October 04, 2006

The most original Neo-Hindu thinker

'India and Europe' by Wilhelm Halbfass by Debashish on Wed 27 Sep 2006 06:38 PM PDT Permanent Link Review of India and Europe by Wilhelm Halbfass. Reviewed by Debashish Banerji
One of the failures of "India and Europe" is Halbfass' inability to make these distinctions. There is clearly a heavier leaning towards Advaita Vedanta for drawing his examples and making his conclusions. What is under-stated by this is the hegemonic role played by Advaita Vedanta in Indian philosophical historiography, particularly in the formulations of Neo-Hinduism and Halbfass' participation in this history. An acknowledgement of this on the part of Halbfass would have enabled him to sort out the thinkers he has so often indiscriminately clubbed together. Indeed, Advaitin hierarchism is clearly at work in Vivekananda, Radhakrishnan and more recently, Chinmayananda, figures that can be classed as the transmitters of mainstream Neo-Hinduism, and more centrally related to Halbfass' consideration. Others such as Rammohun Roy, Debendranath and Rabindranath Tagore, Sri Aurobindo, etc. make only fuzzy contributions to his categorizations and are not granted the full attention they deserve in their alternate philosophical stances.

In his characterization of Sri Aurobindo, Halbfass does acknowledge the radical nature of his contribution. He echoes Hacker in calling him "the most original" Neo-Hindu thinker. He notes that Sri Aurobindo does not, unlike the others in his consideration, feel that the Hindu tradition has said its last word, or that his own "philosophy" is an apologetic re-statement of some or all sectarian interests of the past. However, he considers Sri Aurobindo's explorations of the ranges of mentality transcending human capacity and leading to the Supermind as speculative and does not have much to say about Sri Aurobindo's philosophical solutions. Unlike Sri Ramakrishna, Sri Aurobindo does not shy away from philosophizing. Moreover, in Halbfass' own characterization, Sri Aurobindo "clearly exceeds [Vivekananda] in intellectual and visionary power". What then is Sri Aurobindo's attitude to other sectarian soteriologies? Is it inclusivistic? And if so, does it embody the image of the ocean or that of the elephant's foot?

In his letters and talks regarding his personal experiences, in his writings on yoga (The Synthesis of Yoga) and in his major philosophical work (The Life Divine), Sri Aurobindo makes ample reference to both Indic and non-Indic soteriological systems of theory and practice. He does not prioritize Advaita over the theistic schools - in fact, if one were to consider the evolution of his own spiritual experience, the opposite would appear to be the case. On the other hand, it would be difficult to call his yoga or philosophy theistic. No pre-eminent place is given to any of the traditional deities in his teaching. But is Sri Aurobindo's Integral Advaitism, as the name itself suggests, a form of inclusivism? And if so, what form?

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