- A Response to Shyam Ranganathan's Review of The Virtue of Non-Violence:From Gautama to Gandhi
Shyam Ranganathan's review of my book The Virtue of Non-Violence: From Gautama to Gandhi (Philosophy East and West, vol. 57, no. 1) exceeds all the expectations that an author might have for a fair and constructive appraisal, and I thank him for it. Ranganathan offers accurate summaries of each chapter, praises the strong points, graciously indicates some weaknesses, and offers viable options for alternative interpretations. Before I tender more specific remarks, I would like to offer an anecdote.
While on sabbatical in India in 1992, I attended a meeting of the Indian Association of Christian Philosophers held at Dharmaram College in Bangalore. The topic of the conference was Śaṇkara and Christian theology. As I sat and listened, in quiet amazement, to talks about how well these two suited one another, I was moved to make a comment. I stood and declared that Rāmānuja would be a much more promising partner for Christian theology. The audience went deathly still, as if I had uttered some sort of rude remark. Looking back at this incident, I have imagined that it must be the equivalent of someone standing up and promoting Duns Scotus, my favorite medieval philosopher, in a group of confirmed Thomists.
In my thirty years of teaching Indian philosophy, I thoroughly documented the references to personal theism in the Upaniṣads, and I informed my students that many of them have invocations to Viṣṇu or Śiva. I also reminded them that the word advaita is found only once in all the Upaniṣads and that there are over a dozen schools of Vedānta. My students were amazed to learn that many Indian philosophy professors, after lecturing on Advaita Vedānta, go home and make offerings to Ganeṣa. Just as no European ever worshipped Aristotle's unmoved mover, no Hindu has ever bowed before nirguna Brahman. I do not think it is too much to say that I have been a devoted champion for the "neglected" Vedānta.
Professor Ranganathan's main critique of my book is that I did not consider theistic Vedānta as a way to read Gandhi. He grants that I briefly compare Rāmānuja and Gandhi favorably, but he fails to note that I refer frequently to Gandhi's devotion to Rama and his Vaiṣnava background. Furthermore, I also reference Glyn Richard's article relating Gandhi, quite successfully in my mind, to neo-Vedānta,1 thus refuting Ranganathan's charge that I conflate Vedānta with Advaita. My statement that "Vedantist metaphysics cannot possibly serve . . ." is made in the context of a discussion of the Advaita school. Finally, in my chapter "Rules, Vows, and Virtues," I concede that making vows to a personal deity is a viable Gandhian alternative to my preference of virtues supplanting vows. Gandhi's several references to nonviolence as a virtue led me to press on with my thesis. [End Page 561]
The main reason for my focus on Advaita Vedānta is that, with very few exceptions, it is the Vedāntist school with which Gandhi is associated. Although I stand firm in my belief that Gandhi is not an Advaitin, I definitely do not exclude a Jain or Hindu theistic interpretation. I propose a Pāli Buddhism framework, not because I think Gandhi would have chosen it, but because I believe that is the best way to develop a philosophically coherent Gandhian ethics of nonviolence. If he had actually allied himself with Buddhism, his Vedāntist tendencies would have drawn him to Mahāyāna.
I am most troubled by Ranganathan's attempt to make Jainism, Sāṃkhya-Yoga, and the Vedāntist schools into process philosophies. First, I object to his phrasing that Buddhism "makes room for a process conception." It is not a problem of accommodating Buddhism to process philosophy, because Gautama's explicit rejection of an impermanent Ātman and affirmation of the flux of existence makes his view the standard for ancient process philosophy. Second, Sāṃkhya-Yoga has process only on the material prakṛti side...