A collection of lectures on philosophy
Civilisations: Nostalgia and Utopia, Daya Krishna, Indian Institute of Advanced Study and Sage Publications, Pp 120, Rs 550.00
THIS collection of lectures given at Shimla by the author-philosopher and Vice Chancellor of Rajasthan University, is divided into two parts – the first set on social philosophy, which brings out how important the idea of freedom was to the author’s work. In his early lectures, Daya Krishna contrasts ‘the Faustian quest’ of Western man for freedom and power with the “inward Faustian Odyssey of the Hindu spirit over the ages.”
In the West, he points out, freedom is seen in terms of action, as something external as contrasted to the Hindu view of freedom, which views it as a state of being or consciousness. The bondage comes from outside that includes others, but is also from within and is due to one’s own body and mind. Freedom, he says, “is a state of continuously enjoyed consciousness which does not seek any end whatsoever and whose freedom is an immediately-felt reality expressing itself in the twin facts of being calm and joyous, on the one hand, and of being essentially unaffected by anything else, on the other.” Any exercise in thinking was for him intrinsically comparative, even as it meant distancing itself from indigeneity or nativism. Thinking creatively, as he said, meant freedom also “to free one’s conceptual imagination from the unconscious constraints of one’s own conceptual tradition.”
The second set of lectures brings out the centrality of the category of civilisation in the author’s philosophy. “At the heart of any civilisation,” he asserts, “lies the drama between consciousness and self-consciousness that assumes multifarious forms, the most subtle of which stems from reason itself.”
He adds, “The dialectics of faith and doubt is fundamentally the dialectic between consciousness and self-consciousness.” Human beings live essentially at the conscious level and have only rare moments of self-consciousness. Cultures are characterised, he argues, by silpa or a repertoire of skills and smriti or memory. Cultures become civilisations as self-consciousness predominates over consciousness along with systematisation and as “reflection takes precedence over experience, resulting in sastra formation and distinctions such as the desi and the margi or the provincial and the universal. This is done by elite groups of civilisation, “ who lay down norms in the various fields of human endeavour.”
The purusarthas of a culture then undergo transformation, being “objects of self-conscious reflection and critical evaluation along with a newly emerging problem of hierarchy and inter-relations.” But the life of reason may turn against itself as happened in the case of Kant in the Western tradition and Nagarjuna and Sri Harsa in the Indian philosophy for challenging the validity of Paninian linguistics. More recently, Derrida also contributed to the subversion of reason along with the assertion that no text can have a ‘determinate meaning’.
Daya Krishna strongly decries the reduction of Indian philosophy to its history and the typical story that divides it into astika and nastika perspectives, which, with the exception of Carvaka, are viewed as oriented to moksha and its quest seem as one for ‘truth’. In contrast, Western philosophy is seen as begin mind-centric and trapping one in a maze of logic. “But is all that philosophers did in a long tradition of reflection that was 2,500 years old! Did they have nothing new to say? And why do the texts always begin with the purvapkasha?” Daya Krishna asks. He says that the story of Indian philosophy is a long and difficult one and until many people work on it, a clear picture cannot emerge. He is of the view that one must partake of the rasa and enjoy the debates that have taken place over 2,500 years.
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