Professor Nicholas Kazanas, a septuagenarian (born in 1939), is a Greek born Scholar of Sanskrit and Vedic civilisation and a long-time critic of the Aryan Invasion Theory (AIT). He vehemently argues that linguistic, literary and recent genetic evidence establish “that the ancient cultures of Hittites, Greeks, Italians, Germanic peoples, Celts, Slavs and Baltic peoples, to mention the more prominent ones, originated in a much fuller and richer form of the Vedic civilisation, that is now lost and cannot be reconstructed but flourished in Saptasindhu.” All his studies were in London; English Literature, Economics & Philosophy and Sanskrit. Thereafter, he took postgraduate degrees in Sanskrit in Pune and Varanasi. After teaching for some years in London, he had lectured often in Europe, USA and India. Since 1997, Kazanas accepted the Vedic Tradition.
Recognising his academic credentials, the Government of India conferred on him Padma Shri in 2021. He is well known for translating Indian philosophical and religious texts into Greek. Dr Nicholas Kazanas is the Director of Omilos Meleton, the Cultural Institute founded in 1976 in Athens, that proclaims its motto as “desire for knowledge, happiness and fullness of life.” The institute primarily works in the field of Philosophy, focusing on Platonism, Vedanta and related systems of thought like Christian and Buddhist ethics. It also offers courses on Sanskrit, Comparative Mythology and Political Economy.
Excerpts from the exclusive online interview with organiser representative, Pradeep Krishnan:
Respected Sir, how did your interaction with Indian culture and civilization happen? What prompted you to study deeply into Indian philosophy?
I was studying Philosophy in the School of Economic Science and at one stage we were introduced to the Upanishads. Soon these texts attracted me intensely with their teaching of Unity. They were very close to the Greek philosophers Plotinus and Plato and in some ways seemed much better. I wanted to know more and to read them in the original, so I went to the School of Oriental & African Studies and read Sanskrit. Naturally, from that study my interest in Indian culture developed further.
Please elaborate on the school that you had founded, ‘Omilos Meliton’ that has been engaged in the teaching of practical Vedānta.
Yes, indeed, in Omilos Meleton we follow Practical Vedānta (Advaita). This means we follow the guiding lines in day to day living as given by Ādi Shankara and through the teaching of our guru (now deceased) H.H. Jagadguru Shrī Śaṅkarācārya Shantananda Sarasvati of Jyotir Math. We practice regularly meditation. And use all the practices recommended: attention at all times, remembering that other people are embodiments of the same Self, restraining negative feelings like anger, envy, etc. etc. Also study of the Upanishads.
Could you find any connection between the Vedic and the Greek civilisations?
Yes, there are many points of similarity between the two ancient cultures Greek and Indian. The languages (Greek & Sanskrit) have many common features. The mythological elements in the ancient religions also have common features: for instance, Dyus is Zeus, Varuṇa is Uranus etc. In Philosophy, as I said, the teachings of Plato and Plotinus resemble much the Vedantic system, especially Plotinus, but his writing is more difficult than Plato’s. But much earlier Melissus of Samos in the 5th century BCE gave a good presentation of the Absolute One. The Christian Gnostics too left a teaching different from the common Christianity but very similar to Advaita with reincarnation, the law of karma and return to the Absolute.
You say that, “The importance of the Rigveda is first of all national, relating to India itself and then universal, relating to all humans.” Can you please elaborate?
Briefly, the RigVeda (RV) is the fountainhead of much of the tradition and culture of India – literature, philosophy, religion etc. As such, in offering the basis for language, religion and general culture it should be studied by all Indians who want to be cultured. It gives the beginnings of most aspects of the healthy national tradition.
As regards the world, the RV seems to be the most ancient text of all languages in the Indo-European (IE) family. Yet very few indo-europeanists study it and know it well. Many features (names of gods, rituals etc.) in all IE cultures have parallels in the RV. Perhaps above all, it contains the idea of monotheism and monism before any other culture. Its frequent references to dharma and search for truth and higher state of consciousness would help a lot!
What according to you is unique to Indian culture?
This monistic philosophical outlook, the idea of all deities being manifestations of That One, is quite unique in the whole world. Also, universals, qualities like “strength tavisī, godhood devatva, five-ness pankti” etc., and the idea of dharma infusing all aspects of ordinary life.
In the essay, “economic principles in the Vedic tradition,” you show the relation of the Indic principles to modern concepts and brings to light many valuable economic concepts and practices. Did the Vedic people address economic realities?
Yes, the Vedic people addressed most seriously and most humanely the economic realities of the community. Taxation should be light and fair. They regarded the land as a bequest of the previous generations and they recognized that, as goddess Pṛthivī, it should not be owned by individuals: this is a most equitable and humane principle. Land should belong to the whole community and always have some areas in reserve to be given to the coming generation.
My book “Economic Principles in the Vedic Tradition,” published in 1992, deals with economic principles as found in the more ancient sources of the Vedic period in so far as this is possible. Unlike a particular application of a law which may well be affected by circumstances and thus appear to be different from place to place and time to time, a principle has an unchanging, universal quality. Despite few economic terms used throughout the text like Land Value Taxation (which means simply taxing the value of land alone) there is nothing complex or complicated in this study and reading it does not require any training in Economics. By showing the relation of the Indic principles to certain modern concepts and particularly to Land Value Taxation the book goes a long way in bringing into light many valuable economic concepts and practices supported by an institutional framework.
Sir, what about distribution of wealth that is the prime concern of most of the modern economists?
My study revealed that the lawgivers in ancient India were fully aware of all these issues. How much does a man or a family need to earn and how much should be given to the royal treasury (i.e., the State) and how should these be determined? Or to put it in other terms, how should taxation be levied? Then, how should the State dispose of its revenue? Also, how should lending operate and what would be fair rates of interest? One aspect of modern economies that is not treated by the ancients is unemployment because this problem appeared as such, on a large scale, only with the increase of population, the land enclosures (=privatization) and the industrial revolution in Europe at the end of the 18th century. But the Vedic texts take it for granted that people should feel secure in their different employments. A most surprising feature is the principles of free access to land for all and the Land Value Tax which should be the source of Government revenue (and expenditure). It is surprising because Land Value Taxation is supposed to be a fairly modern concept.
Critics are of the view that the Vedas are primitive, outdated and it contains only a bundle of prayers addressed to natural forces by helpless men – your comments?
Writers who demean the Vedas as ignorant or naive country bumkins are rather foolish. In the hymns of the RV we find the finest features of poetry in all and the most sophisticated poetry in the world. They have dignity in themselves, they have care for the environment and the community, they have reverence for the powers of Nature. And they promote an ethical way of life discriminating full well between right and wrong. They were, in my opinion, truly civilized. There were, of course, internecine conflicts and misdemeanours, as in all ages and places.
Sir, in what way the study of the Vedas would help the modern man, either spiritually or materially?
It follows that if people studied seriously the Vedic lore, they would learn much about the nature of the human being, its three bodies (material, subtle and causal), the lower and higher intellect, the five functions of action (handling, walking, etc.), the five prāṇas and so on. They would learn about the three guṇas, the three universal forces of the world (and in man) whose combination gives form, function and quality to human activities and character.
What is unique about the Vedas from other religious texts?
I don’t know of any other religious text (whether in the Abrahamic religions or others) that gives so much practical guidance for building a good character and engaging in correct, moral action. The Old Testament of the Jews, the Four Canonical Gospels of Christianity, the Quran of Islam – they contain many contradictions and lack the richness and wisdom found in the Vedas. Vedas alone (and Gnosticism, Neoplatonism of Greece and Taoism of China) teach that the Self of man is the same in all men and the same as the Self of the Universe: ayam ātmā brahma!
What is the role of Yagna or sacrifice? (somayaga/athirathra etc) In what way it would transform the society/individual? There is an argument that instead of wasting the material resources, it would be better to feed the poor?
Yajña as a ritual has only one useful purpose: it should be performed with great attention. Otherwise, the gods do not need our material offerings. We should offer everything but in mind acknowledging that all goods we enjoy are gifts of Nature, the gods and the Absolute.
Why should we continue to protect and preserve the vedic culture?
For all the reasons that I have delineated before, the Vedas should be preserved and studied with devotion. Civilization is not merely material buildings and artefacts. It is primarily an inner quality with a sense of justice, consideration of others and especially self-refinement.
What according to Vedas are the aim and purpose of human life?
The central if not so obvious teaching of the Vedas is that there is justice in the universe and one cannot escape the consequences of one’s actions. We come into this world to learn to love and live by conduct that will help us refine our being and elevate our consciousness so that we may reunite with the Self of the Universe.
Your message to readers?
India has a very long history and a great culture. It is a great pity that so many natives seek to degrade both for political or religious or purely selfish considerations. It is a pity that there is so much deviation from the Vedic principles and so much corruption. We all know that it is better to be good than bad. In the end we cannot escape the law of karma: good actions that benefit others, as well as oneself, result in future good conditions and bad actions that seek only self-benefit will result in bad conditions. The one big failure in life is to fail to act according to what you know to be true!
Satyam eva jayate!
Interview by Pradeep Krishnan