Reorienting Indology – the Tibetan Contribution

Arjay (M.L. Sondhi)

Shakti, July 1965

Of late a renewed awareness of reorientation* has become evident among certain intellectuals who although not novel in their approach, yet show a marked deviation, away from the Anglic or American vision of Indology, towards the Asiatic view of Indology. After all the mind of Asia is more proximate to the natives of India. In the past there had been a mutual intercourse and influence among the Asian countries in which India had participated vigorously. Our present knowledge of Asia, however, is negligible. Many Japanese scholars have a legitimate complaint to make against us. They are perhaps disappointed to find no example of the Indian who is the object of their Indological studies, because to them we appear to be incorrigibly Anglic-minded, with scant regard for Asiatic studies. Japan has admirably assimilated and absorbed tradition with modernity; she has reoriented in the genuine sense of the term. One basic presupposition of the Japanese Indologist is that unless one studies the Asian mind, which is the proximate genus of the Indian mind, the study of Indology is bound to be incomplete. The Japanese have made more researches on Tibet and other Asian countries, which has felicitated their reorientation.

The purpose of reorientation, or of Indian Studies, or of Indology (terms which apparently contain a concealed distinction amongst themselves) is fundamentally the same, and that is to render the Indian mind intelligible. The term Indology is generally reserved to cover the ancient period of Indian history, and it is believed that only for the study of this period is it necessary to know Tibetan, Sanskrit, Pali or any Asiatic language. Indian Studies perhaps lays emphasis on medieval India, and is thus dependent on the Anglic vision of ancient India. Reorientation sounds more like the political guide to the free world. A chronological frame of this kind hardly conveys the purpose of reorientation. It is a classification which fails to convey the line of development in our thinking. It would be better to construct a logical framework in which continuity between the terms were maintained.

The purpose of reorientation is to trace logical experience from logical expression. Laws of human thought are basically common to all human beings. It cannot be that there is an Indian law of thought and an Aristotelian law of thought. Logical experience is alike everywhere although logical expression may differ with terminologies. Logical expression goes along with the language with its idioms, terminologies, nomenclature and symbols. Reorientation would get to the experience substantiating these expressions. Schopenhauer, for instance, is considered to have been guilty of “linguistic waste’ in his comparison between moral truths and the facts of animal life. If we look for just the literal meaning of these utterances of Schopenhauer and their incompatibility of expression we may not get to his experience at all. His expression far from being meaningful and intelligible would block our understanding of his experience or his intended meaning. But he produced no linguistic waste. He aimed at bringing out certain laws that are common to all lives in the universe. To get to this meaning of his we do make some ‘Literal meaning-transcendency’. Thus by comparison or by interdisciplinary study there occurs a flash giving birth to new meaningful situations.

Hitherto we got the meaning of our culture chiefly through the Anglic vision. There is no harm if we also acquaint ourselves with another way of looking at it namely through the Asiatic vision. It may pay us well in getting to know the Asiatic vision of Indology. For we may make a better reorientation. We may then find it easy to mould our traditions with modernity. This in essence is a creative thinking and for any creative thinking logical thinking needs to be corroborated. It is partly logical thinking that led the west to more and more scientific elements. Further developments of logic opened new avenues of learning like cybernetics, information theory etc. A study of Indian Logic is thus a needed discipline to effect a better reorientation.

Bockenski observes in his ‘History of Formal Logic’ that “We are even worse off for translations than for editions; only very few (Tibetan) texts have been completely translated.” He further says that ‘Vidyabhushana’s ‘History of Indian Logic’ is a mere compendium which has no understanding of logical principles”. And he rightly points out that the lack of knowledge of Tibetan, which has the chief sources of texts on Indian Logic, has led us to be illogical even in writing a book on logic. For a fuller understanding of Indian logic which is essential for reorientation it is impossible to do away with Tibetan in which many works on Indian logic are likely to be found which are not known in Sanskrit. Japanese scholars have translated more works of Tibetan. That has perhaps helped them to understand their own culture better. This state has prevailed because we did not think it useful to know any foreign language other than English. But despite English our knowledge of western scientific civilisation is also deficient. While western Philosophers proceed on to new original theories and techniques and application of the knowledge of other disciplines to Philosophy and vice versa, we in India take all our time in struggling to follow them and all that we do is to boast that ‘the first Indian has written a book on symbolic logic’ on which a score of westerners have already written. Our creative thinking is negligible, and it can perhaps be renewed if we cultivate logical thinking Indian logic is comparatively an unexplored field and William Kneale has therefore understandably omitted Indian logic in his ‘Development of Logic’. Cohen who reviewed his book need not therefore complain that William Kneale has not done justice to Indian Logic, since responsibility for the omission rests squarely on our own shoulders.

The Tibetan language is rich I Buddhist literature on Indian logic. Dasapatharthi, an early Buddhist work in Tibetan is a commentary on the Vaisesika system. It was much later that the Sanskrit version was found in India. There might be many more such works unknown to us or in Sanskrit. If known, they might throw much light on some historically significant events and o Indian logic. Buddhists are known for their logical skill. Dharmakirthi and Dignaga are amongst the Buddhist logicians who gave a strong impetus to Indian Philosophic growth. Stcherbatsky in his ‘Buddhist logic’ gives an account of Dharmakirthi’s ‘Nyaya Bindhu’ explaining many subtle logical distinctions like that of entailment as in p,q and identity as in p, p. D.N. Shastri in ‘A Kritique of Indian Realism’ brings out how much the orthodox systems, in particular Nyaya-Vaisesika owe to the heterodox Buddhist logicians in the development of their metaphysics. From this it would follow that a study of Indian logic cannot exclude Buddhist logic and that to study Buddhist logic we need to study Tibtan. To understand our own orthodox system as well an understanding of Tibetan is necessary. A study of Indian logic is of course needed in developing the much wanted logical thinking which could make our reorientation sensible.

In his memoirs ‘My land and my people’ the Dalai Lama of Tibet speaks of his education in very much the same way as once ‘Controversies’ were carried on in India. Controversy or the method of debate was a medium of learning, which helped in maintaining communication in a systematic way. The Dalai Lama might have brought with him some valuable works in Tibetan on Buddhist logic or, on othodox systems of Philosophy which are not known. Therefore if we could cultivate a taste for Tibetan we may be in a position to know more about Indian logic and its techniques, and thus make a better reorientation.


The meaning of reorientation has been altered to suit the intellectual convenience of individuals. The term probably was put in the current use by the Americans designed to commune with the wisdom of the east. For some this would mean anything but an Anglic outlook. They hope to understand what have been neglected hitherto, namely indigenous ingenuity and its spontaneous flow. The older generation, however, were largely, if not solely, moved by the ‘Anglic vision’ and many became obsessed to the point at which they could think, write and act only to meet the standards of Anglo-Saxon cynicism. Or else oriental nonsense was reoriented time and again by mystic-mongers to suit the tastes of American window-shoppers. After all what is there which the western intellect finds so absolving in oriental wisdom? Non-violence which interested the west at the time when they were exhausted by their violence, no longer holds the same significance in the age of the nuclear cold war. It is reduced to a tactical move. All our attempts to sophisticate our learning in western terms may help only the west. Books on Indian Philosophy, for instance, are either translations of original texts with all the impurities of translation or they are expositions, usually metaphysical or mystical, arrested by the English or in some cases German or French terminologies. The audience they have in view is usually western. However some recent researches and publications try for a new approach with a borrowed analysis from the west. These approaches may help half way in our pursuit of basic concepts. But the understanding of the basic concepts in Indian Philosophy such as whether Jati and Samanya are one and the same, whether there is a term logic in Indian thought etc. can best be understood only with reference to heterodox schools and their works found elsewhere outside India. Our efforts in this direction may bring about a fine reorientation.
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