Nyaya and Monotheism

If you ask almost every trained representative of Hinduism whether Santana Dharma (The Eternal Dharma, Hinduism) is theistic or even monotheistic, you will get a firm yes. They may not like the question as betraying Western concerns but the answer will still be: Yes. Why?

This is the second installment of an engagement with Hinduism. Please continue to help me think through these matters.

The classical approach to the study of the ancient texts of the Vedas is through the six schools of Indian philosophy, or literally six visions of reality. Almost every trained representative of Hinduism, whether Brahman, Swami or philosophy Professor, accepts the rubric of six Orthodox philosophies. However, it is only Western academics and some Indian social scientists who do not view Hinduism from the point of view of its Orthodox reading.

Three of the six schools are (1) Nyaya – a rational kalam type of argumentation and logic that defends the proofs for God, revelation, and reward & punishment; (2) Mimamsa – a study of the Vedas as legal codes and a determination of how to derive the law; (3) Vedanta- a study of how the Divine is immanent and also that there is nothing but the Divine of which there are many interpretations. (I will deal in a later post with the other two, as well as the three of Yoga, materialism, and science.)

Nyaya deals with logic, evidence, inference, and argumentation. The Nyaya school of philosophical speculation is based on texts known as the Nyaya Sutras, which were written by Aksapada Gautama in the 2nd century CE. Nyaya functions as the logical backbone of Hinduism the way Aristotelianism did for more than a millennium in the West. Today, university students write on topics like Nyaya and analytic philosophy, Nyaya and Aristotle, Nyaya and Habermas.

The Nyaya approach based on the Vedas argues for a theistic monotheistic position, revelation, and reward & punishment. In short, the theological parts of Nyaya are almost identical in goal and argumentation as the Kalam of Saadyah or the some of the Christian scholastics. This is where any start of an interfaith encounter would show that we have similar ideas of philosophy of religion. Our universal sides of natural theology have much in common.The Indian academic Gopikamohan Bhattacharyya wrote: “The belief in monotheism is rather common to all theistic schools of Indian philosophy.” (Xvi)

Nyaya insists on several versions of the cosmological argument to prove a theistic God, and why there needs to be based on both the Vedas and logic revelation and reward. The Nyaya school’s method proved the existence of God, based on the Vedas, and subsequently, has been adopted by the majority of the other Indian schools. Therefore, you will not find any representative of traditional Hinduism trained in the university, temple, or ashram that denies monotheism. (There are exceptions which we will deal with later, there are non-theist Hindu approaches, and there are those who find the entire question Western and patronizing). However, any Hindu leader who comes to an interfaith gathering as a representative of his tradition will already know and accept Nyaya theism. (What does this have to do with the idols in the street? Save that question for a future installment.)

Julius Guttmann in his grand work Philosophy of Judaism saw Saadyah’s 10th century interlocutors as including the Brahmins and their schools of philosophy. Indian Philosophy used to be taught as an elective at Columbia and CCNY, so it could be discussed in comparison, Now, if anyone takes Aristotle you are lucky. In addition, Indian philosophy has moved to the more ethnographic religion department, the same way much of the study of Judaism has migrated from philosophy and history to Jewish Studies.

According to the Nyaya school, there are exactly four sources of knowledge (pramāṇas): perception, inference, comparison, and testimony. Very similar to Saadyah’s four sources of knowledge. The major difference between Saadyah’s arguments and Nyaya is that the latter assume that God created the world from eternal matter.

However, Nyaya differs from Aristotelian logic in that it is more than logic in its own right. Its followers believed that obtaining valid knowledge was the only way to obtain release from suffering. This offers us an insight into how Saadyah and Maimonides thought philosophy was needed to obtain the world-to-come.

Early Naiyayikas wrote very little about Ishvara (God, the Supreme Soul). However, when later Buddhists in India became strictly atheistic, the later Naiyayikas entered into disputes with the Buddhists and tried to prove the existence of God on the basis of inference. They also increased the attributes of God from just knowledge and volition to a wider list of attributes including providence and beneficence.. Yogic texts, in contrast, have God as an object of contemplation and perfection but not for causality and providence.

Udayana’s Nyayakusumanjali gave the following nine arguments to prove the existence of creative God. Here are four familiar to a Jewish audience from Saadyah.
Cosmological argument – Kāryāt (lit. “from effect”): An effect is produced by a cause, and similarly, the universe must also have a cause. The active cause of the world must have an absolute knowledge of all the material of creation, and hence it must be God. Hence from the creation, the existence of the Creator is proved.
Composite nature of the world– Āyojanāt (lit., from combination): Atoms are inactive and properties are unphysical. So it must be God who creates the world with his will by causing the atoms to join. There is to be seen the hand of a wise organizer behind the systematic grouping of the ultimate atoms into dyads and molecules. That final organizer is God.
Faith in Scripture — Pratyayataḥ (lit, from faith): the Hindu holy scriptures, the Vedas, are regarded as the source of eternal knowledge. Their knowledge is free from fallacies and are widely believed as a source of proof. Their authors cannot be human beings because human knowledge is limited. Hence, only God can be the creator of the Vedas. Hence, his existence is proved from his being the author of the Vedas, which he revealed to various sages over a period of time.
Moral Argument – Vākyāt (lit., from precepts): World is governed by moral laws that are objective and universal. Hence there exists God, the promulgator of these laws.

On monotheism— the Naiyayikas have also provided arguments such a God can only be one monotheistic God . We cannot assume there were many gods (Devas) and sages (rishis) in the beginning, who wrote the Vedas and created the world. This is because the law of parsimony bids us assume only one such, namely Him, the adorable Lord. There can be no confidence in a non-eternal and non omniscient being, and hence it follows that according to the system which rejects God, the tradition of the Veda is simultaneously overthrown; there is no other way open.In other words, Udayana says that the polytheist would have to give elaborate proofs for the existence and origin of his several celestial spirits, none of which would be logical. So it is much more logical to assume only one, eternal and omniscient God.

So polytheism and a multiplicity of gods make no sense in Orthodox Indian philosophy, even if the American ethnographic studies differ.

Nyaya accepts the reality of yogic perception of a direct intuition from a concentration of the mind on the authority of the vedas. Here there is an opening for a discussion of direct intuition in Saadyah. If I remember correctly, Moise Ventura and Israel Efros denied such an intuition in Sadyah but Abraham Joshua Heschel in his article on Quest for Certainty in Saadyah thinks the medieval thinker allows direct intuitions.

Nyaya has some useful discussion of doubt that can help elucidate Norman Lamm’s concept of provisional or methodological doubt in Saadyah in his article “Faith and Doubt”. They acknowledge that sometimes there is conflicting evidence.

Samsaya or doubt is a state of uncertainty. It represents the mind’s wavering between different conflicting views with regard to the same object. Doubt arises when with regard to the same thing there is the suggestion of different alternative views but no definite cognition of any differentia to decide between them. Doubt is not certain knowledge, nor is it the mere absence of knowledge, nor is it an error. It is a positive state of cognition of mutually exclusive characters in the same thing at the same time.

Nyaya also characterizes arguments better than Monty Python and more useful for text study- here is a sample.

Vada is a discussion which is conducted according to logical rules and aims only at finding out the truth
Jalpa is mere wrangling in which the parties aim only at victory over each other, but do not make an honest attempt to come to truth.
Vitanda is a kind of debate in which the opponent doo8 not establish his own position but only tries to refute that of the exponent.
Chaia is a kind of quibble in which an attempt is made to contradict a statement by taking it in a sense other than the intended one in order to deflect an argument.

Karma is which one’s actions lead to future action gets a theistic reading in Nyaya, in that God as a wise and benevolent father directs his son to do certain things, according to his gifts, capacities and previous attainments, so God directs all living beings to do such actions and feel such natural consequences thereof as are consistent with their past conduct and character. Thus God is the moral governor of the world of living beings including ourselves, the impartial dispenser of the fruits of our actions, and the supreme arbiter of our joys and sorrows.

Nyaya is accepted by Vedanta especially Shankara’s Advita as a first step. Some schools of Vedanta such as TM consider that they has transcended the philosophical position of the Nyaya. On the other hand, the strongly theistic non-Advitan approach of Ramanuja has reservations on the rather scholastic first cause theism of Nyaya. Instead, Ramanuja, like Azriel of Gerona or Ramhal, has an image of the Divine as needing to shower the world with His own goodness and blessing. So whereas, Nyaya like many rational thinkers postulates that God creates to show his majesty and glory, Ramanuja has God create to shower blessings.

But those American ethnographers with their recording devices collect stories from common folk, without this scholastic training, and say that in Hinduism that God creates as a sport, as the creative activity of the Divine called lila. The world is seen as the stage of the divine play, in which Brahman is the great magician who transforms himself into the world and then performs this feat with his “magic creative power”.

For those who want more, John Vattanky, Is Theism Central to Nyaya?
Gopikamohan Bhattacharyya, Studies in Nyaya-Vaisesika Theism Sanskirt College, Calcutta, 1961

15 responses to “Nyaya and Monotheism

  1. what, so Moses Mendelssohn was right, that Indian religions are not really polytheistic?! a nice post, Alan!

    • Jews were actually much better readers of the data than their Protestant contemporaries. The latter used Hinduism to attack Catholicism, ritual, and representation.Mendelssohn defended ritual. Jews who were in favor of ritual had little to gain by attacking ritual. And the tradition of Menashe ben Israel already affirmed a Malachi “God has many names” in which he read the missionary reports with a charitable eye.

  2. Could you elaborate on the “schools” terminology? Is it an indigenous term or is it an external category? If we were to speak about “schools” of Jewish philosophy, what would that look like?

    • It is their intrinsic terminology. There are 6 Orthodox approaches or visions, the word is “darshan” and 3 heterodox ones.
      If we spoke this way then the first 3 Orthodox ones would be philosophy, kabbalah, and halakhah. The fourth would be science which we dont have our own tradition. The fifth and most interesting one is -atheism which they keep as Orthodox and the sixth is yoga – which we lack.
      Their heterodox is Buddhism, Jainism, materialism. Our heterodox would be Christianity, or gnosticism.

  3. Reblogged this on jewish philosophy place and commented:
    I found this useful as a primer to Indian philosophy. I’m re-blogging this for to keep on file, as it were, for possible future use. –ZJB

  4. This is fascinating. But can you please elaborate on the Indian pantheon? All those temples dedicated to various gods, how do they fit in to the above monotheism? Or are these simply different (from our perspective then really radically different) takes on the Veda?

    • you have to learned the virtue of patience as asked in the posts and om addition not to blur everything. Give me 40 blog posts and then ask.

      • 😉 I will practice my meditation … Seriously, wow, you expect to write over 40 posts on this, I really look forward. Having patience will be hard, though. Thank you for the treat.

  5. Sir,
    I read your posts with interest.Hinduism and Judaism have some similarities especially in Kaballah pov.Shakti and Shekhina are very similar.We consider Shakti – the femenine creative power of divine and you consider Shekhina as mother of Israel and femenine.You address her as a Bride,We address her as a Mother goddess.Secondly,We have concept of Brahman and you have concept of Ein Soph.Kindly check the definitions.You have Hashem – god with attributes and we have Ishwar(which is god with Attributes)..You have reincarnation concept though as per your belief ,the full soul does not reincarnate but a part of it.We say the whole subtle body incarnates and goes to a new body and the cycle goes on till he is liberated with divine knowldge.We have Preya and Shreya and you have Yetzer hara and Yetzer tov.Check out the definitions.We have para vidya(Spiritual knowledge) and Apara vidya(Material KNowledge and you have similar terms in Daas/Daat Elyon (“Higher Knowledge”) and Daas/Daat Tachton (“Lower Knowledge”) are two alternative levels of perception of reality in Hasidic thought

    All idols are symbolic presentation of divine power.Nama and Rupa.These symbols are used in meditation to contemplate divine in duality school.

  6. All idols are symbolic presentation of divine power.Nama and Rupa.These symbols are used in meditation to contemplate divine in duality school.

  7. in Judaism in my limited knowlede ,you have Ein Soph.The definition of that is given here : Ein Sof is the divine origin of all created existence, in contrast to the Ein (or Ayn), which is infinite no-thingness. It was first used by Azriel ben Menahem, who, sharing the Neoplatonic view that God can have no desire, thought, word, or action, emphasized by it the negation of any attribute

    Contrast this with Brahman :

    ParaBrahman (Sanskrit) [from para beyond + Brahman (neuter) universal self or spirit] – That which is beyond Brahman. The self-enduring, eternal, self-sufficient cause of all causes, the essence of everything in the cosmos. In the Vedic style of writing, ParaBrahman is referred to as tat (that) as opposed to the manifest universe called idam (this). ParaBrahman means Supreme Brahman, or Supreme Cosmic Spirit, or Godhead.

    It is also called Nirguna Brahman(without attributes).

    Shekhina : Shekinah, Shechinah, Shechina, or Schechinah (Hebrew: שכינה‎), is the English spelling of a grammatically feminine Hebrew name of God in Judaism. The original word means the dwelling or settling, and denotes the dwelling or settling of the Divine Presence of God, especially in the Temple in Jerusalem..

    Contrast this with Shakti :
    Shakti (Sanskrit pronunciation: [ˈʃʌktɪ]) (Devanagari: शक्ति; from Sanskrit shak, “to be able”), meaning “Power” or “empowerment,” is the primordial cosmic energy and represents the dynamic forces that are thought to move through the entire universe in Hinduism.[1] Shakti is the concept, or personification, of divine feminine creative power, sometimes referred to as ‘The Great Divine Mother’ in Hinduism. On the earthly plane, shakti most actively manifests through female embodiment and creativity/fertility, though it is also present in males in its potential, unmanifest form.[2]
    Not only is Shakti responsible for creation, it is also the agent of all change. Shakti is cosmic existence as well as liberation, its most significant form being the Kundalini Shakti,[3] a mysterious psychospiritual force.[4] Shakti exists in a state of svātantrya, dependence on no one, being interdependent with the entire universe..

    The colour Blue in Hinduism

    In Hinduism, Gods like Lord Vishnu, Lord Krishna, Lord Ram and Lord Shiva are shown as having blue or dusky skin. The color of the skin is shown as either blue or sometimes black. Hindu religion is full of symbolisms and the blue color is also a symbol. Most avatars of Hindu gods are also shown in blue color.
    Blue is the color of the infinite. All Hindu gods are an attempt by the human mind to give form to the formless Brahman (God). The color blues symbolizes immeasurable and all pervading reality – formless Brahman.
    Swami Chinmayananda talking on the subject says that whatever is immeasurable can appear to the mortal eye only as blue; thus the cloudless summer sky is blue to us because the endless distance of space is interpreted by the physical eye as blue in color.

    The Blue colour in Judaism :
    Blue in Judaism is used to symbolise divinity, because blue is the color of the sky and sea. It can also represent equilibrium, since its hue suggests a shade midway between white and black, day and night.[1]
    In the Torah, the Israelites were commanded to put fringes, tzitzit, on the corners of their garments, and to weave within these fringes a “twisted thread of blue (tekhelet).”[2] The oral law requires that this blue thread be made from a dye extracted from a sea creature known as the hilazon. Maimonides claimed that this blue was the color of “the clear noonday sky”; Rashi, the color of the evening sky.[3]
    According to several rabbinic sages, blue is the color of God’s Glory

    In Judaism,You have NOAH as the ancestor.
    In Hinduism,We have MANU (from which the word MAN comes)as the Primordial ancestor.

    See the similarities between the flood stories of Matsaya purana and flood stories in Judaism.

    During the period of mahapralaya, Lord Vishnu had taken Matsya Avatar (fish incarnation) to save the seeds of all lives and Manu.

  8. For a while I read the U.S.A. publication Namarupa Magazine, founded by Eddie Stern, the head of the most established group of the late yogi Sri K. Pattabhi Jois’ students of “Ashtanga Yoga” in New York. Often times Stern has to go reconstruct how old poojas were performed.The overall impression I’ve gotten is that Hindus by modern times and for some time previously have been distanced from many of the liturgical-sacramental (such as how to many different poojas were performed) as well as the legalistic-ritual aspects (their “shastras” or legal tractates), and have been caught up in the philosophical/mystical/individualistic salvation aspects of their own religion at the expense of the legal & sacramental. I could blame a good part of this on British suppression, domination and rule, but I somehow don’t think that’s the whole story. The entire Jewish tradition has been unified into something more internally consistent, despite a lot of persecution. A number of times Stern and his associates have to go reconstruct how old poojas were performed.
    Judaism insisted that liturgical and legal aspects be brought in line at a base level with basic philosophical considerations. That ruled out many practices, but it actually makes our sacramental/liturgical/legal tradition more alive for us (hard as that may be to believe with the noise of talkers in synagogue), than for many Hindus, it seems. Rashi, Rambam, Saadya and Ramban wrote about speculative matters, about commentary on the Torah, but also about the tractates of at least the Mishnah if not the Talmud. My impression is that Shankara’s work does not cover the various Shastras, although I may be wrong, and maybe I don’t have a complete bibliography. Shankara seems to me much less interested in the sacramental/ritual/legalistic. Even earlier, already the Upanishads are less concerned with the older, cultic parts of the Veda, the various details of the horse sacrifice. Of course, Shankara had a much larger corpus of tradition to cope with than the Rambam. But at least Shankara comments on the Vedas and the Upanishads, which he sees as the “logos” of God, to use a Philonic expression, and keeps Shankara within “orthodox Hinduism.” Ghazali and others in Islam also unified the speculative with Hadith and the legal and sacramental traditions. Were there such people in Hinduism?
    I’m sure much Kalaam and philosophy, theosophy, and Divine psychology in the West was influenced by Hindu as well as Buddhist thought, but there often is a difference in emphasis. Indians (as well as, perhaps, some of the ancient Greeks as part of the Indo-Aryan heritage) remain much more interested in the immanent aspect of God, valuing “subjective” truth, God as in my soul, over the “transcendent” aspect, God as a relationship with an “Other” outside oneself. Buber seems right about that. Jews inscribe “Know before whom you stand” above the Holy Ark, unlike the Greek Temple at Dephi, which had the inscriptions “Know thyself” and “Everything in measure (the Golden Mean).” Jews have a predominantly “objective” focus of knowledge.
    I’m familiar with Radhakrishnan’s anthology of excerpted translations somewhat. Another of my former teachers is, as well: I remember when I was studying the anthology in depth and I had happened to bring it along concealed in my bag to a Tai Chi class with Mori veRabbi Prof. H. Sober, and he referenced the Radhakrishnan anthology (he must have been reading my thoughts, I’m quite convinced) so I brought the book over to him, and he proceeded to look up and quote a section from Sri Aorobindo.
    Hinduism and Buddhism were used by Christians and Buddhists to try to prove that Judaism, or for that matter even Parsis and perhaps some non-speculative Islam was not “spiritual” enough for the individual. But by proclaiming allegiance but in effect neglecting the significance of the communal/sacramental/ritual/legalistic aspects of their tradition, are Hindus really remaining true to their own concept of “dharma?”

    • Shankara charya revived Hinduism ..

      I do not know but do you know as per hinduism : the primary aim od this life is to get moksha or liberation.
      This is not Jewish aim or aim of Judaism mainstream.
      So,Jewish do not have Monastic tradition and renunciation/Celibacy .Judaism is more akin to householder family dharma. because of marriage and children .There is no other school in Judaism .Now the difference between householder life and monastic life are poles apart.Monastic life is purely centered on divine with no family ties,no money.So complete surrender.The experience of those monastics can not be there in Judaism and so Jewish mind will not be able to understand those experiences.Also as per Hinduism,this is KALI YUGA.,Hindu time is cyclic and Jewish time is linear.Most important difference,we have worship of divine as personal relationship in the sense of these relationships :
      1)Mother 2)father 3)child 4)friend 5)servant.

      Does mainstream Judaism revere divine as mother? NO.
      Does Mainstream Judaism revere animals as also divine ,,because they are also created by divine? NO.
      All hindu divine persona have animals as their instruments.
      Different manifestation of Mother goddess has pet animals from Lion to Parrot,so automatically people become kind to such animals and become vegetarians.

      Does Judaism revere stones like ShaliGrama as representative of divine ?
      So in the sense ,we see divine everywhere and in each particle and dust and in each manifestation whether it is human or animal or living or not.

  9. The soul called in Hinduism.,,it is called “Atman”.Atman is transcendental and I do not know if you ever heard the concept of “Samadhi”.
    google : Samadhi.

    Samādhi (Sanskrit: समाधि) in Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism and yogic schools is a higher level of concentrated meditation, or dhyāna. In the yoga tradition, it is the eighth and final limb identified in the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali.

    It has been described as a non-dualistic state of consciousness in which the consciousness of the experiencing subject becomes one with the experienced object,[1] and in which the mind becomes still, one-pointed or concentrated[2] while the person remains conscious. In Buddhism, it can also refer to an abiding in which mind becomes very still but does not merge with the object of attention, and is thus able to observe and gain insight into the changing flow of experience.[3]

    Judaism is very different from Hinduism and since meditative practise /celibacy was not part of Judaism ,I am afraid to say that it is very difficult for a Jewish person to understand Hinduism.

    You do not have concept of Kundalini,Brahmacharya,Ojas/Tejas,Chakras in your tradition since Kaballah was incorporated into JUdaism in 16th century officially as per wikipedia and was very influenced by Sufism.

    If you are not celibate,then your chance of divine realisation : called “Nirvakalpa Samadhi” is zero as per Hinduism.You can get ” Sarvakalpa Samadhi” only.Great Sages like Shankaracharya were monastics and Judaism has no monastic concept and no celibacy.So..it is very difficult for a Jew to understand or experience the mystical aspects of Hinduism because Judaism is for a different mindset and culture.

    Then second concept which Judaism does not preach is “Non Violence” towards Animals because Jewish religion as such has no condemnation for meat eating and killing of chicken etc.Otherwise Judaism would be another Hinduism school or Jainism school.To a Sage : Meat eating is hurting a creature of divine for food because the sage sees the same Divine Soul in him and in the creature.There is no difference in the transcendental soul existing in a animal creature or a human being.The material “mind’ being a manifestation of soul may be different but the transcendental soul is same.
    Our whole culture of Hinduism reveres divine soul in all.That is why there is concept of Namaste.Second thing ,in Judaism,a Guru is just a human being and he should not be bowed because he is a human being.
    Where as in Hinduism,we see him as a divine being in the sense that he reflects the divine soul in him more clearly than rest of populace and we surrender on his feet..that means we give our mind to such a divine realised being.Without True Guru’s grace ,no chance of divine realisation as per Hinduism.Guru is the match maker which brings you close to divine.Hindus bow to their parents because the parents are their creators.Humility,trust in your divine realised Guru and ahimsa are the corner stones of divine realisation.The trust should be so much,that if this Guru who is divine realised says you have to jump in a well,you have to do it with complete faith,that everything what he says is best
    for you.So,there are many fakes also in this line,who can fool you.But a divine realised soul is different.It is a misfortune that such sages are so few in this world.


  10. Amit
    I will just say you have not had better than tertiary sources or ‘worse’. A rejoinder is not worthy to engage in but I will remind you that even according to the Vedanta ‘moksha’ is also a illusion.

    But to sum it up more succinctly diff peoples have diff mentalities and in the end salvation is a gift to mankind no matter how many ‘revolutions’ of the mental state he/she must churn in order to find the ‘door’.

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