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The Ancient Roots of Holism


The select and thought-provoking chapters, contained in this meditation, draw from the ancient thread of wisdom which emanates from each day and age. Aside from the apparent differences, this book focuses on the sameness. It focuses on, and draws out, the core teachings of the world's major traditions and religions, dating from thousands of years ago, till today.

Each chapter shows where there's been tremendous overlap between traditions, stressing, at the same time, their commonalities and ties.

Ultimately, this book is a meditation on how, at their core, the traditions are all so alike, each also being based on universal law. The book, remarkably, steers away from any divisiveness.

From Chapter Two,
"The Roots of Tradition":

Recent work outlined by Paul Mellars, in his article from the National Academy of Sciences, of the United States, “Why did modern human populations disperse from Africa ca. 60,000 years ago? A new model,” points to a distribution of people from a concentrated group of Africans who, advanced via their increasingly complex knowledge of “technology, economy, sociology and cognitive capabilities,” traveled and resettled in Australia, Asia and Europe, between 65,000 and 50,000 years ago, where they presumably evolved to meet the requirements of climate. The dispersion from a small group of Africans, which modern research suggests, implies Africans, as learned craftsmen, spread their knowledge around the globe.i

This history, if further elaborated upon, may become as telling as is the universal and applicable wisdom stemming from Ayurvedic medicine of Harappan civilization, which is so important in part because of its origins. The great city-states, Harappa and Mojenho-daro, first excavated in the 1920s, are remarkable for their absence of armies. Perhaps more remarkable is their advanced, and by many accounts, largely egalitarian, as well as, highly organized or structured, make-up. The reason why the very roots of Ayurveda are so significant is the roots of the culture resemble by all appearances a time stunning for its peacefulness and superb intelligence. Ayurveda is an undeniably sophisticated science. But it shines the most, I think, at its very beginnings, surrounded by what appears like a state of serenity.

In terms of historical analysis for ascertaining roots of cultures, it's important to know whether messages passed down in recent centuries, and even over millennium, are reflective of what is perhaps the original theme and core thought of any school, its origins. Once one knows the correct context for an original school of thought, it's easier to understand, incorporate and weed out what moves and progress actually have been made in the time since. The original wisdom, traditionally whole in nature, is not lost in this way and can become practicable according to modern standards, immersed into an evolving whole.

Smuts, his life being an example of holism's success and failings in modern times, as outlined in my book, The Modern Roots of Holism, can help focus holism's application this century. While Smuts didn't openly familiarize himself with ancient India or Persia, he did study and resolve to push the ideas, intellectually, he felt holism espouses, for every realm of life. Einstein enthusiastically backed him, in 1926, saying how important Smuts' ideas about holism should become to the unfolding century. But the dilemma about how best to apply holistic thought through real-world applications is ongoing.

It may be useful to remember here the famous parable of eternal recurrence recited by the Islamic historian Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn 'Abd al-Ghaffar, al-Kazwini al-Ghifari, and recounted in Timothy Ferris' book, Coming Of Age In the Milky Way:ii

I passed one day by a very ancient and wonderfully populous city, and asked one of its inhabitants how long it had been founded.

“It is indeed a mighty city,” he replied. “We know not how long it has existed, and our ancestors were on this subject as ignorant as ourselves.”

Five centuries afterwards, as I passed by the same place, I could not perceive the slightest vestige of the city. I demanded of a peasant, who was gathering herbs upon its former site, how long it had been [since the city was] destroyed.

“A strange question!” he replied. “The ground here has never been different from what you now behold.”

“Was there not once a splendid city here?” I asked.

“Never,” he replied, “so far as we have seen, and never did our fathers speak to us of any such a city.”

On my return there five hundred years afterwards, I found the sea in the same place. On its shores was a party of fishermen. I enquired how long the land had been covered by the waters.

“Is this a question for a man like you?” they said. “This spot has always been what it is now.”

Again I returned, five hundred years afterwards, and the sea had disappeared. I inquired of a man who stood alone upon the spot how long ago this change had taken place, and he gave me the same answer as I had received before.

Finally, on coming back again after an equal lapse of time, I found there a flourishing city, more populous and more rich in beautiful buildings than the city I had seen the first time, and when I would have informed myself concerning its origin, the inhabitants answered me, “Its rise is lost in remote antiquity: We are ignorant how long it has existed, and our fathers were on this subject as ignorant as ourselves.”

The story relays a realization of the nature of recurrence, which also plays a small part in Thus Spoke Zarathustra. It's mentioned here because in contrast to the concept it's just as important, reason might argue, to take note of how those things we know of our ancient past can and do meet with us again today, and with "the sense" we know from them how better to build upon our shared histories.

For example, and in the meantime, Pakistan is in the process of rebuilding after a massive flood struck many city folk and villager alike in July 2010. What were most tragically ruined by flood waters were people's dwelling places, their villages and cities. Additionally, and all the more horrific, lives of siblings, mothers, fathers, grandparents, children, aunts, uncles, friends and pets or farm animals, were also lost in the disaster.

The remains of the ancient city-state, Harappa, which as early as 2500 or 2000 BC was ostensibly the center of one of the most important Cradles of Civilization, surrounded by hundreds if not thousands of smaller associated locales, whether they be small cities or villages, was flooded too.

Ancient Harappa was laid out in grid-lines the way New York City is today. It contained clean and organized homes that might make you think of later developments in Brooklyn, NY, where on street after street there stretches similarly styled brownstones, stacked one next to the other. In Harappa, albeit stationed differently than brownstones in a modern city, the house dwellings were nonetheless boxy, accessible for passers-by, though with private quarters, relatively equal in measure and utility to one another, attractive, and built to comfortably house families. The ancient city also contained a communal pool, an operable sewage system connected to individual homes, granaries, and along its edges, within walking distance, what look to be 'suburbs.' The gurus who lived in the surrounding mountains, as well as the traders, artisans, administrators and farmers who likely inhabited the city, were contributing spectacular worldly knowledge at that early date, to be written down in the Vedas, and that would one day inform Greek wisdom and know-how and modern day, allopathic, or Western, medicine.iii iv

It seems as if, based on this one example, the origins of place, not only theory, but origins resulting in space and time, are integral to the development of a 21st century. If we can understand, for instance, what made the Harappan civilization so advanced without the need for armies to defend it we might receive clues as to how we can better create peaceful co-existence between nations and peoples today.

iPaul Mellars, “Why did modern human populations disperse from Africa ca. 60,000 years ago? A new model,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, vol. 103, no. 25, Apr. 10, 2006, Nov. 29, 2012, http://www.pnas.org/content/103/25/9381.

iiTimothy Ferris, Coming Of Age In The Milky Way (New York, NY: William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1988) 218 – 219, noted from S. Sambursky, “The Stoic Doctrine of Eternal Recurrence,” in Capek, 1976, 170.

iii“The Ancient Indus Civilization, Introduction,” prod. Omar Khan, Harappa.com, 6 Jun. 2011 <http://www.harappa.com/har/indus-saraswati.html>.

ivJonathon Mark Kenoyer and Richard H. Meadow, “Harappa Excavations, 1995-2001,” prod. Omar Khan, Harappa.com, 6 Jun, 2011 <http://www.harappa.com/indus5/index.html>.

The Ancient Roots of Holism
will be
available soon.