Daya Krishna’s “Creative Encounters with Texts”

Daya Krishna was an Indian philosopher, a rationalist and iconoclast, who constantly tried to question and scrutinise acquired “truths”. The main place for such investigations was for him a saṃvāda ‘dialogue’. That’s why he also strived to organise structured saṃvāda inviting scholars from different traditions to debate about a specific problem. The minutes of such dialogues have been published in Saṃvāda and Bhakti.

Shail Mayaram, in the introduction of a book dedicated to Daya Krisna and Ramchandra Gandhi, Philosophy as Samvad and Svaraj adds some interesting information about the saṃvādas which have no written record:

A dialogue on bhakti attempted to universalize the phenomenon of devotion and encourage thinking about it philosophically. A dialogue on Śilpaśāstra was held in Amber, Jaipur and brought together traditional sthapatis and architects. I […] was fortunate to be present at the dialogue on Kāshmir [sic!] Śaivism (with a special session in an open ground in Gulmarg). […] Subsequently, two dialogues were held in Lucknow and Hydearabad.

Within the same volume, Mustafa Khawaja reproduces the letter of invitation sent by Daya Krishna to scholars of Islamic philosophy. Daya Krishna predominantely wrote in English, but he was well aware of the risk of neglecting other languages. Thus, the saṃvādas were open to scholars speaking in different languages (as attested also by the proceedings mentioned above) and Daya Krishna was very keen to listen also to marginal philosophical traditions (such as that of the Islamic theologians speaking Urdū). Also the invitation letter is written in two languages and is full of open questions to be debated.
Nonetheless, this openness did not always work. Mayaram writes:

I remember the meeting of the scholars’ group including Daya Krishna, Ram Chandra Dwivedi, Arindam Chakrabarti and Mukund Lath with Laxman Joo, then celebrated as one of the greatest living exponents of the school of philosophy that is popularly known as Kashmir Saivism [I would rather speak of the Pratyabhijñā school, EF]. Laxman Joo responded to their questions with complete silence. […] After their departure, he asked Bettina Bäumer, yeh nāstik kaun the [Who were those non-believers?]

This is an interesting point, because dialogue cannot be imposed on someone, its very “democratic” structure makes this impossible. Thus, what to do with those who do not want to speak? Or is dialogue among people not sharing the same presuppositions (e.g., the same religious praxis) impossible?

(Cross-posted on my personal blog.) On Daya Krishna and his volume on bhakti, see this post and this one respectively. On English as the predominant language, some interesting comments can be read at this post and at the linked ones. I am grateful to Elise Coquereau for sending me a copy of Shail Mayaram’s article.

About elisa freschi

My long-term program is to make "Indian Philosophy" part of "Philosophy". You can follow me also on my personal blog: elisafreschi.com, on Academia, on Amazon, etc.

13 thoughts on “Daya Krishna’s “Creative Encounters with Texts”

  1. I admire very much Daya Krishna’s openness—that is an understatement—to philosophical inquiry of all kinds, and his retention of, or even insistence on, dialogue (saṃvāda) as the privileged form of this inquiry. The tradition of “hashing things out” over actual conversation, as in the Socratic dialogues, or in an exchange of letters, as in the Locke/Leibniz correspondence, is actually a tradition, and when we look for analogues in South Asia, we find things which we might be surprised by (like exploding heads and converting to your opponent’s religion). There are some currents of philosophy which resist the Habermasian ideal of public reasoning. The question of “what to do with” such currents is an interesting one that I wouldn’t have thought of (what are we doing with philosophy anyway?). Maybe: why exactly are those traditions resistant to dialogue, and what are the terms on which they might be engaged?

    • Thanks, Andrew. The reason why I am asking myself what to do with traditions which do not want to participate to the public dialogue is that I am investigating on the methodology of comparative philosophy and on its shortcomings. Your last point is exactly the key question: Is there always a way to engage each tradition?

  2. Daya Krishna is one of the unique philosophers that India has found in the Land.
    I am doing my master degree dissertation on the epistemology of Daya Krishna. I have also added the notion of Samvada. I just have doubt whether Dayaji has written any specific work on Samvada. I would be happy if i found some specific work of Dayaji on Samvada.

      • Thank you for your reply.

        Of course, He has written a book under the title Samvada but it is not exactly on the notion of dialogue or samvada. So i would like to know whether he has dealt on the topic (Samvada) anywhere else.

        • Dear Christopher,

          now I understand better. Then, the answer is more complex. I am not aware of an essay on saṃvāda, although in a certain sense so much of his philosophy has been revolving around this concept and much of his idea od saṃvāda can be derived, I believe, from the preparatory questions he sent, from the attitude he showed in actual dialogues (as depicted in Saṃvāda and Bhakti), from his choice of partners in debate, etc. Epistemologically speaking, I would say that he inherited from the Platonic dialogues the idea of the faith in the dialectical and endless progress towards truth, thus implicitly admitting an open-ended epistemology. What do you think?

  3. Dear madam,

    Thank you for your reply. I also think the same that he might have inherited the notion of open-ended discussion from Plato and few parts of the Upanishads. But he also acknowledges that he is not happy with some of the dialogues of Plato for he feels like disagreeing with the interlocutor’s readiness to agree with the answers of Socrates. (Cf. “Thinking versus Thought”).

    In your reply you have mentioned that he has sent a preparatory question, may i know few facts about it?

    And i have gone through your profile: it’s inspiring to see your interest in establishing a status for Indian Philosophy in the world of philosophy. I will be happy to render my help all the ways possible as i am also interested in Indian Philosophy.
    Thank you!

    • Dear Christopher,

      yes, the platonic dialogue is often more a utopia than a fact which can be found in Plato’s actual dialogues, for the reason you mention. The same often applies to the Upaniṣadic dialogues.
      As for the preparatory questions to the saṃvādas organizes by Daya Krishna, I found them in the volume I mention in this post, in the article by Mustafa Khawaja. Let me know privately should you have problems in finding it.

      (by the way, please do not call me “madam”, this makes the dialogue uneven and we have no external obligations to comply to, given that you are not a student of mine).

  4. Dear Elisa,

    Thank you for the information. I have found those questions and they are interesting.

    And i am writing an article on Daya Krishna’s Saṃvāda as Successful way of communication. If it is possible for you can i send it to you for comments and corrections? And if it is so, how can i send it?

  5. I’m answering quite late, sorry for the delay, I just wanted to add a few possible references. Christopher, for the topic samvada and dialogue / communication in general, I would also suggest to take another look in Towards a Theory of Structural and Transcendental Illusions (approximately pp90ff), Contrary Thinking (for example on comparative philosophy) and even the introduction of The Problematic and Conceptual Structure of classical Indian Thought + India’s Intellectual Traditions. It’s just what comes to my mind now, but it’s true that it’s difficult to find a unified, definite and ‘stable’ concept – I guess it’s also because it’s what he wanted to avoid…

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