Vedic Mathematics

Why the controversy?

Some time in the late 1960s, I came upon a quaint-looking book. Perhaps it was during a visit to New York from Rome where I was then residing, while browsing through a so-called ‘esoteric bookstore’ which specialised in books on Eastern philosophy, occultism, astrology, yoga, and so forth. Or else it may have been given to me by a friend in view of my interest in the unusual. The book, I repeat, was quaint-looking and immediately recognisable as coming from India. In those days publishing in India was not characterised by fancy layouts, designs or anything that would make it comparable to western publications. But it must also be noted that the cost of books from India then was a fraction of what they now cost. Today, given the improvement in design, quality of paper and printing, books are out of the range of the common man and can be purchased only by the well-to-do. Until the mid 1970s this was not the case. Advanced technology has proved a bane to the book-lover of the medium and lower income brackets in India.

The book is still in my possession. It travelled with me across the globe when I came to India, bringing ‘coals to Newcastle’, we might say. However, shortly after my arrival, when the subject of this publication came up in the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, I realised that this remarkable volume, entitled Vedic Mathematics, was almost entirely unknown in India. The author was the Shankaracharya of Govardhana Math in Puri, with the formidable name, Jagadguru Swami Sri Bharati Krishna Tirthaji Maharaja. The copy I possess is from the first edition, printed in 1965 at the Benaras Hindu University Press. Its subtitle is ‘Sixteen simple mathematical formulae from the Vedas (For one line answers to All Mathematical Problems)’.

I am not a mathematician, but how could one fail to be captured by the pronouncement that a mere 16 verses or aphorisms from the ancient Vedas would provide one line answers to ALL mathematical problems! In addition, there was a captivating photograph of the author in a yogic pose to enhance the appeal of the book. Seated on a tiger skin in the traditional fashion, his face nonetheless did not especially reflect an emphasis on the otherworldly. Bespectacled, firmly rooted on this Earth, scholarly and practical.

In the 1960s the number of publications on such subjects – termed indiscriminately ‘esoteric’ – was still small in spite of the fact that interest was growing due to India’s spiritual invasion of the West. Indeed, the selection was small but the quality was good, unlike today when we find a vast increase in this line of publication, hardly any of which are of serious worth.

The moment I glanced through the Swami-ji’s (if I may be permitted to abbreviate) book I instinctively knew I had come upon something of great value and uniqueness. Since then the book has gone into other editions, no longer as quaint-looking as the first. In the 1960s, apart from an opening to all things eastern and particularly Indian in terms of philosophy, music, cuisine, dress, and so forth, the world was witnessing another invasion: electronics. Computers were starting to invade the market and they too were becoming increasingly more sophisticated with each passing year. My quick perusal of Vedic Mathematics informed me, however, that this system was in a sense unveiling a certain computer capacity in the human brain. But apart from this obvious characteristic, the system Swami-ji presented clearly reflected an entirely different consciousness. Its basis was different from all other forms of computation. To me it seemed as if something sacred and awesome lay at the basis of the formulation. This feeling was well-founded because the Swami had apparently followed a certain discipline for the discovery which has its roots in the ancient Vedic system of yoga. It was, in a sense, revelation.

Though I have carried the book with me throughout my travels, I have rarely opened it since then. But today in India this subject has taken an interesting turn; hence my desire to relate certain experiences I had in the early 1970s with this particular text.

In 197l, after a special ‘initiation’ (see The Tenth Day of Victory), I found myself in the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry at the Mother’s feet, she who had guided my yoga in Rome overtly from the early part of that year. Though I brought very few possessions with me to the Ashram, I did bring Vedic Mathematics. In fact, I was convinced that this system was the basis for mathematical instruction in the Ashram International Centre of Education. My young son who travelled with me was enrolled in this school which I felt would be superior to other educational institutions, in particular in what concerned these ‘esoteric matters’.

I was soon to be woken from these illusions when I realised that the Centre of Education was as conventional as any other school in India or in the West. Indeed, in many respects it was more conventional and unimaginative.

When I learned that Vedic Mathematics was not even known in the school, much less did it form a part of the curriculum, I wrote to the Mother on the subject and sent her the book along with my letter. I pointed out some of its features and how surprised I was that in Sri Aurobindo’s ashram this system was unknown and did not form the basis of maths instruction. The Mother in turn sent my letter and the book to the school’s registrar, Shri Kireet Joshi, for his assessment. Kireet Joshi, on his part, circulated the book through the math department for the teachers’ opinion and the feasibility of incorporating this unique system in the school’s curriculum.

When sufficient time had passed for a verdict, I went to the registrar to learn the outcome. His reply was predictable: In the opinion of the teachers modern calculators made Vedic Mathematics redundant.

But the registrar himself had an interesting story to tell. On his part he was delighted with the rediscovery of Vedic Mathematics. He related that when he was nine years old, the author of the book came to his village, in Gujarat, I believe, and gave a talk to the people on his system. The young Kireet Joshi never forgot the experience; but he lost touch with the Swami and heard nothing more of Vedic Mathematics until my copy of the Swami’s book reached him via the Mother. It was certainly a curious turn of events that this uniquely Indian and ancient Vedic system should have come to him from distant places and from ‘foreigner’s hands’; that is, the Mother and myself. Equally curious was the fact that apart from his enthusiasm, the math teachers demonstrated no particular interest and seemed unable to appreciate the special qualities of consciousness which the system had the capacity to foster in the student – namely a consciousness of unity, for lack of a better description.

The book was returned to me and the matter ended there – or so it seemed at the time. I realised that in the Ashram I was unlikely to find a congenial atmosphere for ‘new’ discoveries. In spite of the Mother’s presence and constant encouragement to blaze new trails, the school did not offer anything special to the student except the fact that tests were unknown and there was no system of grading as such. This was a mixed blessing, however, in that it tended to foster a laxity which the ordinary school discourages by way of competition and regular examination. This was especially evident in physical education. Sports activities can rarely thrive when competition is lacking to urge the achiever on to record-breaking frontiers. But coming from the competitive West, it was a relief to experience a more relaxed atmosphere. However, this same laxity and disregard for the ancient roots of the culture surfaced in an especially important sphere of the Mother’s equally Vedic temple creation. And in this too Kireet Joshi played a vital part.

The registrar left the Ashram several years later and returned to his former life, that of a bureaucrat. Indira Gandhi was the prime minister of India then and having had a close contact with the Mother, she was keen to introduce a new educational policy perhaps influenced by Sri Aurobindo’s thought and the Mother’s insights. Thus, Kireet Joshi was given the position of a special advisor in the Department of Education; and it seems that one of his pet projects thereafter was the promulgation of Vedic Mathematics. Seminars were organised to discuss the subject. Their success was aided by the fact that the West was becoming increasingly interested in the system. Thus the former Ashram School registrar played a significant role in fostering the spread of Vedic Mathematics and encouraging investigation into its unique features.

In 1991 and the electoral breakthrough of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in four important states in the north of India, Vedic Mathematics was forthwith incorporated into the curriculum at lower levels of education. Text books were modified for this purpose and Vedic Mathematics was to be officially presented as an alternative system, though not displacing the contemporary methods. There was, as well, a brief history of its origins and the capacity of the ancient sages to discover such a unique system in what has come to be a domain solely of the modern scientist, while the sage is relegated to the world of the Spirit exclusively. The fact that the student was finally being introduced to the wide-ranging capacity of the ancients, where formerly they were being taught differently, was a formidable breakthrough in a country which for some peculiar reason has come to look upon the work of the Seers as nothing more than superstitious ‘religion’. By the introduction of this history and brief acquaintance with Vedic Mathematics, a certain respect was fostered in the students for India’s ancient culture which left a heritage of such a unique quality and far-reaching significance.

Interestingly, as soon as the BJP governments in those four states were dismissed by the Central Government after the Ayodhya denouement, one of the first objectives of the Government was the deletion of Vedic Mathematics from the curriculum. For some intriguing reason it would seem as if these maths, having their roots in the ancient Veda, might somehow disturb the secular fabric of the Indian post-Independence republic.

Having a special stake in this affair, I have been watching the developments carefully since 197l, when I first sent my copy of Vedic Mathematics to the Mother. The attitude of the Ashram’s math department was as bizarre as that of the present-day government. But the repulsion the system causes in most quarters is understandable if we realise that it is impossible to accept this special system without accepting the entire foundation of the ancient culture prior to the impositions of conquering cultures over the past 1500 years. That is, Vedic Mathematics is just one aspect of a culture whose keyword is Unity. Added to this is Integrality. Thus, if Vedic Mathematics is accepted and fostered, a natural correlation is the acceptance of a consciousness of unity which was the special characteristic of the Rishis of old. Out of this consciousness evolved all the cultural expressions which are still found on the subcontinent. Those who combat the reestablishment of this consciousness as the guiding light of the nation, naturally feel threatened by the introduction of any of its products when they are expressly demonstrated to arise from the ancient source.


Let me discuss an aspect of this issue which draws the discussion pointedly to the Mother’s work. Though the Swami-ji states that the sixteen aphorisms he employs in his book for certain procedures are ‘from the Veda’, in fact they do not seem to appear in any of the ancient texts. They are ‘apocryphal’, it is considered. But actually the Swami is entirely justified in claiming that they are ‘Vedic’ and of the ancient variety because he has simply used the same method as of old in his discovery. The yogic method of discovery is the important factor. Then as now. A Seer today can make the same discoveries if he or she employs the same methods. The result may then be considered thoroughly ‘Vedic’.

Thus, the same consciousness of unity which gave to the world Vedic Mathematics through the yogic genius of Swami Tirhaji Maharaja worked through the Mother when she gave to the world a plan for a temple. Her method of discovery, or ‘seeing’, was Vedic of the ancient order. Thus, the product may be considered as Vedic as any other temple found in India today. However, the truth of the matter is that similar to the Swami’s discoveries, the world has great difficulty in seeing in the Mother’s creation anything truly Vedic. Kireet Joshi, it appears, suffered from this same limitation and the stamp of this ignorance was cemented in the building that has come up in Auroville as ‘the Mother’s creation’.

It is understandable that the human being of today, and in particular those who appear to guide the destiny of nations and peoples, should find this recognition an impossible feat. To recognise the same seed would mean that one had been touched by the same ‘light of the sun’ that had engendered the ancient and contemporary Rishi’s perception. For example, while the former registrar could appreciate the worth of the Swami’s Vedic Mathematics, he could not appreciate at all the Mother’s Vedic content in the plan she gave for her temple. Indeed, he is one of the individuals most responsible for the changes which have taken shape in the actual construction which caused the building to lose all of its Vedic content. This came to pass because the Ministry in which he is employed is in charge of Auroville, and he himself has throughout been  one of the most prominent members of the various committees which have guided the destiny of the enterprise after the Government of India was handed the operation on a platter in the mid 1970s.

Clearly Shri Kireet Joshi could not recognise the Vedic content in the Mother’s creation; or perhaps it was too much to expect that a ‘foreigner’ could really and truly be equal to the ancient Rishis in these matters. Indeed, to have surpassed their Seeing in fact. Much less that another ‘foreigner’ could explain this Vedic content in the Mother’s plan and insist that it should be respected precisely because it is an act of reestablishment, similar to the Swami’s Vedic Mathematics.

In the latter we have another example of the way the Dharma is reestablished. This is a RENEWAL. Or in the case of Vedic Mathematics, a rediscovery or an elaboration of new aphorisms. Swami-ji was correct in holding that his work is from the Veda because, like the Mother, his exposition has its roots in that same consciousness and experience. Consequently, the Hindu resurgence can never be fundamentalist, as is sought to be made out. It is never dogmatic, never an imposition of past formulae which are frozen in time and hence out of step with today’s world. The important factor is the basic realisation which fosters the same vision, which stems from a consciousness of unity. Or better, a blending, a perfect harmonisation of the Unity and the Multiplicity. If Kireet Joshi and the other wielders of power in Auroville had been touched by the same ‘rays of the sun’ which inspired the Rishis of old, not only would they see in Swami Tirthaji Maharaja’s Vedic Mathematics a core of truth but they would have recognised the same truth-essence in the Mother’s plan of her temple. Having been so centrally instrumental in the government take-over of Auroville, and then the total destruction of the Matrimandir’s Vedic content, it is clear that the erstwhile registrar may have faced the understandable stumbling-block most of humanity faces: the colour of one’s skin, even if this be the skin of one’s professed Guru! In my experience in India and with sages and yogis of true realisation, whatever the path, this limitation has not been in evidence. But the views of such souls have never been heeded with regard to the Auroville construction.

This story began in the late 1960s and with my discovery of the book Vedic Mathematics. It was followed by the rejection of the system by the Ashram math authorities in early 1972. The then registrar fostered the subject when he was in a position to do so, having left the Ashram for a post in the Education Ministry. Thereafter Vedic Mathematics received a certain impetus in India, but more especially abroad. This is made evident by a publication which has just come into my hands while browsing through a bookstore in Bangalore. It is entitled, Issues in Vedic Mathematics (Motilal Banarsidas Publisher). Its date of publication is 1988. The book consists of a collection of papers presented at a workshop on Vedic Mathematics organised in collaboration with the Ministry of Human Resource Development of which Kireet Joshi is Special Secretary in its Department of Education. (This is the Ministry under which the affairs of Auroville come.) Perusing this book I was astounded because of the Government’s present antagonism to the subject, notwithstanding the fact that scholars of repute have acknowledged the superior qualities per se of the system, as well as the enhancement of consciousness its study can foster in students.

The question is, logically, why? The answer is to be found in the same area I have been pursuing in the discussion of Vedic culture and the Mother’s temple. And it is clear that politicians and bureaucrats are unable to stand as arbitrators in such matters – for example, the implementation of the Mother’s original plan of the temple – because they base their assessments on what furthers personal ambition, to gain prominence in the management of Auroville after the Mother’s passing, to secure a foothold there not by virtue of the power of a yogic realisation but simply by manipulation, compromise and government fiats. The result is that the ‘light of the luminous Sun of Truth’ is forsaken in favour of the ego’s dark sun of its personal and limited ambitions. And it is the same dark sun that keeps Vedic Mathematics out of the school curriculum even as a secondary subject, an item of curiosity as an alternative method.

Clearly both these issues tread upon the toes of ‘secularists’ in a similar fashion. The maths of the ancients is perhaps too ‘religiously’ grounded. Likewise, the Mother’s original plan, Vedic in its content to the core, is deemed inferior to a western architect’s ‘secular’ version, untainted by any pretensions of a ‘higher light’. This is the world into which we have to bring our children. This is the consciousness to which we must entrust their development and well-being. And on this basis we expect a ‘new world order’ to emerge.



June of 1993

Aeon Centre of Cosmology

at Skambha





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