Is there a truth, somewhere, which is so certain that no reasonable individual could doubt its veracity? The excitement of this quest come from the scent of freedom. Both Shankara and Heidegger erect a 'metaphysics of experienced' upon the pillars of Being, Truth, and Freedom. Metaphysics is concerned with a theory of reality while a 'metaphysics of experience' is a quest for Being qua Being. The comparative study of religion and philosophy will find that these two unique thinkers resonate together in an uncanny way even if they eventually come to different conclusions.
Shankara is the Indian master of this quest par excellence. His elucidation and insight into Being is unparalleled. As well, Heidegger is the Western philosopher who has come the closest to thinking Being in terms other than the terms of the 'categories of beings'. In fact, he may be the first Western philosopher to do so since the pre-Socratics.
Johan A. Grimes received his B. A. in Religion from the University of California at Santa Barbara and his M. A. and Ph. D. from the University of Madras in Indian Philosophy. He has taught at Universities in India, Canada. Singapore, at the United States. His book publications include: The Vivekacudamani: Sankara's Crown Jewel of Discrimination; A Concise Dictionary of Indian Philosophy; Ganapati: Song of the Self; Problems and Perspectives in Religious Discourse: Advaita Vedanta Implications; Sapta Vidha Anupapatti: The Seven Great Untenables; and The Naiskarmyasiddhi of Suresvara: A Monograph. He currently spends his time between California and Chennai.
1. Special Feature of the Work
The purpose of the present study is to evaluate what may
, be called the 'metaphysics of experience' in the thought of
Sankaracarya Bhagavatpada (Indian philosopher - 8th century)
and Martin Heidegger (German philosopher - 20th century).
Metaphysics is concerned with a theory of reality while a 'meta-
physics of experience' is a quest for Being qua Being. This itself
should alert one to the fact that not only my primary concern, but
also Sankara and Heidegger's, is not with a cataloguing of philo so-
phical viewpoints. The endeavour is to go out in quest of Being.
Empirical phenomena or lists (the ontic) concern me about as much
as they concern these two thinkers, i.e., only to the extent that
such phenomena lead to the ontological.
Sankara is the Indian master of this quest par excellence. His
elucidation and insight into Being is unparalleled. As well,
Heidegger is the Western philosopher who has come the closest to
thinking Being in terms other than the terms of the' categories of
beings'. In fact, he may be the first Western philosopher to do so
since the pre-Socratics. Herein rests the concern of this work.
My objective in this work is to introduce the quest of these
two thinkers who came from such different cultures and times.
Their thoughts on Being resonate together in many striking ways
even though they eventually come to different conclusions. They
both quest after the Being of things- that-are, the Being of all beings.
Humanity, forsaken and forlorn in a terrible and lonely world, can
draw a real and lasting inspiration from these two thinkers.
The highest value (artha) is also the supreme goal of life
ipurusarthai. Every aspect of Being, and of knowing, should be
enquired into. Theory should not be divorced from life or else it
becomes mere dry intellectual gymnastics. Thus, our quest takes
us simultaneously into 'Being', 'Truth', and 'Freedom'.
Heidegger's method is phenomenological while Sankara's is
primarily scriptural/experiential. The oft-quoted Indian saying is:
sruti.yukti, anubhava – scripture/hear the word; reasoning/ponder
and analyse it; and experience/have direct personal experience. First
comes the text or proposition; the 'what' to be known. Once this is
digested, the qualified aspirant asks 'how' and 'why' by means of
logic and reasoning. This process clears one's doubts. And finally,
this indirect knowledge is made immediate and direct when it
becomes part of one's own immediate personal experience.
Thus, my initial task is to present Sankara and Heidegger's
fundamental positions regarding Being, Truth, and Freedom in
chapters two and three. This is followed by a statement, and
analysis, of some problems in regards to their respective positions.
Chapter five assigns similarities and differences between the two
in an explicit manner - after what was implied in the earlier
expositions. Finally, my conclusion draws out, explicates more
sharply what the results of the study are.
Coming back to the proposed methodological approach, the
emphasis is on a subject knowing and not on an object (theory)
known. Prior to all logical deductions is that which enables, and is
involved in, each and every experience - rational or otherwise.
Being, as a fact of direct experience, is not an opinion, theory, or
expression of feeling. Rational knowledge is problematical. It is
mediate. It is uncertain. It is a product of the intellect's ability to
discriminate, divide, and distinguish. Its very nature is exclusive
and partial- the outcome of, and epitome of parochialism.
Our emphasis is on experience. Personal experience is the
foundation of both Sankara and Heidegger. It is the culmination of
knowledge - in a particular qualified sense. The experiencer can
never be doubted, without a logical contradiction. Thus, the
Cartesian dictum, "I think therefore I am" (cogito ergo sum),
becomes. "I am therefore I think". Objects and information may
come and go. But the experiencer is present throughout - whether
experience has an object or not. How to sublate the experiencer?
With this being the case, our concern is truly with 'Being' and
thus is not tied to a particular philosophical system. Experience,
personal experience, is what characterizes our quest. It just so
happens that Sankara and Heidegger made this quest in such a way
that we follow along the 'path' that they have trod. But let us not
confuse the pathfinder with the goal.
2. Use for the Work and Value to the Western World
There are a number of works available concerning a compa-
rison of Advaita Vedanta with Western philosophers, i.e., Graham
Parkes' Heidegger and Asian Thought, Rudolph Otto's Mysticism
East and West, P.T. Raju's Thought and Reality: Hegelianism and
Advaita; S.N.L. Shrivastava's Samkara and Bradley; John Taber's
Transformative Philosophy: A Study of Sankara, Fichte and
Heidegger; Steven Heine's Existential and Ontological Dimensions
of Time, Frits Staal's Advaita and Neo-Platonism. As well, there
are excellent papers by Elisabeth Hirsch on "Martin Heidegger
and the East", G. Srinivasan on "Heidegger and Advaita Vedanta",
J.L. Mehta, "Heidegger and Vedanta: Reflections on a Questionable
Theme", Charles Wei-hsun Fu, "Heidegger and Zen on Being and
Nothingness". In Buddhist and Western Philosophy: A Critical
Comparative Study, ed. Nathan Katz, John Steffney's "Trans-
metaphysical Thinking in Heidegger and Zen".
It has been said that "comparisons are odious". Some compa-
risons have a natural tendency toward the superficial and have been
hampered in the past by their lack of clarification of the religious
significance of Heidegger's thinking. This has led to a one-
sidedness in the 'dialogue' in which Heidegger is said to come
close, but not quite close enough, to being a Zen Buddhist or a
Taoist in the tradition of Lao-tzu or Chuang-tzu.
As far as my knowledge goes, no one has attempted to analyze
'Being', 'Truth', and 'Freedom' in a thorough-going manner from
the perspective of Sankara and Heidegger. Works are legion on
Heidegger and yet, it is my contention that most of them could
have, and would benefit from the insights which Sankara provides.
Being, according to Advaita, is fundamental in a radical sense and
thereby prior to all proofs which must necessarily presuppose it.
Yet, 'Being' does not presuppose itself as it is the one indubitable
fact of experience which can never be doubted or denied without
It is a difficult endeavour to attempt to compare concepts from
one philosophical system or tradition with those of another. The
translation of a word from one language to another is most difficult.
This is because one may obtain a high degree of conformity and
thereby believe that one has succeeded. However, words have
different associations, connotations, and contexts which cannot be
totally preserved with any real precision in translation. This is all
the more so, especially with philosophical and religious termino-
logy which requires extreme accuracy of expression. Loose render-
ings and translations of terms can create misconceptions. Unne-
cessary doctrinal, as well as critical, renderings can make a mockery
of a doctrine's original purport.
This being said, I believe that a real contribution may be made
to the study of comparative religion and philosophy. The end
product has the possibility of being constructive. Such studies, if
their main function is not to refute and ridicule, can help to both
define and distinguish various philosophical and religious positions.
Vis-a-vis other systems, one grows in an awareness of a particular
stance or import.
My main purpose in this work was to grow in an awareness of
both Heidegger and Sankara - to get clearer on their doctrines. It
so happens that both philosophers are primarily concerned with
Being, especially Being vis-a-vis Truth and Freedom. Thus, my
goal was to clarify and not to demolish. What is implicit in the two
philosophers should become explicit.
Even more, the conflicts which do exist between these two
thinkers do not seem to affect their value as a particular system of
thought. There is a time and place, and perhaps even a purpose,
for various doctrines to arise. One may even go so far as to say
that there is a historic need for various schools of thought. One
could venture to say that various systems can enrich and inspire
each other. In the Indian spirit, there is a place for 'unity in
3. Some Conventions
Heidegger wrote employing 'man' as standing for the human
being - both sexes included. The climate of his time took this
term for granted. In deference to today's 'modem' outlook replete
with 'feminine liberation', I have employed the term 'individual'
whenever possible. However, in many places, and in many trans-
lations, I have carried forward Heidegger's terminology. Wherever
such terminology occurs, one should keep in mind that all of
humanity is intended - with no prejudice or slight to either sex
meant. In a similar manner, Sankara mainly wrote for a male-
oriented monastic community, even when those terms represented
'Being' with a capital 'B' means ontological Being. To
Sankara, it represents Brahman/Atman or the Absolute - that is,
that which is non-dual, non-relational, free from every attribute,
and cannot be defined in terms of a category. To Heidegger, Being
is the most universal concept though not an aggregate of all existing
things. Its universality transcends any universality of genus. Like
Sankara, he says it is the bedrock of all, and certain. However,
unlike Sankara, he posits that Being is dependent upon Dasein
I have followed the systems of transliteration and diacritical
marks adopted by modem oriental scholars.
I would like to acknowledge my indebtedness to my past
teachers - without whose scholarship, enthusiasm, friendship, and
positive suggestions this work would not have been possible. I
owe so much to Professor R. Balasubramanian of Madras for first
introducing me to the significance of the idea of Being - both
conceptually as well as in Sankara and Heidegger. As well, I owe
a great deal to Dr. P.K. Sundaram, an Advaitin whose personal
contacts with India's saints gave me inspiration and encouragement
to pursue the quest of Being in more than merely a scholarly fashion.
I thank Professor David Appelbaum for originally pursuing this
manuscript for the 'Revisioning Philosophy' series of Lang Press.
It was originally published by Peter Lang Press: New York, Bern,
Frankfurt am Main, and Paris, 1989. Finally, I wish to express my
gratitude to Chris Quilkey, Editor of The Mountain Path for
suggesting that I contact Alvaro Enterria, Editor ofIndica Books,
and to Alvaro and Indica Books for publishing a new edition of
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