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  • Reply to Nicholas Gier
  • Shyam Ranganathan

I must thank Professor Gier both for his kindness toward me in his response and his invitation for me to write a full-fledged essay on the topics that our exchange has raised. While I have not written on Gandhi's thought as such, much of what I have to say on Gier's book is influenced by the research and arguments I put forward in my Ethics and the History of Indian Philosophy (Motilal Banarsidass, 2007) and my forthcoming translation and commentary, originally titled The Moral Philosophy of Patañjali's Yoga Sūtra, to be published as Patañjali's Yoga Sūtra (Penguin). Gier's closing comment not only serves as an invitation—and challenge—to me to systematically defend my views on these topics but also encapsulates what might be the locus of disagreement between Gier and myself. He suggests that it is I who have foisted a syllogistic argument onto the task of interpreting Gandhi's thought, whereas my original complaint was that I thought that this was the only way to make sense of Gier's arguments. If Gier were not offering such a disjunctive syllogism, the extended and recurrent criticisms of Jain and Advaita interpretations do nothing to positively make the case for a Buddhist interpretation of Gandhi and are gratuitous within the structure of his presentation.

But let us take some of Gier's responses to me in order. Gier appears to believe that the fact that he notes Gandhi's devotion to Rāma and his Vaiṣṇava background (which I did not mention in my review) shows that he was sensitive to theistic Vedānta in his analysis. My complaint was that he did not fully consider reading Gandhi in terms of Viśiṣṭādvaita—a very specific school of Vedānta, and not synonymous with theistic Vedānta as such. Moreover, that Gier noted Gandhi's devotionalism is hardly evidence that he considered theistic Vedānta seriously. Even Śaṅkara in his commentary on the Brahma Sūtra betrays a devotion to Rāma and an affinity for Vaiṣṇava religious practices (see his Brahma Sūtra Bhāṣya, I.ii.7), but this hardly means that Śaṅkara advanced theistic Vedānta. Gier claims that his reference to an article that recognizes the Neo-Vedānta leanings of Gandhi refutes my claim that he conflates Vedānta with Advaita Vedānta. My claim was not that Gier never makes a distinction between different types of Vedānta, but that he is not careful in his talk of "Vedānta" given that the only form that he seriously considers is Advaita Vedānta and that he refers to it simply as "Vedānta."1

Gier defends his neglect of theistic interpretations of Gandhi on the grounds that Advaita Vedānta "is the Vedāntist school with which Gandhi is associated." This is a remarkable admission, for it suggests that Gier thought reading Gandhi in light of Jainism or Advaita Vedānta was more plausible than reading him in light of Viśiṣṭādvaita—this despite the fact that he does so much in his book to show the [End Page 564] plausibility of interpreting Gandhi in this light, as I make clear in my review. Given Gandhi's cultural proximity to Viśiṣṭādvaita, the omission is glaring.

The question thus presents itself: why did Gier not take this route of interpretation seriously enough to treat it systematically? Gier's honorable candor in his response gives us one explanation: he is out of his depth when it comes to theistic Vedānta and thus failed to appreciate its salience. If this is the reason for his omission (and I suspect it is part of the explanation), this is a serious deficiency in a study of Gandhi's thought for obvious historical reasons.

There is also another possibility, namely that Gier thought that he could exclude several historical options (including all Vedānta, theistic or otherwise) because they are a species of a type of view that he believes is incompatible with Gandhian process thought. Gier's response confirms this. He states that Jainism...


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