Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Duality of Indic religious philosophies: Do they sink or swim together?

Dr. Hari.J has an interesting blog post on this subject. He quotes Swami Vivekananda who opined that Hindusim and Buddism cannot survive without each other. On the other hand, as Dr. HJ rightly mentiones, there are few places in the world where the two religions do exist independently, without the other.

Geographically yes, but perhaps they are not intellectually and philosophically independent. I suspect the Swami meant the latter. Indeed, Indic religious philosophies (Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Jainism) are all joined at the hip and generally thrived up until a few 500-odd years ago due to healthy competition (i.e., very vigorous discourse and debates. Presumably, changing 'religions' in India (one cannot be sure if they thought of it as a religion as defined today in the western world), during those days was perhaps as easy as the switch between windows, Linux or Mac. These debates had an impact on the ground reality and "optimized" the Indic religious philosophies better. For example, Adi Sankara of Kerala is credited with having "upgraded" Hindu philosophies that eventually allowed Hiduism to survive in India. This he did via vigorous debates with Buddhist leaders.

That process is dead now and perhaps the Swami implied that he did not want this process of discourse and debate to stop. Not surprisingly, a lot of the angst in the world today stems from frustration with entrenched harmful practices within ones own religion, in tandem with of a lack of mutual respect for how the other religion's core philosophies are the same and how they are different.

[Edited on 7/22/09 for typos]


  1. Hi Shiva,

    That's a very good point: I agree that Hinduism and Buddism are not intellectually and philosophically independent. In fact, some have conjectured that the Adi Sankara's Advaita is Buddhism in disguise, but it's not that simple of course; it more likely that Advaita is a synthesis.

    Also an important clarification: the excerpt on my blog (which you are interpreting) is from Vivekananda's 1893 address; it is not a quote by the Buddha.

    Finally, please call me Hari -- Dr. Hari-J is a bit formal!

  2. Wanted to say this earlier but never got to it -- I loved this bit of prose that you wrote in one of your earlier posts:

    "The obvious thing about a coin is its duality - it has two sides, and in many cases, you look at one side, it is also obvious what the other is. But the problem is that most people covet this metaphorical coin but choose to live on, or favor, one side or reject the other. We are somehow shocked when we make a dent on one side and it shows up on the other side. Nothing new - it is just a restating of the ancient concept of 'Vasudeva Kutumbam' in Hinduism, that oldest statement of duality (as broadly defined by this tab). Neither Palestine nor Israel can be safe unless they both are. Violent movements ultimately turn upon themselves. Tradition/Culture and Progress cannot move independent of each other for too long, nor should they bog each other down. Urban prosperity in India without improving our villages at some positive rate is bound to fail. People ultimately come together only if they have the freedom to move apart but no longer feel the need to exercise it. The only thing obvious about these examples of duality is it is rarely followed by any of us, at least not all the time."

    You've clearly given duality a lot of thought; I'd love to hear your thoughts about Advaita (in a post perhaps) -- I am new to the concept myself.

  3. apologies - i had to edit this post on 07/22 for serious typos. Hari's blog post was referring to Vivekananda, not the Buddha.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.