May 25, 2015
As part of the efforts of RSS and Hindutva bigots to focus my attention on Doniger, I had a quick listen to her lecture on Indian scepticism.
The lecture is brilliance personified. Both a depth of knowledge and a flair for analysis and presentation. I must say, the RSS have made at least one useful contribution in their long and useless history – to spread knowledge and awareness of Doniger's work.
Abstract: "Throughout its long existence, Hinduism has held in creative suspension two movements so different as to merit the title of separate civilizations: one is the dominant strain of ritual, of celebration of life, of family, of children, of sexuality, of food and poetry and sculpture and the worship of many gods; and the other is the strain of philosophy, of renunciation, of the drive to become released from the cycle of rebirth, through denial of the senses, of family life, of children. These two paths lived more or less peacefully side by side as available options for most Hindus, until more passionate and monotheistic strains of devotional Hinduism, or bhakti, developed after the 6th century CE. Later still, the philosophical strain inspired yet other forms of Hinduism, broader in their total scope but containing within them a narrower, less tolerant streak, as they came into contact with other civilizations: Islam, from the 7th century CE (but more intensely from the 13th century); then the British Raj, from the 18th century; and then, in the late 20th century, America and a broader global, Internet world. The cumulative effect of these encounters in present-day India has been an unprecedented form of repression that threatens freedom of speech. My talk will trace this historical development, in the hope of shedding light on the present crisis."
Though ancient shastras such as the Arthasastra and Kamasutra pay lip service to dharma, and criticize the so-called Materialists (Lokayatas or Carvakas), their central arguments show a total disregard for dharma and a striking congruence with Materialist assumptions. Are the Carvakas straw men that allow shastras (and other texts, such as the Jabali episode in Book 2 of the Ramayana) to express skeptical ideas without
taking responsibility for them?
From this lecture I learnt about Jayarāśi Bhaṭṭa's Tattvopaplavasimha – the only complete sceptical work that survives today. Will try to read more about it as time permits.