by A Raghurama Raju.
There are two genres of writers, authors, and compilers. Similarly, ethical interventions in society can take two approaches, philanthropy, and altruism. In this piece, I will discuss the relationship between the altruist and the compiler. The relationship between the author and their text is clear and direct whereas the relationship between the compiler and their compilation is less direct because the material compiled is not directly from the compiler. In this sense, compilation as a genre is less centralized than authoring. It is either dependent on others or mediated by others, thus making it inter-subjective or decentralized. On a similar vein, there are differences between the activities of the philanthropist and that of an altruist. The philanthropist gives others what they have, the altruist, on the other hand, gives to another what the other needs. This latter type of giving demands that the giver finds out what the other needs; that the giver knows the other. Analogously, it is imperative that we know what Indian Philosophy today needs. That is, instead of giving what one has, we need to find out what it needs. The problem with not recognizing this difference is, that while we need more compilers a la Badarayana (who compiled the Vedanta Sutras), what we have are more authors.
Let me explain why we need more compilers than authors. If I wish to author a book in Western Philosophy on say, Plato or Wittgenstein, I can rely on an abundance of scholarship that is both extensive and in different formats. What I mean here by different formats is that scholarship is made available in the form of anthologies of specific thinkers, books on specific themes, comparative studies, and so on. This means that the conclusions drawn at the level of a research paper or a new work have a strong and extensive premise or axiom that is regularly and thoroughly interrogated. This would not be possible if the work on the area of research was incomplete. To take an instance from the classical Indian philosophy, it would not have been possible for Sankara to present in a systematic form, his doctrine of Advaitha if it had to be drawn directly from Upanishads. It is Badarayana’s contribution in compiling Upanishadic teachings in a systematic form that makes Sankara’s contribution possible. This sequence, of moving from compilation to authorship, is important in identifying the requirements of Indian Philosophy.
Indian Philosophy today, does not have the breadth of scholarship necessary to author texts of the kind that is found in Western Philosophy. The difference between writing a book on Indian Philosophy of the kind that is found in Western Philosophy is similar to the difference between drawing a conclusion from a weak premise and drawing a conclusion from a strong premise respectively. There is a need to turn away from the habit of using readymade material to make material ready. This is what makes the case or demand for compilers rather than authors.
Here I evolve the genealogy of Badarayana from classical India, Plato from Greek philosophy, Max Muller in Indology. Also factoring in, the works published in both Sanskrit and Pali by Motilal Banarsi Das, Chowkamba, Central Universities of Tibetan Studies, and Sarnath. More recently, there are those like Nalini Bhushan and Jay Garfield who have come up with compilations like Indian Philosophy in English, and Mind without Fear.
Instead of writing a new book, it is more advisable and appropriate to compile existing works in different schools of Indian Philosophy, thus embarking on the task of systematically stocktaking the works from the past. In turning towards the past material, there is however a need to rewrite or represent these old texts and ideas in a new modern format. Alternatively, we need to have modern frames for pre-modern themes. Let me elaborate. Frames can be of different types. For instance, to take an example from food, we can serve food in a banana leaf which is discarded after the food is eaten; we can also serve food in dry leaves which means that it can be preserved till the next day without getting spoiled. In both cases, the frames used are disposable. What if instead, we had modern containers or frames, like metal plates that can be reused.
Returning to the main argument, for instance, Nagarjuna did not merely repeat Buddha. He, while representing the ideas of his master, presented them in a new format, taking into consideration subsequent developments. In this context of turning towards the past and presenting in a new format, there is a need to avoid repeating what is already done and accomplished. The compilations of western scholars including Indologists and subsequently by Sheldon Pollock in his massive and comprehensive project on Sanskrit Knowledge Systems can be taken into account. By making sure to use what is already available without repeating that which already exists, the new scholars can turn their attention towards compiling the classical texts in Bhasha literature. This will not only enrich classical Indian discourse but also make positive use of the pluralism richly available in India. This can enrich the literary federalism available in India, thus making the project both vertical and horizontal. While recognizing this richness, one however has to be extra careful in clearly and digitally presenting these works in a systematic manner so that they don’t overcrowd, confuse, or mislead. Our success lies in others using these compilations in different formats and versions, in various permutations and combinations. Further, each idea should present itself as self-explanatory and as a clear and strong axiom or premise. This state of affairs of accessible material that clearly states its ideas can contribute to a meaningful and productive academic engagement that will enrich philosophy in India. In making these texts available one need to be as objective as possible. It should be guarded against distortion, incomplete presentation, or misrepresentation. Alternatively, one should refrain from evaluating the texts and ideas, but focus attention on systematic presentations. This may be difficult but not impossible, just as constructing a bridge over a flowing river is difficult but not impossible. Like a bridge, the axiom that we compile should have the strength to withstand any kind of pressure. The focus should remain on making resources available. One should also try to avoid championing the text after it is made available. This will make the text ‘sanitized’ such that it can then be studied, evaluated, and even criticized.
This project can consist of: reissuing classics in a new and modern format including the works done on the text particularly in Bhasha literature, and bringing out annotated versions of the writings from 19th and 20th Century India. One of the distinguishing features of modern India is that many of the political leaders who took an active part in India’s Freedom Struggle were also prolific writers. These writers and their writings can be turned into authors and texts respectively. Let me explain, Swami Vivekananda’s writings are available in 10 volumes, Sri Aurobindo and Baba Saheb Ambedkar in 30 volumes each; Mahatma Gandhi in 100 volumes. Despite the apparent abundance of material in these texts, the problem is for instance, that when they refer to books, thinkers, and ideas they do not give details of their references. Take the example of Savitri by Sri Aurobindo, he refers to several complex ideas but does not give exact references. A student of these texts can try to figure out what these references, but the texts themselves have no details of the references. It is possible that what they referred to is there; or not there, or wrong. Bringing out new editions that furnish these details, and clearer text, with additions and deletions, will make the text light and make it possible to take it forward for further study. Yet another task is to identify manuscripts that have not yet been printed and make publish them. All these can form part of the activity of compiling.
Once this tradition is established, method laid bare, with objectivity and strength, then one can begin the hermeneutical and philosophical activity of critically evaluating texts, rejecting the weak points and highlighting the strong ones, eliciting more than one or plural meanings and interpretations. This can begin to enrich philosophical discussions in India. Without undertaking this task, adding new books by authors will help merely to add to the number without accumulating or bringing new light to ideas and discussions. We need to pay careful attention to the sequence and order underlying the protocols of scholarship. Instead, if we were to follow the ethics of philanthropy and give what we have without finding out what the other needs we will land up giving what is not useful, thus defeating the very purpose of giving; or force the receiver to find out if and how to use it thus making their life miserable. This is similar to the notion of finding questions when you have answers. Indian Social life today is largely governed by this inverted sequence of, answers to questions rather than questions to answers. Thus, following the ethics of altruism, it may be more advisable to be a compiler in India today than an author.
It is this immediate necessity that makes me carefully study the methodology followed by Badarayana in compiling Vedanta Sutras. The larger research agenda that preoccupies me these days is to: examine the nature of inquiry in the Upanishads; the methodology of compilation in Badarayana; and the method used by Gaudapada in comparing two incompatible systems of philosophy, Vedanta and Buddhism.