Sunday, February 01, 2009

Interrogating Indian Philosophical Traditions:
A Philosophical Perspective of Ambedkar

Dr. P. Kesava Kumar

This paper is an attempt to understand Indian social reality from the philosophical insights provided by the Dalit movement in contemporary times. In production of knowledge systems, Dalit movement is a turning point in Indian philosophical traditions.. Dalit movement has not only raised the questions in relation to social affiliation of philosopher in particular and also critical about the very constructions of dominant philosophical traditions that are celebrated in the name of Indian philosophy. Its attack on dominant philosophical traditions by exposing its exploitative character, paves the way for indigenous democratic social traditions to flourish further. It brings out the democratic potential of cultural and religious traditions of lower castes that are submerged/marginalized so far. For this, Ambedkar supplied a methodology in understanding Indian philosophy, in which he internalized all the earlier attempts of thinkers of various alternative movements to Brahminical hinduism. In other words, Ambedkar is a figure of culmination of all other alternative democratic struggles of medieval and pre independent India. The methodology in understanding the Indian social reality got sharpened and standardized through him. He considers that Indian philosophy based on Hinduism neither qualifies as philosophy nor as religion. He understood the Indian social reality from the perspective of philosophy of religion. For this, he considered religion as a social force rather a mere faith. He is against authoritative, dogmatic, ritualistic, God centered religion and favours rationalistic, democratic, humanistic religion. He believes religion sustains social and cultural traditions of a society, but also upholds the spiritual values. Religion acts as a medium for morality. The way Ambedkar connecting the religion and political governance is interesting. The moral community that was internalized the principles of equality, liberty and fraternity should be the foundation for democratic government. In search of this, he interrogates whole Indian philosophical traditions and its texts. His approach to Indian philosophy is unique, novel, convincing and more rational that which is missing in dominant Brahminical constructions and philosophies of Indian philosophy. Further, it is different from orthodox Marxists and naturalistic approaches to Indian philosophy adopted by different thinkers. Ambedkar’s philosophy and his methodology in understanding Indian social reality proves contemporary relevant and has a real potential in providing a principles of social reconstruction in transforming the Indian society in much more humane and democratic fashion, in times of revival of Hindu nationalists.

Brahminical Characterization of Indian philosophy:
The bulk of Indian philosophy is technically identified with the classical systems. The Indian philosophical systems were standardized with respective works of sutras. The later philosophical writing is followed by commentaries, bhasyas and commentaries on commentaries, tikas, and karikas, varttikas .However Indian classical systems of philosophy got identified with the texts of sutras. These philosophical schools are divided on the basis of acceptance of authority of Vedas, as orthodox and heterodox schools. The systematization of philosophical schools happened to be roughly somewhere in between 2century A.D- to 6th century A.D. It is maintained by many writers that there is no further growth in Indian philosophy. Even they extended their argument that contemporary Indian philosophy too, is nothing new to offer. At most it is the reinterpretation of earlier schools.

The broad divisions of Indian philosophy as Radhakrishnan made is, the Vedic period (1500 B.C.-600 B.C.), the epic period ( 600 B.C. to 200 A.D.),the Sutra and Scholastic period (from 200.A.D.)[1].
Then what happened later. Is there no people? Is there no struggles? Or, our Indian society had totally stagnant? Does the Medieval period is a dark period?

Indian philosophy is very often projected without having any history. It is a commonsensical view that any ideas are products of history. All our ideas, including philosophical ideas are located in social context. But our Indian philosophy is quite often presented as it is beyond time and space. By presenting Indian philosophy in this manner the Brahminical scholars were succeeded in keeping away from socio-cultural contexts of their own. It means philosophical development took place with out having any social meaning. Or the Brahminical class was not ready to sacrifice their privileges. It is obvious for this class to safeguard their interests and philosophized accordingly. They were not prepared to acknowledge any change. They often used a tactics of ‘assimilation’. By assimilating the ‘other’, these classes would not allow/recognize any specificity or difference that goes against their interest. Over the period of time it is easy to accommodate the social forces that are fighting against them. In fact, most of the heterodox schools fought with dominant Brahminical philosophical traditions and had its own socio-historical context. By ignoring this view, presenting Indian philosophy as a unified system, is a deliberate attempt to dilute the very spirit of heterodox philosophies. There are attempts to write history of Indian philosophy, but they were failed in their task. The idealistic approach of these writers has not allowing them to give historical account of various philosophical ideas.

In the nineteenth century and early twentieth century there occurred a renaissance in India, which was significant movement in Europe in fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. With changed socio- political situation , there emerged a social elite(liberal brahminical class) and started thinking critical about their religious and cultural traditions. In India, this renaissance movement began with the realization that hindu society was anachronistic, that there was a need for its reform and reorganization to adjust obsolete social relationships. This impulse for reform did not come from the oppressed classes or lower castes, but from persons who belonged to the upper classes, studied western science and literature and understood the needs of their contemporary world. It was soon found that without religious reform there could be no social reconstruction. The essence of the fundamental beliefs which form the core of Hinduism was identified, reexamined and reinterpreted. The social reformers Raja Ramohan Roy, Dayananda Saraswati, Vidya Sagar, Vivekananda identified as contemporary Indian philosophers in philosophy text books are classic example.[2]
The intellectuals of the Indian renaissance to resist the hegemony of the colonialism interpreted the past for their immediate demands. The nationalist intellectuals happen to be elites of the Brahminical class and reflected from their own social imagination in constructing the Indian philosophy. 'In their search for internal principle of unity to the past, religion was given a foundational position by both orthodox and reformist Brahmin intellectuals'[3]. This can be seen in torch bearers of modern India like Rajramohan Roy, Dayananda Saraswati, Sri Aurobindo, Tagore, Vivekananda, Tilak, Gandhi, Radhakrishnan etc[4]. The hindu nationalists started the tradition of dressing up the spirit centred metaphysics of orthodox Hinduism in modern scientific clothes[5]. As Radhakrishnan argues that Indian wisdom is needed today not only to rejuvenate the Indian nation but to reorient the entire human race.[6]’ P. T. Raju offered that ‘the East can impart the spiritual basis to the west. The future of mankind depends on conciliation and synthesis.[7]’ There are many writers engaged in this project by saying cultural synthesis of east and west or of dialogue of India with west’. The Oriental Scholars like Max Muller, Duessen, Schopenhauer too fascinated by it. They promoted or over-exaggerated Indian irrationalism and mysticism.
The modern hindu intellectuals are very much aware of the social contradictions of the Indian society, but they never attempted seriously to change the society. They responded to the situation indirectly in such a way that it does not effect their socially privileged position. To conceal the contradictions of the Indian society, the renaissance and nationalist intellectuals were clever enough to invent a new language that works well[8]. One may find equality in spiritual realm and inequality in material world or social world. It promises equality in other world by negating affairs of this world or by projecting it as maya. The grand philosophies constructed on this line, ultimately helps in maintaining the status quo and hegemony of brahminism.

In contemporary times, there are many writers responded to this kind of characterization of Indian philosophy. With changing socio-historical contexts, some of the thinkers like Radhakrishnan tried to give new interpretation for the same old characterization of it. For him, Indian philosophy is essentially spiritual, idealistic and mystic. Intuition is the source of knowledge. Their views are in justifying the status quo without considering the ‘change’. Radhakrishnan represents the dominant philosophical position which is essentially brahminical.
Another dominant popular notion that still working is, Indian philosophy and religion are inseparable. Indian spiritualism is counter posed to western materialism/colonial modernity/rationality in context of struggle for independent nation. Western educated liberal Indian social elite started reinterpreting Indian culture and its philosophy. Vedas and Upanishads become a source for them by considering it as glorious past. As a result, Hinduism with minor reform presented as the Indian way of life. Vedanta and its idealism emerged as only philosophical tradition of India at cost of consciously marginalizing the other religions or Indian philosophical traditions.

On one hand western scholars like Hegel dismissed Indian thought as insufficiently distinguished from religious and mythological ideas to count as ‘philosophy’. He argued that Indian thought is still at the level of custom. On the other, the vast majority of Brahminical scholars ignore the central place of the question of the relation between existence and thought-between matter and consciousness-among the philosophical problems and decisive significance of its solution for characterizing the nature of every philosophical school. As a result, they are incapable of properly interpreting the history of Indian philosophy as the history of struggle between materialism and idealism, between atheism and religion. These scholars either totally deny the conflict of ideas in Indian philosophy or admit such conflict only within the framework of idealism by viewing it as the struggle between the three major religions of India-Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism[9]. The main reason for distorted interpretation of Indian philosophy, the scholars idealistic bias in their outlook, they ignore the social significance of philosophy and do not comprehend the truth that philosophy is the product of concrete social environment. They tried to understand through textual and linguistic analysis of its sources.[10]

Indian philosophy: A Critical Introspection

In India there are few the thinkers exposed to western education like S.N. Dasgupta, Debiprasad Chattopadhyaya and Dayakrishna finds problems with the basic assumptions of writers on Indian philosophy. As they pointed out most of the writers had never overcome the certain dogmas and myths about Indian philosophy. As S.N. Dasgupta [11]explains, many of these writers/philosophers had affinity with some dogmas in developing Indian philosophy (e.g., the doctrine of rebirth, doctrine of moksha and theory of karma). This made them subservient to ethics and religion in writing Indian philosophy. For instance, belief in theory of karma justifies that the social inequalities of present life is determined by the unknown activities of past life. Likewise, many of the writers on Indian philosophy carried by these dogmas, without having a critical look at them. Whereas, Dasgupta argues against these kind of dogmas carried by the Indian philosophers. He felt that the immediate imperative of Indian philosophy is to rejuvenate and revitalize itself by critical reformation of the fundamental postulates that have so long been guiding its destiny.[12]

In the same manner, Dayakrishna[13] critically considers the myths about Indian philosophy that are influencing the writers in the conception and presentation of Indian philosophy ( i.e, 'Indian philosophy is exclusively spiritual', ‘the acceptance of authority of veda’, and ‘development and classification of Indian philosophical schools’). In this context he explains that most of the presentations of Indian philosophy are non- historical in nature. History is always the story of change, development, differentiation or innovation. But most of the writers/philosophers on Indian philosophy are immune to change. He considers that, the dead and mummified picture of Indian philosophy will be alive only when it is seen to be a living stream of thinkers who have grappled with difficult problems that are: philosophically, as alive today as they were in the ancient past. Indian philosophy will become contemporarily relevant only when it is conceived as philosophy proper. For him philosophy is a living tradition[14]. He further considers that conceptual structures will grow only when they are used in everyday life and in the context of thought and when contemporary thinkers in India begin to articulate their experiences about man, society, and polity in terms of classical thought, a new direction will be given to concepts. In a sense, Indian thinkers from the time of Ramamohan Roy have been trying to do this, but the focus has mostly been on matters primarily non intellectual and non conceptual in nature. Indian philosophy like Indian culture approached with either too much enthusiasm or total negation of it. To assess Indian philosophy properly, one has to keep aside both positive and negative emotions.

Against Idealistic Tradition
Against the dominant idealistic approach, there are few attempts to interpret Indian philosophy from materialistic point of view. [15] Debiprasad Chattopadhyaya wrote Indian philosophy A popular introduction keeping the philosophical needs of the people. By interpreting the Marxist dialectical materialism in understanding Indian philosophy, our ideas are always have correspondence with material conditions. He is looking for scientifically satisfactory philosophy. He tries to make a point that even in traditional Indian philosophical systems there is a struggle between idealism and materialism in India. He identifies idealistic philosophy with feudalism. In our traditional philosophy itself there were also vigorous attempts to out grow idealism.[16]. These anti-idealistic trends like idealistic one, were themselves historically determined i.e. had their roots in the socio-economic conditions of ancient and medieval India.
Through his writings Debiprasad Chattopadhyaya is critical about Indian scholars who are presenting Indian philosophy typically from idealist point of view. He argues Idealist outlook as associated particularly with the Upanishads and advaita Vedanta. The idealists were pleading for irrationalism and surrender of logic. Karma theory accepted by great many of our philosophers. He tried show that there are many philosophers of India are maintained materialistic position or at least the elements of materialism is very much internalized in their philosophy.[17] One way of changing it is of course to cultivate an objective attitude to idealistic outlook along with all the sundry superstitions that grew under its shelter.
A survey of Indian philosophy remains obviously incomplete if it does not take note of these great movements of medieval and modern India which took place outside what is strictly called the traditional systems of Indian philosophy. Even during the medieval period outside the scholastic circles there are open revolt against it-extremely significant events took place in the Indian battle of ideas. Under the given historical conditions, these had to assume the form of religious reforms, though in its actual contents- being essentially revolts against feudalism-these contributed vitally to the heritage of our democratic thought. The great popular movements associated with the names of Chaitanya, Kabir, Nanak were contains the elements of revolutionary opposition to feudalism. The popular movements of medieval India were revolts, though in the inevitable religious garb. Debiprasad continues further by identifying our social reformers of modern times like Rajaram Mohan Roy, Vidyasagar, Vivekananda, Tagore and Gandhi with their identification with religion.

S. N. Dasgupta identified the dogmas followed by many writers involved in philosophical enterprises. Even after identifying the problem he didn’t offer any novel way in his book on history of Indian philosophy. Dayakrishna argues contemporary relevance of our philosophical traditions. He never probes why certain hindu philosophical traditions become irrelevant and what makes any philosophical idea to be relevant. He failed to raise the question of philosophical ideas relevance for whom. He simply describes the phenomenon rather going further with purpose. By applying dialectical materialism of Marxist methodology, Chattopadhyaya, made an attempt to look at Indian philosophical traditions from materialistic point of view. He fails to establish idealists whom he contesting, in concrete socio- historical context. One point it is striking that their methodologies in approaching Indian philosophy had limitation. It is clear that they never reflected on caste as an ideology conditioning the Indian social life. As A.P. Rao criticizes Chattopadhyaya, ‘The destiny of fifth caste is irrelevant to Chattopadhyaya as it has been to ‘his’ intellectual ancestors; so it does not figure anywhere in the bulky volume of Chattopadhyaya (What is Living and Dead in Indian philosophy).There is no need either to shocked or surprised at this for if Sankara is a sacred brahmnin, Chattopadhyaya is a secular Brahmin.’[18]

Philosophy as Social Expression

There is an argument that philosophy as such is an activity of ‘high culture’. The practice of philosophy is generally associated with highly abstract and reflective thought. Because of intellectual skills and training usually required to pursue abstract and systemic reflection is a rigorous manner, philosophical works tend to be product of educated intelligentsia of a given community. This reflects the generally elitist nature .As walter Ong suggested that philosophy along with the sciences and the arts are analytical procedures which ‘depend for their exercise on writing, which is to say they are produced not by the unaided human mind but by the mind making use of a technology that has been deeply interiorized, incorporated into mental process themselves….philosophy, it seems, should be reflectively aware of itself as a technological product-which is to say a special kind of very human product. Logic emerges from technology of writing.[19] In this sense, for dalits there is no possibility to become a ‘philosophers’ since majority of them illiterate and consciously kept away from education for generations. On the other hand it is natural for brahminical class to establish as philosophers. In modern India, the Brahminical scholars by monopoly of knowledge systems established the idea that Indian philosophy is essentially spiritual, religious, mystic and idealistic through their writings in print. They propagated Vedanta is only living philosophy of India that can be accommodate/assimilate any philosophical tradition. They presented only one version of history of philosophical ideas. The other voices got nullified in print culture and are still alive in life forms through oral culture. One must unearth the silences of history, the voices of the marginalized and the forgotten, the heterogeneity which is buried by singular versions of history.

Our actions spring from as the members of different social institutions like family, caste, and region. Human actions had some societal affiliations. Human actions are more or less socially oriented, purpose guided and conscious. Social and human actions distance itself from ground level human actions leading to misleading abstracts. For John Dewey, the pragmatic thinker and a philosopher who inspired Ambedkar, ‘Ideas’ meant conceptions historically anchored, playing their appropriate roles in the ebb and flow of historical circumstance; for if ideas in general are primarily to be conceived as instruments of adaptation and adjustment, then philosophic ideas too must be examined in the light of social needs they were meant to fulfill, and the class structure of the society whose tensions they were originated to explode or adjust.’[20]
History of philosophy is constituted by its interrelation between the ideas, agents and social context. To view philosophic achievement as the cognitive correlate of certain cultural ‘life style’ means to ask questions such as, What sort of society was the author writing for and trying to persuade? What were the conventions of communication and literary forms of discourse current at that time? What was the author’s class affiliation, his place in the social hierarchy of his age? What were his moral commitments, the structure of his ideals?[21] These questions will help us in interrogating Indian philosophical tradition and to evolve objective approach towards it. Philosophers have to reflect on the social and cultural practices in which they lived. In India, caste is the fundamental social reality that shapes and influences everyday life. It is determining force in one’s perception of the world. As Pratima Bowes rightly observed, "....The philosophers in India failed in their task in as much as they did nothing towards developing political, social or moral philosophy in India. One reason for this non-development may be that philosophical thought was a monopoly of the Brahmin caste, whose privileges would have been under attack if questions were to be asked about the social system[22]"

Discourse of philosophies of lower Castes :
From late eighties onwards, there are struggles especially in the name of caste, gender, region are made an attempt to revisit our history and culture. These struggles are not only politicizing the social anger and anxieties of respective social groups, but also had serious attempts in establishing their own epistemological position. These struggles are continuing in digging the past and bringing out the submerged or marginalized philosophers and philosophical traditions. Dalit movement is one such movement directly confronted with the brahminical philosophical discourse. It gave a new meaning to philosophy in general and Indian philosophy in particular. It questioned the canons of dominant Indian philosophical traditions.
Dalit movement in India changed the whole discourse of Indian philosophy. It considers philosophy as a social expression since it is conditioned by the social life. Dalit movement enriched the very meaning of Indian philosophy. It rejuvenates the philosophical traditions of India in place of dead, mummified brahminical philosophies.
Parallel to this dominant Brahminical philosophical tradition, there exists a powerful philosophical stream of the lower castes which is ignored by these brahminical elites. Their knowledge systems and life styles are not considered as the regimes of truth. In fact they developed their philosophy from the condemned life styles and socio- cultural practices. It is not an exaggeration to say that philosophers of lower castes of India made an attempt to democratize the philosophical traditions of India. In the late medieval period there were many philosophers/yogis from the artisan communities exposed the hollowness of the philosophies of Brahminical Hinduism by using the same philosophical principles proposed by the philosophers of caste hindus. In contemporary times, Ambedkar is one such a philosopher. His intervention in Indian philosophy is crucial and significant in many ways. He represents living philosophical tradition. His approach to Indian philosophy is rational and practical rather speculative and dogmatic. He evaluates the Indian philosophy from historical perspective. His philosophy is 'this worldly', 'realistic' and 'man- centred' rather 'otherworldly', 'transcendent', 'idealistic', and 'God centred'. His philosophy enriched with social and cultural practices of Indian society. He philosophized the social experiences of Indian masses in order to change the world of oppression and humiliation. He proves that philosophy emerges from the social struggles but not in isolation.

Ambedkar’s approach to Indian philosophy:
No traditional scholar match to Ambedkar for extensive reading of Indian philosophy. He thoroughly interrogated the Indian philosophy from the victim’s point of view. The humiliating social experience forced him to find the root cause of it. The social anger reflects in his reading of Indian philosophy and its basic texts. He understood the whole gamut of this material from historical point of view. He had a sincere attempt of historical interpretation of the Vedic literature, Upanishads, sutras, Dharmasastras, puranas and the whole mythology rather considering it as sacred and eternal truth. All his philosophical interpretations of it aimed at change. He had a conviction that before proposing any change, one has to understand the basic foundations of Indian social reality. He recognizes that the soul of Indian society, especially in case of hindu social order lies in its sastras. The close reading of its basic texts helps in sharpening his criticism against it. The strength of his criticism lies in relating the social reality to the texts. His approach gives the hints that our ideas are product of our social conditions. In other sense, philosophy is social expression. Like other brahminical scholars, he is not confined to textual analysis. At one level, he pointed out the inconsistency and contradiction within its texts. And on the other hand he is critical of the texts and its social implications by applying the methods of rationalistic, realistic and historical approach. He made all possible attempts in grasping the underlying social phenomenon of the very celebration of ideas/texts/beliefs/religion.
In developing Ambedkar’s methodology, one has to take a note that he believes in change. He understood that Indian society has undergone change at different periods of time. He opposed to a view point as put forwarded by Brahmins, hindu civilization is sanatanic, that is, unchanging. He tries to prove this in his ‘Riddles of Hinduism’ and argues that it is not in accord with facts. As he said, ‘…hindu society has changed from time to time and that often times the change is of the most radical kind. In this connection, compare the riddle from himsa to ahimsa and from ahimsa back to himsa. I want to make the masses of people to realize that hindu religion is not sanatan.’[23]
Ambedkar next to proceed to the basic texts of hindus. He identified the religious literature of hindus - the Vedas, Brahmanas, Aranyakas, Upanishads, Sutras, Itihas, Smritis and Puranas. From the ancient to contemporary times Vedas are enjoyed as basis for all the later philosophical and religious practices. Vedas are considered as eternal truth and infallible, ‘apaurusheya’ and propagated accordingly without any critical look at it. Ambedkar considered this infallibility of Vedas as ‘most mischievous dogma’ propounded by Brahmins and spread among the masses. He believes that doubt is the source of knowledge and progress will possible only through knowledge. In his writings he endorse the opinion of Buckle that , ‘It is evident that until doubt began, progress was impossible….without doubt there will be no inquiry and without inquiry there will be no knowledge.’[24]
Ambedkar consider the Vedas as worthless books that contains nothing but invocation to tribal Gods to destroy enemies, loot their property and give it to their followers. He continues further, that the time has come to hindu mind must be freed from these ideas which are propagated by Brahmins. Without this liberation India has no future’[25]

Ambedkar on Philosophy of Religion :

Ambedkar had more focus on philosophy of religion in understanding the socio-historical phenomenon and its moral basis of Indian society, than exclusively depending on either religion or philosophy. He developed it as a method. It seems in evolving this method; he got influenced by John Dewey. Dewey is known as one of the philosophers belongs to pragmatism. He wrote extensively on philosophy of religion from this perspective. In the west, religion is identified with faith, and philosophy is with reason/science/rationality, in the age of enlightenment. It is also understood as tradition and modernity dichotomy. Religion and science started considering adverse to each other. In this backdrop pragmatism of Dewey got importance by considering religion on practical utility.
Ambedkar’s idea of religion is philosophical and more rooted in normative behaviour. He stressed more on the philosophy of religion rather than religiosity. He regards it is as both descriptive and normative. He considers that in so far as it deals with the teachings of religion, the philosophy of religion becomes descriptive. In so far as it involves the usage of critical reason for passing judgment on those teachings, the philosophy of religion becomes normative. Based on the normative judgments, he negated Hinduism as a religion that doesn’t stand to be a religion. Ambedkar argued that philosophy of religion should be based on two norms- social utility and justice for the individual. To be a religion it should pass this test. Ambedkar’s judgment would be that Hindu philosophy served neither social utility nor justice for the individual. He showed that social and religious inequalities were deep rooted in Hinduism.

‘As for myself I think it is safe to proceed on the view that to know the philosophy of any movement or any institution one must study the revolutions which the movement or the institution has undergone. Revolution is the mother of philosophy and if it is not the mother of the philosophy it is the lamp which illuminates philosophy .To me therefore best method to ascertain the criterion by which to judge philosophy of religion is to study the revolutions which religion has undergone’.[26] Religion is an institution or an influence and like all social influences and institutions, it may help or it may harm a society which is in its grip. There was a time when religion had covered the whole field of human knowledge and claimed infallibility for what it thought. The Copernican revolution freed astronomy from the domination of religion. The Darwinian revolution freed biology and geology from the trammels of religion. For ascertaining the norm for judging philosophy of religion, another kind of revolution that religion has undergone. This revolution touches the nature and content of ruling conceptions of the relations of god to man, of society to man and of man to man. For Ambedkar, in civilized society Religious revolution is meant by revolution in norms. In the first place the norm must enable people to judge what is right and wrong in the conduct of men. In the second place the norm must be appropriate to current notion of what constitutes the moral good. He considers the norm or criteria for judging right or wrong in antique religion is utility and in modern society is justice. There is a difficulty in equating religion with philosophy. For philosophy is meant, critical reason used in passing judgments upon things and events. In that sense Ambedkar considers philosophy of religion as both descriptive and normative science.

Hindu scheme of divine governance are laid down in Manusmriti. It is a divine code which lays down the rules which govern the religious, ritualistic and social life of hindus in minute detail and which must be regarded as the bible of hindus and containing the philosophy of religion. The principle of slavery inherent in hindu philosophy by accepting the rules of caste system. The rule of inequality preserved by Manu -slavery and intermarriage, penal code(Law)-irrational system of punishment for the same offence-to maintain the social inequality on which his whole scheme is founded. Hindu philosophy, dissects society into fragments, dissociates work from interest, disconnects intelligence from labour, and prevents society from mobilizing resources for common action in the hour of danger. It doesn’t satisfy the test of social Utility.[27]

In Indian philosophical tradition, the philosophical analysis and understanding of religious beliefs and doctrines have started only 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 criticize the religious beliefs and doctrines of sruti tradition of Hinduism. Prior to the emergence of Budhist philosophy we do not find in India any significant and systematic attempt to critically or rationally understand religious claims.’[28]
The civilized society splits into antique society and modern society. The conception regarding the relationship between god, society and man too varies in these forms of societies. Here again, Ambedkar tries to explore the real norm for the basis of religion. He considers that norms must enable people to judge what is right and wrong in the conduct of men. Based on this normative criterion he tries to judge religion. As he observed:
“Utility as a criterion was appropriate to the antique world in which society being the end, the moral good was held to be something which had social utility. Justice as a criterion became appropriate to the modern world in which individual being the end, the moral good was held to be something which does justice to the individual.”[29]

He applied this method to critically interrogate Hinduism. He came to the conclusion that Hinduism neither passed the test of social utility nor the test of individual justice. So Hinduism doesn’t stand to be a religion of either antique society or modern society: “The philosophy of Hinduism therefore neither satisfies the test of social utility nor does it satisfy the test of individual justice.”[30]

Hinduism is premised on the principle of inequality. The arresting feature about Hinduism is caste system. The important feature of the caste system is that different castes do not stand as a horizontal series. It is a system in which the different castes are placed in a vertical series one above the other. Manu may not be responsible for the creation of caste. But he gave sanctity to Varna. . From the point of view of justice, the philosophy of Hinduism is inimical to equality, antagonistic to liberty and opposed to fraternity’[31]
The rise of Buddhism in ancient Indian society was considered by him as a revolution against Aryan Brahminism. More than religious revolution, it is social and political Against Hinduism, Ambedkar proposes Buddhism as a religion.

Caste as Key institution in understanding Indian Social Reality
Ambedkar identified caste as an important institution, in understanding the Indian society. In evolving philosophy or political theory, one could not ignore the role of caste system in India. No philosophy/political theory are possible with out understanding the caste system.He made an attempt to understand the origin and functioning of caste in order to understand the lives of the victims of the caste system. He understood that whole Indian social system has caste as its foundation. The beliefs, customs, knowledge are centered on caste system. All the human activities are determined by the caste. Caste has social, political and economical implications. Minusing the caste system, the so-called majoritarian religion Hinduism could not withstand on its own. In simple terms, caste is the primary institution of Indian society and other institutions like family, state, nation, and school are directly or indirectly related/ influenced by it. Ambedkar considered that there is no doubt that caste system is an evolution of the Varna system. One may not get any idea of caste system by studying Varna system. He argues that caste must be studied apart from Varna and it is a perversion of Varna. The working of the caste system was not purely functional. It not just divided the people but humiliated some groups and legitimized this division through religious texts. The caste system is not merely a division of labour, but a division of labourers. It is a hierarchy in which the division of labourers are graded one above the other. Ambedkar identified some of the features of caste system as hierarchy, lack of social efficiency, social immobility, disruptive tendencies, ex-communication, endogamy and anti-social spirit. The effects of this system are that it prevents assimilation, creates indifference and makes the Hindus inactive. It creates obstacles for any reforms and leads to economic and social backwardness. Ultimately both social and natural justice is denied for lower castes.
Ambedkar has a vision of ideal society that reflected in most of his writings. An ideal society should be mobile and it should be full of channels for conveying a change-taking place in one part to other parts. In an ideal society there should be many interests consciously communicated and shared. There should be varied and free points of contact with other modes of association. In simple terms, Ambedkar viewed that an ideal society would be based on liberty, equality and fraternity.[32]

Reinterpretation of Marxism

Some were of the opinion that caste is analogous to class and that there is no difference between the two. Others hold that the idea of castes is fundamentally opposed to that of class. Ambedkar noticed that although caste is different from and opposed to the notion of class yet the caste system- as distinguished from caste-recognizes a class system, which is somewhat different from the graded status. He illustrates this point through the example. Just as the Hindus are divided into so many castes, castes too are divided into different classes of castes. The Hindu is caste- conscious. He is also class conscious. Whether he is caste conscious or class conscious depends upon the caste with which he comes in conflict. If the caste with which he comes in conflict in a caste within the class to which he belongs he is caste conscious. If the caste is outside the class to which he belongs he is class conscious. It is evident from the study of Non-Brahmin movement in Madras and Bombay presidency.[33]
Ambedkar creatively interprets the Marxism in the Indian social context. On one hand, he counters the Brahminical scholars who negate Marxism on ceratin issues and also by differing with the certain principles of Marxism in general and the mechanical interpretation of Marxism by Indian Marxists in particular. As he observed , present day hindus are probably the strongest opponents of Marxism. They are horrified at its doctrine of class- struggle. But they forget that India has been not merely the land of class struggle but she has been the land of class wars. The bitterest class war took place between Brahmins and kshatriyas. The classical literature of hindus abounds in reference to class wars between these two varnas.[34] It must not be supposed that this class war in India is a matter of ancient history. It has been present all along. its existence is very much noticeable in mahjarastra during the Maratha rule. It destroyed Maratha empire.. in India the class war is a permanent phenomenon which is silently but surely working its way. It is a grain in the life and it has become genius of hindus.

Ambedkar brings Buddhist religion as parallel to Marxism in his Budha or Karl Marx. He highlighted some points from the readings of Tripitikas, the Buddhist literature. Religion is necessary for a free society. It must relate to facts of life and not to theories and speculations about God or soul or heaven or earth. It is wrong to make God as centre of religion. Man and morality must be central to it. All human beings are equal. Worth and not birth is the measure of man. Every one has right to learn. Learning is necessary for man to live as food is. Learning without character is dangerous. Religion lives in the heart of man and not in sastras. Nothing is permanent or sanatan. Everything is subject to change. Being is always becoming. Nothing is infallible. Nothing is binding forever. Everything is subject to inquiry and examination. The private ownership of property brings power to one class and brings sorrow to another. It is necessary for the good society that this sorrow be removed by removing its cause. War is wrong unless it is for truth and justice.[35]
Ambedkar has no agreement with the Marxism that economic interpretation of history is only explanation of history and proletariat has been progressively pauperized. He compares Buddhism with Marxism on certain fundamental points. The language and the timings of Buddha and Marx are different but the meaning is same in so many points. One finds the common agreement between them. The function of philosophy is to reconstruct the world, the conflict of interests exists between classes, private property brings power to one class and sorrow to another through exploitation, it is necessary for a good society that the sorrow be removed by the abolition of private property- all these principles of Marxism compared with the some of the principles of Buddhism. To prove this, Ambedkar quotes so many passages from Buddhist literature. Ambedkar not only elevates the means of Buddhism in realizing the same ends proposed by the communists. He also argues in favor of government based on moral disposition.Further Ambedkar believes that humanity doesn’t only want economic values; it also wants spiritual values to be retained. He believes that human beings must realize both materially and spiritually. In his own words, ‘But the communist’s philosophy seems to be equally wrong for the aim of their philosophy seems to be fatten pigs as though men are no better than pigs. Man must grow materially as well as spiritually.’[36]

Ambedkar characterizes hiundu philosophy as brahminical. Brahminical philosophy is not to be qualified as philosophy since it is neither critical nor having the conceptual clarity. Philosophy is meant to be an exercise of critical reason in passing judgments upon things and events. The brahminical philosophy is surviving through hindu religion. Hindu religion lies on the foundation of Vedas, Upanishad, Dharma sastras, Puranas and Smritis. The caste system is essentially internalized in all these texts. The caste system maintains through the hierarchy and graded inequality. It lacks the principles equality, liberty and fraternity. So it is the same with hindu religion and its philosophy. Ambedkar looks at the alternative religion and philosophical streams of India which are either marginalized or negated by the brahminical tradition. For this he evolved a philosophy of religion as a method to interrogate Indian philosophical tradition. This method is based on the principles of rationality and morality. It is even difficult to locate him either idealist or materialist, since he maintains affinities with both and at the same differs on certain points. He seems to be a pragmatist than anything. However, his approach is novel and creative and more objective. He demands new language to understand him. He considers philosophy as a social expression. Moreover, the strength of his philosophy lies in a project towards annihilation of caste. This way of looking at Indian philosophy will definitely rejuvenate philosophical thinking in India.

End Notes
[1] Radhakrishnan, S. Indian Philosophy Vol. 1
[2] Rajram mohan Roy (1772-1833) considered father of modern Indian philosophy, at first concluded that Upanishadic teachings, rightly interpreted, contains eternal truth relevant to all ages. (xxix). Roy for the first time tried to show that only a correct interpretation of Upanishads could be true hindu religion, and that only such religion could reconciled with modern world and science.`

[3] Khilnani, Sunil. Idea of India. London: Penguin, 1999, p.154.
[4] Rajaram mohan Roy's Brahmasamaj (reformed Hinduism, and seeks reinterpretation of Upanishads) Dayanada Saraswati's 'going back to vedas' Gandhi's religion as a source for interconnectivity and for community life.
[5] Aurobindo's theory of evolution of spirit, Vivekananda- ‘Hinduism not just as fulfillment of all other religions, but also as a fulfillment of all sciences'.
[6] P.A. Shilipp.(Ed.) “Fragments of confession” In The Philosophy of Radhakrishnan, New york, 1952, p.11
[7] P.T.Raju Radhakrishnan’s influence on Indian thought in Philosophy of Radhakrishnan, p.518.
[8] ‘Fusion between modern and tradition’, ‘Meeting East and West’, ‘Truth is one, the wise call it by different names’, ‘Truth is God’ (Gandhi) ‘Integral Consciousness’ (Aurobindo) ‘Holistic approach’ and ‘Religious revolution’ (J.Krishnamurti) ‘Unity in diversity’ (Radhakrishnan) ‘Inner and outer’ ‘tolerance’, ‘scientific spirit' etc. – the language used by the contemporary modern philosophers.
[9] Ibid.P.43
[10] Ibid. p.51
[11] Surendranath Dasgupta is the liberal Indian philosopher wrote history of Indian Indian philosophy in five volumes and considered this as an authority on indian philosophy. He himself identified with idealism of different kind.
[12] Dasgupta, S.N. "Dogmas of Indian Philosophy", Philosophical Essays, New Delhi: Mothilal Banarsidas, 1982, pp. 208-233.
[13] Dayakrishna critically approached the Indian philosophy. He authored the books like Indian Philosophy: New approach and Indian philosophy: A Counter perspective.
[14] Dayakrishna, "Three Myths about Indian Philosophy", Indian Philosophy: A Counter Perspective, New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1991. Pp. 3-15
[15] American historian of philosophy, Dale Riepe’s of The Naturalistic tradition in Indian Thought (1961), Russian Indologist P.N. Anikev’s History of Philosophy (1957), German indologist Walter Ruben’s Geschichte der Indischen Philosophie (1954) and Indian thinkers Debiprasd Chattopadhyaya’s Lokayata, Indian Atheism, What is Living and Dead in Indian Philosophy, M.N.Roy, B.P.Datta are some examples.

[16] Debiprasad Chattopadhyaya. Indian Philosophy- A popular Introduction. Bombay: Popular Prakasan, 1964 p.xiv.
[17] For example at the same time is to remember that philosophers like Piyaasi in 6th century B.C. rejected karma theory on experimental basis. There is a prestige for yoga experience in Indian philosophy, philosophers like the Mimamsaka philosopher Kumarila laughed at it.

[18] Rao. A.P. The Philosophy of Politics- A Marxian Analysis. Delhi: Ajanta Publications,1983, p.59
[19] Ong, quoted in Richard King Indian Philosophy An Introduction to Hindu and Budhist Thought, Ane Books, OUP,1999. P.6

[20] Quoted in Levi, Albert William. Philosophy as Social Expression p.2
[21] Levi, Albert William. Philosophy as Social expression, P.301.University of Chicago Press, Chicago,1974
[22] Bowes, Pratima. "What is Indian about Indian Philosophy?" S.S.Ramarao Pappu and R.Puligandla (Eds.) Indian Philosophy: Past and Future, New Delhi: Mothilal Banarsidas, 1982. Pp.8-9
[23] Ambedkar.B.R. Dr.BabasahebAmbedkar Writings and Speeches Vol. 4. Mumbai: Government of Maharastra, 1987. p.5.
[24] Ibid. Buckle ‘History of Civilization’ quoted by Ambedkar p.8
[25] Ibid. p.9
[26] Ambedkar.B.R. Dr.BabasahebAmbedkar Writings and Speeches Vol. 3. Mumbai: Government of Maharastra, 1987. p.8.

[27] Ibid. p.71
[28] Ramamurthy, A. Indian philosophy of religion New Delhi: Decent Books, 2002 p.2
[29] Ambedkar, B.R. Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Writings and Speeches, vol.3. Mumbai: Education Department, Government of Maharastra, 1987. p.22
[30] Ibid, p.71.
[31] Ibid.p.66
[32] Ibid. p.57
[33] Ambedkar, B.R. Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Writings and Speeches, vol.1. Mumbai: Education Department, Governement of Maharastra, 1989, p.146
[34] Ambedkar, B.R. Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Writings and Speeches, vol.3. Mumbai: Education Department, Government of Maharastra,1987. p.48 To cite a few examples, Brahmins and kshtriya king Vena, Puravaras(Adiparva of Mahabarata),Nahusha (Udyogaparva of Mahabarata), Nimi (Vishnu purana relates the story)

[35] Ambedkar, B.R. Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Writings and Speeches, vol.3. Mumbai: Education Department, Government of Maharastra,1987. p.442
[36] Vol.3 p.462

1 comment:

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