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and West, Vol. 34, No. 1. (Jan., 1984), pp. 111-113.
Stable URL: http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0031-8221%28198401%2934%3A1%3C111%3AKATS%3E2.0.CO%3B2-G Philosophy East and West is currently published by University of Hawai'i Press.
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http://www.jstor.org Thu Nov 29 06:44:44 2007
Knowledge and the Sacred. By Seyyed Hossein Nasr. New York: Crossroad, 1981. Pp. iii 333. Index. $19.50.
Let me right o f ftip my hand and say that I consider Hossein Nasr a phenomenon. He makes mistakes as we all do, and most readers o f this journal will know that he has a welldefined perspective from which he sees things. But who else in our time bridges East and West as substantially as he does? W h o works as effortlesslyin as many languages, is as prolific with writings that also have substance, and combines range o f information with genuine metaphysical depth? Many possess one or several o f these virtues, but all four is remarkable.I have heard him criticized for sounding dogmatic, but that can be expected o f those whose words have the ring o f certitude. So, in our relativistic age, add that, too, to the credits I have listed. As for the book at hand, i f its author is a phenomenon, this latest book is an event. In the ninety-three years o f its history, no lectureship in philosophy and religion has quite rivalled the prestige o f The Gifford Lectures at Edinburgh University; one thinks immediately o f James' The Varieties of Religious Experience, Temple's Nature, Man and God, and Niebuhr's The Nature and Destiny of Man as epochal studies that have issued from its press. The 1981 Gifford Lectures are unique in this series in being the first to be delivered by an Oriental. I f we are looking for clear signs o f a new day, one in which the West is seriously trying to globalize its outlook, here is one that can be pinpointed. Looking back on Knowledge and the Sacred, intellectual historians may one day rank it with William o f Moerbeke's Latin translations o f Aristotle in the thirteenth century, Marsiglio Ficino's o f Plato in the fifteenth,or D. T . Suzuki's 1927 Essays in Zen Buddhism as a landmark showing that a new stage in cross-cultural understanding has been achieved. This symbolic importance o f the book has, moreover, a dramatic side. For two hundred years orientalists have filled libraries with descriptions o f Asia as seen by a West which in this period was, in the main, either missionary-polemical or secular-positivistic. The result, in an analogy Nasr himself uses, has been like presenting music as i f it were notations (marks on paper) rather than melodies heard. (There have been notable exceptions; Nasr mentions Massignon, Corbin, and several others.)Those o f us who have protested this reductionism will take satisfaction in seeing, in this book, the tables turned. Here, for the first time with a platform as important as the Gifford Lectures, an Oriental has an opportunity to tell the West-"that peninsula on the land mass o f Asia," as Nasr refers to the Europe where Western civilization took shape-how it looks from an Asian perspective. Or from the traditional perspective, one should say, for Nasr's position is Asian only in that Asia continues to be more traditional than the West. Traditional has here a meaning which, in chapter two on "What is Tradition?" the author makes precise. "As used in its technical sense in this work," Nasr writes, tradition means truths or principles o f a divine origin revealed or unveiled to mankind and, in fact, a whole cosmic sector through various figures envisaged as messengers, prophets, avatars, the Logos or other transmitting agencies, along with all the ramificationsand applications o f these principles in differentrealms including law and social structure, art, symbolism, the sciences, and embracing o f course Supreme Knowledge along with the means for its attainment. (pp. 67-78)
1 12 Book Reviews
That Nasr names Rene Guenon, A. K. Coomaraswamy, and Frithjof Schuon as leading spokesmen for Tradition in this technical sense shows that its historical manifestations are multiple and equally valid. What they have in common is outlined in the perennial philosophy, alternately named in the title of chapter four, "Scientia Sacra," with the Great Chain of Being constituting its conceptual spine. As for the book's contents, its opening chapter on "Knowledge and Its Desacralization" announces its central theme. Traditionally knowledge was considered to be itself sacred, man's capacity to effect it being adduced as evidence of his theomorphism. Gradually this sacral quality of knowing has been obscured until in the West especially the act is now generally regarded as no more than a natural, largely adaptive, talent. Even so, a tradition that views knowledge as salvific has persisted (Chapter 2, "What Is Tradition?')), and there is reason to think that it is currently experiencing something of a revival (Chapter 3, "The Recovery of Tradition"). Within the context of this central thesis, the book does three things. First, it presents an approach to comparative philosophy and religion which, among other things, critiques approaches that are scientistic, historicist, phenomenological, or syncretistic (Chapter 9, "Principial Knowledge and the Multiciplicity of Sacred Forms"). Second, in outlining the principal steps in the secularization of knowledge, it is a study in intellectual history (again chapters 1 and 2). Third, it is a study in theology as the science of God; chapter 4, "Scientia Sacra," which presents this study, is a masterful summation. Chapters on man, cosmology, time and eternity, sacred art, and spiritual disciplines feed into these three projects, which elaborate the book's central thesis as stated above. Repeatedly the reader comes upon discussions that are informative and at times arresting in themselves, quite apart from the role they play in the developing argument. I found that I jotted thirty-four notes to myself while reading the book to file against times I hope to make use of them. An example is Nasr's treatment of the shift from Platonic to Aristotelian emphasis in Europe's epistemology-the way (and degree to which) knowing separated from the sacred when Thomas and Averroes rejected Augustine and Suhrawardi's concept of illumination in favor of a knowing that was tied more to reason than to intellect. Another example is Nasr's caveat regarding ecumenism. Enthusiasm for interfaith dialogue, he points out, seems often to stand in inverse ratio to confidence in the tenets of the participating faiths. It is as if the participants, finding themselves no longer able to believe wholeheartedly in their respective creeds, fall back on what's left, namely, faith in the virtue of tolerance and togetherness. In trying to summarize my regard for this book I think of what Lafcadio Hearn said about Tolstoy's What Is Art? You can, Hearn said in so many words, find all sorts of things that are wrong with this essay. But you will also find, if you read it carefully, that it is "a very great and noble book." And, he added, "I also think it is fundamentally true from beginning to end." I would say the same for Knowledge and the Sacred, with the difference that, apart from possibly a slight verboseness here and there, I didn't find even minor defects. A short coda. Early in this review I referred to the dramatic character of the book in the way it turns the tables on the West. There was also drama in the way it came into being. The notes the author had compiled for these lectures, along with his entire library, were lost in the Iranian revolution. Nasr initially assumed that he would have to cancel the lectures, but in what must have involved an immense act of determination he decided to
honor his commitment, and in four months produced the substance of these 333 pages. When I multiply number of words by the quality of the thoughts they embody and try to fit the product into the time Nasr had available for writing, I am astounded by the achievement. HUSTON SMITH Syracuse University
The Structure of the World in Udayana's Realism: A Study of the LaksanavaE and the KiranavaE. Studies of Classical India 4. By Musashi Tachikawa. Dordrecht: D. Reidel Publishing Company, 1981. Pp. xiv 180. $39.50.
The appearance in English of these examples of Udayana's work should be welcome news for specialists and students of Indian Philosophy. Before attempting any evaluation, may I state briefly what Tachikawa has included. He translates in its entirety, with facing edited Sanskrit, Udayana's Lak~anivali (pp. 55-87), which is a treatise of definitions (lak~ana) f Vaisesika terms. There is a wealth of detailed notes (pp. 88-107). And he o translates, without including the Sanskrit text, selected chapters of the Kiranavall, namely, on earth, water, and fire (pp. 111-147), with notes (pp. 148-162), itself a commentary on a Vaisesika treatise called Praiastapidabhi~ya.Tachikawa's introductory chapters (pp. 3-51) mainly expose the relation referred to as dharma-dharmin and the associated concept of inherence which the Vaisesika-so also Udayana-defended against certain Mahayana Buddhist opponents. He accepts (p. 14) the eleventh-century dating of Udayana (born circa A.D. 1025). Bimal Krishna Matilal has added a small but valuable Foreword (pp. vii-x). The introductory materials emphasize Udayana as a Vaisesika, since the treatises chosen for translation are of this school. For the tradition that Udayana is responsible for synthesizing the Vaisesika and the Nyaya, such that modern writers, for example, Dharmendra Nath Shastri, use the expression "Nyaya-Vaisesika," Tachikawa (p. 16) mentions a different work of Udayana's, the Lak~anamili. single paragraph given to The the topic certainly does not suffice; perhaps Tachikawa should have developed this theme by drawing information from the Laksanamili. For example, two works that he refers to, S. Bhaduri, Studies in Nyiya- Vaiiejika Metaphysics, and Sarvadarianasamgraha, treat a dispute between these two schools about "cooking" (pika). In the case of a black pot, when oven-fired being red inside and out, the Vaisesika said a "cooking" of atoms causes a change of qualities and a different pot; the Nyaya said the "cooking" takes place in the whole body of the pot which stays the same pot. Tachikawa discusses Udayana's "cooking'' treatment (pp. 32-34) purely as a Vaisesika matter, without mentioning the disagreement. Thus, we still are not informed whether Udayana "synthesized" the two positions about the pot being fired; whether "synthesis" amounts rather to the surviving Nyaya accepting as much of the Vaisesika as it likes; or whether "synthesis" is something else again. It is noteworthy that the Lak~anivaEmakes initial division of categories (padirtha) its into bhava and abhiva, and that Tachikawa (pp. 56-57) renders these "those that exist" (bhiva) and "absence" (abhiva), discussing this decision in a large note (p. 88), where he
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