Thank you, Dr. Linda Brown Holt, an author of fiction and non-fiction books for your kind review!
In Sapiens and Sthitaprajña, Ashwini Mokashi has written a brilliant analysis and comparison of two philosophies from different parts of the world: the stoicism of the Western philosopher Seneca (Roman 1 BCE to 65 CE) and the teachings of the Indian text, the Bhagavad Gita (ca. 400 BCE to 200 CE).
Mokashi has distilled the key ideas from these two works and presented them in ways that every thoughtful person can appreciate and enjoy. Her scholarly background has enabled the author to penetrate to the core of each work’s message, where she finds a unifying call for the cultivation and practice of wisdom in society at large and in our individual lives.
Wisdom may, in fact, be the one element missing today in our social discourse. Government officials and members of popular movements alike demonstrate every day that they have mastered the arts of contentiousness, disregard for the truth, and have the ability to spin information with the ease and facility of a skilled magician. But where is the wisdom that should be at the heart of their thoughts and deliberations? Do we need leaders who are wise people? Or are we content to be led by “wise guys”?
Using easy-to-understand language, Mokashi provides clear descriptions of Seneca and his time as well as the setting and meaning of the Bhagavad Gita, one of the most cherished works of Indian spiritual philosophy. She answers the question, “What is stoicism?”, and suggests ways, based on these ancient teachings, through which we can improve ourselves and the world around us.
The title of this book refers to the “Sapiens” in Roman philosophy, a wise person who is moderate in his or her habits and thinks before acting. The “Sthitaprajña” refers to one who is firm in judgment and wisdom. Although these ideals come from different parts of the world, the stoic teachings of Seneca and the author of the Gita have a shared universal ring of truth. Through moderation, kindness, and dedication, we, too, can experience a greater sense of unity and purpose in our lives, and pass that on to a world in need of ancient wisdom that is tried and true.
–Dr. Linda Brown Holt, author of Viewing Meister Eckhart through the Bhagavad Gita
2020 Projects Preview: – A course at the Evergreen Forum in Princeton ‘Wisdom Leads to Happiness’ to run from February to April 2020 – Research Continues on Meditation and Bhakti project covering Saints-literature in India from the 12th to 19th centuries in three languages – Marathi, Hindi and Kannada
Honors and Awards – Thank you Princeton Research Forum for the Francis Hutner Travel Grant 2019- Memorial Talk at the Bhandarkar Institute in Pune, April 17, 2019 – Op-Eds published in Indian Express and Loksatta – Indian newspapers with highest circulation- Informal discussions with the Hindu scholars at Oxford University – Talks in New Delhi, India and Princeton, NJ- Informal Talk at Florence, Italy – Many reviews published of the book ‘Sapiens and Sthitaprajna’ – The blog readership upwards of 600 in three months since starting.
Thank you Readers, for being a part of this project to spread Happiness and Wisdom about life through Philosophy!
मानवी इतिहासामध्ये संपूर्ण पृथ्वीवरील प्रत्येकजण आनंदाचा आणि सुखाचा पाठपुरावा करतो. जगातील सर्वत्र प्रचलित असलेल्या या पाठपुराव्यासंदर्भात काही सत्ये असली पाहिजेत हे गृहीत धरून मी या विषयावरील प्राचीन तत्त्वज्ञानाकडे वळले. सुखाचा रस्ता सुज्ञ आणि नैतिक निवडीतून जाईल, याची मला कल्पनाही नव्हती. जर ते प्राचीन तत्त्ववेत्तांसाठी खरे होते तर ते अजूनही सत्य आहे का? जीवनाच्या काही मूलभूत तत्त्वांपर्यंत पोचण्यासाठी आपल्याला विविध अडथळ्यांना पार करणे शक्य आहे का, ज्यामुळे आपल्याला एक चांगले जीवन जगता येईल?
ग्रीक / रोमन तत्त्वज्ञानातील ‘सेपियन्स’, आणि गीता-उपनिषदांच्या भारतीय तत्वज्ञानात ‘स्थितप्रज्ञ ’ या नावाने ओळखल्या जाणार्या मानवाचा आदर्श पुढे येतो. त्यांनी आम्हाला प्रदान केलेल्या जीवन सुकर करणाऱ्या साधनांमध्ये पुढील तत्त्वे आढळतात – आपल्या परिस्थितीपासून अलिप्त राहणे, सखोल विचार करून योग्य निर्णय घेणे, आपल्या विचारांना आणि कल्पनांना तपासून घेऊन त्यांचे विश्लेषण करणे , स्वतःवर किंवा इतरांवर अन्याय न करता नैतिक रीतीने वागणे, आपल्या नकारात्मक भावनांवर विशेषतः राग, शोक आणि चिंता यांवर नियंत्रण मिळवणे, काही अपरिहार्य गोष्टी निसर्गाचा नियम म्हणून स्वीकारणे आणि सर्वात महत्त्वाचे म्हणजे निसर्गाचे कायदे, विज्ञानाची तथ्ये आणि आपली भावनिक रचना समजून घेणे. जेव्हा हे एक अशक्य काम आहे असे वाटते, तेव्हा जसे अर्जुनाने गीतेतील भगवान श्रीकृष्णाशी सल्लामसलत केली, याचा विचार करावा; किंवा सॉक्रेटिसने बाजारपेठेतील इतर तथाकथित सुज्ञ लोकांचा सल्ला घेतला आणि सॉक्रॅटिक पद्धतीने विचारपूस करुन त्यांच्या तथाकथित विचारांना कसे आव्हान दिले, त्याचा विचार करावा आणि आपले विचार तपासून पाहावेत.
या मार्गावरील मुख्य अडथळे म्हणजे भावनाग्रस्त होणे किंवा नकारात्मक भावना अंगीकारणे. आजकाल आपण बघतो की तरुण लोकांना चिंता, नैराश्य आणि उदासिनता खूप सतावते. कधी आपण एखादी मोठी संधी गमावल्यामुळे किंवा कधी पराभूत झाल्याने असे वाटणे साहजिक आहे. जे कामात अपयशी ठरतात, त्यांच्या बाबतीत हे औदासिन्य नजरेस येते, परंतु जे अत्यंत यशस्वी आहेत त्यांच्या बाबतीतही हे घडू शकते . त्याचे कारण असे आहे की कोणत्याही प्रकारची नकारघंटा स्वीकार करणे कठीण जाते. ही नकारघंटा कधी आपल्या कारकीर्दीत आपल्या कामाच्या ठिकाणी ऐकू येते, तर कधी आपल्या कुटुंबात किंवा आपल्या प्रेम-जीवनात ऐकू येते. अशा वेळेला थोडे परिस्थितीपासून दूर जाऊन, थोडा अलिप्तपणे विचार केला की नव्याने त्या परिस्थितीकडे बघण्यास, आपली नवीन ध्येय निश्चित करण्यास आणि ते ध्येय योग्य आहे की नाही हे ठरवण्यास मदत होईल. म्हणून अलिप्तपणे आणि धोरणात्मक विचारसरणीमुळे आपल्याला योग्य काय आणि अयोग्य काय, हे समजायला मदत होईल. ते शहाणपण आहे. गीतेमध्ये हे ‘वैराग्य’ आणि स्टोइसिझम मध्ये ते ‘आपेथिया’ या नावाने ओळखले जाते. अलिप्तपणा शिकणे किंवा शिकवणे खूप अवघड आहे परंतु तरीही जीवनातील चढउतारांत अलिप्त राहणे आणि शांत राहणे हे फारच गरजेचे आहे, अन्यथा उलथापालथ झाल्याशिवाय राहणार नाही.
तसं बघायला गेलं तर ,आपण आता एका जागतिक खेड्यात राहत आहोत, जिथे वेगवेगळ्या ठिकाणाहून लोकं येतात आणि कायमचे वास्तव्य करतात. कुठल्याही शहरी भागात काही लोकं तिथले रहिवासी असतात आणि काही दुसरीकडून आलेले असतात. त्यामुळे कल्पनांची देवाणघेवाण होते आणि संस्कृतीचे मिश्रण नेहमीच आढळते. पण त्यामुळे सर्व प्रकारचे संभ्रम पण वाढतात. कुठल्या पद्धती योग्य आणि कुठल्या अयोग्य या गोंधळांतून मार्ग काढण्यासाठी मूल्यांवर आधारित, तत्त्वांवर आधारित परिस्थिती निर्माण करून, जिथे सार्वत्रिक मूल्यांवर सहमती दिली जाते, तिथे जीवनाचा सूर गवसतो. त्या दृष्टीने तुलनात्मक तत्त्वज्ञान फार उपयुक्त ठरते, विशेषत: जेव्हा पौर्वात्य आणि पाश्चिमात्य प्राचीन ग्रंथ कोणत्या मूल्यांचा पाठपुरावा करावा हे सांगतात आणि सर्वांसाठी चांगले जीवन कसे जगावे या मुद्द्यांवर त्यांचे एकमत झालेले दिसते, तेव्हा तिथे तथ्य आहे हे लक्षात येते. गीता आणि स्टोइक सेनेका यांच्या ‘ज्ञानी’ व्यक्तीच्या संकल्पनेत उल्लेखनीय साम्य आढळून येते , यासाठी योग्य कृती ठरविण्याकरिता बौद्धिक अचूकपणाचा वापर करणे (ज्ञानमार्ग) आवश्यक आहे, त्यानंतर योग्य कृती अंमलात आणणे (कर्ममार्ग) आणि सर्वांना नीट समजून देणे हे फायदेशीर ठरेल.
आपल्या बोलण्यामध्ये आणि कृतीमध्ये जेव्हा साधर्म्य असते, त्याचबरोबर सकारात्मक भावनांचा वापर किंवा नकारात्मक भावनांचा अभाव असतो, तेव्हा मनाची शांती आणि आनंदाची स्थिती निर्माण होते. आपण जितके अधिक त्या प्रकारे राहण्याचा प्रयत्न करतो, तितका जास्त प्रमाणात आनंद घेत असतो. हा सिद्धांत इच्छापूर्तीच्या कल्पनेपेक्षा भिन्न आहे. आनंदी होण्यासाठी संपत्ती, आरोग्य, सौंदर्य आणि मजेची उद्दीष्टे पूर्ण केल्याने आपल्याला थोडाफार क्षणिक आनंद होईल आणि एका विशिष्ट वयात ते महत्वाचे सुद्धा आहे, परंतु दीर्घकाळपर्यंत तणावरहीत आणि सुखी होण्याचा ज्ञान मार्ग हा नाही. ज्ञान मार्गाने मिळालेल्या सुखाचे अनुसरण करताना, आपल्या विचारांना सतत तपासून घेतले पाहिजे, धोरणात्मक असले पाहिजे आणि आपल्या कृतीच्या दीर्घकालीन परिणामाबद्दल विचार केला पाहिजे. उदाहरणार्थ, आपल्या स्वप्नातील कार विकत घेतल्यामुळे जर बरेच वर्षे दिवाळखोरीत राहावे लागणार असेल, तर त्या कार विकत घेण्याला काही किंमत राहणार नाही. त्याचप्रमाणे एखादी उच्च पगाराची नोकरी स्वीकारली, पण त्यासाठी लागणारी मेहनत किंवा परिश्रम करण्याची आणि गरज पडल्यास प्रवास करून कामाच्या ठिकाणी एकाकी जीवन जगण्याची तयारी नसेल, तर अशी नोकरी घेणे ही योग्य संधी असू शकत नाही. अशा प्रकारे तर तम् भावाचा विचार केल्यावर लक्षात येते की, इतर काहीही नसले तरी, ज्ञान मार्गाचा अवलंब केल्याने आपल्याला आपले जीवन योग्य दिशेने नेता येईल आणि त्याचबरोबर नीतीने आणि न्यायाने वागून आपले सर्वांचे जीवन दीर्घकाळपर्यंत तणावमुक्त, सुखी आणि समृद्ध करण्याचा जास्तीतजास्त प्रयत्न करता येईल.
A happy marriage in modern times may be an oxymoron, or the institution of marriage may be on the verge of extinction looking at the divorce rates in the US. One prominent reason I see, is that a marriage tries to join two people or two families and expects them to grow and develop in that joint fashion, while keeping up with the societal norms of individuality, individual happiness, individual freedom, etc. So, if thinking about individual fulfilment is the goal, then a joint or united happiness is a contradiction in terms. If the united happiness for the two people joined in marriage is the goal, then individual freedom and individual growth and happiness constitutes a logical fallacy, also known as reductio ad absurdum. And yet, we don’t see it as a fallacy, but as something glorious to look forward to. The concept of marriage exists between not just heterosexual couples, but also homosexual couples. People spend a ton of their savings on this joyous occasion of wedding, knowing that it may lead nowhere. So, what is the compelling argument for getting married and for staying married?
One can say that the getting married part is based on attraction, falling in love, a desire to be with one’s beloved, fulfilment of a dream, a chance to shower one’s affection on someone who smiles and doesn’t frown, or just to get rid of loneliness in one’s life. Agreed. Two people are joined in love and matrimony. Now comes the part of staying together or taking decisions together and that starts to become complicated. Things start withering away even before the actual wedding, as a lot of decisions need to be made about how to get married, whom to invite, how much to spend. None of this is pleasant. Someone must give and that someone is not happy. Then there is the fiasco about how ‘we need to talk’ and how much people should be expected to ‘give’ for the sake of marriage and how much should they expect to receive for being ‘in the marriage’.
Things only go downhill from here. The future of marriage on the wedding day and beyond does not look like a happy proposition. But the whole point of being married was to seek happiness, (not to mention security, children, fulfillment of various needs with the help of one’s partner). So, where did things go wrong? Being a student of ancient wisdom, I decided to consult the wisdom experts I had studied – Stoic Seneca and the Gita – to see if I could get their help in improving the expectations in the marriage, to save this dying institution – which couldn’t have possibly survived for centuries, to rescue it from the clutches of evolutionary biologists – who believe every man will be eyeing a younger woman for replicating his gene-pool, to help all women who believe that there is a better man out there but not the one they are married to. Now to be honest, the teachings of Stoicism or that of the Gita are hardly a model of conjugal bliss, as we understand it today. Having said that, here is how I interpreted their infallible wisdom in my own fallible way:
The Gita has a five-point plan for seeking happiness as follows:
Sva-dharma or doing one’s own duty: This involves making sure that the household chores are done. For example, earning money, looking after kids or elders, whatever one’s ‘married-duties’ maybe. One is expected to not only fulfil but also excel in fulfilling one’s duties.
Shraddha or faith: It is important to have undying faith that the marriage will survive – no matter how grim the scenario is. Ignorance about problems can be blissful sometimes.
Samatvam or equanimity towards pleasure and pain: If the spouse is being very romantic, enjoy it, but remember it is not going to last. If the spouse is being miserable, ignore the other person – as that is also not going to last. Keeping the sense of humor alive at such moments goes a long way.
Anasakti or non-attachment: One decides to get married for having feelings for one’s spouse, but the marriage itself is an exercise in non-attachment. Getting too involved gives rise to dependence, lack of trust, giving them too much importance, degrading oneself in our own eyes, jealousy and an invitation to misery. By practicing non-attachment, one is safeguarding one’s sense of dignity, one’s interests, keeping options open – personal or professional, and enjoying the good moments.
Shanti or tranquility – One enjoys moments of peace, when one feels safe in the relationship. If the marriage succeeds, it is great. If not, one needs to practice using wisdom more often and emotional reactions – less so. Not to mention, it was good to still have the job, life, friends, interests, hobbies!
Now let us turn to Seneca, a Stoic philosopher. Stoics don’t think much about falling in love, but they do support marriage and Seneca himself enjoyed a faithful and good marriage. Let us see his advice for being wise and happy, and how it can be applied in the arena of marriage:
Kathekonta or appropriate actions: This requires always saying the right thing and no more. It is ok to say, the dinner was delicious. It is not ok to add, but I would have preferred it earlier or later, colder or hotter. Any such comments are forbidden, since they are not appropriate.
Oikeiosis or what belongs to oneself: This means that one needs to belong to one’s newly formed family, to one’s community – the friends that both share together, and to a wider society, including one’s own separate sphere.
Arete or virtue: Be good to one’s spouse. Remember why we chose them over the others, think about their good qualities and not those, one dislikes. Instead of criticizing, make a statement of what one feels grateful for.
Apatheia or detachment: This is the most difficult step, which requires one to stay detached, so that one doesn’t take any criticism personally. Likewise, it is also necessary to remember that the fun moments have a fleeting nature, so hold on to those memories.
Laws of nature: Understanding this requires us to understand that men will be tempted by younger and prettier women – just goes with being a man. Likewise, women will be tempted with offers of love, affection and pampering – that is what they need. So long as one is aware of the other person’s needs and there is a way to fulfil those needs, it is possible to protect one’s marriage through these traps.
Eudaimonia or Happiness: Marriage calls for joint happiness. If one accepts that joint happiness requires sacrificing some amount of individual happiness, then a ‘happy marriage’ is a possible imaginable entity. If joint happiness is not a possible goal, then ‘a happy marriage’ is a mere oxymoron. For example, a career success for one person would imply the success for both, a personal milestone of weight-loss would still mean success for both. Likewise, a job-loss would be a problem for both, investments and/or kids not doing well would be a failure for both. While there is much to gain from the joint activity, there is also much to lose in a narrow individual sense in staying together.
Hence bringing wisdom in a marriage has the capacity to make it happy, but not bringing wisdom in a marriage seems like a continuous struggle and taking chances of surviving as a couple or as a family, six of one, half a dozen of the other. Did I say it was fun?
How often do you ask the question ‘why am I so happy today?’ You probably don’t. But we often ask the question, ‘Why me? What have I done to deserve this XYZ?’ Normally we take our good fortune for granted and only focus on trying to analyze, blame or hold responsible, that which is not right in our lives. This course will help you reflect on various aspects of life to understand some universal principles of virtue, wisdom and happiness in the light of the Philosophy of Stoic Seneca and the Bhagavad-Gita.
This course studies the concept of ‘a wise person’ in Seneca and the Bhagavad-Gita, based on the book Sapiens and Sthitaprajna by Ashwini Mokashi. It will explore how in both the systems, a wise person is endowed with virtue and wisdom, is moral, detached from passions, makes right judgements and takes responsibility for actions. A wise person always enjoys happiness. The course will look at the guidelines provided by Seneca and the Gita, survey their similarities and differences in their application of these ideas and see how wisdom paves the path to individual happiness and societal well-being.
My sincere thanks to Dr. Roger Moseley, a well-known surgeon and author for his book review of my book, given as follows:
In her new book, “Sapiens and Sthitaprajna,” Ashwini Mokashi takes us on a unique philosophical journey into the earliest history of philosophy and one of its most important contributions to human societies. She compares and contrasts the Ancient Greek and early Hindu ideas of how we should best live our lives through a thorough analysis of the characteristics of perceived ideal characters, the Stoic “Sapiens” and the Hindu “Sthitaprajna.”
Only a person with unusual linguistic skills could unpack these complex stories and Mokashi has exceptional competence in Sanskrit and ancient Greek, as well, of course, in Marathi, Hindi, German and English.
Mokashi describes these concepts in detail and then illustrates their many similarities and identifies many subtle differences. For example the Sapiens and Sthitaprajna agree that concern for oneself is essential, yet rational considerations invoke a concern for society and “universal welfare.” Notable differences include the Stoic idea of acquiring wisdom by observing and understanding the laws of nature, while ancient Indian culture, in contrast, emphasized meditation and study of the tenets of yogas as a guide. Another distinction is seen in the Hindu pursuit of Moksa in order to stop the ceaseless round of reincarnation; the Stoics showed no concern for an afterlife.
Mokashi notes that both cultures recognized that “the wise person provided the legal and moral backbone to the social structure,” and that leisurely contemplative study was essential for attaining wisdom. Just why these geographically distant cultures independently, and almost simultaneously, developed such novel ideas raises many questions. Clearly a society had to reach a degree of maturity and literary competence to allow pursuit of what in an earlier era would have been regarded as unproductive labor!
We need wise men and women more than ever in our complex modern societies and competing cultures. Mokashi’s book offers an appreciation of mankind’s earliest efforts to conceptualize an approach to optimizing societal function, and it provides a useful foundation on which thoughtful individuals can build today.
Roger V. Moseley, an M.D. from Harvard Medical School, is a retired Chief of General Surgery at the Medical Center of Princeton and also an author of ‘Morality: A Natural History’.
Thank you Devika Khandekar, a former Finance professional, for writing a book-review of my book ‘Sapiens and Sthitaprajna’ as follows:
“Dr. Mokashi has effected a thought-provoking study spanning Greco-Roman and Vedic Wisdom. The parallels in Seneca’s Sapiens and the Gita’s Karma/Jnana yogi lend themselves to comparative study. Indeed, the book vouchsafes the universality of the concepts of Dharma, Atman, Brahman, etc having their genesis in the Gita and the Upanishads, by tracing the path of similar concepts “two centuries and a continent apart”. A detailed and diverting analysis, it probes the concept of virtue, excellence, right thoughts and action, which is fundamental to our journey irrespective of the time we live in, and thus very relevant. Highly commend and look forward to more publications from Ashwini Mokashi.”
by Devika Khandekar, a former Finance Professional, who describes herself as hodophile, heliophile and linguaphile.
Garje Marathi is a platform, that has collected profiles of many Marathi speaking professionals, who have successfully established themselves in their line of work in different parts of the world as well as those who have lived abroad for education, but returned to India for continuing their work. Thanks to the founders Mr. Anand Ganu and Mrs. Suneeta Ganu, there is now a virtual community of Marathi professionals and mentors, who are contributing to the Maharashtrian community in India in various ways.
Norma Smith, a retired nurse-practitioner and a graduate from Columbia University wrote the following review of my book ‘Sapiens and Sthitaprajna’. Thanks so much, Norma Smith!
“I read this book since people today are still conflicted about what constitutes a wise person. I had studied Seneca and Stoicism years ago but had never read anything in the Bhagavadgita. I found it fascinating that these two philosophers who lived centuries and continents apart, both were so concerned about the same topic, though there were differences in how each approached how wisdom was expressed. I think anyone else interested in exploring these concepts will find Dr. Mokashi’s book very helpful and full of interesting references for further study. “
Terri McNichol, an author and artist, has kindly written a review of my book, which is given below. She describes the central thesis of my work and explains why the study of the classics is still important and worth pursuing.
Sapiens and Sthitaprajna: A Comparative Study in
Seneca’s Stoicism and the Bhagavadgita (hereafter Gita), by Ashwini Mokashi is an
important addition to the growing list of publications of comparative ethics
based on ancient wisdom texts. In contrasting Seneca’s writings with the text
of the Gita, Mokashi makes an
important contribution to the field of developing ethics in a global context. Such
a dialogue can elucidate overlapping virtues despite great cultural and
geographic variation showing that people from dissimilar cultures, follow a
different ordering of values rather than hold differing values (1). In the Gita section of the Hindu epic,
Mahabharata, two factions of the same family face off with one another
on the battlefield with time on “pause,” while the epic’s protagonist the
warrior and great archer Arjuna, has an existential crisis. He confides his
fears to his charioteer, Krishna, that he knows by day’s end all the casualties
will be that of his kin. Unbeknownst to Arjuna, Krishna, is actually the avatar
of the Hindu God Vishnu, who walks Arjuna through the nature of life disciplines
of knowledge, action and devotion that are not always fixed entities, but
require, at times, expanding and re-ordering.
The Sthitaprajna is the
practitioner who has succeeded in conquering the “inner battlefield” of the
warring self to reach a selfhood of moral clarity that is reflected in his
actions conducted with equanimity and non-attachment. Sapere (v.), although
negatively inserted into the Enlightenment war cry, to this day it remains
anchored in Greek, Jewish, Christian thought as the thread linking successive
sources of Europe’s spiritual tradition of being “wise” or “knowing.” Morality
was preserved in the lives of a Sapiens who singularly could make a
great difference to the world by exercising his moral power so much so that the
wise person becomes unconquerable in the world in understanding the laws of
nature and following the Stoic ethical principles [p. 57]. Sapiens and
Sthitaprajna advances the conversation with the classics at a time of
waning general humanities curriculum. As, W. T. De Bary, author of The Great
Civilized Conversation wrote, no other approach than studying the classics
and the perennial questions will give us a clearer sense of direction for value
judgments that have been informed by the experience of the best minds of the
past and the best way to do this is to have engaged them in conversation (2).
(1) Rosemont Jr., Henry. (2015). Against
Individualism: A Confucian Rethinking of the Foundations of Morality, Politics,
Family, and Religion. Lexington Books. London. Pg. 21