- New Perspectives on Advaita Vedānta: Essays in Commemoration of Professor Richard De Smet, SJ
New Perspectives on Advaita Vedānta: Essays in Commemoration of Professor Richard De Smet, SJ., intended as a tribute to Professor Richard De Smet (1916-1997) on his eightieth birthday, turned out to be a posthumous memorial volume due to his sad demise. It comprises eight essays apart from an Introduction by the editor, Bradley J. Malkovsky, who provides an overview of De Smet's life and works. Select scholars of international eminence who are acquainted with the intellectual acumen of De Smet have contributed to this volume, thereby honoring and perpetuating the memory of this Jesuit priest-professor, who significantly contributed to the understanding and interpretation of the Advaita Vedānta of Śaṅkara. The introductory essay offers a detailed picture of the scholarly pursuits of De Smet, whose philosophical journey spanned six decades. He spent much of his life seriously exploring avenues for translating intercultural philosophical dialogue into reality. This essay throws much light on the lesser-known areas of De Smet's life—religious, political, and philosophical as well as academic.
Though born in Belgium, De Smet preferred to live in India, and he was one of the very few Christian priests who strove to discover the unity in Hindu and Christian [End Page 610] spirituality, through and beyond the theology of both religions. In his early years he studied Thomas Aquinas, Augustine, and Bonaventure, and this helped him to understand the philosophy of Śaṅkara at a deeper level. He felt that Śaṅkara's Advaita is a theology based on revelation rather than pure philosophy upheld through personal experience or independent reason. In pursuing his interest in interreligious dialogue, De Smet worked actively toward dispelling the notion that the Church is blindly dogmatic and has no intellectual face worth the name. He traveled much and had intellectual interaction with many celebrated Hindu monks and academicians on theological and philosophical issues. He introduced Upaniṣadic studies in many Christian Ashrams and spoke to Catholic parishes on the rich heritage of Indian spirituality. To establish a genuine space for his approach to doing Indian philosophy he founded the Association of Christian Philosophers of India in 1975 and for a long time served as its chairman. He authored six books and a number of essays, and his ongoing project dealing with the encounter of Vedānta and Christian theology since Roberto de Nobili remains unfulfilled due to his demise.
De Smet considered the system of Śa71E45;kara to be the most profound metaphysical system in Indian philosophy. He was convinced of the similarity between Aquinas and Śaṅkara to the extent of believing that Christian personalism presupposed a nondualist metaphysics. For him, Pure Brahman is more than a vast ocean of pure consciousness; it is also capable of love, causation, and grace—but in such a way that its simplicity, plenitude, and transcendence are not compromised. He felt that even Para Brahman, which may transcend the ordinary human mode of personhood, is not totally impersonal. The supreme reality freely chooses to be a world creator, and so forth, without undergoing any change. Śaṅkara does not deny the existence of the world when he uses negations in describing the world. De Smet feels that Śaṅkara was a radical valuationist who measured everything in relation to the absolute value, the Brahman (p. 16).
If personalism, the concept of love, and also to some extent the theory of creation as presented by De Smet are to be very strictly viewed, then there is no alternative but to conclude that he was only engaged in doing some type of theistic Vedānta, like Viśiṣṭādvaita, but not Advaita. De Smet seemed to be stretching Advaita a little too far in trying to see its total affinity with theology and striving to accommodate personalism and so forth through his reading of and commitment to Christianity. Para Brahman in an. Śaṅkara's Advaita is not...