About the Book
Contemporary Indian Philosophy has arisen in awareness of the need to reconcile the forces of tradition with those of modernity. It is not merely repetitive. There is, in it, a definite attempt to construct a system.
It develops under the conviction that the basic aim of Philosophy is to cultivate a world-view. This requires an awareness of the existential condition of life as also the consciousness of life's ultimate ideal, viz., redemption, not only of the individual but of the total human race. It emphasizes the ultimacy of spiritual values; yet it remonstrates that the roots of spiritual life lie in conditions that are essentially existential.
The present study seeks to highlight these aspects of Contemporary Indian Philosophy. It is an attempt to think, in an academic manner, the thoughts of the contemporary thinkers, Swami Vivekananda, Mahatma Gandhi, Rabindranath Tagore, Sri Aurobindo, Krishna Chandra Chattacharya, S. Radhakrishnan, and Mohammad Iqbal. Different aspects of their thoughts have been stematised, categorized and placed under suitable philosophical heads in this work.
About the Author
Late Sri Basant Kumar Lal was till recently Professor of Philosophy at Magadh University. Bodh Gaya, India. He was born in Ranchi in 1928. After completing a uniformly bright career and after obtaining his Graduation and M.A. degrees from Patna University he entered into the teaching profession, and was in this profession for almost forty years, the major part of which was spent first in Patna University and then in Magadh University.
He has written extensively on Philosophy of Religion, metaphysics, Epistemology, Social and Political Thought and History of Philosophy.
This work has been undertaken just to negate the impression that contemporary India does not have a philosophy of its own. In fact, sincere attempts have not been made to present Contemporary Indian Philosophy in the mould of academic philosophy. This is a fact that contemporary Indian thinkers are true to their tradition, but attempts have not been made to highlight such constructive aspects of their thought that bear the mark of original thinking and insight. Their attitude towards tradition is 'reverential', and therefore, they appear to be tradition-tied and dogmatism in philosophical thinking, but this also is true that a complete and radical breaking away from tradition is impossible. Those who wish to do so become 'homeless' and start looking towards other sources for inspiration. The philosophy that they produce becomes derivative- a kind of moon-light philosophy. Therefore, what is needed is to re-think the thoughts of the contemporary Indian thinkers emphasizing both the points of repetition and those of original thinking. The present work claims to serve that purpose in its own modest way.
The work is mainly expository; at times, reflections or critical comments have been made, but they have been made with the sole intention of clarifying some of the complex concepts. For a faithful exposition of a thought or a point of view, its appreciation is necessary, and in order to appreciate a thought system it is essential to establish some kind of identification with it. That is why the exposition throughout is somewhat sympathetic, even when objections are raised and difficulties apprehended, they serve the purpose of helping the understanding of a difficult notion or an idea.
In India today there are two distinct currents of philosophical activities flowing almost side by side. One is the kind of philosophy in which both the intellectuals and the general people take interest, and the other is the kind of philosophical activity that is purely academic and somewhat 'professorial'. This work has not given due regarded to the latter although thinkers like K.C. Bhattacharya and Radhakrishnan can be said to be the representatives of this group. But it is possible to develop a comprehensive view of the philosophical activities that are being pursued in the universities of India by the teachers and students of philosophy. That of course will be a major work in itself and hence will deserve a separate treatment.
The attempt to arrange these thoughts in an academic and systematic manner met with an initial difficulty - the difficulty regarding the selection of topics. Naturally, only such topics were selected which appeared to be 'philosophical' and which, taken together, could give a comprehensive picture of a thought system.
The work includes roughly the thinkers of the twentieth century with the sole exception of Swami Vivekananda, whose philosophical activities were confined to the late second half of the nineteenth century.
This work does not claim to be fully comprehensive as some of the contemporary Indian thinkers have not been included in it. That is chiefly on account of the fact that any attempt to reduce their thoughts into the academic models of philosophy will necessarily involve repetitions.
My thanks are due to M/S Motilal Banarsidass for consenting to publish the work. I am particularly grateful to Shri Jainendra P. Jain who took personal interest in the project and inspired me to expedite the work.
Indian Philosophy today is standing almost at a crossroad. It is anxious to retain the forces of the centuries of its tradition through which it has grown, and yet it cannot afford to overlook the 'scientific facts' and 'the empirical attitude' of the present-day world. It is in such a state of inner conflict that the contemporary Indian thinker develops his system of thought. He tries to escape this predicament by asserting the value of the elements of tradition with a renewed vigor emphasizing that these elements are not against the scientific temper to the present day world. Consequently, what they have been able to evolve is some kind of an east-west-synthesis.
Perhaps, it is on account of this that some people characterize Contemporary Indian Philosophy as 'interpretative and not creative'. But, that raises a question of a more fundamental nature, when is a philosophy just interpretation and when does it become creative? Is it that a creative philosophy never interprets or is it that there cannot remain any originality in a work of interpretation? It does not need any argument to show that 'interpretation' and 'creative thinking' are not completely exclusive of each other. Sankara, for example, is a commentator on the 'Vedanta Sutra', and yet he is one of the most original thinkers that the world has ever produced. Moore himself admits that he derives the subject matter of his philosophy from the thoughts and writings of others, and yet his philosophy is a consistent and continuous attempt at construction. Contemporary Indian thinkers also try to reinterpret some of the ancient ideas derived chiefly from the Upanisads (and from the Quran in the case of Iqbal) and yet, in their philosophies we come across some refreshingly new notions and rational demonstrations and similar other attempts at construction. They are, thus, both interpretative and creative- of course within certain limits.
It is said that every philosophy bears the mark of its origin. That is why British Philosophy is generally empirical and American Philosophy is rooted in realistic and pragmatic considerations. French Philosophy is rationalistic, while German Philosophy is pre-eminently speculative. In that vein, Indian Philosophy can be described as meditative. It arises as the result of a kind of meditation on the holy powers of the soul and of Nature. Generally, Indian Philosophy is described as 'spiritual', by this is meant that it lays emphasis on values that the supernatural and otherworldly. But this description is not adequate because it gives the impression that Indian Philosophy has no concern with these worldly values. At least Contemporary Indian Philosophy should not be described in that way. It emphasizes the ultimacy of, what is called, spiritual values; but it does not do so in a completely one-sided manner disregarding absolutely considerations that are empirical and this worldly. In fact, the contemporary Indian thinker tries his best to reconcile the two. He explicitly says that spiritual awakening cannot take place in a void- that for spiritual growth the physical nature is not to be rejected but perfected. That shows that it is better to describe the general character of Indian Philosophy as meditative. In this context, the word 'meditative' is more comprehensive that the word 'spiritual', because it incorporates in it even the word spiritual. What is being suggested here is that the Indian philosopher comes to discover certain holy powers of Nature and also a capacity of self-transcendence within man himself. He becomes curious and amazed and tries to know more about them. The process that he adopts is one of 'meditative speculation'; he meditates upon his experiences of these powers and makes speculations about their nature. That is how philosophy takes its birth. The Indian philosopher is not just a romantic who marvels at the apprehension of the ordinary and derives pleasure therefore, he is much more than that, as he is able to meditate upon the extra-ordinary powers of both Nature and Man. Philosophy in India invariably arises in some such acts of meditative speculation. It was so with the Vedic seer and also with the Upanisadic thinker and it continues to be so even with the contemporary Indian thinker. Just as experience provides the back-bone of every kind of British philosophy, so meditative speculation has been the method of the Indian Philosopher throughout history.
This method proceeds in a particular way and follows a particular process. Through some meditative insight the thinker is able to grasp some notion or idea. That becomes an article of his belief, and now he concentrates his meditative capacity in order to find a rational justification for the belief that he has already come to hold. Now, rational demonstrations, arguments, criticisms- all become secondary, because truths are revealed to the thinker in an intuitive insight. That is why the Indian thinkers believe that truth can be known only by some super rational cognition. Contemporary Indian thinkers also have adopted the same method of meditative speculation, and hence, they also do not attach to rational argumentation that value which is normally attached to it; at least in this regard the Contemporary Indian thinkers are very faithful to the tradition of Philosophy.
Now, we are in a position to outline the characteristics of Contemporary Indian Philosophy emphasizing the points that it shares with the ancient Indian Philosophy and also the points with respect to which it appears to be novel and different from the latter.
Ancient Indian Philosophy is said to be based on, what can be called, a tragic sense of life. It somehow believes that file is full of suffering and that the aim of religion and philosophy is to attain freedom from suffering. The Contemporary Indian thinker acknowledges the reality of suffering and speaks about the possibility of an escape from it; and yet he approaches the problem in a different way. He gives to life a meaning and purpose and makes it an aspect of the process of spiritual growth. Some of the contemporary Indian thinkers go to the extent of saying that it is through pain and suffering that life gets a dignity and a human significance.
For the contemporary Indian thinkers the roots of philosophical thinking lie in considerations that are existential. Tagore and Radhakrishnan, in particular, analyse the existential conditions of man, speak of the life of care and anguish- of fear and boredom- and assert that life means living in the midst of and in spite of them. It is true that they also speak about the ultimate escape, more or less, in the manner of the ancient Indian thinkers, but they make a distinction between the concern of philosophy and the ideal of philosophical thinking. Philosophy is concerned with the existent individual living in the midst of his life-situations, but the ultimate ideal that it recommends is the redemption both of the individual and of the race.
That is why contemporary Indian thinkers accept the reality of the world and also of the bodily aspect of man. Unlike the ancient Indian thinker, who thinks that a complete control of the body, the senses and the mind is essential for spiritual growth, the contemporary Indian thinker recommends that these propensities are not to be killed but perfected. The world is considered as the only field for action and the body as 'the temple of Divine'. It is by emphasizing the reality of these and by assigning to the body and the senses some role in the process of spiritual growth that the contemporary Indian thinkers consider themselves to be close to the empirical and the matter of fact attitude of the present times.
Philosophy in India is defined as Darsana of Vision. It is believed that philosophy comes to be associated with the actual and the practical problem of pain and suffering. The ancient Indian philosopher believes that suffering is on account of our ignorance regarding the nature of the real. Because we cannot make a distinction between the real and the unreal, we wrongly develop an attachment for the unreal and the transient and hence suffer. The contemporary Indian thinker views the problem in a different way. He believes that philosophy is an attitude - a way of looking at things. Philosophical knowledge enables us to cultivate an attitude that can adopt an entirely different perspective from the one that we normally adopt. Even though life's situations remain remain the same, the individual who is able to cultivate such an attitude is not affected by life situations in the manner in which he used to be affected by them in the past. When a child comes to know what a bank note is, he does not treat it like any other paper. Mind, for example, in its initial stages of development might have treated a gold-ore like any other stone, but when it came to realize its value, its attitude towards the gold-ore changed. Likewise, when we consider ourselves as separate egos, we take life in one way treating the world as if it is meant only for us. But once philosophical understanding enables us to realize that we are one with all, this separative tendency-this tendency to acquire and to possess - changes. In this way the contemporary Indian thinker puts the old wine in a very new bottle.
This shows that the contemporary Indian thinkers are still struggling with the same old problems that had kept the ancient Indian thinkers engaged. Concepts of karma, rebirth, immortality, salvation etc. continue to stimulate the contemporary Indian mind. Perhaps these thinkers feel that 'problem' does not change, and that they can be viewed and reviewed from newer perspectives. Whatever might have been the reason, the contemporary Indian thinker treats these notions in a manner quite different form that of the ancient Indian thinker. According to the ancient Indian thinker all these notions are beyond the grasp of ordinary experience or of the intellect. That is why these notions appear to be very much abstract - even unrealistic. Contemporary Indian thinkers keep on relating these notions to actual life and experience. Salvation or Sarvamukti or Divine Life are the different names given to the goal of life, but invariably an attempt is made to assess the impact of these ideas on actual life and existence. For example, it is said that one can have flashes of immortality even in this life. Example of indulgence in the acts of pure joy like music, aesthetic contemplation, rational insight, ethical behavior etc. are taken and it is suggested that through these one can have the idea of the state of 'liberation'. For the Vedanta, the most favorite example is that of dreamless sleep, which is not actually a state of experience. It is almost a state of 'experience lessness'. The contemporary Indian thinker takes examples from the actual experiences of life, and thus succeeds to some extent, in reducing the abstractness of these notions. These experiences, at least temporarily, enable us to forget the burden of mundane existence and lead us to a different world - a world of pure joy. Now, this itself becomes a reason for thinking about the possibility of the attainment of a state in which this joy will be greater and uninterrupted.
From what has been said above, it is clear that the contemporary Indian thinkers share some common beliefs. At least with respect to certain issues there appears to be a general agreement among them. Iqbal, however, present a difficulty in the way of generalization because he belongs to a different tradition. Still there is a striking similarity between some aspects of his thought and those of other thinkers.
Some of the prominent issues with respect to which all these thinkers appear to be in agreement are: monism, reality of the world, integral nature of man, dignity of manness, reality of human freedom, important of intuitive knowledge etc. All these thinkers are monists, but Monism expresses itself differently in all of them. According to some the distinction between Monism and Monotheism is irrelevant; some of them, while asserting the oneness of the Absolute, make God a necessary aspect of the Absolute, and according to some others, the monistic character of reality carries it into the realm of the Indefinite.
Likewise, all of them give to the world a reality and assert the dignity of humanness. They all believe that the ideal of life can be reached only by transcending the finite world, and yet, they all are one in asserting that being in the world or being human is not a misfortune as the ancient Indian thinker took it to be.
Again, they all somehow believe that the apprehension of reality is possible only through some intuitive awareness. This awareness has been named differently by the different thinkers, but they all are at one in believing that the awareness of reality is possible not by sense experience or by intellectual reasoning, but by a kind of super consciousness - an intuitive insight into the reality. Not that sense or intellect has not been assigned any role; they have their own function to perform in their own realms, but they cannot directly apprehend the reality. This special kind of awareness has not been conceived in an entirely abstract manner, it has been shown that it is the consummation of the kind of activities that mind performs. It is demonstrated that everybody is capable of having some intuitive awareness. When, by constant and disciplined practice, one is able to intensify the powers inherent in mind, he can have intuitive cognitions of the reality. Thus, these thinkers assert that this faculty is not a mysterious faculty; it is natural to man, and is inherently present in every individual.
These thinkers have similar views to offer with respect to the notion of human freedom also. This notion of freedom, however, is not ethical or social, it is metaphysical or existential. It is believed that man is free both existentially and metaphysically. An interesting conclusion follows: freedom is both the nature of man and his ultimate destiny. According to these thinkers there is no contradiction involved in it. Man is potentially free, but certain obstacles that he has ignorantly put around himself appear to limit his freedom. He makes efforts to remove these obstacles, because only then the ideal of fully manifested freedom will be realized. These thinkers go to the extent of suggesting that the free individuality of the individual is not obliterated even in the state of realization.
Thus, the contemporary Indian thinkers believe that Philosophy is essentially tied up with life. Even the ancient Indian philosopher believed in that, but his concern was not the normal civic life, he was concerned with a peculiar esoteric life of escape. The contemporary Indian thinker relates philosophy not to a life of escape, but to this very life. He asserts that even after realizing moksa the work of the individual is not over, he has to continue to be in the world, living in the midst of fellow men, helping them in making their lives healthier and purer. No man, they say, can be saved unless the race is saved.
This insistence on relating Philosophy to life has placed the contemporary Indian Philosopher almost in a state of quandary. He is eager to preserve the scholarly character of his pursuits, and yet he cannot afford to overlook the demand that Philosophy has to be made closer to life. He is aware that there is a distinction between 'a purely academic philosophy'- the philosophy of the scholar, and a 'philosophy of life and existence'- the philosophy of the wise man. He finds himself in a difficult position. If he chooses to follow the way of the scholar, his 'philosophy' becomes the habitat of a few intellectual adventurers, as a result of which he becomes isolated and is accused of driving philosophy away from life. If he chooses the latter course, the danger is that his philosophy may lose its status and dignity and become 'popular' and commonplace'. The contemporary Indian thinker is very acutely aware of this crisis and seeks a way out by striking a balance between the two. He comes to realize that the two pursuits are not after all completely incompatible with each other- that it is possible for the 'scholar' to be 'the man of wisdom' and vice versa. He comes to see that in the Indian tradition itself the two pursuits are combined in the career of the great thinker, Sankara. He is able to combine in himself both 'scholarship' and 'wisdom of life'. He is able to develop and deliberate upon highly technical doctrines relating to epistemology and metaphysics and at the same time is able to suggest and work our 'a way of life'. The contemporary Indian thinkers learn this lesson well, and try to philosophies about life and its destiny without letting the scholar in them relax even for a moment. This is noticeable not only in the thoughts of academic thinkers like K.C. Bhattacharya, Radhakrishnan or Iqbal, but also even in the thoughts of such popular figures as Gandhi and Tagore. Indeed in the former case the scholarly treatment gets an upper hand, in the latter it remains in the background. But all of them go on substantiating their own views by quoting support from thinkers both of the east and the west, and never miss an opportunity of describing and referring to a relevant point of view borrowed from tradition or history. That is why both the common man and the scholar derive from their writings not only satisfaction but enough 'food' for their own thought. Sri Aurobindo in particular has exercised tremendous influence both on the popular mind and on the scholar. Scholar ever fined in his writings a ready treasure house for their scholarly pursuits - commentaries and dissertations, and likewise, countless individuals have been able to learn 'a way of life' from his teachings. Perhaps it is on account of this that Contemporary Indian Philosophy does not completely fit in the mould of Philosophy prepared by the technical philosophy of the west, where philosophy has become the exclusive pursuit of some academic men of philosophy. They are of the firm conviction that philosophy can neither cultivate a metaphysical world-view nor can outline 'a way of life'. For them, philosophy, broadly speaking, is a 'technique', 'a style of thinking', 'a way of reflection' with the help of which muddles, ambiguities, vague nesses etc. can be cleared, new insights can be gained and new issues can be raised. For them, philosophy is a purely intellectual pursuit, pursued for the joy of it, and at best for the clarification of concepts. The contemporary Indian thinker, while conceding the positive claims of their western counter part, is not prepared to agree with them in their negative assertions. Indeed for them too, 'clarification' is one of the main function of Philosophy. But this itself may enable the pursuer to cultivate a particular world-view. He feels that it is possible to combine the two pursuits together; in fact he is of the opinion that every attempt at clarification presupposes a standpoint and a perspective, from which alone that clarification can be relevant or significant. That is why in their writings one comes across both scholarly and highly intellectual analyses and deliberations and also positive suggestions regarding conduct, behavior and the way of life.
There is one particular point with respect to which there appears to be an implicit agreement among all the contemporary thinkers of India. They are all, in a particular sense, humanists. Some of them combine both humanism and humanitarianism. For example, Swami Vivekananda tries to give to his philosophy a humanistic garb, and at the same time, recommends very strongly humanitarian work and service. But their philosophical humanism is of a particular type. In a very basic sense every standpoint has to be humanistic. The minimum of humanism is inevitable, because the basic equipment for viewing things is itself human equipment. But there is no controversy with respect to this. Humanism these days has come to acquire a definite import; it is man himself who can shape his own destiny. The achievements of science and technology, the ever-increasing successes in controlling and even subduing the forces of Nature have given to man a sort of self-confidence - a confidence in his own capacities. Consequently he comes to assert that everything concerning man depends ultimately on man himself. As such, he does not feel the need of relying upon any super-natural or spiritual powers. Thus, this kind of Humanism becomes positivistic, secular and this worldly in its outlook. These days the word 'Humanism' has come to stand for this particular type of doctrine.
Obviously, this doctrine is not compatible with the standpoint adopted by the Contemporary Indian Thinkers. They have an unflinching faith in the ultimacy of spiritual pursuits and ideas. As such, a modern Humanist will be disgusted with the suggestion that Contemporary Indian Philosophy is also humanistic in its outlook.
In fact, the humanism that these thinkers adopt is by far more comprehensive than scientific Humanism. Indeed it incorporates even that within its bosom and says something more. The Contemporary Indian thinkers have succeeded in obliterating the opposition between 'humanism' and 'spiritualism', by suggesting that the former envelops and comprehends the latter. Tagore and Radhakrishnan, in particular, have developed this point by analyzing the concept of humanism itself.
Whatever else may be meant by the expression 'Humanism', this much is certain that it is a way of viewing things by relating them to man's concerns. It centers round man, and asserts that the capacities, the characters, the qualities of man have to be given fullest expression. Tagore and Radhakrishnan point out that the concept of Dharma literally stands for a 'sort of a bringing out the inmost and the essential nature of the object'. It is in this sense that 'the capacity to produce heat' is said to be the dharma of fire and that wateriness is said to be the dharma of fire and that wateriness is said to be the dharma of water. In that sense the dharma of man is to bring out the essential and the inmost nature of man. In that sense it can be said that giving expressions to that humanistic urges of man is man's Dharma. At this point at least theoretically 'humanism' and 'Dharma' become almost synonymous.
Let us pursue the point still further. What is the essence of man - his inmost nature? That nature? That nature has to be given a full play, but what precisely is that nature. Scientific Humanism, as we have seen, asserts that consists in the aspiration, urges and capacities of man and that they have to be given fullest expression. But let us analyse the nature of these aspirations themselves. It is at this point that scientific Humanism misses or overlooks one very fundamental aspect of human aspiration. It is true that these aspirations consist in his desires- in his will to do something. But that is not all, there is yet another aspect of this aspiration. Contemporary Indian thinkers assert that an analysis of human aspiration clearly reveals that it is an ever going - ever progressing process. It is never satisfied with the goals it is able to attain. No satisfaction is final, it is always aspiring for more- for going higher and higher. Contemporary Indian thinkers describe it as the perpetual consciousness of the beyond. Tagore calls this aspect of man 'the surplus in man'. This also represents one of the most important and basic aspects of man, and therefore even this must be given full expression. The normal desires have to be given their due, but this aspiration also represents the unique character of man - unique because only man has this aspect must also be given its fullest expression and that would constitute spiritual pursuits. Spiritualism is nothing but trying to satisfy those urges of man that transcend the normal, physical level. Therefore, if Humanism is allowed full expression, both the kinds of aspirations will have to be satisfied. In that sense spiritualism no longer remains incompatible with Humanism, but becomes an aspect of it. It is in this sense that Contemporary Indian Philosophy, in spite of its emphasis on spiritual ideals, is humanistic.
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