Workshop falsifies Rudyard Kipling’s claim: Prof Shaw


Prof J L Shaw (left) and (seated left to right) Indian High Commission Second Secretaries Durga Dass, Mukesh Ghiya and Manoj Kumar Sahu at the inaugural session of the workshop on Indian philosophy held at the High Commission of India in Wellington(Photo supplied)

 

Venu Menon
Wellington, July 11,2023

The High Commission of India hosted the inaugural session of a workshop on “The Relevance of Indian Philosophy to Contemporary Western Philosophy” at its premises on Pipitea Street in Wellington on July 10.

The workshop, which kicked off on July 1 and will run till August-end, is led by Prof J.L. Shaw whose book of the same title was launched at the high commission a year ago.

Prof Shaw is a former Victoria University of Wellington academician and acclaimed author of over 14 books on philosophy.

“It is a unique event not only in Wellington or New Zealand, but also in the world,” Prof Shaw told the assembled guests who included fellow academics from Victoria University and scholars from India, as well as the sponsors of the event. “This type of workshop on Indian and Comparative Philosophy has never been held in the past.”

Prof Shaw said the workshop aimed at fostering a “dialogue between the diverse traditions of philosophy, including European and Indian, so that each tradition derives some inspiration from the other.”

Prof Shaw added: “Hence, it [workshop] is an extremely rewarding forum and falsifies the claim of [Rudyard] Kipling that ‘East is East, West is West, and never the twain shall meet.’”

He said the aim was also to demonstrate how Indian philosophy can contribute to the “discussion of shared problems with Western philosophy, and especially how Indian philosophy and Western philosophy can derive insights from each other.”

Prof Shaw’s talk was peppered by references to the Western pantheon of thinkers who included Plato, Bertrand Russell and Hegel, as well as Eastern thinkers from the 3,000-year-old Nyaya tradition of Indian philosophy and stalwarts such as Panini, Shankaracharya and Vivekananda.

But more importantly, Prof Shaw highlighted how the two distinct systems of thought were not mutually antagonistic or irreconcilable.

Prof Shaw proceeded on the premise that the techniques adopted by Indian philosophers can be utilised to resolve the conundrums and dead-ends encountered by contemporary Western philosophers.

But to achieve that elusive synergy between the two apparently incompatible systems of thought, Prof Shaw realised he needed to address a fundamental question.

“Now, the Western philosopher might ask why should we study Indian philosophy if it is not useful for solving the problems of Western philosophy?”

To answer this question, Prof Shaw understood he needed first to demonstrate the relevance of Indian philosophy with respect to certain “shared problems or questions” of epistemology, philosophy of language, logic and values.

Prof Shaw offered a two-step approach to bridge Indian and contemporary Western philosophies.

First, identify the age-old, unsolved problems that dog contemporary Western philosophy. Second, find new or better solutions to those problems by using the techniques of Indian philosophers.

Prof Shaw cited Russell’s famous claim that the syllogism in Shakespeare’s Othello is an irresolvable philosophical question.

“Othello believes Desdemona loves Cassio. That is true. But Desdemona does not love Cassio. That is false,” Prof Shaw explained.

He continued: “Russell says nobody has solved this, not even Plato who is the forerunner of Western philosophy.”

Bur Prof Shaw turned to the Nyaya tradition of Indian philosophy, which went back 2,500 years, to counter Russell.

The mental state of Othello was attached to remembered love and that “memory cognition” of love was imposed elsewhere, Prof Shaw explained, adding:  “This solves the unsolved philosophical problem of contemporary Western philosophy”.

Prof Shaw explained how the Indian concept of philosophy was “broader than its Western counterpart.”

The core difference lay between the Indian concept of “dharma” and the Western idea of “ethics.” Western culture defined ethics as ‘the normative science of conduct of human beings in society.’ But dharma went beyond the conduct of human beings in society and extended to their conduct in the natural world of flora and fauna as well.

“It is to be noted that the concept of violence of Indian philosophers is so subtle and pervasive that it applies to trees as well,” Prof Shaw explained. “Injury to trees and forests and flowers is considered violence, and there is a provision for expiation (praschitta) for this type of violence as well. The Samkhya system has mentioned 81 types of violence.”

Prof Shaw added that the concept of dharma could not be equated with religion which was based on blind faith or dogma.

“Dharma is not opposed to science. It is as rational as science. It is concerned with the cessation of suffering, and paves the way for peace, happiness and harmony in the world,” he noted.

Prof Shaw concluded by invoking the words of Swami Vivekananda’s disciple Sister Nivedita, who said the “Indian intellect is second to none.”

“Are the countrymen of Bhaskaracharya and Shankaracharya inferior to the countrymen of Newton and Darwin?” Prof Shaw quoted Sister Nivedita as saying.

Prof Shaw flanked by visiting scholars from India who attended the workshop (Photo supplied)

Earlier, following a welcome song by his wife Shipra, Prof Shaw received tributes from top officials of the Indian High Commission, as well as the participants of the workshop, most of whom were faculty members of universities in India.

Indian High Commission Second Secretary (Press, Information and culture) Durga Dass said the workshop was a part of the Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav marking 75 years of Indian Independence. He described Prof Shaw as a “father figure and Guru” who, despite being an authority in his field, was humble and modest.

Up next, Head of Chancery and Second Secretary (Consular) Mukesh Ghiya  welcomed the visiting scholars from India and hoped they would “take away the uniqueness and ambience of this place.”

Lastly, Second Secretary (Political and Commercial) Manoj Kumar Sahu commended Prof Shaw for his “perseverance and sincerity” in organising the workshop and looked forward to the intellectual legacy it left behind.

Venu Menon is an Indian Newslink reporter based in Wellington    

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