What About India?

Civilization rose early in India; as far back as history goes, all indications are that Indian civilization was on a par with the other civilizations in the Old World. So what kind of progress did India make in developing rationalism? 

Overall, the picture is dismal. Here’s an anecdote taken from A History of Indian Logic (Ancient, Medieval, and Modern Schools) by Mahamahopadhyaya Satis Chandra Vidyabhusana (1920).

Astavakra – a Violent Debater. How he defeated a Sophist(About 550 - 500 BC)In the Mahabharata the sage Astavakra ("crooked in eight parts") who represents the culture of the 6th century BC, is stated to have been a great logician. He was the son of Kahoda who was a disciple and son-in-law of Uddalaka, father of Svetaketu. With the object of defeating the famous sophist named Vandin, otherwise known as the son of Suta or Varuna, Astavakra while a mere boy came to attend a sacrificial ceremony at the palace of king Janaka in Mithila. Being prevented at the gate, Astavakra addressed the king and said, "A road while there is no Brahmana on it belongs to the blind, the deaf, women, carriers of burden, and the king respectively, but when a Brahmana is there it belongs to him alone." Hearing these words, the king gave him permission to enter. The warder in offering his apology said that Astavakra was stopped because he was still a lad, and under orders of Vandin, lads were not permitted to enter the sacrificial ground. Astavakra said, "If this be the condition, O warder, that the door is opened only to the old, I have a right to enter, I am old: I have observed sacred vows and am in possession of energy proceeding from the Vedic lore. A person is not old because his head is gray but the gods regard him as old who, though young in years, is possessed of knowledge. Who is Vandin? Where is he now? Tell him to come here so that I may destroy him even as the sun destroys the stars."Vandin was summoned to be present in the assembly of debate on the sacrificial ground. While he arrived there Astavakra threatened him and explained: "Do thou answer my questions and I shall answer thine!"

1. Astavakra asks: "What things are signified by one?"Vandin replies: "There is only one fire that blazes forth in various shapes, there is only one sun, that illumines the whole world, there is only one lord of the gods name Indra and the lord of the deceased forefathers is also one, named Yama."

2. Vandin asks, "What things are signified by two?"Astavakra replies: "There are two friends named Indra and Agni, who move together, the two celestial sages are Narada and Parvata, twins are the Asvinikumaras, two is the number of wheels on a cart, and the wife and husband are likewise two that live together."

3. Astavakra asks, "What things are signified by three?"Vandin replies "There are three classes of beings born in consequence of their acts, three are the Vedas which perform the Vajapeya sacrifice, at three times the adhvaryu priests commence sacrificial rites, three is the number of the world, and three also are the divine lights.


[this goes on all the way up to 13]

13. Astavakra asks "What things are signified by 13?"
Vandin replies: "The thirteenth lunar day is considered most auspicious and thirteen islands exist on earth.
Having proceeded so far Vanda stopped.
Astavakra completed the reply thus: "Thirteen sacrifices are presided over by Kesi and thirteen letters compose the Aticchandas metre.

Seeing Astavakra speaking and Vandin silent, the assembly broke into a loud uproar indicative of victory for one and defeat for the other. The Brahamanas present there being pleased approached Astavakra to pay him their homage. Astavakra said: "This Vandin defeating the Brahamanas in controversy used to cast them into water. Let him today meet with the same fate: seize him and drown him in water.


This was the state of logic in India just before the Golden Age of Greece. As you can see, it wasn’t logical.

Why did India fail to develop rationalism?
I don’t really know. Certainly it lacked the mercantile orientation that distinguished Greece during the same time. Its social structure was similar to those of Egypt, Mesopotamia, and China – none of which developed rationalism. A land-owning aristocracy specializing in martial skills lorded it over farming peasants. Such a culture gains no benefits from rationalism. The Indian people were certainly smart enough to develop rationalism; there just wasn’t any selection force to reward its development.

India did make some impressive advances in mathematics, however. This is addressed in the section on mathematics.

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