Journal of the American Society

January 3, 2022

This is the first of two collections of essays on Hinduism in the twenty-five-volume World Spirituality series. Its companion, volume seven. scheduled to appear in 1996, intends to cover the “post-classical” period to the present. Professor Sivaraman has organized this first survey into eight parts. The first three include eight essays discussing the topic of spirituality in the Vedic, epic and sramanic periods, the last period confined to a single essay on Jainism. (Two other volumes in the series have been allotted to Buddhism.) Then follows part four, devoted to Yoga and the grammarians. Parts five and six discuss Vedanta in four essays, while part seven includes essays on “Spirituality and human life.” concerned with nature and health (Āyurveda). The concluding part eight is a leap from Caraka into the twentieth century to promote Ramana Maharsi, Śri Candraśekharendra Sarasvati and Ānandamayi Mā as “spokespersons” for “the classical spirit” in the contemporary world.

The general impression of this reviewer is that World .Spirituality is on the whole an excellent series but this is not the strongest contribution thus far. Fully a third of the authors are retired, a fact that may explain a frequent innocence regarding current issues in Hindu studies and the critical ideological advances of the past thirty years. While several essays are innovative, well written, and engaging, some are lackluster and desultory, as if to admit there is nothing new to be said on ancient subjects, while others are frequently uncritical, hagiographic, or sermonizing. When one compares this with the first of two volumes on Buddhist Spirituality, the energy, crispness and even tone of the latter, as well as authorial ease with current lines of inquiry, are entirely evident. Although the target readership of Hindu Spirituality is “the non-specialist” (p. 59, n. 2), some essays are densely laden with terms (all Sanskrit, classical Tamil spiritual traditions being unconsidered). Non-specialists beware: one essay drops thirty Sanskrit technical terms in three pages and not a one is adequately defined in context. Editorial design has favored Indian textual scholars associated now or previously with universities in India or Canada. No European or American authority on Hinduism is included.

Only two of the twenty authors are female, one a practitioner of homeopathic medicine in Italy and co-author of a discussion of the Caraka Samthitā, the other an author of a hagiographic encomium of Ānandamayi Mā (1896-1982) that would seem properly to have been saved for the companion volume on post-classical and modern Hinduism. Perhaps it is not an accident that scant representation of women scholars is accompanied by a complete absence of discussion of goddess traditions in ancient, classical, and early medieval India. “Goddess” does not appear in the index and no Hindu or Jaina goddess is listed by name-unless one counts Sitā as “ideal wife” and the anachronistic Ānandamayi Mā. Laksmi is mentioned in one line as a Vedāntic intermediary deity in the scheme of Madhva. The classic Devimāhātmya is not among the scores of texts mentioned. Hindu theism means maleness in this volume, as though the spiritual ethos of the Vedic samhitās had gone unchallenged by alternative religious expressions throughout the formative classical and early medieval periods.

Not only maleness, but also oneness is at issue, since “God” and “Self” appear with great frequency here, not Indra, Soma, Prajāpati or Rudra-Śiva. The book’s conceptual scheme has all but limited “spirituality” to the life of the mind, right knowledge, speculation, a few great philosophical texts sufficing to represent the religious expressions of South Asia for the two millennia represented here. The Atharvaveda, to take but one example, is cited only for evidence of sophisticated speculations on cosmogony to keep pace with the tenth mandala of the Rigveda, with not even passing mention to the worlds of spirituality articulated in domestic rituals, non-śrauta sacrifices, death and regeneration, sexuality and body symbolism, prayer, possessions, charms, spells, sorcery and everything on the dark side of spiritual experience that is so commanding in Hinduism past and present. Later on, bhakti receives two pages, pūjā none. This book is short of representing the cultural diversity of South Asia in the formative periods of Hinduism and long on “āchārya”-ized Hinduism, concluding with recent ācāryas as perpetuators of the Hindu “mainstream,” i.e., Vedānta.

There is no space here for nineteen critiques, but several essays struck this reviewer as noteworthy. Wayne Whillier’s contribution on the Vedic tradition has many useful remarks. particularly on ritual debates (brahmodya). An expanded version could have served as part one since the two preceding essays are inadequate. The first attempted to discuss Vedic spirituality apart from sacrifice and the second provided a list of sacrifices with no appreciation for schools, textual variants or the Vedic worldview. K. R. Sundararajan’s essay on the Rāmāyana is one of the best available short introductions to the epic, engagingly written and full of insights. Ravi Ravindra and Arvind Sharma provide brief overviews of Yoga, the latter on buddhiyoga of the Gitā, but there is little to relate the phenomena of yoga to themes of the preceding eight essays. Yoga dates “from a period prior to the ascendancy of the Aryans in India” (Ravindra), a lone remark that may leave the reader wondering. There is an excellent piece by Harold Coward on Bhartrhari’s sphota theory of language. Other portions of the book are illumined by his perceptions of “how the grammatically correct use of words could be understood as generating moral power, spiritual well being, and the dawning of the mystical vision.”

The core of the book is patently Vedānta. Śankara (not in the index) receives little attention, but articles on Rāmānuja, Srikantha, and Madhva are by S. S. Raghavachar, the editor, and K. T. Pandurangi, respectively. The first looks for the sources of Viśistādvaita in the upanishads, brahmasūtras and the Gitā, then perhaps overstates the case with an observation (p. 263): “The great epics … and the select Purānas function as elucidations, elaborations, and embellishments of this weighty direction of spiritual advancement.” The editor presents Śiva Viśistādvaita, Brahman (Śiva) as non-dual, and the Madhva review includes, briefly, the sole discussion of upāsana, as well as comments on bhakti supplementing those of Pandurangi’s essay. Klaus Klostermaier has a thoughtful piece on Sāmkhyan views of nature, vis-á-vis Advaitin disinterest in the subject, and he concludes with some comparative remarks on Western science.

The book has twenty-six photos, including four good ones for the Jainism essay, but virtually all needed editorial control. For example, the non-specialist reader may wonder about an unexplained second-century sculptured “Scene of Worship,” or photos of sculptures of Brahmáni. Ganeśa. Nárasimha, “Ekmukhalinga,” “Sesasaye Visnu (sic); and “Dakshinamurti (sic)” that one always thought belonged to “Hindu spirituality” but are nowhere referred to in the book. One photo included amid discussions of the Vedas is labeled “Teaching the Holy Scriptures” and shows teacher and pupil with their fingers on a written text, clearly not Vedic instruction. Although puja is nowhere discussed-“ritual” being confined to the early Vedic age-one photo is an interesting one of “Lady offering worship to the Pipal Tree.”

Finally, it should be noted in fairness to sruti that the translation of Rigveda 10.129, the famous Nasadiyasukta that quite appropriately begins this book, has curiously borrowed, without attribution, ten of the sixteen verses of the Purusasukta, Rigveda 10.90.

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