[Advaita-l] wilhelm halbfass

Michael Shepherd michael at shepherd87.fsnet.co.uk
Mon Sep 28 08:33:25 CDT 2009


I'm grateful for your account of 'how things are'... it's neti neti time for
Indology !

And the West has not yet had the tables turned on it... when there are
Faculties of Occidentology in every Indian university, churning out theses
like 'The Holy Trinity : Mithya and Causality in post-Greek Western
Society', we shall hear the squawks of professors in a lather of
sanctimonious indignation !

But then, what do we expect from university departments -- geared as they
are to homework and exams and degrees and status ? Not much numinous ethos
or classroom samadhi  or lectureroom vichara !

But I'm happy to say that things aren't so bad in Britain and America.

In the US, it's the diaspora that is educating America outside the
universities, so far; with honorable scholarly exceptions such as SUNY ?

In Britain, 'Asian Studies' seem to have more Hindu scholars, and British of
bhakti sensibilities such as Dominick Wuyastik, at work. And the School of
Oriental Studies has had a good name for many decades now.

I could write pages about this. It is a very rough journey, to 'study' a
non-natal faith..and the rewards are probably more in the individual than
ever gets set down on paper..

For instance, the School of Economic Science (not to be confused with the l
London School of Economics..) which  was founded 70 years ago partly to
study philosophy at a 'practical' down-to-earth, experiential level, and
which now has world-wide branches, took advantage thirty years ago of an
introduction to Shantananda Saraswati, Shankaracharya of Jyotirmath, and
turned its attention, at a propitious time, to advice, explanation, and
instruction from him.

His emphasis on understanding the essential nature of Advaita, (as
'non-dualism') to be discovered as concealed in every nation and faith, has
been the cornerstone ever since. But it's not an easy passage : it has
inspired many lives with rewards beyond  expectation in (whatever the
English equivalent should be of) saccidananda ; but it's a long way from
what devout Hindus or German professors of indology might recognise
initially !

Perhaps 'Advaita Works !' would be the essence of the teaching and the
experience. (I write this 'unofficially' by  the way; the experience of
others may be very different.) But I would aver that one thing we have been
spared : there's no attitude of 'we know better' -- rather the reverse :
'Are we neglecting our own faith and nation and tradition ?' But we hope for
beneficial revelations in that area, out of the work done. I anticipate
great things.

Please be patient with us, pandits and sages. That 'mystical' element in the
West which may have arisen in the Middle East as we call it, has never quite
disappeared; it re-emerged for instance in medieval monasticism, and in
Marsilio Ficino in the 15th century. That All is One and our neighbour is
ourSelf shall surely see us through !


-----Original Message-----
From: advaita-l-bounces at lists.advaita-vedanta.org
[mailto:advaita-l-bounces at lists.advaita-vedanta.org]On Behalf Of Stig
Sent: 28 September 2009 12:57
To: A discussion group for Advaita Vedanta
Subject: Re: [Advaita-l] wilhelm halbfass

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
  own deficiencies and hence does not matter. While Halbfass doesn't show
  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
  > eye-opener regarding European scholarship on India. I have reread the
  > 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
  > towards the Indian half of his subject matter. Ever since I first read
  > Hacker's articles, my critical antennae would go up for the merest hint
  > special pleading disguised as scholarly comment. I have yet to find any
  > such thing to criticize in Halbfass's book! There are some conclusions
  > analyses that I may disagree with, but even then, only with the highest
  > respect for Halbfass's scholarship.
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