Redefining Fundamentals

Thanks to reader Kaanganeya for pointing me to this excellent interview where S.N. Balagangadhara (Baalu) shares his thoughts on certain fundamentals, which he says need heavy redefining. I’ll add my random bits here.

The current theoretical framework is firmly embedded within Western cultural history and proves inadequate when it comes to studying non-Western traditions. The framework therefore needs rethinking.

And I agree with a lot of things he says. He begins well by asking the right questions:

The definition will only come later. We would first need some kind of description. We will look at traditions first. Is it possible to demarcate traditions? Can we, for example, say that Buddhist traditions are completely different from Advaitin traditions? Do they overlap? Where do you draw the line? Should you draw the line? Why draw the line? These are the kinds of questions that will be asked.

While Baalu himself mentions it in the interview, I find it relevant to repeat it here: think about the sources of an "average" Indian knowing something about his own religion? All sources are either direct Western interpretations, or "native" reinterpretations of Western interpretations. Besides, there’s little or nil by way of hardcore Hindu philosophy taught even at graduate and postgraduate levels in our universities. The results are visible everywhere: even well meaning–genuine "liberals" club Hinduism into the pantheon of Abrahamic religions, which have had disastrous influences historically and conclude that "all religions are equally insane." As Baalu rightly points out, even a scholar as renowned as Radhakrishnan is guilty of this in little measures:

So far Indian philosophers like Dr. S.Radhakrishnan have only been reproducing what Western philosophers have been saying about us.

Incidentally, Dr.Radhakrishanan’s two-volume work on Indian Philosophy is pretty tame compared to a tightly-packed, feature-rich Critical Survey of Indian Philosophy by Chandradhar Sharma or one of Ananda Coomaraswamy’s numerous works or even M.Hiriyanna’s awesome Quest after Perfection. Anyway, it is mysterious how most Western scholars for more than hundred years overlooked considering this crucial aspect before studying Hinduism:

First of all, we have no religion in India and even philosophy, as the West knows it, is absent. But what we have is something different. We have experience. We have reflection on experience. We ask a different set of questions to what the Western philosopher asks. Experience, in occidental philosophy, is confused with sensations, or emotions, or feelings, or thoughts. But experience is actually all of this. It is not identical to any of these. It is what we call anubhava, which roughly translates as“having an appropriate way of being in the world”. This knowledge that Indians have developed over the last 3,000 years belongs to all humankind…

The Upanishads give us the best examples of experience and reflection thereupon. The Bhriguvalli for example, gives us a glimpse into how a student was taught: learning by experience. The student graduates to successively higher stages of experience till he expounds the knowledge he has gained from each experience. At best, Western philosophy is a series of feats in logic.

10 comments for “Redefining Fundamentals

  1. Sudhakar
    December 31, 2007 at 2:22 PM


    Stumbled across your blog today and have been enjoying it very much and learning a few things.

    “Critical Survey of Indian Philosophy” seems to be a good book for Indians/Hindus to read (Out of stock in Amazon but the excerpts I see on questia seems promising)

  2. Chakravarty
    December 20, 2007 at 1:23 PM

    Something about the Sikhs.

    Have a look at

    Note the frequent derision of Hindu symbols. For instance all “bad” Sikhs are seen wearing the sacred thread or sport a Tilak. The author’s hatred for Hindus in general, Brahmins in particular is obvious.

  3. Dark Lord
    December 19, 2007 at 11:25 PM

    According to Baalu, the the nonsensical question that arose in western circles was “Why ought I to be moral ?” (Glaucon’s Challenge to Plato). From here, it is only a matter of logic that various theories were devised to prod this “perfectly rational Man” into action. The more involved theories will take into account more and more idiosyncracies, but the intermediacy of theory will always involved. The Christian sets out to homogenize the world because Christ imparted the “Great Commission”; Christ, is of course, the living embodiment of the immutable “ought”.

    In contrast, In India and Asia, we have duties which conflict. The inevitability of Action is a given (As Shri Krishna says, everything acts at all times. Even Animals act). These duties are learned through experience (as Sandeep pointed out above). Such a society would never produce an overriding logic such as “the great commission” (substitute “dictatorship of the proletariat” or “social justice”).

  4. December 19, 2007 at 9:11 PM

    Any ideas on why Balu in this interview says Patanjali’s definitions are not scientific nor sufficient? Also on what basis he feels Sanskrit was never a spoken language?

  5. Sandeep
    December 19, 2007 at 5:23 PM


    Perceptive comments.

    >>In western universities too, the Upanishads are taught only through translations by westerners, as if Indians have no clue about it.
    Come to think of it, how many Indians today have a proper understanding of this?

    >>Socrates had this method called dialectics, in which was a technique for enquiry.
    Shall we say Marx (?) perfected it by adding “materialism”? 😉
    >>Through relentless cross examination, Socrates forced the students to examine their opinion rationally amd make the knowledge part of one’s being.
    Absolutely. But it stopped there, and didn’t go inward like it did in India.

    >>For the first few weeks simply coming up with good articles or titles would be task enough.
    Yahoogroups is a good idea but adds an overhead of maintenance. I’d rather if one of guys sent me those articles and I’d publish them here, on my blog in your respective names, of course. If you’re interested, send me an email at deepuDOTsandeepATgmailDOTCOM.

  6. Dark Lord
    December 19, 2007 at 3:31 PM

    I think even Wolpert admitted that India possessed far more comprehensive systems of logic than anything out of the West.

    Instead of possessing only the rigidness of logic (to the exclusion of anubhava), is it possible that the West lacks exactly those critical logic systems which prevent the generation of the “ought”, the utopia-fixation which renders their moral models as essentially nonfunctional and unrealistic (but frees them to impose their image and logic upon the rest of the world).

    We always get the feeling that we are dealing with mental midgets who require a logical justification and rigid logic for every action.

    Why do you place kumkum on your forehead? Does it symbolize [insert pet theory]?

    Why are you fighting for your traditions – Don’t you believe in social justice? – What about the rights of the Missionary? The missionaries also have traditions, the tradition to convert. Christianity adds to the diversity of India. Yes, Christianity has eliminated countless traditions but these were defective in some way.

    Why did Aishwarya marry a dog? Why not a cat? Are you prejudiced against cats?

    Etc. Etc. Etc.

    Here’s a comment by a Sikh which I came across:

    >>>When you become a sikh you become a sardar(king). You become fearless, i ask all my hindus to become sikhs open up your eyes why do you belleive in mathma ghandhi who went on hunger strike but didn’t have the balls to fight the british. Hindu gods fought for love if some god took his wife, sikh gurus fought for justice equality.
    You hindus have nithn to fight for, who will die for a monkey rat a cow ?????????????>>>>>

    So the (abrahamized) Sikh here believes in fighting for an abstraction and he distinguishes himself from the Hindu who is situated in a particular set of circumstances and only reacts accordingly.

    Everywhere we see the same thing. The American fights for “freedom”. Muslims own India because their Creator created the land. If you think otherwise, you will eventually hit that familiar wall of intractable Muslim logic. The abstract principle gives them absolute dominion over the world and its processes.

  7. JK
    December 19, 2007 at 8:33 AM

    Limited pages of the book are available at Google Books.

  8. Dark Lord
    December 19, 2007 at 12:22 AM

    Perhaps this why we feel dissonant when Adi Shankaracharya is referred as a “philosopher”.

  9. kaangeya
    December 18, 2007 at 9:25 PM


    You praise me, much, thank you. Thanks for pointing me to Chandradhar Sharma. I have been leafing thru the title online at The chapter on “Buddhism and Vedanta” is required reading for every aspiring Indic commentator. This and a few other works read over a year or two would equip one to offer an informed if not expert opinion when dumkopfs like Pankaj Mishra or Rahul Bose peddle their ignorance. Other must read works with Dr. Sharma’s are SLB’s Sartha and Parva. Baalu’s articles are more accessible than his thesis “The Heathen…” The righteously indignant and ignorant Indophile is only a little less annoying than the “progressive eminent chatterati”.

    At one can find a pdf of Baalu’s book, and articles by Baalu and his collaborators.

    Sandeep, the discussion blog site could be hosted on any sign in forum like yahoogroups and work in a measured way to take up important issues. For the first few weeks simply coming up with good articles or titles would be task enough.

  10. JK
    December 18, 2007 at 12:40 AM

    Excellent post. I have ordered Critical Survey of Indian Philosophy by Chandradhar Sharma and am waiting to read it. In western universities too, the Upanishads are taught only through translations by westerners, as if Indians have no clue about it.

    Socrates had this method called dialectics, in which was a technique for enquiry. This dialogue was meant to force people to think critically, to confront illogical, inconsistent dogmatic assertions and express their ideas clearly. This method forced the student to be an active participant in acquiring ideals and values. Through relentless cross examination, Socrates forced the students to examine their opinion rationally amd make the knowledge part of one’s being. This would be like the viva voce we have in our exams. Then as you said, this is a feat in logic and not in experience.

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