Sunday, July 27, 2014

Nikam takes Sri Aurobindo to have successfully refuted māyāvāda

Christian Coseru on 26 July 2014 at 7:01 pm said: 
One thing worth noting about Aurobindo is the close association between him (and his ashram) and many pre-independence academic philosophers active in the Indian Philosophical Congress. As is well-known, the IPC even felt the need to hold a special session (at Almaner in 1950) on whether Aurobindo had refuted māyāvāda by shifting the emphasis from ‘illusion’ (māyā) to ‘play’ (līlā). Opinions seem to have been mixed, but nonetheless they reflect the seriousness accorded to Life Divine even outside Advaita (and neo-Advaita) intellectual circles. Hard to assess to what extent that is still the case today.
Garfield and Bhushan have an informative essay on this topic (‘Bringing Brahman Down to Earth’) that prefaces the papers read at that session of the IPC (by Indra Sen, N.A. Nikam, H Chaudhuri, and G. R. Malkani). Check out their recent anthology on Indian Philosophy in English. Definitely worth a read ( ).

Nikam’s essay, I think, sums it best: “Between the Māyāvāda of Śaṅkara and the Līlāvāda of the Life Divine, there is a Major Premise which is common to both. Māyāvāda says:
The world is a dream
Dreams are unreal
Therefore, the world is unreal.

The Līlāvāda of Life Divine says:
The world is a dream,
dreams are real.
Therefore, the world is real.”

Nikam takes Aurobindo to have successfully refuted māyāvāda, and offers an interesting outline of the new metaphysical theory:
“(i) In sleep, the waking activities are in abeyance, but the “inner consciousness is not suspended but enters into new inner activities.”
(ii) the whole of this inner activity we do not remember, we remember only what is near the surface.
(iii) near the surface there “an obscurer subconscious element which is a builder” (e.g. “dream-builder”).
(iv) but behind it is the “subliminal” self which is the totality of our inner being and consciousness…”

From this analysis, he concludes (by noting, in passing, the regressive nature of the dream argument) that the meaning of ‘dream’ has changed such that one can now even substitute the Cartesian cogito with something like “I dream, therefore, I exist”!
I’m no scholar of Aurobindo either, but it’s creative appropriations like these that served as a vehicle for modernity in India in the early decades of the last century (with, one may add, varying political consequences).
It’s also appropriations like these that got the likes of Matilal and Daya Krishna to build entire careers arguing that rationalism is the de facto core of Indian philosophy, or D. P. Chattopadhyaya to claim that the only living strand of Indian philosophy is in fact materialism!
The goal these days, of course, is a lot more modest as most everybody grapples with an ever wider range of problems (error theory, disjunctivism, the problem of other minds, arguments against physicalism, critiques of foundationalism, etc.). That’s certainly progress, but it’s not the one I articulate in my initial query.

I, for one, am just as baffled by this notion that the best and perhaps only way to do Indian philosophy is to do exegesis of antique positions in that bhāṣya, vṛtti, vārttika, and ṭīkā vein. Or, worse, use the same antiquated vocabulary and stylistic devices of the original thinkers with more than just a hint of nostalgia for the good old ways before the (ill-fated) advent of modernity. We’re not doing Indian philosophy to promote Hinduism (or Buddhism) but to pursue knowledge and understanding. Or are we? Last time I checked Jay Garfield is not Bob Thurman, and Jonardon Ganeri is not T. M. P. Mahadevan.

Amod Lele on 5 August 2014 at 12:09 pm said:
I remain boggled that anyone can try to take this approach. Far as I can tell, if you remove anything that can be described as “religious concerns” from Indian philosophy, there’s nothing of importance left. Sure, there are some technical debates on epistemology, but first you do interpretive violence to them, and second, it’s hard to see why anyone would care.
Though there are moments when I’m tempted to argue the same about Western philosophy. Once people get hostile to “religion”, hostility to philosophy is usually not far behind.
Once one has arrived at a position, presumably one wishes to defend it, whatever position that is. If one does believe that a Buddhist position is the truest one, then one would be intellectually dishonest to pretend otherwise; to acknowledge one’s belief in such a case is surely not to relinquish one’s title as philosopher. It is pretty clear to me that Daniel Dennett and John Rawls have clearly staked out doctrinal positions that they wish to defend. Are we therefore not to call them philosophers?