Friday, February 22, 2019



Even to this day, Albert Camus(1913-1960) remains a  widely read writer   world over . His Novels ,Plays, Short stories, Essays and  editorials ( for THE COMBAT a  Newspaper that Camus   edited  ) that he wrote in french   stand translated into English and many other Languages by so many  eminent translators like    Stuart Gilbert (The Plague)  and Joseph Laredo ( The Outsider).

In 1957, Camus was awarded Nobel prize for literature.  He established international reputation  with books like Le Peste (The Plague written in 1947) , Les Justes (1949) and La Chute (1956). Two books L'Etranger  and Le Mythe de Sisyphe  brought  him world wide fame. In 1957, he was awarded Nobel prize for Literature and in 1969, he was killed in a road accident.On his death,  Anthony Hartley   wrote in 'The Guardian'  ,
" His death is a terrible blow to French Literature  and to those who admire the limpid upright mind which is reflected in his work."

Every year more than  160,000 copies of his most impressive  novel “ OUTSIDER” are  sold by his publishers . I do not know the pirated versions and all other versions.
Catherine Camus ,His daughter  says:

" My father  never forgot his origins and the extreme poverty he experienced.  The one who loves the power, can’t love Camus.My father not only wrote with his head, but also wrote with his heart and his flesh. He’s a hundred percent human. He never refuses contradictions, because contradictions are part of our life.
As far as I know about my father ,  Emile Senart had translated  some  Upnishads    to French   that my father not only read but also recommended to  Claude’ De Ferminvelle in 1935.”

Noted  french writer and    Scholar Dr.  Sharad Chandra writes :

"Albert Camus had read '  Bhagwat Gita' and Upnishads . He  had  attended the lectures given by Swami Shraddhananda of the Ramakrishna Mission in Paris."
Dr. Sarvapalli  Radhakrishnan writes :

"  Western  Existentialism is the  new name for an ancient Indian  method  detailed  in   Upnishads . "

And  when  i read   some Upnishads in English translation ,  Camus's philosophy started  becoming  unambiguously  clearer and clearer.   

Through his work, Camus  tried to  understand the time he lived in. Not only time,  he tried  to  understand the  nature of human  Joy and sorrow . And  the  Chhandogya Upnishad  says  :

"Where there is the infinite, there is joy.The finite holds no joy. Understand  the nature of Joy.  The infinite is the whole universe ."

Camus believed that peace was paramount and fundamental to human existence.
“Peace is the only battle worth waging.”

Says Camus .

And prayer for universal peace  is contained in Upnishads/ Veda .
The Hymn to peace in Atharva veda  says:
" Peaceful be the heavens, May the earth be calm, And the spacious atmosphere gentle. May the flowing waters ,rich in moisture ,be soothing ;May all the plants and herbs be beneficial to us.May all signs of coming events be free from Turmoil; And may happiness lie in that , which has been done and that ,which has not been done. May our past and future be peaceful and may all be gracious unto us .

Mundaka Upnishad says:

"  May our ears hear what is auspicious.May we become efficient to worship and see with our eyes what is auspicious. May we , who sing your praise,live our allotted span of life sound of body and strong of limbs"

The spirit  of detachment is the essence of Vedanta or Upnishads. It is the message of Bhagwat Gita . The real Nishkam Karma arises from  spirit of detachment only. "Nishkam Karma" means "action  without desire" or "work without motive".Detachment never seeks   motive  or reward for action. Consequently it is a step towards individual happiness.
And Albert Camus writes :

"To be happy, we must not be too concerned with others."

In his novel 'THE OUTSIDER' , Camus creates a truthful character ( Meursault )who is  somewhat detached in his dealings with others . Meursault is in  a detached  mode   even when his girlfriend (Mary )  puts up a proposal of Marriage . Does a truthful man appear detached ? I quote from the novel:

"She came that evening and asked me if I’d marry her. I said I didn’t mind; if she was keen on it, we’d get married. I explained that it had no importance really, but, if it would give her pleasure, we could get married right away. Then she remarked that marriage was a serious matter. To which I answered: “No.” "

Camus believed in  BENIGN   nature of this physical world  that confronts an individual . According to him, Even if this physical world appeared indifferent to the  sorrows of an individual, it  was profoundly benign.The universe behaved like  a silent  and watchful  Sympathizer.  The profoundly  benign nature of the Cosmos is the message of some Upnishads. I quote Maha-Upnishad:

" The Cosmos  is only the manifestation  of that being (Supreme ) ;There is nothing other than that ; The difference in the Universe are also his manifestation. He does not exist as there is nowhere (Substratum) to exist, Yet exists because he is existence by nature."

In his work, Camus  deals with fundamental issues of  humanity ; Issues like individual liberty, War,  freedom of choice,, death   Existence, Absurdity, God, Religion, Love, suffering, sorrow, human dignity, peace and happiness etc. For him, all human beings are just  one race. He is a strong votary of peace, harmony and brotherhood. So is the core  message  of Upnishads.

Isha Upnishad says:

"When a man realises that all beings are but the Self, what delusion is there, what grief, to that perceiver of oneness?"

Athar veda says:

" Common be your store of water, common your share of food . i knit you together to a common bond -,United , gather round the sacrificial fire like spokes of a chariot wheel."

SATYA  or   TRUTH is another issue that is the Core message  of  many Upnishads. The Upnishads say that  TRUTHFULNESS   is  primordial for  triumph over this worldly BHAV-SAGARA   or this Ocean of Worldly Existence . And in a afterword to his novel' THE OUTSIDER '    ,  Camus says:

" A truth born of living and feeling may be a negative one , But without truth  no triumph over the self or over the world will ever be possible. So one wouldn't be far wrong in seeing"  THE OUTSIDER" as the story of a man who, without any heroic pretensions , agrees to die for the Truth. I also once said , and again paradoxically , that i tried to make my character represent the only Christ that we deserve ."

Camus believed 'Everything that exalts life at the same time increases its absurdity' .  And Absurdity of  existence  is a major issue that Camus deals in his work. It is reflected in his plays and short stories also. And this thought has  also been dealt  in  many   Upnishads  .In his work "Myth of Sisyphus " , Camus has presented Sisyphus as the symbol of humankind and his task as the symbol of absurd human existence.

  I quote  Maha-upnishad :

" The world is born only to die and dies only to be born . Life is unsteady like a drop of water  hanging on the top of a tender leaf.Whatever  in this moving and un-moving world is enjoyed by Ego - All that is Unreal ." 

Camus's idea of freedom of Choice is very close to concept of liberated soul  or Purity of Spirit as mentioned in Upnishads. Upnishads say that   Attachment, Anger ,Ego , Greed  limit or curtail  the freedom of choice of an individual  resulting in suffering or Sorrow. Camus believes that human suffering is a result of denial of  freedom of choice. For Camus, man suffers beause he doesn't have Freedom of Choice.
In addition to absurdity  , another subject that  ancient  Upanishads insistently deal with is ethics, the purity of human conduct. Exactly like the Existentialists, the Upanishads, hold man himself responsible for his actions . Isn't this another way of interpreting the DOCTRINE OF KARMA?

Brihadaranyaka Upanishad says:

“Act he must . As he acts so does he become. The doer of good becomes good. The doer of sinful actions become sinful. By virtuous actions, he becomes virtuous; and by evil actions evil.”

Before Camus arrived on the scene, Andre Malraux,  Jean Paul Sartre, and many  others had already developed the Existential  line of thought. It had started percolating down to western Society    through Theatre and literature . Camus was not the pioneer of this thought ;  He did something  new in this field.   Firstly , he clarified that this  world’s absurdity  should not  be a  cause for despair, but on the contrary, a spur to happiness. And secondly, that , mortality and suffering actually enhance the value of life: they invite men to live more intensely.
More next time ..Reading Isha Upnishad..

(Avtar Mota)


Upnishads are a part of Vedas  . Upnishads contain the loftiest  message of the Veda. That is why  Upanishads are generally referred to as Vedānta or  as the  last chapters of the Veda.

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