[Advaita-l] wilhelm halbfass

Stig Lundgren slu at bredband.net
Mon Sep 28 06:57:24 CDT 2009

I have also found the works of Wilhem Halbfass useful and interesting. However, apart from that I would like to make a few observations on indology and it´s "scientific" approach:

Last year the Indian embassy in Berlin (Germany) invited traditional scholar Ved. Brahma K.G. Subraya Sharma in order to perform a yagna. He left from Bangalore and stayed for a couple of weeks in Berlin at the house of two Indian devotees. He also gave several vedantic lectures during his stay. Anyway, one Indian lady at the embassy thought that it could be interesting for the indological institutions at the universities in Germany to hear lectures from such a highly respected and knowledgeable traditional scholar. Unfortunately, the institutions did not agree. Several departments of Indology and history of religion replied over phone by saying that they where not interested in inviting any traditional scholar since he was not "scientific" in his approach, and did not adhere to a conventional academical method of religious studies etc.

However, K.G. Subraya Sharma nevertheless got invited to one of the foremost indological departments in Germany, located some 170 km from Berlin. The professor there is well-known among indologists over the world. When the lady at the embassy first phoned the professor, she did a presentation of K.G. Subraya Sharma and said that he was a specialist on the Upanishads, Bhagavadgita and the Brahma Sutras. Then the professor just laughed, and declared that such thing is in no way possible since "no one can be a specialist on such a large amounts of texts!" 

Since K.G. Subraya Sharma is my guru I did travel to Germany in order to meet him, and I also made him company to the university. The professor met us at the railway station and made a kind and cheerful impression. But it became more and more obvious that he had problems taking the revered traditional scholar seriously. Sri Subraya Sharma gave a lecture on the Bhagavadgita, and during that lecture by way of expression said that there is such a sweetness in this ancient sanskrit text. This lead the professor to ask Sri Subraya Sharma over and over again exactly what he meant by "sweetness", and in what way such a sweetness could be objectively verified by reading the Gita! Could this sweetness be scientificly proved? After that the professor continued by asking several questions about the caste-system propagated by the Gita. 

A friend of mine wrote her PhD about nyAya, and had the very same professor as her supervisor. However, at one moment she contacted and met one tradtional nyAya scholar who visited England, and she also travelled to India and studied nyAya with a prominent scholar for several months. After this, the professor had no interest in his old student anymore, and he broke the contact with her.

Apparently, according to the German "school" of indology, it is a bad and harmful thing to actually study Indian and hindu topics from the original source. If I remember correctly, the well-known indologist prof. H. von Glasenapp never went to India during his lifetime, in spite of writing several books and countless articles on India and Indian religion. One of his students actually travelled to India. This terrified von Glasenapp very much, and he said that the scientific approach of his student would now be completely distorted and useless!

>From what I´ve heard the english and american indological tradition is somewhat different, and getting help from tradtional Indian scholars is positively looked upon. Traditional scholarship is considered useful instead of outright "unscientific".

Warmest regards
Stig Lundgren

  ----- Original Message ----- 
  From: Ramakrishnan Balasubramanian 
  To: A discussion group for Advaita Vedanta 
  Sent: Monday, September 28, 2009 12:51 PM
  Subject: Re: [Advaita-l] wilhelm halbfass

  However the problem is that his assertion is that Western methods of
  analysis are essentially "superior". His claim regarding critiques such as
  by Said on Orientalism is essentially that Western methods can reveal their
  own deficiencies and hence does not matter. While Halbfass doesn't show any
  explicit superiority complexes as evidenced in many Indologists, his final
  conclusion (at least to me) seems to be "We are the best, so just shut up
  and listen". I am being a little brutal here for making a point, but
  Halbfass seems to be just a more sophisticated pleading for status quo
  rather than anything else.


  On Sun, Sep 27, 2009 at 5:39 PM, Vidyasankar Sundaresan <
  svidyasankar at hotmail.com> wrote:

  > I first read Halbfass's India and Europe about ten years ago and it was an
  > eye-opener regarding European scholarship on India. I have reread the book
  > many times since and each reading has been very rewarding in many ways.
  > Wilhem Halbfass's range and depth of scholarship are evident throughout.
  > He also never talks down to his reader nor does he take a patronizing tone
  > towards the Indian half of his subject matter. Ever since I first read Paul
  > Hacker's articles, my critical antennae would go up for the merest hint of
  > special pleading disguised as scholarly comment. I have yet to find any
  > such thing to criticize in Halbfass's book! There are some conclusions and
  > analyses that I may disagree with, but even then, only with the highest
  > respect for Halbfass's scholarship.
  Archives: http://lists.advaita-vedanta.org/archives/advaita-l/

  To unsubscribe or change your options:

  For assistance, contact:
  listmaster at advaita-vedanta.org

More information about the Advaita-l mailing list