Even though by academic training I am a postgraduate in chemical engineering, I have long been a student of philosophy. In fact, science and engineering are also extension of philosophy or study of questions of philosophy. For me, philosopher, just like a scientist or engineer, is not someone who gives theories; for me, philosopher is someone who asks questions; one who, as Albert Knox had put it, possesses faculty of wonder because the theories and answers follow the questions, whenever asked, naturally based on our experiences and milieu.
I have always believed that living in or with adversaries of life makes one a true ‘philosopher’, they force one to question the life, the reality, the existence, the purpose, the knowledge and everything in between. One who hasn’t seen adverse days, one who hasn’t lived a life of struggle, one who hasn’t had even one heart break, one who has not failed even once, one whose most cherished dream hasn’t been broken, one who hasn’t cried his heart out, one who hasn’t rose through ranks, one who hasn’t had success with multiple bouts of failures; cannot question life, knowledge, existence, reality, reason, mind, heart and soul. The great leaders, philosophers, authors, scientists and every one who questioned or questions the world’s order, its accepted beliefs, thoughts and practices go through their own set of struggles and difficulties.
I have grown up amidst tough times. To have reached where I am at present is a miracle. Therefore, from much younger days, I have been a reader or a thinker [for want of a better word]. I used to wonder: why not me? All my classmates seemed to better and normal lives, with happy family, then why not me? These doubts along with my mother’s influence made me strongly religious. To beg happiness and security from an imaginary entity back in the younger days seemed plausible.
However, when I used to question these ideas, little did I know about the word and idea of philosophy or as is called in Sanskrit as Darshanas. How and When I came to know about the word and idea of philosophy? How I came to realise that all my life I have been a student of philosophy? In university days, when I was around 17, I read Jostein Gaarder’s Sophie’s World: A Novel About the History of Philosophy. Apart from Sophie, Alberto [rather Albert] also succeeded in making me realise the already awakened faculty of wonder in me. It was then I learnt about the word and idea of ‘philosophy’. And that it is a whole new world and I have long been a part of this world, without even realising it.
For my part, before reading this book, I had read Śrīmad Bhagavad Gītā, Brahmasutra, Yajurveda, some Puranas, Mahabharata, Ramayana, Bible[Mostly about life and teachings of Jesus Christ], Gautam Buddha, Mahavir, about life of Socrates and Plato and many such theological or philosophical texts by various monks and ascetics such as Dalai Lama and many saints of India. The first three examples that I gave, along with teachings of Gautam Buddha and Mahavira, are not ritualistic theological texts, they are pure philosophical texts which attempt to provide answers to questions on life, grief, death, knowledge, reasoning etc. While the latter examples i.e. Puranas, Mahabharata, Ramayana, Bible etc. are like stories but mostly consisting of characters which are telling their audience about the answers to questions on these abstract matters in their own way, either by demonstrating the answer through an event in their life or by plainly stating it to the audience/reader.
However, Gaarder’s book introduced me to world of Western Philosophy. Before that I only referred to Eastern Philosophy [Indian] and I didn’t even know that it is “Eastern Philosophy”. And when I read the ideas of western philosophers of Middle Ages, Renaissance and beyond, I found that much of their ideas have all been told in Eastern Philosophy much before them, however expressed in different terms. For example: The philosophy of Existential Nihilism was propounded and postulated long ago in texts such as Vedas and Gita as “World is Maya and Mithya”. However, the study of western philosophy and philosophers introduced me to many new ideas, from those of Immanuel Kant’s to Arthur Schopenhauer’s [who largely agreed with Indian philosophy, but expressed it in a totally different yet brilliant style] and beyond.
I found many ideas of western and eastern philosophy to be similar. For example, If in eastern philosophy [Indian philosophy to be particular], we have nyaya; western philosophy has logic. And in multitude of theories given by eastern and western philosophers, I have found many theories to be similar but along with various other theories, where the experiences of the authors have been strikingly opposite. I have not reached a stage where I can give my own philosophies of life, reality, knowledge, logic, reasoning, experiences etc. Some people reach earlier, some people reach late and some never reach, some see no point in reaching at all, which is also fine though. And one day I stumbled upon a modern Indian philosopher – Jiddu Krishnamurthi, who, in essence, said that there is no philosophy.
How I reached from Jostein Gaarder to Jiddu Krishnamurthi to Apatheism (from Theism and then Atheism), Pessimism and Existential Nihilism, via likes of Kants, Schopenhauers and Humes is a story to be told in series of other such writings in future.