Living & Dead Systems

Vidyasankar Sundaresan vsundaresan at HOTMAIL.COM
Sat May 22 07:06:47 UTC 1999

Balaji Hebbar <bhebbar at EROLS.COM> wrote:

>I  continue  to  maintain  (despite  your  esteemed  views)  that  every
>system  of  Classical  Indian  thought,  except  Jainism  and  VedAnta
>are  dead!  Let  me  point  out  a  few  things.

With all due respect, Prof. Hebbar, I think this reflects only the situation
in southern Karnataka, where there are only Jains and Vedantins among
classical thinkers. Your quotation of Prof. Hiriyanna adds to this
impression of mine. Let's not forget Buddhism. Apart from traditional
pockets here and there in various parts of India, we have many neo-Buddhists
who are very interested in philosophical issues, and not just in political
matters. And since the times of Hiriyanna, the Tibetans have come, as far
down south as Mysore now. Perhaps they are still alien, but I see no real
prospect of their returning to their homeland in the foreseeable future. As
social interactions between Indians and Tibetans increase, philosophical
discourse and religious debate will follow, and mahAyAna buddhism will have
to be contended with as a religion and as a philosophy. And Buddhism will
only have returned to its old homeland.

>parts.  Similarly  is  the  case  with  the  donated  organs  of  a
>dead  person.  Yes,  in  this  sense,  the  NyAya  and  Yoga  are
>"alive"  but  NOT  in  their  old  vintage  form  as  full-fledged
>alternatives  to  the  VedAnta.  Beyond  a  shadow  of  a  doubt,  the
>VedAnta  in  its  various  manifestations  has  taken  over  the  Indian
>religio-philosophical  scene.

Is it necessary for every classical darSana to be a religious alternative to
the vedAnta(s)? Isn't it enough for a school like nyAya to concentrate on
logic? And you have not even taken into account the Saiva siddhAnta and
related schools. Even among classical nyAya-vaiSeshika authors, many of them
were Saiva/pASupata by "religion" and naiyyAyika by "philosophy." kauNDinya
and vyomaSiva come to mind. And as far as pUrva mImAMsA is concerned, even
kumArila bhaTTa didn't think it was an alternative to vedAnta, as he ended
his tantra-vArttika with a statement that the subject of the Atman is
discussed only in the vedAnta darSana and not in jaiminI's SAstra. And among
the vedAntins, Sankara kept the two separate, while others argued the two
systems formed one larger whole, in one way or the other. In either case,
mImAMsA continued, either separately, or otherwise. As late as appayya
dIkshita, a full eight centuries after Sankara, and two or three after
Madhva, there was a flourishing traditional scholarship in pUrva mImAMsA.
Clearly, if we are to give a reason why mImAMsA has died or has become
irrelevant today, there are other factors involved, and we cannot point
simply to the rise of vedAnta(s).

>  All  Yoga  teachers  today  are  mostly  Advaitins,

Not so long ago, Swami Saccidanandendra Sarasvati of Holenarsipur wrote that
Sankaran advaita vedAnta had been hijacked largely by naiyyAyikas and
yogins. Not that he was necessarily right, but many of those one assumes to
be Advaitins are really Yogins.

Earlier this century, Swami Hariharananda Aranya (note the Advaitin sounding
Sannyasi suffix) translated the Yogabhashya into Bengali with annotations.
This has since been translated into English and Hindi. There is hardly any
influence of Advaitic metaphysics in his work, which is clearly aligned with
the multiple purusha tradition aligned with sAMkhya. The Bihar School of
Yoga in Monghyr continues to have some pundits of pAtanjala yoga, without
Advaita influence. We can leave B. K. S. Iyengar safely out of this
discussion, as he is to Yoga what Swamis Sivananda or Chinmayananda are to
Advaita Vedanta.

>For  example,  all  three  schools  of  VedAnta  reject  the  5-fold
>syllogism  of  the  NyAya  etc.

Fine, but I don't see why this makes the 5-fold syllogism any less
interesting a field of study. There are still traditional pundits who study
the 5-fold syllogism and ponder over the finer points of samavAya and
vyApti, not to mention the numerous comparative philosophers who are
interested in these concepts. Just last year, I heard of two young
vidyArthIs who were examined and given certificates for proficiency in nyAya
studies at Sringeri. I'm sure various other maThas and pAThaSalas also
patronize some nyAya specialists.

>With  regard  to  modernization  of  the  dead  systems  like
>VaisheShika,  SAnkhya  etc.,  I  agree  with  Prof.  Ruzsa  that  it  is
>high  time  we  do  so.  Actually  Prof. Ninian  Smart  pointed  this
>out  long  ago  when  he  said  that  "Indian  philosophy  need  not
>Westernize  but  it  certainly  needs  to  modernize!"

Really professor, a thing has to be alive in some form or the other,
although old and decrepit, if we are to modernize it. A dead thing cannot be
modernized in any sense of the term. It only be decently disposed of, before
or after a post-mortem. It is either dead or it is not. nAsato vidyate
bhAvaH, nAbhAvo vidyate sataH, no?

>But  then,  one
>would  have  to  modernize  Jain  metaphysics  as  well  which  is  very
>similar  to  that  of  the  VaisheShika.  You  will  meet  with  some
>STIFF  opposition  you  will  see  when  you  try  to  even  suggest
>that!  Any  meddling  with  the  teachings  of  the  Jinas  or  any
>VedAntic  systems,  you  will  soon  find  out  how  sacred  these

I do not see why modernizing of Jaina metaphysics should be of interest to
anyone but a Jaina. Hopefully, somebody of sufficient authority among Jainas
will do it, or perhaps not. Why should this be a precondition for the
modernizing of other darSanas? What form should modernization take? A
constructive engagement with science, as is being done in Western
philosophy? But the example you give below of the Madhva layman scientist
seems to imply that the metaphysics (or physics perhaps?) of the Dvaita
Vedantins needs to be modernized too.

We Advaitins have an advantage; we can see the latest scientific theory as
yet another facet of mAyA, and either ignore it or co-opt it. :-))) And
speaking from the scientist's perspective, it is a very interesting exercise
to apply Sankara's and Anandagiri's criticisms of vaiSeshika theories to the
scientific atomic theory.

>to  their  followers.  With  systems  which  are  dead  one  can  do
>whatever  one  want  in  terms  of  modernization.  No  emotions
>aroused,  no  sacred  feathers  ruffled.  Not  so  with  the  living
>systems!  This  itself  will  prove  as  to  what  is  living  and  what
>is  dead!

To me, this means that what is living is going to die, especially if it is
not interested in philosophical problems of immediate interest, or if it is
so weighed down by tradition that it has a closed mind. And what one thinks
to be dead will be reborn, if not tomorrow, some other day. After all, in
India, nothing ever dies completely. But the faith of the layman in the guru
among whose followers he happens to have been born hardly ensures the
vitality of a darSana. And it is a moot point if the formulators of nyAya
and vaiSeshika darSanas ever had the kind of following which the
contemporary maThAdhipatis of the vedAnta schools have.

My arguments are not based on an assumption that all is fine and healthy
with the state of the classical darSanas. Rather, I'm saying let's not sign
the death certificate while the patient is still breathing, even if only


Get Free Email and Do More On The Web. Visit

More information about the INDOLOGY mailing list