Interview: Dr Ramakrishna Puligandla -Part II

Editor’s Note: Following is the second part of our interview with our new Medha Gold personality, our Resident Philosopher.

The interviewer’s relevant comments, which are a part of the conversational flow, are shown in brackets, in gray font.

Thanks for reading on…

Ravi of Medha Journal has interviewed Dr Puligandla at his home. Gracious host as ever, he spent the better part of a relaxed afternoon answering the curious seeker, the new Medhavi, as it were.

The Interview Session continues…

For Part 1, see: Interview: Dr Ramakrishna Puligandla -Part I


(Questions and Answers)

Q: How important would you say an authentic practice is to a Professional Philosopher? Because we the public quite often seem to be under the impression that most of the philosophy is more like armchair commentary? Meaning it is scholarship & more scholarship, and we don’t really see much of the aspect of practice?

A: Correct. You are quite correct. Because Philosophy has become what you would call an intellectual inquiry without any direct bearing on the quality of life. Especially in the West. But it was not always like that in the West. When you go back to pre-Socratic, Plato, and Aristotle & so on, for them Philosophy is not just an intellectual exercise, it also has to have a profound bearing on the quality of life, one’s conduct of life, and one’s goals, & so on.

By & large, in the Indian tradition, over time, over the centuries, doing philosophy, while on the one hand, is certainly high level intellectual inquiry, those intellectual inquiries were always connected with some kind of a practice. For example, there is Yoga. But we know that in the Indian tradition, yes there are what you would call recognized Yogins, but many scientists, as well as Philosophers, also engage in Yoga.

And I remember someone even asked Raman why he does the yogic exercises, and Raman told him, (laughs) “You see, doing science and all that is fine, but that in itself does not give me a sense of well-being. And this well-being is important in order for me to be able to do fine science.

Because doing science does not take care of this. ( does not give you back anything, in terms of well being?) Yes, well being. This has to be pursued. The greater the well-being, the better you will do. So I give this example, because they, (meaning scientists) do do it. Yes.

More importantly, the connection between philosophy as intellectual exercise, and practices, disciplines, & so on, that connection is built into the whole Indian conception of Philosophy.

The Indian conception of Philosophy is essentially Phenomenological.

(For a lay reader, could you elaborate?)

Yes. See, Phenomenology as a particular branch of inquiry was founded in the West in 1900s by a German Mathematician Philosopher called Edmund Husserl. And people think, of course as far as the West is concerned, yes, he is the father of Phenomenology.

Not So.

Long long ago in India, the phenomenological method of inquiry was founded in the Indian tradition. Systematically founded in the Indian tradition. Therefore Indian Philosophy is first and foremost, first rate Phenomenology.

By Phenomenology we mean – Observing, faithfully, carefully, systematically observing any and all contents of consciousness. Whatever happens to be an object of your consciousness. You carefully systematically observe, and faithfully describe, putting aside the question whether ‘something is real, unreal’, that question. And Husserl himself said… he called it ‘Bracketing’. Suspending you natural attitudes, beliefs, commitment to theories, doctrines; you put all of them aside, and you just systematically observe any content of consciousness. And faithfully describe it.

(So this sounds simple, but you have to say that typically people don’t do this, right?)

Right. And given that understanding of Phenomenology, Yoga is first rate Phenomenology. ( it connects with the ‘Chitta Vritti Nirodhah” ) Oh Yes., And all the modes of states of consciousness. Ordinary, as well as non-ordinary.

And since the West never had Yoga, they never had Philosophy as Phenomenology. (So basically, in simple words, all the sensory inputs that are coming into you, you don’t use your mental filter to distort it, just take it and record it.) Yes. Whatever ..whatever happens to be the content of your consciousness.

That’s why people talk about Phenomenology of Love, or what does it mean to be charitable? Or sometimes we have mental imagery of things you have not thought of. When they come, you observe, and describe them.

This is why, for the West, when they talk about Philosophy of mind, they simply talk about Philosophy of mind. But they never do Philosophy of mind. Whereas Yoga, and many other disciplines, they are Philosophy of mind. You have to study the whole nature and structure of thought.

(Ok, and for that you have to first start with your own, I guess..)

Yes (since everything else is second and third hand experience.)

All that these people study in the Neuro-Physical Laboratories is correlations. Correlations between the mental, and the physiological. They are just correlations. So what are they doing, they are not studying the mental directly, they study in the lab it’s Neuro-physiological correlations. (measure wavelengths and…) yes, which centers are excited and which are active, inactive, neural pathways, and so on.

Which is fine. I have no objection to it. (Emphatically) But it does not enable you to understand mind.

(you’re mapping the brain, but you want to understand the mind) Mind! Right.

And no matter how much you do these things, you will never understand mind itself. And then the ultimate argument is, my argument is- See, it is one thing to study correlations. “X is correlated with Y”. Whereas these people have come to a position in the West, “Therefore X is identical to Y”.

It doesn’t follow.

That’s why they say “Oh, mind is no more and no less than these neurological processes.” My question to them is “Do you experience your thoughts that way, as neurological processes?” No! You don’t experience your thoughts that way. Right? So, to say that X is correlated to Y is one thing, and then to go on to claim that therefore X is identical to Y is totally unwarranted, uncalled for, and what’s more, even there I gave a punch line argument, “In the first place, you cannot talk about X being correlated with Y unless you are already distinguishing between X and Y. You already made the distinction. X is the thought processes, I ask you to imagine a blue equilateral triangle, you imagine it, I want you to hold that image, then I see the neurological processes in the brain. So when you are holding an equilateral blue triangle in his mental image, this is what we find. (Brain map?..) But interesting thing is, no matter how much you look at this (brain map) you will never be able to say what the image is! (Unless I tell you that I’m holding the image of a blue triangle?) Correct.

And what is more, the same mental process is correlated to more than one neurological pattern. And the same neurological pattern is correlated to more than one mental process.

(So there is not a One-on-One mapping between the two) No there is no one on one mapping. There is no One-on-One.

Therefore, when the Yogins, or the Buddhist monks, Lamas, & so on, when they study, they study mind directly.


And therefore, that’s why they’re ready to go. The Dalai Lama offered them to Andrew Newberg. “You want to study them? Yes. I offer them. You go and study them.”

For example, the neurological people, they still do not know that there are always gaps between thoughts. All the thoughts are not continuous, there are minute gaps between thoughts. And one of the great exercises in Yoga, is to look at those gaps. ( Somewhere in the old traditional texts they write about delay in perception…) Right. And the significance of those gaps has been explained and clarified. Just as there is a gap between outgoing breath and incoming breath. The incoming breath comes in and when it turns around, there is also a gap. (The Indian tradition has treated that as significant…) Extremely significant. (and really investigated it…) Yes.

And of course, the dream state, you know. And the deep sleep state. These were systematically examined by them. Whereas in the Western traditions, to the best of my knowledge and belief, all those Psychologists, like Freud, Jung, etc., they dealt with dreams and interpretations of dreams, from a psycho therapeutic point of view. In order to cure some mental disorders and neuroses, psychoses, and so on.

They have never concerned themselves with deep sleep. They simply ignored it, as it is insignificant, and signifies Nothing! Whereas when you go to the Mandukya Upanishad, they systematically studied it. ( And ‘Turiya’ etc..) Deep sleep, dream & so on. Because their concerns, their studies of these states, were driven not by therapeutic considerations, but by what I would call Ontological considerations. (Considerations of) “What is the reality?”

So their conclusion is, whether you are in waking state, dream state, deep sleep state, and so on, there is a reality about you that continues to exist. See. So all these things which are part and parcel of Philosophical enquiries, in Vedanta and Indian traditions, they are very closely connected with Yogic practice.

(So that’s why if you think about it, traditional philosophy is based on practice.) Yes. There is intellectual exercise, but they are grounded in phenomenological observations. Whereas, these people do not have those phenomenological observations. Therefore their intellectual exercises are just armchair, as you said. (Laughs)

As I gave you an example, Descartes, the father of Modern Western Philosophy, in his famous Cogito (Ergo Sum) ..”I think therefore I am” that’s his famous Cogito. So what he did there was, in “I think, therefore I am”, is that if you put it as a hypothetical proposition, “If I think, Then I am”, that means one’s existence is a necessary condition for one’s thinking. Right? Without existence, there is no thinking. However, in ‘Meditations II’, Descartes tells you, he asks you a question rhetorically, “What then am I?” and says “I am a thinking thing” “And if I cease to think, thereupon, I will altogether cease to exist.” Are you following? (Right. It’s like the converse of what the cogito said) Right. Which means, here in Meditations II, he made thinking, not only a sufficient condition for existence, but also a necessary condition for existence. (So when you negate it, If you don’t think…) Ahh…”when I cease to think, thereupon, I altogether cease to exist.”.

So in one of the articles I wrote on the Mandukya Upanishad, I said “If an Upanishadic Rishi is having a conversation with Descartes, he would have asked him, “Your teaching is very interesting! However, how did you come to know that you cease to exist when you cease to think?!” (Hearty Laugh)

See..because…he knows, the Rishi knows that in deep sleep there is no…….(there is no..) Thinking!! But there is no ceasing of existence!

That is Phenomenology.

(If you had grounded yourself with that, you could not have made this error) See, Descartes did not have that. He defined himself, “What am I? I am a thinking thing” But he did not say that he was a feeling thing! He put so much on thinking…(ohh…) See…(Existence became predicated on thinking ) Yes…so he thought that wherever there is no thinking, there is no existence. Which the Rishi would find absurd.

(So basically, ungrounded logic may be provable, but..) yes, (they are) propositions which are not grounded in and supported by direct phenomenological explanations.

When you are dreaming, there is thinking.


[Editor’s Note: We will continue this wonderfully stimulating interview with Dr Puligandla in a subsequent Part III. Please come back & check Medha Gold soon!

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