Sankara and Heidegger Being, Truth, Freedom

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Item Code: IDI654
Author: John Grimes
Publisher: Indica Books, Varanasi
Edition: 2007
ISBN: 9788186569658
Pages: 182 (Black & White Illus: 2)
Cover: Paperback
Other Details 8.3"X 5.4
Weight 240 gm
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Book Description

Back of the Book

Is there a truth, somewhere, which is so certain that no reasonable individual could doubt its veracity? The excitement of this quest come from the scent of freedom. Both Shankara and Heidegger erect a 'metaphysics of experienced' upon the pillars of Being, Truth, and Freedom. Metaphysics is concerned with a theory of reality while a 'metaphysics of experience' is a quest for Being qua Being. The comparative study of religion and philosophy will find that these two unique thinkers resonate together in an uncanny way even if they eventually come to different conclusions.

Shankara is the Indian master of this quest par excellence. His elucidation and insight into Being is unparalleled. As well, Heidegger is the Western philosopher who has come the closest to thinking Being in terms other than the terms of the 'categories of beings'. In fact, he may be the first Western philosopher to do so since the pre-Socratics.

Johan A. Grimes received his B. A. in Religion from the University of California at Santa Barbara and his M. A. and Ph. D. from the University of Madras in Indian Philosophy. He has taught at Universities in India, Canada. Singapore, at the United States. His book publications include: The Vivekacudamani: Sankara's Crown Jewel of Discrimination; A Concise Dictionary of Indian Philosophy; Ganapati: Song of the Self; Problems and Perspectives in Religious Discourse: Advaita Vedanta Implications; Sapta Vidha Anupapatti: The Seven Great Untenables; and The Naiskarmyasiddhi of Suresvara: A Monograph. He currently spends his time between California and Chennai.


1. Special Feature of the Work

The purpose of the present study is to evaluate what may , be called the 'metaphysics of experience' in the thought of Sankaracarya Bhagavatpada (Indian philosopher - 8th century) and Martin Heidegger (German philosopher - 20th century). Metaphysics is concerned with a theory of reality while a 'meta- physics of experience' is a quest for Being qua Being. This itself should alert one to the fact that not only my primary concern, but also Sankara and Heidegger's, is not with a cataloguing of philo so- phical viewpoints. The endeavour is to go out in quest of Being. Empirical phenomena or lists (the ontic) concern me about as much as they concern these two thinkers, i.e., only to the extent that such phenomena lead to the ontological.

Sankara is the Indian master of this quest par excellence. His elucidation and insight into Being is unparalleled. As well, Heidegger is the Western philosopher who has come the closest to thinking Being in terms other than the terms of the' categories of beings'. In fact, he may be the first Western philosopher to do so since the pre-Socratics. Herein rests the concern of this work.

My objective in this work is to introduce the quest of these two thinkers who came from such different cultures and times. Their thoughts on Being resonate together in many striking ways even though they eventually come to different conclusions. They both quest after the Being of things- that-are, the Being of all beings. Humanity, forsaken and forlorn in a terrible and lonely world, can draw a real and lasting inspiration from these two thinkers.

The highest value (artha) is also the supreme goal of life ipurusarthai. Every aspect of Being, and of knowing, should be enquired into. Theory should not be divorced from life or else it becomes mere dry intellectual gymnastics. Thus, our quest takes us simultaneously into 'Being', 'Truth', and 'Freedom'. Heidegger's method is phenomenological while Sankara's is primarily scriptural/experiential. The oft-quoted Indian saying is: sruti.yukti, anubhava – scripture/hear the word; reasoning/ponder and analyse it; and experience/have direct personal experience. First comes the text or proposition; the 'what' to be known. Once this is digested, the qualified aspirant asks 'how' and 'why' by means of logic and reasoning. This process clears one's doubts. And finally, this indirect knowledge is made immediate and direct when it becomes part of one's own immediate personal experience.

Thus, my initial task is to present Sankara and Heidegger's fundamental positions regarding Being, Truth, and Freedom in chapters two and three. This is followed by a statement, and analysis, of some problems in regards to their respective positions. Chapter five assigns similarities and differences between the two in an explicit manner - after what was implied in the earlier expositions. Finally, my conclusion draws out, explicates more sharply what the results of the study are.

Coming back to the proposed methodological approach, the emphasis is on a subject knowing and not on an object (theory) known. Prior to all logical deductions is that which enables, and is involved in, each and every experience - rational or otherwise. Being, as a fact of direct experience, is not an opinion, theory, or expression of feeling. Rational knowledge is problematical. It is mediate. It is uncertain. It is a product of the intellect's ability to discriminate, divide, and distinguish. Its very nature is exclusive and partial- the outcome of, and epitome of parochialism.

Our emphasis is on experience. Personal experience is the foundation of both Sankara and Heidegger. It is the culmination of knowledge - in a particular qualified sense. The experiencer can never be doubted, without a logical contradiction. Thus, the Cartesian dictum, "I think therefore I am" (cogito ergo sum), becomes. "I am therefore I think". Objects and information may come and go. But the experiencer is present throughout - whether experience has an object or not. How to sublate the experiencer? With this being the case, our concern is truly with 'Being' and thus is not tied to a particular philosophical system. Experience, personal experience, is what characterizes our quest. It just so happens that Sankara and Heidegger made this quest in such a way that we follow along the 'path' that they have trod. But let us not confuse the pathfinder with the goal.

2. Use for the Work and Value to the Western World

There are a number of works available concerning a compa- rison of Advaita Vedanta with Western philosophers, i.e., Graham Parkes' Heidegger and Asian Thought, Rudolph Otto's Mysticism East and West, P.T. Raju's Thought and Reality: Hegelianism and Advaita; S.N.L. Shrivastava's Samkara and Bradley; John Taber's Transformative Philosophy: A Study of Sankara, Fichte and Heidegger; Steven Heine's Existential and Ontological Dimensions of Time, Frits Staal's Advaita and Neo-Platonism. As well, there are excellent papers by Elisabeth Hirsch on "Martin Heidegger and the East", G. Srinivasan on "Heidegger and Advaita Vedanta", J.L. Mehta, "Heidegger and Vedanta: Reflections on a Questionable Theme", Charles Wei-hsun Fu, "Heidegger and Zen on Being and Nothingness". In Buddhist and Western Philosophy: A Critical Comparative Study, ed. Nathan Katz, John Steffney's "Trans- metaphysical Thinking in Heidegger and Zen".

It has been said that "comparisons are odious". Some compa- risons have a natural tendency toward the superficial and have been hampered in the past by their lack of clarification of the religious significance of Heidegger's thinking. This has led to a one- sidedness in the 'dialogue' in which Heidegger is said to come close, but not quite close enough, to being a Zen Buddhist or a Taoist in the tradition of Lao-tzu or Chuang-tzu.

As far as my knowledge goes, no one has attempted to analyze 'Being', 'Truth', and 'Freedom' in a thorough-going manner from the perspective of Sankara and Heidegger. Works are legion on Heidegger and yet, it is my contention that most of them could have, and would benefit from the insights which Sankara provides. Being, according to Advaita, is fundamental in a radical sense and thereby prior to all proofs which must necessarily presuppose it. Yet, 'Being' does not presuppose itself as it is the one indubitable fact of experience which can never be doubted or denied without sel f-contradiction.

It is a difficult endeavour to attempt to compare concepts from one philosophical system or tradition with those of another. The translation of a word from one language to another is most difficult. This is because one may obtain a high degree of conformity and thereby believe that one has succeeded. However, words have different associations, connotations, and contexts which cannot be totally preserved with any real precision in translation. This is all the more so, especially with philosophical and religious termino- logy which requires extreme accuracy of expression. Loose render- ings and translations of terms can create misconceptions. Unne- cessary doctrinal, as well as critical, renderings can make a mockery of a doctrine's original purport.

This being said, I believe that a real contribution may be made to the study of comparative religion and philosophy. The end product has the possibility of being constructive. Such studies, if their main function is not to refute and ridicule, can help to both define and distinguish various philosophical and religious positions. Vis-a-vis other systems, one grows in an awareness of a particular stance or import.

My main purpose in this work was to grow in an awareness of both Heidegger and Sankara - to get clearer on their doctrines. It so happens that both philosophers are primarily concerned with Being, especially Being vis-a-vis Truth and Freedom. Thus, my goal was to clarify and not to demolish. What is implicit in the two philosophers should become explicit.

Even more, the conflicts which do exist between these two thinkers do not seem to affect their value as a particular system of thought. There is a time and place, and perhaps even a purpose, for various doctrines to arise. One may even go so far as to say that there is a historic need for various schools of thought. One could venture to say that various systems can enrich and inspire each other. In the Indian spirit, there is a place for 'unity in diversity'.

3. Some Conventions

Heidegger wrote employing 'man' as standing for the human being - both sexes included. The climate of his time took this term for granted. In deference to today's 'modem' outlook replete with 'feminine liberation', I have employed the term 'individual' whenever possible. However, in many places, and in many trans- lations, I have carried forward Heidegger's terminology. Wherever such terminology occurs, one should keep in mind that all of humanity is intended - with no prejudice or slight to either sex meant. In a similar manner, Sankara mainly wrote for a male- oriented monastic community, even when those terms represented humanity.

'Being' with a capital 'B' means ontological Being. To Sankara, it represents Brahman/Atman or the Absolute - that is, that which is non-dual, non-relational, free from every attribute, and cannot be defined in terms of a category. To Heidegger, Being is the most universal concept though not an aggregate of all existing things. Its universality transcends any universality of genus. Like Sankara, he says it is the bedrock of all, and certain. However, unlike Sankara, he posits that Being is dependent upon Dasein (the individual-in-the-world).

I have followed the systems of transliteration and diacritical marks adopted by modem oriental scholars.

4. Acknowledgements

I would like to acknowledge my indebtedness to my past teachers - without whose scholarship, enthusiasm, friendship, and positive suggestions this work would not have been possible. I owe so much to Professor R. Balasubramanian of Madras for first introducing me to the significance of the idea of Being - both conceptually as well as in Sankara and Heidegger. As well, I owe a great deal to Dr. P.K. Sundaram, an Advaitin whose personal contacts with India's saints gave me inspiration and encouragement to pursue the quest of Being in more than merely a scholarly fashion. I thank Professor David Appelbaum for originally pursuing this manuscript for the 'Revisioning Philosophy' series of Lang Press.

It was originally published by Peter Lang Press: New York, Bern, Frankfurt am Main, and Paris, 1989. Finally, I wish to express my gratitude to Chris Quilkey, Editor of The Mountain Path for suggesting that I contact Alvaro Enterria, Editor ofIndica Books, and to Alvaro and Indica Books for publishing a new edition of this work.


  Preface 11
  1 - Special Feature of the Work 11
  2 - Use for the Work and Value to the Western World 13
  3 - Some Conventions, 4 - Acknowledgements 15
  Legendary Episodes on the Life of Sankara 17
  The Life of Sankara 18
  Heidegger's Chronology 19
  Heidegger's Philosophy 22
I Sankara and Heidegger - The Quest 23
  1 - Introduction - The Quest 23
  2 - The Quest 25
  3 - The Quest for Being 30
  4 - Towards Truth 33
  5 - Towards Freedom 44
  6 - Truth As Freedom 49
  7 - The Essence of Truth 51
II. Sankara 57
  1 - Introduction 57
  2 - Distinction Between Standpoints and Levels of Reality 58
  3 - Truth - Absolute and Relative 60
  4 - Truth - Relative 63
  5 - Towards Truth 68
  6 - The Way 71
  7 - Freedom 75
  8 - Being as Truth as Freedom 80
III. Heidegger 86
  1 - Introduction 86
  2 - Method 89
  3 - Dasein 91
  4 - Towards Truth 96
  5 - Inauthenticity 101
  6 - Existentialia 103
  7 - Anxiety 105
  8 - Death 06
  9 - Time and Temporality 107
  10 - The Essence of Truth 108
IV. Some Problems in Heidegger and Sankara
Part One
  1 - Heidegger's Appeal to Experience 115
  2 - Heidegger's Philosophy is Finite-bound and Nihilistic 117
  3 - Heidegger's Philosophy is Arbitrary and Subjective 119
  4 - Judgement versus Unveiling 120
  5 - Historical Review of Truth Incorrect 122
  6 - From Being-in-the-world to Being-as-such 123
  7 - Heidegger's Historicity 124
  Part Two  
  1 - Ontological Status of Scripture 126
  2 - Brahman as Nirguna 127
  3 - No Place for God 128
  4 - No Place for Ethics 129
  5 - Is Knowledge Action? 131
  6 - Concerning Freedom 131
  7 - Jivanmukti 133
  8 - Is Brahman Known? 134
V. Similarities and Differences
Between Heidegger and Sankara
  Introduction 135
  Part One - Similarities  
  1 - Enquiry into Being 136
  2 - Being is the Bedrock 137
  3 - Immanent Metaphysics 137
  4 - Mystery and Maya 138
  5 - Dasein and Jiva - Both Special Beings 139
  6 - Human Existence is Fallen 141
  7 - Do not Be Misled by the World Appearance 142
  8 - Knowledge is Object-dependent 144
  9 - Distinction Between Truth and a Truth 145
  10 - Truth is Ever-existent yet Both Still Write 147
  11 - Truth as Certain 148
  12 - Experience 149
  13 - Truth is Discovery 150
  14 - The 'Other' 151
  15 - Error and Avidya 152
  16 - God Replaced by Being 153
  17 - Purpose of Enquiry 155
  Part Two - Differences  
  1 - Dasein vis-à-vis Jiva 156
  2 - Method 158
  3 - Being - Dependent or Independent? 159
  4 - Truth - Temporal or Eternal? 161
  5 - Man is more than consciousness 162
  6 - Death/Moksa 162
  7 - Epistemology 165
  Conclusion 167
  Glossary 175
  Bibliography 177

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