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