Advaita is one of the most influential traditions of the Vedanta schools of philosophy. However, its study and scope have been limited by the rigid frameworks of classical Indian philosophy. Apart from attempts to compare it to the philosophies of Kant and Bradley, little has been done in contemporary times. Underscoring the need to think creatively, this book offers a systematic contemporary critique of Advaita, and examines and evaluates some basic misconceptions.
Srinivasa Rao supplements classical Indian analysis of the Advaitic tradition with concepts and techniques extensively used in contemporary Western logic and anal1tical philosophy. He discusses the various approaches to the tradition down the ages. Treading fluid philosophical boundaries, Rao delves deep into the debate of the self and non-Self giving it entirely new perspective. Classic examples like the ‘rope and the snake’ and Western paradigm 0f Rip Van Winkle are used to give the book a wider scope.
Modern in its outlook, analysis, and technique, this book is an exhaustive critique of the Advaitic tradition. It raises several new and fundamental questions while answering old and classical questions.
Challenging the accepted norms of the Advaita parampara, and yet very much a part of it, this study will interest scholars, teachers, and students of Indian philosophy.
Srinivasa Rao is former Professor, Department of Philosophy, Bangalore University. Formerly affiliated to IIT Kanpur, he also taught at Mysore University.
This will probably be regarded as a strange book on Advaita written by a very strange thinker by some readers who may find them both to be very much out of the way. A few among them who believe very firmly in traditional Advaita may also be shocked by most of the discussions and criticisms found here. They might genuinely feel that both the book and its author are not at all in keeping with—or even as being totally hostile to— the classical Advaita tradition.
Hence I begin by setting up a sharp distinction between lifeless, rigid orthodoxies on the one hand and real, living traditions on the other. I do this because in India no such sharp distinction between these two is made and consequently totally dead orthodoxies take the full benefit of the situation and parade themselves as living traditions. When this happens in the field of philosophy which must always be an open-ended inquiry, it always becomes an essentially closed endeavour thus resulting in severe stultification of all creative thinking.
While there has still been a certain bit of creative thinking regularly manifesting itself even within the rigidified environment of all Indian philosophical systems, it has been all too easy for the Western indologists and philosophers to miss the creative dimension completely. Consequently they have too readily depicted Indian schools of philosophy as based on very rigid acceptance of authority. Their characterization of Sankara as a theologian who blindly accepts the authority of the Vedic “scriptures” is an outcome, on their part, of such deep seated misunderstanding.
The harmful effects of orthodoxy have actually multiplied manifold in the Indian environment and especially within Advaita Vedanta because of very subtle, but also very profound misunderstandings of the words and works of an outstanding original thinker like Sankara by almost all his commentators. One of the chief purposes of this contemporary critique of Advaita is to precisely expose, examine and correct some of the most basic misunderstandings. In the past one hundred years alone, there have been several attempts in my own state Karnataka in India by eminent Vedantins like Sivarama Sastri, V. Subrahmanya Iyer, K. A. Krishnaswami Iyer, Vedantam Subbiah Sastri, Swami Satchidanandendra Saraswati and Swami Paramananda Bharati to oppose the orthodox misinterpretation of Sankara’s teachings. This work by me is exactly along the same lines, and therefore I hope that I am in good company. My work very substantially differs from theirs in that it is written by supplementing the classical Indian analysis with many special concepts and techniques extensively used only in contemporary Western logic and analytic philosophy which I had the good fortune of studying completely on my own exactly like the classical Advaita original texts. Therefore if there any faults in my approach and techniques, I alone am completely responsible.
The book remains entirely in what I regard as the twilight region where a large number of philosophers simply refuse to explore, usually preferring only the well-lit regions for their investigations. Hence I will not be surprised if the traditionalists very viciously attack the book as totally contrary to Advaita parampara besides leveling many false charges against Advaita and containing many misrepresentations of its position. Of course, the reactions of the Western-turned-Indian experts cannot be predicted at all and hence I do not speculate about it. Only those who are not already fully committed to some specific form of Advaita but are still philosophically curious and open-minded may find this book interesting. It is also largely written with them in mind as its prospective readers. Despite whatever any person may feel and think after going through this book, I very much want to assert that this is definitely a book on Advaita in the Advaita tradition though it may never at all be recognized as one such by many of the adherents and admirers of that great tradition of thought.
Since my expectations are at the barest minimum, any good reception this book might receive will justifiably be viewed by me as its success rather than as its merit. If some fresh critical thinking is generated about Advaita as a result of this work, the purpose of writing it would be regarded as more than fulfilled.
I am personally very thankful to Professor Godabarisha Mishra, Member-Secretary, Indian Council of Philosophical Research, New Delhi for his support and the very intensely involved editorial team of Oxford University Press in New Delhi for neatly executing the publication of this work.
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