The Hindu System of Philosophical Inquiry Contrasted with the Western Intellectual Milieu

The Hindu System of Philosophical Inquiry Contrasted with the Western Intellectual Milieu

There is a fundamental difference between the Hindu System of Philosophical Inquiry and the post-Christian intellectual milieu of the West. Confounding the two has been one of the greatest obstacles to decolonising the contemporary Hindu psyche.

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The Hindu System of Philosophical Inquiry Contrasted with the Western Intellectual Milieu

THE HINDU TRADITION of inquiry makes three clear distinctions – adhibhūta (the physical plane), adhidaiva (the plane of the deity, God, etc), and adhyātma (the spiritual plane). It has well-defined logical rules for debating any topic. A primary rule is that one cannot mix these three planes in any debate. For example, if you are analysing the Ramayana on the adhibhūta plane, you cannot bring in the adhidhaiva elements into that analysis. Thus, on the adhibhūta plane, the Ramayana’s characters become just normal human beings and they must be analysed as such. On the adhidhaiva plane, Rama becomes an Avatara of Mahavishnu, Sita, an Avatara of Lakshmi, etc. On the adhyātma plane, Rama symbolizes the Parabrahman. And so, you have to first state your premises – i.e., on which plane you are making your arguments about the Ramayana.

Over the last hundred years or so, these fundamental rules of debate have remained in valid only in their flagrant violation. Forget a literary work like the Ramayana, there has been a rampant tendency of force-fitting adhibhūta arguments in realms as abstract as the Vedanta.

This kind of fundamental confusion is at the root of much of the failure to confidently establish the Hindu position in public discourse.

Which brings us once again to the aforementioned fundamental difference between the Western and the Indian intellectual tradition. The Western intellectual tradition, which developed as a consequence of a revolt against Church hegemony, completely rejected the Christian God and replaced him with materialism.

This opposition to God does not exist in the Santana tradition because we had harmonized the material with the spiritual and we elevated the spiritual to the philosophical. Thus, each had their well-defined places. We can understand this with greater clarity with examples from our philosophical history.

From the very ancient times, Bharatavarsha has always had a tradition of emperors and kings who renounced everything and became Sanyasins and Brahmajnanis. This tradition has a history of a minimum of five thousand years… from Janaka to the tenth century Chandela monarch, Dhanga. Janaka for example, engaged as equals in deep philosophical debates with the celebrated Brahmajnanis of his era like Yājñavalkya. Then we have the brilliant example of a haughty Kshatriya monarch like Vishvamitra who wages war against the forest-dwelling Brahmarshi, Vasistha. Vishvamitra eats humble pie and his vengeful quest to crush Vasistha transforms him into another Brahmarshi. This is the Rishi who later becomes the Guru of Sri Ramachandra himself.

However, in the entire history of the West (including its pre-Christian past), we don’t find a single king like Janaka or Vishvamitra or Dhanga. Rishis are a far cry.

And so, when we talk about intellectual discourse, decolonization, etc., we need to begin here, at the fundamentals.

AT THE CORE, INDIA IS A SPIRITUAL CIVILIZATION rooted in darśana whereas Christian theology is the basis of spirituality in the West. And the basis of this theology is an irrational faith in an alleged son of God who was born out of a virgin’s womb, and who was supposed to appear again in the calendar year 2000. Christianity collapsed in Europe the moment enough number of people questioned the faith in this fiction. Thomas Aquinas, widely regarded as the theologian par excellence in history, ties himself in inextricable knots when he tries to “prove” this fiction in his unreadable Summa Theologiae.  

When we examine the post-Christian intellectual tradition of the West, we clearly notice a continuation of the same Christian trend. Whereas the Christian period was split along the lines of Churches and denominations, the subsequent period was populated by Godless sects founded by individuals. Just as how Catholicism and Protestantism are cults, these Godless sects are also cults. In the last 150 years, capitalism and communism have emerged as the most influential and the most destructive post-Christian cults.

Faith in the individual, in economics, society, and politics had supplanted faith in the Christian God. But it was still faith. Take any intellectual school of the West, we notice that it operates primarily in these realms. In other words, they’re individual-centric. This is why for example, we have the Kantian School, the Hegelian School, the Foucauldian School, etc. They have flourished as long as that individual was alive. After that, they became merely historical records and museum pieces and not unbroken, living traditions that were actually a force for the good. In fact, some of these “intellectuals” became irrelevant and discredited in their own lifetime because of two reasons verifiable through the human experience. The first reason: their fabulous but unreal theories did not match the kind of life they themselves led. In other words, they did not practice what they preached and were eventually exposed as frauds. The second reason: every new generation finds heroes and role models who are closer to them in age and speak the same idiom. To draw a pedestrian analogy, “animal” Ranbir Kapoor is a bigger star today than Amitabh Bachchan who has been downgraded to veteran status. In the history of Western intellectualism, few people have fallen so miserably in their own lifetime as Jean Paul Sartre. This is how his last days looked like:

"In the 1970s Sartre was an increasingly pathetic figure, prematurely aged…often drunk, worried about money, uncertain about his views… His last years were brutally described by de Beauvoir in her little book, Adieux: A Farewell to Sartre: his incontinence, his drunkenness, made possible by girls slipping him bottles of whisky, the struggle for power over what was left of his mind. It must have been a relief to them all when he died… de Beauvoir… survived him five years, a Queen Mother of the French intellectual left. But there were no children, no heirs.

Sartre, like Russell, failed to achieve any kind of coherence and consistency in his views of public policy. No body of doctrine survived him. In the end, again like Russell, he stood for nothing more than a vague desire to belong to the left and the camp of youth. The intellectual decline of Sartre, who… at one time did seem to be identified with a striking, if confused, philosophy of life, was particularly spectacular… Sartre… was given a magnificent funeral by intellectual Paris. Over 50,000 people, most of them young, followed his body into Montparnasse Cemetery. To get a better view, some climbed into the trees. One of them came crashing down onto the coffin itself. To what cause had they come to do honour? What faith, what luminous truth about humanity, were they asserting by their mass presence?" (Emphasis added)

Sartre perhaps represents the most flamboyant nadir of the journey of societal destruction that “intellectual schools” beginning with Rousseau caused. Their overall legacy has been awful for humankind to say the least.

To be continued

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