Though the Majority of papers are devoted to the religions and philosophies of India and the manifold expressions of its guru institute the main focus of the Conference -all other traditions are fairly represented, each scholar aiming at rigorously placing in context the nature and function of the master. I must stress that an interdisciplinary and truly sophisticated comparative interest animated the Conference, especially during the lively debate sessions. The essays mirror two basic formats, as per their authors' wish: they either reflect with minor modifications, one's speech as it was originally delivered and thus are often short contributions meant for discussion, or else they are expended, revised versions of one's paper i. e. full-fledged articles with critical note apparatus.
The Thirty- two Italian scholars who participated in this rich and intense three-day meeting open to the public (which attracted hundreds of people to the Waldensian and Methodist Church of Venice, where the Conference took place, making it an 'event' of sorts) were: Attilio Andreini, Stefano Beggiora, Paolo Bettiolo Piero Capelli, Claudio Cicuzza, Chiara Cremonesi, Thomas Dahnhardt, Fabrizio Ferrari Gain Giuseppe Filippi, Gaetano Lettieri, Franco Macchi Massimo Makarovic, Monia, Marchetto, Giangiorgio Pasqualitto, Gianni Pellegrini, Cinzia Pieruccini, Corrado Puchetti, Claudia Ramasso, Massimo Raveri, Paolo Ricca, Francesco Spagna, Aldo Tollini Giovanni Torcinovich, and myself . The Conference was also honoured by the presence of a most distinguished guest (himself a guru!): the Sanskrit acaryaPandit Vidya Nivas Mishra from Varanasi who delivered a short, momentous Pravacanaor speech.
The theme of the guru institute and, more broadly, of the master/ disciple relationship is certainly crucial within all religious traditions. In Italy, Important monographs have been dedicated to the subject in recent years, especially with reference to classical and late antiquity Judaism, early Christianity and Christian Monasticism. Devoted to this same issue and the crucial them of education paideiais the latest stimulating book written by George Steiner, >I> Lessons of the Masters(Cambridge and London, Harvard University Press 2003), outcome of the Charles Eliot Norton Lectures held in Harvard in 2001-2002. From the outset our Conference was thought of as an exploration concerning the sources of legitimation of religious authority within any given tradition and as a critical examination of the special charisma which the spiritual master exhibites or is in any case attributed to him/her by any given community. The focus of attention has been directed upon India and Eastern traditions, cultivating an approach of 'dialogical', comparative opeppess towards all other traditions.
Indeed especially in his years Foucault, himself influenced by the writing of Pierre Hadot, dedicated special attention to the theme of the unending search for wisdom and the perfecting of the self through the detaching from oneself. For Foucault such transformation is to be understood as an ongoing process of discovery, implying an 'ethics of unsettlement' (contra any juridical foundation of a 'perennial' ethics), never established once for all: what he called a transformative or 'ethopoietic' wisdom, an unending search to be aimed at through exerting one's critical eye in primis upon oneself and one's fixed conventions. A critical investigation, which the philosophers of classical antiquity cultivated precisely through the practice of asceticism and spiritual exercises. Foucault's study focused upon an in depth analysis of figures such as Socrates Plato, Marcus Aurelius, Epicurus up to a final consideration of the meditatio mortis to be found in the writings of Seneca and Epictetus.
The understanding of philosophy as a taking care oneself and as a practical, 'performative' tool is nowadays more emphasized: one is here reminded of the seminal work of Gerd B. Achenbach, PhilosophischePraxis (Koln, Dinter, 1948). In Italy, along the same lines, an important contribution has been recently of fered by Romano Madera and Luigi Vero Tarca, La filosofia come stile di vita. Introduzione alle pratiche filosofiche (Milano, Bruno Mondadori, 2003). To be sure, the religious and philosophical traditions of India and of Asia in general have much to say and to offer concerning this fundamental orientation towards a practical experiential wisdom (characterized by the primacy of oral teaching and the dialectical method versus any written from of transmission of knowledge).From ancient times these traditions have conjugated sophisticated ideologies and worldviews and the practical application of the same to man, never divorcing pure intellectual theory from its necessary existential implementation.
As VAIS, we think of this Conference as an initial exploration of a most important rich and intricate field too often subject to superficial analyses or naïve simplifications (one is here remineded of the use and abuse of the very term guru). These proceedings should promote further debate and a deeper probing into the complaxity of the issues involved with a growth in multi- disciplinary openness and sophisticated hermeneutic analysis: I hope this collection of essays may represent the first tentative steps in the right direction.
From the Jacket
The book containing papers presented at a conference held in Venice, Italy, examines the relevance attached to the institution of the guru with special reference to the religions and philosophies of India. It explores the nature and function of the guru figure and the master- disciple interaction in religious traditions of the world including those of Hinduism Buddhism ancient Greek, Judaism, Islam, Christianity, Confucianism and native American traditions. It delves into the dynamics of the guru's influence and guru-disciple interaction that involves two aspects of power spiritual power and the very worldly Socio-political and economic interests. It deals with characteristics and Chrisna associated with the figure of the spiritual master his authority pupils devotion for him trials for a pupil motivations of a guru Pandita as guru and recognition of the true master. It scrutinizes the difference in the Eastern and Western traditions Vis-a Vis the guru disciple relationship referring to a variety of sects thinkers and works: the Mahabharata, Sufism, tantric traditions, Theravada and Vajrayana Buddhism, and the guruvada among Bauls of Bengal.
The study meticulously unravels certain fundamental questions like sources of legitimation of religious like sources of legitimation of religious spiritual tradition. It throws light on the link between overcoming fear ritual death and immortality and the guru figure in Indian traditions.
The book will interest scholars of religion and philosophy particularly those studying Hindu and Buddhist religious spiritual traditions.
Dr. Antonio Rigopoulos is a reputed historian of religions and philosophies. Having had a two year stint as Assistant Professor of Indology at the California University Santa Barbara he is now engaged in research work at the University "Ca'Foscari" of Venice.
Currently Secretary- General of the Venetian Academy of Indian Studies (VAIS), Dr Rigopoulos is the well Known auther of several books and articles on Sai Baba of Sirdi and Lord Dattatreya. His preferred field of research in India is Maharashtra and northern Karnataka.
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