From the Jacket
Samvada is the live report of a dialogue between two philosophical traditions, the Indian and the western, transcribed and edited from the tapes of a week-long seminar held at Pune in 1983. The central issue is whether one need postulate 'propositions' as entities to account for our understanding of sentences which are false, or whose truth and falsity is not yet known. The Indian answer is definitive No. The live arguments and counter-arguments, the formulation and counter-formulation, the give-and-take of a sharp philosophical debate amongst some of the best philosophical minds of contemporary India, are all here to be enjoyed and savoured in its full flavour for those who could not be present at the original Dialogue which was such an experience for all those who participated in it.
This is, perhaps, the first record of a dialogue between philosophers trained in the classical Indian tradition of philosophizing and those trained in the western tradition on a philosophical theme which is both contemporary, and primarily western. That India has had a long tradition of at least two millennia of active philosophizing in the fields of logic, ethics, aesthetics, epistemology and metaphysics is at least vaguely known to the philosophical community in the world today, though many in the west feel hesitant in according it the title of 'philosophy' in their sense of the word. But few, even in India, are aware that the tradition of active philosophizing within the classical frameworks of Indian philosophical thought is not dead, that there are hundreds of living thinkers who still pursue with intellectual vigour and rigour the classical concerns of Indian thought. The reason why philosophers trained in the western traditions of philosophizing and located in the universities built on the western model in this country do not know about these pandits lies primarily in the fact that these scholars carry on their intellectual activity in a language which is generally unknown to persons trained in the western traditions of knowledge. Few people know, in India or elsewhere, that Sanskrit is still the living lingua franca of traditional scholarship in India, that the only language in which intellectual dialogue can be carried on between these persons from different parts of India, which may be as distant from each other as Kashmir and Kerala or Manipur and Gujarat, is Sanskrit and Sanskrit alone, as the only other language they know is their regional language which are as diverse as the regions they belong to. Unlike Latin, therefore, Sanskrit is the living language of traditional scholarship in con-temporary India, and if one wants to enter into a dialogue with this tradition, one will have to do so in Sanskrit or have facilities for bilingual translation from Sanskrit into English and vice versa. This, though so obvious when stated, seems to have escaped the notice of everybody till Prof. Rege realized it and took active steps to realize the preconditions of any successful dialogue between the two intellectual traditions which are not only culturally and civilizationally far apart, but also do not share a common language through which the conceptual distances could be bridged.
The Rege experiment, of which this is a record, was unique in another respect also. One could perhaps find its halting precursors in the meeting at Tirupati when Prof. K. Satchidananda Murty was its Vice-Chancellor or even in some earlier experiments at Jaipur which had resulted in the publication of a monograph entitled Contemporary Philosophical Problems: Some Classical Indian Perspectives. Yet, none of these had really clicked. They were good while they lasted. But they did not generate that feeling of discovery, enthusiasm and success which the Rege seminar did at Poona. They were, so to say, abortive beginnings which did not lead to any successful fruition. The Rege experiment, on the other hand, led to a series of successive activities each giving rise to another as is the way of all creative activity. In fact, nothing was pre-thought or pre-planned. Rather, each step showed the way for the next-and the next, for the next. The imaginative support of institutions like the Indian Council of Philosophical Research and the Rashtriya Sanskrit Sansthan in the' beginning and of the Tibetan Institute of Higher Studies at Sarnath, the Central Institute of Indian Languages at Mysore, the Kendriya Sanskrit Vidyapeeth at Tirupati, the Adyar Library and Research Centre at Madras and later the Ford Foundation at Delhi have helped the activity continue, diversify and develop in many directions till a stage has been reached where it is not unusual to find Sanskrit pandits taking active part in discussion in seminars devoted to philosophical issues.
The Poona meeting, in fact, had led to a different kind of meeting organized jointly by the Indian Council of Philosophical Research and the Rashtriya Sanskrit Sansthan to think of ways and means of revitalizing the Indian philosophical tradition to which a large number of scholars, both traditional and modern, interested in classical Indian philosophy were invited. After two days of intensive discussion on the subject the meeting recommended, amongst other things, that a Who's Who of traditional pandits in various fields of knowledge be prepared and that besides organizing the dialogues on various intellectual issues of contemporary relevance, pandits in those areas of traditional philosophy where scholarship was fast declining be invited to suggest how knowledge in these fields may be restored, safeguarded and developed. Nyaya, Mimamsa and Kashmir Saivtsm were indicated as such areas where the work could first begin. Accordingly, meetings of outstanding traditional pandits in the field of Nyaya, Mimamsa and Kashmir Saivism were held at Sarnath, Tirupati and Srinagar respectively. The Nyaya meeting at Sarnath had the active organizational and financial support of the Tibetan Institute of Higher Studies and its Director, Prof. S. Rinpoche, who has always gone out of his way to support us in such activities. The meeting on Mimamsa at Tirupati was totally financed by the Rashtriya Sanskrit Sansthan whose Director, Dr. Mandan Mishra, was one of the moving spirits behind all these activities and without his enthusiasm and support, not much would have been achieved as he knew practically everyone in the world of traditional scholarship in India and could bridge the gulf between us. The meeting on Kashmir Saivism had the organizational support of the Department of Sanskrit of the Kashmir University and of other scholars in the town.
In all these meetings, discussion was organized around issues previously formulated and circulated in Sanskrit to the potential participants, the last session always being devoted to the question as to what are the deficiencies in the system as handed down to us and how should we try to develop it further. The very asking of these questions set the mind of the traditional scholars in a different direction. The focus of their attention was, so to say, turned from the past to the future.
These have not been the only spin-offs of the Poona seminar. There have been others, and they are worth mentioning also. One has been the extension of the dialogue to areas other than the strictly philosophical and to traditions other than the Sanskritic.
The first was done in the field of linguistics where a dialogue between traditional pandits and modern linguists was held on 'Current Issues in Linguistics'. The whole thing had the administrative and financial support of the Central Institute of Indian Languages and its dynamic Director, Prof. D.P. Pattanayak, as well as that of the Adyar Library and Research Centre and its well-known scholar- Director, Prof. Kunjunni Raja. The issues were framed in consultation with eminent linguists not only at the Mysore Institute but also those at the Central Institute of English and Foreign Languages, Hyderabad and Deccan College, Pune. As for the movement outside the Sanskritic tradition, it was triggered off by a chance remark of Prof. K. Satchidananda Murty as to why the dialogue with the tradition be confined to Sanskrit pandits alone. This led to another path-breaking initiative on the part of the Indian Council of Philosophical Research and result in the organization of a dialogue on philosophical problems with the Ulema, the Arabic scholars representing the West Asian philosophical tradition in India. The dialogue was organized under the leadership of Prof. Jamal Khwaja of Aligarh Muslim University and was an eye-opener to all those practiced in it.
For the last two hundred years and more many western and western-trained Indian scholars have devoted themselves to the study of 'traditional' Indian philosophical thought. The fruits of
their labours are available in the form of translations of classical works into modern European languages, works which attempt to render in these languages the doctrines of the various philosophical schools, darsanas or matas, scholarly papers and books which try carefully to explicate the basic concepts in terms of which problems were formulated by the different schools and their solutions worked out, and sometimes to trace these concepts to primitive myths and rituals, and works which undertake a critical examination of the developed doctrines of the different schools with a view to bringing out their presuppositions and basic premises, and also exposing the occasional weak links in their internal logic and fallacies in the supporting arguments which mar their claim to truth. Comprehensive histories of Indian philosophy have also been published like the monumental History of Indian Philosophy by the late S.N. Dasgupta. Thus a voluminous exegetical literature has come into existence which has considerably advanced and sharpened our understanding of the Indian philosophical tradition. It has also made Indian philosophical thought for the first time accessible to those readers, western and Indian alike, who lack Sanskrit or have not mastered the peculiar idiom, replete with an abstruse terminology, in which philosophical argumentation was and is carried on in Indian philosophy. We all owe a large debt of gratitude to these scholars.
For most Indian scholars who worked assiduously in this field, Indian philosophy was a part, perhaps the most precious part, of their cultural patrimony which it was their duty to conserve and
make available to the world community. That such a task had become necessary for them itself implied that they were no more working from within the Indian philosophical tradition, but had stepped outside it and that however intimate their knowledge of it might be, they were looking at it from an external point of view.
However, a contemporary Naiyayika will fail to understand the talk of preserving the heritage of Indian philosophical thought. He will be busy expounding the Nyaya doctrine on certain philosophical issues and in the process advancing, if necessary, fresh arguments to defend the Nyaya position against the latest attack on it. He is engaged in philosophical thinking and not in the activity of conserving philosophical heritage. He is addressing, through the shared and time-hallowed medium of Sanskrit, the contemporary adherents of rival schools like Mimamsa or Advaita and also fellow-Naiyayikas on some common philosophical concerns and what he has to say, if judged to be significant enough by his peers, would become an increment, however small, added to the accumulated stock of philosophical literature in Sanskrit. A western-trained scholar on the other hand, writes not in Sanskrit but in some other language, these days commonly in English. With this change in language, the nature and point of what he is doing suffers a radical change. The medium affects the message. The basic terms in which he articulates his understanding of Indian doctrines inevitably remain western, terms which have originated and crystallized in the course of the development of the western philosophical tradition and the broader cognitive tradition, in the
debates and controversies, discoveries and criticism which propelled it. His understanding of the doctrine could be as inward as possible but his statement of it involves his lifting it from the Indian conceptual framework within which it has been developed and shaped and setting it within the western framework. In expounding it he has to translate it. This act of transfer carries with it an implicit criterion of evaluation. The Indian doctrine is significant to the extent that it raised or touched upon or foreshadowed conceptual issues with which the ongoing philosophical debate in the West is concerned, and in tackling them deployed modes of arguments which were similar to those used by western thinkers, leading to parallel epistemological or ontological conclusions. It is the western philosophical tradition which yields the yardstick by which to measure the relevance or importance of Indian thought. The cognitive and practical concerns of western philosophy are taken as central or natural and Indian thought has to prove its worth by establishing that somehow its speculations and conclusions had a direct or at least an indirect bearing on them. In the prevailing circumstances western-trained Indian students of Indian philosophy quite naturally adopted this point of view of looking at Indian philosophy and one of the most thriving areas of philosophical studies in India has been that of 'comparative philosophy' which is devoted to exploring similarities between western and Indian doctrines such as Nyaya and realism, Mimamsa and hermeneutics and so forth, and even between the views propounded by major western philosophers and classical Indian philosophers such as Kant and Samkara, or Whitehead and Vacaspati Misra. In the early decades of the century when Absolute Idealism was the reigning philosophy in Britain and to a lesser extent in America, it was to the idealistic Advaita and other varieties of Vedanta that Indian commentators pointed to representative Indian doctrines. Later when the tide of realism and analysis swept the Anglo-Saxon philosophical scene, the emphasis shifted to Nyaya. Still later, when Anglo-Saxon philosophy came to adopt a highly sophisticated and technical idiom as a proper and necessary medium of philosophical discussion, it was to the sophisticated technicalities of Navya-Nyaya that Indian commentators turned for something to match it with.
The result of this dominance of the western philosophical tradition has been that the Indian tradition is treated more or less as one which essentially belongs to the past, as one which had its day even though it continues to linger on. It is regarded as a proper object of historical rather than of philosophical interest. The contribution it can make to current philosophical debate can only be indirect. When the doctrines of an Indian philosophical school or an individual thinker are subjected to critical examination, the purpose is not to identify the elements in it which successfully stand scrutiny so as to incorporate them, after necessary elaboration into the corpus of accepted philosophical knowledge. The purpose rather is to ascertain and assess the contribution it makes to the development of Indian philosophical thought. To put the point in Indian terms, Indian philosophical theories were never allowed the role of purvapaksa or siddhanta in the western philosophical debate even after they had become accessible. They remained securely embedded in the particular, exclusive context of the Indian tradition.
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