Advaita Philosophy, Yoga Philosophy

Book Reviews

Alan Jacobs , President Ramana Maharshi Foundation UK

This superb book tackles the difficult questions contained in the Metaphysics of Yoga with great clarity, so that to-day's educated laymen, eager to understand these great Truths, will find it comparatively easy to comprehend them.

P.J. Mazumdar is a distinguished Indian Surgeon, and is thus able to bring, through his knowledge of Modern Science, the necessary lucidity to find the satisfactory congruence with contemporary knowledge, and the ancient hallowed teachings of Advaita Vedanta and Non-Dualism. He interestingly covers the different Paths of Knowledge and Action in his fourteen chapters, harmonising the seminal teachings of the great Indian Philosopher and Sage Adi Shankara, with to day's natural, physical and medical sciences.

This highly successful achievement, makes a unique contribution to the literature, directed towards the understanding and solution of the many metaphysical questions, relating to Higher Consciousness Studies and the task of Self Realisation.

I am confident that this book will serve as an indispensible guide for all those earnest readers keen to follow and understand the essential wisdom of the major Upanashadic Truths, still applicable more than ever for the modern man and woman.

Brian E. Erland ‘ Rainbow Sphinx’

" While reading P. J. Mazumdar illuminating book ‘The Circle of Fire: The Metaphysics of Yoga’ I couldn't help but recall Fritjof Capra's 1975 classic ‘The Tao of Physics’. Capra divided his book into three sections; 1– The Way of Physics, 2– The Way of Eastern Mysticism and 3– The Parallels. Fritjof's pioneering work not only succeeded in introducing the field of quantum physics to a wide, non–scientifically oriented audience but also unveiled ancient, spiritual principles at work within the physical universe working in harmony with this new science.

Now 34 years later P. J. Mazumdar's book `The Circle of Fire' takes us deeper into the mysteries of the physical and non–material universe exploring the generally unnoticed, or ignored underlying harmony between modern science, Indian philosophy, Advaita, and the metaphysics of yoga.

Mazumdar divides his examination into two sections:

1– Jnanakanda: The Path of Knowledge, covering a broad range of topics such topics as evolution, DNA, relativity theory and quantum physics.

2– Karmakanda: The Path of Action, exploring mysticism, the four Yoga's: (Bhakti, Raja, Karma and Jnana), and the all encompassing reality of Advaita (non–dualism).

‘The Circle of Fire’ is a challenging and rather imposing 389 page volume that may cause both the casual and serious spiritual seeker to think twice before accepting such an undertaking. However once one takes that first step you will soon discover the author is a talented and accomplished communicator possessing the ability to relate both scientific and esoteric subject matter to his reading audience in a clear, intelligent and highly accessible manner. Mazumdar writes in a flowing, easy, almost conversational style that will immediately put the reader at ease. You will find yourself so immersed in this book that the pages will quickly disappear, the many diverse disciplines and concepts converge, and the authors point made before you realize the conversation is drawing to a close.

While the authors overall approach to his subject matter is straightforward and academic, there is also an identifiable feeling of intense passion arising from the pages of ‘The Circle of Fire’. Clearly P.J. Mazumdar is a true believer in the underlying principle of Advaita and is excited about having the opportunity to share his beliefs and impart whatever knowledge he possesses with the reader. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, in my opinion the authors enthusiasm infuses his presentation with the spirit of adventure and discovery, raising Mazumdar work above the field of dry, impersonal analysis into the realm of personal applicability and infinite.

Dennis Littrell

Dr. Mazumdar comes from a long tradition in Hinduism. He is a champion of one of the six orthodox philosophies of India, that of Advaita, which can be seen as both a philosophy and a monistic religion. He is also a man of science, a surgeon with a clear understanding of the scientific method and a man who is aware of the latest advances in scientific knowledge in such diverse fields as medicine, physics and evolutionary biology. What he tries to do here in this most interesting book is justify Advaitic philosophy in light of modern science. I was impressed with his effort, but I am not sure he was entirely successful. It is difficult to straddle two worlds.

Note well the complete title of his book: "The Circle of Fire: The Metaphysics of Yoga." To justify a metaphysical position with the empirical findings of science is indeed a difficult task. What I think can be shown is that a philosophy or a religion or any metaphysical edifice is not in contradiction with science. In this sense I think Mazumdar is admirably successful. But he is not satisfied with that. What he wants to show––and this is something he insists upon––is that of all the philosophies of India, including not just the orthodox ones coming from the Vedas but the heterodox ones including Buddhism, Advaita is the one most in line with the findings of modern science.

The key idea in Advaita is that the phenomenal world is an illusion somehow resting upon the eternal truth of Brahman, Brahman being the Ineffable (God) of the Vedas about which nothing can be said. Furthermore in Advaita we are part of Brahman in the same sense that a molecule of water is part of the ocean. Mazumdar uses the image of a whirling firebrand that creates the circle of fire as a way of expressing what he sees as a metaphysical truth. The firebrand is real but the circle of fire (the phenomenal world) is an illusion created by the whirling firebrand. Today we might see a whirling battery–powered light instead of a burning piece of wood.

The strength of the book is in the clear, if a bit repetitious, delineation of the Advaita philosophy and how it differs from other philosophies such as Vedanta, Samkhya, Buddhism and others. Mazumdar does a good job of arguing that Advaita is in agreement with quantum mechanics in the sense that particles and energy have a kind of fuzzy existence that cannot be objectified in a definite sense (all is relative), contending that there must be an absolute truth beyond this shadow show similar to the Advaitic absolute which is Brahman. What he doesn‘t do is demonstrate this in any scientific sense. Of course no one else has either and it is doubtful that anyone ever will. Metaphysical "truths" can be in agreement with scientific discoveries but they are unlikely to be proven through scientific methods anymore than science is likely to establish the God of Abraham.

It should be noted that this book is about yoga in the broadest sense of the word. Mazumdar spends most of his expression on the metaphysics of Advaita devoting only some of the latter parts of the book to the yogas presented in the Bhagavad Gita (Bhakti, Karma, and Jnana) and to Patanjali‘s Yoga Sutras (usually understood as Raja Yoga). He makes it clear that the most important method employed by Advaitists is Bhakti Yoga, the yoga of faith and devotion. He is comfortable with the various rites and rituals of the Advaitic practice believing that if nothing else they are psychologically efficacious.

This sort of straddling of two worlds by Mazumdar is also seen in this statement: "...the exact relationship between Brahman and the world in Advaita cannot be described in terms of human experience." (p. 113) In other words, although Mazumdar believes that Advaita is true and the best of all religious philosophies, it cannot be established!

I happen to agree with Mazumdar‘s concept of the absolute, although I usually just use the more secular term "the Ineffable" rather than "Brahman." And I certainly agree with this: "There is no way to describe the absolute. Brahman is ‘that from which all words turn back.‘" (p. 115)

Interesting is Mazumdar‘s semi–idealistic position on information. He posits that information "can be said to exist both dependently and independently of matter–energy...and would not exist if there was no other existence in the universe"; but "...can exist potentially with any form of existence that is manifested from the absolute." (p. 228) Incidentally, this is cognate with modern physics which sees the cosmos in terms of information.

Another nice observation is this about the so–called psychic powers achieved in the practice of Patanjali‘s yoga (invisibility, levitation, etc.). They are considered stages on the way to the final samadhi and to be refused. Mazumdar notes, "This is somewhat like the powers offered to Jesus by the devil." (p. 333)

Now for a quibble: I was not able to appreciate how learning or our ability to learn establishes free will as Mazumdar asserts on page 75. It seems to me that any act or experience of learning is no different in terms of causation than other acts or experiences. Remember Hume‘s Fork: either our actions are determined, in which case we are not responsible for them, or they are the result of random events, in which case we are not responsible for them. This seems to do away with free will.

Additionally Mazumdar writes: "...our individuality comprises layer upon layer of relative and changeable personality traits, memories, thoughts, and feelings, but there is no absolute reality holding these things together." (p. 104) One wonders how such an entity could will anything and seems similar to the Buddhist "no–self" which to my mind negates free will.

For anyone interested in the philosophies of India and how they relate to the modern world, this is a book not to be missed.


Dr. Mazumdar analyzed the physical, biological and philosophical ideas, and also the historical grounds of Indian thought in an easy-to-understand way. I learnt many new things about the world which amazed me, things I have never thought about. It was an immensely uplifting book.

On reading this book I was amazed that the concept of God need not be derived from the scriptures but could be understood in terms of science and reason. I was excited to find that I could actually accept a God that did not contradict reason. The book also described the path towards God in a gentle, enthralling way. I found in it a new way to understand Jesus. I also for perhaps the first time understood exactly what Buddhism was about, and also other religions like Taoism. I also found a new way to understand Yoga, and understood its basics.

It will be no exaggeration to say that it inspired and changed my life. I found in it both a new way of understanding myself and the world, and also a new path to follow for spiritual upliftment.

Rajen Barua "Oxom Bondhu" (Houston, Texax)

During the last fifty years there have been several outstanding books published that try to explain the world view unifying the science and metaphysics together for the common reader. Stephan Hawkins, the great scientist of the day, wrote a remarkable book, `A Brief History of Time' which is an exploration in the outer limits of science, and addresses such questions as "Was there a beginning of Time? Will there be an end? Is the Universe infinite?" and other such questions that were normally considered off the limits of science. Hawkins was addressing the issues purely from a scientist's point of view. Then we have Dr. Ervin Laszlo, a recipient of four honorary PhDs, who wrote a historic book, `Science and the Akashic Field' that tries to give an integral theory of science and metaphysics for the world view. Fritziof Capra, another scientist in theoretical high energy physics, wrote a very popular book, `The Tao of Physics' that gives an integration of the mathematical world view of modern physics and the vision with the Buddhist and other Eastern mystical vision. The American-Indian doctor-philosopher Deepak Chopra has written several books where we find a meeting ground of modern science and eastern mysticism. These are all outstanding books which have received wide acclaim in the international field and have been doing great service in bringing a synthesis between science and metaphysics.

`The Circle of Fire, (The Metaphysics of Yoga)' is written on similar subject, by an young Assamese surgeon. When I started the book, I could not stop reading before finishing the 400 page long book. `The Circle of Fire' is indeed another such outstanding book where science and metaphysics meet. Considering the scope of the book, I would like to make a comment that the book should have been better subtitled `The Metaphysics of the Universe' instead of the present `The Metaphysics of Yoga'. Although Mazumdar might have started to write about the metaphysics of yoga, it ended up being much wider in scope.

The book also gives a lucid exploration of the modern frontiers of science in different fields covering a broad range of topics such as Big Bang theory, Darwin's theory of evolution, DNA, theory of relativity and Quantum physics and many others. All these modern discoveries of science, especially Darwin's theory of evolution and Quantum mechanics, have revolutionized our knowledge of the world so much that many of the old religious beliefs became almost redundant. Science has shown that, Mazumdar writes, "The beating of the heart, for example is only due to some specially constituted proteins in the heart muscle, cells that polarize and depolarize rhythmically as long as they are supplied with energy in the form of ATP". (pp 35) Quantum physics also rules out a deterministic world being controlled by an almighty God. Mazumdar writes, "The progress of our knowledge in the origin and course of life poses a serious challenge to the traditional concept of religion. The dominance of God is derived in most religions from his importance in creating and sustaining life. But the role cannot be believed in any more. Science has shown that there is no need to posit any divine hand in the origin of life; the human race does not occupy a central position, nor was it created differently from the rest. The new knowledge has demolished the beliefs at the core of most religions, and as a result much of their doctrines have become redundant. It is untenable now for religions with pre-evolutionary concept to sustain their teachings in light of this knowledge. Only religions that can accept evolution and other scientific discoveries can achieve harmony with our intellectual progress and spiritual needs." (pp15).

In the book, Mazumdar rightly explains clearly that the metaphysics underpinning only two religions: Buddhism and Advaita, are the only theories that remain consistent with the findings of modern science. Mazumdar explains in details, if with repetitions at times, how and why. In doing so, he gave a very clear and concise view of all the dualist religions who believe in a supreme creator for the universe. The theory of God as a creator is not only inconsistent with modern science but also inconsistent with metaphysical logics. It may be noted that in the beginning, the Vedas asked the right question if the so called `God' knew whence the existence came. In fact the book starts with the famous quote from the Vedas "Then who knows from whence came this universe? Who is controlling it from the highest of the Heavens – . Perhaps he knows, or perhaps even He knows not!" (Rig Veda X.129). Mazumdar writes, "Modern science has finally proven the contention of Advaita, and also of Buddhism, that the world has only an ill-defined, realty, and these two religious traditions are today the only ones consistent with our knowledge of the world." (pp 105). ..."For the advatitists, there is no God to turn to, none to guide them, and none who can punish or reward them." (pp137). Compared to Advaita, other forms of Hinduism are either dualist or qualified monism. "The idea that the world is in realty an ill defined, nebulous world, was a cornerstone of Advaitism and Buddhism, and had always, attracted much criticism from other philosophers.....But now modern scientific discoveries have also uncovered just such a view of the world."( pp 209).

The position of Buddhism may in fact be compared to that of science itself; originally Buddha refused to deal with any metaphysical questions. Instead it deals with realty and explains the world the way it is. Thus Buddhism rejects the speculation of Advaita and all other forms of Hinduism that there is an ultimate non changeable Brahman or God. "The Buddhist proposes a world that exists in itself. There is no higher realty; this world has what is called dependant reality....In Buddhism everything is seen to be composed of discontinuous, discrete particles. Even the flow of time is seen merely a stream of discontinuous moments, which add together. Consciousness is also is a stream of individual flashes of thoughts and sensations." (pp 215). In fact the title of the book, `The Circle of Fire' is a Buddhist term coined by the renown Buddhist scholar Nagarjuna to explain the world the way it is. When a fire band is whirled around, it gives the illusion of a `circle of fire'. According to the Buddhists, the universe is such. It also can be compared to a movie which in reality is movement of a series of still pictures in high speed. Advaitism also states that the universe is an illusion (Maya) but unlike the Buddhists, maintains that there is a continuous flow and there is an unchangeable Brahman behind all this illusion. It is no wonder that Sankaracharya, the architect of the modern Advaita movement in Hinduism, is called a crypto Buddhist.

In conclusion, it can be said that 'The Circle of Fire' is one of the important books on the subject. I came to know that the book is not available in India yet. Let us hope that the book will be published in India sooner than later for the benefit on Indian intellectual readers, because irrespective of whether you are a scientist, or an atheist, or a Buddhist, or a Hindu, or a Christian or whatever your belief is, you owe it to yourself to read the `The Circle of Fire'. I am sure, Mazumdar's book will remain as a classic book on the subject for years to come.

Bikul Das

This book is a highly valuable addition to the growing literature on our attempt to understand Hindu philosophy in this post-modern world. I think the most admirable aspect of the book is its attempt to provide a framework for the study of "consiousnessl" (chit) according to Advaita principle. The book reminded me of two related books (1) Eastern Religions and Western Thoughts, S Radhakrishnan, and (2) The Soul of India, Amaury De Riencourt, these two important books attempted to address one basic question on Indian mysticism: the nature and existence of "consiousness". While both the books failed to make an easy and understandable reading on this complicated topic, Dr Mazumdar was highly successful. In page 227 of the book,"matter and conciousness exist in the universe in their own dimensions, or "wavelengths" or manifestation. When we define conciousness in modern terms to be an "information flux" then also we see that this information flux has a different dimension or sphere of existence from matter."..this metaphysical attempt to describe conciousness is very much in agreement with Rig Vedic seer Trita Aptya's understanding of conciousness as inner fire (Agni), "He is being and non-being in the supreme ether, in the birth of the discerning Father, in the bosom of the infinite Mother. The Fire for us is the firstborn of truth. He is the Bull and the milch Cow in the original eon." (Wisdom of Ancient Seers: Mantras of Rig-Veda, David Frawley). Overall, I really enjoyed reading this book. Only limitation of the book is that it did not attempt to describe the deficiency of Vedanta in the context of human history. One of the major deficiencies of Indian thought is the lack of proper awareness of history. While Judeo-christian and Islamic philosophy provides a framework to understand the trajectory of human history, the purpose of human society, it is presumed that Hindu philosophy reject the idea of historical development or purpose (This issue is discussed in details in The Soul of India by Amaury De Reincourt). Radhakrishan made a vague attempt to bring a social purpose of Vedantic thought by arguing that Indian mysticism may finally deliver one unified civilization/religion (World's unborn soul, Oxford lecture, 1936 by Radhakrishnan). However, it is not yet clear, how a Vedantic view of "maya" or illusion could provide will-power or enthusiasm for a society to progress. Thus, at the end of the day, the modern explanation of Vedanta is kind of a mind exercise about individual's psycho-history, his/her inner quest to live a peaceful life. Whether Vedanta provides a social framework for human development as a Nation or Nations is not yet explored. On the other hand, Gandhi took Gita, a Vedantic book to develop a social framework of revolution and helped build the modern democratic India. So, we do have scope to study the historical aspect of Vedanta i.e. how this philosophy has shaped Indian history, and what kind of prediction we could make about the future of Indian or world history based on Vedanta. I believe that Dr Mazumdar is well suited to address this critical question in his future work.

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