Sunday, July 19, 2015

Raghuramaraju's "Philosophy and India Ancestors, Outsiders and Predecessors" (Oxford; 2013; Rs 495) delivers quite a few good punches


Modern Indian intellectuals of the last 40 years hate philosophy per se because it requires hard thinking. That is why, we have Marxist economists, Marxist political scientists but no Marxist philosophers. Similarly, we have political scientists but no political philosophers. The few philosophers that there are busy talking about the philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi as though he was a great thinker and about Rabindranath Tagore, the eminent poet who had many things to say about many things but who was no philosopher as such. Then there are those who have been talking about the philosophy of Ramakrishna Paramahamsa (no philosopher), Swami Vivekananda (no philosopher), Ramana Maharshi (no philospher). Sri Aurobindo was a philosopher in the sense that he thought but his thoughts were so obtuse and messianic that it needs a bold and clear-thinking scholar to deconstruct his thoughts. India's only philosopher was Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, but he is disliked by professional philosophers for valid and invalid reasons. Is B.R.Ambedkar a philosopher, Buddhist or otherwise,is a question that needs to be raised. Ambedkar had brilliant analyses of the politics of and economy of India but that does not make him a philosopher just as Jawaharlal Nehru's delightful Autobiography, Discovery of India and Glimpses of World History does not make him a historian. Mahatma Gandhi's "Hind Swaraj" is a brilliant political manifesto, which needs to be discussed as part of India's political thought but he does not become a philosopher. His morality in politics and in his personal and spiritual journey makes him an interesting personality but he cannot be elevated to the level of a thinker. Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Confessions are very interesting but it is not philosophy. Rousseau's Social Contract is again a brilliant political tract but it does not become a philosophical text.

It is against this disheartening background that A.Raghuramaraju's "Philosophy and India, Ancestors, Outsiders, and Predecessors"(Oxford) comes as a breath of fresh air. In this small book of 138 pages and seven chapters, apart from the Introduction and Conclusion. What is interesting in his views is that he is able to pose problems quite clearly, though his answers are not satisfactory. He seems to want to treat Gandhi and Ambedkar as some sort of philosophers. But overall, he is able to raise some key questions. He formulates one of them with enviable clarity: "While holding (Krishna Chandra) Bhattacharyya's critique of Kant in high regard, let me however add a caveat, namely, that there is a problem associated with Bhattacharyya, particularly in his attempt at fashioning a mode, or participating in an already existing fashion, in which Indian solutions are offered for Western problems.This, wittingly or unwittingly, makes the West a reservoir of problems and, correspondingly, the East, or India, a reservoir of solutions. More specifically, this merely inverts the view, which at the structural level was authored by the colonial discourse,in which India is the reservoir of problems and the West, that of solutions. What I find problematic is not so much the question of who is the reservoir of what but the very binary that underlies this formulation." (Chapter I Advaita to Kant).

Pressing on with the simile of "problems" and "solutions", he brings in Gandhi to counter the Bhattacharyya exercise: "The latter (Gandhi), unlike Bhattacharyya, generally refrained from using remedies from across the culture at the outset. For instance, Gandhi would see spritual Christianity as a solution to the material West, not Advaita or yoga, from India. Conversely, he would find internal resources to overcome or eliminate evils in Indian society, like untouchability relating to caste." It is an interesting comparison but a wrong one. Bhattacharyya was dealing in the realm of ideas and thought, while Gandhi was dealing with practical issues. It is possible to compare the system of Advaita with the Kantian one though not in the spirit of establishing one's own superiority. As a matter of fact, even this attitude of superiority is acceptable because that is how proponents of different systems of thought in India contended with each other. As a matter of fact, Raghuramaraju critiques the Bhattacharyya's critique of Kant saying that Bhattacharyya was offering an epistemological solution to Kant's ontological problem. The interlude about Gandhi and others was interesting but it was strictly out of bounds for the philosophical argument.

Raghuramaraju's critique of B.K.Matilal is quite bold where Matilal tries to place the Mahabharata in the context of moral philosophy. Raghuramaraju quotes Matilal: "The moral dilemmas presented in the Mahabharata are in some sense universal, for most of them can be effectively used even today to illustrate arguments in moral philosophy..." He counters Matilal's view quite well: "First, the move to put the epic to a merely ethical use is a problematic one; the epic has a larger task. It is necessary to explore a more complex relationship between the epic and ethics. While Matilal may not deny such a relationship, the problem with his philosophical project is that in his preoccupation or mere obsession with modern Western philosophy he does not make use of this complex relationship between epic and ethics." (Chapter 3. Epic for Ethics).

But his critique falls to the ground when he wants to use the modern Telug play of Gurajada Appa Rao, Kanyasulkam, to discuss the moral dilemmas embedded in the Mhabharata. He thinks that Girisham in the play is Krishna, Saujnya Rao is Yuddhishtira. He refers to the discussion on Bhagavadgita in the play as the basis for arguing that the play is the epic in disguise. The argument falls to the ground because the play has its own internal dynamic and the echoes from Mahabharata to be found in it are not its mainstay.

In the last two chapters, Buddhism in Hinduism, and Buddhism in Indian Philosophy, Raghuramaraju revisits an old and familiar question, focusing on the views of Ananda Coomaraswamy, Radhakrishnan, Ambedkar and T.V.R.Murti. They make for stimulating reading. Ambedkar's view do not hold water because he speaks from the point of view of a political polemicist and he has no genuine interest in the subject. Raghuramaraju quotes Ambedkar as saying: "...Bhagavad Gita seems to be deliberately modelled on Buddhist Suttas. The Buddhist Suttas are dialogues. So is the Bhagavad Gita. Buddha's religion offered salvation to women and Shudras, Krishna also comes forward to offer salvation to women and Shudras. Buddhists say, I surrender to Buddha, to Dhamma and to Sangha.'So Krishna says, 'Giive up all religions and surrender unto Me.'No parallel can be closer than what exists between Buddhism and the Bhagavad Gita." It is an interesting argument but it is neither philosophical or historical. But Raghuramaraju feels that Ambedkar's intervention in the Hinduism-Buddhism debate is important. He fails to mention that this is not at the philosophical level. The philosophical debate was maintained by Radhakrishnan and Murti. It is necessary to exclude both Gandhi and Ambedkar out of the philosophical debates, and this does not imply any disrespect to their intellectual capacities. Both of them had brilliant minds, but they used to fight political battles. They had no interest in the battle of ideas qua battle of ideas.

1 comment:

Parsa Rao said...

Realm of ideas and thought. Practical issues. What is Philosophy for ? To deal the two independently and feel happy ? Should not the realm of Ideas and Thought find solutions to practical issues ? If the answer is a NO then all Philosophy is bogus egoistic excercize to make the Philosopher an Ahankari, egoist par excellence .

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