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The philosophy of dualism

Jacket of book "Shankaracharya".

Jacket of book "Shankaracharya".

Some time ago, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj expressed a view that Gita should be declared the “National Scripture” of India. Now, the government is contemplating to declare Adi Shankaracharya as the country’s “National Philosopher”. If media reports are to be believed then the Union government is mulling over designating the great philosopher’s birthday on May 11 as “National Philosopher’s Day”.

The proposal first came from the Karnataka-based Sringeri Sharada Peetham in 2014. The math, first of the four maths established by Shankara in the 8th Century, reportedly wrote to the government about the “need to recognise and promote valuable contributions made by Sri Adi Shankara to the country through his doctrine of Advaita (non-dualism).” One is not sure of the purpose that this decision would serve. However, there is no denying the fact that such decisions are but small steps towards completing the Hindutva project.

On one hand, the RSS clan includes Mahatma Gandhi in the list of those who should be respectfully remembered every morning, and on the other, it hails as its ideological inspiration Vinayak Damodar Savarkar who was acquitted of the charge of hatching a conspiracy to murder Mahatma Gandhi for not want of evidence but purely on a technical ground. Similarly, it can hate as well as embrace the Muslims at the same time. It can also hail B. R. Ambedkar, who sought refuge from Hinduism’s caste-based discrimination in Buddhism, and at the same time eulogise Shankara who was well known for his conservative Hindu beliefs and is said to be responsible for the decimation of Buddhism in India.

Like “Gita”, Shankara’s “Advaita Vedanta” is considered to be the acme of Indian philosophy as non-dualism essentially means oneness of all. However, it is not a non-problematic philosophy if the Hindutva forces pay attention to its essential nature. First, although Shankara was instrumental in wiping out Buddhism from India, his own philosophy is so deeply influenced by Buddhism that he was in his own lifetime dubbed as being a “prachchhanna Bauddh” (crypto-Buddhist). Moreover, as his biographer TMP Mahadevan has explained in his book titled “Shankaracharya”, Shankara in order to defeat the Buddhists in philosophical argumentation, proved that the Vedas were absolutely free and self-evident and there was no need to accept the existence of an omniscient and omnipotent God. In fact, the Brahman of his Advaita philosophy is an inert entity.

An anecdote from the great philosopher’s life is cited a little too often wherein he is taught by a Chandala, an untouchable outcaste in the entrenched hierarchy of the caste system that all beings are in reality one and the same. However, Shankara fought shy of putting his non-dualism in practice because it would have brought about a social revolution and shaken the foundations of the caste system. To skirt the social issues and the need to establish equality in accordance with his philosophical stance of oneness of all beings, Shankara came up with a stratagem. He came up with the notion that reality was of two types – parmarthik satta (ultimate reality) and vyavharik satta (practical reality). So, in ultimate sense all being were one without any difference but in practical sense, they were different. This provided the much needed philosophical rationale and justification for the caste system and the web of discriminatory social, cultural and economic relations based on it.

How will the RSS and its affiliate BJP convince the Dalits that the social philosophies of Ambedkar and Shankara are compatible with each other? Also, what happens to the diversity of the country’s extremely rich philosophical heritage that has various strands like Charvak, Jain, Buddhist, Sankhya, Nyaya, Mimansa and Yoga if only the exponent of Advaita Vedanta is hailed as India’s “National Philosopher”?

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Printable version | Mar 20, 2022 4:20:33 am | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/The-philosophy-of-dualism/article14414713.ece