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Meditation in Sankara's Vedanta.

This book is an attempt to assess Samkara's views regarding the place of yogic practices in general and meditative exercises in particular in the overall scheme for acquiring the liberating knowledge of Brahman, the issue at the heart of his theological enterprise. This question is especially significant within the ongoing scholarly debate on the authenticity of the Vivarana, the sub-commentary on Vyasa's Yogasutrabhasya ascribed to Samkara.

After an introductory survey (ch. 1) of traditional and modern approaches to the study of Samkara, Bader undertakes (ch. 2) an investigation on the nature of meditation. In the next two chapters the author examines Samkara's views on meditation and reasoning in the process of acquiring the knowledge of Brahman. The final chapter deals with the question of Samkara's attitude and relationship to Yoga. Within the compass of just 111 pages it is not possible to deal with these questions at any depth or in detail. This is at best a brief introduction to the issues, rather than a thorough treatment of them. The significance of the book is in highlighting the obvious fact that Samkara is first and foremost a religious practitioner and theologian, a fact often lost sight of by scholars who attempt to dissect his thought and analyze his philosophy as if he were a simple philosopher in the modern use of that term. Samkara takes the upanisadic statements on meditative practices, especially the Chandogya preoccupation with sacred sounds, seriously.

The problem with Bader's treatment of these important questions concerns the method that he employs. Within the context of the current obsession with deconstruction, it may be viewed as fashionable to regard both the traditional theological readings of Samkara and the modern critical studies as equally mythical discourses. I want to defend, however, an old-fashioned view; I think that such an equation is quite simply wrong, even though I readily admit that scholarly methods and discourses are not totally free of biases or ulterior motives and are clearly influenced by the historical contexts in which they are conducted. Bader says: "Yet as Eliade, Levi-Strauss, and others have shown, there is no need to assume that mythical thought is any less rigorous than scientific thought". I am not sure what he means by "rigorous," but quite clearly to distinguish theological or mythical discourse from the scholarly or the scientific is not to relegate the former to a form of savage irrationality. We can and must take myths, stories, and theologies seriously as the objects of our inquiry, but we cannot simply equate that inquiry with those objects. Bader's attempt to combine the traditional methods of appropriating Samkara's theology with the scholarly approaches to the study of that great theologian makes his study neither fish nor fowl.

A significant question addressed by Bader relates to the authenticity of Samkara's Yogasutrabhasyavivarana. Even though he notes the doubts expressed by Halbfass and others, Bader takes seriously Hacker's arguments for the authenticity of this text. He rejects, however, Hacker's thesis that the Vivarana was an early work of Samkara while he was still a yogin. Bader challenges the common assumption that Advaita and Yoga were opposing religious and theological systems, showing that Advaita terminology is present in the Vivarana, while yogic terms and concepts abound even in the later and admittedly Advaita works of Samkara. The significant point in Bader's argument is that modern standards of "consistency" and "contradiction" may indeed be inapplicable without modification to medieval Indian theologians, and that what may appear as contradictions to us may have seemed quite consistent to medieval authors and audiences. Given the lack of reliable biographical data, moreover, any theory of a "development of thought" or of a "change of views" in Samkara must remain purely speculative.
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Author:Olivelle, Patrick
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Oct 1, 1992
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