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Thursday, Oct 28, 2021
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Between Avidya And Maya

A lucid book on this greatest of Indian philosophers is to be lauded. But the attempt at a scientific validation of the assertion about Brahman falls flat.

Between Avidya And Maya
Photograph by Sanjay Rawat
Between Avidya And Maya
outlookindia.com
2018-06-27T10:19:50+05:30

I must start this review with a disc­laimer. I was brought up in the Vis­ishtadvaita tradition and as the aut­hor himself says, quoting Dr Rad­hakrishnan, the philosophy of Shankaracharya produces in Vis­ishtadvaitins not a little curling of lips. I am presently a believer in the dictum of De Omnibus Dubitandum (all is to be doubted) and an agnostic to boot!  Nevertheless, I have always been in awe of this stupendous scholar. I have no doubt that Shankaracharya is one of the greatest intellectuals the world has ever seen. There are several books on him in English but surprisingly, none of the authors, who have either translated his works in English or written about him, have fully succeeded in presenting him in a manner that would appeal to a modern, lay and sharp reader. Pawan K. Varma has done exactly that. In a language at once easy and full of gravitas, he provides us with a rare poise Shankaracharya’s life, his philosophy and its place in the Indian systems of philosophy, and its relationship with modern science. The book also has a well-chosen anthology of his works.

Most accounts of Shankara’s life, written long after his death, are hagiographic. But scholars agree that he was born sometime in the 8th century CE and travelled extensively all over India in pursuit of knowledge. Varma follows his footsteps and meets people who keep the tradition fou­nded by Shankara alive. He is so intoxica­ted by the myriad scenes and flavours of the places he visits that he alm­ost beco­mes a hagiographer himself, before qui­c­kly recovering. I am not criticising his app­roach. This has happened to me several times, all over the world. Varma’s is, however, an admirer’s presentation of Shankara, not a critic’s. Many devotional hymns he has presented in the anthology have not been accepted by some scholars as actually written by Shankara. On the other hand, a few scholars argue that Sha­nkara could well be contemporary with the Tamil hymnists who wandered South India from shrine to shrine. Pers­onally speaking, I was surprised that the anthology doesn’t even have a selection from his magnum opus, Brahmasutra Bhashya.

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