What is Living and What is Dead in Traditional Indian Philosophy

By Devaraja, N.K.

Philosophy East and West 

V.26  (October) 1976, P427~442

Copyright 1976 University Press of Hawai'i

Honolulu, HI [US] (http://www.uhpress.hawaii.edu/index.html)



Philosophy has been a continuing concern of civilized man in all ages and. climes, It is characteristic of great classics in philosophy, like those in literature and unlike those in the physical sciences, that they never become wholly uninteresting to future generations. Since the great classics are representatives of the traditions that produced them, their relevance for future generations is derivative of the importance and value of the traditions themselves. There are several reasons why important cultural traditions of antiquity and the Middle Ages should continue to be of interest to us. First, while the geographical and -the technological environment of man has considerably changed in our time, human nature with its manifold psychological, moral, and spiritual needs and demands has, by and large, remained unaltered. Second, the creative nature of man which prompts him to project new patterns of impulses, cognitive and affective, in scientific and literary works also enables him to enter into the patterns of life and thought enshrined in older traditions. Occasionally, indeed, man deliberately seeks to explore the bygone ages with a view to enriching his present consciousness. This accounts for much of our interest in history; this also explains why such creative periods in human history as the Renaissance and the Age of Romanticism in Europe should have been characterized, among other things, by a passionate interest in the past. Here it may be noted that European scholars started exploring Oriental cultures during the period of the so-called Romantic Revival. Third, some of man's problems bearing on his manifold spiritual life have a perennial ring about them. Far from being finally solved or resolved, they seem to grow in complexity and depth with the passage of time; furthermore, these problems can be properly understood only with reference to their long historical context.

   Another reason the classical traditions, Eastern and Western, continue to interest and even intrigue us is the following. Some impulses and forms of life, it seems, are more thoroughly realized in certain periods and in some places in history than in others; these forms of life can be enjoyed by us today only vicariously. It also appears that in some fields the older civilizations produced geniuses of a higher order than those produced by the later ages. Thus it seems that our age can not possibly produce poets comparable to Homer and Vālmīki. Antiquity produced Lao-tse, Confucius, and the Buddha within a single century, no subsequent century can claim to have been so productive in religious genius. Likewise, some of the scriptures produced by older civilizations have remained unequalled, even as literary compositions.

   On the other hand it is no less true that parts of the heritage bequeathed to  



us by older societies and civilizations have become more or less meaningless to us today. Confining ourselves to philosophy, we notice that some of the problems and their proffered solutions, presented during ancient and medieval times, have lost all interest for us. It also happens that when new questions and problems, emerging in a new environment of concepts and ideas thrown up by diverse disciplines, begin to grip the minds of the students of philosophy, they tend to withdraw their attention from debates conducted by previous generations of philosophers.

      The opinion has been advanced that philosophical questions and issues are perennial in character, that no philosophical question ever loses interest for genuine thinkers, and that no philosophical position is ever conclusively refuted. "Is it not the case," asks K. K. Banerjee, "that a philosophical question thought dead by many may not be deemed to be so by some who may breathe . such life into it as may make it living and active?" [1] While the possibility of the revival of interest in a question or issue ignored in the recent past is not ruled out. it may be pointed out that questions and issues associated with beliefs that are now seen to be either unacceptable or hypothetical or irrelevant cannot possibly be made alive for modern thinkers. Thus even theologically minded philosophers of our time would find it difficult to revive the medieval controversy whether and how man's free will may be shown to be consistent with divine omniscience. The reason is that, for the modern man, belief in the existence of God has itself become hypothetical, if not downright unacceptable.

Can we lay down any criteria by which the living elements in an older philo­sophical tradition, for example, the Greek, or the Chinese, or the Indian, may be separated from those that are dead for the modern man? The answer to this question would obviously depend on what we understand by the modern man. Whatever our conception of the modern man or modernity, one thing seems to be clear: modernity is not a synonym for contemporaneity. Ideally speaking, the modern man is one with a developed awareness of the forces that affect and mold modern man's life, including the ideas, beliefs, and presuppositions that nourish and shape the modern mind. There is a sense in which it may be truly asserted that the modern age. like any other age in history, contains more by way of awareness and knowledge than any individual living in it. That awareness already includes all the information about past ages and cultures painstakingly collected by the scholars of our time; and any individual can grow into a cultured citizen of this age by only undergoing a long course of disciplined education and training for participating in the knowledge and the attitudes characteristic of this age. On the other hand, it may also be truly maintained that genuine modernity does not imply any rigidity either in respect of beliefs or in respect of attitudes relating to the more important problems and concerns of civilized humanity.



     A proper conception of the criteria of modernity, or of what is relevant for the modern man, can only be derived from an adequate theory or conception of man. Man seeks awareness of whatever is life-enriching and life-enhancing; further, he seeks to adjust his affective or emotional altitudes in the light of his total awareness. Modern man has shed off inhibitions imposed by older religions; to him enrichment of consciousness has become as important a value as salvation of the soul. In fact, modern thinkers prefer to talk of fulfill­ment or perfection of human life here on earth rather than of salvation or liberation in another world. On the other hand, the breakdown of the religious . world-view and its replacement by the chilly, mechanistic world-view of modern physics and astronomy, has made him turn his mind to major cultural traditions, past and present, spiritual and secular, throughout the world, in the hope of finding a more acceptable synthesis of the values of life—a wisdom for living that both science and affluence have failed to provide him with. Speaking generally, anything in a past tradition that can—either by presenting before him materials for contemplation that are insufficiently noticed by modern investigators, or by acquainting him with diversity of attitudes toward life and its values characteristic of the better, maturer historical societies—contribute to the sharpening and enhancement of modern man's awareness or to the promotion of his adjustment to a universe uncontrolled by spiritual forces is relevant and meaningful to him.

  A third criterion of contemporary relevance of the traditional is its capacity to strengthen the attitudes embedded in the discovery of new sources of enjoyment, amusement, and happiness in our time. This last consideration accounts for the fascination felt by modern intelligentsia. East and West, for the culture of the Kāmasūtra and the cult of Yoga, viewed as a system of health-giving, or rejuvenating, exercises. Yoga as a system of meditation, too, has its votaries among the moderns afflicted by conflicts and worries generated by our restless times. It is interesting to note that the teachers and propagators of transcendental meditation are attracting more disciples in the affluent societies of the West than in their homeland. Have the more austere forms and phases of Indian ethicoreligious and logico-epistemological thought any such significance for the modern man, Eastern and/or Western? The remainder of this article is written with the belief that this last question admits, at least partly, an affirmative answer.

The most important distinction which the ancients failed to make and which is almost obvious to us is that between science and philosophy. We no more believe that philosophers are competent to speculate fruitfully about the origin of the physical universe and the nature of the elements or forces making it up, The physical sciences, for example, physics and astronomy, are inclined to treat the physical world as autonomous and self-sufficient, thus discouraging



speculations about a creator God. These sciences have rendered obsolete such speculative theories about the creation and constitution of the physical world as the atomism of the Jainas, the Nyāya-Vaiśesika (and Democritus), and the dualistic cosmology of the Sāṁkhyas. Quite a few older philosophers believed that their main business was to investigate the nature of ultimate reality, as distinguished from the appearances. Modem science, which has long since learned to distinguish between primary and secondary qualities, or the mathematical (measurable) and nonmathematical characteristics of nature, would  hardly concede that claim to the philosopher.

      Another factor detrimental to the claims of philosophical ontology has appeared within philosophy itself, namely, the positivistic insistence on verifiably meaningful or empirically testable utterance. No statements about the origin of the universe or the characterization of an Ultimate Reality, such as have been made by some of the greatest historical philosophers, seem to be meaningful in ways acceptable to the positivist or the scientific mind. Nor does there seem to be any method by which the rival theories regarding the nature of Ultimate Reality advanced by, say, the Advaita Vedanta, KasmīraŚaivism, Rāmānuja, Nimbārka, Vallabha. Spinoza, Bradley, and others may be adjudged as to their relative validity.

       It is by sheer habit, generated by years of conditioning, that we continue to talk about an Absolute as the reality behind the visible, phenomenal world. If the Absolute is wholly different from the world of phenomena, it, in no sense, can explain that world and so becomes useless and redundant as an explanatory principle. On the other hand, if the Absolute is a factor within the world, it should be accessible to us in some manner in our experience. Judged in this light the Advaitic Brahman, which is identical with our own self, is so accessible in experience, but the Absolute in other systems is not. Although the Mādhyamika identifies nirvāna with saṁsāra, he does so in a general way and fails to specify the mode of life and experience through which the śūnya may be reached.

       This leads us to mark out the areas in Indian metaphysical systems that are still of interest to modern philosopher. These areas comprise speculations about the self and its liberation insofar as it can be realized in life here itself. The self has been variously conceived in different Indian systems. The differences relate mostly to the conceptions of relationship between the self and its introspectively known modes or states. Thus the Nyāya-Vaiśeṣika, the Sāṁkhya and Advaita Vedānta, and Kaśmīra Śaivism (to name only the more important systems) hold widely divergent views in the matter. I shall indicate here what I take to be the distinctive and more interesting features of the aforesaid doctrines of self. According to Nyāya-Vaiśesika, alt the qualities of the self including consciousness, are adventitious. The disembodied or liberated soul, lacking connection with the manas (the atom-sized organ of attention) and the body (or the sense-organs), through which alone it relates itself to the world, is without consciousness altogether and so, of course, without



attachment, aversion, etc. If the soul cannot be conscious without the body, one wonders if there is tiny justification for cherishing the dualism of mind and body at all. The Nyāya attempt to relate qualities like consciousness to the soul through samavāya, an independent entity (padārtha), is highly unsatisfactory, for samavāya can hardly answer for the organic relationship between mind and its modes.

       Regarding the position of the Sāṁkhya and Advaita Vedānta, they both tend to conceive the mental phenomena more or less materialislically, thus robbing the self of any power or function as an explanatory principle. However, they are able to account, in a unique manner, for the attitude of detachment toward everything necessary to sustain and advance the life of man's biosocial being, characteristic of the religious saint. On the contrary, the Buddhists provide for such an attitude by denying the existence of the substantival self, which is declared by them to be a mere aggregate of the five skandhas. The matter deserves attention particularly at the hands of religious philosophers.

       An adequate and satisfying conception of the self should be able to do justice to our entire conscious life, its ugly facets no less than its nobler aspects. The religious prejudice that the soul should be immortal or nearly "immortal so that it may be able to face God on the Day of Judgment or to enjoy everlasting salvation has prevented philosophers from approaching the problem of the self on the basis of our total perception of its conscious life. The Pratyabhijñā system of Kasmīra has the concept of an Absolute, regarded as the world cause, like the Aclvaita Vedanta and several other absolutistic systems. That part of the system, according to us, is now altogether obsolete. But its doctrine of the self, which is conceived as a creative principle on the analogy of the world-creating Parcmui-Śiva or Absolute, is highly interesting and significant. Abhinavagupta, the great commentator of the system and a great name in the history of Indian aesthetics, is able to connect the Pratyabhijñā doctrine of the self with the theory of camatkāra as the essence of poetic consciousness.

        The Pratyabhijñā system, as elaborated by Utpaladeva, seems to have been influenced by the Vākyapadīya of Bharthari, a seminal work that stresses the role of language in knowledge. According to Bhartrhari, consciousness or knowledge is essentially intertwined with words: all cognition is verbal. Here it may be noted that the word with which knowledge is interpenetrated is not necessarity the spoken word; Bhartrhari talks about speech (vāk) that is an internal principle different from the word which is spoken and heard. This is accepted more or less in the same form by the Pratyabhijñā system according to which ihe uttered conventional speech belongs to the state of māyā. We are not interested here in the details of Pratyabhijñā ontology. The interesting point in their theory of consciousness is that such consciousness includes something more than mere manifestation or illumination of the object. Such manifestation or mirroring of the object can be affected even by a crystal (sphayṭika), but that would not entitle the crystal to be regarded as conscious.




Consciousness, therefore, consists in something more than mirroring and/or manifestation. The additional element according to the Pratyabhijñā system is vimarśa; the Vākyapadīya uses the term pratyayamarśa. which connotes recognition-cum-identification. The point seems to he that cognition or knowing is an active process involving meaningful contemplation of the object.

      The Kārikā 15.30 of the Iśvara-pratyabhijñā also uses the term pratyavamarśa-marsa, which is said to characterize consciousness. Abhinavagupta's careful yet complicated comment on this Kārikā is thus summarized by K. A. S. lyer:

What is called pratyayamarśa is a kind of inner formulation in words (abhilāpa, śabdana). This inner formulation does not depend upon any convention, just as fornuilation in uttered or manifested words does. That is why the new-born baby is also capable of doing it. It has also the "I consciousness which presupposes this formulation. This is why it can act in order to fulfill its needs. This consciousness of the self is a kind of inner delight (avicchinna-camatkāra-ātmakam). It is a kind of inner nodding of the head (antarmukha-śironirdeśaprakhyam). It is the background or the source of such states of consciousness as find expression in words like ' this is blue' 'I am Caitra', and so on, the essence of which is the use of uttered conventional speech which arises in the māyā stage.[2] [Italics mine.]

       The above view of the nature of consciousness is a revolutionary one; it stands opposed to the views of Advaita Vedānta and the Sāṁkhya. It seems to suggest that a sort of innate, subconscious conceptual structure characterizes the mind. It seems as if the Pratyabhijñā system were groping toward more or less the Kantian view of the understanding or mind. Another possible interpretation is that the mind identifies objects as meaningful wholes, so as to react purposefull to them, this would seem to be an anticipation of the Gestalt view of perception. Utpaladeva also maintains that the 'I' consciousness is the very essence of illuminating light or knowledge. This also sounds Kantian. Utpala, however, adds that the 'I' consciousness, though it involves Vāk or speech, is not to be looked upon as a construction (vikaipa) of the intellect. The reason given is that in a vikalpa, there is always a differentiation of what the object of cognition is from what is not.[3] The awareness involving vikalpa always refers to more than one entity. This view of 'I' consciousness is again different from that of Advaita Vedānta, according to which that consciousness involves adhyāsa, which is a form of erroneous, vikalpa-consciousness.

     The conception of parā vāk in Bhartṛhari and in the Śaiva system suffers from obscurity. The really significant elements in the Pratyabhijñā conception of consciousness are two. First, here consciousness is conceived to be of the nature of vimarśa or parāmarśa which seems to connote creative freedom or free creativity. According to the system itself this characteristic of consciousness accounts for the world appearance produced by Maheśvara. The second important element in the conception is the attribution of  ānanda to consciousness. This ānanda is identified with camatkāra in Abhinavagupta's aesthetic theory. This implies that the act of disinterested awareness, which constitutes




the essence of poetic creation and comprehension, is in itself delightful and is associated with camafkura by Abhinavagupta in his Vimarśinī on 1.5.13.[4]

     We have cited the preceding views of consciousness by way of illustration, Interesting discussions about self-cognition may be found in the two schools of Mīmāṁsā as well. Of course the Buddhist view of the self as the aggregate or unity of the skandhas has extraordinary interest for the modern mind and the modern age, with its antisubstance bias.


Much of Indian epistemology, Hindu, Buddhist, and Jaina, remains meaningful for modern students of philosophy. Indian thinkers had no acquaintance with any discipline comparable to modern physics; for this reason their discussions remain close to commensensical experience and everyday language. They also seem to supplement the problems posed and discussions conducted by the Greek and the medieval thinkers. Those who believed in the existence of individual souls raised the problem of the perception or cognition of the self. Was the self perceptible, or was it known only through inference? Here the Advaita Vedānta, the two schools of Mīmāṁsā and the Naiyāyikas as well as some of the devotional schools of  Vedānta have a good deal to say. Indian logic centers largely around the problems of the nature and validity of perceptual and inferential cognitions, though the questions regarding the nature and validity of knowledge as such also claim a good deal of attention. The definitions of perceptual cognition given by Diṅnāga (pratyakṣam kaipanā padham) and the latter Naiyāyikas (jnãnākaraṇakam jñãnam) are probably the most critical definitions in the whole range of world philosophy. Viewed in the perspective of the metaphysical controversies sparked off by Diṅnāga's definition, Russell's treatment of "knowledge by acquaintance" appears to be insufficiently rigorous. Russell speaks of acquaintance not only with the sense-data (the Buddhist's svalakṣa as), but also with self and with acquaintance itself; he even talks of awareness of universals, thus demolishing the distinc­tion between perceptual and conceptual knowledge.[5] Russell does not distinguish between sensory perception and what may be called inspection, nor does he reflect on the dependence of the latter on the former. Though an. empiricist, Russell evinces no such distrust of conceptual knowledge as did the Buddhist thinkers, both realists and idealists, do.

       It will be seen that the Buddhist definition of valid perception denies any active role to the knowing subject concerning the knowledge situation. This may appear to be a thoroughly unidealistic position in epistemology. Where knowledge is valid, the subject can be nothing more than a spectator. Qua spectator, the subject should feel neither attachment nor aversion. These and other affective attitudes arise in consequence of the distortion of reality by the intellect. Logically speaking, moral distinctions are no less subjective than the conceptual distinctions, though the subjectivity of the former is not




emphasized. In this respect , the Buddhist division between the real and the phenomenal is more radical than that in the Kantian system. The sort of freedom that Kant is inclined to attribute to the self as a denizen of the noumenal world is foreign to the scheme of the Buddhist idealists. The Pratyabhijñā system alone appears to attach special significance to freedom. If all our attachment and aversion is due to subjective distortion of the real, then it is difficult to make sense of the distinction between righteous and wrong conduct;that distinction is essentially bound up with agreeable and painful reactions produced by human agents in living creatures. Regarding Kant, he utterly fails to explain the nature and possibility of action enacted in the noumenal world.

     Even the overconfident, optimistic, and commonsensical Naiyāyika occasion­ally felt puzzled by the controversy about perceptual knowledge initiated by the Buddhists. Thus at one place Jayanta Bhaṭṭa, half-indignant and half-puzzled, remarks:

We really do not know what is it that (on Buddhist view) is grasped or cognised in the so-called indeterminate perception. You say that the object of such per­ception is the unique, momentary particular, which can be declared to be neither similar to (i.e. belonging to the same class or kind as) anything nor as dissimilar to anything else. Others say that the object of cognition is the highest genus, Being-as-such; still others maintain that the object known in indeterminate cognition is of the nature of Vāk (speech). It is surprising that there should be such differences of opinion regarding the object of perceptual cognition. Disagreement about invisible matters may be resolved by direct cognition, but when there is disagreement about the seen or visible things, how (on earth) can it be resolved? Whether this appears or does not appear— under such circumstances of disagreement, one can, while trying to convince another, only resort to swearing.[6]

      Jayanta's puzzlement is genuine and deserving of our sympathy- Russell's view that what is revealed by acquaintance are the sense-data, on the one hand, and the universals including relations, on the other, would be no less puzzling to Jayanta Bhatta and Diṅnāga. (Jayanta, of course, proceeds to refute the Buddhist view with his characteristic confidence.)

      We have referred to controversies regarding perception generally by way of example, most of the discussions relating to the nature and kinds of direct cognition- the cognition of the self, the cognition of cognition self, etc., enacted by different realist and idealist schools—the Mīmāṁsākas, the Naiyāyikas, the Advaita Vedāntists, and others continue to be interesting and suggestive to modern students of philosophy. Varied discussions about causation, particularly in Buddhism, Samkhya, and Nyāya, remain likewise stimulating and interesting for the moderns. Some methodological issues raised by such  dialectician philosophers as Nāgārjuna and Śrīharṣa retain their relevance for modern thinkers.




The conviction that knowledge was a necessary precondition of the pursuit of the highest type of happiness or fulnllment led Indian philosophers to pay the greatest attention to logico-epistemological problems; their serious commitment to the religious goal made them pay equal attention to the fundamental bases of ethicoreligious life. The use of the compound adjective 'ethico­religious' here is deliberate, for the two sides of life were hardly distinguished either by popular or by metaphysical Indian thought. Thus Manu, one of the most important sources of the socioethical ideas of the Hindus, envisages the" progress of a man's life through the stages called āśramas as also a progress toward mokṣa, or the highest fulfillment and destiny of the soul. The Mami Samhila, presupposing the doctrine of reincarnation and the conception of  mokṣa as release from the round of births and deaths, unequivocally recom­mends the practice of niśkāma ken-man for the attainment of mokśa. It says:

"The karma enjoined or sanctioned by the Veda are of two kinds, that which is done with attachment is called pravṛtta; it leads to happiness and prosperity here; the other, which is done with detachment and knowledge, is called nivrtta, it has for its aim the highest good or mokṣa."[7] Following the theistic idiom, the Bhagavadgīda states that, worshipping the Lord with (the per­formance of) his allotted actions or duties, man attains the highest goal. As is well known, the Bhagavadgīda is emphatic in its refusal to equate renunciation with the abandonment of dutiful action. Both Manu and theBhagavadgīda are one in upholding the dignity of the life of action.

     There are indications in some of the Dharmasūtras that there was resistance to the acceptance of the fourth āśrama by the Vedic Hindus. However, this resistance gave way to special emphasis on the life of renunciation after the rise of Buddhism and the Advaitic interpretation of Upaniṣadic Vedānta. Here it may be noted parenthetically that the growing prestige of the Advaita during the centuries preceding Rāmānuja and other teachers bhakti were responsible for the devaluation of socially oriented ethical life on the one hand and the decline of the secular sciences on the other. As a reaction to it, the Bhakta philosophers were generally averse to the life of saṁnyāsa and attached greater importance to the life of the householder. They also preached the path of bhaksi, instead of the path of knowledge, thus recommending sublimation . rather than suppression of his emotional life by man.

      At a later stage, the modern spokesmen of the Hindu renaissance from the advent of Dayānanda and Vivekānanda onward, looked to the Gītā tradition of karma-yoga for inspiring the people with activistic thought and ideals.

      These historical matters have some measure of relevance for the modern Indians. From the broader point of view, the development of human thought the important question is: Are there any elements in the Indian ethicoreligious





thought that may be helpful to the modern man in reconstructing his moral and religious ideas, or in overcoming the spiritual crisis engendered by the growth of scientific outlook and scientism?

     Indian ethlcoreligious thought, comprising of Jaina, Buddhist, and Hindu traditions, if anything, seems to suffer from a profusion of precepts and ideas. Working within the framework of a few central concerns and presuppositions, the three traditions developed significant variants of thought and practice in the sphere of religion or spirituality, which was conceived, in a peculiar fashion, to. be both a continuation and a culmination of ethical or good life. This may sound unconvincing to those scholars who find Indian culture marked by a conflict between the claims of moral life on one hand and those of mokṣa on .the other. R. C. Zaehner., for instance, sees this conflict in the repentance felt by the king (or emperor) Yudhiṣṭhira after the Mahābhārata war. The vic­torious Yudhiṣṭhira wanted to renounce the world and pursue liberation rather enjoy the fruits of a blood-stained victory. Yudhiṣṭhira bewailed the fact of his being a member of the warrior class that enjoined fighting battles as a duty. It is worth noticing here that the conflict referred to by Yudhiṣṭhira prevailed, not so much between the life of virtue and that devoted to the pursuit of mokṣa, as between the duties of a varṇa or class, whose performance was necessary for the preservation or maintenance of the social order, and the virtues that led one to salvation. It was definitely not a case of conflict between the pursuit of virtue and the pursuit of mokṣa or salvation. The conflict underlines the fact that, in order to be a useful member of society or a good citizen, one may have to compromise the higher ideals of virtuous or pure life. Such a conflict may easily arise in the mind of a statesman or general trying to entrap a powerful adversary.

      Another group of scholars, or scholarly interpreters of Indian culture, who see some sort of incompatibility between ethical life aiming at social welfare and spiritual life aiming at some transcendent perfection or mokṣa, are those who have been greatly impressed by the implications of such metaphysical systems as the Advaita Vedānta, the Sāṁkhya. and others. Following such interpreters of particularly the Hindu philosophical systems at the late S. Radhakrishnan and some others, they fail to see any "affinity or commensurability" between dharma and mokṣa and find "all patterns of temporal life .. . equally indifferent to the experience of mokṣa."[8]

      The misgivings of the aforesaid scholars call for a twofold comment. First, the sort of conflict alluded to by Zaehner could arise only in persons rigidly committed to the varṇa or caste system. This means that the conflict under reference need not afflict a Buddhist or a Jaina or a modern Hindu subscribing to liberal democratic ideals. Second, as already observed, a conflict between following svadharma and pursuing mokṣa is not equatable with a conflict between a virtuous life and a life of spiritual discipline for mokṣa. All that can be conceded to those seeing conflict here is that a virtuous life may not be




identified with the life of active service to fellow humans. The suspicion of incommensurability between life temporal and life eternal, or between the pursuit of morality and the pursuit of mokṣa, is based partly on the misunder­standing of the true background of Vedantic thought, and partly on a mis­conception of the relationship between the metaphysical systems, on the one hand. and fundamental insights in ethicoreligious thought, on the other, Quite a few schools of Indian philosophy, the Advaita prominent among them, believe in the ideal of jīvanmiikli, which implies the possibility of realizing highest perfection here on earth. For those believing in this ideal, the question of a conflict between the temporal and eternal orders of existence does not arise at all. That question can arise only for the theistic systems, Indian and Western.

     We shall now briefly touch upon the question of the relationship between fundamental ethicoreligious insights and the metaphysical systems invented in their support. In the history of Indian thought, as perhaps also in the histories of other cultural systems, moral and other types of value intuitions preceded the formulation of rational metaphysical systems. One consequence of this sequential relation between insight and its metaphysical rationalization is the fact that the same sets of values are likely to be recommended by and be deducible from diverse philosophical world-views produced by a single cultural system. Confining ourselves to the Indian cultural scene, we find several virtues and some aspects of spiritual discipline being stressed alike by systems of thought orthodox and heterodox, theistic, atheistic, and absolutistic.

      We shall now attempt to identify the more essential and significant ethico­religious insights of the Indian cultural system taken in its entirety. There is a bewildering profusion of concepts relating to various phases and facets, particularly of religious life, invented and elaborated by different religio-philosophical systems. We shall here specifically comment on only two im­portant concepts of the Indian ethicoreligious thought, that is, the concepts of ahiṁsā (noninjury) and anāsakti (detachment).

      Early Vedic religion enjoined animal sacrifice for propitiating gods. However, soon after the rise of the Vaiṣṇava current of thought in Āgamic works and the epics, ahiṁsā became one of the cardinal principles of Hindu morality. It was later incorporated in Hindu ethics by some philosophical schools, for example, the Sāṁkhya-Yoga, During and after the Middle Ages. the teaching of ahiṁsā was strengthened by different schools of Vaiṣṇava Vedanta. As the representative of the Smṛti tradition, the Advaita Vedanta was not doctrinally committed to the ethics of total ahiṁsā, but the rising tide of Vaiṣṇavism prevented it from recommending animal sacrifice and the taking of meat to the three varṇas including the Ksatriyas. On the contrary, under the influence of other philosophical schools, it chose to ignore the controversy regarding animal sacrifices enjoined by the Vedas; it gradually came to confine itself to explicating the essentials of spiritual discipline for the attainment of liberation.




Here it may be noted that a type of monistic philosophy, not associated with the doctrine of māyā, had been popular with the Hindus from the time of Upaniṣads onward, if not from the still earlier period when some of the "Sūktas (for example, the Purusa Sūkta and the Hymn of  Nonexistence) of the Ṛgveda had been composed. The monistic Upaniṣadic philosophy, with its emphasis on ahiṁsā interpreted both as noninjury to living beings and as the extension of compassion and service to them, became the foundation of Hindu ethics particularly at the hands of the Vaiṣṇava interpreters of the Vedāntic tradition. Thus in the Viṣṇu Purāna, Prahlāda, the great devotee of Viṣṇu, is found making a number of statements of the following type: Knowing that god Viṣṇu is present in all creatures—since neither the totality of living beings, nor myself, nor the food is other than Viṣṇu — I serve all creatures with food; may this food bring them satisfaction. [9] Elsewhere, in the same text, we read: We offer obeisance to that unborn, imperishable Brahman which is present in our and others bodies and in everything else, there being nothing other than it any­where. [10] This teaching of the ethics of universal love and service does not make any explicit reference to the transcendence of temporal order in the state of mokṣa. We shall return to this point later.

The ethics of ahiṁsā probably originated in and was nourished by the Śramaṇa orders. As is well known, ahiṁsā occupies the most important place in the moral and religious teaching of Jainism. The basis of the teaching is stated to lie in the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. "Since all the creatures desire life and have aversion to death, therefore, one should avoid taking life." A number of Jaina works treat ahiṁsā at length. The Praśna-vyākarana-Sūnra enumerates thirty names and twenty-two forms of himsā; quite a number of concepts occurring in them are common to both. The names and forms refer mostly to the psychological accompaniments and consequences of himsā. To illustrate: it is called breach of faith or perfidy (aviśrambha); that which is unworthy to do (akṛtya); death (mṛtyii); that which inspires fear or terror (bhayaṅkarā); destructive of the essential virtues of the soul (guṇānam virādhanā), and the like. Under forms, among others, the following are mentioned: that which is practiced by petty persons (kṣudra)', that which involves callousness toward other living creatures (nirapekṣa);

terror-inspiring (trāsanakci); that which involves absence of affection and compassion toward living beings (niṣpipāsa, niṣkaruṇa), etc. [11] In the same work sixty names have been given toahiṁsā, some of which are: nirvāṇa or mokṣa', nirvṛti or healthfulness, śānti or. peace; kīrti or good name; rati or delight; dayā or compassion; kṣānti or forgiveness; rakṣā or the principle of protection; bhadrā or auspiciousness; samyama or self-control, apramāda or absence of laziness; pavitrā or that which sanctifies; vimalā or that which implies absence of impurity, etc. [12] These characterizations of himsā and ahiṁsā respectively manage to bring a large number of vices and virtues under the two concepts. The identification of ahiṁsā with nirvāṇa or mokṣa and such states of conscious-






ness as sanctity or holiness and purity and auspiciousness, invests that concept with almost a mystical significance.

       A similar view hiṁsā is found in the commentaries on the Yoga Sūtras of Patãnjaii. The Tattvāntha Sūtra counts ahimsa (or abstention from hiṁsā among the five vratas;[13] the Yoga Sūtra, too, describes ahiṁsā, trustfulness and some other virtues as mahāvratas to be universally adopted or practiced. The Vyāṣa Bhaṣya remarks that all other rules or virtuous dispositions follow from the injunction or practice of ahiṁsā. Vācaspati Miśra explains this to mean that other rules or vrafas are intended for generating a thorough understanding (or realization) of ahiṁsā. In other words, the one thing worth realizing for one aspiring to attain Yoga is the attitude or the state of ahiṁsā. which consists in complete absence of hostility and in complete harmony, in relation to all the living creatures. The object aimed at by the observance of truthfulness—the second great rule of conduct is, for instance, bringing benefit to living creatures. This implies that truth may not be spoken if the speaking of it is likely to bring harm to living beings.[14]

      An exceptionally significant verse expounding ahiṁsā runs as follows:

      Along the bank of the great river of pity or compassion lie the different creeds that are comparable to grass, sprouts (plants), etc.; if that river (of compassion) goes dry, how long can the latter prosper?[15]

      This verse emphasizes the centrality of compassion in the make-up of the religious person. The Jainas distinguish between aṇuvratas   that are enjoined on the householders and the mahāvratas that are intended to be practiced by the mendicants- The mendicant or muni should strictly observe ahiṁsā in its fivefold form: the idea of doing injury should not even cross his mind; he should be careful in the use of speech; he should take care that no hiṁsā or injury is committed through his movements, through the use of various instruments, and through the intake of foods and drinks.[16]

       The teaching of ahimsa in Yoga Sutras as also in Jainism has a religious motivation; the Mahābhārata, on the other hand, is more concerned to define ahiṁsā as an aspect of dharma or righteousness. In one place in the Sānti Parva, a twofold definition of dharma or righteousness has been given.

       Dharma is so called because it supports; by dharma are the people (or beings) supported. Verily that alone is dharma which contributes to the support or maintenance of all.

       Dharma is preached with a view to ensuring noninjury to living beings: that is dharma which is united with ahiṁsā.[17]

   The second verse occurs, exactly in the same form, in the Karṇa-parva also.[18] Violence in any form leads to disharmony in society, hence, violence is to be totally avoided. The function of righteousness or dharma is to maintain social harmony. Viewed in this light, dharma, consisting in strict adherence to ahimsa, is comparable to justice as conceived in Plato's Republic.



       To the question "Why are people driven to practice hiṁsā or to indulge in violence?" the reply would be: because of their attachment to the self that is sought to be preserved at any cost. It is attachment to the self that is at the root of unrighteous conduct consisting chiefly in doing injustice or violence to others. In fact, injustice itself may be considered to be a form of violence. This line of thought has been clearly presented by some Buddhist writers. In con­formity with the central drift of Indian ethical thought, the Caluhscilaka (of Aryadeva) observes: The Buddhas briefly characterize dharma as consisting in ahiṁsā.[19] .Commenting on this Candrakirti adds: "That which is helpful to others in any measure, is all included within Ahimsa." [20] Since the practice of hiṁsā is due to attachment to the self, such attachment is condemned in the strongest terms. In the Bodhicaryāvatāra of Śantideva we read:

One who wants quickly to save himself as well as others, should adopt the secret procedure of "exchange of self" (i.e. looking upon himself as another, and the other as oneself). Even the least attachment to the self is productive of great danger; (knowing this) who will not feel hostile to that self-which is dangerous as an enemy? All the mischiefs, troubles and dangers in this world are due to self-attachment; therefore, I have nothing to do with this attachment. It is not possible to rid oneself of pain without renouncing the self, even as it is impossible to avoid heat without avoiding fire.[21]

Here the teaching of ahiṁsā has been clearly linked with the need of detachment toward oneself.

        The Indian notion of detachment (anāsakti), properly understood, implies neither apathy nor inaction. Detachment proper is directed toward what is merely personal, self-regarding, or selfish. This is borne out by the following statements of Lord Krṣṇa: "There is nothing in the three worlds, O Pārtha, to be done by Me, nor anything unobtained that needs to be obtained; yet I continue in action ... As the ignorant act with attachment to their work, 0 Bharata. so the wise man should act (but) without attachment, desiring to maintain the order of the world."[22] 

      In the twentieth century, Mahatma Gandhi extended the scope of ahiṁsā in the field of political action, he also imparted a new dimension to the religious , interpretation of ahiṁsā (which he identified with love), when he observed that

Love and exclusive possession can never go together. Theoretically when there ; is perfect love, there must be perfect non-possession. The body is our last possession. So a man can exercise perfect love and be completely dispossessed, if he is prepared to embrace death and renounces his body for the sake of human service.[23]                            

    As according to Bodhicaryāvatāra, so according to Gandhi hiṁsā, or violence, has its roots in self-attachment and selfishness. Contrariwise, ahiṁsā flows from selflessness. Ahiṁsā, to quote Gandhi, "is uttermost selflessness." Such" selflessness "means complete freedom from a regard for one's body."[24] Clearly, Gandhi's interpretation of ahiṁsā goes beyond the order of normal



ethical life. However, it seems to us that some sort of supramoral or religious conviction regarding the worthwhileness of moral life is presupposed in a man's unqualified adherence to the cause of justice. To the extent to which a man loves and practices justice, he equates others with himself, with respect to their deserving his active consideration. But there are moments in one's life, particularly when one is fighting a powerful tyrant, when justice demands total sacrifice from its votaries.

       Insofar as ahiṁsā requires equal consideration for all, including oneself, it can furnish, the philosophical foundations of law, It seems to me, however, that a complete philosophy of law would base itself on one additional principle, namely, the principle of dessert, which implies correspondence of rewards and punishments dispensed by the society or the state with the deeds and achieve­ments made possible by a person's free creative activity.

       Presently when skepticism, regarding a supernatural order of existence, is widespread, the notion of ahiṁsā, grasped at a refined, intuitive level and supported by the principle of detachment, is more likely to furnish stable foundations of morality than belief in a God requiring us to bestow fraternal love on our fellow-beings. Similarly, the ideal jīvanmukti (accepted by almost all the major systems of philosophical thought in India), which is rooted in the possibility of man's being able, even with respect to his own life and its interests, to ascend to the level of a detached observer, is likely to have greater appeal to out age which is dominated by the humanistic outlook. The Indian spiritual tradition recommends, for the mind's peace, the practice of the four brahmavihāras, comprising the virtues of general friendliness (maitrī) toward all living beings, compassion (karuṇa) toward the afflicted, joyous acceptance (muditā) of virtuous happiness, and indifference (upekṣā) toward evildoers. These, particularly the first three, together with the Buddhist ideal of bodhisaitva, may provide an adequate religion to the honest intellectuals of our time, who find it difficult to believe in the God of traditional religions.


[1].The interrogative sentence is taken from K. K. Banerjee's paper which was read at the Seminar.

[2]. K. A. S. lyer, Bhcirshnri (Poona: Deccan College, 1969), p. 107.

[3]. Vide, Īśvara-Pratyabhijñā-Vimarśinī, 1, VI.1. Aham pratyavamurso yah prakāśātmā 'pi vāgvdpu, nāsau vikalpa sa hy ukto dvayākepī viniścaya. The rendering adopted is by K.. C. Puncley, Bhāskari, vol. 111 (Lucknow, 1954), p, 87.

[4]. K. C, Pandey seems to have mistakenly attributed the identification of Vimarśa with Camatkāra to Utpala here. Vide, Comparative Aesthetics, vol. 1 (Varanasi: Chowkhamba, 1959), p.!06.

[5]. See B. Russell. Mysticism and Logic (Penguin Books, 1953), "Knowledge by Acquaintance and Knowledge by Description", pp. 19SfT.

[6]. Nyāyā-mañjarī (Benaras: Chowkhamba Sanskrit series. 1934), p. 91.




[7].Manusmti, XII. 88-89.

[8]. See Austin B. Creel, "The Reexaminalion of dharma in Hindu Ethics," Philosophy East and West 25, no. 2 (April 1975): 165,

[9]. Viṣṇu Purāa, XI. 48-52.

[10]. Ibid., XVII.33.

[11]. Vide, B. N. Sinha, Jaina-dharma men Ahiṁsā (Vanmasi: Parsvantha Vidhyasrama, 1972), pp. 145-148.

[12]. Ibid,, pp. 174-181.

[13]. Quoted in Ahiṁsā Digdarśana by Shri Vijaya Dharma Suri (Bhava Nagar: Samvat, 1884), p. 37.

[14]. Tattvārtha-sūtra. VII.1.

[15]. See Yoga Sūtra, \ 1.30 and the commentaries Vyāsā Bhāṣya and Tattvavaiśāradī.

[16]. See Tattvārtha Sūtra, Vii. 3, 4 and commentaries thereon,

[17]. Śānti-parva lX. 12.12.

[18]. Karna-parva LXIX. 57.

[19]. Catuḥ Śataka of  Āryadeva, ed. Vidhushekhara Bhattacharya (Visva Bharati, 1931), Ch. XII. 23.

[20]. Ibid., p. 163 Yadīṣad api paropakārakam tat sarvam apy ahiṁsāntas saṁgṛhītam.

[21]. Ch.VII. 120, 121, 134, 135.

[22]. The Bhagavad Gītā, trans., Eliot Deutsch (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1968), III. 23, 25 (p. 50.)

[23]. N. K. Bose, ed., Selections from Gandi (Ahmeciecl: Narajivan Publishing House, 1948), p. 17.

[24]. T. Hingorani, ed., The Law of Love (Bombay: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, 1962), p. 41.