Sunday, 24 February 2013

Person, varna, samsara, and so on

From Peter Gonsalves, part of an email to me, 24 Feb 2013:
Ivo, congrats again!
Reading your article took me back to those JDV days.
I remember faintly De Smet's reinterpretation of avidya...which was interesting although it did not concur with the dominant Hindu thinking at that time.
I feel De Smet scholars may need to explore if Hindu sects have co-opted a quasi Thomistic notion of 'person'. And if these sects do exist, it would be interesting to know how they may have 'resolved' the varna and samsara dilemmas while holding on to such a concept.
Without this check, De Smet's research will continue to remain a parallel interpretation that has no basis in the real, lived Hinduism - a bit like Gandhi's rejection of untouchability on the basis of his vishishistadvaita that accommodated a non-hierarchical, non-discriminatory interpretation of the varnas that, unfortunately, has few takers even today.
Until then, the fundamentals of Christian personhood will remain a thorn in the side of Hindu orthodoxy.

From me back:
de smet and person: we're just beginning! but yes, your openings are great.
nb: 'person' is fundamentally Christian, not Thomist.
Thomas offered a great definition.
Ratzinger offers a critique of both Augustine and Thomas, saying they are not 'relational enough' in the application of person to human beings. they reserve relation to God, sort of. (see my article in the Veliath festschrift).

could you say something more about "resolving the varna and samsara dilemmas while holding on to the concept of person"?

for DS, interestingly, hierarchy also means a type of relatedness that is absent in the modern western atomic individualist notion of person... so for him, surprisingly, varna is positive. how to transmute that - or how to face that today -is one of the thorny questions, not so much for the orthodox hindu as for anyone with a subaltern sensitivity.

Mahadevan for one had no problem accepting DS' thesis way back in 1974.

and so on.

From PG again:

By the dilemma I mean: how would those Hindu sects (if they do exist) who accept the 'christian' concept of person (as sharing the inalienable right to dignity and equality with all others) sustain at the same time the existence of caste hierarchy that is intrinsically linked to karmic effects of actions from previous births.

(I once had an interesting conversation with an auto rickshaw driver who very casually explained that it wasn't his duty to help the poor just as it wasn't right of him to envy the rich. People were where they were on the ladder of life with the duty to do their best on their own rung, because they merited God's reward/punishment on the basis of how each one behaved in their previous life.)

So how would Hindu groups (not individual philosophers, but leaders of contemporary hindu revivalism) who are open to the Christian concept of person reconcile such thinking with traditionally accepted Hindu understanding of man: where 'being human' does not carry a single definition of 'personhood' but is ontologically differentiated on the basis of a karmic hierarchy...that even includes the possibility of reduction to sub-human forms.

My reply:

thanks for expanding.
ds in an aside says that rebirth remains a major problem re the acceptance of the personhood of the human being...
as for caste, it is an evil but not one that regards the ontological constitution of the human being. though even that would need to be rethought, in the light of the fact that meaning is part of human being.

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