Douglas L. Berger. Indian and Intercultural Philosophy: Personhood, Consciousness, and Causality. viii + 231 pp., London, New York, and Dublin: Bloomsbury Academic. 2021. $115 (hardback).
In the introduction of Indian and Intercultural Philosophy Berger notes: “In certain respects, a number of the chapters in this volume will . . . strike some readers as controversial and provocative” (p. 11). This claim is demonstratively true in Berger’s reading of Śaṅkara as a dualist (Chapter 1) and Berger’s rejection of Candrakīrti’s exegesis of Mūlamadhyamakakārikā 24:18 (Chapter 4). While such claims oppose traditional readings and scholarship, Berger provides convincing arguments that call for critical responses (or continuation of response as in the case of his reading of MMK 24:18).
The book is divided into three sections: (i) Brahmanical philosophy, (ii) Madhyamaka Buddhist philosophy, and (iii) intercultural philosophy. Since the book is a collection of independent papers, I will provide a cursory synopsis of each chapter.
The First Section
Chapter One focuses on an analysis of Śaṅkara through Daya Krishna’s Indian Philosophy: A Counter-Perspective. Berger argues that Śaṅkara propounds only a non-dualism of the self: there are no multiple selves; there is only one self, Brahman. He argues that Śaṅkara accepts Sāṃkhya’s tattva and Sāṃkhyin dualism, but disagrees over the number of puruṣa-s.
Chapter Two is a reprint of Berger’s chapter in Kuznetsova, Ganeri, Ram-Prasad’s (eds.) Hindu and Buddhist Ideas in Dialogue. In this chapter, he provides a defense of the Naiyāyika argument that self-consciousness continues through time. He does so through a phenomenological argument grounded on the subjectivity and agency required for memory, but he notes that the argument is limited by the unchanging nature of ātman.
Chapter Three focuses on the Buddhist/Naiyāyika debate over vikalpa. He argues that the Buddhist accounts of vikalpa create a division between imagination and perception, while Vācaspati Miśra’s account shows that the interconnection of imagination and memory help guides us to perceive external objects correctly.
The Second Section
Chapter Four is a reworking of Berger’s “Acquiring Emptiness: Interpreting Nāgārjuna’s MMK 24:18”. In this chapter, Berger builds off Joseph Walser’s Nāgārjuna in Context and argues against Candrakīrti’s claim that neither ‘emptiness’ nor ‘causally conditioned co-arising’ should be understood as referential. Berger argues that Candrakīrti has taken several missteps in his exegesis of MMK 24:18. This leads Berger to claim (i) that ‘emptiness’ and ‘casually conditioned co-arising’ are synonymous, (ii) that following the middle way is understanding that all things are causally conditioned co-arisings, and (iii) ‘emptiness’ and ’causally condition co-arising’ are referential and not mere conceptual constructions.
Chapter Five expands B. S. Yadav’s account of Nāgārjuna’s and Candrakīrti’s deconstruction of svabhāva as inherently targeting the essentialism of Nyāya and Advaita. This attack on essentialism expands to a further attack on the elitism (e.g. the caste system) imbedded in Brahmanical soteriology.
Chapter Six is a reprint of Berger’s chapter in Wang’s (ed.) Deconstruction and the Ethical in Asian Thought. In this chapter, he argues that Nāgārjuna’s “deconstruction” is not comparable to Derridean deconstruction, but, instead, Nāgārjuna provides a potential critique of Derrida by dissolving the tension between law and justice or giver and recipient through prioritizing and equalizing nirvāṇa with saṃsāra.
The Third Section
Chapter Seven is an expansion and rewriting of Berger’s “Relational and Intrinsic Moral Roots”. This chapter compares Mencius’ account of 孝 xiao (trans. filial piety) and Geoffrey Ashton’s analysis of the Bhagavad Gītā’s “call to social duty”. Berger argues that Mencius provides a better resolution for moral dilemmas, in which one’s family duty and social duty conflict, through a relational model of the self.
Chapter Eight builds off Berger’s Encounters of the Mind and provides his own account of luminous awareness between the practical models (prabhāsvaram cittaṃ or 明心 ming xin) and the metaphysical models (prakāśatva or 清浄心 qing jing xin).
Chapter Nine is a reprint of Berger’s “The Unlikely Commentator”. This chapter focuses on Dārā Shukōh’s attempts at synchronizing Islamic philosophy and Upaniṣadic philosophy. Dārā bases this move on Śaṅkara’s commentary on the Upaniṣads.
Chapter Ten is a reprint of Berger’s chapter in Conard’s (ed.) Nietzsche and the Philosophers. This chapter explains Nietzsche’s understanding of Buddhism and develops into a critique of Nietzsche’s understanding of the Buddha as a nihilist, in which Berger ultimately claims that Nietzsche’s philosophy would belong to what the early Buddhist called ‘nihilism’.
In short, the chapters of Indian and Intercultural Philosophy highlight Berger’s career and shows the impact he has had on the contemporary study of Indian philosophy. Each chapter is well-argued and compelling–his continuation of the debate over Mūlamadhyamakakārikā 24:8 (Chapter 4) and his continued analysis of luminous awareness (Chapter 5) are of special interest.
My main criticism is that the “intercultural” element of the book is restricted to the last four chapters, which leaves most of the book engaging with only Indian philosophy. With Berger’s expertise in intercultural philosophy, a further engagement of Indian philosophy with Islamic philosophy or Chinese philosophy would have been of great addition to much-needed scholarship.
One thing that may be disappointing for some readers, who are familiar with Berger’s work, is the number of reprints in the book (Chapters Two, Six, Nine, and Ten), but such readers will likely find the other six chapters as a worthwhile read (especially the reworked Chapters Four and Seven).
Reviewed by Chris Rahlwes, University of Connecticut (website here)