OPED Friday, October 31, 2008 Pioneer.com Art of looking the other way Francois Gautier Those who select the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize suffer from selective amnesia about India and its ancient knowledge and traditions. Hence the winner is not an Indian
In a remarkable book, L'oubli de l'Inde (Amnesia of India), French philosopher and journalist Roger-Pol Droit recounts how till the 19th century Europe's admiration for Indian philosophy and spirituality was boundless, particularly in France and Germany, both terra franca of philosophical thought. He explains how, for instance, French philosopher Pierre Sonnerat had written in the 18th century: "Ancient India gave to the world its religions and philosophies: Egypt and Greece owe India their wisdom and it is known that Pythagoras went to India to study under Brahmins, who were the most enlightened of human beings."
Or how German philosophers, such as Friedrich Schlegel, have said: "There is no language in the world, even Greek, which has the clarity and the philosophical precision of Sanskrit." Nietzsche had read the Vedas, which he admired profoundly and thought that "Buddhism and Brahmanism are a hundred times deeper and more objective than Christianity".
It was not only in the realm of philosophy that Europe admired India. American mathematician A Seindenberg wrote: "Arithmetic equations were used in the observation of the triangle by the Babylonians and the theory of contraries and of inexactitude in arithmetic methods, discovered by Hindus inspired Pythagorean mathematics".
Seventeenth century French astronomer Jean-Claude Bailly had already noticed that "the Hindu astronomic systems were much more ancient than those of the Greeks or even the Egyptians and the movement of stars which was calculated by the Hindus 4,500 years ago, does not differ from those used today by even one minute".
When Nietzsche died in August 1900, the India of philosophy, of the Vedas and spirituality seemed to have disappeared with him from the consciousness of Europeans. Since then, Europe (and the United States) believe in what Droit calls "Helleno-Centrism", that all philosophical systems started with Greece and there was nothing worth the name before the Greeks. The two main culprits for this amnesia of India in Europe, thinks Pol Droit, are the British colonisers and the Christian missionaries. How could the English, they who had come to civilise the 'heathens', admit that their culture was derived from these very savages? And how could the missionaries, they who had come to bring the 'true god' to the Pagans, acknowledge that their own religion may have been influenced by the latter, as Jesus Christ is supposed to have come to India to study Hinduism and Buddhism? What has this got to do with the Nobel Peace Prize, you may ask? Well, first, one has to understand the minds of the Nobel Peace Prize committee members: When they award prizes, they are necessarily influenced by a Christian vision of the world. For, as most Europeans, they have been brought-up in the belief that democracy and philosophy started with Greece and that a humane civilisation began with Jesus Christ. And, of course, they have a covert -- or at best unconscious -- suspicion, if not of India at least of Hindus, who for them remain Pagans, which the missionaries of yesteryears, and unfortunately those of today too, have created in the minds of many Westerners. How can they then give Peace Prize to a Hindu? ...
In the same way the Nobel judges ignored Sri Aurobindo, India's extraordinary yogi, poet, revolutionary, and philosopher and France is yet to acknowledge that one of the great figures of the 20th century was his spiritual companion, Mira Alfassa, the 'Mother'.