Achievements of Indology: Esoteric Indian traditions

A science of cultures is not Atmagyaana or Brahmagyaana. Let me also add that I find a quest for happiness a normal human striving.

According to the Indian traditions, experience itself is a state of being: anubhava. In my story, so is happiness (or atmasaakshaatkaara). Need one be enlightened in order to speak about enlightenment? Should that be the case, one cannot strive for enlightenment at all and I think that enlightenment (or happiness) is a legitimate goal for human beings. If happiness is not an esoteric state of being but a legitimate goal for all human beings, there are indefinitely many roads to that state of being. The strength of the Indian traditions lies not merely in recognizing this but also in working out many such routes.

There are at least two ways of understanding the Indian claims about the nature of ‘reality’. One is to say that these traditions are providing descriptions of the world. Your references to Krishna and the Gita exemplify this interpretation. I do not buy this if for no other reason than the fact that, in such a case, I need to reject all the natural sciences in return for a bald (not bold) claim about the reality. If Krishna says what you claim to be the case, then Krishna’s statements are absolutely false. (I really cannot understand how you see an ‘absolutely true’ statement there.) If on top of it, you say that this is ‘religious’, I am left wondering what you are talking about. Even if we restrict ourselves to the sentences you have cited from ‘The heathen …’, you cannot advance such claims. Krishna’s message is not unconditionally accessible. The last statement is easily demonstrated by raising an interpretative problem: Who is the ‘I’ in Krishna’s message? If you are a Buddhist, Jain, or a Saivite (using these words without problems in the context of this post), then Krishna is making either a false statement or a nonsensical one. How can you attribute unconditional accessibility and unconditional truth to this statement? Understanding Krishna’s statement depends upon the truth of some other antecedent beliefs we hold about the world; such is not the case with Religion.

The other way of understanding Gita is to go further in an entirely different direction. ‘How to speak for the Indian traditions’ merely charts the territory to cover; it is not itself an alternate interpretation. But it is sufficiently worked out to tell us that an alternate interpretation is possible.

There is another thing that disturbs me about your post. Because I am not sure how to articulate this problem, let me try an initial formulation. One of the ‘achievements’ of Indology (and the failed Oriental renaissance in the West) is that it has transformed aspects of the Indian traditions into esoteric quests. It appears to me that you merely go further in this direction but that you want to provide a ‘scientific’ gloss. This is the bane of most (if not all) ‘Hindu’ intellectuals and swami’s. Making the Indian traditions ‘respectable’ or ‘relevant’ to the twenty-first century seems to consists of using pseudo-scientific jargon and/or some banal and ill-digested philosophy borrowed from the western intellectual traditions. My attitude is the following: I am not willing to begin by assuming either the truth or the relevance of the Indian traditions. If I value the Indian traditions, then that is because its questions and quests survive the sharpest scrutiny our scientific knowledge provides. Either we are able to reformulate the questions and the answers of the Indian traditions in the languages of the twenty-first century and test them for both truth and relevance or we just give up. I am not willing to buy the Indian stories as ‘true descriptions’ of the world. They are not that today; they have never been that yesterday either. I do not want an Indian ‘parapsychologist’ to explain the ‘truth’ of Indian psychology: this is the best way to damn Indian psychology forever. Let the Indian psychology (if there is one) compete with the best theories we have from the cognitive sciences. Only after such a competition, let us entertain claims about the ‘scientificity’ of Indian psychology. Simply trying to dress Patanjali up in modern garb or refer to the ‘Yoga industry’ in the US and elsewhere (as though this makes for a scientific psychology) will not get us any intellectual mileage. This is the best way for the Indian traditions to commit suicide.

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