Toward a New Picture of Indian Philosophy: Daya Krishna on Historiography
Prof. Dr. Daniel Raveh
Tel Aviv University.
A picture once built is difficult to dismantle.
(Daya Krishna, New Perspectives in Indian Philosophy, 5)
Has not India had a long tradition of science, astronomy, medicine, linguistics, everything? No, we have built temples. But temples cannot be built without knowledge of engineering, knowledge of materials, knowledge of metals, knowledge of everything.
(Daya Krishna, Civilizations: Nostalgia and Utopia, 95)
Fences keep us safe, and fences hold us back. We are not always sure which it is.
Fences come to define us. They define our boundaries and limitations, our fears and our inhibitions, our hopes and our desires.
We come to rely upon fences. We get used to them. We fall in love with them. We take them for granted, and fail to realize that they exist.
(Sonia Weiner, f-e-n-c-e-s)
When Don Quixote went out into the world, that world turned into a mystery before his eyes. That is the legacy of the first European novel to the entire subsequent history of the novel. The novel teaches us to comprehend the world as a question. There is wisdom and tolerance in that attitude.
(Milan Kundera in an interview appended to The Book of Laughter and Forgetting)
1. “Six plus three”
In a recent visit at the department of philosophy of an esteemed Indian university, I met the professor in charge of Indian philosophy. The segregation of “Indian philosophy” is always a surprise, especially in Indian universities (In departments of philosophy in the West, non-Western philosophy is usually ignored altogether under the pretext that is not “really philosophy”). His colleagues teach not “Western philosophy”, but “aesthetics”, “ethics”, “phenomenology” etc., drawing solely on Western sources from Plato to Sartre. Why can’t Indian philosophical sources, or non-Western sources become part of these philosophical themes? I was interested to know what was taught under the title “Indian philosophy”, imagining that a blend of all these themes, drawing on Indian sources from the Upaniṣads to contemporary Indian philosophy. The professor whom I met seemed surprised at my question, and answered “I teach the six plus three, what else?”, referring to the classical darśanas, or schools of Indian philosophy, “orthodox” and “non-orthodox” (his articulation, which is the common translation of the notions of āstika and nāstika). What about Daya Krishna’s (DK’s) critique of the division into schools, and of their blind classification into āstika versus nāstika within a framework that ensures that the former category outshines the latter (well at least mathematically, six against three), I asked. And moreover, what about the appropriation of Patañjali of the Yogasūtra and Īśvarakṛṣṇa of the Sāṃkhyakārikā, who reject the authority of the scriptures, in YS 1.6-7 and SK 2 respectively, into the category of āstika which is about acceptance of the Veda? The professor, friendly and pleasant, smiled. “Daya Krishna was a great man”, he said (and spoke to me of his personal acquaintance with him), “but very provocative”. I heard this excuse before, and the phrase “provocative” as justifying the fact that DK’s critique is brushed aside and the old narratives prevail. It reminded me of the presidential address delivered by the president of the Indian Philosophical Congress for that year, at Magadh University, Bodhgaya, several years ago, to which I was listening with an audience of young students. The speaker projected Indian philosophy as spiritual, and its Western sister not just as rooted in the worldly, but as materialistic, even hedonistic, forgetting the multivocality of each of the two schematizations, “Indian philosophy” and “Western philosophy”. It was the typical “ātman, brahman, mokṣa” type of talk. The students around me were not interested. Connected to the internet through their cellular phones, bored by dogmatic talks such as the one delivered here, and curious about “real philosophy”, not empty slogans, they quench their thirst through services such as “Google Books” and Youtube.com. They are acquainted with current trends in philosophy (for the speaker at Bodhgaya there is no “current”, only “past continuous”), and they hardly care about the spirituality/materiality distinction, realizing (they told me) that both exist together everywhere. They are doomed, still, to study about the “six plus three”, and therefore prefer classes in Western, religion-free, philosophy. (This does not mean that there are no religious threads in Western philosophy, especially classical, but these threads are not projected in the classroom as the crux of the matter). These students, my fellow listeners at Magadh University, are the right readers for DK’s writings, DK whom they probably did not hear of, since their “six plus three” teachers do not include him in their syllabi. I think of them as I write these lines.
I will open with a short analysis of and dialogue with two complementing papers by DK, “Emerging New Approaches in the Study of Classical Indian philosophy” (1993) and “Toward a Field Theory of Indian Philosophy: Suggestions for a New Way of Looking at Indian Philosophy” (1998). Then, we will make a quick visit to one of DK’s unique writings, Indian Philosophy: A New Approach (1997). It is unique in the sense that DK’s leaves his usual position of the pūrvapakṣin, or the questioner, challenging, taking issue, revealing the weaknesses of a text or a philosophical stand, and instead taking upon himself the role of the siddhāntin (the “positive” writer, not the “negative” critic), writing an introduction to Indian philosophy, an alternative textbook, devoid of the “syndromes” and the “myths” that he usually criticizes, brimming with questions. The book, like other writings of DK, is hardly known, and I do not know of any introductory course to Indian philosophy, in which the book is standard reading. The picture sketched in this alternative textbook is hardly “standard”, which makes it an intriguing departure point for any discussion of Indian philosophy. Finally, I will visit one of DK’s last attempts at Saṃvād, namely philosophical encounter-engagement-dialogue with classical pandits, rooted in the Sanskritic tradition of philosophizing, published first on the pages of the Journal of the Indian Council of Philosophical research (JICPR), and later included in his book Discussion and Debate in Indian Philosophy: Vedānta, Mīmāmsā and Nyāya (2004). This Saṃvād opens with DK’s paper “Vedānta in the first Millenium AD: The Case Study of a Retrospective Illusion Imposed by the Historiography of Indian Philosophy” (1996), where he questions the dominance of Vedānta in the first millennium, and suggests (dares to suggest) that there is hardly any textual evidence for the presence of Vedānta between the Brahamasūtra and Śaṅkara, and even several hundred years after the famous Ācārya (besides his direct disciples). I will spotlight DK’s unconventional method of investigating into the history of ideas in India, discuss the responses of his traditionalist interlocutors, and conclude with DK’s response to their responses in yet another paper, one his sharpest, titled “The shock-proof, Evidence-Proof, Argument-Proof World of Sāṃpradāyika Scholarship of Indian Philosophy” (2000). The phrase “sāṃpradāyika scholarship” refers to thinking in terms of saṃpradāyas, schools of thought, the abovementioned “six plus three”. The discussion here includes issues of hegemony: first, the pertinent question to whom does history belong, or who dictates the historical narrative; and second, hegemony and language, namely what is a “valid” use of classical philosophical terminology, and what is “legitimate”, “illegitimate”, “creative” or “farfetched” in reading (or misreading) a given text. This saṃvād will be an occasion to estimate DK’s Saṃvād Project at large. The project brought together pandits and professors, namely philosophers thinking and writing in Sanskrit, and their brothers trained in the sister tradition of the European, or Western philosophy, for discussion and debate on a variety of philosophical topics, from issues in philosophy of language to philosophical exploration of emotions. The specific Saṃvād to be discussed here, which is all about historiography, is relevant to the present-day discourse of “post-truth”, that if detached from Trump, Trumpism and politics (but not from the political), raises pertinent questions about the materials which comprise of our gaze, and which shape the frames in which we live. The content of these frames we refer to as “facts”, or even “truth”. The Saṃvād to be discussed here is intended, then, to reveal the “backstage” of our thinking-habits.
2. Emerging, Toward
In the opening paragraph of “Emerging New Approaches in the Study of Classical Indian philosophy”, DK writes:
Indian Philosophy by and large has been treated up to now in an antiquarian spirit, something belonging to past history which has not relevance to current concerns of philosophical thought in the world. […] The intellectual and cultural domination of the West, as well as the establishment of educational institutions on Western models ensured that the paradigmatic model about philosophy and what is to count as philosophical are determined by the West. Also, as English is the language of both national [i.e. the Indian] and international intellectual life […] a scholar who cannot read, write or speak in English is invisible in the philosophical scene during the course of this century in India. […] This has happened surprisingly even in such an area of study as Indian philosophy, where a large mass of significant material continues to be written in Sanskrit and other regional languages of the country. (1993, 69-70)
It is implied here that for DK, Indian philosophy does not belong to the past, to history, to antiquity. It is alive, dynamic, drawing on its past and on other pasts, of other thinking traditions, and written in dialogue with other contemporary philosophical discourses. DK’s grand project of reading classical Indian texts anew, afresh, is all about rejecting the view that Indian philosophy belongs to the museum of ideas. He is hardly taken by nostalgia, by “the wonder that was” approach. The tradition itself acknowledges development and renewal in phrases such as Navya-Nyāya, “new Nyāya”, pertaining to a works of thinkers such as Gaṅgeśa, Raghunātha (DK refers to him as Raghunātha the rebel” in a chapter dedicated to his thought in his Indian Philosophy: A New Approach), Mathurānātha, Jagadīśa and Gadādhara (12th century, 16th century, 17th century, 17th century and 17th century, respectively). DK wrote a whole monograph titled Developments in Indian Philosophy from the Eighteenth Century Onwards (2002), on change and renewal in Indian philosophy in the last three centuries, with chapters dedicated to new strands in Mimāṃsā, Sāṃkhya and Yoga, Nyāya, Dharma-Śāstra, Alaṅkāra-Śāstra and Jaina philosophy. Another chapter of this monograph is dedicated to the controversy between Advaitin and non-Advaitin within the framework of Vedānta in the historical period at hand. Two other chapters are titled New perspectives in looking at the classical traditions of Indian philosophizing in Indian terms” and “Development in Indian philosophy since the coming of the British”. The former chapter is an attempt to contribute in the direction of becoming free from European definitions, frames and concepts imposed on Indian philosophy, both by resurrecting old Indian terms and frames, and creating new ones. This is a chapter in decolonizing knowledge, a chapter in creating a new language for philosophizing. As usual, DK prefers the dynamic verb over nonmoving noun, philosophizing instead of philosophy. The latter chapter includes a discussion, first of its kind, of Twentieth-century Indian philosophy as he sees it, including a singular analysis of the philosophical work of Krishnachandra Bhattacharyya (KCB). Commonly seen as a neo-Advaitin, or as interweaving Advaita with Kantian philosophy, KCB is portrayed by DK as a neo-Sāṃkhyan, striving toward “the pure subject” through what he refers to “inverted Hegelian dialectic”. “KCB”, DK explains, “moves through what may be called a process of de-identification, where each step of de-identification reveals the earlier identification to have been both voluntary and mistaken” (2002, 297). But DK is does not merely depict what he sees as the crux of KCB’s philosophical project, but responds and takes issue with his move. “KCB”, he further writes, “is in a hurry to reach the subject as freedom, forgetting that the real life of the subject as freedom is in the phenomenology of identification and de-identification, along with creation and dissolution of worlds, and not only in the complete withdrawal of the spirit into itself, without any correlate world at all with which to relate or to withdraw from.” (2002, 298). DK current move – and I use the word “move” since I imagine DK as a Chess player, moving conceptual pieces on the philosophical board – in defense of the world and the worldly, is illustrative of his broader attempt, throughout his oeuvre, to retrieve the phenomenal and objective, the corporeal and the material, both at the level of philosophical narrative, and at the experiential level of life and living in the world. DK in my eyes is both a theorist and an activist. He is not interested in the beyondness of the spiritual experience until and unless it has a transformative effect on the here and now. KCB forgets, DK the theorist suggests, that the act of identification is as much an act of freedom as the act of de-identification, and moreover, he has not thought of the possibility of a freer re-identification after de-identification, of the return which follows the withdrawal. As much as he is an inspiration for DK, in working afresh with old philosophical materials, at the bottom-line KCB is a mokṣa-thinker, and DK’s endeavor is to show that there is more, much more in Indian philosophy, than the metaphysic horizon of mokṣa.
Two more issues are raised by DK in the opening passage if “Emerging New Approaches”, which I quoted above, first his claim that Western models and standards determine the standard, coomon picture of Indian philosophy, and second the over-dominance of English. The portrayal of Indian philosophy as mokṣa-centered, DK suggests, which he sees as too narrow to cover the multifacetedness of the age-long thinking traditions folded together under the umbrella of “Indian philosophy”, is Western through and through. In his Shimla Lectures, he explains:
I suggest that this picture, taken by some as self-evident, is a build-up of the eighteenth century onwards. In the nineteenth century it was further built both by the West and by us. These so-called contrasts between India and the West are presented by Radhakrishnan in his book Eastern Religions and Western Thought. Imagine! We have no thought at all! What a condemnation of our civilization, what a suppression; India is full of thought! […] He should have contrasted Western thought with Indian thought. There is power in Indian thought, and it has the capacity of confronting Western thought. It should! (2012, 99)
DK’s talk was delivered at the Rashtarapati Niwas, formerly the Viceregal Lodge, in Shimla, which served as the summer capital of British India, a symbolic site for a lecture culminating with the roar “There is power in Indian thought”. This message echoes throughout DK’s writings. Here he targets Radhakrishnan’s title, which internalized the Western picture of the West as rational, India as spiritual, or to borrow a metaphor from Karl Popper (even if he uses it in a totally different context in his famous Arthur Holly Compton Lecture, 1965), the West and India as “clocks” and “clouds” respectively. DK smashes this stigma, first by highlighting non-religious centers, texts and thinkers within Indian philosophy, and second by pointing at religious or spiritual elements in Western (Greek, European) philosophy. His emphasis on non-religiosity in Indian philosophy includes both “pure reason” in India, for instance in his monograph The Nyāya Sūtras: A New Commentary on an Old Text (2004), and what he refers to in the title of one of his major works as “Classical Indian Thought about Man, Society, and Polity (1996). On the hidden, or even suppressed religious features of Western philosophy, DK speaks in his Shimla Lectures (2005). Here he shoots his arrows at the myth about rationality as the core of the Western civilization (the parallel myth is spirituality as the core of the Indian civilization). Western philosophy, this myth, or narrative, or agenda-driven picture implies, begins with the pre-Socratics who surmised “everything is ______” (water, air, apeiron) – the abstractization “everything” anticipating the philosophical temperament – followed by Socrates/Plato, Aristotle and Descartes. Yes, Aristotle, then Descartes. The two millennia between them is leaped over with a blink. “Mathematics and Aristotle's logic”, DK suggests,
have become the paradigm examples of what the Western civilization considers itself to be rooted in. This is what the West puts in the foreground, and it forgets everything else. Imagine! The last four thousand years of the Western civilization have been built on a vast forgetfulness, a vast act of repression. This act of repression is not merely of the Greco-Roman history, of the Stoics and the Epicureans, of thinking after Aristotle, but also of almost the whole of Christianity. The whole thing has been sidelined by saying that this is theology. No other civilization in the past has put aside and suppressed so much of it. (2012, 94)
In his paper “Aristotle and the Roots of Western Rationality” (1992, presented at the at the East-West conference at Mount Abu, Rajasthan, January 1990), Mukund Lath, joins DK in refuting the myth about the rational West versus spiritual India. “There is a strange idea”, Lath writes,
which deserves to be called a cultural myth, though presented in a rational, scientific garb, that is dominant in the thinking of the West concerning society and culture. The idea is that the culture of the West is distinguished from all other cultures in being rational. […] This idea has almost the status of a proved mathematical theorem for some, and is an unquestioned dogma for many, not only in the West, but also among the “educated” in other cultures too, who have been socialized into Western modes of thought. (1992, 55)
Lath lets the political cat, implied in DK, out of the bag, speaking as he does of rationality as the feature which is supposed to distinguish the West from other cultures. It is rationality, Lath suggests, which grants the West, in Western eyes of course, a sense of superiority over “the other”, which in Western eyes again is seen as irrational or at least less rational. “The whole scheme”, Lath adds, “of stacking societies and cultures under the labels of “modern”, “traditional”, “primitive” etc., so central to Western thought is based on this criterion”. Here I recall Bryan Van Norden’s recent book Taking Back Philosophy: A Multicultural Manifesto (2017), and one specific quote in particular, a quote from Immanuel Kant, the Urim and Thummim of Western Rationality. “The Hindus”, he writes,
have a strong degree of calm, and all look like philosophers. That notwithstanding, they are much inclined to anger and love. They thus are educable in the highest degree, but only to the arts and not to the sciences. They will never achieve abstract concepts. (from Kant’s Lectures on Anthropology, as quoted in Van Norden 2017)
I do not think that any commentary is needed here. Obviously Kant’s philosophy and his uninformed views about non-European, or non-Western cultures – which probably reflect the zeitgeist of place and era – should be distinguished. Back in Lath, he visits Aristotle’s central writings, The Nicomachean Ethics and Politics, to figure out the context of his famous maxim “man is a rational animal”, and to ascertain the connection between man as rational and political animal according to “the major guru of Western rational thought”, as he puts it. In Aristotle’s Politics, Lath finds a discussion of what he refers to as “two basic pairs among humans in which the one is incapable of existing without the other”. And he further elaborates on this finding, writing that,
These are the pairs of man-woman and master-slave. […] The man-woman is necessary for the continuance of mankind. Equally necessary is the other pair of maser and slave [….] the master is the man with intelligence, who can see ahead and decide what is to be done. The slave has bodily strength […] A single purpose unites them into a single, necessary whole” (1992, 58).
First, it is intriguing to see that Lath, an Indian pandit, traditionalist, Sanskritist, goes as far as to read Aristotle’s writings “first hand”. This is of course an invitation for anyone rooted in Western philosophy to take the parallel visit to classical Indian texts. Second, as in the case of Kant above, one could argue that a distinction should be made between different “compartments” of the famous Greek philosopher, some still useful today, other representing the zeitgeist (I should have looked for a Greek term, I picked zeitgeist for Kant) of era and place, but hardly valid, interesting or relevant today. It is implied in Lath that the master-slave narrative in Aristotle can be seen as contributing to the ideology which led to colonial excursions, from Alexander of Macedonia, Aristotle’s alleged student, onwards. Along similar lines, it is implied in Jonardon Ganeri’s paper “Why philosophy must go global?” (2016) that European colonialism was (is?) driven by universalistic (Hegel?) philosophical agendas, that the colonizers sought to fulfil de-facto, geographically, politically. Ganeri’s move is both creative and effective. A student of Nyāya, he explains to the uninitiated reader that in classical Indian logic, “the most distinctive aspect is the fundamental importance given to the citation of an example, single cases said either to be similar or dissimilar to the topic at hand” (2016, 138). Hence the proverb “where there is smoke, there is fire” cannot be valid in Nyāya logic unless an example is given, “like in my kitchen”, for instance. This is to say that in this logic, “the standards are context-sensitive and localized, not absolute and universal”, as Ganeri accurately puts it. Now his move becomes clear: within logic hides ethics. If such is Nyāya logic, namely sensitive to details, “to the body of every case” (I translate a Hebrew phrase, the word “body”, “guf” in Hebrew, amplifying the attention given to each and every case), then it cannot be colonial logic, logic which supports and gives tailwind to colonial approach and action.
Now to the issue of English, the over-dominance of English, pointed at by DK in the paragraph quoted above, and in numerous other occasions. So much has been written on the subject. Should not an Indian thinker think-write in an Indian language? Or a Nigerian writer in a Nigerian language, as Ben Okri was straightforwardly asked at the Jaipur Literature Festival? This is what he has said in reply:
If you write about Africa and you're African, you really should do it in an African language. And that's fair. It's really self-evident, and there is really not much to say after that, except for one small problem, which is the problem of history. You know, history is what happens to us. Most of us did not choose what happened to them. […] We inherited the problem of language. The matrix of one's consciousness and its relation to reality was changed by the presence of this new language [English]. […] So the language problem is important on the one hand, and is a false problem on the other. Because the more essential problem, whether you write in an African language and whether you don't, is how to bend language, to make it as it were transparent to reality. […] The real problem is writing well; the real problem is to be able to see the richness and complexity of life itself, and then being able to translate that into stories, meditations, memoirs, long walks. The difficulty is writing well, and right now our job, as usual, is to write well. (Okri spoke at the JLF 2012 in the session “The Afropolitans”; I was there, and wrote down what he said).
Every word here is accurate: “That’s fair, self-evident”, “one small problem, history”, “the matrix of consciousness was changed”, and Okri’s conclusion “right now our job, as usual, is to write well”. DK would fully embrace this conclusion. But as a product of Macaulay's education system, he did feel “the burden of English”, and in the paragraph I quoted above, he highlights the place and significance of philosophizing in Sanskrit and “other regional languages of the country”, as he puts it. “If Sanskrit was dead like ancient Greek and Latin”, DK writes to a friend in a letter dated February 2006, “there would not be thousands of persons in this country, young and old, whose language of intellectual discourse is Sanskrit even now”. In the same letter, DK mentions the Saṃvād Project, that together with M.P. Rege, R.C. Dwivedi, Mukund Lath and others, he initiated and took active part in. A. Raghuramaraju, one of the only scholars who responded to and reflected on the Saṃvād Project, rightly writes that “Daya Krishna and others have initiated Saṃvāda to instill new life into contemporary Indian philosophy” (2013, 56). He further enumerates the different meetings under the umbrella of the project, from the first meeting in Pune (in July 1983), dedicated to Russellean logic in Naiyāyika and Mimāṃsaka eyes, to consecutive meetings focusing on issues in Nyāya (at Sarnath), Mimāṃsā (Tirupati), Kashmir Shaivism (Srinagar), Bhakti (Brindavan) and Indian Muslim philosophy (Aligarh, Hyderabad and Lucknow). DK speaks of the meetings with Ulema, classical scholars of Islam, “Muslim pandits” if you wish, as a rare occasion to figure out “the story of the transplantation of Arab philosophy into India and its independent treatment here” (1993, 80). Raghuramaraju does not mention DK’s final Saṃvād, the abovementioned Saṃvād which took place on the pages of the JICPR, and which later appeared as Discussion and Debate in Indian Philosophy: Vedānta, Mīmāmsā and Nyāya. This saṃvād was conducted in writing. There is an advantage in the spontaneity of a direct face to face meeting. In this respect, Elise Coquereau-Saouma (in a dissertation dedicated to DK’s Saṃvād Project, written these days at the University of Vienna) speaks of “breaking the ice between thinking-communities, overcoming prejudices, letting go of frozen pictures”. The ice metaphor connects with Sonia Weiner’s fences (see epigraph). “Fences keep us safe, and fences hold us back”, she writes perceptively. The merit of the “present personal” is that it has the capacity to cut through fences, both conceptual and psychological. But writing has its own merits. It allows more time to look deeper into the other’s view, argument or query, and to shape one’s own response in detail. In Discussion and Debate in Indian Philosophy, the procedure is that a full paper, in each of the philosophical disciplines that the book covers, namely Vedānta, Mimāṃsā and Nyāya, was sent to specialists, or insiders, or pandits in each of these disciplines, for discussion and debate. In each case, the initial paper, their elaborate responses and a final word by the author of the initial paper, responding to their responses, were presented together before the readers. It was primarily the age factor that dictated the written form of this saṃvād, many of the participants could no longer travel at ease. It was a last round of saṃvād for a unique generation of thinkers, rooted in their respective thinking-tradition but open and eager for dialogue with other traditions.
In retrospect, each of the saṃvāda-rounds, even the final written one, are conceptual trips. I speak of trips, first since the meetings took place in different corners of India, from Srinagar in the north to Tirupati in the south (the story of the Saṃvād Project can be told as the “Daya Krishna Digvijaya”). A conceptual trip, like any other trip, is driven by curiosity and brims with a sense of discovery. One leaves the familiar and the known, and explores new landscapes. Ramchandra Gandhi, DK’s contemporary and another significant figure in the world of contemporary Indian philosophy, suggests (in his intriguing essay “What is it like to be God?”, 2011, 99-102) that hard philosophical questions, like his title-question in the present case (an “impossible question” which he explores in his usual creative way), are to be looked into “trusting the authority of curiosity”, as he puts it. That curiosity has power we all know, but Ramchandra Gandhi goes as far as implying that it has an authority of its own, and moreover, that this authority can be trusted in one’s intellectual voyages to unknown regions, when one hardly knows whom or what to trust. I find Ramchandra Gandhi’s articulation inspiring. Another concept, which stands at the center of his work, namely hospitality, primarily in the intellectual sense of hospitality to ideas (see his essay Sītā’s Kitchen, 1992, which I read as a manifesto for hospitality), is also fruitful if we attempt to understand the Saṃvād Project. Ramchandra Gandhi is interested in a kitchen-type, or rasoī-type of dialogue as he puts it. Brot and pain – “bread” in German and French respectively – “intend the same object”, Walter Benjamin perceptively notes in his essay “The Task of the Translator”, “but the modes of this intention are not the same”. Hence, “the word brot means something different to the German than the word pain to the Frenchman” (1999, 74). In the same way, rasoī and kitchen mean something different for the Englishman and the Hindi-speaking Indian. The warmth and intimacy of the rasoī, with its wood-fire and cūlhe ka khānā and its function as a “site” of hospitality, attribute meaning to the metaphor “rasoī-type of dialogue”. In DK, the dialogue which is the heart of the Saṃvād Project is all about hospitality. Both in the practical sense that he (with his colleagues trained in Western tools of philosophizing, but working with these tools on Indian philosophical materials, and with suitcases full of questions) traveled to and stayed with the Mimāṃsakas at Tirupati, the Naiyāyikas at Sarnath/Varanasi, Swami Lakshmanjoo at Srinagar, Shri Shrivatsa Goswami in Brindavan etc. DK was simultaneously guest and host. As guest, he visited the pandits in their own “place”, both physically and philosophically. As host, he invited them to participate in a broader philosophical discourse, which as editor of the JICPR (from 1990 until his death in 2007) he was in power to shape. To keep the dialogue with the pandits alive, he was contemplating to broaden the scope of the JICPR, a journal of philosophy in English, as to also accept for publication papers in Sanskrit, an initiative which could not materialize owing to his premature demise. But DK was also a host in the sense that the meetings with the pandits, face to face and in writing, influenced and became part of his own thinking, writing, philosophizing.
“Saṃvāda”, DK writes in the preface of Discussion and Debate in Indian Philosophy,
was the first experiment of this type [… which] brought the active practitioners of the two philosophical traditions, the Indian and the Western, in a dialogical situation where each was forced to existentially face the living tradition of a different way of philosophizing. (2004, xiii)
It is interesting to notice that he speaks of “two philosophical traditions, the Indian and the Western”. The same distinction is made in the full title of his abovementioned work Developments in Indian Philosophy from the Eighteenth Century Onwards: Classical and Western. The term “classical” refers to the work of the pandits, in Sanskrit. The word “Western” refers, he explains in his introduction, to the work of “those who have written in the English language after the coming of the British, and have obviously been influenced by the Western traditions of philosophizing which they were exposed to by their education” (2002, 11). For DK, further reading in his introduction reveals, the developments in what he refers to as “Indian philosophy: Western” refer both to work in English on Indian and Western sources. The latter case, he writes, meaning work on Western sources, “may be seen as a branching-off and an important development of the Western philosophical tradition in a new intellectual and cultural setting”. “It has not of course been seen in this way”, he adds soberly (2002, 12). Under this category, take for example contemporary work on Kant in India. “India’s attitude Kant was always independent of Kant’s attitude towards India”, Arindam Chakrabarti suggests in his paper “Kant in India”, presented at the 8th International Kant Congress. “The Critique of Pure Reason”, he writes, “and the Groundwork of Metaphysics of Morals have been absolutely central to the philosophy curricula all over India for at least 125 years” (1995, 1281). Chakrabarti firther suggests that “No modern Indian philosopher understood and explained Kant and Vedānta more creatively than Krishnachandra Bhattacharyya”, and comments that “in his canonical paper (like Frege’s “On Sense and Reference” and Quine’s “Two Dogmas”) “The Concept of Philosophy” – where KCB puts forward his Tractatus-like view that philosophy is self-evident elaboration of the self-evident, and not a body of judgements – Kant, once again, is his reference-point” (1995, 1283). Chakrabarti further highlights the contribution of N.V. Banerjee, R.K. Gupta, P.K. Sen and Sundara Rajan, all “first class philosophers”, to the study of Kant and for thinking with and from Kant. The merit of Chakrabarti is that he writes philosophy, not on philosophy, hence his engagement with each of these five Indian Kantians in worth looking into, even if it is beyond my present discussion. In the few sentences that I quoted from him, Chakrabarti compares KCB to Frege, Quine and Wittgenstein (but not to Kant), to convince his Western audience – I presume – that KCB is a “real philosopher” with genuine contribution to study of Kant. The special number of the Indian Philosophical Quarterly, “200 Years of Kant” (2004), edited by Sahrad Deshpande, is again on Kant in India, and again illustrates what DK refers to as “a branching-off and an important development in a new intellectual setting” of Western philosophy. But DK’s category of “Indian philosophy: Western” also includes philosophical thinking and writing in English on Indian sources, yes, Indian philosophy in English.
(To be continued...)
Postscript: Daya Krishna and Western India
The only connection I can think of between DK and Western India, has to do with Jaipur, where he lived most of his life (born in Meerut, raised in Delhi, his first appointment was at Sagar University). In his paper “Thinking Creatively about the Creative Act”, DK writes:
When I think, I think in a particular language; I think in a particular tradition. I am situated somewhere in space and time and culture; I have friends and I have a life story. (1999, 23)
But in order philosophize, he completes his argument – and DK used to refer to philosophy as “the art of the conceptual”, hence philosophizing, for him, is an act of creativity – one must not be bound by these factors. Or to put it differently, but again in DK’s own words: for the sake of creativity, one needs to become free of, or to go beyond one’s “conceptual tradition”. Along the same lines Slavoj Žižek suggests that “every philosopher adopts this place of displacement. […] The fundamental message of philosophy says that you can immediately participate in universality, beyond particular identifications” (2009, 71-72). The how of the act of “going beyond” particular identifications in DK is deeply connected with the notion of dialogue (saṃvād is the term which he used to use), which he developed both in theory and practice (on his Saṃvād Project I wrote above).
However, regardless of the “distance”, or the “detachment” which he saw as the heart of the philosophical attempt (he spoke of niḥsaṅga-buddhi), DK had a warm corner for Jaipur. Jaipur transform into a metaphor in the title of his last project (completed in 2007, unpublished as yet), The Jaipur Edition of the Ṛgveda. DK took the Ṛgveda, the most revered text of the Indian tradition, and placed it under his magnifying-glass. After a close reading, he re-edited the text according to the ṛṣis and the ṛṣikās, that is, the poets to whom the sūktas or Vedic hymns are ascribed. By collecting the hymns composed by each ṛṣi and ṛṣikā (and DK was extremely attentive to the voice of the ṛṣikās, the women-ṛṣis), otherwise scattered in the different maṇḍalas, he sought to reveal an unnoticed layer of the text. He therefore purchased big scissors, and started to literally cut and re-paste. He created a fascinating collage with far-reaching consequences to any “tradition text”. The Jaipur Edition of the Ṛgveda is a creative, playful, thought-provoking reader-text saṃvād. The title is not just a farewell homage to the city that DK loved, but metaphorically stands in contrast with the famous Poona Edition of the Mahābhārata. The Poona Edition of the great epic, also known as the “critical edition” of this text, prepared at the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute between 1919 and 1966, is a grand project. In her paper “Methodology of the Critical Edition of the Mahābhārata”, Saroja Bhate sings the praise of the project, which attempts, as she puts it, to “reconstruct the original through comparative analysis of more than a thousand manuscripts, both complete and incomplete, in eight scripts” (2014, 32-33). She acknowledges the variegation and diversity of the Mahābhārata tradition, and explains that today “we find ourselves in a grove of fig trees where it is difficult to locate the original, the father tree” (ibid. 31)”. The desire (or according to Bhate, the “urgent need”) to search for the original “was voiced, for the first time”, she says, “in the West, naturally because in India the text was approached with devotion and faith, and it hardly mattered whether one textual tradition agreed or disagreed with another” (ibid.)”. The search for the original, then, can be seen as fulfilment of a Western crave, rooted perhaps in the myth of the prophet receiving the revelatory “root-text”, or “text of texts”, from god himself. DK’s attempt in his Jaipur Edition of the Ṛgveda is altogether different. Working single-handedly with scissors, caśmā, and determination “to look at the classical traditions of Indian philosophizing in Indian terms”, as he puts it and as I quoted him above, he was hardly searching for the original. Moreover, unlike Bhate and the scholars at BORI, he did not think in terms of “contamination” (of the “original”) which needs to be “critically cleansed”. DK wanted to take the text, any text he worked on, in this case the Ṛgveda, forward. He was not driven by nostalgia, not even the “utopic nostalgia” which motivated the Poona Edition of the mahā-epic. “What usually attracts our attention”, he writes in “Thinking Creatively about the Creative Act”, “is the product of creativity and not the process of which it is the end result” (1999, 19). The task that he has taken upon his shoulders was to shift the attention from product to process. The text, for DK, is hardly sealed or frozen. It is open, and invites the reader as rewriter to “come on board” and contribute to its perennial authorship. DK sees the śruti as apauruṣeya, but not in the traditional sense of being authorless, but in the sense of being multi-authored, i.e. a mutual, collective, open-ended endeavor.
What is the connection between DK’s “text as a process” approach and Jaipur in the title of his final project? Jaipur for DK, “his Jaipur”, was a hub of experiment and dialogue. “The Jaipur Experiment”, which he established and took active part in, was an interdisciplinary forum which anticipated the later Saṃvād Project. It initiated, among other “experiments”, exchange of teachers between two neighboring University of Rajsathan and Rajasthan Sanskrit University, both in Jaipur. On the working method of the forum, DK writes in his paper “Thinking versus Thought: Strategies for Conceptual Creativity”, that,
To ask a new question is to disrupt the closed circle of accepted knowledge, and to open a new vista for thought. Asking a new question is, in a sense, an invitation to look at things anew. But normally, only certain questions are allowed or accepted within the existing frameworks, and those that depart from them are usually treated as eccentric or irrelevant. But once one sees that a new question is an opening to a new possibility for thought, one will not dismiss it so easily, or brush it aside. […] What one has to learn to cultivate is a sensitivity to questions, and the ability to think and feel into what lies behind the question. (1988, 49).
The Jaipur Experiment, then, was a laboratory of conceptual creativity. The test tubes of this unique laboratory were full of questions. And “questions”, as Vikram Chandra perceptively notes (in his novel Red Earth and Pouring Rain, 1995) “give birth only to other questions”. It was a laboratory of questions and questioning, not answers, and certainly not a place for any Capital-T Truths.
I would like to suggest that at the center of every visible city there is a figurative city, city of letters, which guides and effects it. As I use the phrase “city of letters”, I think of Italo Calvino's book Invisible Cities (1979). Here, the city, or cities in the plural, come into being through a dialogue, Calvino’s imaginary dialogue between Marco Polo and Kublai Khan, the great traveler and the mighty emperor. Khan's empire is too large for him to actually visit every nook and corner, and Marco tours it for him. However, as Emperor and readers listen to Polo, it becomes clear that he visits and describes “inner cities”, unknown and awaiting discovery as much as any city “out there” in the geopolitical world. I would like to further suggest that Jaipur in the title of DK’s final project is a lettered city, which comes into being through dialogue and is all about dialogue. But are lettered cities, invisible to the unpenetrating eye, not the real cities?
Tel Aviv, November 2018