Indeed, but Christian theology was hugely influenced by the philosophical ideas that were already in currency in the western world and so already we see that that theology and philosophy can be very hard to distinguish. I’m sure we could write books about the important philosophical influences on Christianity. Already with Thales and his “Everything is really water” we have a duality between the apparent world as it appears to the senses, and things as they really in fact are. By the time we get to Plato and his eternal but mysterious realm of the Ideas we are seeing the prototypes of unfathomable realities that lie behind and shape the life of mortals. God, heaven and the search for salvation are just a short step away. They are Christian reworkings of Greek philosophy.Arvind13 wrote:The kind of questions that Europe/West asks about human beings (especially in fields like psychology and philosophy) don't make sense to anyone who is not born within the framework of semitic religion (Christian, Muslim, or Jewish cultural background). All its claims about human beings, that human beings have rights, the notion of personhood, about the nature of state, the nature of law, etc are "secularized" versions of Christian theologies
So the concepts that your Balaganghadhara sees as shaping the interpretation of Eastern religion are as much philosophical as theological. If the attempt to describe and measure other cultures according to these concepts is now happening in the social sciences then it seems that we have three conflated approaches: first the philosophical, then the theological and now the scientific – all of them employing the same concepts.
Despite the multi-disciplinary flavour of the concepts, you say that they still fail to understand the eastern religions mindset, and I think you are right. But I disagree that this is because we are securalising concepts that belong to theology. I think it is because there is a very fundamental difference between Western and Eastern religion.
In the west there has always been a strong determination to preserve a duality between an experiencing subject and the reality that is experienced. It is present in Plato, it persisted throughout Christian thought. The religious experience was an encounter between the unregenerate ego and an almighty God. As Christianity became established any denial of God or inflation of the ego to the level of God was a heretical crime. As Christianity weakened the existence of God was questioned through the rise of materialism and philosophical skepticism. Kant protected God against the presumptions of science and reality by placing God (as the noumenon) behind a veil impenetrable by the human intellect. But Kant’s whole doctrine was based on the assumption that there is an individual human ego perceiving the world through the senses. He never thought to question the fundamental duality that is the hallmark of western thought. The belief in the subject and object led to the belief in the phenomenal and the noumenal.
As I’m sure you know, Eastern religion is based on the transcendence of dualistic categories. Unity seems to be the aim, and is the notion to be preserved at all costs. If a system results in a duality then it is a sign that the system is in error. Clearly, where there is an attempt to overcome such dualities as the subject and object the religious Supreme is not likely to be a personal God. The supreme is likely to be thought of as impersonal and the experiencing ego an illusion. Non-duality can be seen as the defining feature of eastern thought across India and Buddhist Asia. The notion is seen in religious thinkers like Buddha and Lao Tzu, and in philosophers like Nagarjuna and Dogen.
What western commentators take to the east are concepts that are neither theological nor secular. They are concepts that are common to western philosophy, theology and science. They go misunderstood in the east, not because of religious difference but because of a fundamental epistemological divergence: unity and duality.
The matter is undoubtedly complicated by the fact that philosophy and religion in particular have come to mean different things in east and west. Since Kant, religion and philosophy have parted ways. In the East it is still recognised that the search for truth has a soteriological result. Wisdom shall bring you moksha; in the west it is thought that salvation must come through faith. But even if these differences hadn’t emerged (and since Nietzsche and Kierkegaard western philosophy is returning to its old ways) there would still be this basic sticking point between east and west. On one of half of the world we assume the subject, and on the other half we try to see past it.
If eastern cultures feel that western concepts are dictating how eastern religions are perceived, if it feels like there is a power imbalance, then I’m sure that The Heathen is an important attempt to reveal the reality behind the western concepts. But if we think that their theological history undermines the western concepts and that we should therefore distrust them then I think that would be a mistake. Their intellectual foundations are as robust as they can be, and as robust as anything that comes from the east. But they are irreconcilably different and the only solution is the very paradoxical and mystical view which identifies unity and duality.
Best wishes, Nikolai