Editor’s note: This article appeared in the Journal of American Academy of Religion
The paper attempts a contrast between the process and the structure of the Christian and the Indian spirituality. Drawing attention to their dissimilarities, it attempts to reformulate the differences among the Indian traditions in a novel way. It argues that cultures and traditions are not just different; but that they differ from each other in different ways as well. The future of religious studies, it is suggested, is dependent on developing the ability to develop new ways of describing the differences between cultures and traditions. This is the agenda for the future. As a correlate to this task, the paper suggests that we replace the question “who speaks ‘for’ and ‘about’ a religion?” with a more pregnant and a more accurate reformulation: “how to speak for a religion in the Academy?”
In the course of the last decade or so, an increasing disquiet seems to reign in the discipline of religious studies. The conference on Contested Religions and Religions Contested is both recognition of and an attempt to address the issues, if not to redress the situation. In the overview to the project that has led to the present conference, the organizers formulate one of their concerns as follows:
Questions are … being raised that concern the role of scholarship and scholars themselves in the attempt to understand religions today. Increasingly it is clear that notions of religion developed in the colonial context of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries are being challenged both by those interpreted through those ideas and by scholars from around the world who are calling for new descriptive and analytical categories …. What and who have been neglected and distorted by scholars’ ideas of religion?
Hailing from such interpreted traditions, viz., the Indian traditions, I do believe there is an urgent need for developing new descriptive and analytical categories. In fact, it will be the primary burden of this paper to suggest that the Indian traditions have been hitherto presented in a distorted form and that more adequate theoretical tools than what we possess today need to be fashioned. However, the organizers of the conference are not likely to give their assent to this proposal without asking searching questions about who should undertake such a task. Indeed, as they formulate the issue explicitly, who has the authority to speak for or about religions? A workshop panel on the ‘The Politics of Representation’ sharpens this question further: “Are there legitimate and illegitimate ways of speaking ‘for’ and ‘about’ a religious tradition or religions? Who determines these, and how?” In other words, it appears as though one cannot simply argue for developing new ways of describing different religions and traditions without, at the same time, tackling the issue of who does any of these things. Consequently, in this paper, I will try to do both and here is how I plan to do it. In the first section, I will very briefly locate the multiple sources of this double question and confine myself to making some general remarks. In the second, third and fourth sections, I provide thumbnail sketches of an alternative description of the Indian traditions. This enables me to make clear what has been distorted by the scholars’ notion of religion. In the concluding section, I reflect upon the agenda for the future of religious studies.
Let me begin with the ‘who speaks for…’ question in rather general terms first. Quite obviously, this issue has preoccupied many people in the field of religious studies. The discussions about the ‘insider/outsider’ problem are familiar to most of us. Equally familiar is the urgency, which the post-colonial writers have brought to the theme by underwriting the relation between knowledge and power in such discussions. While one can resonate to the concerns behind the ‘who speaks for…’ question, it is with disfavor that I look upon such a general formulation.
Three threads have coalesced here. First, there is the issue whether one has to be religious in order to speak about religion. Second, there is the correlate to this issue with respect to specific religions. Third, there is the problem about the relation between representation and power.
Does one have to be religious in order to study religion? Many people have answered this question in the affirmative. This has invited rejoinders to the effect that in order to study neurosis, one does not have to be a neurotic any more than one has to be a stone in order to describe its fall. While true, these facile analogies miss the central difference: religion includes what it says about itself. The Bible is a book, to be sure. However, if one studies it for what that book is to the believers, one cannot overlook the claim it makes about itself, viz., it is the word of God. One cannot bracket this claim away and still study the Bible in order to understand Christianity as a religion. If one does this, one does not have religion as the object of study anymore. To accept the claim, however, is to accept theology as the ‘science’ of religion. While this dilemma cannot be discussed any further here (see Balagangadhara 1994 for an exhaustive argument), the point remains: if one wants to study religion, one has to accept what religion says about itself because it incorporates what it says about itself.
Does one have to be, say, a Christian in order to study Christianity? To the extent we study Christianity as a religion, the above point holds. Christianity, however, is more than merely a religion: it is also an ecclesiastical organization, a movement of people, a set of theological claims, and so on. To study or criticize any of these aspects, one does not need a party card. In this sense, belonging to a religion is not like having the right to attend the shareholder’s meeting of an organization or like being a member of the Central Committee of a Communist Party, which entitles you to speak for the political party.
It is true to point out that the so-called world religions have been historically associated with centers of political, economic and social power. Do these collusions tell us something fundamental about religions? They do not; unless, that is, one has a theory that can spell out what relations, if any, exist between the properties that make some phenomenon into a religion and these centers of power. Of course, we might learn much by studying religion also as a sociological, political and economic phenomenon. However, surely, that does not tell us why we would want to call, say, the Catholic Church a religious organization and not a civil or a political association. Studying the complicity between the Pope and an authoritarian regime could tell us much about the Pope or even the Catholic Church as a power center. Nevertheless, it does not tell us what Catholicism is, any more than it tells us why Catholic Christianity is a religion. In other words, no matter how interesting such empirical studies might be, in the absence of a theory about religion and, say, politics, there is not much mileage in the claims about the relation between knowledge and power. Currently, we do not even have the vague promise of such a theory.
Do these general remarks suffice to write off the concerns behind the question ‘who speaks for…?’ They do not. The underlying worry is also about the nature of portrayals of non-western religions and cultures. Scholars of religions have failed to provide us with adequate accounts of traditions and religions from other cultures. In fact, one of the reasons for the ‘who speaks for…’ issue has to do with the flawed representations we have today.
At the least, that is what I think. Speaking from within my area of expertise, it is my conviction that the Indian traditions have not been adequately described and that there are fundamental flaws in the current descriptions. The agenda for the future, as I see it, is to begin the process of developing different ways of describing the differences between cultures and traditions. However, I want to make this general point by focusing on the Indian traditions and organizing the next three sections around two reference points: a problem often identified as the ‘Aristotelian’ question; and an imagery of routes and their description.
On an Aristotelian Question
Let me begin with the following question: ‘how should I live?’ Depending upon who is raising this question, whether a teenager or a middle-aged man, it is susceptible to at least two interpretations and, as a consequence, allows of at least two possible answers. To the teenager, it would be an answer to say, ‘live as an ethical being’. At this stage, it is irrelevant what force the word ‘ethics’ carries – whether ‘normative’ or ‘non-normative’. The same answer would probably infuriate the middle-aged person: his question lies ‘beyond’ the ethical. Probably, he is saying something like this: “To the extent possible, I have tried to lead an ethical life. I have undergone many experiences in life. I am now struggling to ‘make sense’ of these experiences. I am increasingly at a loss to cope with all my projects, ambitions, dreams, desires, success and frustrations. How should I live from now so that I may reconcile these forces, passions, attitudes etc. with each other?”
As a matter of fact, the real Aristotelian question is the one the middle-aged man asks. For Aristotle, the answer to this question constitutes the ‘ethical domain’. A search of eudaimonia (loosely translated as ‘happiness’) is undertaken only after undergoing some experiences in life. That is why, to Aristotle, a moral agent is an ‘experienced’ person:
… (A) young man is not a proper hearer of lectures on political science; for he is inexperienced in the actions that occur in life, but its discussions start from these and are about these; and, further, since he tends to follow his passions, his study will be vain and unprofitable, because the end aimed at is not knowledge but action. And it makes no difference whether he is young in years or youthful in character; the defect does not depend upon time, but on his living and pursuing each successive object as passion directs. For such persons, as to the incontinent, knowledge brings no profit; but to those who desire and act in accordance with a rational principle knowledge about such matters will be of great benefit.1
There are three of points worth noting in the above citation. The opposition is not between ‘reason’ and ‘passion’: one can pursue any passion (fame, wealth, power, etc.) in a ‘rational’ way. After all, modern-day industries use market research, advertising campaigns, and theories of management to pursue their goal of making profit in a ‘rational’ way. So can an individual. Rather, it is a contrast between directing all one’s abilities in order to acquire an object and ‘thoughtfully acting’ or ‘thinkingly-doing-something’, where action is brought under the scope of thoughtful considerations.2 The second point is that even those ‘who are old in years, but young in spirit’ (a compliment these days, which has the status of a norm about how one ought to grow old!) are not considered ‘fit’ to receive instructions in ethics. Their ‘defect’ is that they too pursue objects as ‘passion’ dictates. That is to say, they too cannot pose (or understand) the question of Aristotle, viz., how one should live. The third point is that ethical discussions begin with ‘actions in life’; they are reflections about these actions; the goal lies in the acquisition of an ability to act (thoughtfully). Modern philosophers have attributed the notion of ‘contemplative life’ to such a conception that has action as the end product! ‘Living a life thoughtfully’ glosses such a notion more accurately than ‘vita contemplativa‘.
Our middle-aged man is, thus, raising the question of Aristotle. “I have pursued many things in life. I have acquired wealth and status, and aimed with varying degrees of success to become powerful and famous. I have been successful in some of my endeavors, while failing in yet others. I thought these things would make me happy, but I discover that, apart from moments when I felt ‘good’, these projects have only made me unhappy. What should I do? How should I live?” Today, these questions are not a part of ethical enquiry, any more than a quest for eudaimonia is: at best, these are the ‘esoteric’ questions and quests of ‘exotic’ religions;3 at worst, one raises them with one’s psychoanalyst during a ‘mid-life crisis’. This situation should already indicate the distance between what is called an ‘ethical enquiry’ today, and what Aristotle thought was the subject of all such enquiries. But that is not the focus of this piece now. However, there is no need to confuse matters by continually drawing the distinction between ‘modern’ ethics and ‘Aristotelian’ ethics. So, let us follow the contemporary consensus and call the quest of our middle-aged man ‘spiritual’ (from now on without scare quotes). Seeking spirituality, and not having found it in those objects that he once so passionately pursued, he is now raising a spiritual question: in fact, he is undergoing a spiritual crisis.
Could one outline the structure of such a crisis? Using a terminology quasi-accepted by most of us, I would like to do that regarding two traditions: the western Christian religion and the Indian traditions. The terminology should indicate both the similarity and the difference between the ways the traditions from the West and India structure such a crisis. Let me begin with the Christian religion.
A problem confronts us straight-away. What is the relation between Christian ‘religiosity’ and the Christian ‘spirituality’? The question involves many things. On the one hand, it asks for a clarification of the terms ‘spirituality’ and ‘religiosity’ within the context of the Christian religions. On the other hand, it also involves a normative discussion about religion: are today’s religions adequate to meet the ‘spiritual’ needs of the modern man? Has the (Catholic) Church today lost the ‘spirituality’ it once had and become a mere organized religion instead? And so on. I am not interested in the normative discussion. But I will (partially) tackle the question of the relation between ‘spirituality’ and ‘religiosity’ within Christianity.
A Christian Religious Loop
Let me begin with a medieval monk. There are several reasons for this choice as a starting point. Firstly, there are quite a few works dealing with medieval religiosity (including autobiographies and hagiographies) that can be fruitfully used in this context. Secondly, one can contrast my outline with the processes that such works portray in order to identify deficiencies in my sketch. Thirdly, one can extend such a sketch to the modern-day world as well: many people (like Söderblom, for instance) have left enough material behind them for us to pursue this line of enquiry without getting caught in the normative discussion about what a religion ought to be. Fourthly, thereafter, we can see whether the modern man has ‘spiritual needs’ too, the way he is alleged to have ‘religious needs’ as well. For all these reasons, let me begin with the medieval monk.
As a deeply religious person, this monk believes that man is a sinner but God loves him nonetheless. He believes too that one could experience the infinite love of God if only one opens up one’s heart to God’s grace. In a way, you could say, he believes them as ‘true propositions’. He does not yet appreciate their depth, or their true meaning, because he has not quite experienced what they seem to say. This is how he embarks on his quest: because he knows them to be true (this is his faith), he wants to experience this love ‘first hand’. So, he begins a process of fasting, prayer, study of the scriptures, and whatever else his monastery prescribes. After some suitable length of time, he discovers that no matter how hard he tries, he does not experience God’s love for him. Anxiety begins to gnaw: why does he not have this experience when the scriptures, the saints, some fellow-brethren, all assure him that it is real? Is he not sincere enough? Does he not try hard enough? Is he approaching it the wrong way? Are his sins too great for God to forgive them? The soothing words of the Abbott, that the monk too shall experience this love if only he ‘opens himself up authentically’, instead of comforting him, transform his anxiety into downright panic: because no matter what he does, he does not have that experience.
The monk now enters a loop: the more he tries, the less successful he is. The less successful he is, the harder he tries. Each circuit through this loop increases the stress, and that merely makes the subsequent traversing of the loop even more stressful. Very soon, this loop opens up another loop within itself. The monk begins to doubt whether he will ever find God’s love. However, to entertain this doubt is to doubt the truth of the scriptures. Believing in the scriptures is leading him experientially to doubt the truth of the scriptures. His faith assures him that he too shall experience God’s love; his experience makes him doubt whether he ever will. (This is the second loop.) Now the monk is undergoing what could properly be called a spiritual crisis: he has begun to doubt the words of the Holy Spirit. It is important to note that the monk does not doubt whether the Holy Spirit exists or whether his faith in this entity is misplaced. If he doubted this, he would be undergoing a crisis of faith. As a man of faith, it does not even occur to the monk to doubt the Holy Spirit. On the contrary. His spiritual crisis occurs precisely because of his faith. That is to say, a spiritual crisis occurs within the confines of a faith and within the parameters set by the latter.
The spiritual crisis suggests to the monk that the reason why he does not find God’s love is to be located in his ‘state of mind’. His state of mind assures him that his sins are too great: he has even begun to doubt God’s love for him. His faith tells him that this is his greatest sin and confirms what he knows: the Devil is sowing these seeds of doubt (about God’s Word) in his mind. Thus, he tries harder; prays that God rescues him from the clutches of the Devil. He is filled with self-loathing and self-disgust for not being able to resist the Devil and ‘truly believe’. The intensity of travelling through the loops increases, the stress and tension grows, the pitying looks in the eyes of his brethren become more noticeable, until, one day, the inevitable happens: he suffers an absolute, total and complete nervous breakdown, the price for getting caught up in an unending loop.
The Christian Spirituality
Let us notice the ‘psychological’ transformations he has undergone in the process of suffering the nervous breakdown. Firstly, his sense of agency is shattered. He is unable to do the many things he could do with consummate ease before. Perhaps he is even unable to take care of his personal hygiene; he starts crying for no apparent reason. He flies into uncontrollable rages; perhaps, cannot stop eating or drinking. In short, he realizes that he has no control over himself, while he previously thought he had. Secondly, because of this realization, his vanity is shattered. All his ‘urges’ are sins, and he cannot control them. The Devil can do what he wants with this monk and he is powerless to stop Him, something the scriptures and his religion always proclaimed. Thirdly, his sense of value is shattered: he now realizes that all men are sinners like him, and he is the worst sinner of all. In its wake, his sense of worth is shattered as well: he is more loathsome than the crawling worm and the poisonous insect; at least, they are not tainted by sin the way he is.
In this situation, in the depth of despair and self-disgust, there is still hope for him because he is a man of faith. The monk knows from the scriptures that God has proclaimed His love for the humankind and sent down His only son to save them. This realization is, perhaps, the most shattering of all: how can God love such sinners as this monk, and promise to save them? Such a love cannot simply be conceptualized, and the monk is dumbstruck by it. The monk is not worth it, this he knows in his heart, and yet, in His infinite mercy, God promises to save him. At last, he understands (from the bottom of his heart, so to speak) why God’s grace is incomprehensible and infinite.
It is this realization that opens the floodgates. His heart is filled with what he was looking for: God’s love. God was always present; the monk went through the purgatory in order to emerge purer of spirit and stronger of faith. He starts recovering from his breakdown, and finding God’s love is crucial to this process. He now ‘discovers’ God’s grace, and finds out why it is called the healing grace of God. Indeed, this experience starts to heal him, and in the reconstitution of his personality, these elements are never far away. Our monk has had a spiritual experience, and he will perhaps end up becoming another example of those touched by God. Just for the sake of convenience, and only for its sake, one could also put it this way: if the monk was a religious person before, after his experience he has become a spiritual person as well. In this process, our monk realizes that his earlier ‘failure’ to discover God’s grace was not, strictly speaking, a failure at all. It is only thus, and no other way, could he open himself up to be filled with God’s love.
Perhaps the above picture is a bit too Augustinian, but, as an illustration, it should do. What I want to get at in this picture is the fact that his religion steers the monk in a particular way, sets up a loop, generates a breakdown, and helps him emerge out of it with the means to reconstitute his personality that is more in consonance with itself. Needless to say, the community (that the monk is a part of) plays a significant role both in steering him towards a breakdown as well as help him recover from it. In general terms, the path of the monk is that of ‘conversio‘ but he will truly understand its meaning as he starts recovering and assumes his duties. It is a process of turning himself inside out, an asymptotic process, the completion of which is not possible through human hands and human efforts.
From the above hypothesis it does not follow, firstly, that all monks underwent (or undergo) this entire process. No teaching process can make all the students learn the same thing in exactly the same way. A differential learning is an inescapable fact for all teaching processes. This is ever truer for a teaching process that works upon and (trans)forms the experience of its students. Secondly, it does not follow that this ‘spirituality’ is only to be found among the monastic orders. There is no reason why some of the laity cannot undergo a similar process outside the confines of a monastic order. However, it is highly probable that one finds significantly more ‘spiritual experiences’ within the ambit of the monasteries than outside it.
A Loop in the Indian Traditions
How could we conceptualize such an event (or process) in the Indian culture? I would like to begin with the questions of the middle-aged man, and locate him within the Indian culture.4 Because of his location in the Indian culture, its resources open up to him in his attempts to pursue answers to these questions.
The first and the most important thing about the resources of the Indian traditions is the assurance they give him: what the person seeks, call it eudaimonia (or ‘happiness’) till a more appropriate term is introduced, can be found. Not only has the person heard about the indefinitely many people who have found eudaimonia, but also knows that there exist indefinitely many traditions that claim to teach the path leading to it as well. Perhaps, he even sees people who have sought and found what he himself is looking for. In other words, he knows before he undertakes his quest that his questions have answers and that they can be found. All he has to do is try.
Thus he begins his quest. Very quickly it is obvious to him that what he seeks is not to be found in the outside world, but inside him. A period of ‘introspection’ is initiated and, after a suitable length of time, the person comes to the conclusion that introspection does not help. Not only is such a process equivalent to entering a bottomless pit but his ‘internal life’ is also as varied, rich and complex as the world outside him. The answer, in other words, is not found in the inside either.
Now the loop gets set up: the answer is neither inside nor outside him. But it can only be in one of these two ‘places’. Perhaps, his ‘introspection’ was not done the right way; maybe he did not look hard enough; perhaps he was not sufficiently perceptive. Be it as that may, he starts traversing the loop: from the inside to the outside; from the outside to the inside. Each journey through the loop increases the tension: why does he not find it, when others have? What is he missing? What does he not see? His tradition assures him that he too can find the answer. What should have been a fruitful search seems to culminate in a fruitless movement through the loop.
By now, the tension has become unbearable. He does not know what he is looking for, but he knows that ‘it’ is there to be found. Clearly, he is missing the obvious, but the obvious refuses to ‘reveal’ itself to him. Despair sets in, helplessness overpowers him, and he even wants to stop searching because he has exhausted himself. None of this works; his journey on the loop becomes more intensified, fed further by his day dreams of the answer occurring to him in a ‘flash’ or of a kind ‘guru’ guiding him in this process. Knowing that the answer is ‘obvious’, but not finding that which is apparently so ‘obvious’ deepens the loop. There is one predictable end to this loop as well: a total and complete nervous breakdown.
Experiential knowledge and the Indian Traditions
Much like the medieval monk, this middle-aged person too experiences a shattering of his sense of agency, but here all further similarities cease. The reason lies in how this shattering is further experienced and what it consists of. To the middle-aged man, this experience comes as a ‘revelation’: it is as though a cloak is lifted from his eyes and he is looking at the world for the first time. He realizes that he was never an agent, even though he always thought he was one. His breakdown provides him with this knowledge, and he recognizes it as such because of his tradition. He is now enlightened, and if he pursues this path, he pursues the path of enlightenment. He sought eudaimonia, and he has found it in knowledge.5 Even though many people had repeatedly spoken of the same ‘knowledge’ from his tradition, it did not appear to help him before his quest began. That is because this knowledge is of another type: it is an experiential knowledge that involves his situation.
In other words, this person realizes that all his endeavors, projects, dreams, desires and frustrations were never really ‘his’. His unhappiness arose not because these projects were pursued, but because he thought they were ‘his’. He has still to work out many things: whose projects were they, if they were not ‘his’ projects? Why and from where did he have the experience of being an agent? etc. The important point here too is that the Indian tradition steered the middle-aged person in a particular way, helped him set up a loop, and generated a breakdown. The middle-aged man must now emerge out of it, and use his insight to reconstitute his personality in a way that is in consonance with his experience.
Religiosity and Spirituality
Very often, ‘religious experience’ is described in terms of states that are typical of all breakdowns: the ‘feeling’ of insignificance, worthlessness, and such like. What is wrong with these descriptions is that they describe a religious experience as a set of ’emotions’ or ‘feelings’: resulting from something else (e.g. gazing up to a starry night in a meadow) or as a state of mind (‘epiphany’, for instance). My story of the medieval monk provides a different picture: a religious experience includes the path travelled and the path to traverse. It is a particular way of experiencing (oneself and the world); the particularity of the way cannot be specified without speaking about how one has come to a particular ‘point’ and where one is going thereafter. What we choose as a significant unit of experience in order to elucidate the religious experience is merely a ‘point’ on this path. It does not, however, provide a description of the religious experience itself and, as such, is arbitrary if taken to stand for religious experience as such. One could take any other ‘point’ on this path as well. A spiritual experience is part of such a religious experience.
In other words, there is a distinction between religiosity and spirituality. The latter is the subset of the former: spirituality is a particular kind of religious experience. While one could be religious without being spiritual, it is not possible to be spiritual without being religious. This distinction requires to be more carefully worked out than I can in the confines of this paper. Because nothing in my argument revolves around this distinction, I will leave this problem aside.
However, there is another distinction that is more crucial to this paper: the difference between the Indian traditions on the one hand, and a religion like Christianity on the other. I have exhaustively argued (see my 1994) that if Christianity, Judaism and Islam are religions, then the Indian culture does not have any native religions. That is to say, entities like Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, etc. are not examples of the category ‘religion’ the way the Abrahamic religions are. I am not presupposing these arguments in this paper, but elucidating the differences in yet another way. The goal of Indian traditions is to enable the practitioner to achieve ‘enlightenment’.6 Let us see how this is different from the end result of the Christian Monk.
The experience of enlightenment in the Indian tradition is fundamentally dissimilar to the religious or spiritual experience. The middle-aged person’s insight into the nature of agency breaks radically with the experience of daily life. It tells him that his experience of daily life is something of an illusion and, by doing so, reorganizes the way his experience was structured hitherto. But this restructuring does not tell him how he should go further, or what he has to do next. Enlightenment involves a restructuring of the travelled path, but says nothing about the path to traverse. In so far as the middle-aged man still has a future, all he can do from now on is act thoughtfully, and, in this process of thinkingly-doing-something, try to sustain and develop his insight further. What does this ‘thinkingly-doing-something’ mean? It means constantly attending to his insight in all his future endeavors. In the language of Nichomachean Ethics, the middle-aged man has acquired an ability to act thoughtfully and he has acquired it by gaining an insight (knowledge). In other words, our middle-aged man has found eudaimonia.7
Does it mean that similar quests always require a breakdown of the people who undertake such a journey? After all, nervous breakdowns have nothing heroic or romantic about them; they are always sordid and messy affairs. Besides, the outcome is unpredictable. Yet, with respect to Christianity, my answer is a qualified ‘yes’. It is my impression that the Catholic and the Protestant religions are far more inclined to induce a breakdown than the Indian culture. My impression is based on some reasons. Firstly, it is my belief that my description of ‘religious experience’ closely tracks what is called the religious experience in the Christian tradition. Secondly, I believe that the monastic orders appear to have developed methods to induce a spiritual experience. While it is undeniable that a spiritual quest in the Christian religions could be undertaken successfully without a messy experience, it is my guess that one will find significantly more spiritual persons with such an experience than those without it. Thirdly, perhaps more importantly, there is very little satisfactory reflection about spiritual experience within Christianity. Its nature has not been conceptualized enough.8 In a way, such a situation stands to reason: how do you conceptualize either God’s infinite Grace, or His unbounded love? What can you say about the experience of your heart being filled with His love for you and mankind? One may wax eloquent, or live like a saint; neither helps in reflecting about this experience. The ‘mystics’ in the Christian tradition speak a language that only fellow-mystics can understand, and their reflections are not helpful to the non-mystic. Perhaps, that is the reason why spiritual experiences have something mysterious about them; such people appear to have been ‘touched by God’, as it were.
Do the Indian traditions induce nervous breakdowns in individuals on a quest to enlightenment? The answer is in the negative: they do not. While such breakdowns can and do happen, the energy of the Indian traditions have been focused towards teaching and guiding individuals towards enlightenment without such an experience. Using many different strategies, the Indian traditions mould the experience in such a way that the insight of the middle-aged man can be taught without inducing a nervous breakdown. As we have seen, the middle-aged person’s insight was that he was never an agent. Paraphrasing Aristotle, let me “start with this experience, and discuss about this experience”.
Enlightenment and Plurality in the Indian traditions
One possibility of understanding his experience is to say that he was never an agent (nor could he be one) because there are no agents. This is the answer, for example, of the Buddhist traditions. I say ‘traditions’, because there are several ways of understanding the absence of agency. One could say there is no agency at all and that the experience of agency is totally illusory. (This is the ‘doctrine’ of anatta.) Or one could say that acts give birth to an illusory ‘experience’ of agency. To understand the illusory nature of this experience requires an insight into the relation between the organism and the actions.9 These different accents roughly indicate in the direction of the different traditions in Buddhism.
The second possibility lies in taking the insight in another direction: Who is the ‘he’ who realizes that ‘he’ was never an agent and all agencies are illusions? ‘Whose’ illusion was it, and why did ‘he’ succumb to this illusion? When these questions arise, a new ‘interiority’ opens up that is different from and other than the internal mental life. That is to say, the middle-aged man discovers that there is a difference between his persona and ‘himself’. Here too different possibilities open up. Either the person discovers that the ‘he’ cannot be a particular, because particularity is a property of the organism and the persona. In that case, he is heading towards the Advaita traditions. Or he could experience the particularity of the ‘he’ in a different way than the particularity of the persona: in that case, he could head either towards the Jain traditions or towards the Dvaita traditions.
The third possibility is this: the illusion lay in the fact that the middle-aged person thought that he was the agent, while he never was. Actually, someone else is the Agent and this agent is acting through the middle-aged person all the time. The middle-aged person now sees his role as a conduit, and no more than that. Now, we approach the various Bhakti traditions.
Religions and Traditions
Even though I began the paper by putting both the Christian monk and the middle aged person in an analogous situation, their evolution, as we have seen, diverge in fundamental ways. Even the destinations of their journey appear different. I would like to suggest that this is one of the parameters for outlining the differences between entities like Hinduism; Buddhism, Jainism, etc. on the one hand and religions like Christianity on the other. There is a difference in kind between these two sets of entities. What one needs to do in the field of religious studies, to the extent that one speaks about an agenda for the future, is to not only say more clearly what the differences are but also theorize the implications of these differences. Let me continue to spell out some other differences of import between Indian traditions and religions like Christianity.
Earlier on, when I located the middle-aged man in the Indian tradition, I did so only to provide him with the means to set up a breakdown. What would be the nature of his insight if he belonged to a particular tradition? That is, how would he experientially understand his insight if he was, say, a Buddhist? The reason for this question should be obvious. If Buddhism, Jainism, Hinduism, the Bhakti traditions, etc. were all to be religions, there would be a great difficulty involved in the migration of ‘doctrines’ across religions.10 To what extent would the Buddhist enlightenment be ‘different’ from the advaitic enlightenment? Given what I have said so far, such a differentiation does not make much sense: because they are experiential insights, it is not possible to differentiate them ‘doctrinally’. However, it might be possible to postulate such a divide when one starts providing further explanations for these experiential insights. Therefore, let me take a ‘Buddhist formulation’ of an explanation: attachment to the worldly things and events is at the root of the illusion that we are agents. Let me look at the several ways in which this ‘explanation’ could be recuperated by the different Indian traditions. I will do that by suggesting that the differences between these entities can be re-described in a different way: it makes no reference to the doctrine, but speaks of the activity instead.
Recuperating the Differences
One way encourages an unremitting reflection and analysis of the experience of being an agent. Who acts? What is acting? In what does the attachment consist of, except the feeling of ‘I’ and ‘mine’? What are these two terms? Is the ‘I’ the same as this body, or this organism, or this persona? Does the sense of ‘I’ undergo change and development as the organism or the persona undergoes change and development? If not, what is the relation between the ‘I’ and the other two? This is the path of knowledge (Gyana) that changes the nature of experience by correcting it.
Another way of reaching the same insight is to go deeper into experience. Any attachment requires constancy: of the object or the event one is attached to, and of the ‘agent’ who is attached. The deeper one delves into locating this constancy in experience, the more one discovers discontinuities and inconstancies. One discovers that neither the ‘structures’ of experience nor their ‘constancy’ are given in experience. Rather, they are provided by the descriptions of the said experience. This would be the meditative path to such an explanation. By relocating the subordinate units of the daily experience, the meditative path (Dhyana) restructures it.
The third way of achieving the same insight is to notice that ‘attachment’ is also a particular human emotion. To be unattached requires an altering of this emotion. One can do that using other kinds of human emotions as ‘meta-emotions’ directed towards emotional attachment. Attachment to objects, events, and persons are seen as situations a person is caught up in. Ironical and humorous descriptions of such situations enable the person to achieve a sense of distance from those situations; compassion and sorrow, directed towards the situation of suffering caused by attachment will help loosen the hold of the emotion of attachment. Music, rhythm, cadence, dance and poetry (in combination) work on generating such sets of ‘meta-emotions’. This is the devotional path (Bhakti) to such an insight. This path restructures experience by altering the force of emotions invested in such experiences.
A fourth way of achieving the same insight is to try and severe the relation between action and its outcome. Attachment can also be seen as the experience of relating action to its outcome and claim that one is the fruit of the other. One decouples actions from human intentions, and such a decoupling can be achieved by building reflexivity regarding action and ‘its’ intention. One acts ‘observantly’, observing both the nature of action and ‘its’ alleged intention, only to discover that ‘intentionality’ is no ‘property’ of the ‘agent’ at all. This is the action path (Karma) to the insight. This path transforms the daily experience by severing the relation between human action and human ‘intentionality’.
Consider how a fifth way would approach this insight. Whatever one experiences, there is but one means through which one experiences: through the organism that one’s body is. Consequently, one can also begin to understand what experience is by experimenting with the experience itself. One way of doing that is to begin manipulating experience, begin assembling and reassembling it. One’s body is not only the means through which experience is possible but it is also the instrument to experiment on experience itself. That is, the focus shifts to the body, its sense organs, and such like in order to understand what the ‘insight’ is. This is the Yoga path to further the insight.
Thus one could go on. But my purpose is served. One could differentiate the Indian traditions on the basis of their ‘doctrines’; equally, one could differentiate them according to the activities they encourage; one could do both and graft doctrines or activities onto each other. All these possibilities indicate that the activity of ‘distinguishing’ the Indian traditions from each other is classificatory in nature: why one chooses one way of doing it and not another way depends upon one’s purposes for wanting to classify them. It also suggests that one’s ability to classify depends upon the categories one brings to bear in the study of these traditions. To suggest that ‘Buddhism’ and ‘Hinduism’ are two different religions and that their doctrinal differences are crucial to this divide is not a claim about the structure of the world. Instead, it is a claim about one’s classificatory scheme.11
The above point is important enough for us to linger a bit longer. When scholars come up with stories about the ‘religions’ that exist in India and the differences between them, mostly the belief is that they are making claims about the nature of Indian culture and her traditions. That is what the intellectual world has believed so far as well. This situation is understandable: one knows that one has merely classified the world in one particular way, only when one comes across alternate methods of classifying the same. Until such time, one believes that one’s classification mirrors the structure of the world. That is the case with the students of Indian traditions as well.
If so, it is obvious that the debates about ‘who speaks for…?’ question become more than a bit irrelevant. If what one calls ‘Hinduism’, ‘Buddhism’ and ‘Jainism’, etc. have more to do with one’s classificatory scheme than with the structure of the Indian culture and the nature of her traditions, what exactly does one ask for, when one raises the question, ‘who speaks for Hinduism?’ or Buddhism, or whatever? What would constitute answers to these questions? This situation should further indicate to us that something is seriously wrong with these kinds of queries.
Multiplicity of Teaching Methods
Be it as that may, let us continue. I have provided thumbnail portrayals of (some of) the paths based on a very summary description of a single insight. The only purpose of this exercise is to demonstrate the heuristic productivity of this approach in capturing the diversity within the Indian tradition. That can be highlighted by further showing that this approach captures disputes among these traditions as well. From the description I have given of these paths, it is obvious that each is present in the other: reflection on experience cannot be undertaken without emotion; poetry and music without thought are impossible; one cannot go deeper into experience without thinking about experience; reflexivity without thought and emotion is impossible, etc. In other words, the practitioners from each of these paths are likely to have disputes with the others that their way is superior because it incorporates other paths as well. Such is the case in India. Such disputes are also productive: they generate newer ways through cross-fertilizations. Techniques and strategies migrate and the diversity in the tradition increases. Such an end-result is both necessary and desirable: no particular teaching process can teach every individual in the same way and to the same extent. The presence of a multiplicity of teaching methods can only increase their total efficacy.
What kind of teaching methods am I talking about? Let me answer this question by looking at how the teaching methods have ‘segmented’ the phases in learning. Because a teaching method can teach only if it dovetails with the process of learning, it is of importance to know how they steer the process of learning. Broadly speaking, there are three phases to this learning process: (a) the process of listening or reading; (b) the process of analysis and achieving insight; (c) the process of contemplation. (Even here, a thumbnail sketch will have to do.)
The first phase appears quite straightforward. To the questions the middle-aged man raises, different traditions provide different answers. One listens to or reads these answers, reflects about them so that one grasps the meaning of what is heard or read.
The second phase involves reflection and analysis of what is understood. It is also the process of making use of the analytical and cognitive skills one has learnt in order to draw inferences, formulate hypothetical answers, and test them out. This phase could also be called ‘internalization’ of answers.
The subsequent phase is one of contemplation. One contemplates the insight achieved and observes its impact on experience. To do so, one has to learn new skills other than the cognitive skills one used in the previous phase. These new skills are achieved only by contemplating the internalized answer. There is nothing ‘circular’ about this: one can ‘skilfully’ do something only by acquiring the said skill; the only way of acquiring that skill is by doing it.
Here too, one could say that the first two phases are really unnecessary. In fact, one might even find them counter-productive because in the third phase one has to think differently than in the previous two phases. As a result, one can develop a teaching process that further sub divides the third phase into successive stages and concentrate on teaching that. Zen Buddhists do precisely that; together with their meditative techniques, their koans are the means of teaching the ability to think without thinking about.
The refinements in these phases and the development of further techniques to successfully negotiate such phases; the inevitable migration and cross-fertilization of strategies; these add to the diversity in an already enriched landscape. By now it must also be clear that there is no need for any kind of a loop or breakdown. What is required is merely the presence of these teaching traditions in the culture.
It requires noting that I have continuously spoken of migration and cross-fertilization. That means to say that the strategies, techniques, and insights can migrate across different traditions and different paths. The Buddhist and the Dvaita are examples of different traditions; they do have their ‘own’ identities. There is a divide between them too, but it is not a doctrinal divide. We need to conceptualize the difference between traditions in a different way than we do that with respect to philosophies or religions. The Buddhist insight about desire being at the root of sorrow is as much Upanishadic as it is Buddhist. It is an experiential insight not confined to specific traditions. Does that mean that such insights are true descriptions of the world, and nomenclatures like ‘Buddhist’, ‘Advaitic‘ etc. simply identify the origin of these truths? Einstein’s theory of relativity merely tells us that he formulated it in the first place. Is an analogous claim being advanced here? Not quite. I want to put across the claim that these insights are primarily guides to action and they are that in a particular way. These insights are rooted in experience and help you in its transformation. Even though such insights do have a descriptive role, they are not (in any straightforward sense) descriptions of the world. Let us see whether it is possible to make sense of this qualified claim.
Consider two kinds of descriptions: a description of a route to a destination and a software manual. Both tell you what to do. One tells you of the routes you need to travel, whereas the other tells you what you can do with the software and how to do it. Both are combinations of instruction and description. The software manual tells you what steps to execute, and you can find out whether you have executed the right steps by recognising the description it provides of what you see on the screen. A similar point holds with respect to the description of a route: it tells you turn left and right, and then go straight. To find out whether you took the correct turns, you are provided with landmarks: ‘follow the road for 100 meters and then turn left at the petrol station’ and such like. It is important to remember that such instruction manuals are useful to us, if we are not familiar with either the software or the route. The insights of the Indian traditions are partially like the software manual or a description of the route: they are guides in orienting ourselves in an unfamiliar territory. In the first place, they tell you what you see. We need remember that the ‘unfamiliar territory’ refers to our individual experiences. In other words, they help us orient ourselves in the unfamiliar world of our own experiences.
What is ‘unfamiliar’ about our own experiences? Well, everything. The very ‘obviousness’ of our experiences is a guarantee for its unfamiliarity. We have a certainty about our emotional states that goes far beyond any other kind of certainty we can imagine. When a person is angry, the person knows he is angry. No one can tell this person that he is confused about his emotions. Without any teaching, he knows what ‘anger’ is, what ‘sorrow’ is, etc. I do not mean that he has a ‘theory’ about these emotions. What I do mean is that he ‘knows’ when he is angry and when he is happy. That is to say, when they occur in him, he has the conscious ability to distinguish these emotions from one another. But how does he know he is angry? How does he know that he is not confusing ‘happiness’ with ‘anger’? The very absurdity of these questions tells us that we are speaking of an entirely different kind of certainty. Not only that. That he is able to know he is ‘angry’ and not ‘happy’ will have something to do with the structure of these emotions. And yet, the person is unable to represent to himself what the alleged structure is. Our emotional worlds may be obvious to each one of us; but familiar, they certainly are not. That is why we need guidance in navigating ourselves in this world.
A Metaphor of Route Description
How do these insights help us orient ourselves? Imagine there is a destination we want to reach. Imagine too that the territory is a circle and we want to reach its center. Let us say that it is a vast territory and indefinitely many descriptions of routes to the center are available. We do not know what is at the center; but we do know that there is a center to this territory. So, let us assume further that we pick up some description of the route at random and proceed. Like all such descriptions it tells us where to go, how to go, identifies what we see so that we may know where we are. Who can make sense of this description of the route? Those who are on that route, because it (partially) describes the landmarks on that particular route. Therefore, we can say that the role that the ‘route description’ plays as a (partial) description of the world is strictly subordinated to its ability to guide you in that route. Its description is ‘true’ only for that route and it is ‘true’ only in so far as you are on that route and not on another.
Two crucial assumptions were made in the above paragraph: we had a place to reach, and we have an idea about the nature of the territory. Under these assumptions, the route descriptions become competitors: consequently, picking a route description at random (our third assumption) becomes an irrational choice. The rational choice would be to pick out the easiest and the most efficient route. We choose a description before we take a route, and we do that using the criteria of ease and efficiency. If we do this, it appears as though we need to forego the claim that route descriptions are ‘true’ only for those on that route. However, one could argue that these criteria are still relativized to the individuals. (What is ‘easy’ for one need not be the same for another and ‘efficiency’ is relative to ‘ease’.)
Let us now observe the following: some route descriptions claim that all other descriptions lead to the camp of the cannibals, and there exists only one route to the ‘palace’, which, they say, is your destination. That is, not only do they tell you what is at the center but also what happens to you if you do not choose the right route. Thus, we are provided with ‘objective’ criteria for choosing between the competing route descriptions. These descriptions specify the nature of the territory, the goal of the journey, provide a complete description of the route, and tell you what happens if you are on the wrong route. Not just that. They specify that there is a time limit: if you do not reach the destination within a particular time (‘before you die’), what awaits you is too horrible even to contemplate. The criterion of ‘efficiency’ cannot now be relativized to the individual ‘ease’ any more, but becomes very objective instead: the need to reach the destination before the time is up. Religions are such route descriptions. They tell you what to do, it is true, but through description and prescription. They too are ‘guides’ to action but not the way the Indian traditions are.
Let us, therefore, drop the assumptions that the territory is a circle, and that we want to reach its center. All we know is that we are on a journey. However, let us retain the assumption that we have route descriptions. Let us observe too that each route description assures us that it will bring us to ‘the’ destination, and that there are no time limits. Now, we have very little to go by: how does one judge which route description to pick? In the first place, it depends on the individual: what ‘ease’ means to him, how fast he wants to travel, how much he wants to enjoy the scenery, how many times he wants to set up camps, how hurried he is, etc. However, it does not mean that there is no reasonable ground for making a choice: in so far as one is already on a path, one chooses a route description that is best able to describe what one has already seen and what one is seeing currently. A route description that describes a mirage (and what to do about it) is of no use to me when I am in lush lands and facing a jungle.12 It is true that my experiences are (partially) moulded by the tradition I am born into; hence also my inclination to look at my own tradition first. Only when such a search fails do I cast around for other descriptions, which are closer to my experiences. In other words, the route description should make sense to the individual and it can do that only if it is a true description of his individual experiences. It is this claim that relativizes the ‘route description’ to the individual and to the route he is on.
On the Nature of Indian Traditions
How is this description a guide to his actions? How does it differ from, say, a route description that a religion is? Just because a route description makes sense of the past and current experiences of an individual, it does not follow that it will continue to do so in the future as well. With respect to any given individual, as route descriptions, the Indian traditions are retrospective in nature: they succeed (or fail) in making sense of your past and current experiences only. They help you orient yourself only by telling you where you have come from and where you are currently. But in doing so, they also function prospectively: they encourage you to proceed thoughtfully on your journey. They continually ask what you see. Because you know you have been wrong in the past about the sights you saw, you are far more attentive to what you see now and what the route description says. Neither the ‘first look’ (at the sight) nor the ‘first reading’ (of the route description) is authoritative: you need to doubt both and test both with respect to each other. In other words, these route descriptions inculcate the ability to go-about the world experimentally. Your experiments involve your experiences of the world in a non-trivial way. The more a route description helps you in this, the more you trust the route description you have. Indian traditions are traditions in this sense. They are guides to action not because they tell you what to do in some circumstance but because they tell you how to go about doing whatever it is you do. You have to do it thoughtfully and experimentally. It is this ability that the Indian traditions teach.
As human beings we are pretty similar; as individuals we are unlike each other. What helps one person may or may not help another, and the experience of the one is definitely not the experience of the other. An individual born into a tradition is analogous to this. While his experience is (partially) moulded by the tradition he is born into, as an individual, his experiences are different from those of the other members. While following some particular route, he suddenly discovers that what he ‘sees’ is not a palace but an oasis. Because nothing in his tradition helps him at that juncture (this is a ‘weakness’ that all traditions share), he looks around for a description that tells him what he sees. He does find one such: but it speaks of a route that included rocky mountains and acres of sand before an oasis is encountered, whereas this individual has travelled only lush lands. A new tradition can now be born, one which also includes a route through the lush lands to the oasis. Traditions are like routes, and their insights are the retrospective route descriptions. There are indefinitely many routes, and the route descriptions can migrate and cross-fertilize as the routes cut across each other, or as individuals encounter ‘similarities’. The routes are divided; that is why they are different routes. Consequently, their route descriptions are also different. But all of them have only one function: to reach ‘the’ destination. There is no way of telling, either beforehand or thereafter, which route is the best. All one can say is that one took this route, and that some (combination of) route descriptions worked for one.
Summarizing: the insights of these traditions are not ‘doctrines’ or even straightforward (partial) descriptions of the world. They are ‘route descriptions’ relativized both to the route and to the individual on that route. Their role as (partial) ‘descriptions’ of the world is strictly subordinated to the role they play as instructions for actions (in the sense I have just explained). Because of this, it is not possible to speak either about the truth or about the falsity of such traditions but only about whether or not some route description taught the individual to go-about the world experimentally.
The Current Situation
Imagine someone doing the following: take the descriptive elements from such ‘route descriptions’, abstract them from the routes, and try to present them ‘coherently’ as a tract.
When one travels 100 meters, one encounters a petrol bunk. A left turn at that corner brings a palace into view. Yet, someone else claims that when one travels 100 meters, one encounters a clump of trees. A left turn at the lake brings a desert into view. Another traveller suggests that a travel of 100 meters brings neither a petrol station nor a clump of trees into view, but a swamp and a bullock cart. Therefore, one cannot turn left there at all. To which, a fourth traveller counters by saying that even travelling 10 meters brings one into an ocean, so how could one travel 100 meters? Besides what is a ‘petrol station’, and who needs it anyway? There are only wooden rafts here …
Such a tract is virtual gibberish and is anything except ‘coherent’. No one has any idea whether it is a route description, where this ‘route’ is, whether they are all about the same route or different routes, or what the ‘reference points’ refer to. Just because these descriptions appear to be about ‘routes’, by virtue of this alone, they do not become sensible route descriptions or rival descriptions of the same route. It is true that both Buddha and Shankara speak about human beings. From this it does not follow that some ‘doctrine’ is ‘Buddhist’ and the other belongs to its ‘rival’, viz., the ‘Advaitic‘ philosophy of Shankara. Buddha is said to have formulated the doctrine of ‘anatman‘, whereas it is indubitable that Shankara speaks of ‘atman‘. However, this does not help us figure out what ‘atman‘ is;13 and even less what ‘anatman‘ is (except that it is supposed to be a negation of ‘atman‘). And yet, the current Indian philosophy is the site of such ‘coherent’ tracts, whether their authors are Indian or western. Why has this situation come about?
It has to do with what happened to the (reflections about) Indian traditions when they encountered the route descriptions that religions are. Instead of being stimulated by encountering such ‘alien’ forms, Indian intellectuals appear simply to have succumbed.14 Was it merely the fact that these encounters with militant religions occurred within the framework of aggressive military conquests (first the Islamic Persia, later the Christian West)? Were there internal reasons (internal, that is, to the traditions and culture of India) for this state of affairs as well? How could the Indian intellectuals so thoughtlessly take over descriptions that could not have made any sense to them? Could it be because these traditions themselves ceased to make sense to the Indian intellectuals? How and when did reflections about these traditions divorce themselves from the inner life of these traditions? Does it make sense to say that living traditions go ‘subterranean’, become implicit as it were, and still remain living traditions? These are only a few of the questions we need to answer today.
This paper has attempted to tackle one of the questions the organizers of this conference raise: what and who have been neglected and distorted by scholars’ ideas of religion? My answer is that there is a fundamental neglect of the differences that differentiate entities like Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, etc. from religions like Christianity. Descriptions of the former have been assimilated into the frameworks evolved to describe the latter. Consequently, there is indeed a distortion but that has little to do with who has spoken for the Indian traditions. The distortion and the neglect have to do with a denial of the different kinds of diversities that exist between religions in different cultures and not with who has denied this. In fact, I propose that we replace the question, ‘who speaks for religion in the Academy?’ with a more meaningful one: how to speak for religion in the Academy?
The agenda for the future of religious studies, if this domain is to have a meaningful future at all, will consist of attempts to develop novel ways of understanding religious and cultural diversity. Hitherto, people have hardly reflected on what kinds of diversity exist or on appropriate ways of describing them. In other words, not only do we need to provide different descriptions but also search for adequate ways of doing the same.
This search will not follow familiar roads and well-worn tracks. We need to find new paths because, while treading the old, we have become much like the medieval Naturalists. They catalogued and classified, but did not discover; described but failed to understand. We have catalogued religious (and cultural) diversity, described differences in detail, but have failed to understand what we describe. Common to both efforts is the assumption that diversity can be understood by providing a detailed description of the differences between phenomena. In our context, diversity does not merely mean that there are different religions and cultures, but that they are different in different ways. A failure to realize this will doom us to garnering details till ‘kingdom come’.
Today, we need to think of the ‘otherness’ in entirely different terms. One could even take an extreme position and argue that we communicate not because of a shared humanity but because we are different and thus speak differently. Without diversity, and the ensuing difference and disagreement, what is there to say except, as Wittgenstein put it, “wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darüber muss man schweigen” (whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent).
Nicomachean Ethics, Book I. P. 1730; my italics.
What do the phrases in the scare quotes mean? It will be made clear in the text later on.
In front of me lies a book, The Art of Happiness, a dialogue with Dalai Lama.
That is because, unlike Christianity, there are no ‘priests’ and ‘monks’ as convenient starting points. Not only that. I would like to identify one of the sources for the multiplicity of Indian traditions.
Knowledge is not Eudaimonia but the middle-aged person has an ‘insight’ into what it is. See further.
A literal translation from Sanskrit is ‘the dawning of knowledge’.
Now we can understand why ‘happiness’ is a loose translation of ‘Eudaimonia‘, and in what sense it has to do with knowledge. Here is where Aristotle meets another pagan culture.
Often, spiritual experience is confused with the religious experience as such.
This formulation is a variant of the famous thesis about the ‘dependent co-origination of the acts and the agent’.
For example, the Anatta doctrine of the Buddhists is fundamentally different from the atman doctrine of ‘Hinduism’. Many suggest that this accounts for their difference as religions the way the doctrine about the Messiah distinguishes Christianity from either Islam or Judaism.
In other words, a study of the Indian traditions will also lead to the same point that the study of religion led me to in my 1994.
Assuming, of course, that one recognises a ‘desert’ or a ‘mirage’ solely on the basis of descriptions alone.
Since it is supposed to be ‘self-luminescent’, why bother figuring it out?
This is the observation of the result, not a description of the process.
The Complete Works of Aristotle, Volume 2. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984.
“The Heathen in His Blindness …”: Asia, the West and the Dynamic of Religion. Leiden: E. J. Brill. Reprinted, Delhi: Manohar Publishers, 2005.
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