Crisis in Identity
by Antonio T. de Nicolas, PhD
In relation to what I can say This I am, I do not know.
Lost in thought, I wander. – Rg Veda 1. 164, 37
Unconcerned, mocking, violent – thus wisdom wants us:
she is a woman and always loves only a warrior. – Thus Spoke Zarathustra
|Arjuna and Krishna, illustration by Shirley Triest from the Mahabharata, by William Buck, originally published by the University of California Press.
Reprinted by permission of The Regents of the University of California.
There are two fundamental needs in Comparative Studies (and all studies, even within a discipline, are comparative). The first is the recovery of philosophy as an activity which continually justifies itself through its own repeated performance; the second is the recovery of human existence through such philosophical activity.
This crisis of philosophy is radically linked to the demands for achieving self-identification. Our task here will be to examine the nature of the problem of self-identification and its crisis, with specific reference to the interpretation of the Bhagavad Gita.
The problem of identification is central to Ortega’s theme of “man and circumstance,” for unless we can suspend the natural tendency to identify others with ourselves, and vice versa, historic reason cannot emerge. The capital sin of our philosophical method has been to submerge a whole people and its diversity into a single vision, a single personality.
At a synthetic glance, we may summarize the main attitudes and demands of Western philosophy as:
(1) a search for universal principles, applicable to man, universal man, in general. These universal principles guarantee man everything except to be a man;
(2) the atomization of man, individual man and woman, through the affirmation and universalization of a particular situation; self-commitment as opposed to self-surrender: authenticity vs. hypocricy;
(3) the reduction of man to those momentary approved norms of behavior which are scientifically explainable, predictable and controllable.
These three modes of manipulating philosophy have left contemporary Western man with three corresponding modes of being-in-the-world – possibilities which Existentialism has summarized for us in three concrete universal images: the Democrat and Anti-Semite (Sartre);1 the Underground-Man (Dostoevsky);2 and the Grand Inquisitor (Dostoevsky).3 Regardless of the merits of this synthetic glance, it is still valid to generalize that these three forms of being-in-the-world for Western man (not withstanding their drama, anguish, success, glory, ecstasy, despair, value) are made possible for only one simple, philosophic reason: the radical need of Western man for self-identification. Identity-making decision has no one factual answer, but rather depends on a great variety of criteria for determining personal (or other) identity. Statements about identity in any language are language-bound; it is not merely trivial to say that statements about identity do not always refer to the same subject or object. In truth, such statements do not necessarily refer to any subject or object at all, though at times they may do so. Self or other identification terms, in any language, do not prescribe the criteria for their use. It is up to everyone who uses language – and only to him – to choose the type of identification game he is going to play with respect, say, to sensation or any other term, so that he may decide (even while suffering, enjoying, acting) which kind of “candidate” he wishes to have as “sensation-owner.”4
Plato started his Timaeus by asking: “One, two, three,… where is the fourth?” Is self-identification in any of the three forms described above the only alternative for man to be-in-the-world? Is there a fourth? These, of course, are not rhetorical questions. We understand man to be the possibilities of man as actualized by man. By means of the radical activity of philosophy itself, man transcends the limits of his own actualizations (context, structure and meaning) and actualizes his centralmost possibilities. Therefore the fourth way of man-in-the-world is that which we have implicitly identified as the activity of doing philosophy at a radical level: as the saving of human circumstance, as the philosophic method, as historic reason. However, this method is not to be seen as a method or way of being-in-the-world in opposition to, or as an alternative to others. It is rather a method or path through the others; it is only because of what others have done that our method is possible. It attempts to integrate; it does not destroy a thread of the human fabric. It leaves rationality opened rather than confined to any system. Although this radical way of doing philosophy will have to go through others, as well as through its own self-reflective activity, still it is grounded in the activity itself (which man, to be man, has of necessity to achieve in every act). Such activity is without ontological or ontic attachments; it (the method or way) is capable of encountering every ontological and ontic situation without getting caught in any one of them.
This fourth way of being-in-the-world, which we are proposing, would integrate and thus transcend the previously described three modes of being-in-the-world which contemporary Western man seems condemned to follow. This fourth way we identify now as the way which the Bhagavad Gita exemplifies. Moreover, this “message” of the Bhagavad Gita cannot be recovered unless we use what we have specified as the method of radical reason. For the Gita to have meaning, it must appear in its own context and structure; it is not to be identified as something – a book or a doctrine – which is already known to us. We must start with the Gita‘s own initial situation: the crisis of man through self-identity.
Interpretation and the Bhagavad Gita
Before considering the Bhagavad Gita, it is important that we review three main methodological considerations.
(1) Philosophical language of any historic period (its meaning) is radically bound to that historic period. We have held language to be dependent on context (an embracing image which organizes experience in a certain way) and structure (the means whereby reality is ordered in a world, according to that context).5 For any concept to have meaning one must know the context or, to put it differently, in order to have a concept one must have a whole world of concepts. No dictionary can free us from the effort of discovering a context which gives meaning. Both in Eastern and Western traditions, there have been a plurality and a succession of contexts and structures which determine the meaning of words relative to those traditions. Translators and interpreters of the Bhagavad Gita, however, appear to have been unaware of the situation in which interpretation moves. They have ignored the fact that the linguistic ground of the people they were studying (and even the ground on which they themselves were standing within their own discipline, whether it be religion, linguistics or philosophy) was moving, or had already moved, from under their own feet while they were studying these people. These scholars have attempted to base the ideal of interpretation upon the method of the natural sciences, and to demand that the plurality of worlds and words surrender to it. Thus we have translations and interpretations of the Bhagavad Gita (how can we separate the two?) which in many ways represent a needful accomplishment, especially in respect to the language, but which in other ways remain insufficient.
(2) The reason for this lack of adequacy of interpretation lies in the almost complete ignorance of the way philosophic language functions in the fife of a people, whether Eastern or Western. We have identified this ignorance as the “oblivion of philosophy”: oblivion to what people in different and concrete periods of history had to do to orient their lives. The reliance of interpreters on the methodological biases of the social sciences has prevented the discovery of this activity, and substituted a general conformity to the demands of scientistic method. Thus the historical nature of man on this earth has been obscured.
Indian scholars have not fared better in this enterprise. They have been fighting a losing battle all along. In their efforts to make Indian thought palatable and respectable in terms of Western methods,6 they have mutely acceded to the worship of the “word” – to the identification of words (i.e. Sanskrit) with words (English), of gods with gods, of concepts with concepts. Thus we find even in the most scholarly efforts definitions and translations of the Bhagavad Gita equated with Western religious and ethical language on a one-to-one correspondence. This is, to say the least, misleading and most problematic. Names like God, egotism, ethics, nature, spirit, soul, and so on, have no function in the Hindu tradition, Sanskrit language or Hindu norms of behavior equal to those in Western texts.
(3) This brings us to the final point: the problem of interpretation itself. If interpretation is a radical activity of man which he must perform in order to continue his life as man, then the interpretation of a “text” like the Bhagavad Gita must be similarly regarded. The activity of interpretation is not to produce a definitive text, to be read once and for all. Such an irrevocable, final feat is not the task of interpretation. I hold that repeated interpretations are needed (samvrtisatya) – the activity (satya) of gathering together (sam) what needs to be uncovered (vr) – because man never stands on the same ground twice. Man’s conceptual schemes keep moving and shifting; man’s empirical life becomes larger and more complex as he lives. There is no fixed belief on which man can stand forever, nor are there fixed sensations on which man can count forever, nor a fixed linguistic order to which man must or does conform. Because man is always on the move, he continually makes himself dependent on others for his interpretations of himself and his circumstance. This is the reason why a new interpretation (of a life, or of the Bhagavad Gita) is always needed. There is always a new confrontation with life, a new rationality whose demands must be met. Thus we are constantly in need of a new interpretation which is capable of, creating the necessary and sufficient conditions that make it possible for the text (again, of a life, or of the Bhagavad Gita) to appear (find its own meaning) in its own context and within its own structure. It is only in this present immediacy that an interpretation of the Bhagavad Gita will satisfy the sophistication of contemporary man. It is not sufficient that the Bhagavad Gita be recognized within its own tradition. Unless it is recognized by us – by contemporary man in his present context – the interpretation will remain superficial. However, the demand that contemporary man recognize his own interpretations also identifies interpretation’s own limit: every interpretation, whether it be the one given here, or Krsna’s interpretation of his own culture in the Bhagavad Gita, is only “for the time being.”
Let us now try to exemplify this method by, reference to Arjuna’s concrete situation in the Bhagavad Gita – a concrete human situation in which a man, in order to survive as man, must take stock of his own convictions. But the reader must beware of merely uncovering the idea of these convictions; he must discover them as an active function of man’s life (whether it be Arjuna’s or his own) – a function so important that unless it is recovered he will not be able to act. Arjuna’s situation therefore demands that we clarify the nature of: Arjuna, the warrior (ksatriya); Arjuna, the man; the human crisis in which Arjuna finds himself.
There are three levels of man’s acting at which our inquiry aims:
The first is the contextual level, as the possibilities of man realized by man: a heuristic anticipation, a dark, unformed world or worlds to be discovered; worlds of silence not yet formed into language; propositions not yet spoken; myth not yet made knowledge.
The second is the level of concrete formed and structured worlds; known horizons; man within language; man within structure; propositional worlds.
The third level is the world of meaning: what man does in order to constitute his human world. It is also the confrontation of man with his own contexts, presuppositions, structures, theories of knowledge – and thus the possibilities for man either to become a slave of his own creations (to leave the world as it is), or to emancipate himself through his liberation or re-creation, by means of the birth of new languages, new worlds, new human grounds.
The activity of uncovering and reconciling these three levels or dimensions of life remains anonymous. It represents what may be called man’s fourth dimension: the effective ground of human self-constitution and continuation.
It is our contention that the role of interpretation is not merely to dictate what interpretation should be, but rather to identify what interpretation really is. This is the reason we have taken the Bhagavad Gita as our challenge, hoping that through its interpretation we will actualize the possibilities of reason’s way.
To summarize the task, in the Bhagavad Gita, Chapters I and XI deal with the human crisis of Arjuna. Its resolution is seen in Chapters XII and XIII. Chapters II through X cover the ontological ground (sets of beliefs, structures and actions) on which Arjuna and his people stand. But this ontological ground is cancelled by Chapter XI. This same Chapter, together with XII and XIll, also cancel out the ontic situations (empirical acts) of Arjuna and the men of his culture, as described in Chapters XIV through XVIII. Both ontological and ontic situations, in all these Chapters, can be described as attached (appropriated by the human self, as knowledge, action or inaction) or detached (without self-identification or embodied vision). The whole text of the Bhagavad Gita is thus concerned with Arjuna’s crisis and its resolution.
Arjuna the Ksairya (Warrior)
Friedrich Nietzsche, in the Geneology of Morals, and later on Ortega y Gasset, in The Revolt of the Masses, elaborate the theme of the master/slave relation with regard to human “ethical” behavior. The master class acts, and what it does is good. The slave class imitates those actions and, through the mediation of the perverted psychology of the priests, absolutizes those actions as normative, even divinely inspired, behavior. Nietzsche, of course, gives us only the negative side of this picture, for he knows of no model of the master class where acting is not caprice or sheer arbitrariness. Ortega tries to correct the picture through his better understanding of “aristocracy.” For Ortega, “aristocracy” would be mediated through education, and thus emancipated from its slave and mimetic condition. The problem, however, still remains of knowing exactly whereon the master action, or the aristocratic action (from its Greek source, the best among many possible actions) rests.
Which is the ground on which a leader in a moment of decision-making or crisis grounds his action? What does a leader, an emancipated man, a free citizen, know in order that his action does not remain arbitrary or the child of caprice? In other words, how does an action become free, given that one has either to invent it, being unable to imitate others, or is required to execute it under the law? Given that there is a law, that man acts within controlled conditions, how is freedom possible?
The Bhagavad Gita offers us a model of human freedom within human determinism; of acts of freedom within socially controlled situations; of free, emancipated, master behavior within slave, determined, controlled conditions. Krsna and Arjuna offer us the conditions, model and prototypes of this human journey.
The first clue, in clarifying these claims, is to understand the condition of a warrior – of Arjuna and Krsna in particular – in the Hindu tradition. The first condition of interpretation is that it recognizes itself within the tradition it interprets.
Apples fall from trees to the ground. By the theory of gravitation we conceive this fall. The behavior of the apples, however, does not depend on this gravitational theory. Even if the gravitational theory did not exist, apples would still fall from trees to the ground. Not so the concepts and behavior of man. Social phenomena, human behavior, are dependent on the concepts that give them life. A warrior in any culture is the kind of warrior the concepts of the culture make him be. He may be a mercenary if he joins the mercenaries: an adopted child of any “Pentagon” if he is drafted or decides to become a war professional in view of the rewards of money and decorations. Or he can be an Indian-Hindu Ksatrya: a warrior who, besides the art of fighting, “knows” what needs to be done for the good of all, because he knows the whole society, its irreversible past, its dreamed future, the possibilities of the present. In other words, his desire as a man coincides with the self-constitution and renewal of the culture: its intentionality. A Hindu Ksatrya needs to be a philosopher besides being a warrior. The goal is explicitly made clear in the Bhagavad Gita when, towards the end of the Gita, Krsna tells Arjuna: “Do as you desire.” That is, now that you know; now that your desire coincides with the knowledge and salvation of your circumstance, do as you wish.
In Indian tradition, the Ksatryas shared with the Brahmins the distinction and responsibility of the culture’s aristocracy. They were the master class. They had to “know” of themselves what had to be done, for there was no one else around to tell them. But while the priesteraft of the Brahmins tended to freeze the culture by habitualizing ritual to the verge of stagnation, the Ksatryas were the defiant leaders of the radical moves within the culture, seeing to it that the culture continued its own self-renovation, continuity and constitution. Examples of this may be found from the Rgveda with the exploits of lndra, through Buddhism (Buddha was himself from the Ksatrya class), through the Gita with Krsna and Arjuna, (both Ksatryas) and through the Upanisads, where the Hindu warrior reveals the knowledge of liberated action (devayana) and of the path of the fathers (pitryaha, reincarnation), to a Brahmin.
It is against this background that the Ksatriya critical thought of the Gita is to be understood, synthesized by two Ksatriyas: Krsna, who through his questioning embodies the culture, and Arjuna, the warrior who knows how to fight but has forgotten how to question.
Arjuna’s crisis, as described in Chapter I, involves a decision to fight or not to fight. But as early as Chapter II, Krsna makes him aware that he has no choice but to act, and that in a battle situation, to act is to fight. From that an point on, Krsna’s task is to liberate Arjuna by moving him through a multiplicity of ontological spaces, showing him that his arguments for inaction stem from a belief that man is the slave of karmic laws, and from a sense of “I” (ahamkara). Krsna will resolve Arjuna’s crisis by turning (converting) him from the natural man that he believes himself to be into the cultural man that he actually is. Arjuna’s journey through the Gita can be summarized as a way of being-in-the-world, of acting without any form of absolute identification with any field, of avoiding the futile search for any form of absolute knowledge, which would reduce man’s actions to only one interpretation.
In his attempt to show Arjuna the emptiness of his arguments not to fight, Krsna tells him to be wise enough to realize the true duty of a Ksatriya, and not to allow his sense of I (ahamkara, the I-maker) and attachment to get the better of him.
In order to approach the Gita, one must understand the linguistic context (Sanskrit). The greatest linguistic sin in the Gita is the ahamkara; the most favored modality of seeing oneself in the world is the anahamvadi, literally, “not the I speaking.” In other words, first person discourse is not so much a function of language, in its intended meaning, as it is a function of the intentionality of a historicocultural background. In English, “I” names a person, a particular speaker, whose standpoint is irrevocably within a concrete historical situation, and whose presence is his own personal history. Aham has no personal history, but rather the status of a superimposition on an activity-whole; consequently, unlike “I,” aham can never be identified with the origin or agent of a speech act, or if so, it is only by mistake and ignorance (avidya).
In the Sanskrit context, the power and authority of speech is regarded as originating not from a particular speaker, but from a common source in which all spoken words and all sounds participate. The Rgveda calls it Vac, Brahman, the Upanisads name it atman-Brahman; it is the impersonal power of manifestation. Avoidance of the artificial individuation associated with a particular speaker is found in Sanskrit grammar by the use of circumlocutions about “this man” or “this self,” or use of the passive voice. The highest viewpoint was always to be understood as the anahamvadi, not taking the first person discourse literally. This way of acting, however, cannot be produced but through an “embodied vision” (darsanam), a way of viewing the world which is neither deluded by languages, nor reduced to its atomic demands in any way – ontologically, epistemologically, or psychologically. This embodied vision is the necessary and sufficient condition for the move from a space of despair to a space of freedom.
Human Crisis and Human Life in the Gita
Not to lose sight of our theme, “Man and Circumstance,” I would like to paraphrase Ortega y Gasset:
Human life, Eastern or Western, is a matter of dealing with the world. This, however, is not done in the abstract, but in the concrete situation of an individually felt vital need which fills man with the anxiety of life in a moment of crisis. This perception of anxiety is unique to the individual. The concepts, however, by which he thinks cannot be found ready made, but must be extracted from the circumstantial architecture of his world. If the concepts are not capable of embodying the whole architecture of his world, then man is condemned by his own limited and distorted vision to surrender to the fate of others, to be a slave of the circumstance.
The occasion for Arjuna’s crisis is the fact that he is in a battle. The crisis, however, is Arjuna’s identification of himself with his actions, unaware of the fact that this identification is not part of the battle. On the contrary, it is Arjuna’s reduction of himself as a warrior, as a leader, to a vision which falls short of his whole tradition and training, and thus reduces him to inaction. The battle, therefore, is not the fact at issue in Arjuna’s crisis; rather, it is Arjuna’s decision about himself in this battle situation which is the critical issue.
It would, therefore, be a grave misreading of the Gita to make a vital point of the abstract values for or against war. To take such an abstract stand is to miss the whole intentionality of the Gita. Nor does the fact that Arjuna fights with chariots and arrows, whereas we are threatened with the full panoply of thermonuclear war, change the “message” of the Gita. We are not dealing here with possible wars, we are dealing with human possibilities: Arjuna is in a war. He is at the moment of decision. What is at issue, of course, is the way Arjuna (or any one of us) sees himself in critical situations. What makes a man falter, doubt, stop on his human path? What leads a man to inaction, to abandonment when faced with a determined crisis? What kind of a man does one make himself to be if he helplessly abandons himself to fate, chance, even despair?
If the individual (Arjuna, in this case) – is seriously concerned with his problem, he will find the activity – truth – which will quiet the anxiety in his life. He will then develop a disciplined commitment – his morality – to carry out this program whereby his radical needs may be met. When a “problem” is as vitally felt as Arjuna’s, neither truth nor ethics can in any way be conformity to already established norms of thought or behavior. For him, truth and ethics are the necessary acts and habits of a man in search of his own freedom. They are the habits and acts of a man in need to create himself anew, to remake himself. His path is an affirmation of reason – historic reason – against madness, irrationality and the autocracy of ideas. Krsna’s role is to restore Arjuna to a solid human ground along which he can stride, without doubt and without faltering.
The difficulty of human life is that it is not given to anyone ready-made. Like it or not, human life is an affair of decisions, one after another. At each moment it is necessary to make up one’s mind about what we are going to do next; human life is thus an incessantly recurring problem. In order to decide what to do next, man either forms a plan of what he is supposed to do, or merely resorts to some plan someone else has made. It is not the case that man ought to make a plan. There is simply no possible life, sublime or mean, wise or stupid, which is not essentially characterized by its proceeding according to some plan. If we read Chapters XVI, XVII and XVIII of the Gita, for example, we see that even to abandon our life to chance, as Arjuna proposes to do in Chapter I, is to make a plan. Every human being chooses – out of the necessity of being human – his way through life; this is tantamount to saying that as a man decides what he has to do in every situation, he is “obliged to justify it in his own eyes.” But this plan, or justification, implies that man has acquired some “idea” of the world, its objectives and programs of action, and his own relation to them. In short, man lives by some conceptual scheme, historically rooted in its own actions, for which certain reasons are included for the self-justification of such a world. Thus man is forced to make a constant interpretation of the, world around him or of the worlds with which he comes into contact.
Man is thus an interpreter. But man’s interpretation of himself and his world ought not to be arbitrary, nor for himself alone. Arjuna’s is just such a plan: too small. As a warrior, he should include in his plan his whole circumstance, both contextual and structural. Failing to do this, he falls into crisis. How can he recover the ground upon which generations of warriors before him did not hesitate to fight? Arjuna and Krsna interpret the culture in the Gita from two different grounds: one is shaky, the other firm. Arjuna only thinks karmically, that is, in terms of a sequence of acts, stringing himself out on the thread of his action. Krishna will show him to think dharmically, that is, in contexts, whole circumstances, which reveal the predetermined way that the karman of the world enslaves man. This new interpretation makes the beginning of liberation possible.
Since man is an interpreter, we must abandon the naive idea that facts exist by themselves, universally recognizable by anyone who cares to look at them. No fact is a fact unless it is seen in terms of the structure and context which gave it birth. Facts are facts because they come in a web of conceptual structures. There is karman because there are dharmas linking them in a certain order. The reality, the existence, the meaning of any fact, any man (even these words on this page) are hidden. In order to arrive at their meaning we not must fix our attention on them, nor take them literally as “reality.” We will have to interpret them, and therefore, in order to arrive at their true meaning for us we must search for something very different from the aspect which their presence offers. What we see of these facts is not their life; we see a portion of our own. Hence, in order to know another life which is not ours, we must try to see it not from within ourselves but from the circumstantial world of that life.
In the case of the Gila, we have at least three lives – three interpretations – which fulfill this condition and challenge: Arjuna, Krsna, and the writer of the poem. Arjuna and Krsna speak for themselves. The composer of the poem – whoever he may be – provides us with the challenge of figuring out the presuppositions (historical, contextual and structural) on which he bases his poem.
Let us draw some conclusions: Human life is such because it has a contextual structure which organizes experience in a definite sense, that is, according to some self- (or culturally) justifiable reasons. Man has to cope with a predetermined world (karmic laws) of which he can sketch the profile (dharmic laws) and thus recreate himself. History, then, is not the discovery of disconnected empirical facts; rather, it is the refashioning of a certain historical and reasonable structuring of that eternal drama of man and his worlds.
The true historical search, therefore, cannot be other than the search for the contextual structures of human life, which make that life possible, meaningful, and different for different people. The perception of such conceptual structures provides the ground for understanding the significance of cultural differences in our intercultural world.
Man is thus to be understood as the context-maker and context-knower; culture is the institutionalization of sets of contexts, and the possibility of their recovery.
Philosophy, then, as it comes out in the Gila, is not so much the objective knowledge of those contexts and structures as it is the activity which would make the possession of those structures possible. Man increases his freedom by shaking the determinism of single context-structures, or karmic laws; he becomes fully human by embodying (living out the dharma) the human condition of his time.
1. Sarte, Anti-Semite and Jew, trans. by George J. Becker (New York: Schocken Books, Inc., 1948).
2. Fyodor Dostoevsky, Notes from Underground, trans. by Ralph E. Matlaw (New York: E. P. Dutton & Co., Inc., 1960).
3. Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Grand Inquisitor, trans. by Ralph E. Matlaw (New York: E. P. Dutton & Co., Inc., 1960).
In every one of these three forms of self-identification, the demand is that man surrenders all his multiplicity of selves to only one. In the Democratic-Anti-Semite fashion the demand is for a universal self to dissolve all the situational (contextual, structural, ethnic, individual) selves and surrender them to a universal leveling idea of a self which applies equally to all men in all circumstantial situations. Institutions, “Establishments,” governments of bodies and souls (Churches and States) work on this hypothesis.
The Underground-Man, on the other hand, elevates a concrete situation to the heights of universality, commits himself to it, and lives thereby on the brink of self-annihilation or incarceration. Radical political groups, the counter-culture, the extremist, the self-tortured man, the neurotic, are all committed to this kind of self-identification.
The Grand Inquisitor as we know it is the demand of the scientific establishment (whatever establishment be in power) to universalize their laws and method to control human behavior. In spite of the demand made upon man to surrender his own freedom, man concedes easily, (in many cases, unwittingly) his freedom for the rewards of security, bread, and blissful peace. This man, identified with the “herd,” still considers himself free; his craving for identification with the “community” is more powerful than his strength to be free.
What is significant about these three modes of being-in-the-world is that they exist simultaneously in every society, and that no one mode is possible without the other two.
4. See Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, op. cit. 404, 405.
5. See A. de Nicolas, “The Humanization of Philosophy,” Main Currents, 30, 5 (May-June 1974), pp. 167-173.
6. I have in mind principally philosophers like Radhakrishnan (The Bhagavad Gita, London: George Allen & Unwin, Ltd., 1948), Surendranath Dasgupta (A History of Indian Philosophy, Vols. I and II, London: Cambridge University Press, 1932), and K. N. Upadhyaya (Early Buddhism and the Bhagavad Gita, Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1971). They prove the point that interpretation is done in terms of prior interpretation. Although it is obvious that these and other Indian scholars are not in agreement with the general interpretations of Western scholars of the Bhagavad Gita, still it is this audience they have in mind (in fact, they are unable to escape this audience) when writing about the Bhagavad Gita. The truth is they have to satisfy this audience in order to be heard in the first place. Indian scholars, in fact, have been so busy answering and correcting western scholars and each other that they have not yet had time to dedicate themselves to saying what they really want and need to say. Examples of this impasse abound in problems concerning the chronology, the sources and the linguistics of the Bhagavad Gita.
7. There is no English equivalent of such Sanskrit words as Prakrti, Purusa, atman, dharma, gunas, ahamkara, etc. To translate them as Nature, Spirit, soul, duty, evolutes, egotism is to say nothing, for these words in English are loaded with different meanings derived from different Western contexts in no way equal to the Bhagavad Gita‘s intentionality. Until such time as people understand what these words mean in their Hindu context, it is better to leave them in Sanskrit and explain their function. After all, not only scholars but a large part of the American population, educated or “pop,” are familiar with these words, use them and make sentences with them. The function of language is communication, not just translation. We need new words and new sentences to communicate new and different rationalities.
Published in Main Currents in Modern Thought, November-December 1974; Vol. 31, No. 2
Antonio T. de Nicolas was educated in Spain, India and the United States, and received his Ph.D. in philosophy at Fordham University in New York. He is Professor Emeritus of philosophy at the State University of New York at Stony Brook.
Dr. de Nicolas is the author of some twenty- seven books, including Avatara: The Humanization of Philosophy through the Bhagavad Gita,a classic in the field of Indic studies; and Habits of Mind, a criticism of higher education, whose framework has recently been adopted as the educational system for the new Russia. He is also known for his acclaimed translations of the poetry of the Nobel Prize-winning author,Juan Ramon Jimenez, and of the mystical writings of St. Ignatius de Loyola and St. John of the Cross.
A philosopher by profession, Dr. de Nicolas confesses that his most abiding philosophical concern is the act of imagining, which he has pursued in his studies of the Spanish mystics, Eastern classical texts, and most recently, in his own poetry.
His books of poetry: Remembering the God to Come, The Sea Tug Elegies, Of Angels and Women, Mostly, and Moksha Smith: Agni’s Warrior-Sage. An Epic of the Immortal Fire, have received wide acclaim. Critical reviewers of these works have offered the following insights:
from, Choice: “…these poems could not have been produced by a mainstream American. They are illuminated from within by a gift, a skill, a mission…unlike the critico-prosaic American norm…”
from The Baltimore Sun: “Steeped as they are in mythology and philosophy these are not easy poems. Nor is de Nicolas an easy poet. He confronts us with the necessity to remake our lives…his poems …show us that we are not bound by rules. Nor are we bound by mysteries. We are bound by love. And therefore, we are boundless”
from William Packard, editor of the New York Quarterly: ” This is the kind of poetry that Plato was describing in his dialogues, and the kind of poetry that Nietzsche was calling for in Zarathustra.”
Professor de Nicolas is presently a Director of the Biocultural Research Institute, located in Florida.