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PHILOSOPHY OF HISTORY (PART 2)
Vinod Anand | 31 Jan 2012

By far the best chapter of the book is on the Upanishads. Historically the author regards the period of the Upanishads coming between the decadent era of the later Vedas and the Brahmanas as analogous to the Modern Ages in Europe.

THE CREATIVITY on the philosophical and imaginative plane and the assertion of individual judgment and personal experience are supposed to embody elements, similar to the Renaissance and the Reformation. While these historical parallels between two different cultures divided by yawns of time will no doubt be challenged by historical scholarship, one can perhaps accept the contention that the age of the Upanishads is a bold leap forward in man's understanding of the world and himself.

It has been lucidly explained that at that stage Indian thought had made an abstraction of the existence of time and history and dissolved the concept of human personality into the supernatural reality of the Brahman and this made way for the emergence of the idea of reincarnation. It is significant that while the classical Greeks or the Romans did not attach any deeper meaning to the concept of personality, the succeeding Christians made it into a definite thing, both temporal as well as eternal. On the other hand, the root of the belief in reincarnation was an outlook which denied permanence to personality or soul. The writer shrewdly observes that an over-whelming insistence on monism has had unfortunate repercussions which were noticed in the ethical standards of Indian society from time to time.

Here it will be relevant to assert that what Buddha brought in was a positive ethical sense, the significance of moral action and it is not logical to relate the so-called life-negating aspects of Buddhism to the Brahmanical concepts with monism especially Sankara's monumental interpretation of it as the centre.It has been lucidly explained that at that stage Indian thought had made an abstraction of the existence of time and history and dissolved the concept of human personality into the supernatural reality of the Brahman and this made way for the emergence of the idea of reincarnation. It is significant that while the classical Greeks or the Romans did not attach any deeper meaning to the concept of personality, the succeeding Christians made it into a definite thing, both temporal as well as eternal.

On the other hand, the root of the belief in reincarnation was an outlook which denied permanence to personality or soul. The writer shrewdly observes that an over-whelming insistence on monism has had unfortunate repercussions which were noticed in the ethical standards of Indian society from time to time. Here it will be relevant to assert that what Buddha brought in was a positive ethical sense, the significance of moral action and it is not logical to relate the so-called life-negating aspects of Buddhism to the Brahmanical concepts with monism especially Sankara's monumental interpretation of it as the centre.

But it is significant that the author does not consider the Upanishads' essence as a kind of philosophical abstraction but rather as an emerging world outlook. He sees the whole aspect as multidimensional, a total living experience in which the symbolism arising out of the unconscious recesses of the mind had also to be understood. The essence of the Upanishads may indicate a deeper philosophical outlook than a purely monistic view but there is a strong trend towards it, which in the later interpretations gave rise to the peculiar Indian mental process somewhat divorced from an awareness of good and evil so fundamental to the western modes of philosophy and religion.

The range of ideas brought to bear on this aspect of the Indian mind which is the subject of a separate chapter in the book is quite impressive but there again the method of combining philosophical insight with psychology and common sense to arrive at a priori formulations is not quite convincing. The writers' dependence on purely literary sources or on analysis of philosophical trends would not suffice unless the whole gamut of influences touching on individual and collective life is fully considered.

Upto here the orientation of the book is so much toward the of India, that one feels that the author need not have rushed through the last few chapters, dealing with contemporary developments in Indian history. The account covers the impact of the imperialist colonial rule in India, the destruction of the indigenous industrial base and pauperization of the skilled artisans, the erosion of the middle class by the superimposition of a new system of proprietary land ownership, the birth of religious awakening and nationalism, the development of Muslim consciousness, the Congress and the significance of the freedom movement the under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi.

The slightly angled vision conditioned by a rather static view of India?s history does not perhaps, allow the writer to recognize the depth and historical significance of the great syncretic movements in Indian history of the 19th century. Other Western thinkers notably Albert Schweitzer had already explored the main-stream of affirming the historical Indian thought through the personalities like Rammohan Roy, Rabindranath Tagore and Mahatma Gandhi. The significance of the Tagóre in the process has been bypassed. Showing an astute understanding of Gandhi's pragmatism and the political situation in India, the writer has not failed to notice the impact of the historical consciousness in India and the significance of Gandhi's justification of the life of action on metaphysical grounds. The author's vision is rather circumscribed even though it is only partially conditioned by his philosophy of history.