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Alebert Camus and Indian Thought

Alebert Camus and Indian Thought
Item Code: NAT389
Author: Sharad Chandra
Publisher: National Publishing House
Language: ENGLISH
Edition: 1989
ISBN: 8121402980
Pages: 151
Other Details: 9.00 X 6.00 inch
weight of the book: 0.33 kg
About the Book

The essential intellectual consciousness of the human mind perpetually pushes him to explore the mystery of existence, the truth of things. One is required to think and reflect on the nature of the cosmos, the destiny of the human individual, the distinction between the real and the unreal.

Each age has produced thinkers with a variety of ideas and methods. As a result, different systems of philosophy corresponding to different parts of the world have come to stay, such as Greek, Indian, European, Chinese. However, no single philosophy has anything exclusive to any one tradition. The differences are only in the manner of emphasis. Philosophy as such knows no frontiers. Whether born in the East or the West all human beings share a common human condition. All thinking therefore has a common base.

Author examines the validity of this premise through a detailed study of the work of the French Nobel Laureate, Albert Camus in relation with the ancient Upanisad thoughts.

In the writings of Albert Camus the whole civilized world found a nobility of spirit. The characteristic quality specially quoted in his Nobel Prize citation was, "his illumination of the problems of the human conscience in our time". This was also the basic conked of the ancient Indian sages. The Upanishads contain the earliest records of Indian speculation. They are remote from us only in the concept of time, and not in contents.

They disclose the working of the primal impulses of the human soul which transcends the difference in race and in the geographical position. Their aim is not so much to reach philosophical truth as to bring peace and freedom to the striving human spirit.

Camus was baffled by the seeming meaninglessness of human life, its inexplicability, the feeling of unreality and strangeness. He conceived ours to be a world without God, a world adrift and without any guiding purpose at all. His contention was that man faces a world which is simply there, and into which a man is hurled by a blind and senseless fate. And the final outrage is, "the cruel mathematics that command our condition", referring to the certainty, (I) that the life of every man must finally be snuffed out in death; and (ii) that all his striving and hoping and loving will be swallowed up into the silence of earth. Such is the bitter destiny appointed for man. Why? What is the meaning of this condemnation?

This theme of essential futility, absurdity, utter incomprehensibility of life and death is stressed in almost all his writings. Like Lord Buddha he was shocked by the sight of human misery and mortality. Yet, paradoxically was attracted to the essential desirability of it. Although completely ruffled by the consciousness of an ambiguous and silent God he was not unaware of "that strange joy that comes from a tranquil conscience", a perfect inner harmony one experiences on attaining true knowledge. Upani5ads are a search for this very reality underlying the flux of things.

About the Author

Another important subject dealt with insistently in the Upanishads is ethics. Very much in the manner of Existentialists the Upanishads also hold man himself responsible for his acts: Evil is the free act of the individual. Dr. Radha krishnan has very aptly said that Existentialism is a new name for an ancient method.

Dr. Sharad Chandra has put forward a convincing comparative study of two philosophies as expounded in their respective literatures and of two seemingly disparate cultures. Her argument is that the parallel ideas that she points out are not mere fortutious conclusions but either the result of a seminal influence or emanation of a common deeper vision. Besides being immensely interesting in itself this study is fundamentally useful to the interpretation of all. literature as belonging to the world and not to a limited geographical region.

Sharad Chandra has been a lecturer in English and French language in the university colleges of Delhi, Rajasthan, and Nigeria; and in Creative Writing at the Indira Gandhi National Open University, New Delhi. Now a fulltime writer-translator she has published six books and a number of articles, poems, short stories. Works of Albert Camus were the subject of her doctoral thesis, as well as of a couple of susbsequent research papers. She has also translated some of his works into Hindi.


Sometime back while reading L' Etranger, then Caligula and some other works by Albert Camus I was struck by the overwhelming presence of Indian thought in his writings. This was followed by an intense desire to establish the source and the extent of this influence, despite the fact that all data for my research was available only outside India—in France, or in Algeria. As a result, during the course of my work, I went twice to France to gather whatever information I could, and wrote letters to those whom it was not possible to meet, to re-confirm or cross check a certain finding. The main evidence, of course, lay in his own published works from where I have quoted references and passages, which to me seem to bear the impact of Camus's reading of 'the sacred works of India’.* The present book is not an assertion of any kind, nor an endeavour to expound Camus's philosophy as such. It is only an initial, modest statement of a proximity which still needs to be further explored. In the preparation of my book I wish to express my deep gratitude to Madame Catherine Cam us and Monsieur Jean Camus for graciously giving me whatever help I asked for. I am equally grateful to Madame Jean Grenier for the long telephonic talks I had with her and for answering my letters, I also acknowledge kindness of Monsieur H. Lottman and Professor Philip Thody for answering my queries. I am indebted to Professor Ramji Nagar, and to Professor C.P. Goyal for their valuable suggestions, to Madame Kitty Savariau for arranging my visit to various libraries in France and to Camus's house in Lourmarin, to Mr. Surinder Malik for his keen interest in publishing my book, and above all, to Madame Marie-Claudette Kirpalani to whose perception and initial guidance I owe this work. I must also acknowledge , however poorly but sincerely, the invaluable contribution made by my children and husband by cooperating happily with all my demands which were never few. I take this opportunity to express my most grateful thanks to Dr. Adele King for her generous help in reading my book in the manuscript and offering her experienced counsel at several places. My thanks are also due to Mr. J.S. Baweja for his exemplary care in preparing the typescript, to Mr. L.N. Malik for the pains he took in preparing the bibliography, to Mr. M.L. Chitkara, Mrs. Krishna Sen and the staff of the JNU library, New Delhi for their constant helpfulness without which I should never have enjoyed the comparative leisure and peace I needed to complete my work.


Albert Camus himself described his writings as the outcome of an effort to understand the age into which he was born. It was an age of bleak despair, of extreme human suffering, of torture, brain washing, scientifically controlled destruction, racial hatred, and the summary judgements of 'people's courts’, It was an age of moral and intellectual confusion. The sense of stability had completely shattered with the outbreak of the First World War in July, 1914. The German historian, Oswald Spengler, in his famous book, The Decline of the West (1918) gave expression to a fear morbidity which was then haunting people's mind, that perhaps, the end had come and the world was hurtling towards its doom. Men could well repeat what John Donne wrote about two hundred years back The Sun is lost, and th' earth, and no man's wit Can well direct him where to look for it 'Tis all in pieces, all coherence gone. Surrounded by such baffling incoherence Camus produced with 'clear-sighted earnestness' the brilliant masterpieces, 'illuminating the problems of the human conscience in our times," read all over the world with ever increasing fervour. Camus was born to the drumbeats of the First World War, and grew up at a time when humanity was facing its worst crisis of faith. In the West, there is a tendency to overlook the spiritual, and exalt the intellectual. The intellect by its very being dispels all mystery, puts an end to dreams, strips life of its many illusions, and thus reduces the great comedy of human life to a dull show almost always tragic. Confronted with such a spectacle Camus felt humility end inadequacy. But he was not prepared to close his eyes to it. He was a man of conscience and integrity, an intellectual whose mind could be subtle, ironic, incisive, yet grounded in commonsense. He was a profound thinker, a sensitive artist, a mystic, spiritually too conscious to remain a silent spectator to the sight of unmerited misery. It was intolerable for him to see life, 'being drained of meaning, to be told there is no reason for existing."A man,' he observed, 'can't live without some reason for He was baffled by She seeming meaninglessness of life, by its inexplicability, by the feeling of unreality and strangeness it transmitted all about itself. He pronounced the prevailing human condition as absurd, and the world, as a world without God, a world adrift and without any guiding principle at all. Impassionately, he argued that, man faces a world which is simply there, and into which a man is hurled by a blind and senseless fate. And to top it all is the final outrage of 'the cruel mathematics that commands our condition,' referring thereby to the certainty that; (i) the life of every man must finally be snuffed out in death; and that, (ii) all his striving, hoping and loving should be swallowed up into the silence of earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Such is the bitter destiny appointed for man. Why? What is the meaning of this condemnation? The theme of essential futility, absurdity, and utter incomprehensibility of life and death is ubiquitously stressed in all his work — not with the tragic resignation of T.S. Eliot, but with the resounding challenge of un homme revolte, and with the feeling of humanistic transcendence into a state beyond it. He found solace in studying the mystics, particularly Theresa of Avila. He meditated on Pascal, Saint Augustine, and on the advice of lean Grenier read the Bhagdvada-Gita2 He admired Claudel for having 'understood' that 'man is nothing by himself alone and that he must give himself to something higher." Camas did not believe in God. But he was not an atheist. He was deeply religious at heart, and had a sense of the sacred in him. He was more than aware of 'that strange joy that comes from a tranquil conscience,' Inspired by an authentic moral engagement, Camus devoted himself with all his being to the great fundamental questions of life. His nearly religious responses, and persevering concern with those aspects of life which were contemplated by ancient Indian sages, reveal an unmistakable metaphysical proximity with the thoughts contained in the Upanisads. His expressions are so completely soaked in their exalted spirit, that it is not possible to overpass this resemblance merely as a fortuitous conclusion. It is a profound influence effected on a sensitive mind, by a conscientious reading of the sacred writings of the Indian civilization. In his thesis on the Christian Metaphysics and Neoplatonism (1936) Camus mentions `Brahman des Upanisads'.5 In his "Philosophy of Expression" he talks about the Hindu master word, `... "Aum", la syllabe sacree des Hindous,' a master word which can illuminate everything.' He often paused on the ineffable and inexprimable aspect of the Brahman who could only be defined by 'non, non'. In May 1936, he made a note for himself to write an essay on "death and philosophy," perhaps, with some reference to Malraux and India.' His constant reference to the Vedas, Upanisads, Vedanta, Brahman, Indra, Buddha, Bodhisattva, Maya, long years of the ascetic meditation of the `Cakia-Mouni', spontaneous reproduction of shlokas from the Upanisads and the Manu Smriti, sometimes even quoting the source correctly convinces me of his direct exposure to the books which contain these names and concepts. Retention in the memory is normally indicative of the impression an idea makes on it. In the present context it confirms the seminal influence, the Indian philosophy exerted on the thinking of Albert Camus. His approach to life, his entire outlook, his reflections and response to the phenomena around him have a distinct Indianness about them. For all his exuberant love of life, his unrestricted indulgence in sensual pleasures, he was a severe ascetic,' and practised rigorous self-discipline in order to attain perfect self-control leading to inner harmony, real happiness, the Upanisadic `anandam'. He was a 'yogi' often discovered lost in the rapturous ecstasy of total union with the infinite.

**Contents and Sample Pages**

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