Approaches to Personhood in Indian Thought (Essays in Descriptive Metaphysics)

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Item Code: NAD775
Author: Ian Kesarcodi-Watson& J.G.Arapura
Publisher: Sri Satguru Publications
Edition: 1994
ISBN: 8170303982
Pages: 269
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 9.0 inch X 6.0 inch
Weight 420 gm
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Book Description
About the Book

The truth of the self is something that needs to be subjected to philosophical inquiry anew in every age, and every clime, which means, on the one hand, standing on what is already known, and on the other, beginning from scratch but using the best tools at our disposal. 0 doubt analytical philosophy has furnished us with some excellent tools, which, however had been customalitly used for destructive purposes. Nonetheless, some very significant movements in the directions of constructive thought have taken place in analytical philosophy, the most notable among them having been Sir Peter- Strawson's attempt to produce a descriptive metaphysics. Dr. Kesrcodi- Watson has followed in his footsteps in several of his writings, and most of all in his magnificent effort here to analytically describe the truth of the self-spoken in the parts of the Indian tradition he has appropriately selected. And his description is also an original investigation right within Indian philosophy itself in that he searches out the threads of ideas pertaining to the self (a/man) a La personhood lying within the Taittiriya Upanisad's teaching on the five kosas, the Yoga Sutra teaching on ciuta-vrtti in relation to the 'how to', and the Buddhist Nagarjuna's philosophy of dynamic critique of the presumed 'thin' character of the self and the not-self (atman and anatman)

Editor’s Preface

Dr. Ian Kesarcodi-Watson passed away on May 12, 1984, after a short but painful period of illness. He was just forty-five years of age, and had already shown tremendous potential in his philosophical thinking and writing." The last manuscript he had worked on for a while before leaving for the fatal overseas sabbatical was his doctoral thesis which he earlier had successfully submitted to the Department of Philosophy at Poona University (Pune, India) in 1982. It was' entitled, Approaches to Personhood in Indian Thought.

The manuscript had attracted the keen attention of Professor J.G Arapura of McMaster University, in Canada, with whom Ian Kesarcodi-Watson had studied in the late sixties. Following the author's demise, Professor Arapura kindly undertook to complete the revision and edit the manuscript and pen his own Foreword by way of introducing the work. He has done a remarkable job, and by this gesture has helped to bring the thoughts of Kesarcodi- Watson on this enormously important subject to the forefront of scholarly discussion: indeed a precious gift to modem metaphysics, whether we agree with his ideas or not.

Acknowledgement is also due to Mrs. Ihita Kesarcodi-Watson for agreeing to release for publication the manuscript from the deceased's estate. Mrs. Winifred Watson, still in anguish by the untimely death of her son, provided constant encouragement to those of us involved in taking the project to the conclusion envisaged, or so we trust, by the late author. His two children Purnima and Aditya and close friends have also been a source of inspiration. The Indian Books Centre happily accepted to publish the work in a monograph series under my editorship.


Stephen Hawking, generally considered the most brilliant living scientist, in his best-selling, popular book, A Brief Survey of Time, makes an arresting remark on the state of philosophy today, especially bearing on the dominance of Analytic Philosophy. He speaks of the philosophers' failure to keep up with the advance of scientific theories that describe what the universe is (scientific cosmology that is), with the result that the philosophers whose business it is to ask the why questions, complementary to science's own how questions, have failed in that cardinal respect, and have turned to narrow concerns with the gravest air of seriousness, in a way that seems rather anticlimactic. Hawking notes, "philosophers reduced the scope of their inquiry so much that Wittgenstein the most famous philosopher of this century said, 'the sole task of philosophy is the analysis of language'." Hawking exclaims, "What a come-down from the great tradition of philosophy from Aristotle to Kant!" (S. Hawking, A Brief History of Time, New York, Toronto, etc. Bantam Books, 1990, pp. 174-75). The great physicist quite rightly suggests that philosophy must justify its existence by asking the important questions about reality. Those pertaining to the cosmos are decidedly among them. But there are others, especially those pertaining to the meaning and end of human existence, and those pertaining to Ultimate Reality as such. Here we may say that the philosophers have to learn much from the religions. Even in respect of visions of the cosmos that would be so.

Raising these questions are the result of translating and rendering into thought and language some elements in our consciousness which are disposed to-and urge-such translation. Only a fraction of what lives and moves-and often sleeps-in our consciousness is actually rendered into thought, and only a fraction of thought gets successfully expressed as theories and only a fraction of these are confirmed by experiment (in science), analysis (in philosophy) or experience (spiritual realization and/or psychological unfolding).

The task of thought must always be to bring more and more of what lies hidden-or asleep-in consciousness into its own orbit and into rational expression in language. That no doubt precedes all theory-making intended to furnish clear pictures of states of affairs, namely, what is, as also of ideals, namely, what ought to be, and, again, all kinds of intersecting of what is and what ought to be, which forms the legitimate subject-matter of ethics in the best sense of that word.

The question about the self is among the great questions. Ian Kesarcodi-Watson's work, here introduced, deals with it in a new and truly penetrating way, but essentially upon the basis of select developments in the classical Indian tradition such as found in the non-dualist Vedanta of Sarikara, in Yoga-Sutra and Nagarjuna's Karikas. And it is noteworthy also that Ian approaches the question of the self with the tools of analytic philosophy in which he was well-schooled at Oxford, but decidedly with a metaphysical interest-so uncharacteristic of that philosophy in general. Ian, however, was profoundly influenced by Sir Peter Strawson's work, Individuals.

For a discussion appropriate to the Western context, Dr. Kesarcodi Watson titles his work Approaches to Personhood in Indian Thought, which also shows-and we are clearly so informed-that he himself is looking at the issue with Western eyes. And that is the very reason why he states at the very beginning that [as he saw it] a central problem for Indian thought is the nature of personhood. However, lest this view be misunderstood, he points out the Indian pre-occupation with the "self;" and the self, he inclines to argue, is "what makes a person, and hence contributes to personhood."

The category of person is certainly characteristic of Western ways of understanding what a human being in essence is. An d yet, before it entered metaphysics (and theology) it was a concept originated in the theatre, where it was appropriated by the legal tradition and then it became metaphysical theological. The term itself is of very low origin, and it is an irony that it came to stand for the ultimate essence of man (and of God); persona, prosopon, originally meant the actor's mask, through (per) which he sounded (sonat), and yet thereby became a definite character. [That is the dramatis persona which we still know about, say in Shakespeare's plays.] This led the way to the individual behind the mask to be perceived as a person-a great shift indeed-in the eye of the law, a being of value, in exchangeable, inviolable, and hence to be protected and treated as responsible at the same time. In the evolution of (Western) societies personal standing of individuals has varied while it has also gradually developed, tending towards universality and uniformity. The Western religious tradition has played a very important part in this. Women and children-and slaves most of all-had to fight their way to achieving personal standing. And yet the denial of it was mitigated in the spiritual sense by the concept of the individual and the older concept of the soul. However, in the West it is by the services of theology that the concept of person really got developed. The great Greek theologians like Ongen, Basil and the two Gregorys and the great Latin theologians like Augustine led the way. And metaphysics benefited from it all.

By contrast, the concept of the self had a poor and chequered history in the West. The Greeks really had no such concept. Historians of philosophy often blithely speak of the Socratic ideal of self-knowledge. Actually, it had nothing to do with knowledge of the self, as it simply stood for man's need to know himself, most of all his limitation. That is what the Delphic utterance "know thyself' (gnothi seauton) meant, and "thyself' -seauton-is but a reflexive pronoun. It did not even have the virtue that the parallel (and later) Western concept of person as the unique, in exchangeable, indivisible, individual acquired. The precept of "know thyself' was only meant to teach man humility, especially in respect of what he may hope to know as man. However, the older and the more authentic concept of the soul had a great history in Western metaphysics and consequently in theology, the high point of it probably having reached in Aristotle.

It is not until Hegel that the idea of Self (Selbst) came into genuine metaphysical use in the West, but then it mostly remained within speculative philosophy. In Hegel, however, we meet with for the first time in philosophy profuse use of expressions like "self-alienation," "self-interest," "self- sufficiency," "self-consciousness", etc. And we also meet with occasional use of self/selbst (Self/Selbst) substantially but always subordinated to the spirit in movement. It sometimes appears as "qua inner soul of the process" (cf. The Phenomenology of Mind, Baillie translation, Allen & Unwin, 1964 impression, p. 517), sometimes as the self which wants to know, for whose sake the unfolding panorama of knowledge is exhibited, the knowledge, however, being that which "knows God to be thought or pure Essence," and "knows this thought as actual being and as real Existence" i.e. "Existence as the negativity of itself, hence as self, an individual, 'this' and a universal Self' (cf. Ibid, p. 761). For Hegel, Self in the last resort is the bearer of the moods and passions of the World Spirit, implying some profound unity underlying the diversity of human selves.

However, Hegel's contemporaries, the Romantics, against whom he strove mightily, attenuated the meaning of the self and turned it into a kind of aesthetic subjectivity. And different kinds of empiricism and positivism followed in its wake, having started out by joining issue with the Romantics. The physiologists carne first who, to quote from an obscure author, "identified the self with a large ganglion in the nervous system," and argued that a hard blow on the head would make a person lose his self. [Gilbert Ryle but expresses the same view by way of very sophisticated analysis.] Freud thought of the self as the libidinal urge, foredoomed to frustration, for the benefit of civilization. Karl Marx spoke of it as the worker deprived of his tools. One person, however, who used the concept of the self in a most powerful, though destructive, way was Nietzsche in whom it took the form of the will to power, to life, to freedom, entailing immolation and creation.

Diametrically opposed, yet akin, to Nietzsche stands Kierkegaard, who had put himself forward as the iconoclast of Hegelian idealism. Kierkegaard and Nietzsche are very similar: the latter with God would be like Kierkegaard, and the former without God would be like Nietzsche. Kierkegaard's greatest existential category was the Single One (Der Einzige). He too viewed the self from the point of view of will: "The more consciousness, the more will; the more will, the more self. A man who has no will at all is no self' (The Sickness Unto Death, translation by Lowrie, Princeton, 1944, p. 44). For this thinker who is regarded as the father of existentialism, the self became a very central concept. In both Kierkegaard and Nietzsche there is a clear turn to the individual as the "existing" self. In both cases "to exist" must be understood in the active sense; it entails decision, resolution and so on. Here the self is not something given but something always being achieved and held.

Theologian Paul Tillich, reverting to the older meaning of existence, uncouples the self and existence: "A self is not a thing which mayor may not exist; it is an original phenomenon, which logically precedes all questions of existence" (Systematic Theology, I, Chicago, 1951, p. 169). Yet the self is experienced in the form-of self-relatedness, questions pertaining to which always arise, and even when one negates it, one affirms it (cf. Loc. cit).

Martin Heidegger has engaged in huge discussions on the self. He makes a (to him) basic distinction between the "they-self" (Man Selbst), inauthentic, everyday, even when applied to "I" or "my own self," and "the phenomenon which is included in care ... defined existentially in a manner which is primordial and authentic (Being and Time, 303; Macquarrie translation, Harper, 1962, p. 351).

Dr. Kesarcodi Watson's work, basically analytical, concerned with the individual self inasmuch as it is what underlies person-hood, draws insights, as already stated, from certain great expressions in Indian philosophy rather than from classical Western ontology or from existentialism of any kind. There is a great advantage in this, in that it furnishes an unencumbered and altogether fresh start (i.e. even as a Western enterprise of thought, which is what Ian's work is). And immersed in the quest after the self, with no parallel in the West, where at least since the beginning of Christianity, the counterpart that held a similar primacy has been the person. The attempt that Ian makes to relate the person and the self, and to derive the one from the other, in a hitherto unprecedented way, is more than valid; it is a precious gift to modem metaphysics.

Author's Preface

Without doubt, a central problem for Indian thought, and hence for its understanding, has been and continues to be, the nature of personhood. By this, I will merely mean, whatever it is that makes an individual a person, as distinct from that which is non-personal. As will become clear, I, in common cause with the Indian thought I will deal with, shall be especially interested in that aspect of my being human I will call "myself." I will incline to argue this self to be what makes an individual a person, and hence to constitute personhood. I will, however, only incline to argue this, as it is not my primary concern to argue any case for "essences." I am concerned, through Indian thought, to understand personhood, especially so far as this means understanding me.

I have chosen this working carefully, for, whilst there can be no doubt that human beings -paradigmatic forces- are individuals, and that they are also personal, it is by no means clear that, in being personal-in exhibiting personhood-they are eo ipso individual. Unless we define personhood so that it entails individuality, in much the way that the Oxon philosopher, Sir Peter Stawson, has done in his work, Significantly titled Individuals, the nature of what it is that makes us personal must remain an open question, to be examined and resolved.

I have in this work examined a number of typically Indian resolutions to this question, both Hindu and Buddhist. But I have made not the slightest effort to be comprehensive, since my interest is not so much to cover the entire field, as to touch on a few places where solutions I myself consider arguing a case for a number of marks traditionally considered which any viable candidate for personhood must, even initially, satisfy. These are marks many Hindu thinkers rely upon in their arguments for or against such candidates, without ever clearly specifying them. This chapter is meant both to specify and argue for them.

I then move, in the next three chapters, to a study of one classical Upanisadic manner of approaching an understanding of personhood as Tillman-the teaching of the panca-kosas, often translated five "sheaths," described in Taittiriya II: 1-8. I conclude my discussion of this teaching with a chapter endeavouring to clarify certain things left unclear about the nature of atman, and how more fully to understand this nature. I eschew a verbal definition of this nature, having argued none such to be possible, but instead offer insight into certain positive conclusions we might offer about this nature, as a result of our investigation.

I have then offered a chapter on perhaps the most important intellectual development of this Upanisadic teaching, that found in the Yoga-Sutra of 'Patanjali, It is no accident that I have stressed the Yoga dariana, and not others, for, with the possible exception of the Sdmkhya Karikas, which are, however, later in date, and some of the later Vedantic commentaries, none among the original Sutra works of the schools as directly tackles the problem of knowing, and through knowing, realizing one's true-nature (sva-rupa), as does that of Patanjali. There is no better practical guide in the literature than the Yoga-Sidra. And since, to Patanjali, this quest for the ultimate in self-knowing, and hence in understanding of personhood, amounts to the quest for the ultimate samddhi, this chapter is largely an exposition of Patanjali's teaching on samddhi. Too little has been clearly said about the hierarchy of Patanjali's teaching in this area. In this chapter I have made an attempt to attain some clarity.

I have next devoted two chapters to the thinker who is generally regarded as the finest among Indian Buddhist thinkers, i.e. Nagarjuna. There are those, indeed, who consider him the finest among Indian philosophers. Statements of this' absolute kind are always risky, but I, myself, incline to this view. Opinion seems to favour either Nagarjuna or SaIikara. I, prefer Nagarjuna,

Without question, Nagarjuna's overriding concern was an understanding of "true-nature" - for which he used the term dharmata and paramount in this concern was the effort to comprehend the true nature of personhood. I have in these chapters simply offered an extended analysis of sections of Nagarjuna's major work, the Mulamadhyamakakorika. I first take his Alma- Pariksa, in this he offers his teaching on the nature of personhood, straight and without embellishment. In doing so, he gives voice to what I consider the orthodox Buddhist view prevailing both before and after him. Controversy has certainly raged between the Mahdydnists and the Theravatidins, and variants between, but in my view persons with deep understanding have not entered the argumentation. Since truth must be one, I would argue that enlightenment (boddhi-citta) must at bottom be one as well. It is always ignorance (avidya) that fosters dispute.

Be this as it may, the analysis I offer is not always of the usual kind. I shun the term "orthodox," as its meaning is controversial and unlikely to be acceptable to every thinking Buddhist. Nonetheless, my analysis seems to me to approximate my understanding of "the Truth". I would defend it as "right- teaching," though, in doing so, I might well find myself arguing with many a Buddhist, who may think it to be Hindu in essence.

Secondly, I have offered what might appear to be a novel exposition of Nagarjuna's teaching on Pratitya Samutpdda, co- dependent origination. Without a proper grasp of this, an adequate understanding of his teaching on "the self' would not be possible. Though a version of this has appeared elsewhere-"Are There Real Things?-borrowings from Na garjuna;" Indian Journal of Philosophy, V 91. 5, 1978, it has seemed to me appropriate to include it here as crucial to an understanding of the approach adopted by Nagarjuna, I consider this teaching one of the finest monuments to thought produced by the Buddhist tradition. Any reference to the Buddhist teaching on "self' would be the poorer without it.

Finally, I have drawn all the threads together in three chapters of my own thought devoted to certain problems arising from issues discussed in the preceding chapters (I to VIII). I have in the first instance offered an examination of personhood, thought' of as one's "inwardness," or what one inwardly is, as distinct from one's "outwardness," much inspired by the Indian teachings already discussed, but, nonetheless, offered in a manner that will enable it to stand (or fall) in its own right, simply in terms of what is said in this chapter. It is, in other words, an effort simply to elicit, in a contemporary way, the distillate of what seems to me acceptable in these Indian teachings.

In the second instance, I have offered a lengthy argument, in nineteen stages, meant to demonstrate the viability of the teaching that "every human person harbours an inner-source of wisdom which can be heard and heeded, or ignored," namely, the Hindu teaching of the indwelling operation of buddhi, in some understandings of this term. I consider this to contain crucial insights, absent in the West almost completely. And should it be defensible, as I contend that it is, then its lack in Western thought is a sad one indeed, amounting to a glaring factual oversight on the part of empirical psychology. For should the Hindu position be correct, then the presence of buddhi must simply be a factual aspect of our inwardness. I should add that I have employed the term "inwardness" precisely to avoid the narrow strictures imposed upon what we might in ourselves actually be by empirical psychology. It is a safer, since wider, term than "psyche;" and what in Hinduism is meant by" buddhi" may well have escaped notice in W estern thought precisely because it does fall outside its arbitrary limits. But what there is, there is, legislated boundaries notwithstanding.

I have finally added a brief chapter on what I consider to be an infallible test for candidates for personhood, as they are presented-the test of tiairdgya, or detachment. In doing this, I would claim to be doing no more than sanctioning a prime method already present in both of these great traditions-the Hindu and the Buddhist-though not perhaps articulated quite in the way I have attempted to do here.

It is hoped that, in presenting this work, not only some new ground gets broken, but much that is not new gets presented in a fresh and contemporary way. One big problem, present, as I see it in much that passes for "philosophy" when Indian Philosophy is discussed in India is the tendency to adhere closely to the commentarial and scholastic traditions. But efforts must be made on the basis of the immense riches of ideas and insights present there to think through issues afresh, in today's terms and accents-but with care


Editor's PrefaceVIII
Author's PrefaceXXV
Chapter I : The Basic Marks of Personhood: A Prolegomena1
IIPersonhood and Properities
IIIPersonhood and Power
IVAm "I" Witnessable?
VCan "I" Witness Myself?
VITwo Father Conclusions
Chapter II: The Kosas- The General Theory Stated11
IIReferences and Major Arguments
IIITaittiriya Upanisad, II: 1-8
IVSome General Themes
Chapter III : The Kosas- The General Theory Argued For27
IIPrana-Stuff as Actuating and Sustaining Annas-Stuff
IIIManas- stuff as Actuating and Sustaining Prana-Stuff
IVBuddhi Stuff as Actuating and Sustaining Manas-Stuff
VAnanda-Stuff as Actuating and Sustaining Buddhi Stuff
Chapter IV: The Kasas- Some Aspects of the Theory65
IIThe "Composition" of Annamayakosa
IIIThe "Composition" of Pranamayakosa
IVThe "Composition" of Manomayakosa
VThe "Composition" of Vijnanamyakosa
VIThe "Composition" of Annamayakosa(including a not on Ananda and Drugs)
Chapter V: Atman- The Theory Culminated81
IITwo Ways of Knowing Myself
IIIArgument and Beyong
VTo Clarity in Conclusion
VIA Final Word
Chapter VI: Patanjali- The Heart of His Approach91
IIThe Initial Why and Wherefore
IIIHow Do We Achieve "Self-Knowing"
IVHow Do We Achieve Nirodha Stopping?
VThe Need for "Oneness" in Knowing
VIAchieving "Oneness"
VIISelf-Knowing Through "Oneness"
VIIIFour Manners of Knowing One's Self
IXSamprajnata and Asamprajnata Samodhi
XObstacles to "Oneness" and Its Stability
XISabija and Nirbija Samadhi
XIIHow Do We Overcome Samskaras?
Chapter VII : One Buddhist Approach-Nagarjuna (I)121
IIThe Anaysis-Parts (i) to (vii)
Chapter VII : One Buddhist Approach-Nagarjuna (II)129
IIThe Anaysis-Parts (i) to (xiv)
Chapter IX : Some Problems-"Inwardness"145
IIInwardness, Its Meaning
IIIInwardness- Continued
IVA Test for "What I Am"
VKnowing My Inwardness
VIHaving and Being Experiences
VIIFurther to Inner-State (Citta-Vittis)
VIIIVasanas Distinguished from Another Kind of Inner Thing
IXInner States, to Clarify
XA Second Major Point
XIAn Existentialist Argument
XIIThings Inword to Me, A Final Note
XIIIWhat I Inword Am, an Initial Note on Its Knowing
XIVThat I (My Self) Cannot Be Observed By Me
XVThat My Self Cannot be Observed By Another
XVIThe Mind and The Self
Chapter X: Some Problems-Buddhi177
IIThe Arguments- Points (i) to (xix)
Chapter XI : Some Problems- The Detachment Test (Vairagya)195
The Self, Its Meaning
The Test, Presented
The Test, Elaborated
The Self, and Its Images
The Self, the Mind and Mental-Health-a
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