Book Review of Indian and Intercultural Philosophy: Personhood, Consciousness, and Causality by Douglas L. Berger (Reviewed by Chris Rahlwes)

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)

5 Replies to “Book Review of Indian and Intercultural Philosophy: Personhood, Consciousness, and Causality by Douglas L. Berger (Reviewed by Chris Rahlwes)”

  1. Berger’s controversial reading of Śaṅkara in Chapter One follows T. Vetter ~ Studies zur Lehre und Entwicklung Śaṅkaras / Publications of the De Nobili Research Library VI ~ Wien: Institut fuer Indologie der Universitat Wien 1979. This is basic: ‘non-dual’ in Indian philosophy does *not mean ‘non-dualist’ as in Western philosophy.

  2. Would it be fair to say that the reason why Schopenhauer and Nietzsche misunderstood Buddhism was due to the language barrier between German and Sanskrit/Pali? I knew about the misconceptions both had about Buddhism back in my undergrad days but never had time to fully explore the issue, partly due to the fact that my department had overdosed on western analytic philosophy……

  3. I doubt this will add much to the discussion. That said, I marshall on.
    Roger Penrose wrote of The Emperor’s New Mind. He said, in essence, consciousness is ineffable, unknowable. I use old terms. They are brief and do not rely on obfuscation or the relative confusion of modern stuff. Penrose did not try to bluff his way through that. His assessment allows that the quale or quality in question is not computable. Or, computational. So, current notions of consciousness, as a cosmic anything ( I.e., Panpsychism) fall flat.
    This argument/debate/discussion is becoming a pointless exercise.
    Even given Einstein is right, consciousness, whatever it is, does not obey the laws of physics. So, to all those who have tried to explain it, you are excused. You just did not know what you were dealing with.

  4. In the century before, Christoph Meiners brought source criticism to philosophy with the intent to cleanse it of all African influences, which took out India and Buddhism too: all Sanskrit and Pythagorean works were dismissed as forgeries, because they did not match his preconception of the Zeitgeist!

    With that we lost also Socratic dialogues with frank Sanskritisms, like the epithet O Best if Men! from the Mahābhārata! The language gap faced by Schopenhauer was manufactured in such ways, and Hermann Grassmann rode over it, working through wave mechanics to the ancient way with sound, and phonetics.

    Working through phonetics and morphology to Pāṇini you gain a different sense of language, as crafted from words, growing by association in speech, through marriages and trade. There Sanskrit and Pali fall in with south-east Asia, through the Chola empire, which also drove the southern extensions of the Mahābhārata.

    Now we find that view of Sanskrit taken up by the nationalists, and pitched against the syntactic view, which runs with analytical philosophy in the academic mainstream. That indeed feels overdone one way or another.

  5. Schopenhauer followed Sāṁkhya rather than the Buddha, from the Yoga-Sāṁkhya of the Gita. A remarkable study by Urs App (online) recovers that from the library record of Schopenhauer’s borrowing in 1813-14! He was also reading Plato in the Bipoint edition, which included all the Socratic dialogues, with their fringe of Sanskritisms; and also the Timaeus Locris, Plato’s Pythagorean source.

    At the time, Professors Albrecht Weber and Lassen could not properly distinguish Buddhist and Jain traditions, let alone Sāṁkhya, which Colebrooke failed to trace in manuscript. And the Middle Indo-Aryan language of the Suttas also mislead, placing Buddha s teaching directly against a Vedic background.

    The standard chronologies follow, collapsing late Vedic, Epic and early Classical developments into just five generations, traced in the Upanishads. Lost in that way is the real language-barrier between Sanskrit and Pali, and the real latency between Middle Indo-Aryan and the echo in Pali, which was a literary gesture of respect, an affectation, designed to immortalize the Buddha’s words.

    So Indic philosophy was all along a multi-cultural problem, and the I think our reviewer underestimates Douglas Berger’s achievement, which sets a welcome new standard. Schopenhauer, back in 1813-14, was in a reading group with Goethe, no less: who can match that in academic routine? And their Jena consensus already shaped Hegel’s later reading of Colebrooke! Also all Sāṁkhya, in the vein of Vedanta, even when Nyāya is mentioned.

    Near a century later, Schopenhauer and Berkeley were throughtfully reviewed by C. Lloyd Morgan, writing in the Monist (’97-8, 03), for a remarkable Socratic reading of Lamarck’s evolutionism, finding evolution shaped in the last analysis by ideas. And in evolution today, with Lamarck’s invertebrates, the complexity of genetic regulation has been taken to machine learning.

    The vector array technique (SVA) that worked properly matches the vectors of stress and strain in the invertebrate body, and the Lamatckian response to the effort evoked. That match flags a Lloyd Morgan ideal or epistemological factor, rather like that Pingback which echoed elisa noting the noisy confusion of machine learning. Looking back through the Bipoint Plato to antiquity, we have this breakthrough from the Greek fringe of Sanskrit learning, whence old Greek medicine reborn as Unani Tibb in Pakistan! That displacement was my first lead in the confusion of cultures, and I now at last have the elements for a monograph.

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