May 30, 2015

Common misconception is that Indian philosophy is mystical

Hinduism is a combination of secular and sacred beliefs, rituals, daily practices and traditions that has evolved over the course of over two thousand years and embodies complex symbolism combining the natural world with philosophy. Hindu temples began as simple shrines housing a deity and by the time of the Hoysalas had evolved into well articulated edifices in which worshippers sought transcendence of the daily world. Hoysala temples were not limited to any specific organised tradition of Hinduism and encouraged pilgrims of different Hindu devotional movements. The Hoysalas usually dedicated their temples to Lord Shiva or to Lord Vishnu (two of the major Hindu gods), but they occasionally chose a different deity. Worshippers of Shiva are called Shaivas or Lingayats and worshippers of Vishnu are called Vaishnavas. While King Vishnuvardhana and his descendants were Vaishnava by faith,[6] records show that the Hoysalas maintained religious harmony by building as many temples dedicated to Shiva as they did to Vishnu.[7] Most of these temples have secular features with broad themes depicted in their sculptures.

Honestly, I don’t think most students know enough to have certain misconceptions anymore. The only common misconception is the idea that all of Indian philosophy is somehow mystical, and we have both Europeans and Indians to blame for that. It’s not hard to remove that either, by actually reading a text or two!
Also, and this is admittedly personal choice and sensibility: I am a bit wary of taking too much time away from discussing important Indian thinkers to engage in “shaming the West” sessions. Not that the latter aren’t warranted sometimes. I do point out to students how political and racial biases have prevented the full acceptance of Indian thinkers. (Incidentally, J. Barton Scott and Dan Flory have good papers on this on the APA Newsletter on Asian and Asian-American Philosophers that will be coming out soon, edited by Prasanta Bandyopadhyay and yours truly.) But, insofar as it is a course on Indian philosophy, I find off putting the idea that it is so important to systematically worry about Western misrepresentations that it warrants take time away from studying these great Indian thinkers on their own merits.
I tend to talk about misrepresentations as needed, sure, to clear away mistakes, but of course, a serious study of the Indian thinkers will do that, and better, will help students gain the capacity to illustrate such mistakes as they confront them. Not sure if I really answered your question. If not, please push me on it.

Graham Priest on why study Asian philosophy Posted on 24 May 2015 by elisa freschi1 Comment ↓
Graham Priest explains in a blog post why one should study “Eastern” philosophy (his label, probably because standard philosophy is in fact “Western” philosophy).
His post points to two reasons:
One better understands one’s own culture if one is confronted with another one 
There is progress in philosophy and new ideas can contribute to it, since progress does not arise ex nihilo. 
It is difficult not to agree. I had discussed Priest’s first point here and his second point here, while referring to an interview with Jay Garfield, and the posts have raised interesting discussions in the comments.

Two (or three) different narratives on Yoga, Mīmāṃsā, Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta etc. Posted on 30 May 2015 by elisa freschiNo Comments ↓
Some authors tend to think that once upon a time there was one Yoga and that later this has been “altered” or has at least “evolved” into many forms. According to their own stand, they might look at this developments as meaningful adaptations or as soulless metamorphoseis.
Other authors tend to think that there were several trends of Yoga prior to a given point (usually identified with the Yogasūtra (YS) if you agree with Chapple, etc., or with the Pātañjala Yogaśāstra (PYŚ) if you agree with Bronkhorst, Maas, etc.) and that they have been unified into a single system by the author of one or the other text. A long time after that, the same authors claim, new tendencies developed out of this unitary Yoga, much like in the way described by the authors of the fist group.
A minority group of authors contests the idea of a unitary Yoga at all and says that between the various things called Yoga in Classical and Post-Classical India there are at most family resemblances and at least nothing common at all. For these authors, it does not really make sense to host a conference on Yoga with people discussing Buddhist Tantric Yoga, Pāñcarātra Yoga, the Yogasūtra’s, contemporary Yoga practices and so on.
Who is right? Difficult to say. The point is that what we have are only fragments of the whole picture and that our interpretation of it will make us interpret some scattered pieces as belonging to the same puzzle or not. Accordingly, if we assume the first perspective, we will consider a form of Yoga which is far away from Patañjali’s YS (or PYŚ) as still somehow connected with it and detect slight similarities. If we assume the third perspective, we will rather notice the differences between the two.
Similar differences in approach can be detected in the case of Sāṅkhya (where the first scenario is ruled out by the data and scholars either subscribe to the second or to the third approach), Buddhism, the two Mīmāṃsās (Parpola embraces the first scenario, Bronkhorst the third one, there are no clear data in favour of the second one), the two schools of Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta and so on. In the latter case, in fact, I only know scholars subscribing to the first scenario. Mumme (1988) is aware of the fact that there were differences between the two schools even before the official split, but still calls them both Śrī Vaiṣṇava and says that they were “complementary”.

Shyam Ranganathan on 20 May 2015 at 4:20 pm said: Hi Amber
I would add that if you don’t draw a moral distinction between non human animals and human animals, the discussion of animals will generally be invisible and continuous with discussions of humans or persons. I read lots of Indian philosophy this way. The Yoga Sutra strikes me as an example of this kind of approach.
But there are some comments that stand out in my mind. I can’t remember the exact reference but Ramanuja in the Vedarthasamgraha talks about how the proper perspective on yourself is to understand yourself as essentially the same as other agents, whether they are an outcaste or a dog. I always found this a powerful criticism of casteism and speciesism. Yet, in his commentary on the Brahma Sutra, he defends the practice of Vedic animal sacrifices.
He claims that this practice does animals a favour of sending them up to a higher next birth. Shankara defends the practice at the same point in his commentary: III.i.25
Kumarila Bhatta similarly defends the practice in his defense of a deontology based on Vedic injunction. He further criticizes the idea that hedonism, teleology and suffering can be a criterion of moral action. (Slokavartika II.242-47)
What I find interesting in these Brahmanical accounts is that they do not deny the personhood of animals, so much as take up the challenge of justifying treating them differently than we would humans. Indeed, the apologetics only makes sense if we assume some type of background equality of animals. Otherwise, if animals were not persons, and lacked standing, we could do whatever we want with them, without having to justify our actions. That’s largely our way these days (clearly for the worse).

Chris Framarin on 20 May 2015 at 5:51 pm said: Hi Amber,
My recent book Hinduism and Environmental Ethics: Law, Literature, and Philosophy (Routledge) sums up many of the dominant arguments in the literature regarding the moral standing of animals (and plants and other entities) – such as arguments that animals have direct moral standing because they are interconnected with the rest of nature, because they are part of God, because they have an ātman, and so on. I evaluate these arguments and offer some new ones, drawing from the Yogaśāstra, Mahābhārata, and Manusmṛti. There I discuss the burning of the Khaṇḍava Forest in the Mahābhārata, Yudhiṣṭhira’s discussion with Bhīṣma about meat eating, and others. Hope this might be of some help, Chris

andrew ollett on 29 April 2015 at 6:27 pm said: 
Since someone brought up “The Lost Age of Reason” in the context of a different post: Ganeri mentions that Raghunātha Śiromaṇi interpreted “jagat” at the beginning of the Tattvacintāmaṇi to mean all of the varṇas, including women. This is an explicit claim about the inclusivity and accessibility of philosophy. The use of masculine pronouns isn’t, although we might extrapolate certain sociological conditions from their very unmarkedness (I myself don’t feel entitled to this kind of extrapolation—we barely know anything about Vātsyāyana, and yet we feel we can make sweeping judgments about the society in which he lived?). I don’t feel compelled to introduce feminine pronouns, even when the Sanskrit is gender-neutral, any more than I feel compelled to change “Devadatta” to “Jane Smith.” In case it needs to be said: I think that one can translate “paśyati” as “he sees” and still be a feminist in word and deed, because the battle of the pronouns (especially in translations of Sanskrit philosophical texts…) is probably of much less strategic importance in the struggle for feminism than it once seemed.

Amod, you may want to glance at Ganeri’s Introduction to his recent The Lost Age of Reason. I think you will find his own comments, and the research which he cites, quite amenable to your position. In short, he notes that innovators like Bacon and Descartes were not so much breaking with tradition than departing from seeds and starts already there in the “premodern” thinkers and responding/reorienting themselves in relation to it. It’s part of his broader argument that modernity does not require a complete rupture between it and the premodern world.
You reflections on authenticity, tradition, and being challenged invite much reflection. I think I am pretty sympathetic to your tying together unlimited choice with a kind of stagnancy: we can always find something out there that comports with our own current conditioned attitudes. Of course, this turns on its head our way of thinking about cosmopolitanism, wide-ranging exposure to various views of life, and the experience of modernity.
An apt quotation from Chesterton (Heretics):
The man who lives in a small community lives in a much larger world. He knows much more of the fierce variety and uncompromising divergences of men…In a large community, we can choose our companions. In a small community, our companions are chosen for us. Thus in all extensive and highly civilized society groups come into existence founded upon sympathy, and shut out the real world more sharply than the gates of a monastery. There is nothing really narrow about the clan; the thing which is really narrow is the clique.

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