re Kalanos the gymnosophist

zydenbos at zydenbos at
Tue May 7 05:23:30 UTC 1996

Replies to msg 06 May 96: indology at (lusthaus at

 le> [=Dan Lusthaus]> Robert Zydenbos writes:
> German
>and French philosophy on the whole show different tendencies

 le> Sure. And so do Sartre and Merleau-Ponty from each other;
 le> and so do
 le> Heidegger and Husserl from each other. French and German
 le> philosophies are
 le> however not the self-isolated linguistic communities you are
 le> suggesting. As

Please, I never did suggest that. On the contrary: I _explicitly_ said that the
linguistic door is never shut forever and for everyone. Go back and look, if
you don't believe me.

> (cf. e.g. Jean
>Grondin's remarks in his _Der Sinn fuer Hermeneutik_, introduction.

I referred to Grondin because he is conversant with French and German
philosophy, hence knows what he is writing about, and I said that he is
Canadian so as to avoid any assumption that he is a French or German
chauvinist. It is useless to go into further detail here, and this should
remain INDOLOGY and not become EURO-PHILOSOPHY-L.

 le> India will not
 le> regain its intellectual significance for the world until it
 le> outgrows that
 le> self-imposed myopia. If that's true, than the Sanskrit-only
 le> movement is
 le> going exactly in the wrong direction, though to add to your
 le> list of
 le> provincialisms, most of the Indians I know have little to
 le> zero
 le> comprehension of Sanskrit (unless a word or phrase sounds
 le> similar to what
 le> they do speak).

Does this "outgrowing" and "regaining intellectual significance in the world",
in your opinion, imply that India should at once dump all its own linguistic
heritage and Anglify / Americanize completely, by any chance?...

And again: please quote me correctly. I never wrote about a "Sanskrit-only"
movement... Where did you get THAT idea?

[and a bit further down:]

 le> from the provincials who see their own efforts at
 le> reappropriating their own
 le> past as either maintaining or fixing the status quo.

Is anything that is not Anglo-American "provincial", perhaps? Why should we not
allow people to take pride in their own heritages?

As for the knowledge of Sanskrit among Indians: have you ever noticed the
percentage of words in each and every living Indian language (with the
exception of Urdu, Kashmiri and Sindhi, for obvious reasons)? When I speak
Bengali, what I do is use a basic Bengali grammatical frame for my sentences
and insert Sanskrit words whenever I do not know 'deshi' Bengali words. I am
always understood. Common knowledge of a huge number of Sanskrit words across
India is precisely one of the assumptions behind the creation of "high" Hindi,
which is used in national televised news broadcasts across India, etc.

I also hope you are aware that there are two daily Sanskrit radio news
broadcasts all across India. (And this has nothing to do with the recently
begun "Speak Sanskrit" movement.) Those broadcasts would be immensely silly if
nobody could understand them, would they not?

 le> CBS Evening
 le> News is broadcast in Taiwan in English in the morning, and
 le> yet few
 le> Taiwanese understand a word of it without the Chinese
 le> subtitles. CNN might
 le> be on cable there, but I didn't run into it.

So there is an effort to culturally penetrate Taiwan through the English
language -- otherwise, the broadcasts would be in Chinese, just like BBC and
VOA radio broadcasts.

CNN is available in India, through Star Television (which is broadcast from
Hong Kong, by the way). Without subtitles.

> New Delhi's desire for
>high-tech things and the BJP's desire that India should be a
> nuclear-weapons
>power, however ugly, are perfectly understandable from the point of view
> of a
>culture that feels threatened by America.

 le> Is "America" a typo for Pakistan, which is getting support
 le> for its own
 le> nuclear program from China?

No typo. If you follow the Indian news media (particularly the newspapers) you
will see that a very large number of people in India are utterly terrified by
the USA and extremely sensitive to anything the USA does which can be construed
as concerning India, even if this involves a great effort of imagination. There
is the well established image of the US supporting Pakistan in nearly anything
Pakistan does, and this was disastrously fuelled by Robin Raphael's activities,
and she (and therefore the US) were a target of bitter attacks in the Indian
press over several months. Recently an American diplomat insisted that India
should follow certain US guidelines (on trade or the non-proliferation treaty,
I forgot which) or feel "the pain of punishment". This phrase kept reappearing
in the press for weeks after.

The nuclear issue is complex. Here the Pakistan factor is the simplest, hence
it is the one that appears most in debates in India. There is also the China
factor. And there is still more. Just last January, at a conference in India, I
heard an internationally highly respected professor say (in private) that not
only does India need nuclear weapons, but also missiles with which Washington
can be targeted, and then the Americans "will respect us, the way they respect
the Chinese, and Indians will regain their self-respect." His reasoning was
highly logical; on the other hand, whether the assumptions on which he based
his reasoning were correct, is a debatable matter.

Please note that I am not endorsing such views. Nor do I wish to say that such
views are held by a majority of Indian decision-makers. I merely wish to bring
to your attention that such views exist and are circulating in India.

Now let us leave INT-POLITICS-L and return to INDOLOGY.

> And this is why there is a grass-roots movement in India aimed at
>reviving Sanskrit as an actively used language.

 le> I question the legitimacy of the word "reviving" in that
 le> sentence.

But of course it is a reviving. What else would you call it?

> le> Further, since before the time of the Buddha and
> le> MahAvIra (both who
> le> deigned not to speak Sanskrit, and whose followers turned to
> le> Sanskrit only
> le> after many centuries, and even then often in Prakrit forms),
>But does this switching to Sanskrit not confirm my view? Pali and the
> various
>forms of Prakrit (N.B.: not one single variety of Prakrit!) which Jaina
> authors
>used could not survive in the course of time as pan-Indian media for the
>exchange of ideas. Only Sanskrit could.

 le> N.B. If my use of the plural word "forms" was not clear
 le> enough, then thank
 le> you for clarifying my intent (though, according to the
 le> grammar I learnt,
 le> the phrases "forms of Prakrit" and "Prakrit forms" are
 le> synonymous).

(Actually, both those phrases can mean more than one thing, can they not?)

I had some difficulty in understanding your "turned to Sanskrit [...] and even
then often in Prakrit forms", since in my view Sanskrit is one thing and
Prakrit another, hence we cannot have Prakrit forms of Sanskrit. So I concluded
that you meant something like 'Sanskrit with Prakritisms', or forms of Sanskrit
like Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit.

 le> The switching to "Sanskrit" as a professional language is a
 le> sign of their
 le> increasing professionalism. It marked the sovereignty of the
 le> elite over
 le> thinking (precisely the problem that Buddha cited as the
 le> reason why he
 le> refused to speak Sanskrit). It was a professional lingua
 le> franca, which
 le> Jainas or Buddhists from all over India or the Buddhist
 le> world could find
 le> useful when interacting with their brethren of other
 le> tongues, and which
 le> also helped facilitate interreligious debates (in the flesh
 le> and textually)
 le> between the various "Indian" traditions. Yes, it served a
 le> professional
 le> pan-Indian function, and I've not tried to dismiss or
 le> belittle that, but it

So we agree there.

 le> was not the *formative* factor in the development of those
 le> non-Vedic
 le> traditions, and as we grow more aware of the history of
 le> regional
 le> developments of Hinduism, the importance of the non-Sanskrit
 le> innovations is
 le> becoming more apparent. 

This depends on what we are willing to include as "formative". Living Jainism,
as we know it today, is much closer to the weltanschauung and ritual practices
which we find described in Jaina Sanskrit texts than in any Prakrit texts I
know of. I fully agree that Western researchers, in general in the past, have
not given non-Sanskritic sources their due. But the pattern repeats itself over
and over: movements that develop within a geographically relatively limited
area, using a non-Sanskrit medium, after some time Sanskritize.

Jainism and Buddhism are ancient examples, but I can give a much more recent
one as well. In 12th-century Karnataka, Virasaivism burst onto the
socio-religious scene as a highly energetic and innovative movement. Virasaiva
doctrine gives great importance to the Saiva Agamas (which are in Sanskrit);
the main medium of communication among the Virasaiva saints of the period,
among themselves and with society around them, was Kannada; and after this
vigorous period of open debate and development, the doctrine as reached by
concensus was written down, by Virasaiva authors... in Sanskrit. So what should
we conclude about the role of Sanskrit in the formation of Virasaivism?

 le> Similarly, are Sikhs not Indians
 le> simply because
 le> they never Sanskritized the Adi Granth (and have no plans to
 le> do so,
 le> according to the latest I've heard)? Do you want to reduce
 le> Sikh political
 le> actions and motives to mere language? What about the Sants,
 le> Kabir, etc.?

I hope you are aware that a section among the Sikhs wants to create Khalistan,
i.e. they want break with India and no longer be Indians. And there is also an
ongoing unrest in Muslim-majority Kashmir, where a significant number of people
have violently expressed the wish to no longer be Indians.

I am not interested in issues of modern constitutional law, issues of
citizenship in the twentieth century, etc. Also I find it wrong to bring
syncretistic phenomena into the discussion in this manner. We cannot pretend
that Kabir and the Sants are purely Indian, and that they have not incorporated
thoughts of non-Indian origin into their thinking. That is just as absurd as
saying that the New Age movement is purely American and owes nothing to Asia.
There is nothing wrong with Kabir and the Sants per se; and the exchange of
ideas and mutual influences is what the Kalanos thread should be about. But for
syncretism to exist at all, there should be identifiably different sources of
ideas, in this case Islamic and non-Islamic, and the non-Islamic part is what
we call "pre-Islamic Indian culture".

Let me now turn the question around and ask you: if "Indianness" does not exist
as a cultural phenomenon, closely linked with the Sanskrit language, then why
should there be a "Speak Sanskrit" movement at all?

Robert Zydenbos
Internet: zydenbos at

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