Kalupahanas' contentious statements (Was Re: question)

Sankaran Panchapagesan panchap at ICSL.UCLA.EDU
Sun Jan 16 18:22:16 CST 2000

  Thank you very much for replying to my questions.

On Fri, 14 Jan 2000, Jaldhar H. Vyas wrote:

> For the sake of people who may be searching through the archives, I
> request people use more descriptive subject lines than "question"

I'm sorry, I'll take a note of that.

> "from His mouth arose the Brahmans, from His arms the Kshatriyas were
> made, From his thighs the Vaishyas and from His two feet the Shudras."
> 1. Now the Purush Himself is identified with Brahman and the Self (but not
> in the sukta itself)  isn't it obvious that it is "selves"-with-a small-s
> which are being refered to here?

I am not very clear about what you mean by the 'self' with a small 's'. Do
you mean the 'soul'? In that case, it seems to me that the Purusha Suktam
or the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad talk about the creation not of the 'self'
but of men and gods of different social classes, i.e. of the *classes
themselves*, according to which men and gods are classified. In fact, the
Purusha Suktam does not seem to use the word 'aatman' anywhere.
        Or do you, by 'self'-with-a small-s, just mean 'persons' or
'psychophysical personality (as Kalupahana puts it)? In that case, this
present 'self' is just a result of karma and beginningless cycle of births
and deaths, right?

> 2. From the point of view of those darshans that use Atman
> (Self-with-a-capital-S) as a concept, the idea of a Brahman Self or a
> Kshatriya Self is downright silly.  This is true of Advaita Vedanta
> despite it's "orthodoxy". While Shankaracharya and his successors
> Vedic orthodoxy and orthopraxy it is for completely different reasons
> than the nature of the self.

I was under the impression that according to all aastika philosophies, the
souls are uncreated and in beginningless transmigration and bondage. Is
that so? Is there any aastika system of philosophy which classifies the
*selves* themselves into different classes?

> 3.  It maybe that the word atman originally only meant small-s-self and
> later also got the philosophical connotation of capital-S-Self. then
> Kalupahanas contention would make more sense. If he believes that Vedic
> thought was consistent from the Purush Sukta to the Buddha, how can he
> fail to notice the nuances in the use of the word atman?  If he believes
> there was a progression of ideas, why does he conflate an earlier meaning
> with a later one?

As I say, I am not aware of any interpretation of the Vedas that divides
the selves themselves into permanent classes. Nor are there such
statements in the dharmasutras, epics or puranas. It would be helpful if
Kalupahana could at least show some references in Buddhist texts, where
'brahminical' philosophers claim this. (I've enquired about this in a
newsgroup talk.religion.buddhism) Such not being the case, either
Kalupahana is just plain wrong, or has some kind of an 'agenda'.

> 4.  Why would the Buddha or anyone of that time care about equality of
> status? Certainly no Buddhist culture since has.  To give one
> answer Slavery in Tibet ended because of the Chinese Communists not
> because of any compassionate teachings of the Buddha.  I'm not singling
> out Buddhism here but just noting that the general equality of Man is a
> Western notion.  (And only after the 18th century at that.)  A Historian
> should try to describe the past without injecting his personal biases and
> agendas into it.

One answer would be that the Buddha just did so since the idea of
inequality was incompatible with his philosophy. Going by Kalupahana's
interpretation in this case, which seems to be reasonable, the Buddha
recognized the caste system as a social convention, not as an absolute as
the Shruti and Smritis do. I also think the Buddhists (and Jains) did
indeed address the problem of equality in different texts.

> Western notion.  (And only after the 18th century at that.)  A Historian
> should try to describe the past without injecting his personal biases and
> agendas into it.

I think this last statement you make is very relevant here also in the
case of the scholar who interprets and presents, since throughout his
book, Kalupahana instead of just explaining and discussing (his
interpretation of) Nagarjuna and Buddha, makes all sorts of judgements
about different philosophies as *dangerous*, *extreme*, etc. and labels
previous scholars (T.R.V.Murti, etc.?) as "miserably failed to understand
the Buddha's philosophical ingenuity"!

> 5.  I don't know how old this book is but I thought the scholarly
> consensus nowadays had gone beyond this idea of the Buddha as a radical
> reformer who made a sharp break with current practice.

This book is a quite recent one, published in 1987 or so. In it,
Kalupahana claims to give a new interpretation of Nagarjua (following the
Buddha) as a pragmatic empiricist. He doesn't exactly portray the Buddha
as a radical social reformer, but as a sort of social and philosophical
critic. In any case, I think his interpretation of the
Muula-madhyamaka-kaarikaa of Nagarjuna is widely accepted by scholars.

> Not that I know of.

Okay, thanks.

> > > 2. On page 37, Kalupahana says when discussing Nagarjuna's >
> "cogito"? Is that the way Sankaracharya interprets it in his
> commentary? >
> Are you sure you didn't omit something from his argument?  Because as it
> stands now, I am completely puzzled as to what Kalupahana is getting at.

That is what he says in the introduction under "Analysis of the kaarikaa".
But under the tranlation and explanation of Chapter 3, this is what he
says (after the translation of verse 2):

2. "Seeing does not perceive itself, its own form. How can that which does
not perceive itself, see others." MMK.III-2.

        "Nagarjuna was clearly aware of the major controversy raging among
the adherents of the various "essentialist" schools regarding the problem
of perception. In their search for certainty, these essentialist schools
assumed that in any act of perception the "most clear and distinct" is the
perception of "oneself". (see BRhadaaraNyaka Upanishhad 1.4.1). "I think,
therefore I am" (cogito ergo sum) was the premise with whch the
essentialist thinkers of pre-Buddhist India began their exposition of

Is Kalupahana's interpretation of Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 1.4.1 as
"cogito ergo sum" correct?

> That section of the Upanishad states

Thanks very much for the explanation of the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad
passages 1.4.11-14.

> 1. has some personal political agenda biasing his interpretation.

He says Nagarjuna was not a Mahayanist who accepted the early Buddhist
philosophy immediately after the Buddha, the so-called Abhidharma, but
only rejects the interpretations of the "Sarvaastivaadins" and the
"Sautraantikas". Also as I say above, he describes some "substantialist"
interpretations and theories of the above two schools as "dangerous",
sometimes almost as a "sin"!

> 3. is mixing up ideas from widely different historical periods.

Yes, that is why I asked whether his interpretation of any Upanishadic
text as "cogito ergo sum" is correct. Can you also please explain 1.4.1
which he claims.


bhava shankara deshikame sharaNam

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