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  • "The Veil of Maya": Schopenhauer's System and Early Indian Thought
  • Stephan Atzert
"The Veil of Maya": Schopenhauer's System and Early Indian Thought. By Douglas Berger. Binghamton: Global Academic Publishing, 2004. Pp. 319.

Arthur Schopenhauer's (1788-1860) philosophy combines a number of inquiries into epistemology, metaphysics, ethics, aesthetics, and psychology. Schopenhauer read widely in several languages and incorporated many influences, including his reading of Anquetil Dupperon's Latin translation of selected Upanishads. From a contemporary perspective it is fair to say that Schopenhauer does not offer a systematic philosophy, internally consistent in all its parts, but rather a philosophical approach that is descriptive and sensitive to a wide range of issues. Despite definite exceptions, the strength of Schopenhauer's writing lies in his attempt to be descriptive about the human experience, in combination with a willingness to incorporate its possibilities, and therefore his writings provided, and still do provide, points of departure for a wide variety of investigations.

Schopenhauer became especially popular with artists, due to the fact that he proposed a metaphysical theory of art that offered artists possibilities for self-flattering. Aside from the role he played for Nietzsche, this is perhaps the only area in which Schopenhauer's impact is well understood. By contrast, Schopenhauer's decisive role in the development of Freud's psychoanalytic theory has only begun to be appreciated in the past few years. And although there exists a significant tradition of relating Advaita Vedānta and Buddhism to Schopenhauer's philosophy-the approaches of Paul Deussen, Helmuth von Glasenapp, and Wilhelm Halbfass marking conceptual shifts in this tradition-truly comprehensive perspectives are emerging only now. The fascinating exploration of Schopenhauer's exposure to relevant indological texts, commentaries, and scholars is still far from complete, as only a comparatively small selection of Schopenhauer's manuscript remains has been published, by Arthur Hübscher in 1966. As recently as 1998 Urs App was able to conclude, from his study of Schopenhauer's unpublished annotations to the Asiatick Researches, that it has been a misconception-although one carefully nourished by Schopenhauer himself-to assume that Indian concepts only confirmed what Schopenhauer had conceptualized intuitively of his own accord. Douglas Berger's timely study, "The Veil of Maya": Schopenhauer's System and Early Indian Thought, shows that this case can be made by way of a careful analysis of the development of Schopenhauer's philosophy without recourse to unpublished manuscript remains. In this respect Berger states:

After reading Schopenhauer for some years, I became convinced that some crucial aspects of his system, specifically how he made argumentative transitions from epistemology to metaphysics to ethics, transitions about which much dispute still rages in the secondary literature, could not be well assessed without taking into consideration how Scho-penhauer understood the Upanishadic and Vedantic notion of maya.

(p. xii) [End Page 675]

On the basis of the published manuscript remains Berger traces how the early system developed. Here Berger shows very convincingly that the formation of Schopenhauer's system was strongly influenced by his appropriation of one particular element of Hinduism-or better, of Brahmanic world views-namely the idea of maya. Maya in the Upanishads is "most often identified to be the magical power of God employed to create the world and then to hide behind the matter out of which it was made" (p. 62). As Berger has traced in the manuscript remains,

Schopenhauer develops an understanding of maya over time which makes it at once an epistemological category of falsification and an existential fetter that causes human beings to comport themselves . . . in an ethically pernicious way. More specifically Scho-penhauer believes maya to be a way the world appears to us as something it is not. . . . Epistemologically, maya entails an erroneous perception of things and a fallacious assessment of their nature; axiologically, it is the inauthentic valuation of world and other; metaphysically, it is the mere phenomenal appearance of a noumenal reality; and ethically, it leads to an unjustifiable alienation of other from self.

(p. 63)

In Schopenhauer's own words from a manuscript dating to 1814:

In so far as he is alive . . . a human being . . . is doomed not merely to...