East meets West in workshop on Indian philosophy hosted by High Commission in Wellington


Indian High Commissioner Neeta Bhushan (third from left) and Prof J.L.Shaw (third from right) flanked by visiting scholars at the Indian High Commission in Wellington (Photo supplied)

Venu Menon
Wellington, September 14,2023

The High Commission of India in New Zealand turned its premises on 72, Pipitea St, Wellington, into a centre of excellence and learning when it hosted a two-month workshop on Indian philosophy.

From July 1 to the closing day on 31 August 2023, the high commission was the venue for a first-of-its-kind workshop on the Relevance of Indian Philosophy to Contemporary Western Philosophy, led by veteran academician Prof Jaysankar Lal Shaw.

Visitors had the opportunity to witness and participate in back-to-back interactive sessions spread over two months. Five scholars of philosophy flew down from India to engage with Prof Shaw, retired Professor of Philosophy from Victoria University of Wellington.

High Commissioner of India to New Zealand Neeta Bhushan, in her remarks at the closing ceremony, paid tribute to Prof Shaw and noted that the “presence of academicians from India adds so much value to the High Commission.”

She described Prof Shaw as a prolific writer and teacher who “has had the dream of holding this workshop for a long time.” She was glad the Indian High Commission was “able to collaborate in this workshop.”

High Commissioner Bhushan presented certificates to the Indian scholars who participated in the workshop, including  Prof Satish Kumar Singh ,  Prof Siddique Alam Beg , Prof Neeti Singh, Ph.D scholars Omkar Mahadeo Supekar and Priyanca Tarafdar .

Second Secretary Durga Dass welcomed feedback from the scholars who attended the workshop, which covered over 200 hours of discussions spread over 60 days. Speaker after speaker remarked on the unique experience of learning at the feet of Prof Shaw, an authority on the Nyaya School of Philosophy.

Prof Shaw took the audience through the two-month journey navigating the thickets of Indian and Western philosophy.

“This workshop is a unique event not only in New Zealand but also in the world, as this type of workshop had never been held in the past,” he said in his opening remarks.

Prof Shaw said the workshop aimed to have a dialogue between the “diverse traditions of Europe, Asia, North and South, East and West, so that each tradition derives some inspiration from the other and they, far from being incompatible, would complement each other.”

The workshop straddled the domains of epistemology, definitions of knowledge in contemporary philosophy, fallacies and Tarka in the Nyaya philosophy, the philosophy of language, the subject-predicate distinction in Western philosophy, the principle of contradiction in logic, and the Nyaya concept of relevance, and so on.

At the outset, the workshop examined the Indian concept of philosophy, Dharma, the law of Karma, the conception of God, Maya, and the goal of Indian philosophy.

Then the discussion veered to the topic of Causation and the views of Samkhya, Buddha, and the Nyaya philosophers.

In a nod to the tumultuous contemporary world, the focus shifted to the notion of harmony and the Indian concept of freedom and the nature of human beings.

But first, the workshop needed to address the fundamental question as to whether Indian philosophy was capable of solving the problems of Western philosophy in the first place.

To bridge the two philosophical systems, Prof Shaw set out a strategy “to reconcile some of the conflicting views in contemporary Western philosophy by using the techniques of the Nyaya tradition.” He also relied on Nyaya philosophy to suggest new or better solutions to some of the existing problems, as well as some age-old or unsolved problems, of Western philosophy.

The workshop peeled through the question of relevance, the difference between dharma and ethics, the holistic world view of Indian philosophy, which includes all living beings and Nature, as opposed to Western philosophy’s primarily human-centric approach. It explored the different definitions of perception and modes of reasoning, the myriad interpretations of illusion and reality, or Maya, and the intricacies of cause and effect.

Fundamentally, Indian philosophy puts Moksha at the apex of human endeavour, whereas Western thinking puts Kama (pursuit of pleasure) at its core.

Finally, the workshop falsifies the claim of Rudyard Kipling that “East is East, West is West, and never the twain shall meet.”

Prof Shaw ended his address with the words of Sister Nivedita, the Irish disciple of Swami Vivekananda: “The whole history of the world shows that the Indian intellect is second to none.”

Venu Menon is an Indian Newslink reporter based in Wellington

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