In other words, itihāsa is history that has overcome historicism: history that has become critical and self-conscious.
Itihāsa is the “mempool” that Indian civilization is in constant conversation with. It can recollect images, memes and impressions for conscious reflection in the present. Indeed, this is what older generations of Indians do on a daily basis. Regular conversations refer to the pledge of Bhīṣma, the vengeance of Karṇa, the greed of Duryodhana or the perseverance of Rāma, and more.
Now, when our access to and traditional engagements with the mempool are broken, our civilization moves forward aimlessly, pulled in the sway of “development, progress and technology” that may land a future Bezos or Musk a lordship over Asteroid X1A21, but we have no vision of where it may land us. What Adluri writes above is in fact the very process these principles highlight- the emergence of self-consciousness through information being processed in complex ways, over a long period of time. When a civilization is in conversation with its past, it generates learnings and ethicality. When a civilization approaches it only as an academic discipline, it may remember the exact date when Columbus landed on a new world, but is bound to repeat the same evils again.
3 यथा जीव: युक्त:भवति स्वधर्म: ऋतं सचेतं स्मृत्या। तथा संस्कृति: युक्त:भवति सामान्यधर्म: ऋतं सचेतं इतिहासेन।। yathā jīvaḥ yuktaḥbhavati svadharmaṛtaṃ sacetaṃ smṛtyā tathā saṃskṛtiḥ yuktaḥbhavati sāmānyadharmaṛtam sacetaṃ itihāsena
Or, as an individual yokes self-conduct to the natural order through conscious memory, so too a civilization yokes self-conduct to the natural order through conscious history.
This sūtra highlights the parallelism between individual and collective- vyaṣṭi and the samaṣṭi, or the jīva and the samūha. It brings into focus the emergence of dharma- the imperative to be in consonance with ṛta, and points to the true purpose and benefit of historical memory. Individuals can use memory as a process of conscious reflection and self-correction, ultimately to yoke themselves, via yoga, to the natural order. Such is the purpose of itihāsa as well- to inform the samūha in yoking itself to the natural order. This is why the Indian literature of itihāsa-purāṇa cares less for historia than it does for ethics; less for dates and chronologies than it does for deeds and consequences.
If our date of birth wasn’t recorded by our parents, would we even know it? And if we didn’t know it, would it negate our felt experience and mean that we were never born? If these questions point to the absurd, we must relate the same for civilization as well. Thus is dharma called sanātana, thus are our earliest ṛṣis called mānasaputras, and thus is Brahmā himself known as the svayambhu. We care more for the lessons our ancestors embedded into lore, for the things our history can teach us, than we do for the intricacies of historia. For both individual and collective, the purpose of itihāsa is a rooting to dharma, it is the very means to self-conscious reflection.
4 यथा चैतन्य: युक्ते ऋतं स्वपूर्णमण्डलयति कश्चितवस्थायाम्। तथा संस्कृति: युक्ते ऋतं संपूर्णमण्डलयति कश्चित्वस्थायाम्।। yathā caityanyaḥ yukte ṛtaṃ svapūrṇamaṇḍalayati kaścitavasthāyām tathā saṃskṛtiḥ yukte ṛtam sampūrṇamaṇḍalayati kaścitavasthāyām
Or, as a consciousness in yoke to natural rhythm is wholly coherent in any state, so too a civilization in yoke to natural rhythm is wholly coherent in any state.
The final principle represents the end-state, the ideal that is aspired to even in the pauruṣārthika frame of mokṣa. It highlights what Hinduism maintains- a human birth is special, since it provides opportunity for ultimate union. But humans are a social species, there is a samūha beyond the jīva, and we desire for both to be in consonance with ṛta.
Such consonance, this principle asserts, puts individual consciousness in a state of coherence, or what could be called sambodhya. The being is complete in itself, or thus svapūrṇa. Similarly, it puts collective consciousness, one operant on sāmānyadharma, in a state of coherence- yoked to ṛta, as-above-so-below realized at the level of civilization. Thence does the samūha become sampūrṇa, a samaṣṭi of vyaṣṭis, a fractal maṇḍala.
Emergence is real, but even the farthest reaches of science cannot tell us what the precise laws of emergence are. This is because the emergent can never completely understand the processes preceding it, or underlying it, just like the tree never knows the seed that birthed it. The seed may be gone in corporal form, but what was once materially real is now manifestly so in form of the tree. The best the tree can do, and the best that trees do, is conform to the seeded order- the tree follows its own dharma.
And thus must the jīva and samūha follow their dharma, or the path of consonance. Thus must kṛta, smṛta, dhṛta, ṛca and every other phenomenon we can influence- including saṃskṛta, resonate with ṛta. The unbounded reality allows us to do as we wish of course, but the core and continuing realization of our civilization is that in desire, in play, in profit, in pleasure, in performance, we must aim for the resonance. For freedom, that is mokṣa. For transcending of √bhū and union with √sat.
This is the way.
Having begun with a grand ambition of outlining the schema for synaptic reconnection to civilizational consciousness, we have arrived at describing the principles that generate such consciousness to begin with. But we haven’t lost sight of the original aim- the parser and compiler we seek to build.
Ontology, Epistemology, Teleology
There is a fair bit of cognitive fatigue around these words, but they denote things of root importance to how we make sense of the world. They act upon us even without our knowledge or conscious perception, and it can be said that they contain the ‘metadata’ to reality. Simply put, they refer to What Exists, How we Know it Exists, and Why it Exists (or What For). These aren’t things most of us spend our time worrying too much about. After all, things do exist, we seem to have ways of knowing this to certitudes, and as for why- explanations galore and we keep chugging along anyway.
But quite like there are several biological processes constantly rolling inside us, below the level of our conscious perception and without our deliberation, our neurology draws from an accumulated base of impressions, biases, assumptions, acculturations and more that we are not always aware of. This is why lists abound for things like ‘logical fallacies’ and ‘unconscious biases.’ The metadata to meaning making is therefore of supreme salience in understanding the human mind– both as a discrete unit and as a grouping of culture. And to investigate this metadata is a uniquely human privilege. We are the only species (that we know of) that can look into the mirror of consciousness and recognize our own reflection staring back at us. And across time and place, when humans have done so they have hit upon an almost inexplicable intuition.
Reality is made of language.
This is not the stuff of esoterica, nor of literal conformity, it is the serious conclusion of many a considered opinion. We point to three here as examples[^5]:
True alchemists do not change lead into gold; they change the world into words. [@cite] – WILLIAM H. GASS
The world is made of words. And if you know the words that the world is made of, you can make of it whatever you wish. [@cite] – TERRENCE MCKENNA
The structure of language determines not only thought, but reality itself. [@cite] – NOAM CHOMSKY
What is suggested in these words is that a significant and defining aspect of the conscious experience- the cognitive processing of metadata- happens through the function of language. There is a natural implication to this, which we can add to the base intuition:
Reality is made of language, or code.
and like any code, reality can be hacked.
This is why earlier we referred to ‘decolonization’ as a shedding of the acquired syntactic-semiotic-semantic memeplex of a foreign civilization. And it is why the consequent memeplex to imbibe is one rooted in Sanskrit. What we are attempting in this series is a kind of ‘bootstrapping through language.’ But bootstrapping to what, one may well ask. That is the latter part of our title- reconnection to civilizational consciousness. The argument implicit in our approach is that we can use Sanskrit as a cognitive and self-initiatory tool to claw our way back from deracination, however far on that styx each of us may well be.
To recapitulate Part 1 then, we are building a preliminary schema to structure mental recalibration and deliberation- a design for redesign, if you will. A diagram of the schema in broad is embedded in Part 1, but here are some summary recapitulations:
consonance of ṛta and smṛta
preceding and originator realm of emergence. L1 is emergence-realm of brahma, L2 is emergence realm of ātman
consonance of kṛta and cṛta
created things/ideas/forms that emerge from the previous category but are manifested physically. Are deliberate and done by ātman. L1 by humanity as a species, L2 by human being as an individual
consonance of dhṛta and dṛta
emergent stuff that gets established, entrenched, becomes natural and innate
consonance of ghṛta and śṛta
the best, most refined, most deliberated and produced through pariśrama creations. L1 of humanity, or a group of people. L2 of human being, an individual. In both cases, the output of yajña
consonance of bhṛta and pṛta
things that guide shape, inspire, fulfill, lead. consonance here is not on meaning of the categories but on the spectrum implied. objective of bhṛta is to provide pṛta- to bear and lead is to be steward of fulfillment and purpose
consonance of mṛta and vṛta
stuff that kills- group or individual, body or soul. dangerous and undesirable things, stuff we should be wary of
consonance of nṛt and sṛta
Confounding, slippery, resistant to complete cogitation or simply ṛta/smṛta hampering/discordant things
It should not unsettle us overmuch if the point to all this isn’t quite apparent yet. Even Bhartṛhari claimed, after all, that true meaning is revealed not with the words or constituent parts of speech, but after the end of a complete sentence in a flash of insight called sphoṭa. It makes sense then that looking at the schema through technical tables will not suffice just yet. But there is a way we can experience insight, in this case not with a flash but with a slow bloom. Not with sphoṭa, but with ucchvas– a word we’re using here to mean ‘a gradual mushrooming of meaning and revelation in the mind.’
First we do have to traverse technical terrain once again- some basic working definitions we need to internalize. It does get steep, but the ride isn’t a bumpy one:
Ontical, Ontological, Onomatopoeic
Earlier we spoke of ontical and ontological as two separate categories- known as the “ontological difference.” We lean on side of reductiveness, but in any case we speak of these not so much to understand them as Heidegger meant it but to use them as supplementary scaffolding in our own build[^6].
Ontic describes what is there, as opposed to the nature or properties of that being. For Heidegger, “ontical” signifies concrete, specific realities, whereas “ontological” signifies deeper underlying structures of reality.[^7]
The science that studies a being is, for Heidegger, ontic (ontique), and it is necessary to distinguish it from the science of the being of a being which alone is ontological. 4 Ontological is like a level up in relation to “ontic”. Ontological being is not only being, but also being who understands being.[^8]
The third sample here articulates the ‘ontological difference’ as salient to our schema. It divides existence into ‘that which exists/comes into existence’ and that ‘which is aware of its existence,’ with the added complexity of whether ‘awareness of existence’ is the true ontological- all else being ontical forms it descends into[^9]. Our posited unentangling of the ontological difference is by bringing in a tangential notion- that of onomatopoeia.
What distinguishes the ontological is its self-awareness. It is not just something that exists, it is something that knows what existence feels like. It possesses what the ancients knew as ‘cit’ (चित्) and Pāṇini described as sañcetanā, smṛtyām, saṃjñāna- consciousness, in-descent of thinking, consonance (of awareness, ie., existence)7. It is Being, Heidegger’s Dasien- that which awareness/existence itself is. Luminous such, when Being reflects on its own existence, the same reflects back at it- cit becomes cint, cetana’s ping receives the pingback of cintana. This self-reflected glint is characterized by what we call semantic onomatopoeia. The dictionary meaning and standard usage of this word are straightforward:
The fact of words containing sounds similar to the noises they describe, for example ‘hiss’ or ‘thud’; the use of words like this in a piece of writing.
शब्दों का ध्वनि-विन्यास संबंधित (वास्तविक) ध्वनियों के अनुसार होना, ध्वनि-अनुकरण; ध्वनि-अनुकरणात्मक शब्द
Onomatopoeia therefore can be understood as a kind of ‘consonance’ between sound and meaning- the level at which language brushes against being a reflected shard of reality. Common examples- such as oink and buzz– do not do justice to this critical shard. Some better examples are found in Indian lore. The ancient ṛṣi, Bhṛgu, is credited in the Ṛgveda as having introduced the Bharata Āryas to fire. There is obviously a range of interpretation here, but what need not be doubted is the credit accorded to him in the primeval layer of Vaidika association to/with Agni. The name is built from the root √bhṛ- which is category L1-5 in our schema and also root to ‘Bhārata’: a level of consonance already.
But linguistically, Bhṛgu is built atop ‘bhṛg,’ which is ‘an onomatopoeic word expressive of the crackling sound of fire.’[^10] Bhṛgu literally translates to that which/he who is ‘for the purpose of’ or the ‘doer’ of ‘bhṛg,’ just as dhātu is for the purpose of/ doer of ‘dhā.’
What we are seeing between the Vaidika story and the linguistic derivation is a consonance of meaning- a semantic onomatopoeia. It is the type of consonance that arises through self-awareness, √cit pingbacked as √cint. And the consonance is semantic, which means the reflection is not of arbitrary sound but of deliberately encoded meaning. Owed to the Bhṛgu-onomatopoeia, and a host of other such cases, we find additional support for the sentiment expressed by Prof. Adluri when he says:
Itihāsa represents the empirical world aesthetically to problematize both being-in-the-world and the relationship of ontology, text, and the world. In other words, itihāsa is history that has overcome historicism: history that has become critical and self-conscious.
What we are trying to establish here is that semantic onomatopoeia gives evidence to a thing’s ontological nature- it hints that the thing is a Being for itself- possessed of self-awareness, and not merely an ontical form. The onomatopoeia evidenced by Indian civilization asserts that it is ontological, not ontical- that Bhāratīya sāṃskṛtika cetanā is a real thing (thus making itihāsa, as Adluri describes it, the cintana pingback.) The civilization is self-aware, has agency, and its consciousness impacts its constituents- be they colonized or not. And this onomatopoeia gives us an immensely helpful ramp- we can follow the consonance ripples as if a trail of breadcrumbs and reconnect to the civilizational mind. The vyaṣṭi reintegrating with the samaṣṭi. A ghar-vāaapasi of a different kind. Let us do this now through ucchvas– also called an ontic bloom-a gradual mushrooming of meaning-realization (or consonance dawning). We do this for a very apparent aspect of the schema’s design- its tethering to ṛ/ ऋ in all the category names of L1 and L2. This is bootstrapping through language in action.
The Ontic Bloom of ऋ
Some etymology: Pāṇini defined the root √ṛ as gatau and gatiprāpaṇa- motion/ movement and attainment of motion.
Ṛta is derived from this by affixation or pratyaya- ṛ+kta (ऋ + क्त). This pratyaya denotes a sense of the passive past tense. Ṛta thus means “was put into motion” or “has been done,” (where done refers to the action denoted by the verb, in this case movement/motion.)
Not only is this cosmogony at play, it is the birth of the ontic. Simply the etymological rooting of ṛ informs us of the “moment in time” when motion/ movement/ change/ time came into existence. Since it came into existence, it cannot be Being or Existing in itself. You see, that which is eternal and unchanging is sat (सत् )- it simply Is.
It is not ‘existence,’ a phenomenological thing and thus an ontical form. It is Existing, Being- the Ontological. It derives from the root √as (अस्) which means “is.” सत् is the present participle of अस्, which is to say that it is not exactly “is” but rather “ing”- is happening, going on.
Thus do we say that it is not existence- which implies the coming into existence, or coming into being at some earlier point. As the present participle of is, it is Existing or Being– what the thing is to itself, or the ontological that Heidegger gave up on. To Terence McKenna, it awaits us at the end of time- which is of course true. But it also sits behind us before the emergence of time. It is why sat holds the status it does in dhārmika ontology. Existing such, eternal and unchanging- there is no motion by definition. No movement, no time, no gati. Not a single ontical form in existence
But then, at some point, ṛ + kta has been done -> movement has been attained[^11]– gatiprāpaṇayoh comes into being. The cosmic bubble which will contain things, or ontical forms. And so this bubble is called (ṛ+kta) ṛta. This explains the design of our schema. We shape it around ṛta since it denotes the pure, closest branching of sat. It is nothing but motion, rhythm. It is a-sat, yes, but it is still true, right, proper, efficient. It is a consonant reflected shard of reality, and an elaborate trail of ontic blooming[^12] is now possible for us:
Sat and Bhava
The ontologically complete interpretation of ṛ + kta is that motion has been attained by “Being,” by “Sat.” This is different to saying that Sat has come into existence.[^13]
To come into existence is understood in Sanskrit as bhav– a cognacy to the modern “be” in English. In turn this gives us the word bhāva- expression, form or manner. The phenomenological and experience world is through bhav, through ontical forms coming into existence.
Bhav proceeds at its emergent pace or happening, but ṛta continues- it is both gatiprāpaṇayoḥ and also gatau- the attainment of motion and also movement itself.
Ṛta, Dharma, Ārya
The Indian imperative has been to be in flow and consonance with this motion, ie.- dharma is the endeavor to conduct life and society in consonance with ṛta.
Another pratyaya to ṛ evokes the idea of “wanting to do” the action denoted by the verb, called the ṇyat pratyaya. Ṛ + ṇyat (ऋ + ण्यत्) gives us the word ārya – आर्य, ie. desiring gatiprāpaṇa- wishing to be in step with the rhythm of natural motion. All the expert philology and comparative linguistics of decades has not cared to factor such things in its imagined definitions of ‘Aryan.’ Or it has deliberately not done so. Ignorance or malice- we leave this open.
The Ride is not Free
To be in motion, ie. to exist in ṛta, accumulates entropic debt. In the modern world we understand this through notions like sustainability, ‘give-back-to-community’ and carbon credit. The ancient Indians understood this as ṛṇa, or essential obligation.
Ṛṇa is simply another ‘kta pratyaya’ of ṛ- ṛ + kta = ṛna (ऋ + क्त = ऋण ). The difference is that ṛta is the gatiprāpaṇa of Sat, while ṛṇa is the gatiprāpaṇa of you and me.
Only a few steps above the dhātu ladder, we are able to get core insights into the Indian mind. It perceives a deeper ontology to being and existence than we realize, discerns what existence is at core- motion, change, temporality; and formulates an elaborate set of design principles- dharma– that bring harmony with the motion. And it doesn’t stop here, on the branches of ऋ alone there is further core ontology such as:
ṛṣi – ‘possessed of mastery over gati’, ie., can see beyond the illusions of temporality; or cleaves through it with vision. In similar vein, one who cleaves through land, physically (for agriculture and irrigation- more flow), is kṛṣi.
ṛca – where the ‘ca’ is of the same evocation as the sound holds in notions like citta and cit ⇒ luminosity, sparkle. Ṛca is most literally a ‘throwing of light on ऋ,’ which explains why it took ṛṣi-level vision to compose ṛcas.
To find a tethering within ṛta, a purpose or aim that situates it specifically (a relative but not absolute sthā), is artha (अर्थ).
This demonstrates that the schema we build is capable of fulfilling the first of the two test criteria we had set for validity in Part 1: rooting our thinking in Sanskrit opens new pathways, or seeds reconnection to the civilizational core.
The ontic bloom of ṛ connects us to the civilizational imperative, the harmony and consonance inherent to the design of dharma. Another way to put it is that what ṛta is to Existing, dharma is to Existence. Ṛta is flow, motion, movement in the ontological Sat, dharma is flow, tradition, sustenance in the ontical Bhav. This is why our aspiration is to be Āryas, why we consider rivers- ever in motion- to be sacred, and why flow- pravāha- is valued in sanātana dharma. In this light let us now examine the Ārtava and Ātmya layers again, this time with special focus on the civilizational thinking they reconnect us to. Each layer can yield ontic blooms like ṛ did.
Ārtava and Ātmya Layers Revisited
These are maintained as a separate layer to reaffirm that ātman is an ontological form within the ontical bubble of ṛta. This is the great synthesis of the “ontological difference”. ‘That which breathes on its own,’ or ātman, is akin to that which exists on its own.
Breathing is Existing, you and I are ontological shards of Sat/Brahman, experiencing motion/temporality.
And now, a moment of pause…
We have fleshed to detail layers 1 and 2 of our schema. These cover ontology, with ample space for exegesis on the ontological difference. The 14 categories, in a 7×2 inter-analogous setup, cover the realm of things that exist, ie., what we know, in a design that demonstrates the Indian way of looking at reality, and finds repeated affirmations of it through basic etymological structuring. In parsing the modern world through their filters we are met with our self-identity (Bhārata, Ārya), what our civilization values (ārya, saṃgati, bharaṇa), and how it formulates a navigation through life (dharma, karma, ṛṇa) while acknowledging both the pleasures and dangers on access (pṛta, mṛta, anṛta).
It also gives us a few lessons on physics and philosophy along the way- in intuiting of emission, illumination, vibration, and on harmony, consonance, conciliation. All encoded into the basic roots of language. In the previous part, we have also given an example of the complex ontological forms that can emerge within ṛta- in this case of civilization, or saṃskṛti- described through what we have termed ṛta sūtramaṇḍala. Each layer in the schema is built upon a basic design principle- a kṛta sūtra- and the kṛta sūtramaṇḍala that inspire the four layers are what we will visit in the next part of the series.
- The more common third is theology, but for reasons we explain in due time, our preference is for teleology.
- here is also a third, māyā, but we take reductive liberty here.
- We sidestep a number of technical and grammatical considerations here and articulate in reductive generalization. The “man/manin” referred to is an affix, or pratyaya, and Mind- √man– is a dhātu. Our generalization leans on the contentious nature of the Uṇādi Sūtras (where derivations of these words are given) to highlight a larger, glaring symmetry.
- Indian thought has penetrated this to great depths, and it is a tragedy McKenna never heard of Bhartṛhari and the Śabda Brahman. We will visit this in due time. McKenna’s quote here in fact is a direct affirmation of the Indian worldview on mantra and ṛṣi.
- Heidegger himself abandoned this terminology later in his life.
- Between Ontic and Ontologic
- Ontic vs. Ontologic
- The relevance to us should be visible by now, we’re only a few steps away from speaking of Puruṣa-Prakṛti, or even of Brahman-Ātman.
- Reformatted a different way, this is sat, cit, ānanda. More on this later.
- Sanskrit Dictionary
- The syntax of language begins to trip and stumble at this stage. We use tense-forms as if time existed in the “time we are talking of,” – there is no other way to express it, even if it technically makes no sense.
- These involve free-thinking speculations which are not meant as claims of authority on any of the darśanas, or as technical points on comprehensive ontologies such as Nyāya or Vaiśeśikā.
- Parallel to Sat is the idea of Brahman, which best derives as swelling, expansion, outpouring. One interpretation of brahman is as √bṛṃḥ + √an, where √an is prāṇane– breathing. √bṛṃḥ + √an is the the expansion or swelling of breathing, a vision of the inflationary-deflationary universe. It is remarkable that such cosmological intuitions can be found at the absolute root of Sanskrit language.
- These are not exclusive and definitive meanings.