Monday, October 01, 2007

Kant's doctrine of the ‘categorical imperative’ may have been derived from Hindu philosophy

Sanskrit Studies and Comparative Philology Swami Tathagatananda
Kant (1712-1804) was the first German philosopher of importance with a serious interest in Indian philosophy and Sanskrit. His doctrine of the ‘categorical imperative’ may have been derived from Hindu philosophy, according to the Soviet scholar Theodore Stcherbatsky (1866-1942). After Kant, the works of Friedrich von Schlegel and August Wilhelm von Schlegel were next to appear. They were both great pioneers of nineteenth ­century German Indology.

Friedrich von Schlegel was the first German Indologist to study Sanskrit and Indian religion and philosophy in depth. (16) His knowledge of Persian, Greek and Latin put him in a unique position to recognize Indo­European linguistic relationships. Schlegel wrote acclaimed works on history and philosophy. Among them is the pioneering work Uber die Sprache und Weisheit der Indier: Ein Beitrag zur Begrundung der Altertumskunde (On the Language and Wisdom of India: A Contribution to the Foundation of Antiquity), which he wrote in 1808 after returning to Germany. This was a primary publication of nineteenth-century European Indology influenced by the Romantic Movement. This work thereafter inspired Germans to refer to the ‘Wisdom of India’ and was enthusiastically acknowledged for its scholarly translations of extracts from the Sanskrit texts of the Bhagavadgita, the Ramayana and the sacred literature of Buddhism. Schlegel wrote:

May Indic studies find as many disciples and protectors as Germany and Italy saw spring up in such great numbers for Greek studies in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, and may they be able to do as many things in as short a time. The Renaissance of antiquity promptly transformed and rejuvenated all the sciences; we might add that it rejuvenated and transformed the world. We could even say that the effects of Indic studies, if these enterprises were taken up and introduced into learned circles with the same energy today, would be no less great or far-reaching. (17)

August Wilhelm von Schlegel occupied the first chair of Sanskrit and Indology at the University of Bonn. (18) He was the first to publish standard-text editions with penetrating commentaries in classical Latin translations of the Bhagavadgita, Hitopadesha and the Ramayana. (19) Between 1820 and 1830 he published Indische Bibliothek, a collection of Indian texts. He is regarded as the founder of Sanskrit philology in Germany. His unrestrained praise for the Upanishads and especially for the Bhagavadgita elicited this fervent remark:

If the study of Sanskrit had brought nothing more than the satisfaction of being able to read this superb poem in the original, I would have been amply compensated for all my labors. It is a sublime reunion of poetic and philosophical genius. (20)...
There are many other eminent German Sanskritists who delved into the meaning of the Vedanta and published translations, catalogues of Sanskrit manuscripts and accomplished brilliant Vedic studies. Although they are worthy of mention together with German Indologists, whose more recent scholarship indicates their primary focus on Sanskrit along with recent studies of modern Indian languages, we are unable to include them. Indology is stronger in Germany than in any other Western country today. We encourage the reader who wants to learn more of the dependable works of scholarship that came from Germany to read the present author’s book, Journey of the Upanishads to the West.

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