Tuesday, 16 July 2013

De Smet's interpretation of Sankara

E-mail dt 16.7.2013 from John Vattanky to Ivo Coelho:

Dear Fr. Ivo,
As you know I am also  an admirer of De Smet. However a question often comes to my mind: Is there any support for De Smet's interpretaion of Sankara in classical commentators of Vedanta literature in Sanskrit? I mean especially De Smet's understanding of tadatmya sambandha as ontological dependence which involves the concept of creation. Some of De Smet's supporters claim that this is minority view? But even as minority group can they claim any support in the Vedantic tradtion of Sanskrit commentators? If so can you give me some refrences? Does De Smet himself give some reference from the Classical tradition of Vedanta? Since you are well acquainted with all the works of De Smet, if you can give me some enlightenment on this point I shall   be much obliged.
Thanking you and wishing you all the best,
John Vattanky,S.J.

Reply dated 16.7.2013:

Dear Fr Vattanky,
Thank you for your mail and your query.
I am no Indologist, even though I have tried to edit Fr De Smet's work, so I will not be able to give you any hard answers.

In De Smet's work, I do not remember having come across any evidence of support for his interpretation among the classical or even contemporary Vedantic commentators.

Perhaps you could have a look at my Introduction to the recent UNDERSTANDING SANKARA: ESSAYS BY RICHARD DE SMET, 10 copies of which have recently been sent to Fr Keith Abranches. From there you could go to the texts themselves.

What I remember De Smet saying to me is that his scholarly audience, who at first tended to reject his interpretation, slowly seem to have begun accepting it, or at least parts of it. It would be a great piece of research to study the reception of De Smet's work among indologists.

My own feeling is that there is much to be said in favour of De Smet's interpretation on several counts:

1. Sankara knew the Buddhist Vijnanavada, and rejected it.
2. Far from inventing the technique of laksanaa, he found it in his tradition, and made use of it.
3. When he says that the world is not unreal like the son of a barren woman, but rather like a dream, he gives us a strong indication that he is talking analogously or at least comparatively: the world cannot be understood to be Real in the same sense as Brahman; but it is not unreal, it is not nothing, like the son of a barren woman.
4. The relationship between Brahman and the world is sui generis, unique, and so it always remains a node of great difficulty for any thinking, and one of the primary conundrums for thought. All other instances of causality are bound to be inadequate, and consequently every attempt to talk and think about the relationship is bound to face difficulty. I believe that Sankara suffered the same fate at the hands of his commentators as Thomas did at the hands of his. Lonergan talks about a 'lag' between thought and expression, and I believe we find this lag or gap in Sankara.
5. We have to also take into account also the whole history of translation: the decision to translate maya as illusion, for example, and the various influences at play. At the turn of the last century, with the dominance of Idealism in Britain, it should not be surprising to find Indian scholars and thinkers tending to adequate Sankara with that strand of thought.

But, as I have said, I am not an Indologist. I can only hope that the recent publications of De Smet's work will open his work to greater scrutiny and debate.

Thank you dear Father.


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