From the Jacket:
The problem of suffering has been one of the major concerns of human thought. This book discusses it in a philosophical perspective.
About the Author:
Sujata Miri was teaching philosophy in Lady Shri Ram College for Women, Delhi University. At present she is associated with the Department of Philosophy, North Eastern Hill University, Shillong.
The problem of suffering has been one of the major concerns of human thought throughout its history. Indeed, there are traditions of thought for which this is the central problem of intellect as well as of life: all other problems issue ultimately from it. This essay is an attempt to state and connect some of the basic ways in which philosophers, both in the West and in the East, have grappled with this problem.
The thesis which runs throughout the presentation of the views of different philosophers and philosophies is the distinction between "problem" and "mystery". Although this distinction derives from Marcel the French Philosopher, use of this in the essay goes beyond its original intention, and, I believe, throws new light on many philosophical issues. It is hoped that this essay will present a proper framework within which a solution to the problem of suffering may be sought.
This essay is a revised version of my Ph.D. dissertation for Delhi University. It would have been impossible for me to bring the work to the present form without the warm and active encouragement of Professor S C Dube, Director, Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Simla, during the term of my Guest Fellowship at the Institute. The Guest Fellowship offered to me by the Institute, besides giving me the time and the use of the facilities of the Institute's excellent library also, enabled me to have fruitful discussions on the subject with other scholars at the Institute. This helped me to get clear about many issues which previously had been quite unclear to me.
The work was completed under the most trying circumstances both personally and professionally. But for the warm affection and generous help I received from two of my friends, Dr Baidyanath Saraswati and Dr S C Malik, during my stay in Simla, the work could not perhaps have been completed. I am also extremely grateful to Professor Sibajijivan Bhattacharya, Dr Ramchandra Gandhi and Mr. Nirmal Verma for the stimulating conversations and dialogues I had with them and for their valuable suggestions on various points. My thanks are also due to Mr Vinod Kumar Malhotra for typing the final manuscript.
I also want to put on record, much against his wishes, that without the unfailing moral, emotional and intellectual support given by my husband, Mrinal Miri, the book would never have seen the light of the day.
The Problem of suffering is as old as human existence. Very often philosophers who have thought about the problem have treated the subject "objectively"-not as something which has its basis in one's own subjective existence. This tendency seems to be present in western thought in all the stages of its development-the Greek, the Christian and the modern. What they have usually argued for is a systematized description of the universe, not paying adequate attention to man's disquiet when he is confronted with direct experience of the universe. The thrust of western philosophy has been to direct man away from his own immediate evidence so that he is encouraged to live within a system.
What Schopenhauer, Nietzsche and the majority of the existentialists- find wrong with this tendency is its manufactured inauthenticity. It has been fabricated over the centuries not on the basis of direct observation of the world or as the result of attention to individual psychological experience, but by spinning out a complicated number of a priori ideas. They have produced a detailed description of the mechanisms of the universe elaborated within the context of an ontology which has more to do with metaphysical systems and their preservation than with accurate description of what man really and repeatedly experiences. It is a world view whose presupposition is that one can readily apply the methods used for the scientific description of the operations of the universe to descriptions of human reality. The puzzlement and disquiet with which the existence and nature of the world fills us, however, do not appear to be such that they could be removed by any information the empirical sciences may be able to offer. But the fact that philosophers have notoriously failed to satisfy us with regard to them should not lead us to simply brush aside the problem.
Schopenhauer was amongst the very few (together with Nietzsche and the existentialists) who felt that instead of depending purely on deductive reasoning based on a priori principles as a means of interpreting the world, we should recognise the resources provided by experience, in particular, inner experience. "I say that the solution of the riddle of the world must proceed from the understanding of the world itself; that ... the task of metaphysics is not to pass over the experience in which the world exists, but to understand it thoroughly, because outer and inner experience is... the principle source of all knowledge. Accordingly, Schopenhauer wished to shake himself free from the influence of any creed or dogma, unlike the university professors of his time. For they, under the spell of Hegel's "verbiage" had evolved the practice of borrowing familiar dogmas and notions, and of dressing these up in the obscure jargon of the Absolute. He referred specially to the social scientists who were led into following the Hegelians by treating collective nouns like "the life of the race" as names of real entities, "only the individuals and their course of life are real, the nations and their lives being mere abstractions. Kant had rightly shown why his predecessors always failed, by exposing the emptiness of all claims to knowledge transcending the limits of possible experience. . Schopenhauer expressed the same sentiments when he claimed that philosophy hitherto has been a failure, for the philosopher has aspired to pass at one bound beyond the world in the hope of discovering the last foundation of all existence and the eternal relations of things. These are matters which our intellect is quite incapable of grasping, its power of comprehension never reaches beyond the so-called "finite things" or "phenomena". So philosophy should be concerned with the interpretation of what he calls "experience in general".
Once it is honestly realized that philosophy cannot be a purely formal or a deductive discipline, envisaged on the basis of certain idealized sciences, and also that its fundamental datum can be nothing else but experience, then the metaphysician can approach the problem presented by existence in a more discerning manner, unbefuddled by abstract conceptions. It was an interpretation of this kind, Schopenhauer believed, that he had provided in his own theory, a theory which took as its "subject and source" not particular experiences but the "totality of all experience", employing as its primary concepts notions which already have a specific meaning within that totality. The solution to the riddle of the universe that he offered was such that it could be directly recognized as being correct. But if anyone demanded elucidations which went beyond the world and our experience of the world then he was asking for something which could neither bet hought nor under-stood-"something which our human intellect is absolutely incapable of grasping and thinking.
In this Schopenhauer saw the similarity of his own thinking with Indian thought. In the Preface to his main work The World as Will and Idea, he claimed that "the reader who has already received and assimilated the sacred inspiration of the ancient Indian wisdom.... is best of all prepared to hear what I have to say to him."5 His philosophical conclusions broadly corresponded with the conceptions of both Buddhism and the Upanishads, with the important difference that what the Indian authors for the most part had been able.to convey in an intellectually indistinct, though imaginatively very compelling, form, he had managed to present in the relatively determinate language of philosophical reflection.
Several of the leading ideas upon which Schopenhauer lays stress in his philosophical system have analogues in beliefs that are integral to much of the philosophical thought of India. There is, for example, the Vedanta conception that phenomenal reality or the world of perception is ultimately illusion (maya); that it is impermanent and fleeting and must be contrasted with that which is truly eternal. For beneath the veil of maya all things are asserted to be at root one; atman (that which in the last analysis constitutes oneself) is identical with Brahman. The Upanishadic formula tat twam asi which is used to signify the identity of the individual with the world as a whole is quoted repeatedly by Schopenhauer in the context of his moral philosophy even though it is erroneous to equate the Vedanta concept of Brahman with his own notion of metaphysical will.
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