- Sūtras, Stories and Yoga Philosophy: Narrative and Transfiguration by Daniel Raveh
Daniel Raveh's book consists of four chapters, each dedicated to a certain narrative, retold and analyzed vis-à-vis Pātañjala-Yoga, and through the writings of contemporary philosophers such as Krishnachandra Bhattacharyya, Pandit Badrinath Shukla, Daya Krishna and Mukund Lath. The narratives discussed are from the Upaniṣadic lore, the Mahābhārata, the pre-modern Śaṅkara-digvijaya, and finally the script of a recent Bollywood movie, Ghajini (2008, directed by A.R. Murugadoss).
There are several layers to the book, all interesting in and of themselves, but their interconnection is the heart of this unusual work. The thread that binds these layers and connects a myriad of themes and texts--classical and contemporary--that this condensed book incorporates is the question of self-identity, touched from a different angle in each of its chapters. The book can also be seen as a jigsaw-puzzle made of different pieces, literary, cinematic and philosophical. Each of the puzzle-pieces is interesting, their assembly is again interesting, and the whole exercise conveys a sense of playfulness and creativity on behalf of Raveh as author/compiler. But if I may take the puzzle metaphor forward, the question is what is the picture revealed when all the pieces are finally fitted together? Raveh does not discuss the overall picture that his philosophical experiment ultimately reveals. The book has a useful introduction to explain the exercise at hand, but no conclusion-chapter. At the end of each chapter, the author hints at the picture revealed in that particular chapter. For instance, chapter 3 (on the captivating story of Śaṅkara in the King's body) ends with this passage:
What is the implication of knowledge as way of living/knowing by living through on the ideal of sarva-jñāna, omniscience, discussed above? I propose that the only way of living suitable for the aspirant of omniscience is parivrajyā, or wandering, in the sense of the capacity (here Dorothy Walsh spoke of imagination) to travel between ways of living, and bodies of knowledge, to remain a perennial insider/outsider.(p. 118)
The discussion of the notion of omniscience is very much in place. This notion, which from a contemporary perspective sounds like an ancient fantasy, consists of intriguing historical overtones. Raveh draws on Mukund Lath who [End Page 1] suggests that the ideal of sarva-jñāna emerged as alternative to the concept of apauruṣeya. Raveh further explains that unlike the Veda, as it is perceived traditionally, "the Āgama (roughly post-Vedic, including Buddhist and Jaina) texts, are pauruṣeya, i.e. 'authored'. To provide these texts with due authority, their authors are projected as omniscient" (p. 103). However, the author's argument in the paragraph quoted above--the argument that connects wandering and omniscience--looks promising, as also the phrase insider/outsider (an appropriate phrase in light of the story discussed here), but it remains an unfulfilled promise. An elaboration would have provided a stronger closure to this well-written chapter on a wonderful story, which offers numerous philosophical paths, as Raveh has thoroughly shown.
But perhaps the heart of the matter is not the final picture, not fully disclosed in Raveh's discussion, but rather the pieces, the puzzle-pieces themselves. The book brims with interesting texts, such as for example, Pandit Badrinath Shukla's article "Dehātmavāda: Exploration of a possibility within the Nyāya thought", presented and discussed at length in chapter 2. In this article, Shukla argues boldly that the ātman can be replaced within the Nyāya framework by body and manas (mind), so that the ātman as a substance becomes unnecessary. To defend this astonishing argument, Shukla articulates not less than thirty-two possible objections, and provides each of them with an answer. Shukla's article deserves close attention. Raveh draws on Mukund Lath's translation from the original Sanskrit (published on the pages of the Journal of the Indian Council of...