Philosophy and Religion - Essays in Interpretation

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Item Code: IDE141
Publisher: Indian Council Of Philosophical Research (ICPR)
Author: J. L. Mehta
Language: English
Edition: 2004
ISBN: 8185636788
Pages: 302
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 8.8" X 5.8"
Weight 520 gm
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Book Description

From the Jacket:

This volume brings together a seminal collection of papers by a scholar whose interests ranged from Heidegger to the Vedas, and from the critique of western civilization to the future of philosophy in India. Is it possible to bring to bear on Indian philosophical texts, which belong to a tradition of their own, an interpretive framework derived from a different tradition? Professor Mehta addresses this crucial question through witnessing to a dialogue of cultures in which he himself was deeply involved. This lead him to reflect on Heidegger, the study of world religions, Sri Aurobindo, the Mahabharata, the Rigveda, and the rich area in Indian thought in which philosophy, religion and poetry interfuse. He pays his own tradition the homage of retrieval and rethinking. He is able to do this with the consummate skill and bifocal vision of an Indian philosopher deeply versed in the thought of Heidegger and the whole hermeneutic approach; one who experienced in his own being the poignancy of philosophizing in a modern idiom and yet in the light of insights and concept rooted in the distant past.


About the Author:

Professor Jarava Lal Mehta (1912 - 1988) was an internationally recognized Heidegger scholar. He taught philosophy at Banaras Hindu University for more than two decades until his retirement in 1972. Dr Mehta was a Professor of Philosophy at the University of Hawaii and visiting Professor at the Center fro the Study of World Religions, Harvard University. He published widely in both Indian and Western philosophical journals. His books include The Philosophy of Martin Heidegger (1967, 1971), revised as Martin Heidegger: The Way and the Vision (1976), his English translation of Walter Biemel's Martin Heidegger (1976) and a collection of essays entitled India and the West: The Problem of Understanding (1985).




In the mid-fifties in India, J.L. Mehta and I were possibly the only two philosophers preoccupied with contemporary German philosophy. He was reading Heidegger, I was reading Husserl-these, to be sure, were our main focus of study. This forged an intimate inner link between us. He was in Banaras and I in Calcutta. (Born in Calcutta, he continued to have a deep attachment to Bengali culture.) I had returned from Gottingen, he was about to leave for Freiburg. We met only during the meetings of the Indian Philosophical Congress. He bore his scholarship lightly. As always, in later life, when recognition and honours came to him, this did not change him. There was a sweet simplicity about him which concealed the enormous scholarship that he had acquired. I knew that Banaras did not give him his due. At Harvard, he received that recognition. The Heidegger book-a work of great scholarship, clarity of understanding and remarkable insight-alone should have earned him what he deserved back in India. But academic politics being what it is, he had to leave.

Hannah Arendt, during a conversation at the New School, said to me: 'Do you know that the best book on Heidegger, in any language, is written by an Indian?' This remark, coming from no less a person than her, filled mc with joy and pride (being J.L. Mehta's fellow countryman). This one testimony would serve its purpose. I could cite many others.

The last I saw J.L. Mehta was at the Delhi conference, in January 1988, on 'Phenomcnology and Indian Philosophy'. He bore his self-effacing smile. We talked about his life in retirement in Jabalpur. Hc told mc about his current interest in Vedic hermeneutics (on which he read a paper at that conference) and also in the Mahabharata. 'Anything new on Heidegger?' I asked him. He said 'No. It is difficult to keep in touch with the growing literature.' I gave him a copy of the volume on Heidegger which Bob Shahan and I had put together. He was delighted to have it. We talked briefly about his impending visit to the USA. In fact, he did write to me about his itinerary while in the USA, and wanted to visit us at Temple. But I was out of the country-at Oxford-and when I got the letter it was already too late.

These papers bear witness to a mind trained in the best traditions of Heideggerean hermeneutics, and yet deeply committed to the Indian philosophical and spiritual tradition. Anyone who is in this intellectual predicament-as I know so well from my own case-finds himself confronted with a most difficult problem: how to be faithful to both? Isn't it possible to be faithful to Heideggerean hermeneutics and apply it to the texts of the Indian tradition without thereby compromising the authenticity of one's commitment to, and understanding of, that tradition? Heideggerean hermeneutics, one may suspect, is born out of a reading of western intellectual history-a reading that may or may not be authentic with regard to that history, but to extend that reading to the Indian texts-the Vedas, the Upanishads and the Epics-wouldn't that amount precisely to that cultural violence which a good interpreter should seek to avoid?

Faced with such a predicament, Mehta shows great courage and makes a bold choice. He writes with the conviction that Heidegger can help an Indian to retrieve his own tradition. In this introduction, I can only briefly indicate how Mehta thinks this to be possible.

It is first necessary to bear in mind the main theses of the Heideggerean (together with Gadamer's, not worrying about the differences between the two) hermeneutics. Most important of all, there is the thesis about the historicity of understandlng-of understanding construed not merely as an epistemological faculty but as an ontological feature of human existence. In view of this ontological thesis, it is not any longer possible to ask, what is the meaning of a, text (as though the meaning were a soul animating the text); what is incumbent is to interpret the text (or a tradition) in the light of one's historical situation. It also follows that since understanding/interpretation is not performed by a transcendental ego but rather by a historically situated Dasein, understanding cannot be presuppositionless, it has to be rather, as Gadamer maintains, from within a tradition, and as belonging to the 'effective historical consciousness' (Wirkunggeschichte) of the text. The historicity of under- standing may, however, be construed in a Hegelian teleological manner-implying that the originary, the primitive, what stands at the beginning, is the less developed, to be overcome by the more developed and the richer. Such an interpretive stance is rejected by Heidegger-for whom, it is at the beginning that the decisive step was taken, which has determined the subsequent course of a tradition. In the case of western thought, this decisive step, at the beginning, was an understanding of Being. According to Mehta, there stands, at the beginning of Indian thought, likewise, the concepts of Atman and Brahman. However, radical questioning requires that we reach back to that beginning, and seek for new possibilities of interpretation of that founding insight.

If these are the basic Heideggerean hermeneutic principles, we need also to recall Heidegger's attempts to think about the totality of western philosophy, as also about the situation in which mankind seemingly finds itself today. In this connection, Heidegger insists upon some highly controversial theses. Along with Husserl, Heidegger held that philosophy is a western pursuit, that 'western philosophy' is a redundant expression just as 'Indian philosophy' is just a mistaken appellation. Heidegger further held-and in this he was not in Husserl's company-that philosophical thinking (as also metaphysics) has determined the course of western civilization, making possible the rise of modern science and technology. This thinking has been characterized by a subject-object distinction. It has been as much objectifying as subjectivistic and representational. As Heidegger reads it, philosophical- metaphysical thinking reached its final culmination in Nietzsche's Will to Power, in a Nihilism that characterizes contemporary culture, and in modern technology which threatens to destroy mankind. In this sense, we are facing the 'end' of philosophy. At this critical juncture what options are open to us? To us in the West, but more importantly, in the context of J.L. Mehta's concerns, to us in the East?

When we think of this in the East, in India more particularly, we have to remember that history has brought us not merely in contact with the West, but also under that large historical phenomenon characterized by Husserl as the 'Europeanization of the earth'. Recognizing this historical phenomenon, one may want to move in either of two directions. One may want to, as Gandhi did in Hind Swaraj, but in different degrees all his life, reverse this process, and return to the pristine purity of Indian tradition. The irony of this, in Gandhi's case, was that his picture of this tradition was as much derived from the tradition as from the West, from Tolstoy and Thoreau amongst others. There is perhaps no going back. Perhaps the 'Europeanization of the earth' is irreversible (even if we discount Heidegger's obfuscating talk of the 'destiny of Being', whatever that might mean). For Mehta, it is indeed so. Here he is so unlike most western- educated Indian intellectuals who either support, and in some manner or other long to be free from, the influence of the West, or so welcome that Europeanization that they see nothing of value in the ancient tradition, or-in their desire to save both-yearn after a facile synthesis of the East and the West, of 'spirituality' and science (as has often been said). Mehta stands, in this respect, all by himself. He recognizes the irreversibility of Europeanization; he even seems to recognize its value for us. He insists that we cannot but think in relation to this historical situation, but he does not recommend that we just take over the western mode of thinking. Here again he is a true disciple of Heidegger.

Whereas both Husserl and Heidegger recognized the Europeanization of the earth, Husserl seems to have recognized something of deep positive value in it, which is the establishment of the rational ideal of scientificity, construed in the widest sense of transcendental phenomenology, Heidegger, despite all his rhetoric of 'destiny of Being', warned the orient not simply to take over the western mode of thinking (and, I presume, along with it the science and technology which go with it and belong to it). How the irreversibility of Europeanization is compatible with a refusal to think in the western way, is-I suspect-left unasked by him. Nevertheless, here is an interesting path that Heidegger points to. This path is open not merely for the East, but is needed for the West as well, as nihilism and technology tighten their grips. What is this path?

If western thought-philosophical and metaphysical at its roots-is objectifying, representational and subjectivistic, what the West needs and the East supposedly still has within its grips, is a radically different mode of thinking which is non- objectifying, non-representational, non-subjectivistic; a mode of thinking which, moving beyond the subject-object distinction, finds itself in the very heart of Being. Heidegger did think that such a mode of thinking had to be recovered by the West from its own resources, and also that the East could return to its own tradition to retrieve it. It is this latter that J.L. Mehta sought to do.

Mehta was fully aware that not all Indian thought was non- objectifying. As every student of the Indian darshanas knows, epistemological, logical and metaphysical speculations, theories and arguments, abound in that tradition. Are these examples of objectifying and philosophical thinking? If so, what happens to the Husserl-Heidegger thesis that philosophy is a western pursuit? But Mehta also believed that in the Vedic corpus, in the Upanishads, in the Vedanta tradition, there lies hidden a mode of non-objectifying thinking which is precisely what needs to be salvaged. To characterize what is there as 'mystic experience' is to subjectivize it; to reduce it to a metaphysical system is to impose upon it an alien conceptuality. Can we retrieve from those texts an ontological-not epistemological, nor logical-process of self- understanding which is also a self-interpretation? It is here, and not in the much used (and abused) 'mystic experience', that the real essence of the thesis of 'shabda-pramana' lies. I find here a approachment between Mehta's reading of the Indian tradition and mine, coming from two different perspectives, though both wedded, in some sense, to the phenomenological openness to the truth.

It is not enough, Mehta insists, to return to the founding insight about Alman and Brahman (as Heidegger returns to the pre-Socratics). It is also necessary-if one has to think radically-to ask if this founding insight does not permit itself to be interpreted in a radically new manner? If what characterizes the shruti is the inexhaustible richness of its meaning and reservoir, the possibility of ever new interpretations, we must answer the question in the affirmative. At the same time, if all interpretation is existential, from the perspective of the interpreter, being in the world, it has to be from our present perspective-but then we are back with the situation of Europeanization, nihilism, technology, loss of the sacred and the 'end' of philosophy. The present and the past, the West and the East coincide-not by a reflective act of synthesis, but as leading each to the other in a hermeneutic circle as it were.

These essays best illustrate this circle, and it is to them that we should now turn. But they lay down only a path-not a conclusion, nor arguments. They indicate what to look for, and where. They show the instincts of a discoverer and the sensibilities of a poet, the attachment of a lover and the distancing of a thinker. It is left for us-now that J.L. Mehta is gone-to traverse this path further than he did.


Introduction v
1 Heidegger and the Comparison of Indian and Western Philosophy 1
2 In Memoriam: Martin Heidegger 20
3 'World Civilization': The Possibility of Dialogue 33
4 A Stranger from Asia 49
5 My Years at the Center for the Study of World Religions: Some Reflections 65
6 Philosophy, Philology and Empirical Knowledge 83
7 The Hindu Tradition: The Vedic Root 100
8 Sri Aurobindo: Life, Language and Yoga 121
9 Science, Conversation and Wholeness 185
10 Bhakti in Philosophical Perspective 204
11 Krishna Dvaipayana: Poet of Being and Becoming 215
12 Modernity and Tradition 225
13 Life-worlds, Sacrality and Interpretive Thinking 236
14 The Discourse of Violence in the Mahabharata 254
15 The Rigveda: Text and Interpretation 272


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