On The Intellectual Vocation (A Rosary of Edifying Texts With an Analytical-elucidatory Essay)

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Item Code: IDI888
Author: A. K. Saran
Publisher: Central Institute Of Higher Tibetan Studies Sarnath, Varanasi
Language: English
Edition: 1997
ISBN: 8190047345
Pages: 217
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 8.1" x 5.4"
Weight 440 gm
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Book Description

Publisher’s Note

This work is meant as a concise commentary on a Dinesen Sutra: The great people are judged by what they are. Dinesen’s axiom resonates with Jan Myrdal’s definitive, not to say the severest, indictment of modern Western imperialist “civilization”: We are not the bearers of consciousness. We are the whores of reason.

Each reverberates, at its own deeper level, with W. B. Yeats’:

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed, upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned...

Also, in an oblique but more powerful way, with T. S. Eliot’s:

Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherised upon a table

It is in this historical context of the present that Prof. Saran holds the intellectual to be inadequately mindful of this vocation. A vocation is a call from the Transcendent: it is not a matter of one’s choice – a facility available to the proletariat. Never to the aristocracy. An intellectual being eo ipso an aristocrat, the source of his power and authority cannot but lie in suprahuman transcendent realms.

The structure of this book is determined by the impulsions of its telos and meaning: its appropriateness flows from the hermeneutical necessity of its leitmotif.

The book is divided into three parts.

Part One, the longest, consists wholly of quotations from Masters Eastern and Western. A work espousing Tradition is best composed as an ordered collection of the Masters’ words. Elucidations can follow. This has been Prof. Saran’s main task.

Thus Part Two is an essay examining the question of the decay of the intellectual vocation in the context of the present academic condition in India. Starting with Hannah Arendt’s quotation which provides the master key to the Dinesen Sutra, the first section analyzes the three general ideas of University in terms of the essential relationship between being on the one hand, and doing and making and having on the other. It is clearly shown that once the priority of being over doing-making-having–that is, the transcendent Source of his call–is rejected, the descent to the betrayal of his gift becomes almost a slide to the whoredom of reason.

The next section (of Part Two) discusses, more specifically, the actual state of the Indian university today in terms of its three fundamental functions—where, while the vocational basis of a university teacher (to be judged by what he is) is rejected institutionally, a clear awareness of this rejection, at the same time, is almost completely lacking. It is this peculiar situation of confused duplicity among academicians that Prof. Saran holds to be the major obstacle in the way of acting responsibly to the reality. Observations are, thus, made on the hope of the university and the intellectual each purifying oneself by the sacrificial fire of repentance (regaining one’s own divinely bestowed mind). It is only the post-sacrifice, reborn University that can hope to fulfill its idea and mission: Not in terms of mere advancement of knowledge of nature and the technology of control and exploitation of man and nature–indeed this must prove ultimately self-destructive. No; the mission of the University and the intellectual–the life of thinking–is to assist in the birth of the bearers of consciousness.

The last Part (Three) is devoted to brief, intensive elaborations of the three crucial points concerning the life of thinking which arise from the argument of Part Two.

The first section is a note on the use of the term “Pride” as it occurs in Arendt’s quotation with which the essay (Part Two) opens: “It is an indispensable element of human pride to believe that who somebody is transcends in greatness and importance anything he can do and produce.” “Pride” is used both in positive and negative contexts. The centrality and the superlative modality of its use in the Arendt passage alerts one. The reader, I am certain, will be happy to know that this note originates from a letter written to Prof. Saran by Marco Pallis for his edification. –Indeed, the centrality (and supremacy) of man’s Being over his making and doing and, in the narrower sense, over his thinking shown by Marco Pallis (in his Foreword) is, one hopes, sat sapient.

The question of Being is further complicated by an inept importation of the dramaturgic concept of “role” by modern sociological theory which, however, would be reluctant to see human society as a stage. This problem is analyzed, though obliquely, in the second section of Part Three. This section consists of a long quotation from the Dinesen story (the one in which that sutra occurs), an analytical commentary on it (exploring its deep implication for sociological thought), and several axiomatic passages on thinking, feeling, action (doing and making) and having.

Having thus dealt with some of the crucial problems arising from the eclipse of the idea of vocation and the prevalence of what may be called the discourse–or is it narrative–of job, the book concludes with a section on the practice of the theory. Prof. Saran’s proposal that the university be purged of all intellectuals may look quixotic–if not anarchist. One may, however, hope that the unusually subliminal irony is not altogether lost.

The essay part (Part Two) of this book was first presented at a Seminar on “Academic Responsibility of Teachers” organized by the teachers of the University of Jodhpur (March 20-21, 1975). A revised version (with the addition of Part Three) was printed in South Eastern Railway Magazine (edited by M. K. Varma) in 1976 with a foreword by Marco Pallis. The present edition (with the inclusion of Part One) differs substantially from earlier versions.

The Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies is just the appropriate auspices for this publication, a publication adorned by a Foreword by Marco Pallis.


Under its modest cover the present essay by Professor A. K. Saran touches on a question of great practical importance, namely the relationship of man as actor and producer to man as being, therefore also as contemplator as well as eventual motivator of his own every action and production. Assuredly this is no novel theme; indeed it has been worrying mankind throughout the ages, being moreover necessarily expressed afresh with each generation that passes. What is dangerous is when this theme falls into abeyance through failure to re-express it in timely fashion, for then man’s intellectual balance, both at an individual and a social level, becomes inescapably lop-sided with consequent repercussions that may detrimentally affect a whole civilization to the verge to break-down and beyond.

If our author has chosen to discuss this crucial matter in terms limited to his own specific profession rather than in a more general way, this is all to the good as lending a sharper concreteness to his criticism; of wordy philosophizing the world has had more than enough and it is every way desirable to link our thinking, wherever possible, to some definite example as in the present case.

Granted the intrinsic primacy of being versus acting-cum-producing, one is in practice necessarily up against the question of criteria whereby the quality of a given being may be assessed (or rather inferred) from the outside. This moreover explains the proneness of people to judge others on the basis of their productions alone, if only because these productions, as Saran (and Arendt) has shown, take on an objective value of their own which henceforth will be observable apart from their author, whether he survives or not. This brings us, in point of fact, against the vital question “Who is the doer?” While one who is an artist (in any sense) is struggling to produce something in function of his own vocation he will appear to be the doer, and even is so in a relative sense; but once the work is completed, it “feels” for him almost like the work the less it feels like one’s own. (In that sense, the product can appear as superior to its author hence the confusion Saran has pointed out.) In so far as a human work of art is dharmically correct, it is not my or your “I” who is the author, but the true Self or all right-minded beings (including their incidental products). In any such case, one can therefore validly put the question (as I do here) “where is the real Agent?”

All this applies even in divinis, as between God and the World, Creator and Creation, Being and Manifestation. To deal effectively with such a subject, even in a limited context, acan never be a simple task. If Saran’s essay has provoked these thoughts, it has already served a good and useful purpose. One can only hope that he will enlarge on this theme in other works covering the whole field in which his own vocation is being exercised both in an academic, and also in a still wider sence.



Publisher's Note v
Epistle Dedicatory xi
In Memorian xvii
Foreword by Marco Pallis xxiii
Part OneThus Spake The Masters 1
Prologue 3
Jeanine Miller 11
Stella Kramrisch 15
Titus Burckhardt 19
Marco Pallis 25
Soren Kierkeggard 35
Ananda Kentish Coomaraswamy 39
Simone Weil 57
Bertolt Brecht 81
Thomas Sterns Eliot 85
Rainer Maria Rilke 89
Kahlil Gibran 103
Meister Eckhart 111
Jakob Boehme 127
Eric Gill 131
Gabriel Marcel 137
Whitall N.Perry 141
Anonymous 151
Contra Autotelism in the Theory of Knowledge 155
A Portrait of Modernity 165
Part Two:The Idea of a University in India? 169
"We are not the Bearers of Consciousness" 171
Creon's Sin: The Refusal to Bury 179
Part Three:Topics 187
On the Use of the Term "Pride" 189
On Man's Roles and Identity 193
On Upaya: The Practice of the Theory: The Purge of the University 200
Sources 203
Co-workers on the Way 217


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