Agni is scientific

Dominik Wujastyk ucgadkw at UCL.AC.UK
Mon Mar 20 10:36:09 UTC 2000

On Sat, 18 Mar 2000, Bob Peck wrote:

> [...] Energy is a mystical substance even today; it takes many forms
> and no one knows what pure energy may be. Energy is only manifested
> when it changes its form or nature.

Since the seventeeth century, when European science developed a new
vocabulary for describing the physical world, the word "energy" has
increasingly been used in non-scientific language as though it were a
measure of a real quantity.  Pre-modern people didn't have "energy" as far
as I am able to tell.  The ancient Greeks had dynamis, I believe; in
ancient India the great motive force of nature was wind, manifesting in
the body as the pra.nas.

If one's goal is historical, then when discussing ancient Indian texts it
is important to try not to read into them concepts from modern culture.
This is extremely tricky, but an effort worth making.  I would suggest
that "energy" is a modern term, and one which is generally inappropriate
for explaining ancient Indian cultural concepts.  One sure way to test out
this sort of thing is mentally to translate one's English sentences into
Sanskrit: what Sanskrit words would you use for "energy" in the above
sentence?  In fact, what word would you use for "mystical" or "substance".

This can be a very illuminating exercise, telling much about the
difference between contemporary and ancient thought.

Dominik Wujastyk
Founder, INDOLOGY list.

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