- Schopenhauer’s Encounter with Indian Thought: Representation and Will and Their Indian Parallels by Stephen Cross
From the first part of the title, Schopenhauer’s Encounter with Indian Thought, the reader could expect a study of the influence that Indian philosophy had on Schopenhauer. And even though this expectation will be met, Stephen Cross primarily presents a well-documented analysis of parallels between Schopenhauer’s philosophy and that of the Buddhist schools of Madhyamaka and Yogācāra (second and fourth centuries), of the early Advaita Vedānta (ca. seventh century), and those of other configurations of religious and philosophical ideas prevalent in India. Cross employs their philosophical deliberations to elucidate questions posed by Schopenhauer: in this sense a meeting of Schopenhauer with Indian thinking does take place, albeit one introduced by Cross. This is the major theme of the study, and it is complemented in later chapters by a consideration of Will and śakti through a close examination of the Will in view of its denial, and via an investigation, in the light of Cross’ Indian sources, of the term “Better Consciousness,” which occurs in the early sections of Schopenhauer’s Manuscript Remains.
In his detailed and stylistically compelling study Cross masters the challenging task of representing several worldviews comprehensively and critically. Schopenhauer’s reception of Indian sources is treated as part of this larger history of ideas. With reference to Douglas L. Berger’s The Veil of Māyā: Schopenhauer’s System and Early Indian Thought (Binghamton, NY: Global Academic Publishing, 2004), Cross establishes that the concept of māyā in the Oupnek’hat (a translation of selected Upaniṣads interspersed with unmarked passages from Śaṅkara’s commentary) determined Schopenhauer’s understanding of the individual’s perception as a conditioned phenomenon, but in relation to the Will the Oupnek’hat merely confirmed ideas he already had. On both counts Schopenhauer held the Oupnek’hat in high regard. The Persian blueprint of the Oupnek’hat, the Sirr-i Akbar, had been compiled by order of Dārā Shikūh (1615–1659), son of Shah Jahan, and was interwoven with Sufi motives of universal unity. As B. J. Hasrat (Dārā Shikūh: Life and Works [New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal, 1982]) has shown, unmarked passages from the commentaries of Śaṅkara (eighth century) were inserted into the text of the Sirr-i Akbar. Then, the translation from Persian by Abraham Hyacinthe Anquetil-Duperron (1731–1805), which constitutes the Oupnek’hat, emphasized universal similarities [End Page 1353] rather than differentiation. As Cross explains, this adds to the problematic nature of a double translation (from Sanskrit to Persian—with change of terminology inspired by Sufism—and from Persian to Latin in the spirit of the Romantic notion of philosophia perennis), a reading of the Upaniṣads in the light of a particular Advaita Vedānta, namely one mediated by Sufi motives.
Schopenhauer first encountered the teachings of the Buddha through the Asiatick Researches, especially in an essay by Francis Buchanan in the sixth volume. What he read there confirmed his ethical stance and influenced his concept of the denial of the Will. Later on he studied the writings of Isaac Jakob Schmidt, who explained Mahāyāna Buddhism and the emptiness of all phenomena. One effect of this later influence was that Schopenhauer—probably as the first person in the West—referred to himself as a “Buddhaist” from 1845. Cross notes that the ideas of the Mahāyāna must haven been most significant for Schopenhauer, as the “deeper and more interesting affinities between Schopenhauer’s doctrine and Buddhist thinking lie in the epistemological and metaphysical questions” (Cross, p. 45).
In order to trace these affinities systematically, Cross expertly summarizes Schopenhauer’s concept of the world as representation in chapter 5 and extrapolates its key notions (conditionality via causation, time, and space as forms of the mind) in comparison with the teaching of the Mādhyamika in chapter 6. In the...