This seminar will, textually and creatively, explore and re-examine the millennia-old debate within classical Indian philosophy, centering on arguments for and against the existence of an omniscient, creator God. The most striking feature of Indian philosophical traditions is that some orthodox Vedic philosophers make an excellent case for atheist realism, whereas the idealist and deeply religious Buddhists, while refuting Nyāya-Vaiśeṣika arguments for the existence of God, defend a belief in the Buddha’s omniscience. Currently, when the tension and interface between religion, politics and science are being hotly debated in India and the world at large, a philosophical exploration of options like an heterodox ethics of compassion without a traditional God, and an orthodoxy both with and without God, would help to remind us that “Indian philosophy” is not a monolith but an open and ongoing debating arena.
Classical Indian philosophy, including Buddhist and Jaina argumentative metaphysics, is a vast field of disputations and complex alliances. Almost all possible permutations of Realism, Theism, Anti-Realism and Atheism are available within it. Buddhist Epistemologists are anti-realists and atheists; Nyāya-Vaiśeṣika philosophers are realists and theists. The Kashmir Śaiva dynamic-non-dualists are theists but pan-psychist-idealists. Jaina non-absolutist meta-philosophers are realist atheists. And, most surprisingly, the staunchest Vedic exegetes, the Mīṁāmsā philosophers are ultra-realists about an external material world but deeply distrust notions of Divine Omniscience. While it is well known that in India, one could be deeply religious (like the Jaina or Buddhists) without believing in any creator God, it is less well-known that Buddhist atheists defended the notion of human (e.g. the Buddha’s) omniscience making him almost God-like. On the other hand, Mīṁāmsā, the most orthodox Hindu system of philosophy, gave sharp logical arguments against the very possibility of any human or divine person knowing everything. Most interestingly, the Mādhva Vedantins, whose metaphysics and ethics were deeply God-centered, refuted all attempts at “proving” the existence of God on purely rational grounds. For them, as for Protestant Christianity, one has to accept the existence of God on faith, on the basis of “scripture”.
In this seminar, we would like to explore afresh Nyāya and Kashmir Śaiva arguments (formulated in texts such as Nyāyakusumānjali of Udayana and Iṥvarasiddhi by Utpaladeva) for the existence of a God as the First Cause of the material Universe—which is not quite an Indian Big Bang theory—and the Buddhist and Jaina refutations of those arguments (in texts such as Pramāņavārtika and Prameyakamalamārtanda).
Different scholars will look at the Buddhist, the Nyāya-Vaiśeṣika and the Kashmir Śaiva schools of thought for concepts of Omniscience and God (or the absence of God). The back and forth argumentation across these schools, when discussed over each of the contributed papers, would help us figure out how the third Kashmir Śaiva school with its Theistic but Non-Dualistic Idealism, splits the difference between the first two. Like the Nyāya theist, Utapaladeva infers the existence of a personal God as an intelligent cause of this well-designed, variegated world; but like the Yogācāra Buddhist, he takes the external world to be a dream contained within “my” mind, although, this “I” is/am none other than Śiva the same dreamer/creator of the world. Corresponding debates between theism and atheism in contemporary Western analytic philosophy of religion are ongoing, and our speakers will be encouraged to utilize those resources as well.
Key-Questions to be Raised and Answered
Philosophy is unique in self-reflexive clarification of its own presuppositions, method and content. In the same spirit, this seminar will ask reflexively the questions:
These are questions to which both science and metaphysics continually return, even if our brains are not “designed” for coming to know definite answers to them; even social and moral philosophers cannot dismiss these as obscure or irrelevant.
While debates about secularism have been raging in the Indian political and intellectual settings for as long as our Indian democracy has been negotiating the challenges of religious pluralism (nearly seventy years now), the vibrant variety of ways in which one can be religious, with or without belief in God, is often forgotten when we speak in broad terms about Science and Religion or rational realism and irrational theism. Reverence for the ancient Indian intellectual traditions often is assumed to be either incompatible with the modern scientific spirit or a promoting of spurious claims about Vedic science, etc. This seminar would re-open the debating space between differing forms of religious disbelief in God, and different ways of combining the logical and scientific spirit of argumentation with ethical concern for the suffering of humanity on the one hand, and the epistemological ambition of knowing all one needs to know to diminish such suffering—the kind of practical ethical omniscience that the Buddha claimed to have—on the other.
A limited number of participants will be invited for the seminar. Those interested in participating should send an abstract (500-700 words) of the proposed paper to following Email ID's:
A limited number of participants will be invited for the Conference. Those interested in participating should send title and an abstract (500-700 words) of the proposed paper along with their C.V. to:-
The last date of submission of title/synopsis of paper along with abstract is 25 May, 2015. The date for short listing of participants is 29 May, 2015. The Institute intends to send an official invitation letters to selected participants by 5 June, 2015. It is the policy of the Institute to publish the proceedings of the seminars it organizes. Therefore, all invited participants will be expected to submit complete papers to the Academic Resource Officer, Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla – 171005 by 13 July, 2015.
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