Discovering the Ancient Indian Influence on the Great Minds

the influence of the vedas and upanishads on the west
Great Minds on India by Salil Gewali
Great Minds on India by Salil Gewali

It was a winter day in 1988, when I was traveling to Delhi I had picked up the book The Discovery of India by Pundit Jawaharlal Nehru from a newsstand in Guwahati Railway station. I had heard a lot about this work of Pundit Nehru. It contained the wealth of knowledge as to the country and about the significance of her ancient heritage. I read it very attentively throughout my journey of over 56 hours. What amazed me most was a few of the quotes in the book by the world-famous western scholars and philosophers. Those quotes were in deep appreciation of the Indian ancient wisdom, its language and culture. For months together I felt much haunted by those words of western luminaries.

In this regard, the second book that fascinated me was Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramhansa Yogananda. Here even I had come across such profound opinions by great thinkers like Ralph Emersion and Schopenhauer  who were close to my heart. These quotes had left deep imprints – both in my mind and heart. I have begun to realize that this country — India — is far more than what we have known or that has been made to be known about it.

But the turning point happened when I read We are not the first by an UFO scientist Tomas Andrew, where I encountered incredible facts based on Modern science. I clearly saw that great many discoveries of the modern times had already mentioned in the ancient scriptures of India. I discovered vivid references to, and precise theoretical illustrations of, atomic structures, codified at a time well prior to the modern scientific revolution.

My science background immensely helped me to go deeper into the subject. I strongly felt, then, that western scientists would not have applauded and approved of those ancient wisdom and knowledge had there not been any scientific validity and significance. I gradually got to know that scientists like Schrödinger, Neils Bohr, Julius Oppenheimer, David Bohm, Heisenberg, David Josephson, etc., had, relative to Quantum Physics, been significantly influenced by the Upanishads and Vedas. Those ancient treatises, it became clear, had greatly emboldened those scientists to plunge deeper into the atom, to penetrate into the inner core of the Quantum Mechanics.

Here are the words of Werner Heisenberg: “After the conversations about Indian philosophy, some of the ideas of Quantum Physics that had seemed so crazy suddenly made much more sense.”  All these facts consequently strengthened my conviction about the infallibility of ancient literary archives from my early age.

One question pricked my conscience: Why in my over 16 years of academic studies in several prestigious institutions I could not find even the sporadic references to these amazing facts? Why have these proud truths about the ancient knowledge of India never been taught to our students, while their minds are stuffed with rather controversial information that only leaves behind negative impression about the country and her ancient heritage? I startled to know that Pythagoras from Greece came to India to learn Geometry and spiritualism, not from any of my textbooks, nor even from mathematics books published from the home country, but from the work of one of the greatest thinkers of all time Francois Voltaire.

Perhaps the majority of university-educated Indians know something about Ralph Emerson. But barely a few know this world-renowned poet had written a solemn poem “Brahma”,  inspired by our ancient wisdom. I sense many things amiss in the country. Yes, we in India swell our chest to quote TS Eliot but hardly we take our cue from his world famous poem “The Waste Land” that ends in Sanskrit word “Shantih shantih shantih”, and finally speaks of cardinal truths as expounded in the Brihaddaranyaka Upanishad. One wonders why Indians never get to learn such higher facts about the country and her rich heritage from the prescribed academic books. It’s bewildering that such profoundly lofty data is missing from the textbooks, so that our children have grown to have less respect for our own heritage and values.

I started casually collecting the quotes of intellectuals on, or drawn from, Indian culture, about 22 years ago. But writing a book occurred to me while reading such world famous books as The Tao of Physics and Uncommon Wisdom by Frijtof Capra for the second time in 1995. These put me in a most pensive mood, and got me lost in the depth of thoughts, such as I had experienced when I had come upon Oppenheimer’s comment: “What we shall find in Modern Physics is an exemplification, an encouragement and a refinement of old Hindu wisdom.” This statement so deeply touched me wherein I clearly saw great messages by the “Father of Atomic Bomb” — not only for the modern scientists but for the whole mankind. I deeply felt that this must be spread among every citizen of India who is less aware of the truth about its ancient treasure troves. As Paul Deussen has rightly said, “Whatever maybe the discoveries of the scientific mind, none can dispute the eternal truths propounded by the Upanishads.”

The years 1996-98 saw me frantically preoccupied. I exhaustively worked for this compilation. I would regularly visit a number of libraries of Shillong like State Central library, RK Mission library, St. Anthony Library, NEHU library and the like. Because, I didn’t have enough money to buy books.  I should mention here that apart from our own bookstall where I got to read many kinds of books, I would frequent the junk yard – a popular a second hand  market just near our shop in Shillong. This was my preferred rendezvous. I had come across a rare collection of books there. I had chanced upon to read  rare books of great intellectuals — like the translated works of, Voltaire, Gottfried Herder, Sir William Jones, Friedrich Hegel, Max Muller, Henry David Thoreau from a few shops in this shabby market at Bara Bazar, Shillong.

Life is not always a bed of roses. The dreams one cherishes often meet with stumbling block. No matter how I tried I could not save enough money to publish the book for many years though the compilation was ready in 1998 itself. Family responsibilities had begun to weigh heavily on me. However, I never had lost my heart. I would do lots of Xeroxes of those compiled quotes and share with anyone whom I believe would appreciate them.  Some would seem awestruck. Others would remain indifferent. And some would just react by becoming critical. I sensed something wrong in the latter group, since they were uncomfortable with their own heritage, their great Motherland, and with the fact that these were appreciated by none other than the western thinkers that they held in high esteem, as men who brought significant changes to the world.

At last my weary and dreary wait of over 11 years brought the sunny light of hope. With a little improvement in my personal economy I could see my treasured dream fulfilled. At last I published the book entitled Great Minds on India, in a glossy format, in 2009. I was delighted; the book was praised, including by the Governor of Meghalaya, who consented to publish the work in a new edition.

I have reasons to feel blessed. The work immediately caught the attention of the scholars from across the world which I hardly expected. A shower of compliments began to pour in. To my immense delight I received phone-calls even from great many eminent scholars, and writers throughout the world. I was too thrilled when Prof. A. V. Murali, an eminent NASA scientist, called up me to express his gratitude for the work. He remarked that, “the material should be made a compulsory reading for all the school students.”

Finally, then, my sincere prayer: may this ancient wisdom of the country evoke awe and reverence among the intellectuals. Let no children of the country speak ill of the mother whose womb gave birth to those mystic rishis, whose works mesmerized even the great minds like Voltaire, Hegel, Goethe, Einstein.

salil-gewaliSalil Gewali is the author of 17 books, including Great Minds on India (Penguin Enterprise). He also writes for various newspapers, and is a member of the International Organization of Journalists (IOJ). He may be contacted directly at

1 Comment

  1. Dear Mr. Salil Gewali.

    First of all many thanks for your book’Great minds on India’, I was in search of exactly something similar.
    This particular question that why we Indians generally look down upon our own culture & history has troubled me throughout. Whenever i come across so called highly educated people and it so happens that the discussion turns to India, most of them speak ill about it with completely ignoring (?) the bright side of spiritual heritage and its magnanimity.
    Has the foreign rule for so long period conditioned our minds? Is there no remedy for this?
    When will the time come when every youth of the country humms the tunes of songs in praise of our motherland? For how long more we will have to pay the price for this hate for our own culture?

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