March 20, 2014

Breathtaking ambition vs. call to action

Amod Lele commented on The accidental Gītā in response to Tusar Nath Mohapatra:

Sri Aurobindo stressed that the Mahabharata and the Gita contain large scale interpolations. Sri Aurobindo’s Essays on the Gita is more famous for his response to other philosophical paths than a literal interpretation of the text. Moreover, care should be taken not to treat it as representative of Sri Aurobindo’s overall philosophy. [TNM55]

Tusar, why would you say it’s not representative of his overall philosophy?

Amod Lele commented on The accidental Gītā in response to Patrick S. O'Donnell:

It’s interesting to consider, with Robert Minor in his edited volume, Modern Interpreters of the Bhagavad Gita (1986), that the Gītā played a role in the struggle for Indian independence, as nationalist leaders cited the “exhortation to action” from Kṛṣṇa in their quest for swarāj. Annie Besant, president of the Theosophical Society in 1907, along [...]

Thanks, Patrick. I think it is an important point that the Gītā served well as a call to action at the time of independence.

Amod Lele commented on The accidental Gītā in response to daniele:

Amod, I like your Gītā course :-) It is also my feeling that the centrality of the Gītā has been downplayed in recent scholarship as a consequence of the excessive emphasis on it during the 19th and 20th century. I think it makes sense to mention Abhinavagupta’s commentary to the Gītā (and Rāmakaṇṭha’s one as [...]

Interesting – I had no idea Abhinavagupta’s commentary had been translated. It’s hard to find good translations of him in general.

I have thought more than once about doing a whole course entirely on Gītā commentaries. Between Śaṅkara, Rāmānuja, Abhinavagupta, Dnyaneshwar, Gandhi and Aurobindo you would have a ton of starkly different approaches. I’m not in a position to teach advanced courses right now, but I’d love to do that someday…

[Before Tilak and Gandhi wrote and spoke about it extensively, the Gita doesn’t seem to have had much sway in the nation. Today, we repose unquestioning faith in the text and hold it in the highest esteem. In this context, Desai asks us a very pertinent question: Does the Gita’s ‘slippery opportunism’ morally allow us Indians to be corrupt and complacent?]

Pratap Bhanu Mehta | Twitter@@pbmehta | March 19, 2014 I was teaching two texts back to back: Iqbal’s dazzling book, The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam, and Sri Aurobindo’s ambitious The Human Cycle. One of the questions emerging from the discussion was this. These are works of breathtaking ambition. They have a philosophy of history, they deeply engage with Western thinkers like Nietzsche and Bergson, they synthesise reason with other aspects of the human personality, and they wrestle with questions of community and humanity. They engage with the whole world.
But they do not engage the traditions adjacent to them. It is almost as if, except for a cursory reference to idolatry, Hindu thought does not exist for Iqbal, and Islam does not for Aurobindo.
This is all the more surprising because the philosophical ground they occupied, a discussion of being and reason, could have been amenable to such a dialogue. After all, both are talking to Nietzsche. Aurobindo was later to say that he could have engaged with Islam if he knew Persian, and that Sufi philosophy could perhaps provide a philosophical meeting ground. Sufism was, of course, precisely the philosophical stance Iqbal criticised.