From the Jacket
This is work in a significant area of Indian philosophy on which very little work has been done. Most of the Indian philosophers, to whatever school or tradition they belong, have shown concern for understanding the basic claims of religion are those that are generated by sruti tradition of Hinduism. Instead of taking any philosophical position in approaching and understanding the problems of religion, this work tries to be comprehensive, and seeks to present and discuss the understanding of different Indian philosophers of some of the basic problems of religion. The arguments presented in this work are taken from different schools or systems of Indian philosophy, and in certain cases they are reformulated to make them less technical. This book will be of immense use to both the student and researches in Indian philosophy of religion and also to general readers.
About the Author
A. Ramamurty is a retired Professor of Philosophy, University of Hyderabad. He has worked extensively on Classical Indian Philosophy, particularly Vedanta, contemporary Indian philosophy and comparative religion. His publications include Advaitic Mysticism of Sankara; The Central Philosophy of the Rgveda; Advaita: A conceptual analysis; The Philosophical Foundations of Hinduism and numerous papers in National and International Journals. He has lectured as the British Council's visiting fellow at different Universities in United Kingdom.
This is an attempt to present and discuss in a systematic and coherent manner the understanding of Indian philosophers of some of the basic problems of religion. Almost all the Indian philosophers, to whatever school or tradition they belong, have shown concern for understanding the basic claims of religion. And for almost all the philosophers of religion in India the problems of religion are those that are generated by the sruti tradition of Hinduism. The nature of the philosophical problems a religious tradition gives rise to depends upon the truth claims it makes, and the manner in which it tries to justify them. The sruti form of Hinduism and its truth claims have attracted the attention of almost all the Indian philosophers. The philosophical problems which the sruti tradition of Hinduism has given rise to are not similar to those of the Semitic religions as the truth claims made by both the traditions are not similar. More importantly, the world-view of Hinduism is basically different from that of Semitic religions, and therefore some of the problems which are of basic importance and value to Semitic religions are not so to Hinduism, and vice versa. Nor is the nature of justification offered for the claims similar in both the cases. Therefore, the problems I have chosen for presentation and discussion here are those that are regarded as basic or central to Hinduism, or to the nature and meaning of religion as understood in the light of or on the basis of Indic religions in general, and Hinduism in particular. And almost all the arguments presented in this work are taken from different schools or systems of Indian philosophy, and in certain cases they are re-formulated to make them less technical.
I worked on this project as an Emeritus Fellow of the University Grants Commission. During the fellowship I enjoyed the co-operation and friendship of all the members of faculty of the department of philosophy, University of Hyderabad, and I wish to express my grateful thanks to all of them. I express my thanks to Prof. Amitabha Dasgupta, for publishing this work under the UGC, Special Assistance Programme, and Prof. Chinmoy Goswami and Dr. K.S. Prasad for their co-operation. Finally I wish to thank Mr. Rajendra Agarwal of Decent Books for publishing this work.
Almost all the Indian philosophers, whether they belong to orthodox or heterodox schools of philosophy, have shown concern for understanding the truth claims of religion. The concern is either to analyse and criticise religious beliefs and doctrines or to defend them by providing rational justification to them. Generally speaking, while the philosophers of orthodox tradition are positive in their approach to religion and its problems, as in the Indian context the problems of religion are related to Sruti tradition, the thinkers belonging to heterodox tradition are by definition negative and critical in their attitude and approach to religion and its claims which mean the religious beliefs and doctrines of Sruti origin. We have to keep in mind the distinction between the orthodox and heterodox traditions while understanding their approach and attitude to religion as in understanding the claims of religion they are influenced by their attitude towards Sruti tradition. While in their attitudes and approaches to Sruti tradition the philosophers belonging to heterodox schools of Indian philosophy, like the Buddhists and Jains, are critical, the philosophers belonging to orthodox schools of Indian philosophy are more positive and sympathetic. The latter have even tried to defend and justify the beliefs and doctrines of Sruti origin against the criticisms made by the heterodox schools of philosophy. Therefore we do not find, with the exception of Sankara, any critical or philosophical attitude and approach to religion and its claims on the part of philosophers belonging to orthodox tradition. They are mostly polemical in their approach, and try to defend the Sruti form of religion from the attacks and criticisms made against it by the heterodox schools of philosophy.
Philosophical analysis and understanding of religious beliefs and doctrines, within the Indian philosophical tradition, starts with the emergence of heterodox systems of philosophy, especially Buddhism. The Buddhist philosophers were the first to start the activity known as philosophy of religion in India whatever may be their intention in trying to rationally analyse and criticise the religious beliefs and doctrines of Sruti tradition of Hinduism. Prior to the emergence of Buddhist philosophy we do not find in India any significant and systematic attempt to critically or rationally understand religious claims. Though we come across criticism of certain religious beliefs of the Veda within the Veda itself, and even a healthy skepticism with regard to man's ability to know the ultimate source or ground of the world as well as the existence of abstract deities like Indra, no reasons or arguments are, however, developed to substantiate the criticism and skepticism. Similarly the philosophers of the Purva-Mimamsa did not try to develop arguments in defence or justification of their position that the ontological statements of Sruti do not have objective validity (arthavada). According to them, they are meaningful only figuratively, and are meant to subserve the imperative statements (vidhi-vakya) of the Veda. It is possible that the Purva-Mimamsa in an attempt to defend the Veda against the criticisms of materialism and Buddhism tried to develop the view that the real object and meaning of the Veda consists in religious action or dharma. The ontological statements of the Veda, according to them, are meant to inspire or influence and encourage religious action
or dharma, and are therefore secondary in their importance and validity. They depend for their meaning and validity on the imperative statements of Sruti. For instance, when someone says that a particular cow is good the intention of the speaker is not to describe or say something objective about the cow but to influence the potential buyer. This we shall discuss in detail when we discuss the meaning of religion. However, our contention that in the Indian tradition philosophical analysis and understanding of religious claims starts with Buddhism remains valid.
However, the Buddhist analysis and criticism of the beliefs and doctrines of the Sruti tradition of Hinduism is not just for the sake of understanding the problems of religion, but to reject or demolish them with a view to establishing Buddhist position. Though the Buddhist intention is polemical it helped the development of philosophy of religion in India. Thus philosophy of religion was born in India in the context of inter-religious polemics between the Sruti tradition of Hinduism and the Heterodox schools of Indian philosophy, particularly, Buddhism. Before the emergence of Buddhist philosophy criticism of religious beliefs and doctrines was attempted by the materialist philosophers known as Carvakas. However, the Carvaka criticism of religious beliefs is not strictly speaking philosophical. The only valid criticism of Carvaka is about the validity of inference as a source of valid knowledge. As, according to them, all the religious claims are based on inferential reasoning, their validity depends upon the validity of inference. Therefore, if the validity of inference, as a source of valid knowledge, is disproved the validity of the religious claims is automatically destroyed. Their criticism of other things, like the meaning and validity of Sruti, etc., is popular and even vulgar, and does not deserve philosophical scrutiny.
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