Intercultural Relevance of Some Moments in the History of Indian Philosophy

Jayandra Soni

The history of Indian philosophy since ancient times has been characterized by its dialogic attitude. Discussion and debate, whether they were in a written form or actually conducted in public, were the hallmarks of any school of thought, because other views were first taken into account before presenting its own so-called established position. The history of the emergence of each of the different schools was generally based on a fundamental work which set forth its basic categories. Most of these basic works were compiled in a very cryptic and curt style, sometime in the four hundred years just before and after our common era. Commentators elaborated the basic philosophy from within their own tradition in order to make the basic views understandable to the uninitiated, whilst at the same time defending the tradition against attacks from opponents. This paper attempts to recall certain moments in the early development of Indian philosophy which directly or indirectly reflect an attitude to philosophizing relevant in an intercultural context. Two such interrelated moments will be mentioned here: 1. the significance of debate and the emergence of rules of debate which ultimately led to a discussion of logical issues when discussing an argument; 2. the significance of epistemology for the view of the world, the objects to be known, and the subject who knows. By way of an introduction and orientation to some of the issues in Indian philosophy a few presuppositions will be considered in order to show that the differences among the various schools are more important than certain generalities which in some cases may be drawn.

1. Some presuppositions in Indian philosophy A convenient classification of the different kinds of Indian philosophy is a fourfold one, divided in terms of whether a particular school belongs to: 1. the general
Topoi 17: 49–55, 1998. © 1998 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.

category of Hindu philosophy (including within it the so-called six orthodox schools, and a philosophical ´ aivism, activity which reflects the influence of S ´ Vais aktism); 2. Buddhism, encompassing .n . avism, or S¯ views which belong generally not only to the Hı ¯naya ¯ na and Maha ¯ ya ¯ na schools, but also the Vajraya ¯ na school, especially with its Tibetan influence; 3. Jainism,which may divided into views characteristic of Digambara ´ veta and/or S ¯ mbara schools; and 4. Materialism, even though it did not survive in exactly the same way as the other schools, but whose influence is clearly reflected by the fact that each school attacks its view of the world and its emphasis on perception as the only really valid means or instrument of knowledge. In the light of this classification it is clear that even if one wanted to extract certain traits common to all schools of Indian philosophy, the term ‘Indian philosophy’ is in fact a misnomer, because one would have to talk about the view of a particular thinker within a particular tradition. The following presuppositions, then, apply mutatis mutandis, with an emphasis on the necessary changes which have to be made when comparing details. The presuppositions are intended to facilitate the consideration of the different areas of Indian philosophy and to indicate some of the concerns which occupied the Indian philosophies. It may be noted that Buddhism traces all its doctrines to the teachings of Buddha, Jainism to the teachings of the Jinas (the last two of twenty-four omniscient beings are Pa ¯ rs ´ va and Buddha’s contemporary, Maha ¯ vı ¯ra), the Hindus to doctrines traceable in the Vedas, particularly ¯ ran in their A . yakas (‘forest treatises’) and Upanis . ads (‘secret teachings’). In most cases it is impossible to clearly trace the original source of ideas, arguments or concepts. Many Indians seem to have drawn their inspiration to deal with philosophical issues from a common pool of ideas (e.g., life being characterized by suffering, the role of karma as a binding factor)

Hinduism and Jainism each offering its own unique interpretation. Each school deals with the nature of consciousness in the light of its own metaphysical presuppositions and each deals with the question of the experience and manifestation of consciousness in its own way. i. without the limiting influences of the sense organs which supply the limited data. the theory of karma. is based on the view that the present state of man in the world derives from previous causes and that. namely consciousness itself. Entailed in the above presupposition is the one concerning our limitedness. consequently. is limited only by the limited capacity of the sense organs. with Buddhism. The question of our knowledge of our limitedness is associated with the assumption above. but also to the accumulation in seminal form of their impressions – as a seminal principle karma is thus pregnant with consequences. and as a consequence of. lifeless. All schools of Indian philosophy explicitly or implicitly accept the clear distinction between the categories of the ‘sentient’ and the ‘insentient’. what happens or is done now determines. Consciousness constitutes the intrinsic nature of the subject. that it has a beginningless (ana ¯di) origin is not an answer that can be accepted without further qualification. as it has survived through the ages.. namely the limitedness concerning our knowledge of our own intrinsic nature and the world. If this is at all possible. 2. 4. All the three indigenous systems of Buddhism. The ability to speak about the unlimited nature of consciousness is accredited to experience and to trustworthy statements about it contained in authoritative texts on the subject and on the part of those who are regarded as liberated beings. It is said that consciousness is not limited in the same way in which the senses are. The Indians say that this limitedness is not a reflection of our innate nature. Hinduism and Jainism presuppose the efficacy of karma (karman). past actions.. namely when through discipline one is freed from the bondage to sense organ experiences. The former refers to living beings which have consciousness as their defining characteristic.e. when an insight into its intrinsic nature is obtained. presupposes a category that is itself not so limited. ‘bear fruit’ at the appropriate time and place. the self. it is generative of conditions which lead to the maturation or fruition of certain effects caused by. a/nirva . Each sense organ is limited to a specific function which is fulfilled in accordance with the capacity of the organ concerned. It is a euphemistic way of saying that it is beyond human capacity to grasp the original cause. that the categories of our thinking make such an insight possible. as something out there in the world. as the adherents of the karma theory do. on the other hand. ska like seeds. This subject is said to be essentially different from the nature of the world and is said to be characterized by what constitutes the nature of consciousness. it cannot be treated as an object. conditions or influences future events and situations.50 JAYANDRA SONI which the following presuppositions are intended to represent. The nature of consciousness is revealed by contrasting its nature with the material nature of the things of the world. That we can at all grasp the idea of our limited existence. . This point entails the problem of how consciousness can speak of itself. a knowledge of the nature of the world indirectly leads to the question about the nature of the subject who can have a knowledge of the world.1 1. This point is captured in the complex and complicated discussions of the basic problem of liberation (moks ¯n . The theory of karma was accepted as a fact of existence so early in the history of Indian philosophy (it seems to have been pan-Indian during the time of Maha ¯ vı ¯ra and Buddha in the sixth century BCE) that none of the schools thought it necessary to give a philosophical justification of its acceptance. Consciousness. leaves behind traces (sam ¯ ra) which. but one which comes as a result of one or more ‘external’ causes. therefore. Implicit in this distinction is the problem that even if consciousness is described. The two senses in which the word karma is used here refer not only to deeds or actions. According to the theory every deed or action. a corpse. the absence of which makes the object a dead thing. precisely because . a).e. Hence. Put simply. i. it is manifested in our descriptions of it. In the case of human beings consciousness refers to our essential nature expressed through the medium of the body which intrinsically is matter and. including one’s attitudes. then the unlimited nature of consciousness is realized. 3. then a means of communication different from the one we use when talking about the things of the world will have to be assumed. With the unexplained assumption of the karma theory several basic questions remain unanswered: in what way exactly has karma been set into motion originally? What is the original cause which has incited the cycle of karma and all the existences associated with it? To say.

The intercultural relevance of my paper rests on the significance of this moment in the history of Indian philosophy. and that this limitedness may be ascribed. should not hinder our reflections. with ultimate reality being described as ‘empty or void’ (s ´u ¯ nya). especially when carried away with the zeal of the discussions the other person discloses information which would otherwise be kept secret. Suffice it to say that all Indian philosophical schools share the common view that we are limited beings. one that is “friendly” and one that is “hostile”. removes doubt and establishes the knowledge already gained. it is nonetheless assumed that all kinds of karma. metaphysics. We hear of them even in the Vedic period and there are recurring reports throughout the centuries of how great masters successfully defended their theories in public disputations and defeated their opponents. It can be said that it is the genius of the karma theory that the destruction of the karmas is built into the theory itself: since karma has a cause and since it has an origin (albeit in ‘beginningless time’) the cause can be interfered with and karma can be brought to an end.s .INTERCULTURAL RELEVANCE OF SOME MOMENTS 51 we are bound by karma. these presuppositions should not conceal the interesting and intricate debate among the schools over a variety of philosophical issues like those in ontology. 2. unlike the a priori ontological categories which are uncaused and by definition cannot be destroyed. hita medical practitioners to debate with others because discussion increases the zeal for knowledge. All the adherents of the karma theory also presuppose the condition of the possibility of stepping out of the cycle of recurrent existences caused by karma. Even though it may not be known when and how exactly the karmas originate. contributed greatly to a sharpening of the philosophical tools and to the setting down of rules of debate which had to be strictly adhered to in the courts where the debates took place. clarifies knowledge. directly or indirectly. all of these types of karma can be annihilated. the accumulated ones. namely that karma does not constitute a characteristic feature of being.n . In this very early period in the history of Indian debate it was also recognized that a discussion which forms the basis of a debate can be of different kinds. As for the cause of karma some schools say that it is ‘passion’ (ra ¯ga). those responsible for the present existence and those which will fructify in the future. and Caraka distinguishes two kinds. but rather through debate to seek clarification and understanding of the other view. my limitedness is due to the fetters of karma. Such an attitude presupposes an acquaintance with the other views. namely. These have to be treated with caution as well. that this may be accepted as a basic fact.a as the fuel which maintains its function. increases the power of speech. not only in the commentary literature on the basic works of each school. epistemology and even the philosophy of language. In our context it seems to be appropriate to add that victory over the other is not the aim. however.3 A friendly discussion . 5. despite accepting the notion of karma and the series of existences for which it is responsible. 8) advises . The fact that we cannot really grasp the origin of karma. Here too an earnest attempt to try and understand the other is implicit. It is understood that the karma theory does not have an ontological status. In an early work on Indian medicine (perhaps in the first century of our era) compiled by one Caraka and called Carakasam ¯ the author (in CS 3. to the effect of karma. The above presuppositions have to be understood in the context in which they apply. because one school of Buddhist philosophy. for example. or ‘thirst’ (tr ¯ ) which is responsible and which serves . makes one famous. Philosophical debate in India The emergence of philosophical debate in India.2 It is necessary in both a single culture which evinces divergent streams of thought (as in India) as well as in intercultural contexts to exchange ideas in the positive atmosphere of dialogue and debate. Moreover. The result was that public discussions and debates always had a significant role in the intellectual life of India since ancient times. The indologist Erich Frauwallner has summarized this moment in the following way: a person who wrote thought provoking works was not regarded as a great philosopher if he did not also know how to effectively present his theory and to successfully defend it in a debate with opponent views. as a general orientation towards Indian philosophy facilitated by a set of some basic ideas from which all major Indian thinkers drew. The argument sounds circular: I cannot know the origin of karma because of my limitedness. does not accept any ontological category. Further. but also in the form of organized public contests. one can learn new things in a discussion.

systematic. to enumerate the elements of a good speech. Nothing in what I say should be left unexplained. with a beautiful smile. epistemological issues concerning. 3. wrangling. and went to him to find out for herself. not laconic. nothing unfounded nor unmotivated. without circumlocution. for taking the liberty as a woman to question him and his authority.4 distinguished. purpose. and vitan ¯ a dispute in which attempts are . nothing merely metaphorical. when an attempt was made to clearly assess what constitutes a valid inference in which the relations among the major. indubitably. fallacious Rules of argumentation and its validity emerged hand in hand with the rules for debates. even though there may be the fallacies described. .52 JAYANDRA SONI is held among wise and learned persons who frankly and sincerely discuss questions and give their views without any fear of being defeated or of the fallacies of their arguments being exposed. 12. especially in its later phase as Navya-Nya ¯ ya. deliberation. I shall speak to you meaningfully. the means of knowledge. 3. the objects of knowledge. jalpa and vitan ¯. For in such discussions. conclusion. abstruse or unsystematic. This was in fact the favourite concern of the Nya ¯ ya school. After the formalities of a polite welcome the king admonishes her.. The nun Sulabha ¯ then says that she will not let her speech be controlled by greed. it will be truthful. no one is jubilant over the other’s defeat and no attempt is made to misinterpret or misstate the other’s views. 4. the listener and speech itself. it will also be cultivated.d . is that dispute which a man carries on while knowing himself to be in the wrong or unable to defend himself properly from his opponents except by trickery and other unfair methods of argument. Caraka’s list contains 44 items which the physician should have a command over before accepting an invitation to enter into a debate. fear. for example. 7. the example. the objects of knowledge and the content of knowledge occupied Indian thinkers very early in their philosophical activity. unpleonastically. debate. There is a noteworthy debate between the nun Sulabha ¯ and 6 the king Janaka. three kinds of dispute are distinguished: va ¯da. 6. 9. Jalpa.d .5 It is interesting to note that matters relating to debate and what constitutes a good discourse are also dealt with in the famous Indian epic called Maha ¯ bha ¯ rata. unequivocally. jalpa a dispute in which the main object is the overthrow of the opponent rightly or wrongly. but also in the commentaries on the basic works of each where the first opportunity was taken to mention the means of knowledge accepted by the school. This example concerning discourse is mentioned here to show that even in epic literature the issues related to discourse were thematised. clearly showing that debate and argumentation were not only philosophically treated. the instruments or means of knowledge. In other words. fluently.a Va ¯ da means a discussion for the ascertainment of truth. neither insulting nor deceptive. She says it should contain the following five elements: it should be subtle. 2. members of the argument. anger. statement of the proof for the thesis. and not for fame or gain. the reason. and it should have a motive. 5. 8. She then briefly defines each of these terms and goes on to say (to paraphrase her speech): further. va ¯ da is an academical discussion with pupils. fellow-students and persons seeking truth solely for the purpose of arriving at right conclusions. This is evident not only from a list of terms Caraka says a physician should know about. The king was renowned for his wisdom and the nun who heard of it doubted it. etc. not without cheer. . 11. the doubt. thesis. After his speech the nun began. comparison. Sixteen terms are listed which are interesting to note here to show their relation to the emergence of philosophical debate in India and for their special emphasis on epistemological issues: 1. 10. Indian epistemology The theory of knowledge has consistently been a favourite field of investigation in India since ancient times. example. together with a critique of the views of other schools in this context. The list becomes more compact later and especially when the Nya ¯ ya school includes them as a starting point for all the themes which it deals with in its basic work. minor and middle terms became the chief occupation of the school. 13. Moreover. distinctive or . inference. In the basic work of the Nya ¯ ya school of Indian philosophy which was composed in its present form perhaps more than a century after Caraka’s work and clearly influenced by it. . doubt. no one would try to take advantage of the other. among other things. my talk will not be cumbersome.a made to discover the faults of the opponents’s thesis without any attempt to offer any alternative thesis. Suffice it to mention a few terms out of this list for the point made here:7 perception. on the other hand. Va ¯ da is thus essentially different in its purpose . and goes on to briefly talk about the speaker. clear in its conclusion. tenet. teachers. disputation. but that they applied to all walks of life since early times in India.

based on the assumption that we are limited beings. each of which yields a particular kind of knowledge. the knowledge gained cannot be reduced to the knowledge obtained by perception alone. When explaining the fact of error some thinkers (e. for example. . the Sam . of the S ¯ nta and Yoga Schools) is that error is the cognition of an object as something ‘other than what it is’. the ‘error’ that occurs in daily life is a ‘double error’. life is . instead. of a failure in cognition to distinguish the positive features of an object from the negative ones.g. quibble. (d) the accepted means of cognition should appeal to reason and in the case of verbal testimony or scriptural authority. The criterion which decides the problem of whether the cognition is erroneous or not is its applicability to practical life. reasons for defeat. the other schools tried to show that the materialist cannot deny the validity of inference as a valid means of knowledge because. (b) one means of cognition may aid another in making a particular knowledge possible but the means of cognition in question should not be reducible to another – so. Indeed the success of a theory of valid cognition is commensurate with the success in which error in our cognition is also explained.g. In any case.. It is obvious that such an attitude can be useful in intercultural philosophical dialogue when employed constructively. In other words.. So. Each school accepted a fixed number of instruments or means of cognition. (c) the cognition obtained through one particular means of knowledge should not be contradicted by another means of knowledge. is that when attacking the theories of the other schools this has to be done on the basis of their own presuppositions. for example. Practically every school criticizes the materialist standpoint. It is not uncommon in the commentaries on the basic works to come across statements hypothetically granting the other view (‘if you say this . In other words. . a point which in fact reveals the widespread influence the materialists had. through their blatant rejection of non-materialist positions the materialists contributed greatly to a sharpening of the philosophical critique against them. it was contended. the Buddhists and the Vais . There are certain implicit conditions on the basis of which the number of means of cognition were accepted by each school. the memory of a snake overshadowing the perception of the rope which in some respects resembles a snake. Some schools of Indian philosophy (notably Yoga ¯ ca ¯ ra Buddhism) say that experience as such.. false objections and 16. in accepting human fallibility. all the schools know that since the materialist accepts perception as the only valid means of knowledge then it would be ‘unfair’ to attack his theory using arguments based on inference. the arguments in favour of perception as the only means of knowledge are based on inference. 15. Ra ¯ ma ¯ nuja) say that error should be seen rather as a lack of knowledge. At least four conditions need to be fulfilled: (a) the knowledge which one means of cognition furnishes must be new and not attainable by any other means.. when perception aids inference. the materialist accepts only perception as the most important and reliable means of knowl´ es edge. knowledge concerning the revealed truth must appear probable and be made intelligible in terms of human experience. Hence. Separately both the rope and the snake are real objects. One of the remarkable features in the history of Indian epistemology. In other words. and one relevant for constructive intercultural dialogue. and the realization that ‘this is not a snake’ is for all intents and purposes the same as saying ‘this is a rope’. they sought to explain the phenomenon of human error. etc. It is not often noticed that Indian thinkers dealing with epistemology implicitly dealt with theories of error as well. there is no error as such and one should speak. for example. i.g. e. Error is explained away by saying that. is in its objectivised mode illusory and. ika school accept inference as well. So. and for the major schools of Indian philosophy the number ranges from one to six. 14. khya school accepts verbal testimony or scriptural authority in addition to perception and inference. by extension. as in inferring fire by seeing the smoke in the distance. for example.’) and then criticising it (‘then it is inadmissible for the said reasons’). A rope seen as a snake entails an affirmation of qualities for an object which in fact can only be denied of it. or at least be in a position to account for it. seeing a rope as a snake is a confusion of two elements.e. Here the object perceived is seen as something different from what it is on the grounds of features ascribed to it which should be denied. granted that we can err in our cognition a theory of cognition should also be able to explain the source of this occurrence. including the cognition of an object.INTERCULTURAL RELEVANCE OF SOME MOMENTS 53 reasons. otherwise such a means of cognition will fail in its purpose. ´ aiva Siddha Another theory of error (e. A brief look at a few theories of error will not be out of place here in order to show how they also belong to the field of epistemology.

from the German by J. Indeed Caraka’s advice is that one “should dismiss an opponent who is insignificant and disliked. 2 Erich Frauwallner’s Posthumous Essays. the errors and even unreality of the waking state will be revealed when a knowledge of ultimate reality is gained. ´ an here it is impossible. Cambridge: University Press. Precisely . Notes 1 For a general introduction and orientation to Indian philosophy the following secondary sources may be useful: Potter. Many of the ‘tricks’ of debate mentioned by Caraka can apply even today. When the actual truth dawns on one. for example. the objects of everyday experience are as non-existent as those which are erroneously cognised. It is only the subjective consciousness which exists. German title: Erich Frauwallner: Nachgelassene Werke I: Aufsätze. Hiriyanna: Outlines of Indian Philosophy. to account for it. 1984. The positive attempt to try and find out what the other view is.”8 What is significant is that different kinds of debate were conducted and that one knew what it meant to discuss issues in a friendly. in so far as we do not know the objects as they really are. This view is expressed . and one which can further the cause of intercultural relationship. Just as in a dream water can quench thirst. ´ an by S kara (possibly eighth century). 1963. and all issues are seen as ultimately pointless from this position. but the role of ignorance has itself to be explained. by rebuking every incorrect word of his. An error in a dream is an error to the second degree. 1932. The significance of knowing about the development of debates lies in the fact that one can choose an attitude that is constructive. the Jaina theory of manifoldness. Since nothing really exists. 1951–55. Although epistemological theories varied from school to school.: Presuppositions of India’s Philosophies. In error there is some kind of reality that exists as long as the error obtains. in whatever way this may be defined together with the means to its realization. non-existence and/or inexpressibility could be ascribed to one and the same object of investigation depending on the standpoint from which the judgement was made. One further theory has gained relevance in epistemological discussions in India and this is the view that the object of error and how error really takes place cannot be adequately explained. and by such similar means. Englewood Cliffs: PrenticeHall Inc. According to him how a rope is seen as a snake cannot be determined.54 JAYANDRA SONI a kind of dream and is therefore unreal. without in any way claiming superiority for one or the other point of view. Soni. 5 vols. Hence. debate in an intercultural context can be conducted analogously to the debate carried out among the Indian schools. Karl H. if anything exists then it is ‘nothingness’. According to the adherents of this theory. Wien: Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften. Delhi: Aditya Prakashan. The reason for briefly mentioning the above views is to show that in India there were significant differences among the numerous schools of philosophy. Skizzen. is nonetheless implicit. and it is even more evident in the philosophical literature. Conclusion It cannot have been the case that debate in India was always in the ideal spirit of discussion. The theory is more radical than the above one in that all knowledge as such is questioned. Beiträge. Surendranath Dasgupta: A History of Indian Philosophy. 66. according to S kara. and seeing a rope as a snake in the wakeful state can cause fear. 66. it is claimed. Another theory of error states that error consists in the cognition of what does not exist and is the view of Ma ¯ dhyamika Buddhism. Philosophical debate in public must have been very lively judging from the numerous records of it. 3 For more interesting information about the kinds of assemblies which finally assess the outcome of the debate and declare the winner. It must also be noted that when the view to be criticised was first presented then very often this was done in such a way that the faults could be easily detected. then the error disappears. by confusing him. and in one school there were even shades of differences. was often rejected outright as something impossible. a relative truth has to be ascribed to these experiences. it is inexpressible. when waking up or when realising that the ‘snake’ is in fact a rope. without any corresponding object outside. by not giving him any say. according to which existence. Just as the waking state reveals the unreality and error of the dream state so too. tr. p. and about the things one should take care of before accepting a . M. collegial manner. there was still the possibility of discussing these. In other words. London: George Allen and Unwin. In an intercultural context such a positive rapport can only deepen mutual understanding. How such an experience occurs may be ascribed to ignorance. In many cases other views were even ridiculed. p. as was ‘allowed’ in some kinds of debate where the aim was sheer victory.

embedded in a narrative record of a family conflict which leads to a great war. The description of what the two kinds of discussion entail is quoted from Dasgupta. University of Marburg . and Erich Frauwallner’s work mentioned in the previous note. which the nun teaches the king. pp. pp.INTERCULTURAL RELEVANCE OF SOME MOMENTS contest. see Surendranath Dasgupta. pp. 377–378. Moks . 43–61. pp. p. 12. 6 ´a The debate occurs in S ¯ ntiparvan . p. 4 Ibid. For my purposes here I am mentioning the elements of a good discourse only. and contains a wide range of themes. 69–70. The Maha ¯ bha ¯ rata is dated between 400 before and 400 after 55 our era. 68 ff. . vol. some philosophical. Cambridge: University Press. A History of Indian Philosophy. 1–191. 8 Frauwallner. 378–388. 7 For the complete list see Frauwallner again. 69. 378. some historical. adharmaparvan . . 5 For a brief history of the Navya-Nya ¯ ya school see the work by Frauwallner mentioned in note 2 above. II.. pp. 308.

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