Here is a work of conspicuous significance dug out from the unpublished papers of one of the foremost philosophers of modern India. The text contains "main features of the conflicting theories of matter, motion and cosmic changes held at different times by different schools of philosophy - Hindu, Buddhist and Jain.' In a bare outline, the discussion provides a comparative survey of Western thought 'in ancient and modern times', and striking 'points of similarity and difference' between the Indian and Western approaches are brought to light.
The distinctive feature of Indian thought lies in the concept of soul which is a new dimension introduced by the ancient sages of India into their study of phenomenon. In the words of author: '…the introduction of soul from the organic stage marks the epoch of a new kind of progress.' And again: 'Soul is the actionless, passionless entity for the enjoyment and liberation of which the whole material world moves in diverse lines.'
In this brief survey, the author successfully brings home that the 'views of the Indians on the matter, motion, etc. were not the results of mere guesses but were consistent deductions from definite systems of philosophy and often the result of a close and systematic chain of reason'.
The text is enriched with an appendix summarizing Sankhya theory of tanmatra and the author's scholarly notes.
Surendranath Dasgupta was born in a place called Gaila in the district of Barisal now in Bangladesh. It is strange, however, that his biographers mention the year of his birth as 1885 or 1887. Stranger still are the legends of his prodigious memory. It is said that as a boy of two or three-before being initiated in literacy proper—he used to recite the Ramayana after listening to it read by others. So also was his competence in learning the Sanskrit. After being admitted into a tol or centre of traditional Sanskrit studies at about the age of nine or ten, while learning the Kalapa- grammar along with commentaries on it, he started teaching the same to his fellow students. His university career was somewhat disappointing: he had to appear twice in the examination for obtaining the B.A. degree; he passed the MA. Examination in Sanskrit in 1908 and in philosophy in 1910 of the Calcutta University—the latter as a mediocrity. In the meanwhile he acquired considerable fame as a Sanskritist and it appears that mainly on the strength of this he was appointed a lecturer in the government educational service—working first in Rajsahi College and then in Chittagong College. He next obtained a teaching post in Cam- bridge University (1920-22) where in 1922 was awarded the D.Phil. degree. After returning to India, he became the head of the t department of philosophy in the Presidency College, Calcutta, and later the Principal of the Government Sanskrit College. A Besides being a D.Phil. of the Cambridge University, he was awarded Ph.D. by the Calcutta University (1920) and D.Litt. by the University of Rome (1939). After retiring in 1945, he again went abroad. In 1950 he settled in Lucknow and died in 1952.
Though author of over twenty published works (in English and y Bengali), Dasgupta’s name is so famous because of his monumental work on the History of Indian Philosophy published in five volumes by the Cambridge University Press. Never has there been such an attempt at all-pervading review or the Indian philosophical literature with a mastery of the Sanskrit language as that of Dasgupta. It still remains a must for any student of Indian philosophy as a basic reference book.
Already in this History, Dasgupta showed interest in the scientific activities in ancient India as is evident from his magnificent chapter on Ayurveda in the second volume of the work. Judged in the standard of sheer textual knowledge, it surpasses many other works written on ancient Indian medicine before or after him. The present work, however, is somewhat different. The circumstances under which he wrote (or dictated?) it are explained by himself in his own preface to it. Apparently it was more of the nature of casual talk than a really scholarly work on the scientific activities in ancient India. Besides, its scope is somewhat limited. Dasgupta concentrates in this work mainly on the science potentials of some of the prominent philosophical texts and hence does not take note of many important dimensions of the scientific activities in ancient India, like mathematics, astronomy and even medicine. What is moreover obvious is that he left the manuscript in a somewhat unfinished form, as is evident from the want of most of the notes and references, only the numberings for which are mentioned in the text. It seems that he wanted to put the actual notes and references at the time of preparing the final press copy of the manuscript, to which unfortunately he did never return. While editing the text for its present publication we naturally thought it fit to retain only those notes and references actually found in the manuscript in the form in which it has reached us without allowing us to indulge in the speculation concerning the other notes and references he might have had in his mind. Besides we had to take- the liberty of occasionally changing some expressions in the manuscript which appeared to us as palpably due to hasty writing (or dictating). Our effort, in short, has been to make a reasonably readable book out of the obviously unfinished manuscript that has reached us.
Lastly we must confess that we have felt highly honoured to be able to edit this manuscript left unfinished by such a great scholar which, we feel sure, would be of immense importance to any worker on the history of science in India.
It was with some degree of hesitation that I had to choose the title of this book. I do not know if I have done it rightly, but I had no other alternative since nothing better occurred to me.
I have not collected here some of the empirical facts which were known to the ancient Hindus but I have tried to put in a condensed form the main features of the conflicting theories of matter, motion and cosmic changes held at different times by different schools of philosophy—Hindu, Buddhist and Jaina. I have purposely omitted many interesting empirical facts which some other writers had mentioned before. I have noted only those facts which are necessary for illustrating the theories. Many of these are here brought out for the first time. I have tried to demonstrate that the views the Indians held on matter, motion, etc. were not the results of mere guesses but were consistent deductions from definite systems of philosophy and often the result of a close and systematic chain of reasoning. How far these ideas can be compared with ancient and current ones on similar subjects in the Western world, it is for the readers to judge. The book consists of two independent papers written at different times and for different purposes. There could thus be no integral connection or unity of purpose behind them as could be expected from a work written under one single idea with one purpose in view. It will not be out of place to mention briefly the circumstances under which these were written.
Sometime in 1915, Sir Devaprasad Sarvadhikari, then the Vice-Chancellor of Calcutta University, asked me to supply him with some information about the notions of the Evolution Theory of the Hindus, which, I was told, some Professor from America had enquired of him. After six month’s work I wrote a paper which I then called Parindma and Evolution. I read out the paper to him at his residence and left it with him as he wished to send it to America. Subsequently my esteemed friend Sir John Wood- roff borrowed the paper from him and utilised it in his Sakti and Sakta, where he was kind enough to acknowledge it.
I do not know the name of the American Professor for whom
Sir Devaprasad had wanted it; he himself forgot the name and could not remember it when after some time I had asked him.
In 1917, Sir J.C. Bose and Sir Rabindranath Tagore requested me to read a paper at the Summer Meeting of Darjeeling. I had then with me a copy of this Parinama and Evolution. But it appeared to me that the work could be read in such a meeting only if it could be substantially changed by the addition of some new matter to give it a new shape. I worked upon it for some days and read the paper with the illustrious Sir J.C. Bose in the Chair. Sir J.C. Bose found that it contained many interesting facts about the knowledge that the ancient Hindus possessed and a he was rather agreeably surprised. He requested me to leave the paper with him, but as it contained many technical facts he found it rather difficult to follow, asked me to send him a synopsis of the main facts expressing the wish to write an article on it in Nature. At his request I prepared a synopsis of my paper but I do not know if he wrote any article in Nature about it.
I tried to publish the paper later in some of the leading journals of India; but there was no philosophical journal in India at the time and it was found too philosophical or technical for journals of general interest.
In January last Sir Asutosh Mookerjee, the greatest patron of learning in living memory, had an opportunity of seeing my paper. He was kind enough to take a very lively interest in it and requested me to hand it over to him for publication. I found that my paper Evolution Theories of Ancient India (as I called it at the time of reading it at the Darjeeling Summer Meeting) could be materially improved if I could make further additions to it. But the time at my disposal was very limited as I was then- on the eve of departure to England and so I could not add all that I wanted to. I could add another paper to it, Matter and Motion. I changed the name of the original paper Evolution Theories of the Hindus into The Theories of Cosmic Changes. I am very glad that Sir Asutosh Mookerjee had of his own accord wanted to publish it from the Calcutta University. If fortune r allows it to pass through a second edition I hope to rind ample opportunities of making considerable additions to it, which I cannot do now for Want of time.
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