Unifying Hinduism

Unifying Hinduism: Philosophy and Identity in Indian Intellectual History

Andrew J. Nicholson
Copyright Date: 2010
DOI: 10.7312/nich14986
Pages: 280
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7312/nich14986
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Unifying Hinduism
    Book Description:

    Some postcolonial theorists argue that the idea of a single system of belief known as "Hinduism" is a creation of nineteenth-century British imperialists. Andrew J. Nicholson introduces another perspective: although a unified Hindu identity is not as ancient as some Hindus claim, it has its roots in innovations within South Asian philosophy from the fourteenth to seventeenth centuries. During this time, thinkers treated the philosophies of Vedanta, Samkhya, and Yoga, along with the worshippers of Visnu, Siva, and Sakti, as belonging to a single system of belief and practice. Instead of seeing such groups as separate and contradictory, they re-envisioned them as separate rivers leading to the ocean of Brahman, the ultimate reality.

    Drawing on the writings of philosophers from late medieval and early modern traditions, including Vijnanabhiksu, Madhava, and Madhusudana Sarasvati, Nicholson shows how influential thinkers portrayed Vedanta philosophy as the ultimate unifier of diverse belief systems. This project paved the way for the work of later Hindu reformers, such as Vivekananda, Radhakrishnan, and Gandhi, whose teachings promoted the notion that all world religions belong to a single spiritual unity. In his study, Nicholson also critiques the way in which Eurocentric concepts-like monism and dualism, idealism and realism, theism and atheism, and orthodoxy and heterodoxy-have come to dominate modern discourses on Indian philosophy.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-52642-5
    Subjects: Philosophy, History, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. ABBREVIATIONS
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. [1] INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-23)

    The word “Hinduism” is loaded with historical and political resonances. Like such comparable terms as Buddhism, Sikhism, Confucianism, and Taoism, this word is a site of contestation, with proponents and detractors, open to varied interpretations. In this introduction I briefly sketch two opposing and influential contemporary interpretations of Hinduism, both of which I believe have significant weaknesses.

    The first, often enunciated by Hindus themselves, is that Hinduism is the modern term for what was known in earlier times as the eternal religion (sanātana dharma) described in such texts as the Bhagavad Gītā and the Vedas.¹ Properly speaking, it has no...

  6. [2] AN ALTERNATIVE HISTORY OF VEDĀNTA
    (pp. 24-38)

    One reason to focus on the late medieval period in general, and on the sixteenth- century philosopher Vijñānabhis˙u specifically, is in order to reframe common assumptions about the history of Indian philosophy. According to standard Orientalist accounts, the history of India can be divided into three periods: Hindu, Muslim, and British.¹ During the Muslim period, from the eleventh to the eighteenth century, Indian culture went into a decline, only to be revived in the British period by the efforts of Western Indologists to rediscover and help Indians recover the genuine achievements of Indian civilization and to filter out lesser cultural...

  7. [3] VIJÑĀNABHIKṢU’S “DIFFERENCE AND NON-DIFFERENCE” VEDĀNTA
    (pp. 39-66)

    Does the term bhedābheda present a logical impossibility? It is a dvandva compound, consisting of the words bheda (difference) and abheda (non-difference).¹ Therefore, Bhedābheda philosophy would be the philosophy of “difference and non-difference,” holding out the promise of bridging the apparently unbridgeable disagreements between philosophers who subscribe to the theory of difference (or dualism, dvaita) and complete, unqualified non-difference (non-dualism, advaita). In the few places in Western secondary literature on Indian philosophy where Bhedābhedavāda is mentioned, it is typically translated as “Difference-in-Identity” philosophy, presumably in an attempt to make it seem more familiar by linking it with the Western tradition...

  8. [4] A HISTORY OF GOD IN SĀṂKHYA AND YOGA
    (pp. 67-83)

    Although Vijñānabhikṣu’s works on Sāṃkhya and Yoga have earned him most of his fame in the modern period, they have also been the objects of some controversy. This ambivalence is encapsulated in the Indologist Richard Garbe’s relationship to Vijñānabhikṣu’s commentary on the Sāṃkhyasūtras, the Sāṃkhyapravacanabhāṣya. Garbe was almost single-handedly responsible for the notoriety of this work, as it was he who edited the Sanskrit text and first translated it. Yet Garbe considered the text to be an inauthentic expression of the Sāṃkhya philosophy in several ways. The most important of Vijñānabhikṣu’s divergences from the ture Sāṃkhya doctrine was his affirmation...

  9. [5] READING AGAINST THE GRAIN OF THE SĀṂKHYASŪTRAS
    (pp. 84-107)

    In chapter 4, I addressed the oft-repeated notion that the fundamental difference between the Sāṃkhya and Yoga schools is on the existence of God: Yoga is theistic and Sāṃkhya is an atheist school. Like many other truisms in the history of Indian philosophy, this statement falls apart when examined closely. But there is one text, the late medieval Sāṃkhyasūtras, that reverses historical trends by offering a sustained and systematic disproof of the existence of God. Although this work is traditionally ascribed to the mythic teacher Kapila, evidence internal to the text suggests that it came long after the Sāṃkhyasūtras of...

  10. [6] YOGA, PRAXIS, AND LIBERATION
    (pp. 108-123)

    Vijñānabhikṣu’s Yogavārttika, a subcommentary on Patañjali’s Yogasūtras, is currently his best-known work. But historical trends, not anything in-herent in Vijñānabhikṣu’s philosophy, have mostly determined which of his works was most popular in a given era. At the beginning of the twentieth century, his most well-known work was his commentary on Sāṃkhya, largely thanks to Richard Garbe’s Sanskrit edition and German translation of that work. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, T. S. Rukmani has made the Yogavārttika available to practitioners of yoga in India, Europe, and North America thanks to her translation. Rukmani has strong opinions of concering the...

  11. [7] VEDĀNTA AND SĀṂKHYA IN THE ORIENTALIST IMAGINATION
    (pp. 124-143)

    The period from 1550 to 1750 that directly preceded the British rule of the Indian subcontinent was enormously fertile for philosophical innovation.¹ Yet although he could not have known it, Vijñānabhikṣu’s generation of Sanskrit intellectuals was one of the last that remained untouched by colonialism. Coming near the end of an ancient commentarial tradition, Vijñānabhikṣu’s Difference and Non-Difference philosophical system had little lasting impact on Indian intellectual life. Unlike the medieval Bhedābhedavādins Vallabha and Caitanya, Vijñānabhikṣu’s writings did not become the theological basis for a popular devotional sect. The demanding nature of his writings and the relatively small place he...

  12. [8] DOXOGRAPHY, CLASSIFICATORY SCHEMES, AND CONTESTED HISTORIES
    (pp. 144-165)

    The history of the classification of doctrines in premodern India is complex, and only recently have historians of Indian philosophy begun to see the study of doctrinal classification as being a worthwhile topic of investigation in itself. Indian doxographies were first translated into Western languages in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and they helped earlier generations of Orientalists sort through the overabundance of texts and doctrines they found in Indian archives. The same characteristics that made doxographies attractive to Western scholars, their simplicity and willingness to generalize, also created difficulties. Because doxographies were written by practicing philosophers with their own...

  13. [9] AFFIRMERS (ĀSTIKAS) AND DENIERS(NĀSTIKAS) IN INDIAN HISTORY
    (pp. 166-184)

    While it is widely acknowledged that heresiography, “writing about heresy,” was one of the central preoccupations of ancient and medieval Christian authors, little work has been done to reflect on the conceptual analogues to the categories of “heresy” and “heretic” in premodern India.¹ This has not stopped scholars from using Christian heresiological terms as translations for indigenous Indian concepts, however. Authors in India used two terms in particular,āstika and nāstika, to classify insiders and outsiders among philosophical and theological traditions. These Sanskrit terms have been translated variously, and the arbitrariness of these translations is an indication of how unsophisticated Indologists...

  14. [10] HINDU UNITY AND THE NON-HINDU OTHER
    (pp. 185-206)

    The tendency of thinkers in India to create hierarchies of systems of belief, with their own afforded the highest position, was not specific to the late medieval period. Many scholars have remarked on this tendency toward assimilation throughout Indian history, such as in the Purāṇas’ attempts to portray the Buddha as an avatar of Viṣṇu.¹ Sri Aurobindo writes candidly that “[Hinduism] is in the first place a non-dogmatic inclusive religion and would have taken even Islam and Christianity into itself, if they had tolerated the process [my emphasis].”² This tendency to absorb philosophical, theological, and cultic diversity as part of...

  15. NOTES
    (pp. 207-238)
  16. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 239-250)
  17. INDEX
    (pp. 251-266)