Unifying Hinduism: Philosophy and Identity in Indian Intellectual History

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Columbia University Press, 2010 - Philosophy - 266 pages
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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.

 

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Firstly, the term Hinduism is a magic word meaning all things to all adherents who are used to common shared mixture of beliefs and practices. This is a tribalism which came into existence due to coming of Islam. I did not need to study history or do as much work as this author did to come to this hypothesis,It was obvious even without reading much. Tribes/nationhood come into existence in presence of commonn threats. The real question is to ask what was the pre-existing worldview, weltanshuang or in Indic word darshana. And more importantly how were they related.In other words, what was the most important concept around which a civilization was built around.The answer is - "Dharma". Hence atheists existed in India for longer period of time than in any other civilization.Because dharma was important. in short not believing was not as important as to what one did and how.
I would suggest the author to try to ask as to what were the fundamental concepts around which the civilization revolved.Mahavira taught dharma,Buddha said he taught dharma. They all taught dharma. What was the true nature of cosmos and how to live accordingly. This is true dharma, hence emptyness or anatta or atman-brahman or anekantavada etc . Explaining fundamental nature of cosmology and then the practices which granted them moksha was the weltanshuang of pre-islamic indic civilization.
 

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Vijnanabhiksu was a medieval scholar some of whose works were published and translated in the Nineteenth Century and, as such, had some small importance in affecting the trajectory of European Indology. However he had no impact at all on Hinduism. Since some of his works on Vedanta haven't been published we don't have a rounded picture of what he believed. His works on Samkhya and Yoga- which are written from a sympathetic perspective- have had some impact on shaping an European debate- confined to a handful of scholars whom very few Europeans have ever heard of- as to what early Hinduism might have been like. However, this European Indology- with its talk of noble 'Aryans' exterminating or enslaving darker races- was thoroughly disgraced in its own place of origin. Still, the Europeans had a ready made PhD factory system which America could draw upon to shore up its ever expanding Higher Education Credentializing Ponzi scheme fueled by increasingly toxic Student debt.
The result is that you have books like this one- an absurd thesis is put forward under the pretense of some great paradigm changing discovery such that it turns out that a bunch of medieval Scholars no Hindus ever heard of accidentally unified Hinduism while compiling their doxologies and nobody except young Andrew Nicholson noticed which is like super cool and shows he wasn't wasn't just a nerd but actually like Indiana Jones or something.
The truth is that the Bhagvad Gita already shows that Samkhya and Yoga were viewed as complementary to Advaita a thousand years before people like Vijnanabhikshu. If anything, his work was just a corrective to sectarian polemics which had got out of hand.
Nicholson can't be blamed for his silly book and its absurd claims- he is capable of okay research after all- because Indology is in a frightful mess. It has lost all connection or relevance to the subject it claims to study. Back in the Nineties, it was possible to believe that there was a sort of Hindu Nazism which represented a clear and present danger to democracy. In that context, saying things like 'actually Hinduism was invented by the Brits, or the Brahmins, or the Benthamites' or something like that seemed a useful thing to do because maybe debunking Hinduism would prevent the Nazis taking power. In other words it was a case of telling stupid lies in a good cause. Those days are gone. The BJP did take power and nothing changed. They weren't Nazis after all. But, as far as Indology was concerned, the damage had been done. Modish 'availability cascades' and politically correct 'preference falsification' ruled the roost. There are good scholars publishing worthwhile books in this field but ambitious young scholars feel obliged to gild the lily with specious nonsense so as to attract attention to themselves.
Suppose I got my PhD in 'Buffy the Vampire' studies. To make tenure I then publish a book claiming that since Eisenhower, like Buffy, was a cheerleader, it therefore follows that contrary to what Professor Loonytoons says the proper Spivakian invagination of the 14 dimensional Kristevan Chora militates for the conclusion that President Obama is a meat suit worn by Rosie O'Donnell. This may get me the Koch Professorship at David Icke University but isn't proper scholarship. It's nonsense. Every true votary of Buffy knows full well that it is Mitt Romney who is the serial killer android-dad from Season 2, episode 11 whereas Obama is clearly the Watcher of the ill fated Kendra in the previous episode.
 

Contents

introduction
1
an alternative history of vednta
24
vij˝nabhiksus difference
39
a history of god in smkhya and yoga
67
reading against the grain
84
yoga praxis and liberation
108
vednta and smkhya
124
and contested histories
144
affirmers stikas and deniers nstikas
166
hindu unity and the nonhindu other
185
Notes
207
Bibliography
239
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About the author (2010)

Andrew J. Nicholson is assistant professor of Hinduism and Indian intellectual history in the Department of Asian and Asian American Studies at Stony Brook University.

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