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Table of contents :
Cover
Half Title
Dedication
Title
Copyright
Contents
Preface
Abbreviations
Conventions of Transliteration and Translation
Introduction
1 Foundations
2 The Science of Religion and Religion as Science
3 Vedānta in Defence of Religion
4 Vedānta and the Religious Foundation of Ethics
5 Ramakrishna, Vedānta and the Essence of Hinduism
Conclusion
Bibliography
Index
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Religion for a Secular Age: Max Müller, Swami Vivekananda and Vedanta
 9781472462923, 9781315604909

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RELIGION FOr A SECULAr AGE

To my parents

Religion for a Secular Age

Max Müller, Swami Vivekananda and Vedānta

THOMAs J. GrEEN

First published 2016 by Ashgate Publishing Published 2016 by Routledge 2 Park Square, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon OX14 4RN 711 Third Avenue, New York, NY 10017, USA Routledge is an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group, an informa business Copyright © Thomas J. Green 2016 Thomas J. Green has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988, to be identified as the author of this work. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or utilised in any form or by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publishers. Notice: Product or corporate names may be trademarks or registered trademarks, and are used only for identification and explanation without intent to infringe. British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library The Library of Congress has cataloged the printed edition as follows: A catalogue record for this book is available from the Library of Congress ISBN: 978-1-472-46292-3 (hbk) ISBN: 978-1-315-60490-9 (ebk)

Contents Preface   Abbreviations   Conventions of Transliteration and Translation   Introduction  

vii ix xi 1

1

Foundations  

15

2

The Science of Religion and Religion as Science  

49

3

Vedānta in Defence of Religion  

79

4

Vedānta and the Religious Foundation of Ethics  

113

5

Ramakrishna, Vedānta and the Essence of Hinduism  

141

Conclusion  

171

Bibliography   175 Index185

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Preface Explorations of what happens to ‘religion’ in the face of modernity have long been fixtures of historical and sociological scholarship, but only more recently has the net begun to be cast more widely to take in the transnational dimensions of this problem. If we acknowledge that secularisation may be better understood on a canvas broader than that offered by national histories, then we might expect at least some of the forms of religion that emerge in response to secularisation to have a transnational character. My aim in this book is to offer an account of just such a form of religion, namely, the ‘Vedānta’ of the title. By paying close attention to the texts produced by Müller and Vivekananda on both religion generally and Vedānta more specifically, as well as the context in which these texts were produced, I provide a new interpretation of late nineteenth-century Vedānta as a transnational religious form at once determined by and resistant to secularisation. This book is a revised version of my thesis which was written with the support of a studentship from King’s College, Cambridge – an institution which also provided me with a sociable and stimulating collegiate environment during my doctoral studies. I received additional funding from the Spalding Trust to enable me to complete the thesis. I was able to spend a summer improving my German thanks to the Kurt Hahn Trust and the Cambridge European Trust. From the first time I stepped through his office door as a callow undergraduate, Julius Lipner has had a profound influence on my academic development. I can scarcely imagine that I would have started or finished this project without his encouragement and inspiration, not to mention his exceptional dedication, patience and attention to detail as a reader and critic of my writing at all stages of its development. My thesis examiners, Chris Bayly and Gavin Flood, both made thoughtful comments pushing me to reconsider or reinforce my argument in ways I would not otherwise have perceived. Douglas Hedley read early drafts of two chapters and offered suggestions for further reading and constructive criticism without which this work as a whole would have been much the poorer. I received instruction in Bengali from Sima Chakrabarti and later from Julius Lipner, both of whom were patient with my faltering efforts to negotiate the vagaries of the inherent vowel. I am also thankful to Eivind Kahrs and Vincenzo Vergiani for their instruction in Sanskrit, but perhaps even more so for welcoming me into a friendly and supportive Indological community. I benefited greatly from Tim Jenkins’s reading group in the social sciences during my graduate studies and am particularly thankful to him for introducing me

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to an eclectic range of texts and ideas which I hope has kept me from narrowing my focus too far. I also learned much from the graduate seminar on Global Intellectual History led by Chris Bayly and Shruti Kapila. Discussing nineteenth-century India and philology with Mishka Sinha, often late into the night, provided me with inspiration and camaraderie throughout my PhD. Stephen McDowall came to the rescue by thinking up and then mocking up the cover design. Thanks are due also to my commissioning editors at Ashgate, Sarah Lloyd and David Shervington, for supporting this project through to publication and to the anonymous readers for their helpful comments. All and any errors, deficiencies and omissions are mine and mine alone. Although scholarship can often seem a solitary pursuit, I would not have been able to come through the trials and tribulations it involves without the support, encouragement, and distraction of friends – in Cambridge, Edinburgh and beyond – my family and, above all, Fliss. Edinburgh, October 2015

Abbreviations

ALS

Müller, F.M. (1899), Auld Lang Syne: My Indian Friends

AR

——— (1891), Anthropological Religion

BR1-10

Vivekananda, Swami (2008), Svāmī Bibekānander Bānī o Racanā (10 vols.)

CGW1

Müller, F.M. (1894), Chips from a German Workshop, vol. 1

CGW2

——— (1895), Chips from a German Workshop, vol. 2

CPR

Kant, I. (1881), Critique of Pure Reason, tr. F.M. Müller

CW1-8

Vivekananda, Swami (1991-92), The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda (8 vols.)

DL

Müller, F.M. (1905), Deutsche Liebe: aus den Papieren eines Fremdlings

DPL

——— (1873), ‘Lectures on Mr. Darwin’s Philosophy of Language’

GSR

Gupta, M. (1980), The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, tr. Swami Nikhilananda

IWCTU

Müller, F.M. (1883), India: what can it teach us?

LL1-2

Müller, G. (ed.) (1902), The Life and Letters of the Right Honourable Friedrich Max Müller (2 vols.)

MA

Müller, F.M. (1901), My Autobiography: A Fragment

NR

——— (1889), Natural Religion

x

Religion for a Secular Age

OGR

——— (1878), Lectures on the Origin and Growth of Religion as Illustrated by the Religions of India

PR

Müller, F.M. (1891), Physical Religion

RKM

Gupta, M. (2009 (1897–1932)), Śrīśrīrāmakṛṣṇa-kathāmṛta

RLS

Müller, F.M. (1974 (1898)), Ramakrishna: His Life and Sayings

RM

——— (1896), ‘A Real Mahâtman’

SH

——— (1903), The Silesian Horseherd

SL1-2

——— (1885), Lectures on the Science of Language: New Edition

SR

——— (1873), Introduction to the Science of Religion

SSIP

——— (1899), The Six Systems of Indian Philosophy

SVW1.1-3.2

Burke, M.L. (1985–87), Swami Vivekananda in the West (3 vols. in 6 parts)

TLV

Müller, F.M. (1894), Three Lectures on the Vedānta Philosophy

TPR

——— (1893), Theosophy or Psychological Religion

Upanishads

——— (1879), The Upanishads: Part I

Conventions of Transliteration and Translation Throughout this work I shall use established roman renderings of Bengali and Sanskrit names where those already exist (for example, Keshab Chandra Sen, Vivekananda, Shankara, Krishna), rather than using diacriticals. For the names of philosophical traditions and texts, abstract concepts, titles of works, and for names in South Asian languages where there is no existing conventional roman transliteration, I shall use diacriticals (for example, Vedānta Sūtras, Vedānta, Viśiṣṭādvaita). I have retained diacriticals in quotations, although antiquated forms have been updated according to modern conventions (for example, ‘â’ becomes ‘ā’). I have endeavoured wherever possible to give my own translations of those writings of Vivekananda’s originally in Bengali due to the presence of inaccuracies and omissions in their translation in the English Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda. I have given important terms in the original Bengali in brackets, and for passages where my own translation deviates significantly or controversially from that of the Complete Works I have provided the Bengali in a footnote. In all cases I also give references to the relevant passages in both the Bengali Svāmī Bibekānander Bānī o Racanā and the Complete Works. Dates are often missing for Vivekananda’s letters and lectures, but can sometimes be found using Mary Louise Burke’s Swami Vivekananda in the West (SVW) or Rajagopal Chattopadhyaya, Swami Vivekananda in India, in which case I have given the relevant reference.

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Introduction Were I to publish any of the innumerable letters which I receive from unknown correspondents from every part of India, some written in English, others in Sanskrit, they would surprise many readers by showing how like the present political, philosophic, and religious atmosphere in the higher classes of Indian society is to our own. My Indian friends are interested in the same questions which interest us, and they often refer us to their own ancient philosophers who have discussed the same questions many centuries ago.1

This book is about the intriguingly similar responses to a crisis of religious meaning of two of the most important commentators on religion of the second half of the nineteenth century: the German-born scholar of Sanskrit and founding father of the comparative study of religion, Friedrich Max Müller (1823–1900), and the Bengali Hindu moderniser and advocate for Hinduism in America and Europe, Swami Vivekananda (1863–1902). Convinced that religion would have to adapt to survive amid ceaseless intellectual transformations, both men looked back to the Indian philosophical tradition of Advaita Vedānta as the blueprint for a form of religion able to flourish in a secular age. Studies of the connections between nineteenth-century Indian and European religious thought typically take either a bird’s eye view of the subject or focus on the idea of ‘India’ in Europe or vice versa, so this project, in being a close-reading of the works of two prominent figures, represents a departure from the norm. Wilhelm Halbfass and Peter van der Veer, for instance, have produced two of the most important contributions to the ‘interactional’ history of India and Europe, drawing both Müller and Vivekananda among many others into expansive narratives of modernisation and religious and societal ferment.2 My intention in beginning this project was not to question the undoubted value of these wide-angle approaches, but rather to take heed of van der Veer’s prescription that modernity and secularisation must be understood as transnational phenomena and apply it within a work of intellectual history, an approach based upon the close, contextualised reading of texts rich in ideas.3

1  From Müller’s collection of reminiscences about his Indian friends published in 1899. ALS: 153. 2  Halbfass (1988); van der Veer (2001). 3  Skinner (1969). I am particularly indebted in adopting this approach to the seminars on Global Intellectual History run by Chris Bayly and Shruti Kapila at the University of Cambridge.

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The context for the religious thought of Vivekananda and Müller is never simply India or Europe and the USA; instead, I argue, we must regard these two thinkers as they regarded themselves and each other, namely, as participants in a cosmopolitan religious culture reaching far beyond the confines of their native or adopted lands. Müller noted in the epigraph above that ‘my Indian friends are interested in the same questions which interest us’. If we take many of Vivekananda’s statements at face value, it would seem that he took a quite different view, instead, regarding India and ‘the West’ as embodying fixed and opposed cultural essences: respectively, ‘spirituality’ and materialism.4 However, this only tells us part of the story, as Vivekananda would hardly have spent as much time and effort as he did cultivating American and British supporters if he believed that there was no possibility of mutual understanding. Vivekananda’s dichotomy of East and West was above all an attempt to restore pride on the basis that there was at least one field in which India remained superior to her conquerors, namely, religion or ‘spirituality’. Yet, the full realisation of this supremacy could only come once Hindus had assumed their responsibilities as the teachers of spirituality to humankind. Vivekananda acknowledged the important role which foreign friends of India and Vedānta, including Müller, had to play in this process as well as believing that through the British Empire he might better spread his ideas and thereby hasten India’s spiritual conquest of the world.5 The cosmopolitanism that brought Müller, Vivekananda and many other Indian and Western intellectuals into conversation was, as Peter van der Veer has shown, characterised by a preoccupation with religion and its place in the modern world.6 Speaking to an audience in London on the subject of ‘Reason and Religion’ in 1896, Vivekananda depicted the crisis he saw facing religion in the starkest of terms: The foundations have been all undermined, and the modern man, whatever he may say in public, knows in the privacy of his heart that he can no more ‘believe’.7

A similarly grim outlook was depicted by Müller in his 1891 Gifford Lectures, Anthropological Religion, in which he declared ‘we live in a time of serious … honest atheism’, with a measure of sympathy for those who had ‘parted from their belief in the existence of a god’ after a ‘heart-breaking struggle’.8 4  Halbfass (1988): 237. With this dichotomy Vivekananda perpetuated an established trope of insider and outsider interpretations of Hindu India van der Veer (2001): 46. For example, see Sen (1901). 5  Vivekananda argued as much in an article entitled ‘On Dr. Paul Deussen’ in the Brahmavadin, 1896: ‘May they [Müller and the German Indologist Paul Deussen] be as bold in showing to us our defects, the later corruptions in our thought-systems in India, especially in their application to our social needs!’ CW4: 277. See Sen (1993): 324. 6  See van der Veer (2001), especially Chapters 1 and 3. 7  18 November 1896. CW1: 367; SVW2.2: 447, 478. 8  AR: 91.

Introduction

3

The late nineteenth century has been a period of particular interest to scholars of ‘secularisation’, described by Owen Chadwick as ‘an age admitted by every historical observer to be central to any consideration of the theme’.9 However, the question of secularisation in Europe in this era has attracted such attention partly because it is so problematic and complex. In the first place, the epochal crisis for religion perceived by some contemporary observers is not borne out by statistical measures, which, for instance, show no steep decline in religious participation in Britain in this period; indeed, such a phenomenon is not observable until the 1960s.10 However, the situation that is being described by Müller and Vivekananda is not the outcome of a process of societal change leading to the loss of cultural and political influence of religious institutions and a fall in their membership or attendance, but rather a crisis of meaning in which religious belief has become untenable to ‘modern’ people. In the words of Chadwick, a much later Gifford lecturer, this was a ‘secularisation of minds’.11 The subjectivity of secularisation understood in this sense renders it necessarily resistant to measurement; instead, we must make do with qualitative assessments of the spirit of the age of the sort offered above by Müller and Vivekananda or, more subtly, for instance, by Charles Taylor’s idea of the transformation in ‘the context of understanding’ for religious belief or unbelief: The shift to secularity in this sense consists, among other things, of a move from a society where belief in God is unchallenged and indeed, unproblematic, to one in which it is understood to be one option among others ... ... at least in certain milieux, it may be hard to sustain one’s faith. There will be people who feel bound to give it up, even though they mourn its loss. This has been a recognizable experience in our societies, at least since the mid-nineteenth century.12

The common ground between Müller, Vivekananda and Taylor here lies both in the sense that it has become difficult to maintain religious faith, but also in recognising the reluctance with which faith is often abandoned. While neither Müller nor Vivekananda used the term ‘secularisation’ to describe this situation – it was not commonly used with this sense until the middle of the twentieth century13 – they were clearly speaking to what we could now, following Taylor, regard as a secularised public. Both men assumed that religious belief was now hard to maintain and offered religion to their audiences in what they believed to be a more plausible form. Even in his lectures on language, Müller’s standing as a great Victorian public 9

 Chadwick (1975): 18.  Brown (2001): Chapter 7. 11  Chadwick (1975). 12  Taylor (2007): 3. 13  Bremmer (2008). 10

Religion for a Secular Age

4

intellectual was established on the basis of his reassurance to those unsettled by the findings of modern scholarship and this was still more true of his works on the ‘Science of Religion’.14 He occupied a position of secular religious authority among a global public which outweighed his faltering academic reputation, such that he received letters from unsettled believers and the unchurched around the world seeking his spiritual guidance.15 That there was a substantial audience for such reassurance can be ascertained from the popularity of Müller’s lectures and published works, but determining how far and in what sense the late nineteenth century can be characterised as ‘secularised’ is a problem beyond the scope of this work to resolve. While such questions are likely to remain contested, there can be no disputing that Müller and Vivekananda spoke and wrote of religion in the belief that they were living in a secular age, in Taylor’s sense of the term. If speaking of secularisation in Victorian Britain is problematic, then doing so with reference to late nineteenth-century India would seem to be even more so, not least because there is no equivalent of church attendance as a measure for assessing levels of religious belief and practice.16 However, there is some evidence at least of concern about a ‘secularisation of minds’, in the shape of religion losing its hold on those exposed to foreign learning. The story of Vivekananda’s conversion at the feet of Ramakrishna from rationalist scepticism to Kālī worship and Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay’s (1838–94) eventual rejection of Positivist atheism do suggest continuities with the experiences of faith and doubt of British contemporaries.17 Vivekananda’s words above warning of the undermining of religion’s foundations were directed at a British audience, yet, as Vivekananda saw it, educated Hindus were confronted by similar problems, albeit intensified and complicated by the experience of subjection to colonial rule: ‘Scylla and Charybdis, rank materialism and its opposite arrant superstition, must be avoided.’18 In the same lecture he urged his co-religionists to reject both the contemptuous rubbishing of all ‘Hindu thought’ by those captivated by ‘Western wisdom’ and the foolish ‘degradation’ of ‘educated monomaniacs’ with their ‘puerile explanations’ of each and every superstitious belief or practice.19 Vivekananda thus articulated what has arguably been the defining problem for modern Hindu religious thought; how to remain Hindu while embracing the critical spirit of modernity.20 Vivekananda’s solution was to place Hindu religion at the centre of the struggle for national 14

 Dowling (1982): 161.  See especially LL2 and SH. 16  van der Veer (2001): 14–15. 17  See Chapters 1 and 5; for Bankim see Kaviraj (1995). 18  ‘The work before us’, lecture delivered at the Triplicane Literary Society, Madras, probably in early 1897. CW3: 269. 19  See note above. CW3: 269. 20  Kaviraj (1995); Raychaudhuri (1995). 15

Introduction

5

revival, but it would be a religion transformed; a ‘purified Hinduism’, cleansed of the ‘ugliness’ he attributed to the vestiges of a ‘stranded Buddhism’.21 At the vanguard of modernity’s challenge to religion, as Müller and Vivekananda conceived of it, were the sciences. Vivekananda’s solution was that Hinduism itself would have to be made ‘scientific’.22 This scientific religion would not be for India only, but for the whole world, as we can see from Vivekananda’s remarks regarding Müller’s apparent conversion to Vedānta: I always thought that although Prof. Müller in all his writings on the Hindu religion adds in the last a derogatory remark, he must see the whole truth in the long run. As soon as you can, get a copy of his last book Vedantism; there you will find him swallowing the whole of it—reincarnation and all. ... I am glad now the old man has seen the truth, because that is the only way to have religion in the face of modern research and science.23

While Müller might not have put it quite like this, he was broadly in agreement with the assessment that only Vedānta, or a new form of religion very like it, could be reconciled with science.24 The word ‘Vedānta’ (veda:anta) means literally ‘the end of the Veda’ and refers to the latter portion of the Vedic corpus of śruti texts25 and to those later textual traditions which are interpretative of these śruti source texts of Vedānta.26 The śruti texts which form the basis for all subsequent intellectual traditions of Vedānta are the Upaniṣads; the most influential of which were composed between the middle of the first millennium BCE and the beginning of the Common Era.27 As the Upaniṣads were composed over centuries in different regions of northern India, and seem to draw upon a variety of sources which are no longer extant, they do not obviously constitute a single unified philosophical system. However, the synthesis of Upaniṣadic thought in the Vedāntasūtras or Brahmasūtras attributed to Bādarāyaṇa and composed in the first half of the first millennium CE provided later commentators with the material to construct interpretations consistent with their own metaphysical convictions. The most important of these later Vedāntins from our point of view (precisely because he was considered the authoritative

21

 Letter to Mrs Bull, Calcutta, 5 May 1897. CW8: 505–6.  CW5: 104. See Chapter 3. 23  New York, 5 May 1895, CW8: 337. The book Vivekananda refers to must be Three Lectures on the Vedānta Philosophy, published in 1894. 24  See Chapter 3. 25  Texts which are believed to have existed eternally and have been ‘heard’ by ancient ṛshis or ‘seers’, as opposed to ‘smṛti’ texts which pass on the accumulated experience of tradition and which are thus acknowledged to be of human origin. 26  Cf. Nicholson (2010): 40–41. 27  Olivelle (1996): xxxvi–xxxvii. 22

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6

commentator by Müller and Vivekananda) is Shankara (c. 700 CE),28 who was a leading exponent of Advaita (non-dualistic or monistic) Vedānta.29 The fundamental metaphysical position of Advaita Vedānta, as Müller and Vivekananda interpreted it, was quite straightforward. Müller used a single line attributed to Shankara to summarise it: Our Vedāntist says: ‘In one half verse I shall tell you what has been told in thousands of volumes: – Brahman is true, the world is false, man’s soul is Brahman and nothing else.’30

The aim of this teaching among traditional exponents was not to encourage in its hearers a correct understanding of metaphysics for its own sake, but rather to enable those of sufficiently high birth and good character to realise their identity with Brahman and thereby be released from the cycle of rebirth and the suffering and delusion of mundane existence. It is worth noting here that, although Müller and Vivekananda were not unaware of the unsystematic nature of the Upaniṣads, and the differing metaphysical views of the various schools of Vedāntic exegesis, they usually used the term ‘Vedānta’ as if it represented a single cohesive philosophical position, hence their tendency to talk about ‘the Vedānta philosophy’. Shankara’s Advaita Vedānta was treated by both Vivekananda and Müller as apogee of the Hindu intellectual traditions and, accordingly, his interpretation of the Upaniṣads and Bādarāyaṇa’s Vedāntasūtras was generally held by them to be the most accurate and philosophically rigorous.31 This bias meant that unless Müller and Vivekananda were discussing the historical schools of Vedānta, not all of which were monistic, they usually used ‘Vedānta’ as synonymous with ‘Advaita Vedānta’ and tended to conflate the Upaniṣads, the Vedāntasūtras, and the commentaries upon those sūtras by later philosophers, especially Shankara and the philosophical tradition which followed him, into a single monistic system of philosophy. As such, throughout this work, unless indicated otherwise, the term ‘Vedānta’ should be read as referring to the modern interpretations of Advaita Vedānta put forward by Müller, Vivekananda and their contemporaries; ‘modern Vedānta’ will be used where further disambiguation is required and ‘traditional Advaita’ will be used to refer to the teachings of Shankara and other earlier Advaitins. This systematisation marks one respect among many in which these late nineteenth-century thinkers interpreted Vedānta according to their own lights and 28

 King (1999): 42.  Recent scholarship has attempted to redress the disproportionate attention paid to Shankara at the expense of other Vedāntins: see, for instance, Nicholson (2010). 30  TLV: 171–2. Müller appears to be paraphrasing verse 20 of Vivekacūḍāmaṇi. Grimes (2004): 70. Vivekananda cites the same verse in his ‘Discourses on Jnana Yoga’. CW8: 5. 31  ‘The Advaita Vedāntists...having nearly the whole range of the Upanishads in their favour, build their philosophy entirely upon them.’ CW1: 362. ‘Shankara ... is indeed the principal representative of the Vedānta philosophy in the literary history of India.’ TLV: 62. 29

Introduction

7

arguably deviated significantly from earlier Vedānta traditions.32 I shall be more concerned with analysing the uses and meanings of Vedānta in this period, rather than measuring Müller and Vivekananda against traditional Advaita, but it is worth noting some of the differences which were central to the calibration of Vedānta as the religion best fitted to survive secularisation. Perhaps the most significant difference between these modern Vedāntas and traditional Advaita is in soteriology, since, while Shankara is ultimately concerned with liberation from the cycle of rebirth, neither Müller nor Vivekananda pay very much attention to this salvational aspect which tends to be displaced by a concentration on metaphysics and ethics.33 Another crucial distinction lies in the attitude to scripture in traditional Advaita as opposed to modern Vedānta: the method of traditional Advaita is fundamentally an exercise in the exegesis of the Upaniṣads, Vedāntasūtras and other canonical texts, whereas Vivekananda and Müller interpreted Vedānta as a philosophical and religious system founded upon spiritual experience or natural reasoning and were generally not convinced of the value of scriptural reasoning in any tradition.34 The terms ‘neo-Hinduism’ and ‘neo-Vedānta’ have sometimes been used with a pejorative sense to repudiate Vivekananda’s (and others’) departures from Vedāntic tradition,35 but there does not need to be any such implied criticism in the acknowledgement that modern Hindus and, indeed, modern Europeans, had very different priorities and intentions from those of an ancient Advaitin. Müller and Vivekananda engaged with Vedānta in order to respond to a set of nineteenthcentury questions regarding the nature of religion, its compatibility with scientific knowledge and its moral and metaphysical significances: My Vedānta Lectures are meant to show how some of the greatest problems which occupy us now, occupied the minds of the earliest philosophers who are known to us.36 The teachings of Vedānta I [i.e. Vivekananda] have told you about were never really experimented with before. Although Vedānta is the oldest philosophy in the world, it has always become mixed up with superstitions and everything else.37 32

 Hacker (1995); Rambachan (1994).  Hacker (1995): 240. 34  Rambachan (1994). I owe this interpretation of traditional Vedānta as primarily exegetical to Hugo David’s seminars on Vedānta at the Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, University of Cambridge in Michaelmas Term, 2009. See also Hacker (1995): 153 and Nicholson (2010): 40. 35  Hacker (1995): 231–3. Cf. Nicholson (2010): 187–8. When I (rarely) use the expression ‘neo-Vedānta’ as opposed to ‘traditional Vedānta’, there is obviously no such critical intent. 36  Letter from Müller to Sir Robert Collins, 16 May 1894, LL2: 315. 37  ‘Is Vedanta the Future Religion?’ delivered in California, 1900, CW8: 141. 33

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Although Vivekananda is perhaps more perceptive here of his departures from tradition than Müller, they were united in their ambition to show how Vedānta could help to resolve contemporary problems despite its ancient origins. The question at stake for us is not then whether Müller was right in believing ancient Indian philosophers were wrestling with the same intellectual problems as he was, but what made Vedānta appear to him and Vivekananda as if it could speak so effectively to the late nineteenth-century situation. Surprisingly little attention has been devoted to analysing how Vedānta fitted in to the religious climate of the last decades of the nineteenth century. Although the ethical or philosophical dimensions of Vivekananda’s Vedānta have attracted scholarly interest,38 relatively little has been written which seeks to set his interpretation of Vedānta in context, and there has been no work of comparable quality to Hatcher’s study of the ‘Bourgeois Vedāntins’ of the middle of the nineteenth century,39 perhaps because his unsystematic and often inconsistent writings make Vivekananda a challenging figure to interpret.40 I have hardly been the first to notice that Müller and Vivekananda inhabited an era in which the ideas of religion held by liberal intellectuals in India, Europe and the USA drew upon concepts that had gone global. Müller is himself perhaps the figure who embodied this zeitgeist more than anyone, particularly with regard to India; as Killingley, among others, has observed, ‘[Müller] contributed more to Indian self-understanding than any other Western indologist.’41 A concrete example of this is discussed by Partha Chatterjee in his study of Vivekananda’s guru, Ramakrishna, and the urban middle classes of Calcutta where he analyses the ‘bilingual dialogue’ in the Kathāmṛta42 between ‘Indian philosophical discourse’ and ‘nineteenth-century European logic’. Drawing the reader’s attention to a section of the text entitled ‘Perception of the Infinite’, which in a footnote asks readers to ‘Compare discussion about the order of perception of the Infinite and of the Finite in Max Müller’s Hibbert lectures and Gifford lectures’, Chatterjee comments: It is as though the wisdom of an ancient speculative tradition of the East, sustained for centuries not only in philosophical texts composed by the learned but through debates and disquisitions among preachers and mystics, is 38  For scholarly accounts see Halbfass (1995); Baumfield (1991); Rambachan (1994), but there have also been many works of a more apologetic nature, for instance, Mital (1979). 39  Hatcher (2008). 40  Hatcher (1999): 69–70. 41  Killingley (1995): 185. 42  A series of dialogues between Ramakrishna and various disciples and other contemporaries recorded by Ramakrishna’s householder disciple Mahendranath Gupta (1854–1932) published in Bengali as Śrīśrīrāmakṛṣṇa-kathāmṛta (RKM) (1902–32) and translated into English as The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna by Swami Nikhilananda (GSR).

Introduction

9

being made available to minds shaped by the modes of European speculative philosophy. (The invocation of Max Müller is significant.)43

The reference to Müller is indeed significant, but not only because it serves to highlight the convergence of educated Bengali religious thought with its European counterpart: more specifically for our purposes, this passage also suggests that in the circles in which the young Vivekananda (known then as Narendra Nath Datta, or Naren/Narendra for short)44 developed intellectually – Naren was referred to by name during this very conversation and arrived late on during the discussion45 – Müller was a figure regarded as sympathetic and authoritative. There was no contemporary Indian figure who could rival Müller’s recognition and influence among a foreign public; a fact which is unsurprising given the relative prestige in general of European intellectuals vis-à-vis their Indian counterparts in this period. While this might lead us to postulate that the similarities between the religious thought of Vivekananda and Müller simply result from the former’s assimilation of the ideology of the latter,46 this hardly helps us to understand why it was that the ideas of Müller and other European thinkers were found so congenial by Bengali intellectuals in the first place. In responding critically to such diffusionist histories where Bengalis are viewed as passive mouthpieces for derivative ideas of Western origin we need not go to the extreme of claiming that Vivekananda’s religious thought was a ‘reversion to an ancient mode of religiosity’;47 we can instead question the rigid dichotomy such views imply existed between non-Western and Western world-views.48 We ought not blithely to presume that when Vivekananda engages with a form of thought which originates in ‘the West’ (for instance, Müller’s ‘Science of Religion’), his ethnicity dictates that something qualitatively different is happening from when Müller draws upon Kant’s critical philosophy. 43

 Chatterjee (1993): 44.  This was Vivekananda’s name at birth, by which he was known until taking his religious name on the eve of his departure for the USA in 1893. 45  11 March 1885, RKM: 574–85; GSR: 724–36. See also RKM: 321 for a further reference to Müller’s lectures. 46  For example: ‘[Vivekananda’s] ideas of what religion was, as well as his beliefs concerning the characteristics of different religions and the relationship between different creeds, owed their basic presuppositions to the Science of Religion [of Müller].’ Brekke (2002): 21. 47  Raychaudhuri (2002): 220. Sarkar (1997) has levelled cutting criticism at scholarship which applies Edward Saïd’s interpretative trope of Western intellectual hegemony over Eastern subjects to the Bengali context. 48  Hatcher (1996) offers a persuasive model of ‘convergence’ within a ‘vernacular’ Bengali culture to account for the mingling of ‘Indian and European themes in Vidyāsāgar’s world-view’: 2. However, the fact that Vivekananda’s adulthood was spent largely outside of Bengal and his greater distance from traditional scholarship add a further layer of complexity. 44

10

Religion for a Secular Age

Vivekananda and his educated Bengali contemporaries were scions of a recognisably modern intellectual culture, which, while it had its own idiosyncratic interests and projects, had as much right to embrace modern forms of thought, such as the ‘Science of Religion’ or neo-Hegelianism, as ideas to think with and through creatively as did Victorian Britain. But we cannot limit a man like Vivekananda to the confines of a Bengali national history no matter how intellectually cosmopolitan and universal in its ambitions the intelligentsia of nineteenth-century Bengal may have been.49 This is partly because Vivekananda, perhaps more than any of his Indian contemporaries, saw himself, and was seen by many of his countrymen and foreign supporters, as a figure on the world stage. His famous speeches to the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago in 1893, his initiation of Western disciples into sannyas,50 his authorship of seminal texts in the history of modern yoga,51 all justify this image of the ‘cyclonic Hindu’52 sweeping through America and Britain leaving bemused Christian missionaries and enthusiastic sympathisers or even converts in his wake. We are concerned here, however, not so much with Vivekananda’s admittedly captivating overseas exploits as the ideas which made them possible. Wilhelm Halbfass has written of Vivekananda that ‘[h]e lives and practices the problematic and ambivalent position which Neo-Hinduism occupies between India and the West’.53 So problematic is his position that we often cannot tell which parts of his ‘Neo-Hinduism’ are Indian and which are ‘Western’. This is because Vivekananda’s religious thought was overwhelmingly directed towards a problem which he saw as universal: the survival of religion in the face of modernity. The Vedāntic religion intended to fulfil this end was situated in a cosmopolitan and secular public realm, reaching far beyond the concrete and particular religious forms of Bengali Hinduism. Too stark a distinction has sometimes been made between Vivekananda’s ideology as expressed in India and the West. Raychaudhuri, for instance, argues that Vivekananda preached Vedānta in the West but ‘was concerned almost exclusively with national regeneration at home’.54 Although Vivekananda sometimes contrasted the urgency of meeting practical needs at home with the spiritual crisis facing Europe and the USA, in both contexts a modernised Vedānta would provide the solution. Vedānta or ‘Vedāntism’ was the message of the majority of 49  See, for instance, Kopf (1979), Sartori (2009) and Hatcher (1996) for studies which are particularly attentive to this spirit of universalism and to Bengal’s place in global intellectual history. 50  A Hindu form of religious life requiring renunciation of the world. 51  De Michelis (2004). Cf. Singleton (2010): 3–6. 52  This is how Vivekananda was apparently described in an American newspaper, CW6: 283; CW8: 302. 53  Halbfass (1988): 228. 54  Raychaudhuri (2002): 9.

Introduction

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Vivekananda’s speeches on his homecoming tour of India in 1897. He explained to an audience in Madras that Vedāntic ideas would penetrate the consciousness of ‘the world’, at once a consequence and cause of internationalisation: ‘The second great idea which the world is waiting to receive from our Upanishads is the solidarity of this universe. The old lines of demarcation and differentiation are vanishing rapidly. Electricity and steam power are placing the different parts of the world in intercommunication with each other ....’ Yet these and the other Vedāntic boons now becoming available to ‘foreigners’ (‘physical, mental and spiritual freedom’ and ‘the explanation of morality’) were wanted ‘twenty times more’ by Indians.55 Of all modern Hindu thinkers, Vivekananda, alongside perhaps Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan (1888–1975),56 is probably the one most famously associated with Vedānta. This is the ideology around which the organisations he founded (the Ramakrishna Math and Mission, plus various Vedānta Centres and Societies around the world) define themselves to this day,57 while Vedānta is also the focus of criticism from scholars who wish to distinguish clearly between Vivekananda as a rationalist ‘neo-Vedāntin’ and his guru, Ramakrishna (1836–86) as a Tantric Goddess worshipper.58 Vivekananda’s views were in fact more complex than these dichotomies suggest; a state of affairs we can only appreciate as we delve deeper into some of the ambiguities of his Vedānta. Müller, by contrast, has more commonly been associated with the emergence and popularisation of various disciplines in the humanities, so that while he has been the subject of several recent works of intellectual history, these are mainly concerned with his contributions to Vedic studies, philology, mythology and the study of religion59 and there has been almost no attempt to investigate the development of his conception of Vedānta aside from Bosch’s necessarily brief comments in his biography.60 This focus on Müller’s more academically influential early works is defensible, but if we want to understand his religious and philosophical thought we can hardly avoid dealing with Vedānta since it forms a crucial reference point or focus in so many of his later works.61 There is the further 55

 ‘Vedānta in its application to Indian life’, delivered in early 1897. CW3: 240–41.  Parthasarathi and Chattopadhyaya (1989). 57  ‘The ideology of Ramakrishna Math and Mission consists of the eternal principles of Vedanta as lived and experienced by Sri Ramakrishna and expounded by Swami Vivekananda.  This ideology has three characteristics: it is modern in the sense that the ancient principles of Vedanta have been expressed in the modern idiom; it is universal, that is, it is meant for the whole humanity; it is practical in the sense that its principles can be applied in day-to-day life to solve the problems of life.’ From the organisation’s webpage: http://belurmath.org/Ideology.htm. 58  See Chapter 5. 59  See, for instance, Rocher (1978); Neufeldt (1980); Masuzawa (2003); Masuzawa (2005); Strenski (1996); Dowling (1982); Girardot (2002). 60  Bosch (2002): 434, 437–8. 61  Cf. Masuzawa (2003). 56

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problem, which I address in Chapter 3, as to how far we can regard Müller as ‘confessing’ Vedānta, or whether we should consider him merely as a committed liberal Christian who responded positively to traditions which he perceived as sharing common ground with his own. I want to propose here, perhaps quite provocatively, that Vivekananda was no more unambiguously a ‘Vedāntin’, if that implies it constituting the core of his faith, than was Müller. The ideas of religion analysed in the following chapters were largely matters of public discussion rather than private conscience. Vedānta was put forward as proof that religion could be compatible with secular conceptions of history and nature in front of audiences whose faith had been shaken by the apparent failure of orthodox Christianity or Hinduism to come to terms with the onward march of knowledge. Vivekananda and Müller shared the view that Vedānta could strengthen other religions by reorienting them to their essential teachings and both men seem to have simultaneously maintained forms of simple inner piety unrelated to Vedānta. Despite his rationalist doubts, Vivekananda nurtured a fervent yet private devotion to both Ramakrishna and God as mother that is revealed occasionally in letters to intimates. Müller, meanwhile, held on to the pietistic faith of his mother even as he delivered lectures which questioned central dogmas of orthodox Christianity.62 This distinction between inner piety and the outward expression of broadly rationalistic religious teachings is one respect in which I would claim that Müller’s and Vivekananda’s religious ideas, including Vedānta, were adaptations to secularisation in a different sense to that discussed above: that is, ‘secular’ in the sense of allocating faith its place in the private conscience away from the state or other public institutions, while restricting religion’s role in the public sphere to neutral spaces where ‘reasonable’ views can be aired and debated.63 Hence the natural habitat of modern Vedānta is the public lecture theatre at, for instance, the Royal Institution or the Harvard Graduate Philosophical Society.64 Van der Veer argues that the drive to separate state and religion in Britain and India in the nineteenth century failed to create secular societies in either case, but succeeded in pushing religion into ‘a newly emerging public sphere’.65 While public lectures on Vedānta in Britain and the USA were sufficiently abstract to be compatible with and even conducive to the privatisation of religious belief, Vivekananda’s lectures on Vedānta in India could be interpreted as attempts to carve out a ‘Vedāntist’ or Hindu political identity, insofar as they call for a national revival rooted in Hindu spirituality.66 Even here, though, we might perceive a further form of secularisation, referring now more to the character of religious 62

 Chaudhuri (1974): 374–9.  van der Veer (2001): Chapter 1. 64  Vivekananda spoke at Harvard in 1896; Müller lectured on Vedānta before the Royal Institution in 1894. 65  van der Veer (2001): 24. 66  Sharma (2013). 63

Introduction

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forms rather than to the spaces they occupy. Vivekananda’s politicisation of Vedānta could be seen as unwittingly promoting secularisation, if religion becomes a mere handmaiden to this-worldly purposes of sectarian mobilisation.67 Attempts to redefine ‘the secularisation thesis’ have tended to reject Whiggish histories in which religion eventually gives way before the onward march of reason in favour of accounts which instead acknowledge transformations in the character of religion.68 The secular world is then no longer a world free, or void, of religion, but a world in which ‘the eclipse of all goals beyond human flourishing becomes conceivable’,69 and in which myths, scriptures and hitherto sacred histories undergo often traumatic shifts in meaning under the sway of nonreligious forms of knowledge.70 The ideas of religion and Vedānta propagated by Müller and Vivekananda were attuned to secular norms, insofar as they emphasised the ‘practical’ side of Vedānta and conceived of religion in terms of its moral fruits, and insofar as the disciplines of history and science became their yardstick of credibility.71 If we take secularisation in this last sense, it may begin to acquire more salience when applied to at least some extra-European contexts.72 In Vivekananda’s Bengal, Hindu reformers fulfilled their religious vocation by building hospitals and founding schools and the greatest Bengali novelist of the nineteenth century, Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay, transformed the mythic figure of Krishna from an amorous cowherd into a puritanical rationalist.73 The terms ‘secularisation’ and ‘secular’, when used to describe such shifts in the conditions of belief and, consequently, in the character of religious forms of thought, are probably the best options we have for describing the interconnected nineteenth-century world with which we are concerned here.74 This book, then, is a study of what happens to ‘religion’ when its proponents seek to wrest it away from specific cultural contexts, scriptures and institutions in order to ensure its survival. Vivekananda and Müller both conceptualised the predicament for religion in modern times through narratives of secularisation 67

 Such a process has been observed in Islamist movements in present-day Pakistan by Iqtidar (2011). 68  For instance Chadwick (1975); Taylor (2007); Asad (2003); van der Veer (2001). 69  Taylor (2007): 19. Cf. Asad (2003): 61–2. 70  Asad (2003): 62–6; Chadwick (1975): 265. 71  Vivekananda may have at times resisted secularising Vedānta, as Halbfass (1988) suggests, but as I hope this work demonstrates, he can hardly be said to have succeeded. ‘Vivekananda wants to avoid compromising with Western secularism, but cannot avoid the following unresolved dilemma: India should prove its secular value as a nation using the standards of the West; but it should also preserve its spirituality and avoid the Western entanglement in samsāra. The secularization of the Vedāntic tradition is yearned for and yet again shunned’: 242. 72  van der Veer (2001): 15–16. 73  Kaviraj (1995): 81–91. 74  Asad (2003): 23–4; van der Veer (2001): 24.

14

Religion for a Secular Age

and globalisation long before such terms were available, as they reached for the universal, essential core that could persist. And yet, at the same time, in Vedānta, they appealed to the authority of an ancient intellectual tradition to give deep roots to this enterprise. Chapter 1 analyses the development of Müller’s and Vivekananda’s religious and philosophical ideas as embedded in the intellectual history of, respectively, mid- to late-nineteenth-century Germany and England, and Bengal in the 1870s–1890s. I show that modernist interpretations of Vedānta, idealism and Romanticism, liberal and progressive forms of religion, and uneasiness about the spread of materialism were strong presences in the ostensibly very different contexts in which they developed their religious thought. This chapter begins the task of explaining how it was that Vivekananda and Müller were able to develop similar accounts of Vedānta and religion which drew upon a common set of concepts and responded to broadly comparable problems. Chapter 2 explores how the Science of Religion, whether as a crypto-confessional academic discipline or an experimental Yogic religious science, united Müller and Vivekananda in the creation of an ideal of religion. This would be at once resistant to secularisation and shaped by its demands, purged of the inessential and mythological by the rigours of naturalism, historicism and empiricism. Chapter 3 turns to Vedānta and its reinvention in the late nineteenth century as the religion for ‘modern man’. I argue that Müller and Vivekananda embraced Vedānta as a rationalistic religious philosophy which, in its subordination of the natural world to the transcendent Brahman or Absolute, attempted to place religion beyond the reach of positivist critique. Chapter 4 continues this analysis of modern Vedānta by showing how both Müller and Vivekananda responded to the moral dimension of the nineteenthcentury ‘crisis of faith’ by insisting that Vedānta could provide the soundest religious and metaphysical basis for ethics. I argue that an ethical turn in religion was common to educated Europeans, Americans and Indians in this period and that, therefore, the innovative transformation of Vedānta into a moral philosophy should be understood as taking place in a transnational context. Chapter 5 draws the work to a close with a study of the interactions between Müller and Vivekananda as they collaborated to present Ramakrishna to the English-speaking world as proof of the vitality of Vedāntic religion in modern India. This episode provides a vivid illustration of the crucial importance of transnational exchanges in the history of late nineteenth-century religion and of the transformations in its content wrought by such exchanges.

Chapter 1

Foundations The aim of this chapter is to establish foundations for what follows by setting out the themes that will be explored and developed throughout this book. Simultaneously, we will be considering the foundations upon which Friedrich Max Müller and Swami Vivekananda constructed their interpretations of Vedānta and their associated theories of religion and setting out the intellectual context in which these efforts took place. We will focus on four key aspects: firstly, Müller’s and Vivekananda’s formative encounters with Vedānta; secondly, the influence of idealism and Romanticism in shaping their philosophical, historical and theological convictions; thirdly, Müller’s Liberal Protestant and Pietist background, and Vivekananda’s youthful membership of the Brahmo Samaj; finally, their views of evolution and assessments of the threat posed to religion by materialism. Early Vedāntic Encounters This book places Vedānta at the centre of Müller’s and Vivekananda’s attempts to reconstruct religion for a secular age; as such, it is important to understand the sources of their knowledge of this ancient Indian intellectual tradition. In Müller’s case, this is a straightforward exercise as his own writings recall the early- to mid-nineteenth-century enthusiasm for Vedānta in the Germany of his youth. Vivekananda, however, presents us with a more challenging problem as there is scant convincing biographical material available for the same formative period in his life. Müller’s Education in Vedānta Friedrich Max Müller’s encounter with Indian philosophy began when he was a young student at Leipzig University (1841–44) where he acquainted himself with Friedrich Schlegel’s (1772–1829) Über die Sprache und Weisheit der Indier (published 1808) and Karl Windischmann’s (1775–1839) Die Philosophie im Fortgang der Weltgeschichte (published 1827–34). While Schlegel’s work was a significant milestone in the German Romantic encounter with India, it is Windischmann who gives the more detailed account of the Upaniṣads and, unlike Schlegel, delves into Shankara’s Advaita Vedānta.1 1

 Windischmann (1827–34): 1772–1812.

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Müller’s decision to begin studying Sanskrit with Hermann Brockhaus (1806–77) from the winter of 1841 (his first year of university at Leipzig) was motivated not by any great enthusiasm for comparative philology, but rather by his ambition to achieve distinction as a philosopher: ‘While dreaming of a chair of philosophy at a German University, I began to feel that I must know something special, something that no other philosopher knew, and that induced me to learn Sanskrit, Arabic, and Persian.’2 Müller’s philosophical interest in Indology would have inevitably turned his head in the direction of Vedānta and in particular the Upaniṣads since they had already been celebrated by an earlier generation of Romantics as the high watermark of Indian wisdom and philosophy.3 The interpretation of Vedānta which Müller encountered and assimilated in the 1840s was very much a product of the Romantic fascination with India. Romanticism emerged as a distinctive movement in Germany at the end of the eighteenth century and, although the vibrant era of Frühromantik (early Romanticism) was brief, its influence was carried well into the first half of the nineteenth century by Friedrich Schelling (1775–1854), Hegel (1770–1831) and through them and others to Müller and his fellow students in Leipzig. Romanticism questioned the universalist rationalism of the Enlightenment, favouring instead a poetic vision of the unity of humanity and nature, which found metaphysical expression (especially in later Romantic thinkers such as Schelling) in a pantheistic or ‘panentheistic’ view of a universe unified with God or Spirit. They pursued the origins of language, myth and religion and conceived of the progress of different races, cultures and nations in terms of their unique, irreducible guiding spirit.4 The appeal of Vedānta (and especially the early Upaniṣads) lay in its apparent mythological pantheism, which unified philosophy and religion in contrast to the fractured civilisation of post-Enlightenment Europe.5 While Schlegel and Schelling lauded Vedānta as one of the loftiest achievements in philosophy, for both of them its appeal was diminished by the apparent emptiness of its concept of divinity, which they attributed to the absence of the true revelation of Christianity.6 Interest in Vedānta here seems to have been based on the quest to reconstruct a history of the philosophy of India and Europe culminating in their own amalgamation of Christianity and post-Enlightenment philosophy. Even for an explicitly anti-Christian philosopher like Arthur Schopenhauer (1788–1860), Vedānta (like Buddhism) fell short of his own system because of its entanglement in religious and mythological thought.7

2

 MA: 142. For details of the Sanskrit classes attended by Müller in Leipzig see 120–22. 3  Willson (1964); Schwab (1984): 158–67; Halbfass (1988): Chapter 5. 4  Riasanovsky (1992): 69–73, 93; Dupré (2008): 59–60, 93; Willson (1964): vi–xi. 5  Willson (1964): 90–93. Cf. Inden (2000): 93–6. 6  Halbfass (1988): 77–8; 102–5. 7  Halbfass (1988): 114.

Foundations

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Müller’s early interest in the Upaniṣads and Vedānta is confirmed by his conversations with some of these and other leading intellectuals of the middle of the nineteenth century in which Vedānta featured prominently. He attended Schelling’s lectures on the Philosophy of Mythology while visiting Berlin in 1844 and together they discussed Indian religious thought: ‘[Schelling] was especially interested in knowing what the Vedanta said about the existence of God, how it proved His existence, whether it said that God had created the world, and also whether it said that the world had any reality.’8 On his journey to Paris later that year, Müller made a visit to Schopenhauer in Frankfurt and was informed that the Upaniṣads were the only worthwhile texts in the Sanskrit language.9 In Paris, Müller made the acquaintance of Baron d’Eckstein (1790–1861), of whom he said: ‘He would sit with me for hours ... discussing all the time the Vedas and the Upanishads, and the Vedanta philosophy.’10 However, a far more significant result of Müller’s stay in Paris was his tutelage under Eugène Burnouf (1801–52), the pioneering scholar of Sanskrit, who confronted Müller with a choice: ‘Either study Indian philosophy, and begin with the Upanishads and Sankara’s commentary, or study Indian religion, and keep to the Rig-veda, and copy the hymns and Sāyana’s commentary, and then you will be our great benefactor.’11 Burnouf had sufficiently excited Müller’s interest in the Ṛg-veda that he opted to devote his energies to its critical edition and his youthful fascination with Vedānta faded into the background. We can infer from Müller’s early writings on the Ṛg-veda and other Indian texts that these same Romantic tendencies were at the root of his youthful interest in Vedānta. He saw an unbroken line from the most ancient Indo-European thought of the Ṛg-veda, through to the Upaniṣads and right up to the idealist thought of his own times. The sheer antiquity of the Upaniṣads allowed Indologists to glimpse some of the most ancient recorded thoughts of humanity. Neither was Müller immune to the Indian fever which had gripped earlier Romantics and Schopenhauer; they believed the discovery of Indian philosophy could bring about a new renaissance in Europe.12 It is also clear that the young Müller, like Schelling and Schlegel, was committed to a fulfilment theology of religions where even the most elevated of non-Christian religious views were interpreted as stepping stones to the acceptance of the revelation of Christ as saviour:

8

 Chaudhuri (1974): 42. It is not clear what aspects of ‘the Vedānta’ Müller would have discussed with Schelling, but the latter was apparently familiar with the Bhagavadgītā, and the Upanishads. Willson (1964): 117. 9  Voigt (1981): 3. 10  MA: 171. 11  MA: 173. 12  MA: 142–51. Halbfass (1988): 81; 113. Schwab (1984): 11–20.

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Nor should it be forgotten that while a comparison of ancient religions will certainly show that some of the most vital articles of faith are the common property of the whole of mankind, at least of all who seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after Him, and find Him, the same comparison alone can possibly teach us what is peculiar to Christianity, and what has secured to it that preeminent position which now it holds in spite of all obloquy.13

Müller’s early interest in Vedānta was thus rooted firmly in the Romantic tradition of the first half of the nineteenth century. Like his Romantic forebears, interest in Vedānta was kindled by a conviction that the Upaniṣads emerged from the pristine philosophical infancy of the Indo-European mind and that Vedānta was the purest natural religion which only lacked the revelation of Christianity for its perfection. It was not until 1879 that Müller published his first work on a Vedāntic text, a translation of selected Upaniṣads for the Sacred Books of the East series of which he himself was editor. There was thus a hiatus of a quarter of a century between the high watermark of Müller’s youthful philosophical interest in Vedānta and the first of a series of publications which show a renewed fascination with Vedānta. It is not surprising that Müller had little time to occupy himself with the Upaniṣads and Shankara’s commentaries given that he was engaged in the daunting task of critically editing the Ṛg-veda and with establishing himself as a leading figure in the field of comparative philology. But, as we shall see in Chapter 3, there were perhaps more profound reasons than an increase in free time for his willingness to renew the study of the Vedāntic texts which had first excited his interest in Indology. Making Vivekananda Vedāntist As Vivekananda’s name is associated with Vedānta perhaps more than any other figure in modern times, one might suppose that there would be considerable attention devoted to the sources and development of his conception of Vedānta in the numerous biographies of Vivekananda, not to mention those works which are more specifically concerned with his religious thought. Unfortunately this is not the case and there is very little secondary literature which would help us to understand how Narendranath Datta first came across Vedānta and how these early ideas might have developed into Vivekananda’s later Vedāntic teachings. Nevertheless, on the basis of what little information we have, it is possible to indicate some probable sources of his knowledge of and interest in Vedānta. The account of Vivekananda’s intellectual development disseminated in the publications of the Ramakrishna Math in India and its satellite organisations in America and Europe, presents Ramakrishna as the main source of Vivekananda’s 13

 CGW1 first published 1867: xxvi–xxvii.

Foundations

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Vedānta.14 This version of events can be amply illustrated by a couple of excerpts from The Life of Swami Vivekananda: From the very first it was Sri Ramakrishna’s idea to initiate Narendra into the mysteries of the Advaita Vedānta. With that end in mind he would ask Naren to read aloud passages from Ashtāvakra Saṃhitā and other Advaita treatises, in order to familiarise him [Naren] with the philosophy. To Narendra a staunch adherent of the Brāhmo Samāj, these writings seemed heretical and he would rebel saying, ‘It is blasphemous, for there is no difference between such philosophy and atheism.’15 The Master knew that Narendra’s was the path of the Jnāna; for this reason he made it a point to continue to talk of the Advaita philosophy to him.16

On this view, Ramakrishna saw that Naren was most inclined to a rationalist form of Hindu religious life and insisted upon confronting Naren with passages from various Advaita texts, even when his young student insisted that monism conflicted with his ‘staunch’ Brahmo convictions.17 Ramakrishna’s knowledge of Advaita is attributed to a lengthy encounter with a wandering Advaitin ascetic named Tota Puri. According to the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna (GSR), Ramakrishna was able to attain to the state of monistic super-consciousness (nirvikalpa samādhi) within a single day, a feat which so amazed Tota Puri that he decided to remain at the Kālī temple in Dakshineshwar, where Ramakrishna was priest, for the next 11 months. Ramakrishna must surely have been familiar with at least the outlines of Advaita Vedānta, given the length of Tota Puri’s stay,18 but it seems clear that the outcome of this visit was not Ramakrishna’s ‘conversion’ to Advaita. Tota Puri left Dakshineshwar overcome by the power of the mother goddess Kālī and convinced that, in contradiction to the teachings of Advaita – in which reality is nothing but the formless Absolute or Brahman – Brahman was one and the same as the Divine Mother.19 Ramakrishna, meanwhile, remained unmoved by and even hostile to Advaita: ‘Once, I fell into the clutches of a jñānī [a ‘knower’ or 14

 Sen (1993) makes a similar argument: 316–17.  Eastern and Western Disciples (1949): 64. No source is provided for this quotation. 16  Eastern and Western Disciples (1949): 65. 17  Ramakrishna’s knowledge of Vedāntic scriptures (and indeed any other Hindu texts) was, by his own account, very limited, so it is not clear how he would have instructed Naren in these texts. See next footnote. 18  Although apparently he did not read Vedāntic texts: ‘“I don’t feel sorry in the least that I haven’t read the Vedānta or the other scriptures. I know that the essence of the Vedānta is that Brahman alone is real and the world illusory.”’ GSR: 694. 19  GSR: 30–31. Cf. Kripal (1998): 159. Ramakrishna would later impress the same anti-Advaita position on Naren. GSR: 734. 15

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Vedāntin, namely, Tota Puri], who made me listen to Vedānta for eleven months. But he couldn’t altogether destroy the seed of bhakti in me. No matter where my mind wandered it would come back to the Divine Mother.’20 It is hard to avoid the conclusion that Ramakrishna viewed Advaita as largely inimical to the pursuit of what he saw as the main end of religious practice, namely, the ecstatic experience of union with the Divine Mother.21 Ramakrishna’s effortless achievement of states of non-dual awareness – as with his mystical experiences with Christianity and Islam22 – were evidently not on their own sufficient to make him an enthusiastic proponent of that tradition. Revealingly, when Vivekananda himself spoke of the influence of Ramakrishna he did not attribute his knowledge of Advaita to his guru, but only his entrance into the state of nirvakalpa samādhi: ‘When I became normal again I realised that I must have had a glimpse of the Advaita state. Then it struck me that the words of the scriptures were not false. Thenceforth I could not deny the conclusions of the Advaita philosophy.’23 That Naren interpreted these mystical experiences induced by Ramakrishna as proof of the truth of Advaita does not necessarily mean that Ramakrishna persuaded him to interpret them as such. Indeed, it would seem likely that a rationalist member of the Sadharan (‘Ordinary’) Brahmo Samaj would find more comfortable the interpretation of a mystical experience as oneness with the Absolute rather than as union with Kālī. There are compelling reasons to believe that Naren would already have encountered some form of Vedānta among his Westernised Calcutta contemporaries before he met Ramakrishna. The testimony of Naren’s college friend, Brajendranath Seal (1864–1938), provides a unique and valuable window into the intellectual world Naren inhabited just as he was beginning to become drawn to Ramakrishna.24 They attended Presidency College together, were both members of the Sadharan Brahmo Samaj, and were apparently close friends from 1880 up until Naren began to frequent Dakshineshwar in 1882. Seal describes how Naren’s ‘boyish theism’ which he had ‘imbibed from the outer circles of the Brahmo Samaj’ was undermined by his readings of John Stuart Mill, David Hume, and Herbert Spencer and replaced by ‘a settled philosophical scepticism’.25 Naren was not content with this sceptical position for long it seems, and Seal helped him to find an answer to his doubts in Shelley’s ‘pantheism of impersonal love’. But presumably Seal also at least discussed with Naren his ‘own position at that time’, which was made up of three elements: ‘The pure monism 20

 GSR: 779.  Matchett (1981); Neevel (1964); Kripal (1998). 22  Sen (1993): 297. 23  Eastern and Western Disciples (1949): 66. 24  Seal published these reminiscences in an article in the Ramakrishna Math’s English-language publication Prabuddha Bharata, April 1907, lengthy extracts of which are reprinted in Eastern and Western Disciples (1949): 76–82. 25  Eastern and Western Disciples (1949): 77. Hatcher (1999): 102–3. 21

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of the Vedanta, the dialectics of the Absolute idea of Hegel and the Gospel of the Equality, Liberty and Fraternity of the French Revolution.’26 At the very least, the fact that Seal was developing this philosophy of Vedāntic monism whilst a member of the Sadharan Brahmo Samaj shows that neo-Vedāntic monism was a subject of interest amongst Brahmo intellectual contemporaries of Naren’s. It seems almost certain then that Naren was aware of monistic Vedānta in his college days before he became a devotee of Ramakrishna. According to Seal, Naren resolved his intellectual crisis through the adoption of a rationalist idealism similar to the former’s own: ‘The sovereignty of Universal Reason, and the negation of the individual as the principle of morals, were ideas that soon came to satisfy Vivekananda’s intellect and gave him an assured conquest over scepticism and materialism.’27 This suggests that the urge to conquer materialism was at the centre of Naren’s philosophical quest at the same time that he was beginning to engage with Vedānta. As I hope will become clear in Chapter 3, the Vedāntic ideology which Vivekananda went on to develop in later life was also an attempt to overcome materialism, but, unlike Seal, Vivekananda was determined to prevent any cross-fertilisation of Vedāntic idealism with German idealist thought. However, as Seal also pointed out, these intellectual resolutions to Naren’s spiritual crisis were not enough; if they had been, he would not have been drawn to the devotional religiosity of the anti-bookish Ramakrishna. As it was, the latter offered something more powerful to Naren than Seal’s synthesis of German idealism and Vedāntic monism: [Ramakrishna] spoke to him with an authority as none had spoken before, and by his sakti brought peace into his soul and healed the wounds of his spirit. But ... it was only gradually that the doubts of that keen intellect were vanquished by the calm assurance that belongs to ocular demonstration.28

This idea of ‘ocular demonstration’ reaffirms that it was not the sort of scripturallysupported reasoning normally associated with Vedānta which won Naren over to Ramakrishna; instead, the god-intoxicated Ramakrishna was visible proof that Hinduism was not dead and the mystical experiences which Naren himself underwent at the feet of his guru convinced him that his scepticism regarding religion was unfounded. On this view we are led to wonder whether Ramakrishna’s ‘ocular demonstration’ of religious experience might not have had the potential to weaken Naren’s interest in Vedānta, insofar as it displaced the intellectual struggle which had led Seal and other Bengali idealist contemporaries towards the formulation of a Hegelian neo-Vedānta. There is little evidence regarding Naren’s intellectual development between Ramakrishna’s death in 1886 and the formation of Vivekananda’s Vedāntic 26

 Eastern and Western Disciples (1949): 78.  Eastern and Western Disciples (1949): 78–9. 28  Eastern and Western Disciples (1949): 81. 27

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teachings in the mid 1890s, but what we do have suggests that Naren’s fondness for philosophical speculation was not lastingly diminished by Ramakrishna’s fideism. The letters Naren wrote between 1888 and 1890 to Pramadadas Mitra, a pandit at the new Benares Hindu University, show that he regarded himself as holding ‘hard Vedāntic views [kaṭhor baidāntik mat]’,29 while struggling to reconcile his modern liberal religious convictions with the views of Shankara on matters such as caste and scriptural authority. This suggests at once continuity between his earliest encounters with Vedānta and his later thought while proving that he was still far away from charting an independent course between Brahmo Hegelian neoVedānta and traditional Advaita. Idealism, Romanticism and Vedānta In the previous section we saw that both Vivekananda and Müller encountered Vedānta in conjunction with some form of German idealist thought, whether in the shape of Seal’s Hegelian Vedānta, or Schelling and Schopenhauer’s enthusiasm for the Upaniṣads. Here we will consider in more detail how idealist and Romantic thought – with its origins in Germany – shaped our protagonists’ philosophical and religious convictions. Müller and Philosophy after Kant Educated in Germany in the twilight of the golden age of German idealism (1770s–1840s), Müller viewed the philosophical titans of this age, such as Hegel and Schelling, with some scepticism. Instead, he tended to look back to Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) as the German philosopher who had most fully grasped the nature of the task of philosophy, but it is an overstatement to claim that Müller was able to ‘bypass’ the Romantics and post-Kantian idealists to return to a pure Kantian universalist rationalism.30 While any analysis of Müller’s thought which failed to recognise his professed reverence for Kant and his objections to absolute idealism and Romanticism would be perverse, this need not prevent us from acknowledging his significant deviations from Kantian philosophy, which often followed the paths trodden by earlier absolute idealist and Romantic philosophers. According to Trompf, among the most important contributions of Hermann Lotze (1817–81) to Müller’s intellectual development at Leipzig was to provide him with a philosophical approach where ‘faith was left unendangered, safe within Kant’s real and universal world ... the world which could remain basically unaffected by the explorations of science’,31 in other words, Lotze inspired Müller to embrace a kind of dualism where science could have full sway in the natural 29

 3 March 1890. BR: 251; CW6: 229.  Cf. van der Veer (2001): 116 and Hatcher (1999): 121. 31  Trompf (1978): 11. 30

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world and over the study of religion and humanity as far as they could be seen to develop according to natural laws, but which maintained a realm of human freedom and a concept of God which transcended the material realm. Although Müller does not seem to have had much contact with Oxford idealist contemporaries, such as F.H. Bradley (1846–1924) and T.H. Green (1836–82), the influence of Lotze’s arguments against reductionist materialism is apparent in both.32 Indeed, since Müller arranged for the translation of Lotze’s work into English, it seems likely that Müller at least had a hand in his youthful mentor’s positive reception among idealists in England. Müller’s sense of indebtedness to Kant’s philosophy, verging upon the fanatical, made him feel it was incumbent upon him to translate Kant’s Kritik der reinen Vernunft into English.33 He credits Kant with superseding pure idealism (as represented by Berkeley) and sceptical materialism (as represented by Hume).34 It is perhaps Kant’s critique of Humean materialism which most appealed to Müller, since it anticipated his own response to his intellectual nemesis, the ‘evolutionary materialism’ of Darwinists like Ernst Haeckel.35 Müller’s hostility to evolutionary materialism has been attributed to his religious piety,36 but this ignores the degree to which materialist philosophy also conflicted with his post-Kantian philosophical convictions. It is not only the tenability of belief in God which Müller feared we would lose in an evolutionary materialist account of the universe, but also reason or mind itself. The post-Kantian view of mind which Müller championed was fundamental to his understanding of language and religion. Müller claimed that Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason was the philosophical inspiration for his study of language. Although it might seem that we digress by considering Müller’s theory of language, Müller’s philological background played a crucial role in providing the foundations for his study of religion, and can also reveal many of his philosophical and religious convictions.37 While Kant established ‘what man can and what he cannot know’, Müller’s ambition was ‘to learn, so far as literature, tradition, and language allow us to do so, how man came to believe that he could know so much more than he ever can know in religion, in mythology, and in philosophy’.38 32

 Den Otter (1996): 33.  ‘When at last the centenary of the publication of Kant’s Critik der reinen Vernunft [sic.] drew near, I thought I was in honour bound not to delay any longer this tribute to the memory of the greatest philosopher of modern times.’ CPR: xiii. 34  CPR: xxv–xxvi. 35  Müller first used this term in 1873 in his ‘Lectures on Mr. Darwin’s Philosophy of Language’ (DPL): 526. 36  Schrempp (1983): 103. 37  Müller’s ‘science of language’, with its emphasis on the ‘logos’ and the identity of thought and language, might be said to have followed his Romantic forebears in confusing philology and theology. Dowling (1986): Chapter 2. 38  CPR: xiii–xiv. 33

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In order to discover how this overestimation of the capabilities of human reason takes place, Müller proposed a ‘Critique of Language’,39 an exercise which he described in more detail in his two series of Lectures on the Science of Language which were delivered at the Royal Institution of Great Britain in 1861 and 1863. Here Müller attempted to show how ambiguities and distortions in the morphology of words, which he famously called a ‘disease’ of language, eventually entangle thought in mythology.40 Müller argues that this was still a problem for thinkers of his own time, a point which he illustrates with the example of the word ‘nature’: We use the word readily and constantly, but when we try to think of Nature as a being, or as an aggregate of beings, or as a power, or as an aggregate of powers, our mind soon drops: there is nothing to lay hold of, nothing that exists or resists. ... Nature, if we believed all that is said of her, would be the most extraordinary being. She has horrors, she indulges in freaks, she commits blunders ..., and of late years we have heard much of her power of selection.41

Müller is suggesting here that Darwinists have created a new ‘myth’ in which nature is an agent, and that this myth has led them to speculate beyond the limits of what human reason can reveal about the universe and about mind. The task of the Science of Language is thus to uncover the etymological origins of important philosophical terms and thereby clarify language so that philosophers do not overstep the bounds of reason.42 The fact that Müller’s philosophy of language proceeded from this Kantian philosophy of mind set him at odds with Darwinist philosophers of language (including Darwin himself). While the Darwinists argued that language, like any other aspect of human life, had gradually and seamlessly evolved from an animal antecedent, in this case from the noises made by other animals up to discursive human speech, Müller argued in his ‘Lectures on Mr. Darwin’s Philosophy of Language’ delivered at the Royal Institution, 22 March 1873, that there was a ‘line which separates rational from emotional language,—conceptual from intuitional knowledge’ and that this was ‘the true barrier between Man and Beast’.43 For Müller, following Kant, while the experiences of animals comes through their senses, human experience, insofar as it is conceptual, implies the existence of a reasoning faculty, which cannot itself be the result of sensory perceptions, and thus is qualitatively rather than quantitatively different from the instinctive behaviour of animals. As Müller put it in his preface to Kant’s Critique, ‘that

39

 CPR: xxviii.  SL1: 12. 41  SL2: 617–19. 42  SL2: 621–2. Similar arguments have been mobilised against biological reductionism by more recent works. Sahlins (1977): 104–5. 43  DPL: 21. 40

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without which experience is impossible, cannot be the result of experience’.44 Hence, evolutionary materialism, in its claims that language developed through sensory experience, seemed to Müller to risk descending into irrationalist nihilism. Müller’s Kantian rationalism thus made him a staunch critic of materialist theories which sought to account for the universe and the human subject in terms of the movements of matter and the operation of natural selection, but he did not uncritically accept Kant’s philosophical views. Where Müller most obviously deviates from Kant is in his contention – following Romantics and absolute idealists, such as Schleiermacher and Hegel – that human experience of God (or the Infinite) is possible, through a form of heightened perception or ‘faculty of religion’ in his earlier thought, or through the awareness of ‘the Infinite’ through sensory experience in his later thought. This was the same step which Hegel made when he argued that The rise of thought beyond the world of sense, its passage from the finite to the infinite, the leap into the supersensible which it takes when it snaps asunder the chain of sense ... Say there must be no such passage, and you say there is to be no thinking.45

Müller most clearly explained his differences with Kant on this point in a letter to P.C. Majumdar, dated 3 August 1881: [Kant] thinks that the knowledge supplied to us by the sense is finite only, and that there is no sensuous foundation for our ideas of the Infinite or the Unconditioned. My chief object in my Hibbert Lectures was to show that we have a perfect right to make one step beyond Kant, namely, to show that our senses bring us into actual contact with the Infinite, and that in the sensation of the Infinite lies the living germ of all religion.46

The post-Kantian idealists’ (such as Schelling and Hegel, often referred to as ‘absolute idealists’) opposition to Kant’s ‘transcendental idealism’ rests upon their rejection of the dualism which Kant attempted to establish between intuitions and concepts, or sense and reason. This dualism meant that Kant ruled out the possibility (which both Hegel and Müller affirmed) that we could move from supersensory experience of the Infinite or God to a philosophy of religion.47 The absolute idealists denied the Kantian claim that we can have no certain knowledge of the external world, a claim which rested on the transcendence of reason from nature.

44

 CPR: xxvi.  Quoted in Guyer (2000): 39. 46  CGW2: 161–2. 47  Guyer (2000): 38–9. 45

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In absolute idealism there is no such distinction between reason and nature, in fact, nature is itself the extension of mind, and mind the highest development of nature.48 As we can see from his favourable review of the historian of philosophy Ludwig Noiré’s Der Ursprung der Sprache, Müller also seems to have sympathised with the urge to reject these Kantian dualisms: Kant says that concepts without percepts are empty, percepts without concepts are blind; it would perhaps be truer to say, that concepts and percepts are inseparable; and if torn asunder, they are nothing.49 The transition from Kant to Schopenhauer is easy, and may be stated in the form of a single syllogism. He accepts all that Kant teaches about the subject or the I; or, if he modifies Kant’s doctrines, he does so chiefly by simplifying them. But he differs from Kant in his view of the object, or the Non-I. Our only real knowledge, he says, of anything really existing is our knowledge of the I, which involves not only being, but conscious being, resisting, or as he prefers to call it, willing.50 Neither mind, nor intellect, nor reason, nor soul, nor spirit, being all modes or products of sensation, can claim any substantive existence beyond what they derive through sensation from the monon. To speak of reason as a thing by itself, as even Kant does, is simply philosophical mythology.51

Since Müller accepted Noiré’s account of the deficiency of Kantian distinctions between sense and reason (percept and concept), and object and subject (‘Non-I’ and ‘I’), it seems we must regard him as at least as much an absolute idealist as a Kantian transcendental idealist. Rather than being straightforwardly a Kantian, Müller’s thought manifests the influence of the whole journey which German philosophy had made from Kant through to Schopenhauer, and, as I have just argued, he rejected fundamental aspects of Kant’s philosophy. The importance of Kant for Müller was perhaps exaggerated by the ‘ante-Copernican’ (in other words, pre-Kantian) philosophical atmosphere which he encountered at Oxford.52 Rather than being uncomplicatedly Kantian, Müller believed we must start with Kant as the founder of modern philosophy, but evolutionary materialism with its positivist assumptions had paid no heed to the limits which Kant had set upon the possibilities of knowledge of the external world. Thus, in many ways Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason played 48

 Beiser (2000): 31–5.  ‘On the Origin of Reason’ in The Contemporary Review (vol. 31, February, 1878):

49

489.

50

 ‘On the Origin of Reason’: 479.  ‘On the Origin of Reason’: 487. 52  CPR: xvi. 51

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a similar role in Müller’s thought to Vedānta, as an idealist bulwark against materialism, but without the appeal to Müller’s Romantic religious sensibilities which Vedānta possessed. While there are good reasons to doubt that Müller was unreservedly devoted to Kant’s philosophy, we should not be tempted to exaggerate the influence of the absolute idealists such as Hegel and Schelling on Müller. He rejected Hegel’s attempts to achieve through philosophy the unity between intellect and sense, and mind and nature, which Kant had denied, while also sharply criticising absolute idealists for their deviations from Kant’s teaching. On such grounds, he praised Schopenhauer for his attempt to return to the principles of Kant, and bemoaned the collapse of idealism in Germany: But the successors of Kant – Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel – disregarding the checks by which Kant had so carefully defined the legitimate exercise of the rights of Pure Reason, indulged in such flights of transcendent fancy, that a reaction became inevitable. First came the violent protest of Schopenhauer, and his exhortation to return to the old fundamental principles of Kant’s philosophy. These, owing to their very violence passed unheeded. Then followed a complete disorganisation of philosophic thought, and this led in the end to a desperate attempt to restore the old dynasty of Locke and Hume.53

Müller’s work can in some sense be understood as a response to this philosophical crisis. He set aside his ambition to become an academic philosopher when he began his philological career in earnest and instead devoted himself to a history of human thought. Through this he aimed to avoid the ‘flights of transcendent fancy’, which he attributed to the absolute idealists, by holding fast to the evidence arising from the study of ancient texts. Rather than presenting a systematic idealist philosophy which we could broadly assign to either a Kantian or absolute idealist camp, Müller adopts aspects of both approaches, but his apparent recognition that philology and history are more suited than philosophy to asking and answering the big questions places him in the Romantic tradition. The history of religions which Müller pursued was a history of the development of ideas of the divine, not a history of religious institutions, or of rituals, or of dogmas. The source of humanity’s ideas of the divine lay not in speculative philosophy (although this played a role in their elaboration), but rather in the perception of the Infinite in spite of the limits of reason. This emphasis on the human experience of the divine as the source of religion is at the heart of Romantic religious thought, whether in Friedrich Schleiermacher’s (1768–1834) feeling of absolute dependence or in Schelling’s intuition of the Absolute.54 It is this experience of the Infinite which provides the basis for Müller’s study of religion:

53

 DPL: 659.  Reardon (1985): 40–46; 94–5.

54

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With [Kant] the supersensuous or the infinite would be a mere Nooumenon, not a Phainomenon. I maintain that before it becomes a Nooumenon, it is an Aistheton, though not a Phainomenon; it is felt, though not yet represented. I maintain that we, as sentient beings, are in constant contact with the infinite, and that this constant contact is the only legitimate basis on which the infinite can and does exist for us. ... We are concerned with history only, in order to learn from its sacred annals, how the finite mind has tried to pierce further and further into the infinite, to gain new aspects of it, and to raise the dark perception of it into more lucid intuitions and more definite names.55

Although this constant contact with the Infinite was believed to be universal within human experience, Müller’s aim was to study the evolution of human attempts to articulate this primal religious consciousness and the sources with which to pursue this study were to be found in the historical layers of language. Like his friend and rival, the French historian of religions, Ernest Renan (1823–92), Müller sought to combine the Romantics’ celebration of the intensity and diversity of religious experience and their commitment to seeing all phenomena as subject to growth and decay with the sober commitment to evidence and scientific research of the modern scholar.56 Vivekananda and European Philosophy As should already be clear from the first section of this chapter, Vivekananda’s philosophy of religion was far from being a simple transposition of Advaita Vedānta into the nineteenth century. His Vedānta reveals not only the influence of his encounters with Indian philosophical traditions in the hands of teachers as diverse as Ramakrishna and the scholarly Pramadadas Mitra, but also manifests the influence of some of the same conflicting ideas in German idealist thought which entangled Müller. Biographies of Vivekananda often acknowledge his youthful enthusiasm for modern European philosophy (we know that he read Kant, Hegel, Schopenhauer, J.S. Mill and Herbert Spencer), but usually either as a passing comment, or simply as an occasion to assert his precocity. However, not only does Vivekananda refer to modern European philosophers relatively frequently in his lectures, but the influence of post-enlightenment European philosophy can often be discerned even when Vivekananda does not explicitly acknowledge that he is engaging with its protagonists. Like Müller, Vivekananda does not seem to have been very successful at charting a clear course between these different idealisms but, also like Müller, this can itself be read as betokening a sceptical approach to philosophical inquiry. 55

 OGR: 48–9.  Reardon (1985): 237–9.

56

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Let us turn first to Vivekananda’s interpretation of Kant in which he makes some of the same moves as Müller, albeit without the latter’s reverence. In his classes on Rāja-Yoga given in New York between December 1895 and February 1896, Vivekananda firmly rejected Kant’s rationalist scepticism about the possibility of religious experience and claimed that ‘Indian religious thought’ had transcended the limits of reason: Kant has proved beyond all doubt that we cannot penetrate beyond the tremendous dead wall called reason. But that is the very first idea upon which all Indian religious thought takes its stand, and dares to seek, and succeeds in finding something higher than reason, where alone the explanation of the present state is to be found. This is the value of the study of something that will take us beyond the world. ... That is the science of religion, nothing else.57

Ironically, given Kant’s own determination to prevent the unfettered reason of the Enlightenment from critiquing itself into a nihilistic scepticism,58 the justification of this religious transcendence of reason is that ‘if reason is all in all, it leaves us no place to stand on this side of nihilism’.59 While avoiding nihilism for Kant may have meant ensuring the transcendence of reason from the realm of nature, Vivekananda believes that it is only in transcendent religious experience (in this case achieved through Yoga) that we can explain ‘the present state’ and thus avoid radical scepticism.60 This objection to Kant’s rationalism means that in his philosophy of religion Vivekananda was, like Müller, far closer to postKantian absolute idealist philosophers than to Kant, insofar as he shared Hegel’s and Müller’s conviction that the human mind is able to break beyond the limits of sense and reason to reach an experience of the Infinite. Vivekananda’s view of the Kantian categories is that they are equivalent to the concept of ‘māyā’ in Advaita Vedānta. Interestingly, in a lecture delivered in Calcutta in 1897 on ‘The Vedanta in All its Phases’, he attributed to Müller the error of claiming that it was Kant who first developed the idea of space, time and causality as the source of our illusory perceptions of differentiation within the universe, a concept designated by Shankara with the term māyā: But I must warn you, those of you who have studied Professor Max Müller’s writings on Kant, that there is one idea most misleading. It was Shankara who first found out the identity of time, space, and causation with Maya, and I had

57

 CW1: 199.  Beiser (2000). 59  CW1: 199. 60  Vivekananda believed that ancient Yogis had employed ‘scientific’ methods for achieving transcendent religious insight. See Chapter 2. 58

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the good fortune to find one or two passages in Shankara’s commentaries and send them to my friend the Professor. So even that idea was here in India.61

It is not clear where Müller makes such a claim and it seems unlikely that anyone as familiar with Kant’s work as Müller was would have interpreted Kant’s categories as equivalent to māyā in Shankarite Advaita Vedānta. It is true that māyā and the Kantian categories resemble one another, insofar as they both limit the possibilities of (ordinary) human knowledge and experience to a differentiated phenomenal world. However, the Kantian categories cannot be identical with māyā because, while it is in the nature of māyā (in Advaita) that it is a masking of a reality which the enlightened know to be non-individuated, Kant denies the possibility of knowing what lies beyond the limits imposed by the categories, such as space and time. Vivekananda’s interpretation of māyā, meanwhile, presupposes the existence of a true reality which māyā serves to cloak with illusion. This confused (and confusing) interpretation of Kant’s categories arises from a tendency to view such categories as complementary to metaphysical speculation rather than as placing epistemological limits upon it – a tendency which was far from unique to Vivekananda.62 In fact, so far from accepting Kant’s limitations to metaphysical speculation, Vivekananda argued that our knowledge of Kantian categories is the means of avoiding pantheism and thereby obtaining a correct metaphysics, as this passage from his lecture ‘Vedānta and Privilege’ delivered in London in November 1896 shows: To avoid this doctrine of pantheism, there is a very bold theory of the Vedanta. It is that this universe, as we know and think it, does not exist, that the unchangeable has not changed, that the whole of this universe is mere appearance and not reality, that this idea of parts, and little beings, and differentiations, is only apparent, not the nature of the thing itself. God has not changed at all, and has not become the universe at all. We see God as the universe, because we have to look through time, space and causation.63

Our awareness that we view the universe through these categories of space, time and causation, rather than making us reflect on the limits of human knowledge, for Vivekananda, means that we must seek to transcend these limits. He does this by first setting out a Kantian view where the act of perception or knowledge is made up of the concepts of the knowing subject and the percepts received of an object, but then asserts the identity of the subject/concept and object/percept:

61

 CW3: 341–2.  Reardon (1985); Beiser (2002). 63  CW1: 418; SVW2.2: 384. 62

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There is something outside of ourselves, the true nature of which is unknown and unknowable to us; let us call it x. And there is something inside, which is also unknown and unknowable to us; let us call it y. The knowable is a combination of x plus y, and everything that we know, therefore, must have two parts, the x outside, and the y inside; and the x plus y is the thing we know. So, every form in the universe is partly our creation and partly something outside. Now what the Vedānta holds is that this x and y are one and the same. ... A very similar conclusion has been arrived at by some Western philosophers, especially by Herbert Spencer, and some other modern philosophers.64

In rejecting the Kantian dualisms of subject and object, concept and percept, Vivekananda seems to come close to the position of the absolute idealists in rejecting this dualism. However, as the first passage from this lecture shows, Vivekananda also rejected the view that the perceiver and the world as it is actually perceived are identical, since all perception is made illusory by māyā. The unity of spirit and differentiated nature (pantheism) is only apparent, because nature is itself the illusory creation of māyā and there is no reality outside of the utterly indivisible Brahman. Vivekananda made the same criticism which Müller made of Hegel’s philosophy of religion on the grounds that it appears to make God subject to change and evolution in the world. In a class on ‘Maya and Illusion’ Vivekananda argued that the idea of ‘the Infinite’ expressing itself in the universe is tantamount to placing limitations upon it: Attempts have been made in Germany to build a system of philosophy on the basis that the Infinite has become the finite. Such attempts are also made in England. And the analysis of the position of these philosophers is this, that the Infinite is trying to express itself in this universe, and that there will come a time when the Infinite will succeed in doing so. But ... the Absolute and the Infinite can become this universe only by limitation. Everything must be limited that comes through the senses, or through the mind, or through the intellect; and for the limited to be the unlimited is simply absurd, and can never be.65

He continues with an argument which seems almost to anthropomorphise ‘the Absolute’: The Vedanta, on the other hand, says that it is true that the Absolute or the Infinite is trying to express itself in the finite, but there will come a time when it will find that it is impossible, and it will then have to beat a retreat, and this beating a retreat means renunciation which is the real beginning of religion. Nowadays it is very hard even to talk of renunciation.66 64

 CW1: 419.  London, autumn 1896. CW2: 99; SVW2.2: 354–5. 66  CW2: 99–100. 65

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This strange ‘just-so story’ of the emergence of renunciation is emblematic of a fundamental tension in Vivekananda’s thought. On the one hand, Vivekananda was committed to an Advaita metaphysics, such that the Absolute entirely transcends the illusory world of māyā or differentiation and realisation of oneness comes not through a struggle of the will or renunciation, but through philosophical insight. On the other hand, he appears to attribute volition to the Absolute in its attempt to manifest itself in the finite, at the same time emphasising the struggle of the individual attempting to realise the truth of his or her oneness with the Absolute whilst trapped in the material world. The idea that the Absolute ‘is trying to express itself in the finite’ and then ‘gives up the attempt’ seems to attribute volition to the Absolute. This does not fit well with Vivekananda’s claims that the Absolute cannot change and is only apparently manifest in the finite. It would appear that Vivekananda is content to sacrifice something of the transcendence of the Absolute, through the attribution to it of volition, in order to provide a metaphysical basis for the principle of renunciation from the material world. The struggle to escape the material world also looms large in his account of the salvation of the individual (and humanity as a whole) as we can see from this quote, again from the lecture on ‘Maya and Illusion’: The whole history of humanity is a continuous fight against the so-called laws of nature, and man gains in the end. Coming to the internal world, there too the same fight is going on, this fight between the animal man and the spiritual man, between light and darkness; and here, too, man becomes victorious. He, as it were, cuts his way out of nature to freedom.67

The Absolute and the individual in search of realisation are both seen as having become somehow entangled through the attempt of the will to manifest itself in nature or the finite and must therefore free themselves through renunciation of this will. This view seems to bring Vivekananda close to Schopenhauer who also saw the human condition in terms of entrapment in differentiated nature by the will, the only means to freedom from which lies in renunciation. Vivekananda was aware of this similarity between his interpretation of Vedānta and Schopenhauer’s philosophy as his talk on ‘Vedic Religious Ideals’ shows: The cause of creation was described as will. That which existed at first became changed into will, and this will began to manifest itself as desire. This also we ought to remember, because we find that this idea of desire is said to be the cause of all we have. This idea of will has been the corner-stone of both the Buddhist and the Vedantic systems, and later on, has penetrated into German philosophy and forms the basis of Schopenhauer’s system of philosophy.68 67

 London, autumn 1896, CW2: 104.  London, October 1896, CW1: 351; SVW2.2: 354.

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However, although he was committed to a view of will and renunciation similar to Schopenhauer’s, Vivekananda was not able to reconcile himself to the implications of this position for his view of Vedānta. In the lecture, ‘A Study of the Sankhya Philosophy’, given in New York in January or February 1896, Vivekananda distanced ‘Indian Philosophy’ (i.e. Advaita Vedānta) from Schopenhauer by arguing that will, far from being at the basis of the universe, is merely a subsequent modification of ‘the indiscrete nature’: I will here point out the difference between Schopenhauer and the Indian philosophy. Schopenhauer says that desire, or will, is the cause of everything. It is the will to exist that makes us manifest, but we deny this. The will is identical with the motor nerves. When I see an object there is no will; when its sensations are carried to the brain, there comes the reaction, which says ‘Do this’, or ‘Do not do this’, and this state of the ego-substance is what is called will. There cannot be a single particle of will which is not a reaction. So many things precede will. It is only a manufactured something out of the ego, and the ego is a manufacture of something still higher – the intelligence, and that again is a modification of the indiscrete nature. That was the Buddhistic idea, that whatever we see is the will. It is psychologically entirely wrong, because will can only be identified with the motor nerves. If you take out the motor nerves, a man has no will whatever.69

Vivekananda was clearly aware that Schopenhauer’s conception of the will was not compatible with an Advaitic intepretation of the nature of the Absolute, but this raises the question of why he seems to persist in drifting towards a more Schopenhauerian and less Advaitic view of metaphysics. The cause of this difficulty lies in another aspect of Vivekananda’s thought which I shall discuss in more detail in Chapter 4, namely, his tendency to link his ethical claims to metaphysical claims, for example, in the case above where the ‘retreat’ of the Absolute from its efforts to manifest itself in the finite, is seen as the justification for an ethic of renunciation. Vivekananda cannot establish the ethical claims which he feels are necessary upon an Absolute the ‘realisation’ of which means coming to see that the phenomenal universe of differentiated forms is the product of the illusory force of māyā. When he deals more exclusively with the metaphysical aspects of Advaita Vedānta he is able to quite consistently avoid this Schopenhauerian slip, but the moment he attempts to ground ethics upon Advaita, he ends up pulling the Absolute into the world of māyā: One principle it lays down – and that, the Vedanta claims is to be found in every religion in the world – that man is divine, that all this which we see around us is the outcome of that consciousness of the divine. Everything that is strong, and good, and powerful in human nature is the outcome of that divinity, and though 69

 CW2: 445–6.

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potential in many, there is no difference between man and man essentially, all being alike divine.70

If individual human beings manifest divinity, then the divine must be really present in the individuated universe, thus contradicting the axiom of Advaita. It is this idea that ethics must in some way be founded upon metaphysics which distances Vivekananda from traditional Vedānta and brings him closer to a Schopenhauerian or absolute idealist view that the Absolute or Will is immanent in nature. However, as we have already seen, Vivekananda also rejected anything which compromised the transcendent monism of Advaita Vedānta. Vivekananda was able to sidestep this apparent tension by, like Müller, de-emphasising the potential of philosophical reasoning to grasp the ultimate truth of Advaita Vedānta. While Müller proposed to understand the true nature of religion through a history of human experiences of the Infinite, Vivekananda argued that religious truth could best be grasped by repeating the yogic methods which had produced experiential proof of monism.71 Both Müller’s historical apologetic for religion and Vivekananda’s experiential apologetic have their roots in a Romantic distrust of rationalism. Vivekananda’s Romantic tendencies can clearly be seen in his lecture ‘The Necessity of Religion’, which was delivered in London on 7 June 1896.72 In this lecture Vivekananda set out three claims for the future role of religion: that religion transcends reason and the senses; that religion is vital in the development of an individual’s character and strength; and that the state of religion (or ‘spirituality’) determines the health of a race or nation: A tremendous statement is made by all religions; that the human mind, at certain moments, transcends not only the limitations of the senses, but also the power of reasoning. It then comes face to face with facts which it could never have sensed, could never have reasoned out. These facts are the basis of all the religions of the world.73 Religion is the greatest motive power for realising that infinite energy which is the birthright and nature of every man. In building up character, in making for everything that is good and great, ... religion is the highest motive power and, therefore, ought to be studied from that standpoint.74 And if we read the history of nations between the lines, we shall always find that the rise of a nation comes with an increase in the number of such men; and the 70

 ‘The Spirit and Influence of the Vedanta’, Boston, 28 March 1896, CW1: 388.  See Chapter 2. 72  SVW2.2: 203. 73  CW2: 61. 74  CW2: 67. 71

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fall begins when this pursuit after the Infinite, however vain Utilitarians may call it, has ceased. That is to say, the mainspring of every race lies in its spirituality, and the death of the race begins the day that spirituality wanes and materialism gains ground.75

Vivekananda’s assertion that religion is justified on the basis of ‘facts’ which are perceived through the transcendence of reason and the senses has been discussed above when we considered his critique of Kant. The claim that religion is vital to the development of individuals and the survival of nations is similarly an assertion of the primacy of religion above both rationalism and utilitarianism which limit human activity to the mundane sphere. For Vivekananda, as for the Romantics, the individual or nation could only fulfil its destiny when it reached beyond the mundane towards ‘the Infinite’. Liberal Pietists It would hardly be possible to contextualise these efforts to remake religion without delving into their proponents’ religious backgrounds. Our focus will be on the interplay between liberal or ‘scientific’ conceptions of religion and more pietistic or devotional traits, since I would suggest that this was the defining feature of the religious contexts within which both men found themselves.76 Müller’s Protestant Inheritance Müller was indelibly marked by the two dominant streams in early- to midnineteenth-century German Lutheranism: Protestant Liberalism and pietism. We have already considered the influence of German Romantic and idealist philosophers upon Müller’s views of religion, and these philosophers were themselves often closely connected (albeit sometimes antagonistically) with the development of liberal Protestant theology. Müller’s attempts to reconcile religion with philosophy, history and science are convincing evidence of his place within the German liberal Protestant tradition. The origins of these liberal Lutheran views are attributable to the outlook of his father and grandparents and to his education in the progressive school and university system in Leipzig that had wholeheartedly adopted the historical and critical approach to scripture.77 Pietism might seem a more surprising aspect of Müller’s upbringing, but Müller cited the ‘practical religion’ of his mother as the enduring core of his religious life, which remained untouched by his assimilation of the critical spirit of liberal Protestantism: 75

 CW2: 65.  See for instance Raychaudhuri (1995), Parsons (1984). 77  Bosch (2002): 16–17; MA: 59. 76

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My practical religion was what I had learnt from my mother; that remained unshaken in all storms, and in its extreme simplicity and childishness answered all the purposes for which religion is meant. Then followed, in the Universities of Leipzig and Berlin, the purely historical and scientific treatment of religion, which, while it explained many things and destroyed many things, never interfered with my early ideas of right and wrong, never disturbed my life with God and in God, that seemed to satisfy all my religious wants. I never was frightened or shaken by the critical writings of Strauss or Ewald, of Renan or Colenso. If what they said had an honest ring, I was delighted, for I felt quite certain that they could never deprive me of the little I really wanted.78

This combination of a seemingly unshakeable subjective faith based on feeling, moral example and experience rather than adherence to doctrine, with a historicist and critical approach to religious scriptures (and later religions themselves) shows how far Müller felt he could reconcile the pietist and liberal influences upon his religious views. It is revealing that the German theologian who most influenced Müller was Schleiermacher, who was not only arguably the founding father of liberal theology in Germany, but was also raised in a community of the staunchly pietist Moravian Brethren. What Müller most clearly owes to Schleiermacher is his understanding of religion in terms of a consciousness of ‘the Infinite’; a view which is at once quintessentially liberal, insofar as it shows the influence of the young Schleiermacher’s friends in the Romantic movement and their rediscovery of Spinoza, and at the same time bears the imprint of a pietist conviction that true religion lies in the individual’s experience of God.79 Although Müller was committed to the historical and philological study of religion, he was, as we have already seen, influenced by the Romantics and did not conduct this scholarly research in a spirit of detachment from its religious implications; however, Müller’s pietistic leanings are also apparent in his view that the student of religion should seek to find the roots of religion in the human heart: Like an old precious medal, the ancient religion, after the rust of ages has been removed, will come out in all its purity and brightness: and the image it discloses will be the image of the Father, the Father of all the nations upon earth; and the superscription, when we can read it again, will be, not in Judæa[n] only, but in the languages of all the races of the world, the Word of God, revealed, where alone it can be revealed, – revealed in the heart of man.80

It is not only in Müller’s prioritisation of religious feeling and the experience of the Infinite over adherence to doctrine, ritual and so on, that we can see the influence 78

 MA: 294.  Bosch (2002): 305–6. 80  SR: 67. 79

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of his liberal-pietist upbringing; the spirit of continuing Reformation was also very prominent in Müller’s understanding of religion and is an important factor in his interest in Vedānta. Just as pietists and liberals, in their different ways, held up the Christianity of their contemporaries against their own conception of what religion should be and found it wanting, Müller, whose liberalism embraced the consideration of the religions of all humanity, sought to bring out the grains of true religion from what he saw as the distorted or mythological encumbrances religions accumulated over the centuries. In the case of Christianity, this meant critiquing, and if necessary, casting aside, those historical developments which overlay and shrouded the original teachings of Christ in all of their simplicity. Thus, when Müller claimed a pre-eminent place for Christianity, as he often did even as he became ever more enthusiastic for Vedānta, he referred not to contemporary Christianity, but rather to the ‘religion of Christ’.81 On the one hand, this view meant that Müller saw common ground between all religions, but on the other hand, it led him to adopt a generally critical stance towards not only the Christianity of his contemporaries, but also the Hinduism of nineteenth-century India. In both cases, the religion of the present day was a corruption of an earlier stage characterised by simplicity and an unmediated sense of union with divinity, whether in the religion which Christ taught to the apostles, or the clear-sighted philosophical religion of the Upaniṣads. The only way to prevent religion from ossifying in this way was to ensure a constant refreshment of religious truth by reforms which swept away institutionalisation and cant and returned to these essentials of religion.82 As a reform-minded liberal Protestant, Müller regarded the encounters between different religious traditions and the historical and scientific challenges to previously secure religious beliefs as opportunities for the purgative reform of religion. Vedānta seemed to Müller a particularly promising source for the renewal of Christianity because he believed that in the Upaniṣads, and later Shankara’s Advaita Vedānta, the ancient Indian mind had operated almost entirely free of the hindrances of religious intolerance and orthodoxy and had thus realised the highest truths of natural religion.83 The Brahmo Samaj, and other religious reform movements in India, seemed to hold out hope to Müller that a Vedānta-Christian synthesis could be formed which would provide the basis for a universal religion. Under the leadership of 81  Trompf (1978) attributes this distinction between Christianity and the ‘religion of Christ’ to Johann Gottfried von Herder (1744–1803): 30–35. This idea was widespread amongst the Anglican Broad Church Liberals whom Müller befriended in Oxford, but Müller had most likely become familiar with it in Germany. 82  For instance, in his final Gifford lecture series, Theosophy, or Psychological Religion, Müller explained that ‘the be all and end all of all true religion is to reunite the bond between the Divine and the Human which had been severed by the false religions of the world.’ TPR: 449. 83  TLV: 11–13.

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Keshab Chandra Sen, the Brahmos attempted to unify Vedānta with the ‘religion of Christ’, which was also interpreted by Keshab as the unity of humanity and divinity.84 In his decades of correspondence with leading Brahmos, Müller came to have a more sympathetic view of contemporary Hindu religion and he regarded them as the great hope for bringing ‘real’ religion to India.85 Although Müller regarded himself as having found the stable ground of simple subjective faith within the religious controversies of his times, his religious convictions did not remain as undisturbed as his autobiography would have us believe, and there was at least one significant shift in his theological convictions during his life. In common with his mentor in England, Baron von Bunsen (1791–1860), the young Müller held providentialist views of the guiding hand of God in history leading humankind towards gradually increasing realisations of divine truth.86 In his personal religious life, Müller also seems to have had a strong sense of God guiding his life for the best, even when he met with disappointments and setbacks.87 In later life, his writings suggest more uncertainty about God’s involvement in the affairs of the world;88 instead, he focused on the possibility of human experience of the divine granted by the natural endowment of reason and the senses rather than divine intervention in history. I shall discuss this shift in Müller’s thought and the reasons for it in more detail in Chapter 2, but it can probably at least partly be attributed to his willingness as a liberal Protestant to adapt his religious position in line with the scientific climate of his times. In common with many of his contemporaries,89 it became harder for Müller in the wake of Darwinism to assert the presence of the divine as a guiding force in the world, instead he argued that the ‘Infinite’ could be found in ‘natural’ human experience and was not the result of special revelation. Vivekananda and the Brahmo Samaj In the Brahmo Samaj we can find one of the most obvious connections between Müller and Vivekananda. While Müller found kindred spirits and the hope of a union between the ‘religion of Christ’ and the Christianised Vedānta of Keshab’s Brahmo Samaj, Vivekananda was a one-time member turned implacable foe. It has been argued, most prominently by David Kopf, that the Brahmos were strongly

84

 Kopf (1979): 272–3.  CGW2: 83. 86  Trompf (1978): 40–43. 87  Bosch (2002): 63, 79–80. 88  It has been suggested that Müller’s changing theology was related to his personal experience of loss. Bosch (2002): 124–7; 140. 89  Kent (1985); Taylor (2007): 388. 85

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influenced by Protestant Christianity, particularly Unitarianism.90 However, for our purposes, it is enough to note that there was sufficient common ground for Müller to find fellow travellers amongst the Brahmos and that Vivekananda was marked by a tradition of reforming, liberal religion which shared much in common with the milieu that helped to form Müller’s religious views, including – most prominently in the figure of Keshab – a countervailing pietistic or devotional tendency. In a curious echo of Müller’s early life, Vivekananda too lost his more religiously liberal father while young and was strongly influenced by his mother’s devotional religiosity. As was typical for boys of his background, Naren attended various English-language institutions and, also quite typically, experienced a process of alienation from traditional Hindu society. Neither Naren nor many of his Bengali contemporaries met their predicament with the apparent ease with which Müller claims to have reconciled inner piety with the critical spirit of the age; no doubt their awareness that the critique came from without as well as from within made such a settlement more elusive.91 Naren’s formative period of early adulthood in the late 1870s and the 1880s was a time of national crisis due to Bengal’s economic decline and growing political unrest,92 but also of profound personal turmoil. In his search for spiritual sustenance he gravitated towards the religious reformers of the Brahmo Samaj, but this organisation was itself in the midst of a crisis which would be crucial in shaping Vivekananda’s mature religious thought. Naren first became involved with the Brahmos in 1878, a time of great upheaval in the Brahmo Samaj of India which was led by the charismatic and influential Keshab Chandra Sen. The crisis was the result of a struggle between two factions, who might crudely be described as ‘modernisers’, namely, those who were committed to social reform and distanced themselves from traditional Hinduism, and the Keshabite faction of self-styled ‘renouncers’, who tended to emphasise religious eclecticism and were sympathetic to some Hindu practices. The catalyst for the schism, when it eventually took place, was the marriage of Keshab’s daughter according to traditional rites to the Hindu Maharaja of Cooch Behar when both were under the Brahmo age of consent.93 The modernisers’ rejection of Keshab’s role as Minister and their resulting schism to form the Sadharan Brahmo Samaj was not only motivated by this affair, but by his allegedly increasingly dictatorial leadership style and his insistence that he was inspired by God.94 Keshab’s claims to be divinely inspired might seem self-serving, as his critics claimed, but they were a response to a problem of authority which was inevitably raised by the Brahmo Samaj’s rejection of any scripture as a source of divine truth 90

 Kopf (1979): Chapter 1.  Raychaudhuri (2002). 92  Kopf (1979): 193–201; Sarkar (1997): 197, 226–9, 300; Basu (2002): 23–4. 93  Damen (1983): 95. Kopf (1979): 139–43. 94  Damen (1983): 93, 179–81. 91

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and inspiration.95 Keshab attempted to resolve this issue by claiming direct divine inspiration for himself and his followers, which he called ‘God-vision’. In his own religious quest, which culminated in the acceptance of Ramakrishna as his guru, Naren apparently asked each of Keshab, Debendranath Tagore, and Ramakrishna in turn whether they had ‘seen God’, and only the latter was able to give him the assurance he craved: thus Naren approached Ramakrishna through the religious vocabulary of Keshab’s Brahmo Samaj, which valued experience of the divine as the ultimate source of religious authority.96 It is worth bearing in mind that Naren’s fascination with Ramakrishna cannot by itself explain why he turned away from the Brahmo Samaj, since Keshab and several other Brahmos were among the most prominent enthusiasts for Ramakrishna. Naren could have continued visiting the Saint of Dakshineshwar and still have remained an active participant in Keshab’s eclectic splinter movement, the New Dispensation (Naba Bidhan). As I hope will become clear below, the turmoil and crisis of identity of the Brahmos (not to mention the death in 1884 of the talismanic figure of Keshab)97 represents at least one explanation as to why Naren eventually left the Brahmos and sought spiritual solace more or less exclusively from Ramakrishna. Interestingly, given his later criticism of what he perceived as the Brahmos’ excessive Westernisation, Naren was one of the founder members of the Sadharan Brahmo Samaj, which consisted of the majority of the members of the Brahmo Samaj of India who had rejected Keshab’s leadership, partly because of his emotionalism and enthusiasm for some Hindu festivals and religious rituals.98 The Sadharan Brahmos maintained the somewhat dry and rationalistic approach to the Brahmo faith which Keshab’s increasingly emotive and Hindu-inspired forms of worship had intended to supplant.99 Keshab went on to found the New Dispensation which allowed him to take his eclecticism and emotionalism to new levels, and thus the two branches of what had been the Brahmo Samaj of India thoroughly diverged. The two main points of contention between the Brahmo factions were, firstly, how far spiritual inspiration was a legitimate source of religious authority and, secondly, whether they ought to remain unswervingly committed to a modernising, reformist agenda or to make concessions to the religious and social practices of the Hindu mainstream. Vivekananda’s religious thought can be understood as an attempt to resolve these divisions by uniting the revival of the Hindu nation and the pursuit of a personal religious quest with the cause of social service and 95

 See Chapter 3.  Hatcher (1999): 117. 97  De Michelis (2004): 101. 98  Eastern and Western Disciples (1949): 28. 99  Raychaudhuri (1995): 59. It seems however that Naren was also an active participant in Keshab’s faction until the latter’s death in 1884, testifying to the fluidity of movement between the Samajes which persisted despite their acrimonious divorce. De Michelis (2004): 97, 99. See also Lipner (1998): 65–6. 96

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religious reform: this he attempted through the reconstruction of Vedānta as the basis for a modern Hindu religious identity. The question of religious authority was partly resolved in Vivekananda’s own life by his pietistic devotion to Ramakrishna and the Goddess as Mother, but he still struggled to resolve the broader conflict between religious inspiration and reason. Throughout his life Vivekananda remained committed to many of the central principles of the Brahmo Samaj: he rejected scripture in favour of spiritual experience as the source of revelation; he believed in the underlying unity of all the world’s religions; he supported the expansion of education amongst women and the poor and promoted an ethic of social service; he criticised the restrictions and rituals of caste Hindus. The obvious differences between Vivekananda and the mainstream of the Brahmo movement were theological, as Vivekananda regarded theism as a provisional truth subordinate to neo-Advaitic monism while defending reconstructed theories of karma and rebirth. It was quite possibly his encounter with Ramakrishna which led Naren to transform his views of many of the Hindu religious traditions, but by this time the tendency amongst the more nationalistic Brahmos and influential non-Brahmo modernists such as Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay to seek to rationalise and justify the central religious and cultural features of Hinduism was well established.100 The theory of a providential, personal, and transcendent God, upon which the Brahmos had based their religious life was already disintegrating during the period in which Naren was an active member of the Brahmo Samaj. The confidence with which the theistic ‘bourgeois Vedāntists’ of the mid nineteenth century had faced theological and ethical problems had evaporated under the strain of rationalist critique, the influence of scientific theory (especially evolution) and worsening social and economic conditions which seemed to mock providentialism.101 Vedāntic Brahmo theism, and the social activist ethic which it inspired, fragmented into the Christ-inspired devotionalism of Keshab Chandra Sen, the quietism of Debendranath Tagore and the rationalist deism of the Sadharan Brahmos.102 Instead, monism, in one form or another, became the dominant philosophy of religion amongst English-speaking intellectuals in the final decades of the nineteenth century in Bengal and this perhaps explains – and is also perhaps explained by – the enthusiasm of Naren and his contemporaries for thinkers like Herbert Spencer, Hegel and Schopenhauer, as well as their attraction to Advaita Vedānta. Materialism and Evolution In the previous sections we have considered influences upon Müller and Vivekananda which help us to understand the manner in which they approached Vedānta and 100

 Kopf (1979): Chapter 6. See also Kaviraj (1995).  Hatcher (2008): 82–3. 102  Kopf (1979); Damen (1983). 101

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the problems facing religion in the nineteenth century. In this final section we shall turn to their interpretation of the views they positioned themselves against, namely, ‘materialism’. For Müller the enemy was ‘evolutionary materialism’; in other words, the view that reality was just the configuration of matter and that all developments of life on earth, including religion, could be explained as the material products of natural evolutionary processes.103 For Vivekananda, the threat from materialist scientific views is hard to distinguish from the menace of what he saw to be the materialist values of ‘the West’. The idealist conceptions of religion which Müller and Vivekananda both drew upon saw religion as a reaching beyond matter to divine reality and discerned the presence of spirit in the world. Although the Romantics had attempted to reconcile scientific knowledge of the natural world with the development of human subjectivity in the Naturphilosophie of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, these views lost their pre-eminence by the middle of the century as positivist scientists and philosophers sought to explain all things in terms of matter.104 Materialist philosophy in its most caricatural form enjoyed its greatest prominence in the 1850s up until the late 1870s when Ludwig Büchner (1824–99) and Carl Vogt (1817–95) argued that ‘thought stood to the brain as gall to the liver or urine to the kidneys, as a kind of secretion’.105 The 1870s saw the beginning of a backlash against materialism and even amongst its former champions there was a tendency to talk more ambiguously of ‘monism’ as opposed to ‘materialism’.106 There was a return to Kantian philosophy in Germany and a turn to Hegel and other German idealist philosophers such as Hermann Lotze in England.107 Despite this resistance from a new wave of idealist philosophers and an apparent retreat from some of the more extravagant claims for the explanatory power of science for mental and social phenomena, there were still plenty of reasons for Müller and Vivekananda to believe that religion was under threat at the end of the century. The assimilation of evolutionary theories with these (often passionately antireligious or at least anti-Christian) materialist philosophies had given them a new impetus even as idealist resistance increased. The emphasis in theorists of evolution, such as Ernst Haeckel, Spencer and Darwin in his later writings, was 103

 See for instance Müller’s impassioned outburst in conversation with the poet Henry Newbolt, which suggests that despite his scholarly concessions to naturalism, Müller was still emotionally committed to divine design: ‘Newbolt also wrote that only once did he hear Müller speaking of religion with a guest, and that was when he was staying at Norham Gardens in August 1885. He [Newbolt] talked in the garden with great vivacity of Darwin and Haeckel, and when the guest went into the house Müller turned upon Newbolt ... and burst out: “If you say that all is not made by design, by Love, then you may be in the same house, but you are not in the same world with me.”’ Chaudhuri (1974): 345. 104  Zammito (2004). 105  Burrow (2000): 37–8. 106  Burrow (2000): 57–9. 107  Burrow (2000): 59; Den Otter (1996): 207.

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now more on the development of mind as continuous with nature (hence Darwin’s view discussed above that human language evolved from animal noises), rather than a simple reduction of thought to the operations of matter. Müller’s Ambivalent Naturalism There are some striking continuities between Müller’s later works on religion and the views of his evolutionary materialist foes, most notably in Müller’s claim that the study of religion can be considered a natural science since religion emerges from the human mind which is itself dependent upon the natural world for its development: If religion ... is a natural product of the human mind ... and if the human mind, in its historical development cannot be dissevered from that nature on whose breasts it feeds and lives and grows, the Science of Religion has certainly as perfect a right as the Science of Language to be classed as one of the natural sciences.108

However, as Müller went on to add, he still considered the development of religion to be something which could only be fully understood through the historical study of religious thought and language, spheres which for him were clearly marked out as beyond the reach of the natural sciences: ‘But that view does by no means exclude an historical study of religion; nay, to my mind, the more interesting, if not the more important part of the Science of Religion, is certainly concerned with what we call the historical development of religious thought and language.’109 Müller thus accepted that religion had evolved and was ‘a natural product of the human mind’, but this was not the same as accepting that religion could be understood naturalistically as a product of blind material processes; instead, it was the result of the perception by the human mind of the Infinite and the development of that perception into religious concepts determined by language and culture. When we speak of ‘evolution’ in the nineteenth century it must be borne in mind that there were a profusion of evolutionary ideas and interpretations in addition to the theory of natural selection proposed by Alfred Russell Wallace and Charles Darwin. Darwin himself was not convinced that natural selection was the only factor in operation and merely regarded it as the most significant cause of biological development.110 Müller has been justly accused of not appreciating the full significance of Darwin’s theory in its elimination of teleology from the natural world,111 but in this he was far from alone; by the last decades of the 108

 NR: 12–13.  NR: 13. 110  Burrow (2000): 47. 111  Schrempp (1983): 100. Cf. NR: 273: ‘Darwin’s real merit consisted, not in discovering evolution, but in suggesting new explanations of evolution, such as natural selection, survival of the fittest, influence of environment, sexual selection, etc. These 109

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century Darwinism was in danger of being eclipsed by evolutionary theories which sidelined or distorted natural selection and, instead, placed more emphasis on quasi-pantheistic notions of ‘universal immanence’ or of a vitalist life-force guiding the evolution of ever higher forms.112 However, unlike Herbert Spencer and Ernst Haeckel, the later Müller was interested not so much in endowing natural processes with meaning, as in providing a realm of rationality and religious consciousness which transcended the blind material processes of nature. Vivekananda’s Spiritualisation of Evolution The reception of evolutionary ideas in India was less fraught with controversy than was the case in England or Germany, since it was not generally perceived by educated Hindus to conflict with their religious views. In fact, apologists for Hinduism, including Vivekananda, often claimed that modern concepts of evolution merely confirmed ancient Indian cosmological and religious ideas.113 As in Europe, this concord between dharma and Darwin was based upon an emphasis on evolution as a process leading to the development of higher forms and the de-emphasis of the actual mechanism of natural selection which Darwin had proposed as the primary driver of evolution.114 Nevertheless, Vivekananda was aware of the theory of natural selection and criticised it, with some prescience, for the unpleasant uses to which its emphasis on competition and elimination as the sources of improvement could be put by eugenicists: The two causes of evolution advanced by the moderns. viz., sexual selection and survival of the fittest, are inadequate. Suppose human knowledge to have advanced so much as to eliminate competition, both from the function of acquiring physical sustenance and of acquiring a mate. Then, according to the moderns, human progress will stop and the race will die. The result of this theory is to furnish every oppressor with an argument to calm the qualms of conscience. Men are not lacking, who, posing as philosophers, want to kill out all wicked and incompetent persons (they are of course the only judges of competency), and thus preserve the human race!115

Yet despite his reservations about Darwinism and Spencer’s idea of the survival of the fittest, Vivekananda still placed evolution at the centre of his understanding of

explanations, whether they are still adequate or not, give to Darwin his commanding position in the history of natural philosophy.’ 112  Burrow (2000): 46–52. 113  Raina and Habib (1996): 20–22; Killingley (1995): 175–81. 114  Killingley (1995): 175. 115  ‘Rāja-Yoga’, CW1: 292.

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religion. He was able to do this by distinguishing between the ‘Western’ materialist understanding of evolution and an ‘Eastern’ or Indian spiritual theory of evolution. Vivekananda was, like Müller, committed to thinking of religion in broadly evolutionary terms: we should get beyond all these [limited ideas of religion] and look at humanity as one vast organism, slowly coming towards light – a wonderful plant, slowly unfolding itself to that wonderful truth which is called God – and the first gyrations, the first motions, towards this are always through matter and through ritual.116

However, he went further by arguing that yogic discipline could be a means to accelerating and directing the evolution of humanity beyond the protracted and meandering processes of nature: ‘The utility of this science [Rāja-Yoga] is to bring out the perfect man, and not let him wait and wait for ages, just a plaything in the hands of the physical world.’117 The ‘perfect man’ of Vivekananda’s conception was the product of spiritual evolution brought about (or at least speeded up) by the practice of yoga. This aspect of his thought is not derived from any Vedāntic texts, but was rather a very liberal reinterpretation of the Sāṃkhya concept of prakṛti (translated as ‘nature’), which in Vivekananda’s hands became the force driving human beings towards the realisation of their inherent perfection, the purpose of religion or yoga being to accelerate this process.118 The continuities between mind and nature which Vivekananda’s theory allows seems to bring him closer to the vitalist monistic theories of other late nineteenthcentury thinkers like Haeckel and Spencer, but unlike them (and similarly to Müller) Vivekananda ultimately wished to preserve a separate sphere of evolution for religion or spirituality which did not follow the blind laws of nature: ‘Heredity is very good, but incomplete, it only explains the physical side.’119 This is evidence of a tension in Vivekananda’s thought, which I discussed in the previous section, between a spiritualist-monist neo-Vedāntic view which rejected the ultimate reality of the material world and this more pantheistic or immanentist view where the spirit must work through nature to achieve development and spiritual freedom. Although Vivekananda’s philosophical objections to materialism cover similar ground to Müller’s, Vivekananda’s attack on materialism was also intended as a rejection of Western modernity; see also his attack on the immorality of competition and eugenicist theories. It had become a commonplace among Bengali intellectuals by the end of the nineteenth century to position Indian spirituality against the 116

 ‘Bhakti or Devotion’, date unknown, CW2: 41.  ‘The Powers of the Mind’, Los Angeles, 8 January 1900, CW2: 19. 118  Killingley (1990): 158–63; Singleton (2007): 130–31. 119  ‘A Study of the Sankhya Philosophy’, New York, January or February 1896, see SVW2.1: 432, 462. CW2: 448. 117

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selfish and materialist values of ‘the West’.120 It is therefore difficult to distinguish clearly between Vivekananda’s rejection of materialism in a metaphysical sense – the ‘evolutionary materialism’ which Müller mainly targeted – and his critique of what we might call ‘ethical materialism’, meaning the selfish and individualistic pursuit of financial gain and material comfort at the expense of social cohesion and spirituality. The same conflation of metaphysical and moral materialism was also a prominent feature of European self-critique at the turn of the twentieth century, but for a later generation than Müller’s and typically within the context of an anti-religious humanism.121 Although a number of prominent intellectuals of the time held atheistic views, including, purportedly, Ishvara Chandra Vidyasagar122 and, for a time, Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay, there is little evidence of the widespread acceptance of atheistic or materialist metaphysical views in late nineteenth-century Bengal. However, there was certainly widespread concern among intellectuals that the assimilation of a materialist and Utilitarian ethic would lead to the weakening of the nation’s spiritual essence.123 It may also be that the higher value that Bengali Hindu society placed on orthopraxy over orthodoxy made the ethical dimension of materialism more threatening, for instance, the individualistic pursuit of material gain would, many Bengalis feared, undermine the institution of the joint-family.124 Conclusion Implicit in my presentation of these four aspects of Müller’s and Vivekananda’s intellectual formation has been the pursuit of the overarching project of this book; namely, situating their religious thought in the global historical context required for its comprehension. Vedānta’s Indian origins might lead us to see Vivekananda as its more natural inheritor than Müller, but both he and Müller encountered Vedānta already filtered through contemporary philosophical aspirations. The German intellectuals, who ‘discovered’ a precursor to their own idealist and Romantic conceptions in Vedānta, were echoed by later nineteenth-century Bengalis seeking to ground autonomous subjectivity in Vedānta and Hegel. Equally, Müller’s nationality can make his fascination with the preceding generations of idealist philosophers seem unremarkable, while Vivekananda might appear an outsider looking in. However, the latter’s complex engagement with the titans of modern European philosophy testifies to the relevance of German idealism to late nineteenth-century Bengali thinkers.125 Müller and Vivekananda 120

 Sartori (2009): 174–5, 195.  Taylor (2009): 390–413. 122  Hatcher (1996). 123  Sartori (2009): 111–12, 156–7, et passim. 124  Raychaudhuri (2002): 21. 125  See also Sartori (2007). 121

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both ultimately rejected philosophical rationalism, instead defying Kant and claiming for humanity intuited knowledge of the Infinite. This Romantic view of religious subjectivity complemented some of the most important formative religious influences in both of their lives: for Vivekananda, Ramakrishna and Keshab’s mystical, first-hand approaches to God; for Müller, the pietist ‘religion of Christ’ centred on feeling the presence of God within. This conjunction of idealist philosophical convictions with personal, subjectivist faith provided ample motivation for both Müller and Vivekananda to rise to the defence of religion against the threat of evolutionary materialism. It also determined the manner in which they went about this task: those aspects of religion that made it most vulnerable to obsolescence in the face of modern science could be discarded without great loss since a simple inner faith could be sustained regardless. In the next chapter we turn to the intellectual practices which promised to achieve such a rehabilitation.

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Chapter 2

The Science of Religion and Religion as Science There may be excrescences, there may be dead leaves, there may be broken branches, but the oak-tree is there, once and for all, whether in the sacred groves of Germany, or at Dodona, or in the Himalayan forests. It is there not by our own will, but by itself, or by a Higher Will.1 Experience is the only source of knowledge. In the world, religion is the only science where there is no surety, because it is not taught as a science of experience. This should not be. There is always, however, a small group of men who teach religion from experience. They are called mystics, and these mystics in every religion speak the same tongue and teach the same truth. This is the real science of religion. As mathematics in every part of the world does not differ, so the mystics do not differ. ... Their experience is the same; and this becomes law.2

The comparative study of religion, or the ‘Science of Religion’, as Müller preferred to call it, was an important element of late nineteenth-century intellectual life.3 Müller sealed his position as a leading public intellectual through his contributions to this field and the influence of the ‘Science of Religion’ was such that knowledge of its methodologies, concepts and discoveries spread quickly beyond the established academic centres of Europe and America to the colonies, perhaps partly explaining how Vivekananda was able to thrive in that great carnival of comparative religion, the 1893 Chicago Parliament of the World’s Religions. In this chapter we will consider the assumptions about the nature of religion and its historical development which underlay Müller’s work on the study of religions and Vivekananda’s reception and recapitulation of these theories. We will then turn to Vivekananda’s applied ‘science of religion’ and its ambiguous relationship to the professedly objective and theoretical approach adopted by Müller.4  From the third of Müller’s Gifford Lectures, Anthropological Religion. Delivered in 1892. AR: 97. 2  ‘Religion and Science’. Date unknown, CW6: 81. 3  Sharpe (1986): 1, 27–35. 4  To allow the reader to distinguish more easily whether I mean ‘the science of religion’ as understood by Müller or by Vivekananda I have adopted Müller’s capitalisation (‘Science of Religion’) for the sense in which he used the term (namely, the study of religion), but not in discussions of Vivekananda’s experimental ‘science of religion’. 1

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‘Religion’ and the Religions Müller first set out in detail the aims and procedures appropriate to the Science of Religion in the lectures he delivered at the Royal Institution in London in 1870.5 His preface acknowledged the existence of other scholars already working in this field, which suggests that rather than regarding himself as the ‘founder’ of the comparative or scientific study of religion, he considered himself as the man responsible for clearly setting out a ‘scientific’ methodology for this discipline.6 The Science of Religion was tasked by Müller with the following objectives: ‘to find out what religion is, what foundation it has in the soul of man, and what laws it follows in its historical growth’.7 As we will see, in the same work and in later works Müller attempted to fulfil all of these aims by proposing a definition of ‘religion’ which he felt captured all of the different types of religion that have ever existed, describing how the earliest forms of religion came about and charting the evolution of religion from these early stages up to its highest peak, then analysing the causes behind its apparently inevitable decline. Vivekananda made no pretence of being engaged in the systematic study of religion, but nevertheless his lectures and writings display an enthusiastic digestion of its methods and findings and a penchant for utilising them in the promulgation of his own ideas on the true nature and purpose of religion. Speculation on the historical development of religion, explanations of what religion is in its essence and claims about the human or supernatural origins of religion are almost as prominent in Vivekananda’s works as they are in Müller’s and the similarities between their theories of religion are often striking. This is hardly surprising given that Müller’s Science of Religion was arguably the most important foreign influence upon the late nineteenth-century Indian religious reform movements within which Vivekananda would have first encountered discussions of comparative religion.8 It is difficult to prove that Vivekananda borrowed directly from Müller’s works on the Science of Religion, but as I have already shown, Vivekananda’s letters demonstrate that he was familiar with at least some of Müller’s works.9 However, Vivekananda’s integration of comparative religion into his teachings was not so much passively derivative of the thought of Müller (and other European and American scholars of religion), but was rather motivated by a desire – which he shared with Müller – to formulate a religious position capable of withstanding a bruising encounter with secular intellectual practices and ideological commitments. An immediately striking aspect of the Science of Religion which was common to Müller and Vivekananda was the habit of referring to ‘religion’ in the singular.  Published in 1873 as Introduction to the Science of Religion.  ‘The literature of Comparative Theology is growing rapidly, particularly in America.’ SR: x. 7  SR: 9. 8  van der Veer (2001): Chapter 5. 9  See Introduction. 5 6

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Throughout their writings Müller and Vivekananda distinguished (often quite unclearly) between ‘religions’ as they existed in history with all their variety and apparent imperfection and ‘religion’ as something more abstract, at times described as a faculty of perceiving the Infinite, at times described as the underlying and essential aspect of all the historical religions. This usage of the term ‘religion’ is exemplified in Müller’s and Vivekananda’s definitions of the subject. Müller proposed that ‘Religion consists in the perception of the infinite under such manifestations as are able to influence the moral character of man.’10 While Vivekananda does not offer such a concise definition, we can see from these remarks on the nature of religion that he held a broadly similar view of the importance of religion: ‘It is religion, the inquiry into the beyond, that makes the difference between man and an animal.’11 He was equally in agreement with Müller that morality was an essential component of religion: ‘The Utilitarian wants us to give up the struggle after the Infinite, the reaching-out for the Supersensuous, as impracticable and absurd, and, in the same breath, asks us to take up ethics and do good to society.’12 Thus we can see that Müller and Vivekananda not only held that there is common ground between different religions, but that these defining characteristics of all religions – namely, the ‘perception of the infinite’ and its role in morality – constitute what ‘religion’ is. It is this conception of religion as founded upon the experience of the transcendent which will be especially important in our consideration of their ideas of the study of religion and the ‘scientific’ practice of religion.13 Defining religion in terms of experience had the appealing result that religion would be made seemingly invulnerable to scientific or historical criticisms which could pick holes in scripture, but which could hardly touch the inner sense of the Infinite. Accordingly, as we shall see in the following sections, Müller constructed an apologetic Science of Religion based upon the history of human experiences and ideas deriving from this universal sense of the Infinite, while Vivekananda argued that the religious truths discovered by ancient yogis and seers could only be evaluated subsequent to attempts to replicate their methods and experiences. This conception of religion in terms of noumenal experience and its influence on morality is typical of the discipline of comparative religion in this era with its overwhelmingly liberal Protestant ideology.14 Müller’s religious background thus made him an archetypal representative, while Vivekananda’s religious education among Brahmos, who emphasised ‘Protestant’ ideals of individual religious 10

 NR: 188. Previously Müller had defined religion as the faculty allowing the apprehension of the Infinite, SR: 17. 11  From ‘Unity, the Goal of Religion’, New York, 11 December 1895, CW3: 3; SVW2.1: 433, 462. 12  ‘The Necessity of Religion’, London, 7 June 1896, CW2: 63; SVW2.2: 203. 13  I discuss the relationship between religion and morality further in Chapter 4. 14  Strenski (2003); Masuzawa (1993); Masuzawa (2005); Sharpe (1986).

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inspiration and moral responsibility, endowed him with a similarly experientialist and moralistic interpretation of religion.15 ‘Religion’ was more than just a descriptive concept which helped Müller and Vivekananda talk about what different religious traditions had in common; as a normative concept ‘religion’ also allowed them to distinguish between what was essential in any given religious tradition and what was superfluous, obsolete, or even pernicious. This essentialist approach can be seen in apologetic statements where Müller and Vivekananda attempted to defend the cause of ‘religion’ generally, Vedānta, and/or, respectively, ‘true’ Christianity, or Hinduism, but it can equally well be seen in critical assessments of their own and others’ religious traditions. In a lecture on ‘Vedāntism’ given in Jaffna, Ceylon on 25 January 1897, Vivekananda distinguished between ‘the spiritual portion of our religion’ found in the Vedānta and the remainder of non-Vedāntic texts which were deemed secondary or extraneous,16 adding that ‘the principles of religion that are in the Vedānta are unchangeable. Why? Because they are built upon the eternal principles that are in man and nature’.17 When he was in London in 1896 he was asked by an interviewer for the Sunday Times: ‘Is your teaching a system of comparative religion?’ Vivekananda replied: ‘It might convey a more definite idea to call it the kernel of all forms of religion stripping from them the non-essential, and laying stress on that which is the real basis.’18 Müller applied the same logic to Christianity: ‘Christianity ... has been surrounded during the nineteen centuries of its existence with many ecclesiastical outworks. ... when they were attacked and had to be surrendered, Christianity itself has remained unaffected, nay, it has been strengthened rather than weakened by their surrender.’19 Like Vivekananda, he also distinguished between ‘religion’ and the ‘religions’: It is necessary, however to distinguish between religion and a religion ... In order to have a religion, a man must have religion. He must once at least in his life have looked beyond the horizon of this world, and carried away in his mind an Impression of the Infinite, which will never leave him again.20

This distinction between religion and religions was predicated upon their definition of religion as a morality-inducing experience of the Infinite. On this basis they distinguished between those essential parts of religions which fitted their definition of religion and those inessential parts which did not.

15

 See Chapter 1.  CW3: 119. Chattopadhyaya (1999): 200. 17  CW3: 121. 18  CW5: 190. 19  PR: 332. 20  IWCTU: 106. 16

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Essentialism implied that more than merely studying religion, the Science of Religion was intended to change it. Once one discovers what is essential to religion, it may be hard to resist the conclusion that existing religions should be transformed to better reflect those essentials. In his Introduction to the Science of Religion, Müller expressed the hope that the Science of Religion would ‘evoke in the very heart of Christianity a fresh spirit, and a new life’.21 This religious resurgence would come at the price of a purging of the inessential aspects of religion through its scientific study: I do not say that the Science of Religion is all gain. No, it entails losses, and losses of many things which we hold dear. But ... as far as my humble judgement goes, it does not entail the loss of anything that is essential to true religion, and that if we strike the balance honestly, the gain is immeasurably greater than the loss.22

Vivekananda believed that only through a turn towards the essential aspects of religion and acceptance of the implications of scientific knowledge could religion be revived in the modern age. In his lecture on ‘The Necessity of Religion’, delivered in London on 7 June 1896, he claimed that ‘when we come to the real, spiritual, universal concept, then, and then alone, religion will become real and living’ before adding, with an uncanny echo of Müller’s statement above, that religion and science ‘will have to make concessions, sometimes very large, nay more, sometimes painful, but each will find itself the better for the sacrifice and more advanced in truth’.23 In Chapter 3 we will examine the belief shared by Müller and Vivekananda that a modernised Advaita Vedānta (‘neo-Vedānta’) could evade the challenges to religion posed by new knowledge in history and the natural sciences. This idea of stripping religion down to its essentials to restore its strength is the same belief in a different guise and, especially in the case of Vivekananda (but also in Müller’s later works),24 Vedānta was considered the model for a philosophical religion without unnecessary trappings. This essentialist idea of religion obviously had significant implications for Müller’s study of religion and for Vivekananda’s interpretation of the findings of comparative religion. There was little if any space in the Science of Religion for the study of ritual, sacrifice, or indeed any of the other apparently contingent aspects of religion unless they could be related to the perception of the infinite and its influence on moral life. This bias in Müller’s thought was amplified by his philological background which saw him favour ancient texts – his editorship of the Sacred Books of the East­series, which sought to make ancient religious texts 21

 SR: ix.  SR: 10. 23  CW2: 68–9. 24  Bosch (2002): 434. 22

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available for comparative study, is a case in point – rather than the study of ‘living’ religions as his main sources of knowledge about religion.25 Though, as we shall see below, Müller referred to the work of some contemporary ethnographers, he was more interested in their translations of their subjects’ words than in their subjects’ activities and social structures. This approach to the study of religion tended to ignore the differences between religions as superficial deviations from the essentials held in common by all religions and risked reducing all religious life to a monotonous repetition of the same pattern; the only reason to look at religious traditions comparatively on this view was to show that they are all examples of the same ‘religion’.26 In an essay entitled ‘Vivekānanda and Essentialism’ Glyn Richards presents Vivekananda’s philosophy of religion as the belief ‘that religion is one in essence but diverse in manifestation’.27 Whilst acknowledging that Vivekananda ‘regards non-dualism as a principle that ought to determine our attitude to the nature of ultimate reality’, Richards denies that Vivekananda ‘puts forward Advaita Vedānta as the most acceptable particular historical religion available’.28 On this view, Vivekananda was an essentialist insofar as he believed that there was an underlying truth which all religions imperfectly expressed and he rejected the idea that any one religion might have achieved a superior insight into this truth. According to Richards, Vivekananda’s essentialism marks him out as an idealist akin to Hegel and Schleiermacher. As these latter two were strong influences upon Müller’s thought we would perhaps be justified in expecting Müller and Vivekananda to have similarly essentialist-idealist approaches to the study of religion. This is not the case, however, according to Torkel Brekke, who contrasts Müller’s ‘objective outlook’ with Vivekananda’s bias: ‘Vivekānanda’s scientific quest was in a sense a sham because he already had the answer to the search: Advaita Vedānta, the religion of the future.’29 Brekke regards Müller as an essentialist, who was nevertheless not committed to the triumph of any one religion, but does not extend such a sympathetic view to Vivekananda. While conceding that the latter’s approach recognises all religions as vehicles for truth, Brekke argues that the only form of religion which Vivekananda believed had realised this truth in its entirety was Advaita Vedānta (both historically in Shankara’s teaching, and now in Vivekananda’s modernised neo-Vedānta). This is broadly congruent with Paul Hacker’s description of Vivekananda as an ‘inclusivist’ who believed that other religions were steps along the path to the ultimate truth of Advaita.30 25

 For a discussion of the theoretical and theological assumptions behind Müller’s Sacred Books series see Girardot (2002). 26  Bosch (2002): 357. 27  Richards (1994): 112. 28  Richards (1994): 117. 29  Brekke (2002): 23–5. 30  Hacker (1983): 19.

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Can we reconcile Richards’ view of Vivekananda as a champion of religious pluralism with Brekke’s view of him as an inclusivist propagandist for Advaita? Richards’ claim that Vivekananda was committed to a non-dualistic account of the ultimate reality but did not regard Advaita Vedānta as the ‘most acceptable particular historical religion available’ seems quite implausible: as a committed monist, surely he would find a non-dualistic historical religion far easier to accept than a dualistic one. When we consider evidence from Vivekananda’s lectures it is hard to deny that there are numerous instances where he explicitly claims that Advaita Vedānta is the only true (in an ultimate sense) religion. One example is his statement in ‘The Hindu Religion’, a lecture delivered in Brooklyn, New York in 1894, that ‘every idea of God, and hence every religion, is true as each is but a different stage in the journey, the aim of which is the perfect conception of the Vedas’.31 Although it is ‘the perfect conception of the Vedas’ which is deemed to be the ‘aim’ of religion, it is clearly implied that only the non-dualistic Vedānta has realised this state of perfection.32 This shows that Vivekananda was able to reconcile the position that all religions are true and reflections of a greater truth with the pre-eminence of Advaita Vedānta, because Advaita was upheld as the ‘perfect conception’ towards which all religions unwittingly aspired. Brekke seems closer to the mark than Richards in his description of Vivekananda, but his argument begins to break down when we consider his comparison of Vivekananda as a triumphalist neo-Advaitin with Müller as an objective comparativist. Müller may have been more subtle in the presentation of his arguments than Vivekananda often was, but if we take a closer look at the theological assumptions behind his Science of Religion, then it seems that he was scarcely more objective than Vivekananda. Brekke is right that there is much in Müller’s writings on the study of religion which might yield the impression that he was wholly committed to the pursuit of neutrality in this ‘scientific’ and ‘historical’ approach to religion: The student of Comparative Theology therefore can claim no privilege, no exceptional position of any kind, for his own religion, whatever that religion may be. For his purposes all religions are natural and historical. Even the claim of a supernatural character is treated by him as a natural and perfectly intelligible claim, which may be important as a subjective element, but can never be allowed to affect the objective character of any religion.33

31

 CW1: 331.  ‘First we see God in the far beyond, then we come nearer to Him and give Him omnipresence so that we live in Him; and at last we recognise that we are He.’ CW1: 331. 33  NR: 52. 32

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This promotion of an attitude of scholarly neutrality in religious studies represents an important step in the study of religion, but Müller’s actual contributions to this nascent subject were not shy in expressing his preferences. Müller’s Science of Religion was centred on his personal religious convictions. Even as he condemned in his lectures on Natural Religion (1888) others ‘who would use a comparative study of religions as a means for debasing Christianity’ and those who ‘debase all other religions in order to exalt Christianity’, Müller proclaimed that comparative religion was a means of exalting his faith: I make no secret that true Christianity, I mean the religion of Christ, seems to me to become more and more exalted the more we know, and the more we appreciate the treasures of truth hidden in the despised religions of the world. But no one can honestly arrive at that conviction, unless he uses honestly the same measure for all religions.34

Whilst Müller did not claim as some of his orthodox opponents did, that Christianity was the one true faith, he was happy to instrumentalise the study of religions for the reform and justification of Christianity. In the same lecture he expressed unequivocally his preference for the ‘religion of Christ’,35 if not for Christianity: ‘there is no religion in the whole world which in simplicity, in purity of purpose, in charity and true humanity, comes near to that religion which Christ taught to his disciples’.36 Thus, there seems to be a contradiction at the heart of Müller’s conception of the Science of Religion which is the same as a contradiction I noted earlier in Vivekananda’s comparative religion. In each case, two incompatible claims stand alongside each other: (a) we must study religion without preconceptions or preferential treatment; and (b) there is one particular religion which is not only superior to all others, but which also holds the key to the interpretation of all religions. To understand why they constructed these seemingly confused accounts of religion, we must grasp the underlying assumptions that could make such statements appear compatible rather than contradictory. There is ample evidence to illustrate how deeply this apparent contradiction runs in Müller’s and Vivekananda’s studies of religion and how they remained either unaware of or indifferent to it. In Müller’s lectures, Introduction to the Science of Religion, delivered in 1870, he spoke ‘on the right spirit in which ancient religions ought to be studied and interpreted’.37 The methodological assumptions which Müller wished to inculcate in his audience included ‘recognising Christianity as coming in the fullness of time, and as the fulfilment of the hopes and desires of

34

 NR: 37.  See Chapter 1. 36  NR: 570. 37  SR: 221. 35

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the whole world’38 and judging ‘as we ought always to judge, with unwearying love and charity’.39 Müller then led by example by pointing out religious teachings in other faiths he considered worthy of his audience’s sympathy. Of particular interest are his comments on Buddhism: In no religion are we so constantly reminded of our own as in Buddhism, and yet in no religion has man been drawn away so far from the truth as in the religion of the Buddha. Buddhism and Christianity are indeed the two opposite poles with regard to the most essential points of religion: Buddhism ignoring all feelings of dependence on a higher power, and therefore denying the existence of a supreme Deity; Christianity resting entirely on a belief in God as the Father, in the Son of Man as the Son of God, and making us all children of God by faith in His Son.40

Buddhism is brought close to truth because it teaches ‘the highest morality that was ever taught before the rise of Christianity’,41 but moved far away from truth because it teaches the ‘opposite’ of Müller’s idea of Christianity. Thus Müller’s ambition to study religion ‘objectively’ seems to have meant seeking out what was ‘good’ in every religion, but taking his own liberal Protestant faith as the yardstick by which ‘goodness’ should be evaluated. In Vivekananda’s lecture on ‘Soul, God and Religion’, which he delivered in Hartford, Connecticut on 11 March 1895, he described how ‘by the study of different religions we find that in essence they are one’.42 He then proceeded to give an account of the development of religion in history from the nature deities of ‘the most ancient nations’ to the ‘non-dualistic stage’ in ‘the Hindu philosophy’. This is his account of the progression of religious ideas in Christianity and Hinduism: In the New Testament it is taught, ‘Our Father who art in heaven’ – God living in the heavens separated from men. … Further on we find the teaching that He is a God immanent in nature; He is not only God in heaven, but on earth too. He is the God in us. In the Hindu philosophy we find a stage of the same proximity of God to us. But we do not stop there. There is the non-dualistic stage, in which man realises that the God he has been worshipping is not only the Father in heaven, and on earth, but that ‘I and my Father are one.’43

As we saw with Müller above, Vivekananda begins his study of religion with a concept of truth which is present – at least to some degree – in all religions, but which has been most truly expressed in one particular religion, in this case, 38

 SR: 222.  SR: 224. 40  SR: 242–3. 41  SR: 142–3. 42  CW1: 317. 43  CW1: 323. 39

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Advaita Vedānta. All religions were measured against Advaita by Vivekananda, in the same way that Müller measured all religions against ‘true Christianity’. ‘True Christianity’ was the guiding principle behind Müller’s study of religion both in the sense which we saw above, as the measure by which truth and progress in other religions could be evaluated, but also in a second sense, as the motivation for the study of religion. It seems that Müller could not conceive of a successful study of religion not motivated by liberal Christian concerns: It is Christianity alone which, as the religion of humanity, as the religion of no caste, of no chosen people, has taught us to study the history of mankind, as our own, to discover the traces of a divine wisdom and love in the development of all the races of the world.44

In much the same way, Vivekananda saw Advaita Vedānta not only as the standard by which other religions should be evaluated, but also as the basis for the study of religion itself. In an interview with The Hindu, given in Madras in February 1897, Vivekananda claimed that ‘even Christians cannot understand their New Testament, without understanding the Vedānta. The Vedānta is the rationale of all religions. Without the Vedānta every religion is superstition.’45 Müller and Vivekananda’s taxonomies of religion were structured, motivated, and determined by their religious concerns in such a way that they were unaware of what might seem now to be obvious bias. Müller studied religions according to a model which was explicitly liberal Protestant, so ‘neutrality’ meant genuinely trying to see the God of ‘true Christianity’ in all religions and discarding the prejudice that there was only untruth and delusion in non-Christian faiths. In Vivekananda’s case, other religions could only be understood as leading towards the truth of Advaita Vedānta and such truths as they did contain were either only relative truths which would be transcended in their evolution towards Advaita, or disguised and misunderstood versions of the teachings of Advaita. Within the paradigms which they used to discuss religion, there was no reason for either man to consider himself as anything other than an earnest enquirer into the true nature of religion. Although Müller has sometimes been accused of being a Christian triumphalist46 – an accusation for which there is some evidence in his earlier works47 – by the time he delivered his Gifford lectures (1888–92) there was such similarity between his increasingly philosophical and heteredox Christianity and

44

 SR: 38–9.  CW5: 212. 46  Most volubly from the Hindu right. See Bharti (1992). 47  See, for instance, Müller’s claim made in A History of Ancient Sanskrit Literature (1859) that ‘the whole human race required a gradual education before in the fulness of time, it could be admitted to the truths of Christianity’: 32. 45

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his growing appreciation of Vedānta that it is difficult to maintain this view.48 Müller’s ideal of ‘true Christianity’ probably had more in common with Vivekananda’s Vedānta than it did with the Christianity of most of his Victorian contemporaries, insofar as his paradigm for Christianity was based on the Vedānta-esque thought of the ancient Alexandrian and medieval German mystics who Müller felt had embraced the ‘religion of Christ’ by teaching that all humanity is one with God.49 As the Science of Religion aimed at uncovering the essentials of religion it had as much to teach historical Christianity (as opposed to the ‘religion of Christ’) as any other religion and, as has already been stated, Müller hoped it would lead to a wholesale reform of his own faith. There was an ambiguity in Müller’s and Vivekananda’s view of religion as to whether the truest form of religion (Advaita Vedānta or an idealised, perhaps Vedānta-ised, form of Christianity) would supersede all others because it embodied most fully the essentials of religion, or whether, since all religions were built on the same essential truths, the purifying study of religion would strip away the ‘excrescences’ of all religions thereby reinvigorating all faiths. The essentialism and idealism of Vivekananda and Müller can help us to understand the character of this ‘scientific’ approach to religion. As we have already seen, Vivekananda and Müller were motivated in their studies of religion by the desire to find the essential aspects of all religions, thereby demonstrating what religion should aspire to be and showing that true religion could survive in the modern age. They were almost certainly genuine in their desire to find what is essential in religion and what is not, but, inevitably such a distinction began with an assumption of what religion really is and that conception was rooted in, respectively, Müller’s liberal pietist Christianity and Vivekananda’s Vedāntism. Their aim to find the essentials of religion produced a study of religion which was circular: Müller and Vivekananda were already certain about what constituted ‘true religion’ before they began their search, and inevitably they ‘discovered’ that the essential aspects of religion corresponded to what they already considered to be true. Naturalism, Nationalism and Historicism The essentialist views of religion that Müller and Vivekananda held bring them close to the deistic origins of comparative religion in the Enlightenment. In his history of the idea of natural religion, Peter Byrne explains that ‘with the deists Mueller shares a belief in a common religious endowment which is natural to human beings, and like them he believes this will entail common elements in all 48

 Bosch (2002): 399, 438–9.  For more on the relationship between Müller’s Christianity and Vedānta see Chapters 1 and 3. 49

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religions worth the name’.50 He might have added that Müller shared the deist convictions – which Byrne discusses in an earlier chapter – that priests had led humanity away from ‘true religion’.51 Byrne traces Müller’s ideas on religion not just to deism, but also to Kant and Romanticism. The Kantian influence on Müller’s natural religion can be seen principally in his belief that there must be some aspect of human nature corresponding to Kantian ‘Categories’ (he spoke of an ‘independent faculty’ in earlier writings, but later proposed that sensory perception alone was sufficient) which responds to the Infinite.52 The Romantic influence lies in Müller’s historical approach to religion, which displays his intellectual debt to Johann Herder (1744–1803) and Hegel, and in his belief that religion is primarily founded upon experience rather than reason or belief, which we can trace to the Romantic theology of Schleiermacher. Despite the common ground he shared with the deists, Müller dismissed deistic attempts to create a rational religion from scratch or to transform Christianity by ridding it of all irrational elements. Müller denied the possibility of the existence of ‘natural religion’ in the deistic sense of an eternal, immutable religion founded upon the innate rationality of human beings: When everything that seemed supernatural, miraculous, and irrational, had been removed from the pages of the New Testament, there still remained a kind of skeleton of religion, and this too was passed off under the name of Natural Religion. There never has been any real religion, consisting exclusively of the pure and simple tenets of Natural Religion, though there have been certain philosophers who brought themselves to believe that their religion was entirely rational, [it] was, in fact, pure and simple Deism.53

Müller’s conception of ‘natural religion’ was very different from this static religion of reason which he attributed to the deists. Firstly, for Müller, true religion was the result of an experience of the Infinite and thus Deists were mistaken in their belief that anything resembling religion could be wholly founded upon the innate rationality of human beings. Secondly, as I will discuss in more detail below, Müller’s background in German Romanticism meant that he favoured a naturalistic yet historical approach to religion which viewed religious ideas as dynamic entities evolving as language and thought evolved. Müller may have believed with the deists that there were essential properties which made a religion ‘religion’, but the perception of the Infinite and its moral force would inevitably change as language and historical circumstances changed. 50

 Byrne (1989): 190.  Byrne (1989): 67–9. 52  See Chapter 4. 53  SR: 125–7. 51

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We can see this Romanticist view clearly in his 1878 Lectures on the Origin and Growth of Religion as Illustrated by the Religions of India. In these lectures Müller hoped to show through the study of ancient Indian texts how religion developed through time. There are two conflicting views of religious growth presented in these lectures: in theory, there is continuous progress in religion towards a greater understanding of the Infinite and truth: ‘From station to station man has advanced on it further and further. As we mount higher, the world grows smaller, heaven comes nearer. With each new horizon our view grows wider, our hearts grow larger, and the meaning of our words grows deeper.’54 Yet, the history of religious thought in India, so Müller believed, displayed no such smooth upwards trajectory, reaching a high point in the Upaniṣads before declining and then being reinvigorated by the Buddha only to once again sink down into superstition and ritualism.55 This was not, Müller maintained, a process unique to India: That religion is liable to corruption is surely seen again and again in the history of the world. In one sense the history of most religions might be called a slow corruption of their primitive purity. At all events, no one would venture to maintain that religion always keeps pace with general civilisation.56

The ideas of decay and progress in religion are crucial to grasping a sometimes misunderstood aspect of Müller’s thought. Chidester argues that Müller’s comparative religion was an ‘imperial project’ of knowledge-gathering which was ‘entangled with the requirements of empire’.57 The basis for this accusation is that Müller sought material and financial support for his publications from the colonial apparatus and that his research was intended to provide knowledge of subject peoples to further their subjugation: Max Müller’s scholarly work often depended upon the resources and intersected with the interests of the British Empire. While his edition of the Rig Veda was made possible by the support of the East India Company, his academic authority was occasionally drawn upon to provide symbolic reinforcement for British rule over India. ‘Divide et impera’, he declared, ‘and translate it somewhat freely by “Classify and Conquer”.’ More than merely a rhetorical flourish, this motto

54

 OGR: 215.  For instance: ‘The Hindus, who, thousands of years ago, had reached in the Upanishads the loftiest heights of philosophy, are now in many places sunk into a grovelling worship of cows and monkeys.’ OGR: 67. 56  OGR (1878): 66–7. 57  Chidester (2004): 71, 75. Chidester omits to mention that Müller also frequently referred to the works of anthropologists working outside of the British Empire, for instance, Matthias Castrén (1813–53) an ethnographer of Finland. NR (1889): 217, 568. 55

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signaled Max Müller’s imperial project, the promotion of a science of religion that generated global knowledge and power.58

Chidester claims that Müller’s interest in Southern African peoples and their languages contributed to his ‘imperial project’ as Müller ‘inferred characteristics of the “primitive” ancestors of humanity from reports about contemporary “savages”’.59 Although in his Introduction to the Science of Religion (1873) Müller expressed the belief that ‘though the belief of African and Melanesian savages is more recent in point of time, it represents an earlier and far more primitive phase in point of growth’,60 this was a position which he came to utterly reject in his Gifford lectures on Anthropological Religion (1891): It has been shown that it was certainly a mistake to look upon the manners and customs, the legends and religious ideas of uncivilised tribes as representing an image of what the primitive state of mankind must have been thousands of years ago …. The more savage a tribe, the more accurately was it supposed to reflect the primitive state of mankind. This was, no doubt, a very natural mistake before more careful researches had shown that the customs of savage races were often far more artificial and complicated than they appeared at first, and that there had been as much progression and retrogression in their historical development as in that of more civilised races. We now know that savage and primitive are very far from meaning the same thing.61

Müller’s belief that ‘savage’ religion was dynamic rather than static, thus unable to yield any useful knowledge of ancient religious thought, and his consequent wariness of contemporary ethnographic theory, suggest that Müller evaluated evidence for the Science of Religion largely on methodological rather than ideological grounds. His principal aim was historical knowledge (admittedly in the service of providing an intellectual justification of religion), rather than knowledge for the sake of empire. Whilst it would be naïve to exonerate Müller of all prejudice, the characterisation of his Science of Religion as motivated largely by imperialistic ideology is unwarranted and blinds us to what he was actually attempting to achieve. His historical approach meant that Müller was often sceptical of the value of ethnographical research in understanding religion. This scepticism was partly attributable to doubts about methodology – he was justifiably wary of any attempt to understand the thoughts of other human beings without a comprehensive understanding of their languages62 – but largely due to his ambition to trace the 58

 Chidester (2004): 74–5.  Chidester (2004): 72. 60  SR (1873): 25. 61  AR (1892): 149–50. 62  NR: 217.Cf. Crick (1976). 59

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development of human religious thought over vast stretches of time, a feat which could only be attempted by using textual and philological evidence.63 Vivekananda was as committed as Müller to the reality of historical change in religious thought. In his lecture ‘Maya and the Evolution of the Conception of God’, delivered in London on 20 October 1896, Vivekananda described how ‘man’s ideas of God are constantly changing and expanding’.64 As in Müller’s history of religion, there is an obviously teleological view of change in religion such that lower forms of religion evolve to higher forms of religion. The highest form of religion envisioned by Vivekananda is, of course, Advaita Vedānta. Alongside this vision of constant progression in religion there is also, as we saw with Müller, the idea that religions are subject to decay and corruption as well as growth. When Vivekananda came to consider historical developments in India he shared Müller’s view that the golden age in which the most philosophically appealing of the Upaniṣads had been composed was followed by a decline which was only reversed by the Buddha, the Buddhists then failed to live up to their master’s teachings and dragged India into a period of darkness and superstition which ended when Shankara revived the original truths of the Upaniṣads.65 Vivekananda was thus also committed to the view that religion was subject to evolution into higher forms but also decay into lower forms. How did Vivekananda and Müller explain the mechanisms by which this evolution and decay in religion took place? Vivekananda blamed degeneration in the pre-Buddhist period upon ‘the old materialism’, a perversion of Brahmanical life into worldly pleasure-seeking, while he blamed the decay of Buddhism upon its spread amongst the masses who subverted the Buddha’s teaching with ‘gods, and devils, and hobgoblins’.66 In Vivekananda’s lecture ‘Christ, the Messenger’, delivered in Los Angeles in 1900, he explained the growth and decay of religion as an inevitable dialectical process of rise and fall in which ‘great predominances in the march of events, the liberal ideas, are marshalled ahead, to sink down, to digest, … to gather strength once more for a rise and a bigger rise’.67 According to Vivekananda, the Jews were in ‘a state of stagnation’ but the ‘race’ accumulated ‘energies’ in this fallow period allowing for the emergence of Christ: ‘this concentrated energy amongst the Jewish race found its expression at the next period, in the rise of Christianity … Thus every prophet is a creation of his own times, the creation of the past of his race; he, himself, is the creator of the future.’68 Vivekananda’s theory of historical change in religion was a combination of a Romantic nationalist view of history, where each nation or ‘race’ has a guiding spirit 63

 OGR: 128–9.  CW2: 107. 65  ‘Then Shankarāchārya arose and once more revivified the Vedanta philosophy.’ CW2: 138–9. 66  CW2: 139. 67  CW4: 138. 68  CW4: 141–2. 64

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or energy which ebbs and flows, and the ‘Great Man’ theory, where individuals of genius gather up the energies of their race to reignite its spiritual fires.69 The decay of religion is explained by the inevitable distortion of these pure religious ideals once they get into the hands of the less spiritually gifted. Müller also explained the growth and decay of religion as a ‘dialectical’ process – similar to one in the development of languages whose discovery he attributed to Jacob Grimm (1785–1863) – in which the philosophical religion of the educated elite struggles against the religion of the masses to maintain its purity: I call this variety of acceptation, this misunderstanding, which is inevitable in ancient and also in modern religion, the dialectic of growth and decay, or if you like, the dialectic life of religion, and we shall see again and again, how important it is in enabling us to form a right estimate of religious language and thought. The dialectic shades in the language of religion are almost infinite; they explain the decay, but they also account for the life of religion. … There are dialects for men and dialects for children, for clergy and laity, for the noisy streets and for the still and lonely chamber. And as the child on growing up to manhood has to unlearn the language of the nursery, its religion too, has to be translated from a feminine into a more masculine dialect. This does not take place without a struggle, and it is this constantly recurring struggle, this inextinguishable desire to recover itself, which keeps religion from utter stagnation.70

Müller, like Vivekananda, conceived of the individual believer as situated in a wider struggle between ‘low’ and ‘high’ forms of religious life and thought and this process is viewed as inevitable and in the long run beneficial to the growth of religion. This idea that religious thought developed not only during the course of a human life and in the history of the whole of humanity, but also in the ‘mind’ of a ‘race’ is evidence of a Romantic nationalist approach to the study of religion which seems at odds with the deism and essentialism discussed earlier in this chapter. There is a profound tension in Müller’s and Vivekananda’s ideas of religion between, on the one hand, the view that the truths of religion are the common property of humankind and that religion follows universal laws of growth and, on the other hand, the nationalistic view that each race develops according to its individual spirit. Müller is often cited as one of the key figures in the development of ‘Aryanism’, or the belief that there is some commonality beyond linguistic similarities which unites the speakers of Indo-European languages into a race and asserts their superiority,71 but little attention has been paid to similar tendencies in Vivekananda’s thought.

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 Rosenberg (1974).  SR: 274–5. 71  Poliakov (1974); Dalmia (2003). 70

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Müller described his popular early work A History of Ancient Sanskrit Literature (1859) as an attempt ‘to discover the first germs of the language, religion and mythology of our forefathers’.72 Vasudha Dalmia argues that he was trying to capture ‘the past of the European Aryans’ and hoped to thereby ‘draw a clear line of demarcation between the Aryans and the Semites’.73 Léon Poliakov accuses Müller along with Ernest Renan as being ‘propagandists’ for the ‘Aryan myth’, although he does acknowledge that both men recanted ‘the confusion between languages and races’ after the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–71.74 That Müller in his early career utilised his study of the Vedas to provide historical and linguistic foundations for the existence of an ‘Aryan’ race can admit of little doubt as we can see in his ‘Lecture on the Vedas’ of 1865: ‘We are by nature Aryan, Indo-European, not Semitic; our spiritual kith and kin are to be found in India, Persia, Greece, Italy, Germany; not in Mesopotamia, Egypt, or Palestine.’75 Even his later study of religion is not free from the same taint of this Aryanism, since as late as 1888 Müller claimed that ‘with regard to Christianity, its Palestine origin is a matter of history – though by its later development that religion has almost ceased to be Semitic, having been re-animated and re-invigorated by Aryan thought and Aryan faith’.76 Although Müller was undoubtedly partly responsible for the perpetuation of Friedrich Schlegel’s idea that there was a racial as well as a linguistic bond of kinship between speakers of Indo-European languages,77 there are important differences between his ideas and those of the racist eugenicists inspired by evolutionary theory.78 The independence of commonalities rooted in language and culture from commonalities rooted in physical characteristics is implicit in Müller’s view that language and the thoughts which language embodies, including religion, are the important distinguishing features between different nations. Müller set out this distinction quite clearly in his Introduction to the Science of Religion: ‘There exists the most intimate relationship between language, religion, and nationality—a relationship quite independent of those physical elements, the blood, the skull, or the hair, on which ethnologists have attempted to found their classification of the human race.’79 The difference between peoples for Müller was thus rooted in language and philosophy, so while he sometimes attempted to diminish the influence of Judaism 72

 Quoted in Dalmia (2003): 12.  Dalmia (2003): 18–19. 74  Poliakov (1974): 206. 75  CGW2: 4. 76  NR: 548. 77  Poliakov (1974): 190–92. 78  Eugenicists appealed to Darwin’s theory of natural selection, rather than theories of the development of language, as the basis for their categorisation of different races. Poliakov (1974): 290–304, 315. See also van der Veer (2001): 144–5, 156. 79  SR: 143. See also Crick (1976): 17–18. 73

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in Western European intellectual history, he would found theories classifying people along biological lines alien and inimical to his view of nationhood. Van der Veer argues that Müller ‘used the theory of the linguistic and racial unity of the Aryans not against the Jews but to rescue “the brotherhood” of Indians and British from the rise of racist imperialism in late Victorian Britain’.80 Support for this view can be found in Müller’s biographical essay on Rammohun Roy in which he argued that ‘Rammohun Roy, however strange his language may have sounded to his friends at Bristol, was not a mere stranger when he arrived in Europe, but was returning, in reality, to his own intellectual kith and kin.’81 Müller’s views on race were complex and often confused to the extent that it is almost impossible to draw out definitively the conception of race which he held. Alongside these attempts of Müller’s to suggest some kinship of language between ancient Aryans, modern Europeans and modern Indians, he held fast to the essentialist views of religion which we discussed above and the Jews were certainly not excluded from Müller’s history of human religiosity. Müller’s universalism predominates over his Aryanism by the time we come to look at the later years of his life. In his collection of reminiscences Auld Lang Syne: My Indian Friends (1899), Müller explained that the Vedas were not important just because they revealed the thought of ancient ‘Aryans’ but because they were the clearest record of a process in religious development which the whole human race had undergone: What is the true value of the theogony of the Aryan race is its historical character, and its continuity which enables us to watch the growth of the concepts of the gods and of God in an unbroken chain till we arrive, chiefly in the Upanishads, at that true conception of the Godhead, free from all limitations, even from that of personality, in the human sense of that word, a stage that had been reached by Greek and Jewish thinkers at Alexandria in the first centuries of Christianity, but was soon afterwards hidden again in the clouds of theological anthropomorphism.82

Although the ‘Aryanism’ of European Orientalists was clearly a strong influence on the development of Hindu nationalist thought,83 Vivekananda usually had quite different intentions from Müller when he spoke of race in relation to religion. Rather than trying to find common ground between Indians and their rulers, or trying to emphasise the Aryan inheritance of Europe to separate Western Christianity from its Semitic origins, Vivekananda wished to show that the true ancestors of the ancient Aryans could be found only in India.

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 van der Veer (2001): 116.  CGW2: 6. 82  ALS: 21–2. 83  Thapar (2000): 1109–118. 81

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In a lecture on ‘The Common Bases of Hinduism’ given before the Arya Samaj, a Hindu revivalist movement founded by Dayananda Saraswati (1824–83), in Lahore, Vivekananda repeatedly referred to his audience as ‘children of the Aryans’ and argued that ‘each nation has a mission to accomplish’ and that ‘a nation in India must be a union of those whose hearts beat to the same tune’.84 He used the word ‘Aryan’ calculatedly to appeal to an audience of members of the Arya Samaj, proclaiming that Indians must unite around a Hindu religious identity, founded in part upon a shared racial and linguistic heritage.85 In a lecture on ‘The Future of India’, given in Madras on 14 February 1897, Vivekananda again argued that the Hindus were all united as Aryans: There may have been a Dravidian people who vanished from here, and the few who remained lived in forests and other places. It is quite possible that the language may have been taken up, but all these are Aryans who came from the North. The whole of India is Aryan, nothing else.86

This attempt to claim that all Hindus shared the same racial heritage was obviously not motivated by the urge which Müller seems to have felt to establish the existence of an Aryan national and religious heritage which united Indians and their colonial rulers and thereby simultaneously to ignore or understate the influence of ‘Semitic’ religious thought in Christian Europe. Instead, Vivekananda, like Müller, confused race with religion, but unlike Müller, he argued that only Hindu Indians (not Europeans) could claim a bond of ancestry through their Aryan forefathers. When in America and Britain Vivekananda seems to have been more sympathetic to the prevailing view that the important distinction to be made in comparative religion was between Aryan and Semite, rather than between Hindu Aryan and non-Hindu foreigner. He was obviously aware of the taxonomies of religions and languages proposed by Müller and others which sharply distinguished Aryan from Semitic and accepted the theory that Aryan religion alone had ‘originated in nature worship’.87 In an explanation of ‘The Birth of Religion’ written for a Western disciple, Vivekananda proposed a crude distinction between the religion of the Semites and Aryans: One supreme being, supreme by being infinitely more powerful than the rest, is the common conception in the two great sources of all religions, the Aryan and Semitic races. But here the Aryans take a new start, a grand deviation. Their  CW3: 366–84; quotes from 368, 369, 371. No date is given in the Complete Works, but Vivekananda was in Lahore from 5–15 November 1897, so we can assume that the lecture took place during this period. Chattopadhyaya (1999): 241. 85  The term ‘Aryan’ was usually understood in this exclusive sense by the Arya Samaj. Ballantyne (2002): 178–9. 86  CW3: 292; Chattopadhyaya (1999): 208. 87  CW2: 58. 84

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God was not only a supreme being but he was the Dyaus Pitar, the Father in heaven. This is the beginning of Love. The Semitic God is only a thunderer, only the terrible one, the mighty Lord of hosts. To all these the Aryan added a new idea, that of a Father. … The Semitic worships God to go to heaven. The Aryan rejects heaven to go to God.88

Vivekananda’s negative stereotyping of ‘the Semitic’ and his religion is probably explained not by any particular animosity towards Judaism, but rather by his desire to use the latest findings of the comparative study of religion to promote Vedānta as a more intellectually and spiritually satisfying religion than anything that could be found in the Judaeo-Christian tradition. These statements do demonstrate, however, the extent to which Vivekananda was familiar with contemporary scholarship on comparative religion and how he utilised this knowledge to proselytise. Although this Romantic nationalist approach to religion seems incompatible with the more essentialist aspects of Vivekananda’s and Müller’s thought, the fact that progress in religious ideas will, in their view, always lead to something similar to monistic Vedānta and/or ‘the religion of Christ’ meant that they were able to combine this historicist approach with essentialism. The idea that religion is a result of an experience of the Infinite implied that religion was essentially the same in all times and in all places, but coupled with an evolutionary perspective these human perceptions of the Infinite would ‘evolve’ with historical developments in language and thought.89 Taking an evolutionary approach to religion meant that religion could be ‘natural’, but not in the same way that it was natural to a deist. The natural-ness of religion, rather than denoting its immutability as a natural product of rational minds, now implied that it evolved over time, and (at least sometimes) developed from lower towards higher forms. This naturalistic and historical approach to religion had profound implications for the way in which Müller viewed Christianity. Although deists and Romantics may have diverged on the nature of religion – deists holding that there is a single ‘natural religion’ which is the product of invariable human reasoning, Romantics arguing that religion should properly be understood through tracing its historical development in different cultures – they agreed that the claims of traditional Christianity to have received the one true religion in the single revelatory event of the life and death of Christ were absurd. Müller wholeheartedly shared this view and sought through the Science of Religion to show that Christianity was founded on the pre-existing foundations of natural religion like all other religions: In lecturing before the Members of the University of Glasgow, on the origin and growth of religion my chief object has been to show that a belief in God, in the immortality of the soul, and in a future retribution, can be gained, and, not only 88

 CW8: 150–51. The reference to ‘Dyaus Pitar’ strongly suggests the influence of Müller who frequently rhapsodised on the Vedic deity’s identity with Zeus and Jupiter. 89  Chapter 1.

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can be, but has been gained by the right exercise of human reason alone, without the assistance of what has been called a special revelation.90

Müller’s claim that the Science of Religion would confirm ‘true’ Christianity’s pre-eminence was on very shaky ground since he noted in his final Gifford lecture that ‘I doubt whether Natural Religion can reach or has ever reached a higher point than that reached by Śaṅkara’.91 The object of study of the Science of Religion was thus natural religion; religion as a natural outgrowth of the human mind. Presupposing that all religion is natural, this approach to the study of religion bracketed out claims that religious believers might make that their religion was the product of some unique divine revelation or in any way of a supernatural character. But natural religion as the object of this science also determined its method insofar as the Science of Religion (a species of ‘natural theology’) was an attempt to show that religion could develop naturally without any instances of divine intervention. It is this naturalistic method which reveals most clearly some of the theological presuppositions behind Müller’s science. Naturalism meant eventually abandoning his belief in divine providence working directly in history as I will explain further below. Instead Müller’s God was visible in history only as the Infinite intuited and revealed in human religious experience. The Science of Religion not only ignored claims that any particular religion was the result of divine revelation, it was itself an argument for a different form of revelation insofar as it showed how religion had arisen and developed naturally from the earliest ‘perception of the Infinite’ up to the most sophisticated philosophical speculations, thus allowing the student of religion to see God revealed in history. Müller argued in his Gifford Lecture series Natural Religion that the historical and comparative study of religion had superseded the ‘Natural Theology’ of the deists which ‘treated of religion in the abstract, or of what religion might have been or should have been’.92 While deistic natural theology had formulated truths about God through philosophical speculation, for Müller, natural religion (and perhaps religion tout court) could only be approached historically. In Anthropological Religion, the third series of Gifford lectures which he delivered in 1891, Müller explained that in studying the natural religion of ancient peoples, he was himself engaged in the formulation of a natural religion, which revealed truths about God through historical study with no need for any special revelation: If then, from the standpoint of human reason, no flaw can be pointed out in that intellectual process which led to the admission of something within, behind, or beyond nature, call it the Infinite or any other name you like, it follows that the

90

 AR: v.  TPR: 311. 92  NR: 53. 91

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history of that process is really at the same time the best proof of the legitimacy and truth of the conclusions to which it has led.93

In his lectures on ‘Natural Religion’ Müller thus proclaimed that history contains ‘if not the best possible, at all events the only real arguments in support of the tenets of Natural Religion’.94 These statements from Müller’s Gifford lectures given between 1888 and 1892 express an anthropocentric approach to religion at odds with the tenor of his earlier works. Whilst the later Müller of the Gifford lectures assumed that all religion, all knowledge of ‘the Infinite’ is the result of a fact of human nature and that ‘man, being what he is cannot escape from a belief in an infinite Being’,95 the earlier Müller, in his Introduction to the Science of Religion lectures of 1870, spoke of how ‘a study of the religions of the world … will enable us to see in the history of the ancient religions, more clearly than anywhere else, the Divine education of the human race’.96 Trompf attributes Müller’s theory of divine providence acting through history to the influence of his mentor Baron von Bunsen who held that history was an inexorable progression to the second coming of Christ.97 This belief in providence seems to have largely disappeared, at least from Müller’s academic works, by the time he wrote his Gifford lectures. Müller’s own justification for this naturalistic approach to religion is that he wished to confront positivist philosophers on their own ground, which suggests that the threat from materialist philosophies was felt more forcefully by Müller when he wrote the Gifford Lectures.98 We might suppose that while the earlier lectures hoped to encourage Christian audiences to see God’s guidance in other religions and therefore to take a kinder view of the Science of Religion, the later lectures aimed to reassure audiences whose faith had been shaken that even without recourse to divine providence, religion was a justifiable and inevitable force in human life. Müller’s Kantian psychology was central to this naturalistic defence of religion as an innate human characteristic which could not therefore be so easily dismissed as materialists imagined. Müller argued that religion was a ‘psychological necessity’99 because it developed naturally and inevitably as a result of the human mind interacting with its surroundings. Human beings were endowed with the capability 93

 AR: 96.  NR: 198. 95  AR: 96. 96  SR: 226 [Müller’s italics]. 97  Trompf (1978): 40. 98  See for instance Müller’s claim that ‘I had placed myself completely on what is called the positivist platform’ and his argument that ‘religion is a psychological necessity, and not, as positivist philosophers maintain, a mere hallucination or a priestly fraud.’ NR: 194. 99  See previous footnote. 94

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to perceive that there are aspects of experience which are not fully grasped by the senses – ‘the Infinite’ – and from this primal experience would emerge increasingly complex (and often misleadingly ‘mythological’) conceptualisations. While Müller proceeded from the assumption that all religions develop naturally from the same foundations in human psychology, and from this inferred that they are all the same in their essentials, Vivekananda inverted this argument to deduce from the essential similarity of all religions that religion must be a natural and unavoidable aspect of human psychology. He argued that ‘the study of comparative religions’ had revived ‘the cause of religion’ by teaching that though the religions may seem different ‘in essence they are one’ and then cited his own youthful discovery of comparative religion as instrumental in the recovery from his crisis of faith: When I was a boy, this scepticism reached me, and it seemed for a time as if I must give up all hope of religion. But fortunately for me I studied the Christian religion, the Mohammedan, the Buddhistic, and others, and what was my surprise to find that the same foundation principles taught by my religion were also taught by all religions.100

Comparative religion could achieve this recovery of religion from its near demise because discovering that all religions were based upon the same ‘foundation principles’ proved for Vivekananda that ‘religion is a constitutional necessity of the human mind’.101 Vivekananda thus shared the later Müller’s commitment to the idea that ‘religion’ was a human discovery not the result of any divine guidance. After referring to the dispute between those who saw the origins of religion in ancestor worship and those who argued that religion began in human wonder at natural phenomena, Vivekananda urged that the root of all religion was ‘the struggle to transcend the limitations of the senses’.102 The difference between Müller and Vivekananda on this point is one of emphasis; while Müller refers to a passive humanity which ‘cannot escape from a belief in an infinite Being’, Vivekananda preferred to speak of a struggle: Man is man so long as he is struggling to rise above nature, and this nature is both internal and external. Not only does it comprise the laws that govern the particles of matter outside us and in our bodies, but also the more subtle nature within, which is, in fact, the motive power governing the external. It is good and very grand to conquer external nature, but grander still to conquer our internal nature.103 100  ‘Soul, God and Religion’, Hartford, Connecticut, 11 March 1895, CW1: 317–18. SVW2.1: 51. 101  CW1: 317–18. 102  ‘The Necessity of Religion’, London, 7 June 1896, CW2: 59. SVW2.2: 203. 103  CW2: 64–5 [Vivekananda’s italics].

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This more voluntarist account of human religiosity is an example of a more general divide between Vivekananda and Müller. Müller’s Kantian psychology posits human beings with certain innate faculties of sense and reason. Human faculties being what they are, according to Müller, humans will necessarily develop simple religious ideas from their perceptions of the Infinite. Vivekananda, as we shall see more clearly in the next section, tended to conceive of religion as a matter of overcoming limitations through force of will. An Experimental Science of Religion The Science of Religion as Müller understood it meant the historical and comparative study of humanity’s religious ideas. Vivekananda shared Müller’s high expectations for the potential of this new discipline to establish religion on the firmer ground of its essential characteristics and to overcome scepticism, but he did not regard this as the be all and end all of the science of religion. Max Weber usefully distinguishes two essential components of science: ‘concept’ and ‘experiment’. The concept, ‘discovered’ by Socrates, allowed science to seek understanding of the true nature of things through language and thought; the experiment, developed as a tool of research in the Renaissance, allowed the measurement and control of experience.104 Müller’s Science of Religion was in all respects a conceptual science, since Müller sought to apply the same meticulous and systematic study which he had brought to bear on language to religion. His condescension to the ‘natural sciences’ only goes as far as the claim that religion ‘is a natural product of the human mind’ and that the science which studies it has thus ‘as perfect a right as the Science of Language to be classed as one of the natural sciences’.105 Müller was thus overwhelmingly committed to a philological and historical approach to the study of religion which was only scientific insofar as it was a systematic study of concepts in religion. Vivekananda was altogether more enthralled by developments in the natural sciences and he attempted to apply his conception of scientific method to religion. His science of religion was portrayed as an experimental science and as such had no pretensions to be an academic study of religion; instead, it was, he claimed, the true practice of religion itself according to a ‘scientific’ method. Vivekananda’s first discussion of a ‘science of religion’ which we have on record is from his ‘Paper on Hinduism’ read at the 1893 Chicago Parliament of the World’s Religions in which he argued that ‘science is nothing but the finding of unity’ and that therefore:

104 105

 Weber (1991): 141–2.  NR: 12–13.

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The science of religion would become perfect when it would discover Him who is the one life in a universe of death, Him who is the constant basis of an ever changing world. One who is the only Soul of which all souls are but delusive manifestations.106

This goal of the science of religion had already been achieved by Hindu sages who had engaged in ‘the struggle to become perfect, to become divine’ and had thereby found that ‘when a soul becomes perfect and absolute, it must become one with Brahman’.107 The science of religion does not merely prove that God is one through argument, it ‘discovers’ the identity of soul with God through a ‘struggle’ towards spiritual perfection. More than intellectual assent, the science of religion demands the ‘realisation’ of this truth by each individual. In later lectures Vivekananda would attempt to articulate the method by which this struggle towards realisation could yield success. Vivekananda’s lectures on ‘Rāja-Yoga’, given in New York between December 1895 and February 1896, were inspired by a combination of popular science and the ‘Yoga aphorisms’ of Patañjali and presented to his audiences as discourses on the ‘science of religion’.108 Here Vivekananda set himself the task of providing an answer to the question he posed at the beginning of the first lecture: ‘In every exact science there is a basis which is common to all humanity, so that we can at once see the truth or the fallacy of the conclusions drawn therefrom. Now the question is: Has religion any such basis or not?’109 According to Vivekananda, all religions are founded upon the religious experiences of their founding prophets, but ‘at the present time these experiences have become obsolete, and, therefore, we have now to take religion on belief’.110 What Vivekananda hoped to show in these lectures is that there are proofs of the validity and true nature of religion which are available to all human beings and that these proofs are found through the practice of yoga. By means of a ‘scientific’ process in which the ‘powers of the mind’ are ‘concentrated and turned back upon itself’, Vivekananda claims that the true nature of religion will be revealed and ‘we will perceive for ourselves whether we have souls, whether life is of five minutes, or of eternity, whether there is a God in the universe or none’.111 Not only that, the expert practitioner of yoga will learn ‘how to manipulate the internal forces [and] will get the whole of nature under his control’ and even less experienced yogis can expect to begin to be able ‘to read another’s thoughts’ within the first few months.112 These more spectacular results of yogic practice 106

 CW1: 14–15.  CW1: 13–14. 108  De Michelis (2004). 109  CW1: 125. 110  CW1: 127. 111  CW1: 131. 112  CW1: 132, 140. 107

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are proofs of the validity of the whole exercise whose final goal is the state of samādhi, a state beyond reason which can provide answers to all religious and moral questions and wherein ‘the Yogi will find himself as he is and as he always was, the essence of knowledge, the immortal, the all-pervading’.113 Rāja-Yoga offers something of a comparative and historical science of religion as well, in that it explains the origins of all religions. The prophets of other religions ‘all claim to have got their truths from beyond’, but while ‘the science of Yoga’ teaches that they were correct to suppose that these truths came ‘from beyond reasoning’, they were mistaken in supposing that these truths were the result of some inspiration from God, not realising that ‘it came from within themselves’.114 Non-Hindu religions are the result of unpredictable and unscientific moments of inspiration: ‘this state of going beyond reason … may sometimes come by chance to a man who does not understand its science’ and this uncontrolled and unscientific religious impulse explains why, according to Vivekananda, ‘[in] the Koran, you find the most wonderful truths mixed with superstitions’.115 There is a clear similarity between Vivekananda’s comparative religion based on Advaita Vedānta – in which all other religions contain obliquely the same truth of the soul’s identity with Brahman, but in a lesser form – and this idea expressed in Rāja-Yoga that all religions are based on the same mystical experience which has been ‘scientifically’ comprehended only within the Hindu yogic tradition. While all religions are essentially the same, these essentials can be realised with drastically varying degrees of success, the most successful religions being those of the Hindus. Despite the pre-eminence of India in the history of religion, Vivekananda holds that scientific methods are universally applicable. With correct knowledge of these methods and the will to practise them all can attain the highest reality, samādhi. In its overwhelming bias towards individual experience his science of religion was, like Müller’s, an attempt to refocus religious thought on the supposed essentials of religion at the expense of scriptural or ritualistic elements. Unlike Müller, Vivekananda laid down a challenge to sceptics which was not rooted in the study of religion, but on the validity of the ‘scientific’ practice of religion: [The sages] ask us to take up the method and practice honestly, and then, if we do not find this higher truth, we will have the right to say there is no truth in the claim, but before we have done that, we are not rational in denying the truth of their assertions.116

If religion is justified on the basis of experiential evidence obtained by a scientific process rather than by reasoning or by appeals to scripture, then the foundations 113

 CW1: 181, 188.  CW1: 183. 115  CW1: 183–4. 116  CW1: 128–9. 114

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of religion cannot be undermined by arguments which question the rationality of faith, as faith is no longer an essential component of religious life. Vivekananda warns his audience, ‘believe nothing until you find it out for yourself’.117 When Ramakrishna provided Vivekananda with an answer to his religious doubts, this answer did not take the form of a philosophical discourse, but rather the merest touch from his guru could send Vivekananda into a transcendent state beyond reason and it was from these experiences that Vivekananda was able to overcome his religious scepticism.118 The lectures on Rāja-Yoga were an attempt to outline a systematic, non-culturally specific path capable of providing the same experiential answer to religious doubt. The ‘scientific’ aspect of this science of religion lies in this universally applicable method and in the potential for all to verify this method by experience. Vivekananda frequently used an analogy between the proof of the senses used in the natural sciences and the proof of spiritual experience and he urged his audiences that they must ‘see’ in order to believe.119 This belief that religious experience possessed a validity equal to or greater than the evidence of the senses may well have been owed to the influence of Keshab Chandra Sen, probably the most important religious leader in the Calcutta of Naren’s youth. Keshab was convinced that the only foundation for true religion lay in ‘the perception of the stern realities of the spirit-world’.120 In terms startlingly familiar to those used by Vivekananda, Keshab claimed that religious beliefs ‘are sure to be rejected and eschewed, if they cannot be proved’,121 and he even argued that it was through Yoga that religious realisation could be achieved:122 We Hindus are especially endowed with, and distinguished for, the yoga faculty, which is nothing but this power of spiritual communion and absorption. This faculty which we have inherited from our forefathers enables us to annihilate space and time, and bring home to our minds an external Deity and an external humanity.123

Given that like Keshab and many other Brahmos, Vivekananda rejected scriptures and interpretative traditions as viable sources of religious guidance, it is not surprising that he saw experience as the only valid source of religious truth just as they did.124 While for both Vivekananda and Keshab the preference for the direct realisation of religion rather than theological and philosophical wrangling was a 117

 CW1: 131–2.  See Chapters 1 and 5. Rambachan (1994): 103; CW5: 392. 119  CW1: 127. Cf. Rambachan (1994): 107. 120  ‘God Vision in the Nineteenth Century’ (1880) in Sen, K.C. Lectures in India: 397. 121  ‘God Vision’: 395–6. 122  For Sen’s important influence on Vivekananda’s prioritisation of religious experience and his role in the formulation of proto-modern yoga see De Michelis (2004). 123  ‘We Apostles of the New Dispensation’ (1881) in Sen, K.C. Lectures in India: 484. 124  Rambachan (1994): 29–31. 118

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specifically Hindu characteristic, experientialism was in fact a central tenet of the Romanticist view of religion which Müller imbibed in his youth. We see it in the writings of Schleiermacher who argued that instead of taking religion upon trust religious feelings must be experienced firsthand for one’s ‘religion’ to be worthy of the name: Indeed, a person who does not see his own miracle from his standpoint of contemplating the world, in whose interior his own revelations do not arise when his soul longs to drink in the beauty of the world and be permeated in its spirit; a person who does not now and again feel with vivid conviction that a divine spirit is driving him and that he speaks and acts out of holy inspiration; a person who is not at least … conscious of his feelings as immediate influences of the universe and recognizes something characteristic in them that cannot be imitated, but which guarantees the purity of their origin by his innermost being, such a person has no religion. What one commonly calls belief, accepting what another person has done, wanting to ponder and empathize with what someone else has thought and felt, is a hard and unworthy service, and instead of being the highest in religion, as one supposes, it is exactly what must be renounced by those who would penetrate into its sanctuary.125

Schleiermacher thus argued that religious thought should turn away from scriptures, dogmas, institutions, and creeds and instead should consider the feelings and experiences of the individual as the foundation of religion.126 As we have seen, Müller’s study of religion is fundamentally a study of religious feeling or experience and thoughts deriving from that experience.127 His theory of the origins of religion states that religion begins with the perception that there is something beyond the senses and is based on the premise that ‘Religion, if it is to hold its place as a legitimate element of our consciousness, must, like all other knowledge, begin with sensuous experience.’128 Instead of studying ritual, dogma and the other historical ‘excrescences’ of religion, Müller asked his audience to consider religion ‘in the mind of its founder’ and when there was not enough evidence for that, to study religion ‘in the lonely chamber and the sick-room, rather than in the colleges of augurs and the councils of priests’.129 Even the 125

 Schleiermacher (1996): 49–50.  Adams (2005). 127  What Müller most obviously owes to Schleiermacher is his understanding of religion in terms of a consciousness of ‘the Infinite’; a view which is at once quintessentially liberal, insofar as it manifests the influence of the Romantics and their rediscovery of Spinoza, and at the same time bears the imprint of a pietist conviction that true religion lies in the individual’s experience of God. See Bosch (2002): 305–6. 128  NR: 114. 129  SR: 262. 126

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historical study of scripture through which Müller made his name was a means of experiencing God in the first-hand experience of others: Like an old precious medal, the ancient religion, after the rust of ages has been removed, will come out in all its purity and brightness: and the image it discloses will be the image of the Father, the Father of all the nations upon earth; and the superscription, when we can read it again, will be, not in Judæa[n] only, but in the languages of all the races of the world, the Word of God, revealed, where alone it can be revealed, – revealed in the heart of man.130

Müller and Vivekananda thus both shared the same presuppositions about the foundation of religion in experience alone. While the former studied religious experience through the history of language and philosophy, Vivekananda sought to find religious truth (the identity of self and Brahman) through immediate experience itself and justified the feasibility of such an undertaking through his encounters with Ramakrishna and the achievements of Hindu Yogis and Rishis who came to know ‘spiritual facts’ through mystical experimentation. Conclusion This chapter considers the relationship between two different ideas of the ‘science of religion’. Müller’s Science of Religion attempted to find the foundations of all religion through a study of various sources including ancient languages and Vedic texts. The method Müller adopted may have been accessible only to philologists, but his assumptions and conclusions had an appeal that reached far beyond the academy. Vivekananda used comparative religion to show that there was not only a common truth behind the apparent differences of all religions but that this truth was only explicitly taught by Advaita Vedānta. Müller was at the forefront of the creation of a hybrid secular-religious science which assumed the existence of these fundamental truths in an essentialised ‘religion’ beyond the religions and which measured historical religions according to their fidelity to this idealised religion. As he gradually abandoned the idea that all religions would be guided by providence towards fulfilment in Christ, he developed a more naturalistic view with the intention of endowing the Science of Religion with the prestige of the secular sciences and making the study of the religion the guarantor of the reality of its object, namely, human perceptions of the Infinite. This also made possible the turn towards Vedānta as the quintessential natural religion. Vivekananda’s interest and engagement with comparative religion and the findings of Müller’s Science of Religion were fundamental to his comprehension of his mission, but he was more actively engaged with a different science of religion. 130

 SR: 67.

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While Müller attempted to study the growth of religion in the human mind through sensory experience and thought, Vivekananda proclaimed that all the truths of religion could be discovered in an individual’s lifetime through the practice of techniques perfected by the Yogis of ancient India. While this might seem a far cry from Müller’s more sober approach, as I have shown in this chapter, these two sciences of religion were united not only by common presuppositions about the importance of the individual and his or her unmediated religious experience, but also in their underlying motivation, namely, stripping back religion to those essential elements that could withstand the critique of secular reason.

Chapter 3

Vedānta in Defence of Religion In returning, after more than thirty years, to these favourite studies, I find that my interest in [the Upaniṣads], though it has changed in character, has by no means diminished.1 The outside world failed and they turned back upon the inside world, and then it became the real philosophy of the Vedānta; from here the Vedānta philosophy begins.2

In Chapter 2 we saw how underlying the ‘scientific’ treatment of religion was the belief that the essential principles thereby recovered would be able to survive in a secular age. We will now turn to how Vedānta specifically came to represent for Müller and Vivekananda the prototype for a modern religion. This came about, in Müller’s case, after he returned to the Vedāntic studies of his youth several decades later with an interest of a different ‘character’. Vivekananda, meanwhile, developed his ideas of Vedānta in the context of a revival of interest in Bengal, but one whose eclectic character he eventually tried to resist. In this chapter I hope to account for the resurgent appeal of Vedānta in this fin-de-siècle period for these two thinkers, but also more generally, as Vedānta seems to have been much more popular at the beginning and end of the nineteenth century than in the middle. Speaking of the Indian context, Killingley has noted that after Rammohun Roy ‘we find Vedānta and modernity drawing further apart until they are dramatically brought together again by Vivekānanda’.3 We could perhaps tell a similar story in Europe of a relative loss of interest in Vedānta from the middle of the nineteenth century, coinciding with the waning influence of its Romantic and idealist champions from Friedrich Schelling to Arthur Schopenhauer, only for it to be revived by Paul Deussen (1845–1919) and Müller. It is not my intention here to provide a general and comprehensive account of the fall and rise of Vedānta in India and Europe in the nineteenth century. Nevertheless, in explaining why Vedānta came to assume such an importance for  From Müller’s introduction to his translation of selected Upaniṣads. Upanishads: lxv.  ‘Vedic Religious Ideals’. CW1: 354. Delivered in October, 1896, SVW2.2: 354. 3  Killingley (1975): 138. Cf. Sen (1993), who raises the same question (while differing drastically in his interpretation of Rammohun Roy): ‘Why ... did Vedanta that had been viewed by Rammohun as a positive impediment to modernity and progress or dismissed as a “false system of philosophy” by no less a person than Vidyasagar, stage a come back towards the closing decades of the century?’: 287. Halbfass (1988) notes that, before Rammohun, Vedānta was almost completely neglected in Bengal: 215. 1 2

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Müller and Vivekananda at the end of the nineteenth century we may begin to comprehend some of the conditions which account for a broader transformation in Vedānta’s meaning and relevance. Modern Vedānta and Other Monisms If ‘Vedānta’ (understood in this period as non-dualistic, as we saw above) was indeed revived at the end of the nineteenth century in the manner suggested by Killingley and Sen, this raises questions about the continuities and discontinuities between the old and the new forms of modern Vedānta, the reasons for its alleged decline and re-emergence, and the ideas which the revived modern Vedānta supplanted. Turning first to Bengal, we must acknowledge a division of scholarly opinion regarding the intellectual history of Vedānta in the nineteenth century. While Amiya Sen has argued that Vedāntic texts were out of vogue from the 1840s until a renewal of interest in the 1870s,4 David Kopf has detailed the successes Brahmos enjoyed in the middle of the century by positioning Vedānta as a rationally persuasive and patriotic alternative to Christianity.5 Our judgement here will partly depend, of course, on what we are prepared to call ‘Vedānta’: if the Brahmo Samaj as a whole, in all its various incarnations, is to be taken as a neo-Vedāntic movement,6 then ‘Vedānta’ was an ever-present feature of nineteenth-century Bengali intellectual history, but advocating such a position obfuscates the different evaluations of Vedānta in different periods of Brahmo thought. In nineteenth-century Bengal, Rammohun Roy (1774–1833), often considered the first ‘modern’ Indian thinker,7 was perhaps responsible more than anyone for the elevation of a modernised form of Vedānta to the status of a unifying Hindu creed. It was through Rammohun’s apologetic and reformative efforts that Vedānta – specifically a heavily amended form of Shankara’s Advaita Vedānta – first became the source both for the defence of Hinduism against missionary criticism and for the reformation of Hinduism through the return to its uncorrupted origins.8 Rammohun modified Shankara’s commentary on the Vedāntasūtras to make it compatible with his this-worldly theism, ‘omitting the distinction between the two levels of truth’9 and thereby conflating Shankara’s ineffable Brahman with a theistic Godhead. Although Rammohun’s Brahmo Samaj suffered a steep decline after his death, it was revived by the intervention of the young Debendranath Tagore in the early 1840s without departing theologically from Rammohun’s

4

 Sen (1993): 10.  Kopf (1979): 162–70. 6  See for instance De Michelis (2004). 7  Bayly (2007): 26. 8  Bijlert (1996): 352–3. 9  Killingley (1981): 156. 5

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model of a rational and ethical theism derived from the Upaniṣads and Shankara’s commentary on the Vedānta Sūtras.10 However, in 1848 or 1850 Debendranath Tagore rejected the authority of any scripture, including Vedāntic texts, a decision with far-reaching consequences as it left the Brahmos wholly reliant on natural theology and direct inspiration as sources of religious authority.11 Debendranath’s decision might be explained as a response to his belief that certain of these texts were tolerant of image worship, or in terms of a rationalist desire to avoid dependence on external sources of religious authority, but there is also evidence that he had come to believe that, on closer analysis, Shankara’s Advaita Vedānta – despite being embraced so fulsomely by Rammohun – contradicted the ethical theism of the Brahmo Samaj.12 It seems then that the Brahmos found Vedānta compelling as the source of an indigenous religion morally and intellectually superior to Christianity, but only so long as they could avoid confronting Shankara’s apparent low regard for monotheism and the religious qualifications of the householder.13 Thus Killingley might be right that Debendranath made Vedānta appealing to young Bengalis, but perhaps he could only do so because, as Sen suggests, few modern Bengalis at that time had firsthand knowledge of Vedāntic texts. When, on Debendranath’s orders, they had been more closely studied, a new less favourable interpretation of them eventually sundered the Brahmos’ union of Shankara and ethical theism. When Vedānta made its comeback in Bengal it could not possibly do so in the same form which had been intellectually discredited under Debendranath’s leadership; rather, it was the collapse of established Brahmo theology, with its emphasis, for instance, on the guiding hand of divine providence, arguments from design and the worship of a formless God through philanthropy,14 which made the emergence of new forms of Vedānta possible. From the 1870s – the period in which Sen believes Vedānta became popular in Bengal – the Bengali intelligentsia grappled with theories of evolution which challenged established Brahmo theology and over the next few decades they began to encounter a new wave of idealist thought from the British Hegelians.15 Some young Brahmos of a secular and philosophical bent seem to have embraced a synthesis of Vedānta and Hegelianism, as we saw in the case of Brajendranath Seal, which replaced divine providence with the evolution of the Spirit in world history.16 10

 Hatcher (2006).  Sen (1993): 50; Kopf (1979): 170. 12  Sen (1993): 52–3. 13  The nature and role of God in Shankara’s teaching remains a subject of dispute, although he does seem to have been more sympathetic to bhakti than Debendranath imagined. Suthren Hirst (2005): Chapter 6. 14  See for instance Kopf (1979): 51. 15  Deshpande (2010): 98–100. 16  See Chapter 1. Unfortunately very little detailed work has been done on Hegelianism in late nineteenth-century Bengal, so it is difficult to move beyond a quite provisional account. 11

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This Brahmo Hegelian Vedānta was perhaps a more cosmopolitan and rationalist ancestor of the philosophical tendency in Swadeshi-era Bengal named by Sartori as ‘immanent monism’.17 This ideological complex emerged from the fusion of Vedānta, Tantric and German Idealist influences (especially Hegel). Here, instead of achieving union with the Absolute through gnosis, the devotee ‘approach[es] divine truth from within the flux of phenomenal experience’ and acquires ‘spiritual self-realization’ through ‘practice (karma yoga, the path of action)’.18 Sartori argues that the tantric side of this teaching was typical of Ramakrishna and another popular tantric guru, Sivacandra Vidyarnava and that, through these figures, immanent monism had become popular amongst some Westerneducated Bengalis. In the hands of Sivacandra’s Hegelian follower, Pramathanath Mukhopadhyay, this became a philosophy whereby the ‘conquest and conversion of matter’ would enable the release of the ‘Soul’.19 The zenith of this immanentism was around the time of the Swadeshi nationalist movement in the early twentieth century and, appropriately, this was an idealism grounded in an organicist theory of the national spirit in opposition to rationalist individualism. The Tantric tradition of Bengal, which Ramakrishna may well have passed on to Vivekananda, affirmed that ‘through Prakṛti [i.e. the phenomenal world], one should directly perceive the Supreme Being’.20 In Ramakrishna’s God-intoxicated language this became the proclamation that ‘she [Kālī, the Mother Goddess] herself has become everything’.21 The central difference between Advaita Vedānta and the Tantric monism which Ramakrishna espoused is this: while the former teaches that the goal – realisation of the identity of the self with an impersonal Absolute (nirguṇa brahman) – comes through withdrawal from the illusory phenomenal world, the latter holds that realisation – of union with a personal deity (Kālī, in Ramakrishna’s case) – comes through immersion in a world which is identical with that deity. Although Vivekananda often violently rejected what he regarded as the perversions of the Tantric sects of Bengal,22 it is possible to detect the influence of Ramakrishna’s Tantric monism in his most famous disciple’s thought. Vivekananda’s teachings in his classes on Karma Yoga, where he urged that one must ‘plunge into the world, and then, after a time, when you have suffered and enjoyed all that is in it, will renunciation come’, are startlingly similar to 17

 Sartori (2003).  Sartori (2007): 85–7. 19  Quoted in Sartori (2007): 85–7. 20  Banerji (1978): 201. 21  Quoted in Kripal (1998): 182. 22  ‘The Bengali Shastras are the Vāmāchāra Tantras [those which prescribe ritual sexual acts]. They are published by the cart-load, and you poison the minds of your children with them instead of teaching them your Shrutis.’ CW3: 340–41. Elsewhere he offered a more nuanced judgement (although still very much skewed towards Vedānta): ‘Barring some of the abominable things in the Tantras, such as the Vāmāchāra etc., the Tantras are not so bad as people are inclined to think. There are many high and sublime Vedāntic thoughts in them.’ CW3: 458. 18

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those of the ‘immanent monists’ Sartori describes.23 This immanent monist tendency calls for us to avoid the temptations either to interpret Vivekananda as a thoroughgoing Advaitin or to regard his intellectual development as a passive response to Western stimuli. Vivekananda was no systematic thinker and perhaps we can understand his development best if we see him being pulled in different directions: moved at once by an awakening to the nationalist urge to defend culture, faith and nation against what I described in Chapter 1 as ‘ethical materialism’ and, at the same time, wishing to defend the essentials of religion against ‘metaphysical materialism’. The former led him towards Hegelian Vedānta or immanent monism, while the latter pushed him towards an interpretation of Advaita as a religion liberated from nature and nation which could countenance no compromise with Hegel or Tantra. As early as his exchanges with Pramadadas Mitra,24 Naren was convinced that Advaita was at odds with Hegelianism and anything tending towards immanentism or pantheism; indeed, Mitra seems to have been an important influence directing his young protégé away from the European idealist influences embraced by his Brahmo contemporaries. Naren expressed his agreement with Mitra’s views in this Bengali letter of 13 December 1889: After the discovery of the Theory of Conservation of Energy, a certain kind of scientific Advaitism is being propagated in Europe, but it is a teaching concerning real change [pariṇāmavād]. The distinction that you have shown between it and Shankara’s teaching of apparent change is really excellent. But I haven’t quite grasped the critique of Spencer’s that you’ve quoted against the German Transcendentalists: because he himself is glad to profit from their point of view [prasādbhojī]. There is doubt as to whether your adversary Gough has correctly understood Hegel or not. In any case, your reply is very pointed and ‘thrashing’ [i.e. completely demolishes your opponent’s argument].25

However, it would take several more years before Vivekananda moved from being a student of Vedānta to being able to articulate his own account of a monistic Vedānta sharply distinguished from alternative forms of idealist philosophy and, even then, he was hardly consistent in maintaining these distinctions. It was only towards the end of the second year of his stay in America (1894), according to Burke’s account, that Vedānta became the ideology with which he most clearly identified his message.26

23  ‘Each is Great in his Own Place’, 13 December 1895. CW1: 40. These classes took place in New York between 13 December 1895 and 1 February 1896. SVW2.1: 357. 24  See Chapter 1. 25  Naren (Vivekananda) to Pramadadas Mitra, Calcutta. BR6: 233/ CW6: 215. 26  SVW1.2: 386.

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Vivekananda’s dismissal of Schopenhauer and the entire German idealist tradition in his lectures on ‘Jnana Yoga’ given in London in the Autumn of 1896 demonstrates the clear distinction he wished to make between, on the one hand, Vedānta as the most uncompromising monistic metaphysics and, on the other, those varieties of monism which he felt lacked such clarity and forcefulness.27 In these more overt apologies for Vedānta he placed less emphasis on the Spirit or Will’s gradual conquest of nature and the realisation of oneness through immersion in the world, instead, appealing to Shankara’s Advaita, the impersonal nature of the ultimate reality and the ethical implications of the identity of the individual soul and the Absolute. Vivekananda’s early exposure to the Hegelian-Vedāntic and immanent monistic views of his contemporaries was clearly well enough established in the years before to have touched his interpretation of Vedānta. This earlier monism shows similarities with Ramakrishna’s conviction that everything was suffused with divinity and that the true devotee should therefore find God in the world, but with a much more metaphysical slant. This resulted from the critical encounters of Vivekananda and his contemporaries with German and British idealist thought. One question that remains is this: why did he turn away from – albeit not completely – an immanent monism more compatible with his guru’s teaching towards a Vedāntic monism that Ramakrishna would most probably have found intolerably abstract and philosophical? The answer to this question lies partly in the dismissal, which I noted above, of what Vivekananda regarded – with no doubt a certain element of ‘cultural self-assertion’28 – as the weaknesses of German idealism in comparison to the pristine clarity of Vedānta. However, as will become clearer in the remainder of this chapter, Vivekananda interpreted Vedānta in the way that he did largely because he believed that the only rationally defensible basis for religion against materialism could be found in the ‘pure’ monism of Vedānta. Müller’s monistic leanings can be traced back to the strong current of pantheistic and monistic thought in the early nineteenth-century German Romantic movements which, as we saw in Chapter 1, proved so influential upon his religious views. It is worth re-emphasising here the centrality of a monism which tended towards pantheism in Romantic thought since this was the most likely source of these monistic convictions. Müller wrote his doctoral thesis on Spinoza, which indicates that even in the early stages of his philosophical development he was sympathetic to monism, but Spinoza had already been ‘rediscovered’ by Romantic idealists, such as Schelling and Hegel, who were attracted to a monistic philosophical system which they believed prefigured their own.29 However, like some of these earlier interpreters of Spinozism, Müller was convinced that Spinoza’s rationalistic philosophy of substance monism did not, for all its logical persuasiveness, represent the highest development of philosophy 27

 CW2: 99, 131.   Raychaudhuri (2002): 220. 29  Copleston (1946); Bosch (2002): 25. 28

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as we can see from this passage from his only major work of fiction, Deutsche Liebe, written in 1857: ‘Yes’, I interrupted her, for I could not help thinking of the wonderful chain of demonstration in Spinoza’s Ethics; ‘and therefore the scrupulous care with which Spinoza produces his arguments always gives me the impression that this acute reasoner could not have believed his own doctrines with all his heart, and had, for that very reason, felt the need of fastening so strongly each mesh of the net.’30

It is intriguing that the Romantics attempted to merge Spinoza’s naturalistic monism with Johann Fichte’s (1762–1814) idealism, in other words, to identify the object with the subject,31 in a manner resembling Müller’s later interpretation of the teaching of Advaita Vedānta as the (apparent) identity of the phenomenal universe and Brahman.32 Although it is clear that Müller’s early encounters with Romantic pantheism primed him for Advaita Vedānta, the later Müller’s Vedāntism is set up in opposition to pantheism and absolute idealism. However, Müller, like Vivekananda, was not always able to articulate his Vedāntism distinctly from other forms of monism. Vedānta appealed to Müller precisely because he felt that it clearly distinguished between the world as phenomenal and the Absolute as real. The origins of this difference between Müller and his Romantic predecessors lie in their divergent conceptions of nature and the sciences. For the Romantics, spirit or consciousness was continuous with the organic unity of the natural world in such a way that a philosophy of nature (Naturphilosophie) could seek to comprehend the principles of spirit or consciousness within nature.33 For the later Müller, on the other hand, idealism was in retreat and the natural world had been conquered by the objectifying unreflective natural sciences.34 In such circumstances the idea of nature suffused by subjectivity, mind or divinity would be far less persuasive. The mechanistic, materialist view of nature which the Romantics hoped to reverse with Naturphilosophie now seemed to Müller to threaten to extend its grip 30  From the English translation by Müller’s wife Georgina Müller (1898): 61–2. ‘Ja’, unterbrach ich sie, – denn ich könte nicht umhin, an die wunderbare Beweistette von Spinozas ‘Ethik’ zu denken; – ‘und so gibt mir die Ängstlichkeit der Beweisführung bei Spinoza den Eindruck, als habe dieser scharfe Denker doch nicht mit ganzem Herzen an seine eigene Lehre glauben können, und als habe er gerade deshalb das Bedürfnis gefühlt, jede Masche des Netzes so sorgsam zu verfestigen.’ DL: 37. 31  Beiser (2003): 134–7. 32  See below. 33  Beiser (2002): 515–9. 34  ‘[I]n Germany the time for idealism is past. The new generation feeds on materialism. Even psychology has become physiological, and Rietschl’s cynicism counts probably more adherents than Kant’s criticism whether in metaphysics or in ethics.’ CGW2: 494–5.

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over consciousness, language and religion, reducing these to the blind movement of matter. Vedānta, Müller believed, could show how ‘the loftiest heights of philosophy’ were beyond the reach of the sciences, but such was the prestige of the natural sciences by the second half of the nineteenth century that there was no attempt – or, indeed, desire – on Müller’s part publicly to confound the natural sciences by spiritualising nature. Vedānta, in Müller’s hands, seeks not to challenge the hegemony of the sciences over the natural world, but rather accepts the necessity of a division between scientific and religious reasoning, albeit in a manner unfavourable to the former. His interpretation of Vedānta asserts that the knowledge achieved by the sciences is limited to a realm of relative unreality and that the sciences cannot know the reality which is the pure subjectivity of the Absolute. Similar problems to those which we touched upon above in interpreting Vivekananda as straightforwardly a ‘Vedāntin’, given his tendencies towards immanent monism, also arise in the case of Müller. The latter’s Christianity persisted alongside his fascination with Vedānta, yet, according to Johannes Voigt, Müller turned away from orthodox Christianity and towards Vedānta in the last years of his life: ‘The academic work on Indian philosophy, the comparative study of oriental religions, had effected an inner conversion of Max Mueller from an unshakable maintenance of the Christian faith to the adoption of the Vedanta philosophy, which he amalgamated with a very liberal Christian outlook’.35 This interpretation is disputed by Garry Trompf who argues that Müller ‘was unorthodox only by very narrow standards’.36 As has already been noted, Müller considered himself to have been a lifelong enthusiast for ‘the Vedānta’, but an arguably more accurate picture of the place of Vedāntic thought in his religious development can be found in this reflective passage from his Three Lectures on the Vedānta Philosophy (1894): when the evening of life draws near and softens the lights and shades of conflicting opinions, when to agree with the spirit of truth within becomes far dearer to a man than to agree with the majority of the world without, these old questions appeal to him once more, like long-forgotten friends; he learns to bear with those from whom formerly he differed; and while he is willing to part with all that is non-essential – and most religious differences seem to arise from non-essentials – he clings all the more firmly to the few strong and solid planks that are left to carry him into the harbour, no longer very distant from his sight.37

I would argue that Müller’s embrace of Vedānta is not so much a turn away from Christianity as a turn towards what Müller regarded as the essentials of religion; religion purified by philosophy. As I hope to show later in this chapter, the essentials 35

 Voigt (1981): 30–31.  Trompf (1969): 91. 37  TLV: 17–18. 36

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of religion might not only have appealed to Müller because of the wisdom he had gained in the twilight of his life, but also because, having reconciled himself to living in a secular age intellectually dominated by the sciences, the ‘inessential’ aspects of religion no longer seemed compatible with the progression of human knowledge and the need he felt for a universal faith. So far I have outlined the nineteenth-century developments of monistic and Vedāntic thought within which Müller’s and Vivekananda’s interpretations of Vedānta had their origins and which they perpetuated through their innovative revival of Advaita Vedānta. The Brahmos’ attempts to make a rational and morally engaged theistic religion from Shankarite Vedānta, the immanent monism of the later nineteenth-century Tantric saints, and the celebration of the Upaniṣads by the monistic German idealists help us to see how Vedānta and monism were influential in the circles within which Vivekananda and Müller moved. However, these earlier monisms and earlier modern Vedāntas were not identical with the interpretations of Advaita Vedānta which re-emerged in the last years of the nineteenth century. For Müller and Vivekananda, the strongest advantage of Vedānta was its complete separation of the Absolute from the natural world, which could thus be left to materialist naturalism without compromising the Absolute as the ultimate guarantor of philosophy and religion. Vedānta in the Shadow of the Sciences In his Hibbert Lectures On the Origin and Growth of Religion as Illustrated by the Religions of India (1878) Müller traces the development of ancient Indian religion from Vedic ‘henotheism’ to ‘the loftiest heights of philosophy’ in the Upaniṣads.38 Müller regarded the philosophy of the Upaniṣads – conceived of by him as an essentially monistic teaching – as the high watermark of Indian religious thought. Furthermore, as the title of his lectures suggests, he also believed that a study of the development of Indian religion could yield a universally valid schema of religious growth, thus suggesting that the monistic teachings of some of the Upaniṣads, or something similar to them, would be the highest development in the progress of any religion. He clearly stated the purpose behind his Hibbert Lectures in a letter to Pratap Chandra Majumdar dated 3 October 1881: ‘the problem which I wished to discuss in my Hibbert Lectures, and to illustrate through the history of religion in India, was the possibility of religion in the light of modern science’.39 This argument for the possibility of religion in a scientific age is characteristic of Müller and Vivekananda, I want here to concentrate on just one aspect of this effort to make religion compatible with (or immune to) science, namely, the conviction that Advaita Vedānta could not be undermined by the advance of scientific knowledge and that, moreover, it exposed the limitations of positivism and materialism. 38

 OGR: 67.  CGW2: 160. [Müller’s italics.]

39

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One of the most important differences between the age in which Müller and Vivekananda developed their Vedāntic philosophies and the age in which Rammohun and Schopenhauer, for instance, developed theirs lies in the status of science and the perceived implications of the growth of secular knowledge for the health of religion. Darwin or Darwinism was emblematic of the apparent conflict between ‘Science’ and ‘Religion’, and both Schopenhauer and Rammohun were dead before the full impact of Darwin’s The Origin of Species (published in 1859) was felt: Rammohun having died in 1833, Schopenhauer in 1860. Müller and Vivekananda, by contrast, both engaged with Vedānta in a period strongly influenced by materialist and/or anti-religious writers, such as Karl Vogt (1817–95), Ludwig Büchner (1824–99), Thomas Huxley (1825–95) and Ernst Haeckel (1834–1919), who saw in scientific progress the seeds of religion’s demise.40 Whether or not religious faith in fact declined amongst the populations of Britain or India in this period and, if so, whether this was due to the influence of scientific or quasi-scientific theories are clearly questions beyond the scope of this work. The important point as far as we are concerned is the existence of what John Kent describes as ‘a widespread later nineteenth-century conviction that although men needed some kind of religion, Christianity no longer, in its traditional form, fitted the known facts about the universe and human history well enough to justify its dominant position in the religious culture of the West’.41 As I hope will become clear, Vivekananda’s views are proof that educated Hindus, while they continued efforts begun earlier in the nineteenth century to reconcile their religious traditions with science and the trappings of rationalist modernity, were also becoming aware of the magnitude of the intellectual crisis facing Christianity. This observation was often tinged with more than a hint of schadenfreude as the scientific modernity that Christian missionaries hoped would fatally weaken Hinduism now seemed to be having the same effect in their countries of origin.42 Towards the end of the nineteenth century, there was a tendency amongst some of these materialist opponents of religion to adopt a form of ‘scientific’ monism, most notably the influential populariser of evolutionary theories, Ernst Haeckel, who attempted to construct a monistic ‘evolutionist nature-religion’ as a successor to Christianity.43 The widespread propagation of materialism and even materialist ‘religions’, combined with the apparent morbidity of orthodox Christianity, confronted religious intellectuals like Müller and Vivekananda with a dilemma: they were not prepared to block their ears and close their eyes to advances in

40  Chadwick (1975): Chapter 7. Although all were in some sense anti-religious, not all of these figures were uncomplicatedly materialist; Huxley in particular rejected crude reductionism: Himmelfarb (1986): 65–70. 41  Kent (1985): 15. 42  Gosling (2007): 16–17. 43  Burrow (2000): 52–7.

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scientific knowledge, regarding the stubbornly orthodox with pity or disdain, but neither were they prepared to abandon their religious convictions.44 Müller went on the offensive against Darwin by suggesting that language presented an insurmountable barrier between humanity and the apes, but he was not always confident that Darwinism and materialism could be overcome.45 That the stakes were felt to be high can be seen from Müller’s dramatic statement in his Hibbert Lectures that the ‘battle’ between materialists and ‘those who believe in something which transcends our senses and our reason’ was a ‘struggle for life or death’.46 Vivekananda’s fear of materialism was no less pronounced than Müller’s. He told an audience in London in 1896 that, in the past, ‘Advaita was the only way to save India from materialism’ and warned them that ‘materialism prevails in Europe today’.47 On his return to India he made a similar speech in Lahore on 12 November 1897, where, after describing the evils of materialism ‘in the West’, he urged his audience In the first place we have to stop the incoming of such a wave in India. Therefore preach the Advaita to every one, so that religion may withstand the shock of modern science. Not only so, you will have to help others; your thought will help out Europe and America.48

The nationalist subtext of these speeches is that the West needs India more than ever now that Christianity has been undermined by science, because India’s greatest religion ‘may withstand the shock of modern science’. However, we should not let this deafen us to his warning that India would be just as vulnerable to the predations of materialism unless it rediscovered Advaita Vedānta. We should also be prepared to consider Vivekananda’s claim that he wanted to help ‘the West’ recover from its materialism as more than just nationalist selfassertion. Alongside Vivekananda’s triumphalist proclamations that Christianity was in its death throes there was a genuine concern that if materialistic philosophy and atheism could threaten Western Christianity, they could just as easily make real strides in India; hence his declamation in Lahore: ‘In the first place we have to stop the incoming of such a wave [of scientific materialism] in India.’ This threat should not be underestimated when we recall how closely the fates of Hinduism and the nation were bound up in Vivekananda’s thought.49 44  Charles Taylor uses the term ‘cross-pressures’ to describe this dilemma in Victorian Britain: ‘The pull to impersonality dictated or reflected a rejection of orthodox Christianity; but in face of what seemed like the loss of so many crucial goods, it seemed imperative to save certain historical values of Christianity.’ Taylor (2007): 378. 45  Bosch (2002): 105. 46  OGR: 31. 47  CW2: 138–9. 48  CW3: 433. 49  Unfortunately, there seems to have been very little research done on the prevalence of materialist views in fin de siècle Bengal. However, enough has been written about the

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The intellectual climate in which Müller and Vivekananda engaged with the Upaniṣads and Shankarite Advaita Vedānta was such that religion seemed to be under threat from gains in human knowledge and shifts in intellectual culture made materialism a serious rival to idealism. I propose that this explains the essential difference between their interpretations of the Vedāntic philosophical traditions and those from earlier in the nineteenth-century; Vedānta was no longer merely appealed to as the ancient predecessor of contemporary idealist philosophies or as the basis for an indigenous faith superior to Christianity, but became an integral part of a rearguard action to salvage the essentials of religion from the scrapheap to which ‘modern science’ seemed in danger of consigning it. Although it should now be clear that Müller and Vivekananda were both convinced that religion faced an existential threat, it is not yet obvious why this attracted them to Vedānta. In order to explain this, we must first of all grasp what Müller and Vivekananda understood the philosophical doctrines of Vedānta to be, before examining how their interpretations of Vedānta were linked to their defence of religion against materialism. Müller and Vivekananda regarded Shankara’s Advaita Vedānta as the most important and convincing of the classical interpretations of the source texts of Vedānta and, accordingly, both of them believed that the core teaching of Vedānta essentially consisted of an unwavering commitment to non-duality or monism. In this respect, Müller and Vivekananda are both orthodox in their presentation of Advaita since they teach that the self (ātman) is identical with the Absolute (Brahman): The individual Self must in its absolute reality be that which, according to the former argument of the Vedānta, is the All in All, the One without a Second, namely Bráhman or the Highest Self – or, as we should say, our soul must be divine.50 The Infinite cannot be two. If the soul be infinite, there can be only one Soul, and all ideas of various souls – you having one soul, and I having another, and so forth – are not real.51

The core metaphysical doctrine of Advaita Vedānta, as presented by Müller and Vivekananda, would hardly, taken by itself, have provided much substance with fears of materialism amongst Brahmos, and Bengali Hegelians, for us to judge that these groups did at least feel threatened by Darwinism and materialism, even if it is difficult to judge whether these fears were well founded. Kopf (1979): 76–85; Killingley (1995): 181–2, 191. 50  From Müller’s Three Lectures on the Vedānta Philosophy delivered in 1894. TLV: 90. 51  Vivekananda’s lecture ‘The Real Nature of Man’ was delivered in London, 21 June 1896. CW2:78. SVWND2.2: 203.

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which to fill the many hours of lectures they both gave on the subject. Since they took for granted that the Advaitic interpretation of the Upaniṣads and Vedāntasūtras was fundamentally sound (no doubt also bearing in mind the need to hold the interest of their audiences), they did not do as Shankara did and subject the source texts of Vedānta to a painstaking line-by-line exegesis; instead, they dwelt on the implications of, as well as the vindication of, Advaita. In the remainder of this section I shall focus on how Müller’s and Vivekananda’s discussion of Advaita relates to their anti-positivist, anti-materialist, and idealist convictions. There are two aspects of Vedānta, as Müller and Vivekananda understood it, which made it appear particularly pertinent to this late nineteenth-century context in which religion was perceived to be under threat from materialist and positivist critiques: firstly, the identification of an essential self underlying the transient states of consciousness, memory and so on – the ātman – with the Absolute, or Brahman; secondly, its interpretation of the universe of our experience as the product of ignorance (avidyā or māyā), a state which can only be removed by the knowledge that there is nothing else but Brahman. The ātman was interpreted in opposition to materialist views denying the existence of a self existing beyond the physical mechanisms of the brain and body, while avidyā and māyā appealed to Müller and Vivekananda as theories establishing the limitations of the empirical knowledge regarded as the only source of truth by positivist philosophers. In his Three Lectures on the Vedānta Philosophy (1894) Müller particularly praised the ancient sages of India for their recognition that the Self was not identical with any part of the body, and that it would live on eternally, regardless of the death and destruction of its physical vessel: ‘Here we see that the Brāhmans had clearly perceived the difference between the organic life of the body, and the existence of the Self, a difference which many philosophers of much later times have failed to perceive.’52 These ‘philosophers of much later times’ are further chastised on the same grounds a few paragraphs later for holding ‘the idea that the soul would come to a complete end after the death of the body’, an idea which Müller dismissed as ‘the most childish and imperfect of all ideas, [which] belongs decidedly to a later age’.53 Müller’s portrayal of Vedāntic views of the self was thus directed against unspecified opponents for whom everything was matter and science was the only way to understand it. This ‘self’ that Müller’s Brahmins had recognised as eternal and immaterial was not to be confused with the ‘Ego’ which ‘is determined by space and time, by birth and death, by the environment in which we live, by our body, our senses, our memory [etc.]’.54 The Ego is merely the result of a misperception which projects such objective qualities onto the pure subjectivity of the self or ātman. It is the task of the Vedānta philosopher to refute these views which presume any identity

52

 TLV: 51.  TLV: 53. 54  TLV: 88. 53

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between the self or soul and any part of the body or even any transient mental phenomena, such as the mind or memory. Müller cites Descartes’ theory that the self ‘resided in the conarium or the pineal gland’ as well as the views of ‘many biologists ... that it resides in the cortical part of the brain, because it works by means of the brain’ as particularly grave offences against the transcendent subjectivity of the self.55 The ātman stands for Müller as a powerful rebuttal to any claims by the materialist partisans of the natural sciences that scientific research could render a complete picture of human psychology; instead, scientists will always be restricted to studying the phenomena which overlie the true self: Let us remember that however much the telescopes for observing the stars of heaven have been improved, the observatories of the soul have remained much the same, for I cannot now convince myself that the observations now made in the so-called physico-psychological laboratories of Germany, however interesting to physiologists, would have proved of much help to our Vedānta philosophers.56

The ātman of Advaita Vedānta not only testified to a level of reality beyond the reach of the natural sciences, it also complemented Müller’s commitment to the presence of the divine in humankind. There are two interlinked aspects to this conception of unified divinity and humanity: one is his pietistic view of the presence of God within the human heart and the divinity of humanity through brotherhood with Christ; the other is his post-Kantian idealist view of reason and language as defining human characteristics which testify to humanity ‘as a manifestation of the Divine Logos’.57 The first of these views was influential on Müller’s interpretation of Vedānta, but mainly in terms of its ethical implications; this was also the approach which Vivekananda took to the divinity of humanity, concerning which there will be much to say in Chapter 4. Most relevant to the metaphysical and epistemological interpretation of Vedānta under consideration here is the second of these aspects – the Logos within human beings – which Müller sees echoed in the Vedāntic ātman. This commitment to the idea of a divine essence in the human subject was perhaps the greatest point of contention between Müller and his materialist antagonists and was, for instance, the underlying principle at stake in his arguments with Darwin over the development of language, where Müller was determined to show that the capacity for conceptual reasoning was an unbridgeable ‘Rubicon’

55

 TLV: 89.  TLV: 7. Müller was probably calling to mind the psychophysical experiments of his contemporary at Leipzig University, Gustav Fechner (1801–87), a pioneer of experimental psychology committed to a physicalist philosophy of mind. Heidelberger (2004). 57  TPR: 339. Quoted in Bosch (2002): 169. 56

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between humans and animals.58 Although the ātman could not be identified with any mental faculties, Müller found in the concept of the ātman this same principle that there is ‘something divine in man’: Of course there have been philosophers in ancient times, and there are philosophers even now who deny that there is something divine in man, as they deny that there is something divine in nature. By divine in man I mean as yet no more than the non-phenomenal agent on whom the phenomenal attributes of feeling, thinking, and willing depend.59

This self, the underlying basis for all the phenomenal forms of mental activity, is for Müller such a minimal conception of divinity that it cannot be denied by ‘even the most critical philosophers who deny the reality of anything that does not come into immediate contact with the senses’.60 Müller does not provide much in the way of support for this Vedāntic concept of a true self beyond the reach of ordinary human knowledge and, therefore, beyond the grasp of the objectifying methods of the natural sciences; in fact, he argues that there is no need to provide any such evidence: ‘That there is in man something that can be called Ātman or Self requires no proof.’61 However, he does, paraphrasing Shankara, go on to give a minimal philosophical argument for the impossibility of the denial of the ‘I’ or Ego: If a proof were wanted it would be found in the fact that no one can say, ‘I am not’ (I being the disguised Ātman), for he who would say so, would himself be not, or would not be. The question then is what is really I or what is there real behind the I.62

Instead of proving the existence of the eternal ātman, this merely demonstrates the logical absurdity of denying the existence of one’s own self, but the reason why more convincing supporting arguments are lacking is simply because it is the identity of ātman with Brahman upon which Shankara’s Advaita Vedānta stands or falls, rather than the demonstration of the reality of individual selves. The proof of the reality of the ātman is thus indistinguishable as a philosophical enterprise from the proof of Brahman as the underlying reality behind individual selves (‘what is there real behind the I?’) and the entire phenomenal universe.

58

 Chaudhuri (1974): 192–5. For a discussion of the theological assumptions behind Müller’s science of language and disputes with Darwin see Schrempp (1983): 98, 100, 103–7. 59  TPR: 249–50. 60  TPR: 250. 61  SSIP: 214. 62  SSIP: 214. For Shankara’s version of this argument see Thibaut (1890): 14.

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Although in Müller’s writings the anti-materialist implications of the concept of ātman are scattered among scholarly presentations of Shankara’s Advaita Vedānta and the early Upaniṣads, Vivekananda is quite explicit that the Vedāntic understanding of the ātman repudiates materialist views of psychology. In his lecture ‘The Freedom of the Soul’, delivered in London on 5 November 1896, Vivekananda argued that there were two rival views on the nature of the soul, one held by materialists who claim ‘that the idea of a soul is a delusion produced by the repeated transit of particles of matter, bringing about the combination which you call the body or the brain’ and the other held by Vedāntists who argue that ‘in the rapid succession of thought, matter occurs as a delusion, and does not really exist’.63 Vivekananda urges his audience to ‘take the spirit and deny matter’, since our perception of material objects is dependent upon the self: ‘I never knew a man who could feel matter outside of himself.’64 The influence of German idealist thought on Vivekananda is clearly apparent in this Kantian critique of empiricism where our knowledge of external objects depends on an inner subjectivity which cannot be known in the same manner as its objects of knowledge.65 It is also evident in the main focus of Vivekananda’s lecture, asserting the freedom of the soul from the mechanistic determinism which rules the material world: ‘Freedom, immortality, blessedness, all depend upon the soul being beyond the law of causation.’66 But, as we have already seen, rather than merely claiming as a Kantian that we cannot know objects unmediated by subjectivity, or preserving a realm of subjective freedom for the self separate from the deterministic realm of nature, Vivekananda feels that it is necessary to deny the reality of matter. The difference between Vivekananda (and Müller) on the one hand, and Kant on the other, is once again the difference between a metaphysical critique of materialism and an epistemological critique of empiricism.67 In paying scant attention to the analysis of Shankara’s arguments, Vivekananda not only directed his lectures on the soul or ātman against materialism, but he also at times adopted a quite unorthodox view of the ātman as an active agent controlling the body. While the lecture ‘The Ātman: Its bondage and freedom’, reiterated Vivekananda’s arguments that the ātman ‘does not obey the law of cause and effect’, in it he also argued that it ‘is the only existence in the human body which is immaterial’,68 suggesting that the ātman was a soul in the Cartesian sense of a ‘ghost in the machine’. The ātman, according to Vivekananda relates to the 63

 CW2: 197.  CW2: 197. 65  Cf. Müller’s summary of Kant’s critical philosophy in his preface to Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, ‘that without which experience is impossible, cannot be the result of experience’. CPR: xxvi. 66  CW2: 196. 67  See Chapter 1. 68  New York, 8 January 1896, CW2: 254. SVW2.1: 424. 64

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body as a puppet master to a puppet: ‘The body is the external coating and the mind is the internal coating of the Ātman who is the real perceiver, is the real enjoyer, the being in the body, who is working the body by means of the internal organs or the mind.’69 The only given attributes of Shankara’s ātman are sat, cit and ānanda (being, consciousness, bliss) and this ātman certainly does not interfere in the world of our illusory experiences any more than would the ineffable Brahman with which it is identical. By contrast, Vivekananda’s ātman exerts control over nature in a manner that is reminiscent of the immanent monism of his Rāja-Yoga lectures where ‘absolute control of nature, and nothing short of it, must be the goal’.70 Although Vivekananda seems to dilute the radically idealist monism of Shankara by suggesting that the ātman ‘is working the body’ through the mind, this does not deflect him from his opposition to materialism; in fact, the reverse is true, as the domination of nature which Vivekananda places at the heart of religion depends not upon knowledge acquired through the natural sciences, but rather upon knowledge of the ātman. In the lecture ‘What is Religion?’, Vivekananda argued that it is only through the knowledge of our freedom and the identity of the self with God that we can master nature: The whole of nature is the worship of God. Wherever there is life, there is this search for freedom and that freedom is the same as God. Necessarily this freedom gives us mastery over all nature and is impossible without knowledge. The more we are knowing, the more we are becoming masters of nature. Mastery alone is making us strong and if there be some being entirely free and master of nature, that being must have a perfect knowledge of nature.71

While Vivekananda might seem to have undermined the transcendence of the ātman by proposing that knowledge of the true divinity of the self is the means to the mastery of nature, this does not necessarily conflict with Shankara’s denial of the ultimate reality of the phenomenal universe, a position which Vivekananda also held. It is quite possible that knowledge of the true self could entail freedom from and mastery of nature as long as the enlightened self remains in the phenomenal world preceding the death of the body, a state referred to by Advaitins as jīvanmukti, or release in this life.72 This is in fact a possibility suggested by Vivekananda’s explanation of the process of enlightenment: So when the Vedantist has realised his own nature, the whole world has vanished for him. It will come back again, but no more the same world of misery. The prison of misery has been changed into Sat, Chit, Ānanda – Existence Absolute, 69

 CW2: 254.  CW1: 140. 71  CW1: 337. 72  Vivekananda translates jīvanmukti as ‘the living freedom’. CW1: 365. 70

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Knowledge Absolute, Bliss Absolute – and the attainment of this is the goal of the Advaita philosophy.73

However we might try to reconcile Vivekananda’s admittedly inconsistent interpretation of the relationship between the ātman and the phenomenal universe with that of Shankara, there remains a fundamental difference in emphasis and motivation between the two approaches. While the traditional Advaitin teaches from the Vedāntic scriptures that ātman is identical with Brahman and that knowledge of this is the source of liberation from the world of mundane experience, Vivekananda’s conception of the ātman has real implications for the way in which we understand the phenomenal world. Vivekananda’s ātman is the immaterial soul which moves the material body and which, once it is acknowledged and recognised in all its power and freedom, can allow the mastery of nature. Müller’s earnest and cautious approach to scholarship might have prevented him from straying as far from Shankara’s ideas as did Vivekananda with his more spontaneous rhetoric, but he shared Vivekananda’s tendency to direct his exposition of Vedānta against materialism in a way which demonstrates that his interest in the ātman was the result of contemporary concerns at least as much as any recondite enthusiasm for ancient philosophy. While the Vedāntic concept of the ātman could be directed against materialist views of mind which denied the existence of the self or reduced the mind to the activity of the brain, the classical Advaita idea that the universe of our experience is the product of innate nescience or ignorance (avidyā, māyā) also had great appeal to Müller and Vivekananda because it could be deployed to question the hegemony over knowledge of the natural sciences presumed by empiricist or positivist opponents. The most obvious problem raised by Advaita Vedānta’s claim that there is nothing but Brahman is that we in fact perceive the world to be filled with a wide variety of different objects and agents and, as such, the metaphysical claims of Advaita seem to contradict everyday experience. The response to this problem lies, for Müller and Vivekananda, as it does for Shankara, in the foundational concept of avidyā (or māyā), meaning in this context illusion or ignorance: this is what makes the ultimate reality of the undivided and immutable Brahman appear as a universe of individuated objects and agents subject to change and limited by time and space. Müller begins his Three Lectures on Vedānta (1894) on the defensive – ‘fully aware of the difficulties which I shall encounter in trying to enlist your interest, nay, if possible, your sympathy, for an ancient system of philosophy’74 – which reflects his suspicions that an audience in a scientific institution (the lectures were delivered at the Royal Institution in London, a body founded to promote public knowledge of

73

 ‘The Vedānta Philosophy’; an address delivered to Harvard University Graduate Philosophical Society, 25 March 1896. CW1: 365. 74  TLV: 1.

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science) would share the preferences of a world that ‘wants exciting experiments and, if possible, tangible results’, rather than ‘theoretical speculations’.75 However, this preliminary caution belies the audacity of Müller’s enterprise, in which he came into the heart of one of the world’s leading scientific establishments to solicit sympathy for a philosophy which effectively asserted the intellectual bankruptcy of empiricism: ‘To the Brāhmans to be able to mistrust the evidence of the senses was the very first step in philosophy, and they had learnt from the remotest times the lesson that all secondary, nay all primary qualities also, are and can be subjective only.’76 For Müller, as a disciple of Kant, anti-empiricism was the foundation of any philosophy worthy of the name, and he did not flinch from impressing this upon his audience. The sages of ancient India were thus enlisted by Müller in a struggle with nineteenth-century positivism, in which he compared their philosophical precociousness with what he viewed as the ‘ante-Copernican’ empiricism of his opponents. Elsewhere, in his final series of Gifford Lectures on Theosophy, or Psychological Religion (delivered in 1892), Müller contrasted the ‘fundamental principle of the Vedānta-philosophy that in reality there exists and there can exist nothing but Brahman’ with the common-sense empiricist view that individual human beings exist and that ‘all the objects of the outer world also exist, as objects’.77 Müller once again praised the ancient Indians for their dismissal of empiricism: ‘Idealistic philosophy has swept away this world-old prejudice more thoroughly in India than anywhere else.’78 The ‘world-old prejudice’ of empiricism was swept away so thoroughly in India by Advaita Vedānta, and in particular, by the view that ‘all that we perceive and conceive and name, is purely phenomenal, as we say, is the result of Avidyā, as the Vedāntists say’.79 If our perception of the world is indeed the result of ignorance, then it is clear that the highest level of knowledge cannot be that which is achieved through the natural sciences; instead it is through Vedānta, ‘the true science’, that we can destroy our state of ignorance: But while for a time this Nescience has power to conquer and enslave us, we have the power in the end by means of true Science (Vidyā) to conquer and enslave it, nay to destroy it and all its works; and this true Science, this Vidyā, is the Vedānta philosophy.80

Although Müller consistently claims in his writings on Vedānta that empiricism is a philosophically naïve and intellectually untenable position, he again does not 75

 TLV: 1.  TLV: 41. 77  TPR: 292. 78  TPR: 292. 79  TLV: 85. 80  TLV: 100. 76

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provide much in the way of argument to support this view, nor his strong support for the Vedāntic view that the universe is actually Brahman perceived through avidyā. This may be due partly to Müller’s conviction that Kant has already said enough to refute empiricism, but it is also a result of his close engagement with Shankara. As Müller acknowledges, Shankara’s argument that there is nothing but Brahman is founded upon the Upaniṣads, rather than derived from unassisted reasoning.81 If we accept the view that there is only Brahman, it necessarily follows that our perception that anything exists other than Brahman is ultimately misleading; avidyā is simply the name given to this generalised ignorance upon which all everyday knowledge and experience are founded. The origin and nature of avidyā itself are not explained and this innate ignorance is instead treated as a given fact: ‘The Vedāntist is satisfied with the conviction that for a time we are, as a matter of fact, nescient, and what he cares for chiefly is to find out, not how that nescience arose, but how it can be removed.’82 A similar view is expressed with more force by Vivekananda: ‘[Māyā] in its latest developed form, is neither Idealism nor Realism, nor is it a theory. It is a simple statement of facts –what we are and what we see around us.’83 While assuming the necessity of the very principle which one’s opponent would object to might seem to be disingenuous, it is obvious enough that the existence or non-existence of avidyā cannot be ascertained by sensory perception or through ordinary deductive reasoning.84 Vivekananda typically uses the term ‘māyā’, which appears more frequently in later Advaita texts than in the works of Shankara, in preference to ‘avidyā’, once again testifying to his greater distance from Shankara when compared to Müller.85 While avidyā for Müller retains its Shankarite sense of the ignorance which causes us to perceive the universe instead of Brahman, māyā has a looser, more ambiguous range of meanings for Vivekananda. His usage of ‘māyā’ closest to Müller’s ‘avidyā’ is defined as the concept of ‘name and form, or as it has been called in Europe, “time, space, and causality”’,86 denoting innate structures of thought which cause human beings to see diversity where there is only oneness.87 Unlike Müller, who sees the names and forms as ‘the figments of nescience’88 that cause us to perceive an ultimately illusory material world, for Vivekananda the names and forms disguise three different levels of reality – ‘physical’, ‘mental’, 81

 SSIP: 191–2.  TPR: 303. 83  ‘Maya and Illusion’: CW2: 89. 84  ‘The true knowledge, called samyagdarśana or complete insight, cannot be gained by sensuous perception (pratyaksha) nor by inference (anumāna).’ TPR: 293. 85  Halbfass (1995): 78–85. TLV: 128–9. 86  ‘The Real and Apparent Man’, London, 21 June 1896, CW2: 276. SVW2.2: 203. Cf. SSIP: 206–7. 87  For a brief discussion of Vivekananda’s connection of māyā with Kant’s categories see Chapter 1. 88  SSIP: 206. 82

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and ‘spiritual’ – all of which are in reality one. On the physical plane, he appealed to the discoveries of modern science as demonstrating the necessity of monism: Today it has been demonstrated that you and I, the sun, the moon, and the stars are but different names of different spots in the same ocean of matter, and that this matter is continuously changing in configuration. ... It is all one unbroken, infinite mass of matter, only differentiated by names and forms.89

But even the highest knowledge of the sciences, which, according to Vivekananda, consists in the discovery of the unity of matter, is the product of relative ignorance which prevents us from seeing the ultimate reality; that is, the spiritual unity, or Brahman: ‘The very same universe viewed from the standpoint of knowledge, when the eyes have been cleared of illusions, when the mind has become pure, appears to be the Unbroken, Absolute Being.’90 This interpretation of māyā is a typical example of Vivekananda’s penchant for using analogies with scientific knowledge to support his argument for the superior rationality of Advaita Vedānta.91 Even if there is more rhetoric than substance in this argument, it does seem to undermine the distinctiveness of the monism of Advaita to equate it with the discovery of unity in the natural sciences. The danger in this case is that Vivekananda does not offer any reason why we should prefer a monism of spirit over a monism of matter (a serious alternative at the time), if both are justified equally well by the removal of the māyā of name and form.92 For Müller, by contrast, the transcendence of name and form achieved by Vedāntic knowledge does not mean only that there are no longer distinct objects within the material world; matter itself ceases to exist: ‘strictly speaking, there is with the Vedāntists no matter at all’.93 It is not that Vivekananda is any less hostile to materialism than Müller – he is quite clear that there is a hierarchy of knowledge in which the natural sciences are inferior to Vedānta – but that his distance from Shankara and rejection of traditional interpretations of Vedic revelation leads him to seek intellectual credibility in science at the expense of consistency in his presentation of Advaita.94 In other lectures Vivekananda emphasised that the fact of māyā makes the pursuit of empirical science along with all other forms of ordinary human knowledge and activity an exercise in vanity. For example he argued in ‘Māyā and the Conception of God’, delivered in London on 20 October 1896, that:

89

 ‘The Real and Apparent Man’: CW2: 276.  CW2: 276. 91  Rambachan (1994): 86–9. 92  See Chapter 1. 93  SSIP: 209. 94  Rambachan (1994): 128–30. 90

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We are walking in the midst of a dream ... passing all our lives in a haze; this is the fate of every one of us. This is the fate of all sense knowledge. This is the fate of all philosophy, of all boasted science, of all boasted human knowledge. This is the universe.95

This is māyā in the sense of a dream-like state in which there can be no certainty in knowledge because everything passes by in an indistinct haze, a stronger interpretation of our state of ignorance than that offered by Müller’s avidyā because it does not even seem to allow that the realm of relative knowledge is secure up to the point of the realisation of the identity of ātman with Brahman. Vivekananda’s conception of the ignorance and illusion of māyā has a relentlessly pessimistic Schopenhauerian edge to it, which goes beyond merely asserting as Müller does that we suffer through ignorance of our true nature: ‘This world is a hideous world. At best, it is the hell of Tantalus.’96 This pessimism is even more apparent in a lecture from the same period in which Vivekananda delivered a long list of examples of the tragic vanity of the human condition: Hope is dominant in the heart of childhood. The whole world is a golden vision to the opening eyes of the child; he thinks his will is supreme. As he moves onward, at every step nature stands as an adamantine wall, barring his future progress. He may hurl himself against it again and again, striving to break through. The further he goes, the further recedes the ideal, till death comes, and there is release, perhaps. And this is Māyā.97

The emphasis on the thwarting of the strivings of the human will by nature in this passage is convincing evidence of Schopenhauer’s influence on Vivekananda.98 But, more pertinently here, it is not difficult to envisage what the implications of this ‘worst of all possible worlds’ view are for the value of the knowledge achieved by the natural sciences: A man of science rises, he is thirsting after knowledge. ... He moves onward discovering secret after secret of nature, searching out the secrets from her innermost heart, and what for? ... Why should he acquire fame? Does not nature do infinitely more than any human being can do? – and nature is dull, insentient.99

Vivekananda’s interpretation of māyā does not only relegate the empirical knowledge of the natural sciences to a relative and phenomenal level of truth, 95

 CW2: 111–12.  CW2: 110. 97  ‘Māyā and Freedom’, London, 22 October 1896, CW2: 118. 98  See also Chapter 4. 99  CW2: 118. 96

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but it also questions the worth of such an activity even within the phenomenal world, since the complexity of insentient nature far surpasses the achievements of science. As a result, however, of making māyā an observable characteristic of the universe, as he does in his refrain ‘and this is Maya’, he once again compromises its meaning as a transcendent concept. Although Müller and Vivekananda both found in avidyā or māyā an articulation of the limits of empiricism, they did not completely deny the reality of the phenomenal world. While claiming that for Vedāntins ‘the world is a dream’,100 Müller was at pains to point out that Advaita Vedānta does not radically doubt our commonsense convictions as potentially hallucinatory in a Cartesian vein, rather it understands them as false perceptions of the ultimate reality through the veil of ignorance: This does not mean that the phenomenal world is altogether nothing, – no, it is always the effect of which Bráhman, the source of all reality, is the cause, and as, according to the Vedānta, there cannot be any substantial difference between cause and effect, the phenomenal world is substantially as real as Bráhman, nay is, in its ultimate reality, Bráhman itself.101

Vivekananda made essentially the same point when he argued in his third lecture on ‘Practical Vedānta’ that This very universe, as we have seen, is the same Impersonal Being read by our intellect. Whatever is reality in the universe is that Impersonal Being, and the forms and conceptions are given to it by our intellects. Whatever is real in this table is that Being, and the table form and all other forms are given by our intellects.102

This nuanced idealist philosophising shows us that both Müller and Vivekananda were aware of the difficulties in the interpretation of Vedāntic concepts such as avidyā or māyā and also allows us to see that these distinctions were significant enough for them to need such clarification. They did not want to deny outright the possibility or worth of our knowledge of the external world and the moral import of our activity in it, but at the same time they wanted to accord this phenomenal universe a lesser or relative value. Advaita Vedānta could thus be distinguished from Buddhism, where ‘everything is emptiness’,103 and thereby pre-empt criticisms that Vedānta was a dreamy oriental illusionism of no relevance to activist and ethically-concerned Victorians.104 100

 TLV: 85.  TLV: 87. 102  London, 17 November 1896. CW2: 338. 103  TLV: 130. 104  See Chapter 4. 101

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At the same time as they identified the phenomenal universe with Brahman, they were careful to emphasise that the concepts of avidyā and māyā distinguish Vedānta from pantheism. If the phenomenal world is ultimately not real, then the pantheistic idea that the universe of our ordinary experience is divine becomes untenable and redundant. Vivekananda saw quite clearly that the idea of māyā served to distinguish Advaita Vedānta from any form of pantheism, where ‘God has become the universe’.105 He admits that the monism of Advaita seems to imply ‘that nature is God’, but insists that this is an unacceptable state of affairs: ‘then the difficulty arises that this would be pantheism’.106 Vivekananda forthrightly interprets Vedānta in opposition to pantheism, arguing that for ‘the Advaitists proper, the followers of Shankarāchārya [Shankara], the whole universe is the apparent evolution of God’.107 Nature as we experience it is thus not divine, but is merely the product of our perceiving the Absolute through eyes shrouded by māyā and will vanish as soon as māyā is conquered. Vivekananda uses the canonical Vedānta example of a rope being mistaken for a snake, ‘where the rope appeared to be the snake, but ... did not really change into the snake’,108 as an analogy for our mistaking the ineffable Brahman for the phenomenal universe, in which case Brahman has not really become the universe. Müller sometimes used the term ‘pantheism’ quite loosely and, accordingly, he did not contrast it to the monism of Advaita Vedānta in the same stark terms as Vivekananda. He reported positively Schopenhauer’s estimation of ‘the pantheism [taught in the Upaniṣads] high above the pantheism of Bruno, Malebranche, Spinoza, and Scotus Erigena’,109 but Müller was speaking here of pantheism in a broader sense than the straightforward identity of God and the phenomenal universe. In his fourth series of Gifford lectures, Theosophy, or Psychological Religion, delivered in 1892, Müller expressed the equivocality of using ‘pantheism’ to describe Vedānta: This is the most absolute Monism. If it is called Pantheism, there is nothing to object, and we shall find the same Pantheism in some of the most perfect religions of the world, in all which hold that God is or will be All in All, and that if there existed anything else besides, He would no longer be infinite, omnipresent, and omnipotent, He would no longer be God in the highest sense.110

105

 ‘Vedanta and Privilege’, London, November or December 1896, CW1: 417. SVW2.2: 447. 106  ‘The Vedānta Philosophy’, 25 March 1896. CW1: 362. 107  [Vivekananda’s italics] CW1: 363. 108  CW1: 363. Müller also uses the rope-snake example, but in a slightly different context. TLV: 126. 109  Upanishads: lxii. 110  TPR: 270.

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The distinction between pantheism and panentheism has been applied to Müller’s religious views as well as those of his Romantic forebears.111 While pantheism ‘equates God with the world’, in panentheism ‘God includes the world as a part, though not the whole, of his being [allowing for] a sphere of existence and activity for God independent of the world.’112 Even so, strictly speaking, Müller’s Shankarite interpretation of Vedānta can be called neither pantheism, since Brahman is ‘unchangeable’ and thereby cannot be identified with the phenomenal universe, nor panentheism, because ‘if there existed parts of the infinite Bráhman, the Bráhman would cease to be infinite’.113 Müller was resistant to any philosophical or theological view which seemed to diminish God in any way, hence his criticism of Hegel, noted in Chapter 1, for implying that God was dependent upon the world in the Spirit’s coming to know itself through the world. Instead, he was drawn to theological and mystical traditions which emphasised the dependence of the universe on God and he particularly admired the German mystic Meister Eckhart’s (c. 1260–c. 1328) position that ‘though all things are dynamically in God, God is not actually in all things’.114 Müller explicitly likened this view to that of Shankara: ‘Like the Vedāntist, he speaks of God as the universal Cause, and yet claims for Him an extra-mundane existence. ‘God’, he writes, ‘is outside all nature, He is not Himself Nature, He is above it.’115 It is this combination of the transcendence of Brahman or God and the complete ontological dependence of the phenomenal world on God which makes Advaita Vedānta and the mystical theology of Eckhart so appealing. Pantheism was no longer an option for an age in which the world was irrevocably disenchanted by the dominance of the natural sciences, but Müller defiantly preserved a kind of immanence in the ultimate dependence of this world on the Absolute. The Kernel of Religion It was not enough for Müller and Vivekananda to show that science could not claim the highest intellectual authority; religion itself would have to change in order to survive in this secular age. Both of them clearly believed that the impetus for this change could come from monistic Vedāntic thought. In the introduction to his translation of the Upaniṣads Müller argued that

111

 ‘His position can best be described as a panentheistic one .... It did not equate God and world, but stressed the omnipresence of God, particularly in the mind of man.’ Bosch (2002): 480. 112  Riasanovsky (1992): 71. 113  TLV: 90–91. 114  TPR: 513. 115  TPR: 513.

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there is no lesson which at the present time seems more important than to learn that in every religion there are such precious grains; that we must draw in every religion a broad distinction between what is essential and what is not, between the eternal and the temporary, between the divine and the human.116

In his view the Upaniṣads were the foremost example of religion stripped down to its essentials. The ‘object’ of the Upaniṣads was to cleanse religion by showing ‘the mischievousness of all ritual performances’ and condemning ‘every sacrificial act which has for its motive a desire or hope of reward’; finally, the Upaniṣads would ‘teach that there is no hope of salvation and deliverance, except by the individual Self recognising the true and universal Self’.117 In an interview with the Sunday Times in 1896 Vivekananda described his Vedāntic teaching as ‘the kernel of religion stripping from [religions] the nonessential, and laying stress on that which is the real basis’.118 This ‘real basis’ was the teaching which Vivekananda attributed to Advaita ‘that man is divine … everything that is strong, and good, and powerful in human nature is the outcome of that divinity’.119 This is the same teaching which Müller believed was at the centre of the Upaniṣads and Advaita, and should be at the centre of Christianity, although Müller tended to place the emphasis on the oneness of humanity with the Infinite, rather than the divinity of humanity. Vivekananda’s belief that there is an essential part of religion is reflected in his approach to the Hindu religious traditions. He, like Rammohun Roy before him, invoked Shankara’s authority in divorcing the ‘spiritual’ religion of Advaita Vedānta from Hindu ritual and social organisation.120 It is this conviction that religions can be analysed to reach the real religion that marks Vivekananda out as a modernist reformer of the same type as the liberal Lutheran Müller. Both men saw hope for the future of religion as long as the Vedāntic essentials of religion became the main focus and the inessentials were either accorded a lower priority or allowed to fall by the wayside entirely. The principal appeal of Advaita Vedānta in this context was that it could be interpreted as being at once a religion and the most uncompromising of philosophies. We can see this in Müller’s analysis of the different strands of Vedānta philosophy in which he claimed that Shankara’s Advaita was for ‘unflinching reasoners who, supported by an unwavering faith in Monism, do not shrink from any of its consequences’, while he regarded Rāmānuja’s viśiṣṭādvaita as a compromise ‘with the demands of the human heart’.121 Vivekananda even gently chastised both 116

 Upanishads: xxxviii.  OGR: 340–41. 118  CW5: 190. 119  CW1: 388. 120  See Chapter 2. Cf. Rambachan (1994): 115–16. 121  SSIP: 252. Viśiṣṭādvaita is sometimes translated as ‘the non-duality of that which is qualified’. King (1999): 56. 117

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Müller and Paul Deussen because they presented a one-sided picture of Vedānta which exaggerated the importance of Shankara’s Advaita at the expense of other schools of classical Vedānta.122 Nevertheless, he shared Müller’s belief that only Shankara’s Advaita taught the highest truth and, after outlining the Vedānta of the dualists, of Rāmānuja and of Shankara, he concluded in favour of the latter: ‘these are the three steps which Vedanta philosophy has taken, and we cannot go any further ... beyond this idea of the Absolute’.123 The need to reconcile religion and philosophy was deeply felt by Müller. His education in the theologically liberal universities of Germany, where influential Protestant intellectuals, such as Schleiermacher and Herder, had tried to come to terms with the philosophical theories of the day, ill-prepared him for the more rigidly orthodox atmosphere of Oxford in the middle of the nineteenth century.124 The intolerance which these liberal German theological convictions sometimes provoked only encouraged him in his search for a union between religious conviction and philosophical openness.125 In his later life monistic Vedāntic thought appears to have been a rich source of inspiration in this quest. While Müller never rejected Christianity in favour of a self-constructed neo-Vedānta, Advaita Vedānta does seem to have become a greater influence in the latter stages of his life. He saw in the philosophy of the Upaniṣads the earliest example of a perfect union of philosophy and religion that could be mobilised to admonish his fellow Christians for their reluctance to engage intellectually with their religious faith: ‘Whether religion leads to philosophy, or philosophy to religion, in India the two are inseparable, and they would never have been separated with us, if the fear of men had not been greater than the fear of God or of Truth.’126 The Christian thinkers Müller cited with most reverence were the early neo-Platonist theologians like Clement of Alexandria (c.150–215) and the medieval German mystics exemplified by Meister Eckhart on the basis that they had successfully reconciled the ‘religion of Christ’ with monist or idealist philosophy.127 Although Müller clearly appreciated the Upaniṣads and Shankara’s Advaita Vedānta as some of the highest achievements of the human mind in their own

122

 ‘In what is being written and taught [by Deussen and Müller] in the West about the religious thought of India, one school of Indian thought is principally represented, that which is called Advaitism.’ From an undated lecture given in America entitled ‘Ātman’. CW2: 238. 123  CW1: 403. 124  Bosch (2002): 44–50, 67. 125  He was denied the Boden Chair of Sanskrit at Oxford partly because of his liberal religious views and was threatened with prosecution under anti-blasphemy laws when he spoke at Westminster Cathedral. Bosch (2002): 79–83, 112–13. 126  TLV: 13. 127  Bosch (2002): 152, 434, 439, 471.

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right,128 his interest in them owes much to the Romantic idea that Indian thought could trigger a new renaissance in Europe.129 In particular, he nurtured an aspiration that Christianity might recover its intellectual impetus through the influence of Indian thought, and might thereby reintegrate the philosophical achievements in its own history: If properly understood, these Vedānta teachings may, though under a strange form, bring us very near to the earliest Christian philosophy, and help us to understand it as it was understood by the great thinkers of Alexandria. To maintain the eternal identity of the human and the divine is very different from arrogating divinity for humanity; and on this point even our philosophy may have something to learn which has often been forgotten in modern Christianity, though it was recognised as vital by the early fathers of the Church, the unity of the Father and the Son, nay, of the Father and all His sons.130

This also casts Müller’s desire to see India converted to Christianity in a different light. Neither Victorian Christianity nor contemporary Hinduism were acceptable to Müller because they had both strayed from their origins into superstition and dogma, so Müller hoped to see both replaced by a religion which would emerge from ‘the confrontation of Christianity with Hinduism’.131 It was unfortunate from Müller’s point of view that he insisted on labelling this universal religion as ‘Christianity’, thus making it a pill too bitter for the Brahmos to swallow.132 Vivekananda’s ambition for the Hindus was to see them resume the position he believed they had once held as the religious teachers of the world, so he was keen to claim the thought of these Western idealists for Vedānta. In a speech given in Boston on 28 March 1896, he claimed that ‘this most ancient philosophy’ had influenced ‘The Alexandrians, the Gnostics, and the European philosophers of the middle ages. And later, influencing German thought, it has produced almost a revolution in the regions of philosophy and psychology. Yet all this mass of influence has been given to the world almost unperceived.’133 In a lecture delivered in Khetri in 1897 Vivekananda argued (without producing any evidence) that ‘in Pythagoras, Socrates, Plato, and the Egyptian neo-Platonists, we can find traces of Indian thought’.134 As we have already seen, Müller was fascinated by apparent similarities between Advaita Vedānta and the Upaniṣads on the one hand, and 128  ‘The earliest of these philosophical treatises [Upaniṣads] will always, I believe, maintain a place in the literature of the world, among the most astounding productions of the human mind in any age in any country.’ Upanishads: lxvii. 129  Schwab (1984); Halbfass (1988): 69–76, 81–2. 130  SSIP: 162–3. 131  Bosch (2002): 364. 132  Bosch (2002): 411. 133  CW1: 390. 134  CW3: 434.

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Alexandrian and medieval German Christian thought on the other, but he did not suggest that any direct influence could be proved. Both men were equivocal as to whether there was something uniquely Indian about Vedānta or whether it was a potentially universal philosophical development. Müller ascribed echoes of Vedānta in contemporary Western thought to evidence of ‘the Indian leaven left in us’135 and Vivekananda argued for the replacement of the word ‘Hindu’ by ‘Vedantist’136 as the basis for a national identity. However, Müller also argued for the universality of the ‘yearning beyond’ which he saw as the basis for religion, even as he admitted its predominance in ‘the Indian character’,137 while Vivekananda opined that ‘all truth is eternal. Truth is nobody’s property; no race, no individual can lay any exclusive claim to it.’138 Whatever the apparent origins of this idealist union of philosophy and religion, its importance in Vivekananda and Müller’s thought can be clearly seen in Müller’s proclamation that ‘we should damnify religion if we separated it from philosophy: we should ruin philosophy if we divorced it from religion’,139 which finds its echo in Vivekananda’s warning that ‘religion without philosophy runs into superstition; philosophy without religion becomes dry atheism’.140 However, Advaita, as they understood it, was really much more a philosophical system than an autonomous religious tradition and, consequently, Advaita might itself need to be reconciled with religion. In particular, quotations taken out of context from Vivekananda’s talks on ‘practical Vedānta’ could be taken as evidence of crypto-atheism: Nothing makes us so moral as this idea of monism. Nothing makes us work so well at our best and highest as when all the responsibility is thrown upon ourselves ... We are the real, the only gods to be worshipped. This is the view of the Vedanta, and this is its practicality.141

Vivekananda was certainly sympathetic to those atheists who rejected what he perceived as the hypocrisy and superstition of most religions: ‘the materialists ... are sincere atheists. They are better than the religious atheists, who are insincere’.142 However, Vedānta’s appeal for Vivekananda was not only that it offered a philosophically refined religion, but also, as we will see below, that it promised to provide philosophical ballast to support all religions.

135

 SSIP: 254–5.  See, for instance, his speech in Ceylon, 1897. CW3: 118. 137  IWCTU: 106. 138  CW2: 358. 139  OGR: 337–8. 140  CW7: 36. 141  Delivered in London, November 1896. CW2: 201, 325. 142  CW2: 44. 136

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Müller and Vivekananda agreed that the greatest danger facing religion, but especially European Christianity, was the increasing number of people who were unable to intellectually accept it in the light of secular knowledge. Vivekananda argued that Just as there are millions of people who are ready to believe in a Personal Creator, there have been many thousands of the brightest minds in this world who felt that such ideas were not sufficient for them, and wanted something higher, and wherever religion was not broad enough to include all these minds, the result was that the brightest minds in society were always outside of religion; and never was this so marked as at the present time, especially in Europe.143

Müller was even more concerned by this failing than was Vivekananda, perhaps because he had experienced religious intolerance at first hand on several occasions, but also because he was deeply committed to an idealised vision of Christianity as a tolerant and philosophically engaged religion, an aspiration which seemed to have been met by ancient India in the Upaniṣads and classical Advaita: It is hardly credible how completely all other religions (i.e. other than Advaita Vedānta) have overlooked these simple facts (i.e. different stages of spiritual development), how they have tried to force on the old and wise the food that was meant for babes, and how they have thereby alienated and lost their best and strongest friends.144

Vedānta was Vivekananda’s and Müller’s model for a future religion (and the future of Christianity) because they believed that it was capable of satisfying the intellect of the most demanding philosopher. It would thus enable all to remain within the religious fold regardless of their stage in life, thereby safeguarding religions from a ‘brain drain’. If the greatest minds were able to find a home in the philosophical religion of Advaita Vedānta we might wonder where that would leave the majority. Vivekananda regarded all dualistic forms of religion as lesser truths that were nevertheless needed to cater for the less spiritually adept members of society: Now, as society exists at the present time, all these three stages are necessary; the one does not deny the other, one is simply the fulfilment of the other. The Advaitist or the qualified Advaitist does not say that dualism is wrong; it is a right view, but a lower one.145

143

 CW2: 334–5.  TLV: 18. See also SSIP: 161; OGR: 367, 372. 145  CW2: 253. 144

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This was a view Müller shared as he praised Vedānta’s view of less philosophically advanced religions as paths towards their followers’ eventual realisation of the Absolute: ‘The Vedāntist ... has no hard names for those who believe in a phenomenal world and a phenomenal God. He knows that the time will come when their eyes are opened, and till then, though they worship God ignorantly, still they worship God, the real God or Brahman.’146 Vivekananda, however, took this idea a step further by emphasising that Vedānta not only accepted these lower religions, but also provided their only sound basis: ‘the Personal God will remain, but on a better basis. He has been strengthened by the Impersonal. We have seen that without the Impersonal, the Personal cannot remain.’147 Arguably Vivekananda’s greatest innovation in terms of modern Vedānta was this transformation of the relationship between Advaita Vedānta and other religions. Other Advaitins had, as Müller recognised, ‘shown that there can be nothing phenomenal without something that is real’,148 yet Vivekananda not only acknowledged this as a metaphysical truth, but made it the centre of a new philosophy of religions. Advaita Vedānta would prove the salvation of the dualistic religions by reserving for them their appropriate place as lesser conceptualisations of God within the overarching framework of the Vedānta. These religions could no longer stand alone because ‘every other theory, every conception of God which is partial and little and personal is not rational’.149 Monism established the truth of the Divine reality which dualistic religions perceived wrongly as differentiated from the religious devotee, so although dualistic theists ignorantly worshipped ‘the Impersonal’, they were not as entirely misguided in their worship as they would be on a materialistic understanding of reality. Vivekananda therefore distinguished his position from that of the agnostic empiricist conception of religion held by John Stuart Mill: John Stuart Mill, for example, may say that a Personal God is impossible, and cannot be proved. I admit with him that a Personal God cannot be demonstrated. But He is the highest reading of the Impersonal that can be reached by the human intellect, and what else is the universe but various readings of the Absolute?150

It has been suggested that Vivekananda’s idea of Advaita as the fulfilment of dualistic religions, including Christianity, parallels the fulfilment theology of Christian missionaries such as J.N. Farquhar (1861–1929), although it is not clear whether either was a direct influence on the other.151 We see this same fulfilment 146

 TLV: 126.  CW1: 377. 148  SSIP: 240. 149  CW2: 337. 150  CW2: 337. 151  Farquhar argued that reformed Hinduism could lead India towards Christianity. van der Veer (2001): 68. 147

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theology in the early Müller’s religious thought when he argued that the religion of Christ was the most advanced religion and even in his later thought when he hoped that his Brahmo friends would eventually lead Hindus to a reformed Indian Christianity.152 However, Vivekananda’s view differed from that of the Christian fulfilment theologians because he not only claimed that lower religions would eventually lead their believers towards Advaita, but, as I noted above, he also maintained that all other religions were dependent upon Advaita for their metaphysical justification and therefore their survival. This idea that Advaita Vedānta was the philosophical support for dualistic religions once again takes us back to the conviction that religion was under threat from secular reason and that only Advaita could resist. There was clearly an element of chauvinism in his claim in an interview with The Hindu in February 1897 that Even Christians cannot understand their New Testament, without understanding the Vedānta. The Vedānta is the rationale of all religions. Without the Vedānta every religion is superstition; with it everything becomes religion.153

However, Vivekananda was not just attempting to counter the triumphalist arguments of some Christian missionaries; he also wanted to defend aspects of non-rational religious belief and experience which were integral to his devotion to Ramakrishna and more broadly to his ideal of Indian spirituality. The quasitheistic nature of his worship of Ramakrishna is most evident in his Bengali letters from America to his fellow disciples in which he made rousing proclamations of his fervour: ‘When we, the servants of Ramakrishna, establish ourselves on that fearless foundation, we become heroes beyond fear. This is belief!’154 In another letter he reassured them, ‘as long as you keep faith that [Ramakrishna] is working through you while you are on this earth, there is no possibility of any evil happening [to any of you]’.155 In his defence of Hindu belief in avatars (the avatar Krishna was a key figure in Bengali Hindu nationalist discourse from Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay onwards)156 Vivekananda explicitly denounced rationalist attacks on religious belief: ‘You may deliver great intellectual discourses on God, … become great rationalists and prove to your satisfaction that all these accounts

152

 Bosch (2002): 172, 363–4, 401, 404–6, 411–13.  CW5: 212. 154  This passage was written in Sanskrit verse: ‘prāptāḥ s[m]a vīrā gatabhayā abhayaṃ pratiṣṭhāṃ yadā/ āstikya[ṃ] tv idan tu cinumaḥ rāmkṛṣṇadāsā vayam’. Letter dated 25 September 1894. BR7: 7; CW6: 275. 155  ‘Āmi jatadin pṛthibīte āchi, tini āmār madhye kārja karitechen – ihāte tomāder jatadin biśvās thākibe, tatadin kona amaṅgaler sambhābnā nāi.’ Letter dated 1895. B7: 168; CW6: 330. 156  Kaviraj (1995): Chapter 3. 153

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of the Avataras of God as man are nonsense. … What is there behind this kind of remarkable intellect? Zero.’157 It is apparent from these statements that there was a side to Vivekananda’s religiosity which did not sit well with rationalism.158 His secularising interpretation of Advaita Vedānta meant that he could justify the more intuitive and emotional aspects of his religious life as true within the limited human sphere while maintaining the ultimate truth of monism. Instead of reconciling Ramakrishna’s pietistic approach to religion with immanent monism in the manner of his early lectures on Karma Yoga (see above), Vivekananda formulated a rationalistic monism, which, through his adoption of Shankara’s distinction between worldly and ultimate truth, was able to supply a limited justification for less rational forms of religious expression. We might wonder if Müller, who protected his ‘childish’ faith from the great unsettling forces of the century with his university teacher Lotze’s compartmentalisation of religion into a subjective realm distinct from the sciences, like Vivekananda found reassurance in the fact that Vedānta appeared to preserve the private conscience as a place of refuge for simple piety.159 We shall consider this aspect further in Chapter 4, which examines similar arguments making Vedānta the metaphysical basis for the religious and moral commitments of everyday life. Conclusion By the end of the nineteenth century appeals to ‘the Vedānta’ in discussions of religion and philosophy clearly had a quite different significance than they did for Rammohun Roy or Schopenhauer. The most dangerous opposition was no longer found among orthodox Christians, but rather materialists or positivists who denied the existence of a reality beyond the senses. In this age of positivistic science Vedānta was invoked as an ancient philosophical religion which could refute such hard-headed materialism with unimpeachable reasoning. Rather than seeking to re-enchant or spiritualise the natural world in the manner of the Naturphilosophie of the Romantics, or attempting to found an organic cultural unity upon a synthesis of Vedānta, Tantra and Hegel like the Bengali immanentists and Hegelians, Müller and Vivekananda saw in Advaita the working out of an unbreachable distinction between the phenomenal world – henceforth abandoned to the natural sciences – and the utterly transcendent Absolute. Thus their writings and lectures on Vedānta utilised concepts such as avidyā, māyā and ātman in order to make criticisms of materialist or empiricist philosophies and to illustrate that the knowledge of the natural sciences could not reach beyond a phenomenal realm subordinate to the Absolute.  Bhakti Yoga, CW3: 54.  Sen (1993): 316. 159  See Chapter 1. 157 158

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The rediscovery and deployment of this ancient and uncompromisingly idealist tradition against various forms of materialism was motivated primarily by the desire to carve out a space for religion in a hostile intellectual landscape. This demanded an unsentimental assessment of which aspects of religion could stand up to rational scrutiny. The metaphysical austerity of Advaita Vedānta, as Vivekananda and Müller understood it, represented a stark contrast and even a rebuke to those other religions whose scriptures and metaphysical beliefs were being swept away by advances in secular knowledge. Müller hoped that Christians could be inspired by the example of Vedānta to reform their own religion, while Vivekananda believed that Vedānta was the only religion to turn to in the scientific age because of its superior rationality. Other religions might survive insofar as their creeds contained a relative truth which would eventually lead them to the ultimate truth of Advaita.

Chapter 4

Vedānta and the Religious Foundation of Ethics My idea is to show that the highest ideal of morality and unselfishness goes hand in hand with the highest metaphysical conception, and that you need not lower your conception to get ethics and morality, but on the other hand, to reach a real basis of morality and ethics you must have the highest philosophical and scientific conceptions.1 The Vedānta philosophy, so far from merely supplying a metaphysical explanation of the world, aims at establishing its ethics on the most solid philosophical and religious foundations.2

It has been recognised that in the late nineteenth-century era with which we are concerned the religious foundation of ethics was a defining issue for Hindu Indians; an attitude which was provoked at least in part by Christian and Utilitarian criticisms of their religious and social norms.3 An almost morbid fascination with the relationship between religion and morality has been observed also among Europeans and Americans struggling to come to terms with the apparent demise of Christianity’s moral authority and the failure of overtly secular moral philosophies such as Utilitarianism to provide an adequate substitute.4 The possibility that this shared sense of the fragility of the religious and moral fabric of society could provoke similar interpretations of religion among Indian and Western intellectuals has been underexplored. In this chapter I hope to show that Müller and Vivekananda not only shared this widespread moral concern, but that it was a crucial factor in determining the way in which they understood and presented Vedānta. This ethical interpretation of Vedānta attempted to reconcile an austerely monistic metaphysics with secular ethical principles of individual moral value and full participation in the activities of the world. 1  From the fourth of Vivekananda’s lectures on ‘Practical Vedānta’, delivered in London on 18 November 1896. CW2: 355. 2  From Müller’s Three Lectures on the Vedānta Philosophy, delivered in London in 1894: 163. 3  Halbfass (1988): 241; Bijlert (2003); Jordens (1978): 280–86. 4  Himmelfarb (1986): Chapters 3 and 4. Although, as I shall discuss below, ‘utility’ as the measure of ethical value was a favourite target of Vivekananda’s, British Utilitarianism was at least as badly placed as Christianity by this time to provide firm foundations for morality. Den Otter (1996): 53.

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In Chapter 3 we saw how Advaita Vedānta appealed to Müller and Vivekananda as the archetype for a form of religion which was steadfastly anti-materialist and rationally persuasive in an age where religion seemed to be under threat from the progression of historical and scientific knowledge. However, religion was not a matter of mere metaphysics for nineteenth-century thinkers; if Vedānta were to represent anything other than a philosophical curiosity to their audiences, Vivekananda and Müller would have to demonstrate the compatibility of its monistic metaphysic with the ethical spirit of the age. While Rammohun Roy had attempted to construct a theistic religion of moral engagement upon Shankara’s Vedānta, later Brahmos, such as Debendranath Tagore, rejected Advaita because analysis of Shankara’s corpus suggested to them a fundamental conflict with their basic principles.5 Vivekananda and Müller were also both acutely aware that the most penetrating criticism to make of Advaita Vedānta was that it seemed to completely undermine the axioms and ends of late nineteenth-century morality. In this chapter I shall examine how Müller and Vivekananda attempted to overcome these difficulties by arguing that Vedānta not only upheld the morality of the world of everyday experience, but that its metaphysical claims provided the strongest possible foundation for ethics. The first section of this chapter aims to establish a connection between modern Hindu and European concerns about the role of religion in moral philosophy in general, before examining development of this aspect of late nineteenth-century thought in the works of Vivekananda and Müller specifically. Next we turn to Müller’s struggle to prove to himself and to his audience that Vedānta, despite appearances to the contrary, could provide a religious foundation for morality. Finally, the third section analyses Vivekananda’s bolder and more comprehensive argument that morality originates in an awareness of the underlying unity of all beings which can only be expressed fully by Advaita Vedānta. Religion and Morality in the Late-Victorian World Wilhelm Halbfass writes that ‘the role of ethics is central for the selfunderstanding and self-articulation of modern Hindu thought’6 and persuasively traces this reconfiguration of the moral implications of religion from Rammohun Roy through to B.G. Tilak (1856–1920). However, although he discusses Paul Deussen’s attempts to find a ‘metaphysical foundation’ for ethics in Advaita Vedānta in the same section where he underlines the importance of ethics in modern Indian thought, Halbfass does not seem to acknowledge that European writers in this period were as concerned with the relationship between religion, philosophy and morality as their Indian counterparts. When Europeans considered the merits or demerits of Hindu religion the questions foremost in their minds 5

 Halbfass (1995): 218–19.  Halbfass (1988): 241.

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almost invariably concerned its ethical implications in comparison with those of Victorian Christianity and/or Utilitarianism.7 Although many Victorians were convinced that their own religious beliefs had proven to be the bedrock of societal flourishing and moral virtue, the religion of the Hindus, while acknowledged as the ideological foundation of Indian society, was regarded as an impediment to technological and social progress and a source of moral weakness or decay.8 This sense of superiority did not arise out of confidence and optimism, but was instead rooted in a profound insecurity about the continued capacity of Christianity to sustain Victorian moral culture. Ronald Inden argues that European constructions of Hinduism were the outcome of ‘The effort directed at reconstituting some kind of space for the human and moral, either by reforming Christianity so that it could be compatible with the new knowledge, or by constructing personal philosophies that could provide meaning in a world dominated by science.’9 European intellectuals like Müller and Paul Deussen saw the question of Vedānta’s ethical relevancy as crucial largely because they and their contemporaries were perturbed by the possibility that Christianity might cease to be the basis for both private and public morality that they believed it had hitherto been. Since the maintenance of moral standards was held to be a vital function of religion, studies of comparative religion could hardly avoid assessing Vedānta’s capacity to sustain the moral life of its followers. Owen Chadwick illustrates this late-Victorian conviction that morality needed religion, and the related concern that religion was in decline, with a description of a public discussion which took place in 1877 in the pages of the widely-read journal Nineteenth Century entitled ‘The influence on morality of a decline in religious belief.’ The contributors, who included a range of religious and non-religious luminaries, agreed almost without exception that morality would wither without religion, while the decline of religion was genuinely anticipated by many respondents.10 Chadwick suggests that this sense of religious and moral unease was most pronounced in the decades when Darwinism was at the height of its influence, namely, the 1870s to 1890s. This was the same period in which Müller most actively developed the Science of Religion and when he engaged most closely with the Upaniṣads and Advaita Vedānta as translator and expositor. In this climate where the established role of Christianity as the basis for ethics was the subject of serious doubt, it is not surprising that Müller felt unable to avoid commenting

7

 Inden (2000): Chapter 3. Embree (1992).  ‘The Victorians believed religion was of great importance in British society as well as in India, but with the difference that British religion strengthened, rather than hindered, progress.’ Embree (1992): 154. 9  Inden (2000): 88. 10  Chadwick (1975): 230–31. 8

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on the implications for morality of monistic Indian philosophy in his lectures and writings on Vedānta. In his first series of Gifford Lectures, Natural Religion, delivered in 1888, Müller admonished himself for ‘having not laid sufficient emphasis on the practical side of religion’ and admitted that ‘mere theories about the infinite, unless they influence human conduct, have no right to the name of religion’.11 This remark is a reference to Müller’s earlier attempt in his lectures on the Science of Religion (1870) to define religion as ‘a mental faculty, that faculty which, independent of, nay in spite of sense and reason, enables man to apprehend the Infinite under different names, and under varying disguises’.12 As well as abandoning his controversial claim that humans possessed an independent ‘faculty’ of religion, Müller also modified his understanding of religion to take account of its ‘practical side’, which meant studying the influence of these apprehensions of the infinite upon morality. The extent to which Müller substantially changed his approach to the study of religion to better appreciate the moral and practical aspects of religious life is debatable, but there was certainly a shift in rhetoric in this direction: ‘From the moment, therefore, that the perception of something supernatural begins to exercise an influence on the moral actions of man, be it for good or for evil, from that moment ... have we a right to call it religious.’13 The origins of this shift in Müller’s thinking towards a view of religion as necessarily a moral force are not easily uncovered. They perhaps lie partly in the influence of ethnographers and social anthropologists of whose theories and fieldwork Müller, though sometimes sceptical, was keenly aware. These works naturally tended to emphasise the importance of social practices and ethical norms in their study of religion.14 The other possible source of this new focus on ethics was the impact of the Victorian crisis of faith in which, as we noted above, intellectuals were afraid not so much of losing their metaphysical beliefs, as of the collapse of the moral order of which Christianity was seen as the foundation. As Müller’s writings on the ‘Science of Religion’ were intended to address this crisis, it would have been difficult to avoid discussing the importance of religion in the establishment of morality: When one sees the struggles through which mankind has to pass in order to establish the few fundamental principles of religion, and to gain a recognition for the simplest rules of morality, one learns to be very grateful to the founders of every religion for what they have achieved. Man can be a very wild beast, and to have induced him, not only to believe in a supreme government of the

11

 NR: 193.  SR: 17. 13  PR: 296. 14  Schrempp (1983). 12

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world, but to restrain his selfish passions in submission to a higher will, that is a real miracle.15

It is not my intention to suggest that Müller with his pietistic personal faith was hitherto unconvinced of any relationship between morality and religion, but it assumes a hitherto unseen prominence in his theoretical understanding of religion at a time when Christianity and the moral culture it sustained were seen as threatened. Curiously, it was Müller’s pietistic inclination which led him to question the view of some of his contemporaries that the decline of religious belief and the increasingly outspoken representatives of atheism and materialism were responsible for moral decay. This scepticism is understandable when we remember his dismay at the distance between the superficial orthodoxy of Victorian Christianity and the inner faith required by the religion of Christ.16 In a series of letters to W.S. Lilly, Müller argued against the view that materialism necessarily led to immorality: Materialism, in the most general sense of the word, ought to produce selfishness, and therefore immorality. But as a matter of fact, looking about among my friends and back to what history teaches us, it is not so. Materialists are mostly serious minded and moral men, whilst the greatest amount of immorality meets us among those who are most orthodox in their religious opinions, most regular in their attendance at church, and most shocked at the opinions of Darwin, Huxley, &c.17 I have been thinking a good deal about your thesis that Materialism produces immorality, and I feel more and more convinced that the facts are against you. I believe that in many cases immorality produces Materialism, using that word in a very large sense. Materialism is a welcome refuge for souls troubled by a bad conscience, but as a rule I find the honest Materialist is a serious-minded and conscientious creature. ... The causa mali must be somewhere else, the malum cannot be denied – our society is rotten – but why? I believe it is the unreality of all religion which is the principal cause. People read the Psalms every day, and tolerate adultery in their private houses. No religion, and atheism, would be better than that hypocrisy.18

Müller’s claim that materialism is a belief likely to appeal to wrongdoers shows clearly enough that it is not materialism as a doctrine which he feels any sympathy for, but rather the sincerity of the ‘honest Materialist’. The cause of society’s corruption lies instead for Müller in the prevalence of hypocrisy in religion and 15

 AR: 59.  See Chapter 1. 17  Letter to W.S. Lilly, 22 November 1886. LL2: 202. 18  Letter to W.S. Lilly, 5 November 1886. LL2: 202–3. 16

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the predominance of the outward show of orthodoxy and false displays of piety at the expense of the true religion which consists in inner feelings of absolute dependence and surrender of the ego. On this typically pietistic Protestant view of religion and morality, inner sincerity is the true measure of virtue, but this does not mean that Müller was indifferent to acts of charity. Rather, his indifference to or contempt for religious institutions and doctrines made him all the more convinced that the greatest expression of religious commitment lay in philanthropy. In his autobiography he recalled warning his friend Keshab Chandra Sen, to no avail as it turned out, not to prioritise the ceremonial, liturgical and theological development of his new religious movement at the expense of devotion to the moral causes which had first made the Brahmo leader famous in England: Keshub Chunder Sen ... wanted to know what kind of service should be adopted by his new church, the Brahmo Somaj [Müller is referring here to the Brahmo faction under Keshab’s leadership, known by this time as the New Dispensation]; his friends thought of sermons, singing, and processions with flags and flowers through the streets. ‘No’, I said to him, ‘service of God should be service of men; if you want divine service, let it be a real service, such as God would approve of ..., take you your own friends, on certain days of the week, to whatever you like to call your meeting-place, and after a short prayer or a few words of advice send some of them to the poorest streets in the city, others to the prisons, others to the hospitals.’... I am afraid he did not agree with me. He did not think that true religion was to visit the poor and the afflicted. That might do for a practical people like the English, but the Hindu wanted something else; he wanted some outward show and ceremony for the people, and at the same time some silent communion with God.19

According to Müller’s rather unsympathetic interpretation, Keshab implicitly accepted the commonplace criticism that Hindu religiosity cannot be combined with a wholehearted commitment to the improvement of society by devoting himself to devotional practices at the expense of social action. Vivekananda is a paradigmatic example of Halbfass’s claim that ethics was ‘central’ in the development of ‘modern Hindu thought’. What Tapan Raychaudhuri read as Vivekananda’s ‘quest of spiritual renunciation’20 could perhaps be better understood as a quest to find a modern ethics compatible with remaining a Hindu (even Vivekananda’s ideal of renunciation was, as we shall see, closely linked to his ethical reinterpretation of Vedānta).21 The contrast between Ramakrishna and Vivekananda is particularly instructive here. While Ramakrishna remained largely unconcerned with ethical questions which did not relate directly to the devotee’s 19

 MA: 59–60.  Raychaudhuri (2002): 219. 21  See also Sharma (2013). 20

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realisation of God, – for instance, he cautioned his disciples against the hazards of women and gold as dangerous distractions from the religious life,22 but was unsympathetic towards the efforts of philanthropists23 – Vivekananda was famously committed to active engagement in humanitarian projects.24 Ramakrishna, secure within his lifelong immersion in traditional Hindu forms of religious practice, ridiculed the adoption by Hindu reformers of secular moral norms where religion became directed towards the salvation of the world,25 but Vivekananda had little choice other than to engage with the secular ethics imbibed in his education and almost universally accepted by the middle class Bengalis and liberal Americans and Britons among whom he lived and preached. Vivekananda’s attempts to show that Vedānta provided ‘the highest ideal of morality and unselfishness’26 can also be understood as an attempt to salve wounded Hindu pride. The harshest criticisms of Hindu society had come from Christian missionaries and Utilitarian reformers and these are among the antagonists engaged by Vivekananda in his works on religion and morality.27 His greatest objection to Christian ethics arises from his rejection of the concept of sin, which Vivekananda saw as the inevitable consequence of monotheistic religious belief.28 Utilitarianism was more consistently the target of Vivekananda’s polemic; while, in his view, Christianity no longer offered any refuge for enlightened minds,29 Utilitarianism held out the prospect of a system of ethics entirely independent of metaphysical or religious foundations. Not only that, but the individualism and materialism of Utilitarianism came to represent all that was wrong with foreign rule of India to Vivekananda and other proto-nationalists from Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay to the Swadeshi movement.30 22

 Sarkar (1997): 305–14, 348.  ‘“Sambhu Malik wanted to talk about hospitals, dispensaries, schools, roads, and [water] tanks ... Giving just alms at Kalighat, not seeing Kālī herself! (Laughter) ... So I told Sambhu, if you meet Iswara, will you ask him to build some hospitals and dispensaries?”’ Quoted in Sarkar (1997): 288. 24  Beckerlegge (2006). 25  See Introduction. 26  CW2: 355. 27  Surprising similarities existed between the views of Utilitarians and Evangelical Christians on the problems with Indian society, particularly in their assertion of individualism against priestcraft. Stokes (1982); van der Veer (2001): 42. 28  CW1: 346; CW2: 295–6. Raychaudhuri (2002): 263. 29  ‘Materialism prevails in Europe today. You may pray for the salvation of the modern sceptics, but they do not yield, they want reason. The salvation of Europe depends upon a rationalistic religion, and Advaita – the non-duality, the Oneness, the idea of the Impersonal God – is the only religion that can have any hold on any intellectual people. It comes whenever religion seems to disappear and irreligion seems to prevail, and that is why it has taken ground in Europe and America.’ ‘The Absolute and Manifestation’, London, November or December 1896. CW2: 139. 30  Kaviraj (1992): 27–9. Sartori (2009): 129–35, 170–75. 23

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Much of the most wounding criticism levelled at Indian, and especially Bengali, society by the British ruling class concerned its supposed effeminacy and moral and physical degeneracy. The secular ethics of muscular Christianity and Utilitarian rationalism were combined in this assault. Vivekananda seems to have partially assimilated this critical attitude – hence his condemnation of anything smacking of emotionalism31 and his recommendation that in order to understand the Bhagavad Gītā his compatriots would be well advised to put aside their books and develop their physical fitness.32 However, the remedy for this weakness lay not, as the British imagined, in the adoption of the religion or philosophy which they took to underlie their success, since for Vivekananda the emulation of foreign ways was itself a cause of weakness: There are two great obstacles on our path in India, the Scylla of old orthodoxy and the Charybdis of modern European civilisation. Of these two, I vote for the old orthodoxy, and not for the Europeanised system; for the old orthodox man may be ignorant, he may be crude, but he is a man, he has a faith, he has strength, he stands on his own feet; while the Europeanised man has no backbone, he is a mass of heterogenous ideas picked up at random from every source.33

Instead, the crude religion of the orthodox would have to be revitalised through Vedānta in order to form the basis of India’s moral revival. This must be so because religion is for Vivekananda the guiding spirit of the Hindu nation: ‘I have seen a little of the world, travelling among the races of the East and the West; and everywhere I find among nations one great ideal, which forms the backbone, so to speak, of that race … this, our motherland, has religion and religion alone for its basis.’34 This rhetoric prescribing reform of the nation according to the lights of its ancient religion might lead us to place Vivekananda within what has been called the ‘Hindu revivalist movement’ which was in full swing during the 1890s.35 It is certainly true that Vivekananda rejected the efforts of previous generations of reformers in India, who he believed had uncritically adopted the standards of Europe, but we risk parochialising Vivekananda by restricting our analysis of his 31

 ‘Through [Chaitanya’s] preaching of [Radha’s love for Krishna], the whole nation has become effeminate – a race of women!’ Conversation with Surendra Nath Sen, 24 January 1898. CW5: 345. The original Bengali record of this conversation does not seem to be available in the BR. 32  ‘You will be nearer to heaven through football than through the study of the Gītā. ... You will understand [the] Gītā better with your biceps, your muscles, a little stronger.’ From the lecture ‘Vedānta in its application to Indian life’, probably given in Madras in early 1897, CW3: 242. See also Nandy (1983): Chapter 1. 33  ‘Reply to the Address of Welcome at Ramnad’, 25 January 1897. CW3: 151. 34  ‘The Mission of the Vedanta’, Kumbhakonam, India, 1897. CW3: 177. 35  Sen (1993): 8–15, et passim.

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conception of religion and society to a Bengali or Indian context. Even in his speeches to Indian audiences it is clear that the Vedāntic revitalisation of social and moral life would not be restricted to India: This oneness is the rationale of all ethics and all spirituality. Europe wants it today just as much as our downtrodden masses do, and this great principle is even now unconsciously forming the basis of all the latest political and social aspirations that are coming up in England, in Germany, in France, and in America. And mark it, my friends, that in and through all the literature voicing man’s struggle towards freedom ... again and again you find the Indian Vedāntic ideals coming out prominently.36

It must also be remembered that Vivekananda most fully developed his conceptions of religion and morality in that highly productive period from 1893–96 which he spent in America and Britain. Among his audiences in these countries he detected anxiety that morality would fade away together with Christianity’s cultural hegemony. Those most sympathetic to Vivekananda’s teachings may have hoped that Vedānta could fill the void. The lectures which Vivekananda gave in Britain and the USA on the relationship between Vedānta and ethics addressed these concerns: I have been asked to say something about the practical position of the Vedānta philosophy. As I have told you, theory is very good indeed, but how are we to carry it into practice? If it be absolutely impracticable, no theory is of any value whatever, except as intellectual gymnastics. The Vedānta, therefore, as a religion, must be intensely practical. We must be able to carry it out in every part of our lives.37

The fear that religion and morality were in decline was common to both Indians and Westerners, so proclamations that religion could be revived and morality upheld would have found open ears among Vivekananda’s audiences in both countries. Materialism and the ethical system he associated with it, namely, Utilitarianism, were attacked by Vivekananda in speeches given in India, Britain and the USA, while the necessity of religion as the foundation of morality was continuously asserted: Utilitarian standards cannot explain the ethical relations of men, for, in the first place, we cannot derive any ethical laws from considerations of utility. Without the supernatural sanction, as it is called, or the perception of the superconscious, as I prefer to term it, there can be no ethics. ... The Utilitarian wants us to give up the struggle after the Infinite, the reaching-out for the supersensuous, as 36

 ‘Mission of the Vedanta’. CW3: 189.  ‘Practical Vedānta’, 10 November 1896, CW2: 291.

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impracticable and absurd, and, in the same breath, asks us to take up ethics and do good to society. Why should we do good? Doing good is a secondary consideration. We must have an ideal.38

The dispute was represented by Vivekananda not just as a struggle between those who sought transcendent foundations for ethics and those who denied their possibility, but as between an ethic whose highest goal was the individual’s pursuit of pleasure and avoidance of pain, versus an ethic which was founded upon the renunciation of sensory pleasure and, ultimately, the annihilation of individual consciousness: All codes of ethics are based upon this renunciation; destruction, not construction, of the individual on the material plane. That Infinite will never find expression upon the material plane, nor is it possible or thinkable. ... So man has to give up the plane of matter, and rise to other spheres to seek a deeper expression of that Infinite.’39

This conviction that the individual’s sensory experience alone could not be the foundation for ethics was hardly a novel idea in the second half of the nineteenth century,40 but in this brief account of Vivekananda’s moral philosophy it is possible already to see its connections with his interpretation of Vedānta: the true foundations of ethics are established through the destruction of the illusion of individual selfhood, consciousness of our ‘oneness’ and the striving for the ‘supersensuous’. In Müller’s pietist belief that the source of society’s moral malaise can be found in religious insincerity and in Vivekananda’s claim that there can be no ethics without ‘the struggle after the Infinite’ we see this same overriding conviction that morality is, and must be, grounded in religion. The nationalist overtones in many of Vivekananda’s speeches on this subject are more the product of a shift in emphasis to engage and enthuse a Hindu public than the result of any underlying incommensurability between the discourses surrounding religion and ethics in Calcutta, London or New York. Müller’s correspondence with Keshab Chandra Sen assumes a distinction between Indian and European conceptions of the relationship between religion and ethics which, if it ever existed in the nineteenth century, had ceased to exist significantly by the time Vivekananda began to engage seriously with this problem.

38

 ‘The Necessity of Religion’, London, 7 June 1896. CW2: 63.  CW2: 63. A similar argument couched in patriotic language can also be seen in Vivekananda’s lecture delivered in Kumbhakonam in 1897 ‘The Mission of the Vedānta’. CW3: 177–82. For instance: ‘Through renunciation is the way to the goal and not through enjoyment. Therefore, ours is the only true religion.’ CW3: 180. 40  Den Otter (1996). 39

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Vedānta and Ethics If, as we have just established above, Müller and Vivekananda were both convinced that morality required religious foundations, and given that Advaita Vedānta was regarded by our protagonists as the most promising basis for religious belief in the modern world, then it should not come as a surprise that Müller’s and Vivekananda’s works on Vedānta devoted considerable attention to the moral implications of the non-dualistic metaphysics which they championed. In this section we shall consider Müller’s attempts to convince his audiences – and perhaps himself – that Vedānta could provide a solid grounding for ethics. The ethical vindication of Advaita Vedānta presented a genuine challenge, since it was the subject of criticism from Christian missionaries and many reformminded Hindus alike on the grounds that it was a world-denying idealism with scant regard for social progress and the individual’s responsibility to society.41 While any view of Shankara’s Advaita as an essentially amoral teaching ignores his insistence upon certain moral dispositions as prerequisites for the pursuit of Brahman,42 even the most committed of modern proponents of Advaita Vedānta have acknowledged and attempted to rectify ‘the failure, in traditional Advaita interpretation, to attribute positive value to the world and to life in the world’.43 Traditional Advaita is a teaching mainly directed towards the individual’s attainment of release (mokṣa) from the cycle of rebirths (saṃsāra) through the recognition of the identity of the individual’s self as non-different from the highest self (Brahman),44 but ethical norms are largely concerned with actions in the world or at least the attitudes of individuals to other individuals. Given that traditional Advaita Vedānta was ultimately concerned with release from this differentiated world, it was unlikely to prioritise the importance of actions within that world. Neither Müller nor Vivekananda could be said to have been unambiguously committed to the soteriological goal of traditional Advaita Vedānta, in fact, as I described in Chapter 3, Advaita’s main appeal to both was its apparent metaphysical resistance to materialist philosophy and science. Since they were not strongly committed to an Advaitic soteriology, but were convinced of the need for a solid religious and metaphysical basis for morality, they felt a compulsion to adjust the focus of Advaita Vedānta in order to make it a more ethically engaged religion. The same distinction between traditional and secularised ideas of religion and morality which applies in the case of Ramakrishna and Vivekananda also applies to Shankara, on the one hand, and Müller and Vivekananda, on the other. 41

 Halbfass (1995): 219–21; Jordens (1978): 59, 150, 253, 280–82. See Chapter 2.  These include the requirement of ‘dispassion with respect to enjoyment of transient objects [ihāmutrārthaboghavirāga]’ and ‘the trained acquisition of such virtues as contentment and self-control ]śamadamādisādhanasaṃpat]’. Lipner accuses Paul Hacker of ignoring the ethical assumptions behind Shankara’s thought. Lipner (2000): 196. 43  Rambachan (2006): 3. 44  Hacker (1995): 138. 42

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Traditionally, Advaita Vedānta presumed and insisted upon the moral rectitude of its high-caste adherents who sought release from the differentiated world and did not, as Müller pointed out, in any way seek to undermine the existing moral order of the differentiated world,45 but neither was Shankara interested in providing a new metaphysical justification for this moral order or indeed in providing a new moral order entirely. As was the case with Ramakrishna, Shankara was rooted in a tradition where the foundations of morality and social order were never seriously under question (although of course they may have been disputed by outsider groups such as the Buddhists). As Halbfass puts it: ‘The Indian philosophical tradition in general does not normally understand ethical, moral behaviour as an ‘application’ of theoretically and metaphysically valid insights: instead, ethical conduct appears as a prerequisite of metaphysically and soteriologically valid knowledge and realization.’46 This difference in the relationship between ethics and metaphysics is probably the most important difference between modern, secularised Vedānta and traditional Advaita Vedānta: the latter taught that reality is ultimately one and that its adherents, realising this fact, would thereby free themselves from the differentiated and ultimately illusory world; according to Müller’s and Vivekananda’s interpretations of Vedānta, it taught the same thing in order to salvage the essentials of religion and thereby support morality, ambitions which would probably have made little sense to a traditional Advaitin. In other words, for traditional Advaita, morally unimpeachable behaviour is a sine qua non for fruitful metaphysical realisation, but once Vedānta has been secularised almost the opposite is true and metaphysical speculation itself must provide the basis for ethics.47 Müller anticipated that the metaphysical claims of Advaita Vedānta would be perceived by some among his contemporaries as wholly inimical to morality and, in one of his last works, The Six Systems of Indian Philosophy (1899), he confessed to sharing these concerns: I quite admit that, as a popular philosophy, the Vedānta would have its dangers, that it would fail to call out and strengthen the manly qualities required for the practical side of life, and that it might raise the human mind to a height from which the most essential virtues of social and political life might dwindle away into mere phantoms.48

45

 SSIP: 240.  Halbfass (1995): 217. 47  This is true a fortiori of the most famous Indian philosopher of the last century, Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan (1888–1975). For instance: ‘Any ethical theory must be grounded in metaphysics, in a philosophical conception of the relation between human conduct and ultimate reality.’ Radhakrishnan (1940): 80. 48  SSIP: 253. 46

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Vedānta is portrayed in this passage as an idealist philosophy of contemplation in opposition to the practical and activist ‘manly qualities’ which were required to sustain the Victorian moral universe. In this particular account of Vedāntic ethics Müller merely suggested that Vedānta did not conflict with the ethics of everyday life, so long as it remained the preserve of a spiritually-inclined elite who could reconcile their roles of philosophers and citizens: ‘For fitting men to lead contemplative and quiet lives, I know no better preparation than the Vedānta. A man may be a Platonist, and yet a good citizen and an honest Christian, and I should say the same of a Vedāntist.’49 On this view, which he seems to defer to here, Vedānta has little to offer in the form of incentives to moral behaviour or philosophical support for the principles of ethics, since it is ultimately concerned with a higher truth which has no bearing on such practical concerns. Müller was quite happy to accept that the traditional teachings of Advaita Vedānta had left mundane moral questions to those still engaged in the phenomenal world: ‘for the purposes of religion and morality, that phenomenal Deity is all that can be required. It is for philosophers only, for the Vedāntist, that a higher reality is required.’50 Mindful that this lack of concern with practical morality might appear to exempt Vedāntins from worldly distinctions between right and wrong, Müller insisted that ‘the Vedānta-philosophy, even in its popular form, holds out no encouragement to vice’.51 The moral righteousness of the Vedāntists was further guaranteed by their status as elite spiritual adepts, since only those who were properly qualified could pursue the path of jnāna, or knowledge. The prospective Vedāntin had not only to show his suitability through birth into a high-caste family, but also through adherence to exacting moral standards in the phenomenal world as a precondition to being allowed to approach the teachings of Vedānta: ‘goodness and virtue, faith and works, are necessary as a preparation’.52 This account of the relationship between Advaita Vedānta and ethics shows Müller attempting to defend Vedānta from its harshest critics – who might judge that Vedānta permitted vice or at least weakened civic engagement – while conceding that traditionally Vedāntists had not concerned themselves much with the elaboration of moral philosophy. It can sometimes seem as if Vedānta’s chief appeal to Müller is as a quietist personal philosophy, which, while it could not provide moral guidance for the majority in the same way as Christianity, was perfectly suited to those who delved deeper into the mysteries of life and death. Speaking of his own experience of a life lived with the teachings of Vedānta as a guide, Müller reaffirmed Schopenhauer’s view that the Upaniṣads offered the surest consolation in the face of death:

49

 SSIP: 253.  TLV: 126. 51  SSIP: 237. 52  SSIP: 240. 50

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‘In the whole world there is no study so beneficial and so elevating as that of the Upanishads. It has been the solace of my life, it will be the solace of my death.’ If these words of Schopenhauer’s required any endorsement, I should willingly give it as the result of my own experience during a long life devoted to the study of many philosophies and many religions. If philosophy is meant to be a preparation for a happy death, or Euthanasia, I know of no better preparation for it than the Vedānta philosophy.53

This conception of Vedānta as a stoical religion for the philosophically-minded was in some ways quite suited to the crisis of faith which Müller sought to address in his lectures and writings. Those who could no longer place their faith in scripture or ecclesiastical institutions as spiritual and moral guides, but who were horrified by the mechanistic and amoral understanding of the universe asserted by evolutionary materialists, were inevitably drawn to philosophies, which, though they could not promise to redeem the world, could offer solace from its bleakness.54 Although Müller expressed some reservations about the soundness of Vedānta as a ‘popular philosophy’, he nevertheless saw a reconstructed Vedānta as the basis for all religion in modern India and there he was prepared to acknowledge unreservedly the positive role which Vedānta had played in establishing ethics. It is not principally the metaphysical teaching of Advaita Vedānta which Müller sees as the source of Hindu morality, but rather belief in karma and rebirth. The Vedāntic aspect of karma lies for Müller in its assumption of ‘the eternal existence of individual souls’, a belief which Müller argues can also be found in ‘certain passages of the New Testament (St John ix)’; in any case, he was not asking his audience to accept belief in karma, but rather to acknowledge that ‘its influence on human character has been marvellous’. He continued, ‘This doctrine of Karman ... has met with the widest acceptance, and has helped to soften the sufferings of millions, and to encourage them not only in their endurance of present evils, but likewise in their efforts to improve their future condition.’55 Müller’s expression of sympathy for the doctrine of karma is similar in substance to his other statements in defence of the moral character of the Hindus in response to disparaging claims from missionaries and other commentators claiming authoritative knowledge of contemporary India, but it is also further testimony to the importance of ethics in the evaluation of a religion.56 Müller could not persuade his audiences of the greatness of Vedānta without demonstrating its role in the morality of ordinary Hindus. Although karma is presented as the foremost example of Vedānta’s ethical teachings to ordinary Hindus, elsewhere Müller suggests that the theological dimension of Vedānta has in its own right morally uplifted its believers: 53

 ‘Euthanasia’ having here the sense of death approached with equanimity. TLV: 8.  Turner (1974); Taylor (2007): Chapter 11. 55  TLV: 165–7. 56  IWCTU: 52–94. 54

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To regain that full self-consciousness or God-consciousness, to return to God, to break down the artificial wall that seemed to separate man from God, is the highest object of Indian philosophy, and in some form or other these thoughts have gradually leavened all classes of society from the highest to the lowest.57

Here we meet again with Müller’s pietist understanding of the relationship between morality and religion, in which the inner consciousness of God strengthens the morality of the faithful regardless of their level of theological understanding. In much the same way as Müller believed Vedānta provided at once a religion for the doubting elite and the soundest possible metaphysical foundations available for less rational forms of religion,58 he argued that Vedānta could provide moral solace for the sceptical few, while at the same time vindicating the morality of the relative world: For all practical purposes, the Vedāntist would hold that the whole phenomenal world, both in its objective and subjective character, should be accepted as real. It is as real as anything can be to the ordinary mind … . And thus the Vedānta philosophy leaves to every man a wide sphere of real usefulness, and places him under a law as strict and binding as anything can be in this transitory life. … Even when the higher light appears, that higher light does not destroy the reality of the former world, but imparts to it, even in its transitory and evanescent character, a fuller reality and a deeper meaning. Kant also knew that our world is phenomenal only, and that the Ding an sich, in one sense the Bráhman, lies beyond our knowledge, that is, is separated from us by Nescience, or Avidyā, and he establishes his practical and moral philosophy for the phenomenal world, as if no noumenal world existed.59

Despite the rather lukewarm appraisal Müller offered in some of the passages quoted above, a man of his convictions could hardly offer more resounding approval than by comparing the moral philosophy of Shankara to that of Kant. Not only does Shankara avoid compromising the morality required for finite phenomenal beings, according to Müller, but he actually strengthens it by showing that the ‘transitory and evanescent’ world of everyday experience is supported by a higher reality. In the late nineteenth-century context where social Darwinism and Utilitarianism challenged the assumptions of Christian morality it is not difficult to understand the appeal of a meta-ethical theory where moral principles could be justified by appeal to a transcendent realm. Even if the survival of Christian morality could be threatened by, for example, the view that competition and sexual selection dominated human as well as animal behaviour, Müller maintained that 57

 ALS: 164.  See Chapter 3. 59  TLV: 161–2. 58

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in the philosophies of Shankara and Kant there was a transcendent basis for moral behaviour in the phenomenal world. Müller’s account of Vedāntic ethics was thus clearly informed by contemporary debates about the basis of morality in relation to religion. Not only did he liken Shankara’s moral philosophy to that of Kant, but he quite clearly stated that Vedānta provided a counter-example to those who disputed the possibility of grounding morals in religion: It is quite true that some philosophers hold that ethics have nothing to do with religion, and should have their own foundation, independent of all religion, though binding on every human being, whatever his religion may be. But this question which is at present being agitated in the leading philosophical journals of Germany, France, and America, need not detain us, for I hope to be able to show that the Vedānta philosophy, so far from merely supplying a metaphysical explanation of the world, aims at establishing its ethics on the most solid philosophical and religious foundations.60

Aside from his claims that the doctrine of karma and rebirth – hardly a belief exclusive to Vedāntins – had morally uplifted countless generations of Hindus, we have not seen much so far in Müller’s account which would support his claim that ethics is established by the teachers of Vedānta ‘on the most solid philosophical and religious foundations’. Although Vivekananda also attempted to pre-emptively undercut his audiences’ reservations about the alleged amorality of Vedānta,61 he did not share Müller’s caution about the possibility of deriving ethical principles from Advaita Vedānta; on the contrary, Vedāntic monism constituted in his view the only rational basis for moral philosophy, as he declared in his lectures on ‘Practical Vedānta’: My idea is to show that the highest ideal of morality and unselfishness goes hand in hand with the highest metaphysical conception, and that you need not lower your conception to get ethics and morality, but on the other hand, to reach a real basis of morality and ethics you must have the highest philosophical and scientific conceptions.62

The claim that Vedānta establishes ethics according to the ‘highest philosophical and scientific conceptions’ at once responds to the commonplace criticism that its radical monism prevented Vedāntins from taking interpersonal ethics 60

 TLV: 162–3.  ‘You will generally hear that this Vedānta, this philosophy and other Eastern systems, look only to something beyond, letting go the enjoyments and struggle of this life. This idea is entirely wrong.’ ‘Unity in Diversity’, delivered in London on 3 November 1896. CW2: 185. 62  CW2: 355. 61

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seriously, while at the same time asserting that Vedāntic ethics could, due to their compatibility with science and philosophy, provide succour for those who had abandoned religious orthodoxy but were not prepared to accept social Darwinism. In the next section we shall consider how Vivekananda and Müller proceeded in establishing Vedāntic metaphysical foundations for ethics. The Tat Tvam Asi Ethic Müller’s depiction of karma, which we considered above, not only emphasised its beneficial effects on the ‘human character’ of Hindus; he went on to claim that rather than being merely a force determining the nature of the rebirths of individuals, karma was seen by some teachers of the Vedānta as having a ‘collective character’, uniting the human race ‘as one body or family in which the whole suffers when any individual member suffers for we are members one of another’.63 Without elaborating further on this idea of collective karmic responsibility, Müller speculates on the philosophical basis for this view in Vedānta: With the Vedāntists this feeling of a common interest, nay, of the oneness or solidarity of the human race, was most natural. Their whole philosophy was built on the conviction that every human being has its true being in Bráhman, and this feeling, though it is chiefly metaphysical, breaks out occasionally as a moral power also.64

The moral force of this sense of oneness is that it shows us that the self of other beings is in reality the same ‘divine Self’ with which we are also identical: We say, We should love our neighbour as ourselves. The Vedantist says, We should love our neighbours as our self, that is, we should love them not for what is merely phenomenal in them, for their goodness or beauty, or strength, or kindness, but for their soul, for the divine Self in all of them.65

Thus, as Müller sums it up, ‘we should love our neighbour, because in loving him we love God, and in loving God, we love ourselves’.66 It seems quite likely that Müller was inspired in this account of the ethical resources of Vedānta by his fellow countryman Paul Deussen, who was Professor of Philosophy at Kiel. Unlike Müller, who was never able to realise his ambition to visit India, Deussen toured the subcontinent and on 25 February 1893 he delivered a lecture to the Royal Asiatic Society in Bombay which contained the following lines: 63

 TLV: 168.  TLV: 168. 65  TLV: 168–9. 66  TLV: 170. 64

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The Gospels fix quite correctly as the highest law of morality: ‘love your neighbour as yourselves’. But why should I do so, since by the order of nature I feel pain and pleasure only in myself, not in my neighbour? The answer is not in the Bible (this venerable book being not yet quite free from Semitic realism), but it is in the Veda, is in the great formula, ‘tat tvam asi’, which gives in three words metaphysics and morals altogether. You shall love your neighbour as yourselves, – because you are your neighbour, and mere illusion makes you believe, that your neighbour is something different from yourselves.67

Müller’s letter of 22 March 1893 to the leader of the Theosophical Society, Colonel Olcott (1832–1907), shows that he had read Deussen’s lecture and that he heartily approved of its content as ‘a true account of Vedāntism’.68 Given that his lectures containing similar expressions were delivered the following year, it seems reasonable to assume that, consciously or otherwise and unacknowledged, Müller had gained this idea of the Vedāntic sources of ethics from Deussen. Although the probable influence of Deussen’s interpretation of Vedānta on Müller’s thought has not, to my knowledge, been remarked upon elsewhere, in an influential article of 1961, ‘Schopenhauer und die Ethik des Hinduismus’, Paul Hacker argues that, what he calls the ‘tat tvam asi ethic’ or the ‘pseudo-Vedāntic ethic’ entered modern Indian thought through its transmission from Deussen to Vivekananda. Deussen was a disciple of Arthur Schopenhauer, who attempted to build upon his master’s claim that Vedānta had anticipated his own moral philosophy. For Schopenhauer, the intuitive recognition that one’s ‘real inner being exists in every living being’ in the form of the will to live, is the source of compassion and thus of all morality. He perceived a primitive recognition of this in the Sanskrit formula tat tvam asi with its implication that the self, ‘you’, is God, ‘that’.69 In the remainder of this section I shall address Vivekananda’s attempts to formulate a moral philosophy on the basis of Vedānta with a view to placing his Vedāntic ethics in its proper historical context. Hacker’s article not only disputes the philosophical cogency of Vivekananda’s Vedāntic ethics, but claims that this aspect of his thought was largely derived from Deussen.70 This influence was allegedly the result of their meeting on 9 September 1896 when Deussen gave Vivekananda a copy of the lecture he had delivered three years earlier in Bombay which contained what Hacker calls the ‘tat tvam asi ethic’: ‘You shall love your

67

 Deussen (1894): 336.  LL2: 294. 69  Hacker (1995): 273–4. 70  In fairness to Hacker, he did amend his account in a later article to acknowledge other aspects of Vivekananda’s Vedāntic moral philosophy, but without revising his basic narrative regarding the derivative nature of Vivekananda’s ‘tat tvam asi’ ethic. Hacker (1978): 576–7; Halbfass (1995): 218. 68

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neighbour as yourselves, because you are your neighbour.’71 However, there are serious problems both with respect to the factual claims of Hacker’s argument regarding the chronology of Vivekananda’s adoption of tat tvam asi and with Hacker’s interpretation of Vivekananda’s philosophical position.72 Hacker alleges that ‘among those dated works [of Vivekananda’s] which contain the tat tvam asi ethic, none is dated earlier than September 1896’ and that this alongside similarities between their writings on this subject ‘should be enough to lead to the conclusion that [Vivekananda] learned the pseudo-Vedāntic ethic during his conversations with Paul Deussen’.73 In fact, on the basis of Burke’s painstaking chronicle of Vivekananda’s sojourn in the West, we can see that at least one of Vivekananda’s lectures which deals explicitly with the tat tvam asi ethic can be dated earlier than his conversation with Deussen.74 In the lecture, ‘The Spirit and Influence of the Vedanta’, which was originally entitled ‘The Vedanta: Its Practical Bearings; How it Differs from Other Philosophies’, Vivekananda proclaimed that ‘This expression of oneness is what we call love and sympathy, and it is the basis of all our ethics and morality. This is summed up in the Vedanta philosophy by the celebrated aphorism, Tat Tvam Asi, “Thou art That.”’75 This lecture took place at the Twentieth Century Club in Boston on 28 March 1896, more than five months before Vivekananda met with Deussen in Kiel and conclusively proves that Vivekananda did not gain knowledge of the tat tvam asi ethic in the manner described by Hacker.76  Hacker (1995): 296. The phrase ‘tat tvam asi’, translated by Vivekananda and Müller as ‘Thou art that’, first occurs in the Chandogya Upaniṣad (6.8.7–6.16.3) in which Uddālaka, a father, instructs Śvetaketu, his son, on the nature of existence. This phrase was understood by Müller and Vivekananda to support the Advaitic doctrine of the identification of the Self (Ātman) with the Absolute (Brahman). However, on the basis of Brereton’s work, Olivelle disputes that the phrase ‘tat tvam asi’ implies such an identification; instead he translates it as ‘that’s how you are’ and argues that ‘tat tvam asi’ merely ‘shows that Śvetaketu lives in the same manner as all other creatures, that is, by means of an invisible and subtle essence.’ Olivelle (1996): 349. Lipner argues against this revisionist translation: ‘Brereton concedes that the philosophical import of the passage may be represented by the translation, “That you are,” where tat as “that” would refer to the supreme Being, ... and this is in fact how most Vedāntin theologians have construed the refrain.’ Lipner (2000): 55, fn.9. 72  The distortions wrought by Hacker’s pronounced ideological bias towards Christianity and European philosophy in this article have been documented by Halbfass (1995) and need not detain us here. 73  Hacker (1995): 297. 74  Dermot Killingley has also queried Hacker’s claims as ‘inconclusive’ but does not provide firm evidence of Vivekananda’s awareness of the tat tvam asi ethic prior to his meeting with Deussen. Killingley (1998): 145–9. 75  CW1: 389. 76  It could certainly not have taken place any later in Boston since this was Vivekananda’s last engagement there. SVW2.2: 99. See also Baumfield (1991): 258. 71

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If it did not come from this meeting with Deussen in September 1896, how did Vivekananda’s development of a tat tvam asi ethic come about? It might be supposed that Vivekananda came across the pamphlet based on Deussen’s lecture on Hindu ethics – delivered in Bombay on 25 February 1893 and, according to Hacker, printed immediately – some time before this lecture in Boston, or that he even attended this lecture in Bombay. We can rule out the latter of these theories because, according to Chattopadhyaya’s detailed account of Vivekananda’s activities in India, he was travelling by train from Hyderabad to Madras on the date when Deussen delivered this lecture.77 Vivekananda certainly read the works of contemporary European writers on Indian philosophy with interest, as we can see from his remarks on reading Müller’s Three Lectures on the Vedānta Philosophy.78 There is some evidence that Vivekananda had encountered Deussen’s work – though not specifically the Bombay lecture – before meeting him, although, as we shall see, he disapproved of the German philosopher’s reliance upon Schopenhauer. It is also possible, and, as I will argue below, more likely, that he developed this view independently of Deussen and then perhaps used Deussen as learned support for his doctrine; hence the similarities pointed out by Hacker between the arguments in Vivekananda’s speeches after meeting Deussen and those in Deussen’s pamphlet.79 Hacker argues that, by contrast with Vivekananda’s lectures after his meeting with Deussen, Vivekananda’s earlier lectures display ‘the ancient Vedāntic moral relativism in an acute form’,80 where morality is merely a necessary means to the individual’s preparation for the path of knowledge. The passage he quotes in support of this view comes from Vivekananda’s class lectures on ‘Karma Yoga’, delivered in New York between 13 December 1895 and 1 February 1896: Why should we do good to the world? Apparently to help the world, but really to help ourselves. We should always try to help the world, that should be the highest motive in us; but if we consider well, we find that the world does not require our help at all ... The only help is that we get moral exercise. ... All good acts tend to make us pure and perfect ... Let us give up all this foolish talk of doing good to the world ... We must work and constantly do good, because it is a blessing to ourselves. That is the only way we can become perfect ... Be grateful to the man you help, think of him as God. Is it not a great privilege to be allowed to worship God by helping our fellow men? ... The world is a grand moral gymnasium wherein we all have to take exercise so as to become stronger and stronger spiritually.81

77

 Chattopadhyaya (1999): 112–13.  See Chapter 1. Cf. Baumfield (1991): 256. 79  Hacker (1995): 296–7. 80  Hacker (1995): 293. 81  CW1: 75, 76, 77, 80. 78

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It is strange that Hacker would choose this passage to demonstrate Vivekananda’s commitment to ‘Vedāntic moral relativism’, since if anything this earlier position seems to be closer to Ramakrishna’s scepticism of the value of worldly ethical engagement.82 This is further supported by Vivekananda’s claim in the same lecture that: There is a God in this universe. It is not true that this universe is drifting and stands in need of help from you and me. God is ever present therein. He is undying and eternally active and infinitely watchful. When the whole universe sleeps, He sleeps not; He is working incessantly; all the changes and manifestations of the world are His.83

Vivekananda’s metaphysical position here seems to be quite at odds with that of Advaita Vedānta, insofar as he assumes, like his master, an immanentist ontology where moral concern is redundant, since the world is completely suffused with and sanctified by the divine presence. This is quite different from denying, as an Advaitin might, the ultimate reality of the world and therefore assigning only a relative worth to the pursuit of moral ends for their own sake. Hacker claims that Vivekananda was, prior to his meeting with Deussen, committed to ‘moral relativism’ by his adherence to Advaita Vedānta, while after his meeting with Deussen he became converted to the view that through the principle of tat tvam asi the spiritual monism of Advaita could provide sound foundations for ethics. However, it is clear from the ‘Karma Yoga’ lectures that Vivekananda was not wholeheartedly committed to spiritual monism before his meeting with Deussen, but was instead also drawn to a view of God as immanent in the world.84 Furthermore, Vivekananda did not entirely abandon this immanentist theology, even after he had begun to use tat tvam asi as a basis for a Vedāntic ethics, as we can see from this exclamation in the lecture ‘God in Everything’, delivered in London on 27 October 1896: ‘So work, says the Vedānta, putting God in everything, and knowing Him to be in everything.’85 But instead of arguing as he did in the earlier lecture that moral behaviour is ultimately only useful as spiritual training, he claims here that it is through the knowledge that God is in everything that we can be motivated to work in the world. This argument is given an interpersonal ethical application in Vivekananda’s second class on ‘Practical Vedānta’ in which he proclaimed that: the ideal of Vedānta is to know man as he really is, and this is its message, that if you cannot worship your brother man, the manifested God, how can you worship 82

 Halbfass (1995): 218.  CW1: 80. 84  See Chapter 3. 85  CW2: 150. 83

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a God who is unmanifested? ... I shall call you religious from the moment that you begin to see God in men and women, and then you will understand what is meant by turning the left cheek to the man who strikes the right.86

This combination of Vedānta with immanentist metaphysics is clearly quite different from any attempt to establish the basis of morality upon the spiritual monism of Advaita Vedānta. While in spiritual monism the individual selves are ultimately illusory, and Hacker is arguably justified in questioning whether fellow feeling can be grounded in such an abstract idealism, on an immanentist view, God is really present in all things – a position which Hacker acknowledges could provide the basis for ethics.87 The continued presence of immanentism within Vivekananda’s moral philosophy suggests a more complex picture within which the integration of the tat tvam asi ethic seems a less implausible intrusion, but there are more reasons to question Hacker’s account of Vivekananda’s encounter with Schopenhauerian ethics. The broader thrust of Hacker’s argument in this article is that Vedānta is a priori incompatible with ethics, but that Schopenhauer, in seeking philosophical antecedents for his own moral philosophy, overlooked the fundamental incompatibility between his own volitional monism and the spiritual monism of Vedānta. On Hacker’s view, then, the tat tvam asi ethic, transmitted to modern India by Deussen via Vivekananda, constitutes a philosophical chimera eagerly and unquestioningly assimilated by ‘neo-Hindus’ desperate to prove the superiority of their religion. Hacker gracefully acknowledges Deussen’s awareness that Schopenhauer constructed his ethical system on metaphysical foundations different from those of Advaita Vedānta,88 but he does not extend the same benefit of the doubt to Vivekananda, whom he assumes to have naïvely borrowed Schopenhauer’s philosophy from Deussen blissfully unaware of its sources.89 There is strong evidence however that Vivekananda was quite aware that Schopenhauer’s monism of will was at odds with Advaita Vedānta’s monism of spirit. In a letter to his British supporter E.T. Sturdy, which dates from Vivekananda’s stay in New York towards the end of 1895, Vivekananda argued: 86

 London, 12 November 1896. CW2: 325–6.  ‘The ethical imperative arises from the belief that God is in the subject and in his neighbor, while the tat tvam asi ethic sees only two participants: the subject and his neighbor, who are identical with one another in their metaphysical essence.’ Hacker (1995): 283. 88  Hacker (1995): 278. 89  ‘From the historical point of view, the tat tvam asi ethic appears as a curiosity in the history of ideas: a European philosopher [Schopenhauer] imputes an association of ancient ideas to the ancient Indians; his posthumous disciple [Deussen] tries to justify his master’s notion, and presents his version of it to Indians in general and to a Hindu monk [Vivekananda] in particular; the European philosopher’s idea becomes widely accepted in India ....’ Hacker (1995): 305. 87

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Schopenhauer caught this idea of willing from the Buddhists. ... We [Advaitins] also admit that it is the cause of all manifestations which are in their turn its effects. But being a cause, it must be a combination of the Absolute and Maya. Even knowledge, being a compound, cannot be the Absolute itself, but it is the nearest approach to it, and higher than Vāsanā [the will], conscious or unconscious.90

Interestingly, Vivekananda also attacks Deussen in the same letter for arguing that the will rather than the Absolute represents the highest plane of reality: ‘Knowledge is action. First action, then reaction. When the mind perceives, then, as the reaction it wills. The will is in the mind. So it is absurd to say that will is the last analysis. Deussen is playing into the hands of the Darwinists.’91 This letter is further evidence against Hacker’s view that Vivekananda derived the tat tvam asi ethic from Deussen at their meeting in the summer of 1896, since we can presume that Vivekananda was already familiar enough with Deussen’s work beforehand to know that, due to their preference for volitional monism, neither he nor Schopenhauer could be relied upon as interpreters of Vedānta. His accusation that Deussen ‘is playing into the hands of the Darwinists’ is perhaps an indication that, for Vivekananda, a monism of will was unlikely to provide a sound basis for an ethics of compassion, but would instead embolden social Darwinists in their claims that the only moral code was the survival of the fittest. It should now be clear enough that the tat tvam asi ethic was not developed by Vivekananda on the basis of his conversation with Deussen on 9 September 1896, since not only can it be shown that Vivekananda had already spoken of tat tvam asi as ‘the basis of all our ethics’ in a lecture earlier that year, but it is also apparent that he was suspicious enough of Schopenhauer’s and Deussen’s interpretation of Vedānta to make it quite unlikely that he would have been naïvely receptive to their claims about the ethical resources of Vedāntic monism. However, the process by which Vivekananda arrived at the tat tvam asi ethic without directly borrowing from Deussen remains unexplained. It also remains to be seen whether Hacker’s argument that Vivekananda was a spiritual monist unthinkingly borrowing from a volitional monist can be challenged by a convincing explanation of why Vivekananda thought it was possible to reconcile interpersonal ethics with impersonal metaphysics. I shall now attempt to make a tentative resolution of these difficulties. Long before Deussen gave his lecture in Bombay there was a strong precedent established in modern Bengali thought for regarding individuation as the source of all egoism and immorality and for embracing the monism of Advaita Vedānta in defiance of the Anglo-Saxon ethic of individualism epitomised by Utilitarianism. Vivekananda must surely have been aware of this since it was an ideology expounded by his early philosophical mentor and classmate Brajendranath Seal in 90

 CW8: 362.  CW8: 362–3.

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the period of their friendship. It is worth revisiting a passage quoted in Chapter 1 to recollect how the latter described his youthful creed: The pure monism of the Vedanta, the dialectics of the Absolute idea of Hegel and the Gospel of the Equality, Liberty and Fraternity of the French Revolution. The principle of individuation was with me the principle of Evil.92

Seal may not have explicitly appealed to tat tvam asi as the basis for this neo-Vedāntic ethic, but this similar intuition that metaphysical unity is the basis of morality and fellow-feeling can be clearly seen in Vivekananda’s speeches prior to his specific use of the tat tvam asi ethic. See all as Self and love all; let all idea of separateness go. The diabolical man is a part of my body as a wound or a burn is.93

Vivekananda’s letters in the period just before he lectured on the tat tvam asi ethic for the first time in early 1896 demonstrate that he was at once immersing himself in Vedāntic texts and doing so with the specific aim of developing a modern interpretation of Vedānta with a strong ethical component. In a letter dated 4 April 1895 Vivekananda requested that his associate in Madras, Alasinga Perumal (1863–1909), ‘send me the Vedānta-Sutras and the Bhāshyas (commentaries) of all the sects’.94 This was clearly intended to assist him in the teaching of his classes on Vedānta which he had commenced in the beginning of 1895 in New York.95 In a later letter to Alasinga, dated 17 February 1896, he told of his mission to construct a morality from Advaita Vedānta: ‘the abstract Advaita must become living – poetic – in everyday life; out of hopelessly intricate mythology must come concrete moral forms’.96 This desire to find an ethic in Advaita, coupled with his intense immersion in Vedāntic thought through his reading of the central Vedāntic texts ‘of all the sects’ and the classes he subsequently taught, seems a likely source for the tat tvam asi ethic in Vivekananda’s thought.97 92  For further explanation of the relationship between Seal and Vivekananda see Chapter 1. Seal was not the only Brahmo to see Vedānta as the foundation for an antiindividualist ethic: Kopf (1979): 80–81; 272. 93  Speech delivered to American followers at Thousand Island Park, 6 August 1895. CW7: 103. 94  CW5: 77. Presumably referring to the Dvaita (dualistic) school of Madhva and the Viśiṣṭādvaita (‘non-duality of that which is qualified’) school of Rāmānuja, as well as the Shankarite tradition. See King (1999) for an overview of these Vedāntic exegetical traditions. 95  SVW1.2: 376. 96  CW5: 104. 97  Cf. Baumfield (1991), who argues that Vivekananda ‘borrowed (the tat tvam asi ethic) from the West’, proposing Müller and Vivekananda’s disciple, Sturdy, as possible sources in addition to Deussen: 262–3.

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In Chapter 1 I argued that while Vivekananda rejected Schopenhauer’s metaphysics in favour of the spiritual monism of Advaita Vedānta, he was willing to compromise something of the transcendence of the Absolute where ethics was concerned, even to the extent of attributing to it the characteristics of volition in the manner of Schopenhauer. If, as Hacker argues, the tat tvam asi ethic appealed to Schopenhauer because it could be understood, however erroneously, in terms of compassion arising from the intuitive recognition of the presence of will in all beings,98 then perhaps Vivekananda’s own leanings towards volitional monism in his moral philosophy might explain his formulation of this, in Hacker’s view, ‘pseudo-Vedāntic ethic’. In the lecture ‘Maya and Freedom’, delivered in London, in the autumn of 1896, Vivekananda expounded a conception of metaphysics in which it is the struggle towards freedom that has caused the manifestation of nature: Some inner voice tells us that we are free. But if we attempt to realise that freedom, to make it manifest, we find the difficulties almost insuperable. ... We are ethical when we follow that voice. Not only the human soul, but all creatures from the lowest to the highest have heard the voice and are rushing towards it; and in the struggle are either combining with each other or pushing each other out of the way. Thus come competition, joys, struggles, life, pleasure, and death, and the whole universe is nothing but the result of this mad struggle to reach the voice. This is the manifestation of nature.99

On this view, an ‘inner voice’ – a sort of ‘will to freedom’ – is present in every being and, through the compulsion of all individuals to struggle towards liberation, the universe as we experience it is created; or, to put it in more explicitly Schopenhauerian terms, the universe consists of a representation (or ‘manifestation’) which is the counterpart of the struggle of the will towards freedom. However, unlike Schopenhauer, Vivekananda denies the metaphysical priority of the will, since the culmination of this struggle to freedom lies in the realisation that the individual was never bound, but is in fact identical with the perfectly free Absolute. The end result is the same as that of traditional Advaita Vedānta: freedom comes through knowledge and realisation of a monism of spirit or consciousness, but the process by which one gets there owes more to a pastiche of Schopenhauer’s thought than it does to Advaita, since it is only through the struggle initiated by the presence of the will to freedom that this identity can be achieved: 98

 ‘If [Schopenhauer’s] thesis, that the essence of the world is will, were correct, the ethical use of tat tvam asi would indeed be a logically tenable consequence: “that”, which is the other, namely the metaphysical will, is also “thou”. For ethics are concerned with volition, and if my volition is identical with that of another, it is perhaps understandable that, by intuitively equating my own self with that of the other, I should act in his interest exactly as in my own.’ Hacker (1995): 277. 99  CW2: 125–6. SVW2.2: 354–5.

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As soon as we understand the voice, we see the reason why this struggle should be here ...; we see that they are in the nature of things, because without them there would be no going towards the voice, to attain which we are destined .... All human life, all nature, therefore, is struggling to attain to freedom. ... That freedom was your own nature, and this Maya never bound you. Nature never has power over you.100

This liberal reinterpretation of Advaita Vedānta seems to consist of a volitional monism subservient to and incorporated within a more traditional monism of spirit, where the will is required as the divine inner force impelling us onward in a struggle towards the liberating knowledge of Advaita. Although Vivekananda does not explicitly set out the tat tvam asi ethic in this lecture, the remark ‘we are ethical when we follow that voice’ is suggestive of a link between the volitional aspects of this monism and interpersonal ethics. This can be confirmed by considering again the crucial passage which proves the anteriority of Vivekananda’s articulation of the tat tvam asi ethic to his meeting with Deussen in its broader context. In this lecture it is clear that the same metaphysical conception which regards volitional monism as the means to identity with the absolute is the foundation for Vivekananda’s embrace of the tat tvam asi ethic. The ‘oneness’ of all beings which Vivekananda sees as the basis for ethics is not a fully accomplished identity with the Absolute, but the potential divinity which can only be realised through struggle: Each one of us has that infinite ocean of Existence, Knowledge and Bliss as our birthright, our real nature; and each of us is trying to manifest that infinite outside. ... Consciously or unconsciously, every man is trying to unfold that divinity. ... The Vedānta claims that there has not been one religious inspiration, one manifestation of the divine man, however great, but it has been the expression of that infinite oneness in human nature; and all that we call ethics and morality and doing good to others, is also but the manifestation of this oneness. There are moments when every man feels that he is one with the universe, and he rushes forth to express it, whether he knows it or not. This expression of oneness is what we call love and sympathy ... .101

It is thus the identity of beings willing and struggling to reach the Absolute, and their intuitive consciousness of oneness with the universe, that are the basis of the tat tvam asi ethic for Vivekananda, rather than the metaphysics of traditional Advaita which identifies an eternal unchanging self (ātman) with an utterly transcendent Absolute (Brahman). Vivekananda explicitly made the distinction between the ultimate supra-ethical state of one who has realised identity with the

100

 CW2: 126–7.  CW1: 388–9.

101

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Absolute on the one hand, and the subordinate yet still indispensable moral force of the struggle within māyā to realise this same identity on the other: Q: How does the Vedānta explain individuality and ethics? A: The real individual is the Absolute; this personalisation is through Māyā. It is only apparent; in reality it is always the Absolute. ... In reality there is one, but in Māyā it is appearing as many. ... Yet even in Māyā there is always the tendency to get back to the One, as expressed in all ethics and all morality of every nation, because it is the constitutional necessity of the soul. It is finding its oneness; and this struggle to find this oneness is what we call ethics and morality.102

There is a strong tendency in Vivekananda’s thought to valorise the idea of process and development as central to Vedānta; a view which, taken together with his immanent conception of divinity, allows for a more positive view of engagement in the world than would perhaps be possible for a more orthodox Advaitin. Within the limits of the phenomenal world, Vivekananda’s conception of Vedānta has real implications for the relationships between individuals, since they will come to recognise their underlying oneness as a principle guiding their behaviour even if, as individuated beings struggling towards freedom, they have yet to realise fully their oneness with the Absolute. In the phenomenal world, there really is a divine presence within every self worthy of moral consideration and even worship, and this is what guides all beings in the struggle towards freedom and oneness with the Absolute. Vivekananda nevertheless ultimately maintains the relativist Vedāntic view that there cannot be good or evil for the enlightened self, since there is then neither differentiation nor activity but only oneness with the Absolute. The integration of ‘the pure monism’ of Advaita Vedānta with an anti-individualist and anti-utilitarian ethics of compassion and fraternity might be offensive to an uncompromising historian of traditional Vedānta in the mould of Paul Hacker, but it seems to have appeared quite intuitive and respectable to Vivekananda and to some of his contemporaries, whether Deussen and Müller in Europe or Brajendranath Seal in India. Rather than evaluating their fidelity to an exegetical tradition with fundamentally different aims and procedures, it is perhaps more fruitful to seek to comprehend the context in which such ideas take hold and the sources from which they are formed. Vivekananda drew upon his knowledge of the commentaries and source texts of Vedānta with the aim of constructing a ‘practical’ morality out of an ‘abstract’ philosophy. The interpersonal ethics which he developed was obviously informed by his critical engagement with contemporary moral philosophy and idealist metaphysics, and manifests the influence of Schopenhauer’s volitional monism, but there is strong evidence to suggest that his tat tvam asi ethic was the product of independent thought, rather than of uncritical assimilation. 102  From Vivekananda’s responses in a question and answer session after his lecture at the Graduate Philosophical Society of Harvard University, 2 March 1896. CW5: 309–10.

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Conclusion The centrality of ethics in both Indian and European religious thought in the latter part of the nineteenth century emerged out of deep unease regarding the moral foundations of society. Müller and Vivekananda could hardly ignore this widespread anxiety and, from Müller’s integration of morality into his scholarly definition of religion to Vivekananda’s rousing declamation of the futility of Utilitarian moral standards, it thoroughly permeated their conceptions of religion. As Vedānta was so central to the religious thought of both Müller and Vivekananda, they inevitably felt moved to respond to criticisms that Hindu philosophy was good only for solipsistic contemplatives, not capable of fitting its adherents for moral engagement in the world. Müller appealed to the beneficial impact of belief in karma and rebirth, as well as likening Shankara’s moral philosophy to that of Kant, but at times deferred to the view that Vedānta failed to foster the ‘manly’ qualities favoured by Victorian moralists. Nevertheless, Müller did offer an important endorsement of the ethical potential of Vedāntic metaphysics in the form of the ‘tat tvam asi ethic’, which he may very possibly have borrowed from his compatriot and Indological colleague Paul Deussen. In this attempt to derive the foundation of interpersonal ethics from the Upaniṣadic formula which identifies the individual self with Brahman, Müller drifted away from his assiduous attempts to present faithfully Shankara’s doctrines of Advaita Vedānta. The temptation to overstate the ethical dimension of Vedānta must have been almost irresistible, given Müller’s stated desire to his audience ‘to claim the sympathy not only of your mind, but of your heart’ for this philosophy.103 There would be little prospect of claiming the sympathy of a Victorian audience’s minds, not to mention their hearts, with a metaphysics which offered no support for a this-worldly morality. Although it would be possible to write at much greater length on Vivekananda’s ‘Practical Vedānta’, I have restricted my argument to the fundamentals, namely his attempt to establish the non-dualism of Vedānta as the only reasonable basis for morality using an elaborate development of the ‘tat tvam asi ethic’. I have done so partly for reasons of space, but largely because further elaboration would add little to my claim that secular conceptions of morality were overriding concerns in the treatments of Vedānta offered by both of our protagonists. This point is demonstrated clearly enough by Vivekananda’s usage of the same Vedāntic ethic as Müller and Deussen, but it is illustrated even more thoroughly when we recall that Vivekananda almost certainly did not derive this argument directly from Deussen, but developed instead a tendency already present in Bengali thought to regard Vedānta as the source for an ethics of unity and compassion in opposition to rampant individualism.

103

 TLV: 7.

Chapter 5

Ramakrishna, Vedānta and the Essence of Hinduism Whoever could have thought that the life of and teaching of a boy born of poor Brāhmin parents in a wayside Bengal village would, in a few years, reach such distant lands as our ancestors never even dreamed of?1

In the preceding chapters we have explored ideas of religion and Vedānta as expressed by Müller and Vivekananda with a focus on their close intellectual affinities; this final chapter considers the one project on which our two protagonists collaborated, namely, their attempt to promote knowledge of Vivekananda’s late guru, Sri Ramakrishna (1836–86), in the English-speaking world. In the figure of Ramakrishna, I shall claim, Müller and Vivekananda both saw a modern-day exemplar of authentic Hinduism; a tradition which in their eyes was grounded in the ancient philosophy of the Upaniṣads, or Vedānta. There is something approaching a consensus among scholars of Vivekananda and Ramakrishna that the disciple Vivekananda’s interpretation of his guru Ramakrishna was at least the product of very different concerns and ideology from those of the latter, with some arguing that Vivekananda’s teachings distort or even contradict those of his master.2 Unsurprisingly, a rather different view is taken in the works produced by members and supporters of the religious organisation founded by Vivekananda (the Ramakrishna Mission); for them he was the first to understand the full significance of Ramakrishna for India and the world.3 The premises upon which these irreconcilable positions have been formulated not only often ignore the fact that Vivekananda was not solely responsible for presenting Ramakrishna to the Anglophone world, but they also distract us from the more interesting and constructive task of investigating the assumptions which underlay his interpretation of his master. The first section of this chapter 1  From Vivekananda’s article ‘On Professor Max Müller’, which was first published in the Brahmavadin, 6 June 1896. CW4: 279. 2  Matchett (1981); Rosselli (1978); Sil (1998). Cf. Sarkar (1997): 291: ‘Vivekananda, however, must not be reduced to a mere series of inversions of Ramakrishna, for the shifts were related to the opening up of dimensions virtually unknown to his master.’ For an overview of scholarly debates around Vivekananda’s interpretation of Ramakrishna see Beckerlegge (2000): 27–51. 3  For instance: ‘No one could so correctly understand and express, as [Vivekananda] did, the import of the Master’s wise words and extraordinary actions.’ Saradananda (1978): 939–41.

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shall be concerned with explaining the process by which Ramakrishna became a central figure in the Vedāntic interpretation of religion championed by his disciple Vivekananda. The second section of this chapter attempts to reconstruct Müller’s role in the interpretation of Ramakrishna and in doing so also aims to shed further light on Vivekananda’s intentions. Firstly, this reassessment steers us away from crediting or blaming Vivekananda alone for the image of Ramakrishna received by contemporary audiences, since the writings on Ramakrishna of an internationally recognised scholar and public intellectual such as Müller would have carried far more weight than those of the then relatively obscure Vivekananda. Secondly, by reconsidering Vivekananda’s depiction of Ramakrishna in the context of his cooperation with Müller we can discern the shared assumptions and motivations which underlay both of their efforts to inform the Anglosphere of Ramakrishna. We can then consider Vivekananda’s ‘Ramakrishna’ to be like Müller’s, an attempt to grasp the significance of a figure embedded in a traditional Hindu milieu from the perspective of a mind which conceived of religion through the lenses of secular modernity. Ramakrishna and Hindu Universalism While there are numerous approaches one could adopt in a discussion of Ramakrishna and Vivekananda, my aim here is neither to provide a detailed biographical account of Vivekananda’s encounter with Ramakrishna and its effects on his intellectual development, nor to analyse Vivekananda’s works at length with a view to teasing out affinities or conflicts with the words of his master.4 Instead my objective in this section is to determine how Ramakrishna was incorporated into the secularising universalist ideology which brings Vivekananda so close to the intellectual world inhabited by Müller. This aspect of Vivekananda’s response to Ramakrishna is not the whole story, as I hope I make clear, but it can shed important light both on how Vivekananda went about formulating his message to diverse audiences and on the underlying affinities which allowed him to combine forces so readily with Müller.5 Although Vivekananda’s connection to Ramakrishna is far more obvious than Müller’s – the former was amongst the band of young male disciples 4

 Examples of works which consider the influence of Ramakrishna on Vivekananda, or which claim a general discontinuity between their views have been mentioned above, but there have also been works which explore more specific issues from social service Beckerlegge (1986) to caste Mukherjee (1987). See also Chapter 1. 5  Vivekananda’s letters testify to a mood of passive introspection and child-like devotion alongside his more rationalist and activist character, especially towards the end of his life; tensions which seem to have been widespread in late nineteenth-century Bengal, Sarkar (1993): 20–22; and with particular reference to Vivekananda, 76–80.

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whom Ramakrishna gathered around himself during his last years – determining what exactly Ramakrishna meant for Vivekananda is far from straightforward. His speeches before large audiences in America, England and India generally presented Ramakrishna as the proponent of a Vedāntic universal religion, with a greater emphasis on his universality in the West and a greater emphasis on his redemption of Hinduism in India. However, accounts such as Sil’s which suggest that Vivekananda was primarily responsible for, and wholly committed to, the representation of Ramakrishna as ‘a Vedantist prophet of the highest caliber’6 are in need of revision on two counts: firstly, because Vivekananda was more tentative and conflicted in his own understanding of Ramakrishna than he is often given credit for; and, secondly, because as I shall show in the second half of this chapter, Müller himself promoted the idea of Ramakrishna as a Vedantist and not only because of the influence of Vivekananda. In a conversation with his disciple Sharat Chandra Chakravarti (1876–1938), which probably took place in 1898,7 Vivekananda made a revealing admission of his inability to truly comprehend and express Ramakrishna’s teaching: Can you compare him with the ordinary person [jīb]? He has mastered [sādhan kare] all the different views, and shown us that they all take us to one truth [tattva]. Could you or I do what he has he done? Who exactly he is and how great, that none of us even now has been able to understand. For this reason, I don’t talk about him anywhere and everywhere. Only he understood what he really was. Only that body of his looked human, but his behaviour, etc., were non-human [amānuṣik]. I scarcely understand him. He appears to be so great that when I begin to say anything about him I am afraid in case I distort the truth [satyer apalāp hay], in case that little power of mine is not sufficient, in case I fail in trying to praise [baṛa karte] him and diminish him by painting his picture after my own fashion [tā̐r chabi āmār ḍhaṅge e̐ke].8

The fact that Vivekananda uttered these words after he had already made speeches presenting his master to audiences in America, Britain and his homeland as the prophet of a universal religion and a new India perhaps implies that he felt regretful for having misrepresented Ramakrishna. As van der Veer has argued, it would have been impossible for Vivekananda to convey the actual practices and teachings of Ramakrishna within such a universalist 6

 Sil (1998): 213.  Vivekananda’s references to Sister Nivedita, who arrived in Calcutta in 1898, and to the need to establish a Math (monastic centre) for the training of young sannyasis (a project which was only brought to fruition in 1901) in the previous dialogue, suggests that this dialogue took place around this time. 8   BR9: 92; CW5: 389–90. 7

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framework, but this does not mean that Vivekananda was completely unaware that he was ‘painting [Ramakrishna] after his own fashion’.9 It may be that the very inexpressibility of his guru gave Vivekananda the licence to interpret him in a manner which emphasised his symbolic significance above the more complex and potentially controversial aspects of Ramakrishna’s beliefs and practices. The story of Narendranath Datta’s10 adoption of Ramakrishna as his spiritual guide, and, more generally, the source of Ramakrishna’s appeal to the educated middle classes of Calcutta have been the subject of numerous works, so the briefest of retellings should suffice.11 In circumstances which have been disputed,12 Naren seems to have been first introduced to Ramakrishna in late 1881 or early 1882, but was initially wary of the latter’s friendly overtures, regarding him as idolatrous and possibly insane.13 After the deaths in 1884 of his father and Keshab Chandra Sen, which, respectively, plunged his family into financial ruin and left one of the Brahmo factions he had been involved with rudderless and divided, Naren seems to have overcome the last vestiges of scepticism to become a favourite amongst Ramakrishna’s young disciples. This relationship would not last long, however, as Ramakrishna died in 1886, at which point, Naren assumed the leadership of his gurubhais (guru-brothers). There seem to have been two interlinked aspects of Ramakrishna’s religiosity which particularly appealed to those like Naren who were connected with Keshab Chandra Sen’s faction of the Brahmo Samaj. As I noted in Chapter 1, Naren approached Ramakrishna searching for a man who had ‘seen’ God, an enquiry obviously grounded in the Brahmo ideal of direct religious inspiration as opposed to dependence on scriptural revelation or theological reasoning. Ramakrishna’s devaluation of bookish learning and theological dispute and his capacity to enter effortlessly into trance-like mystical states may have been comprehensible within traditional expectations of the holy man or sādhu, but they would be granted a grander significance by men convinced that religion was above all a matter of individual ‘realisation’.14 Ramakrishna’s mystical ‘experiments’ – with different paths within the Hindu fold, but also, and most significantly for his Brahmo admirers, with Islam and Christianity – arose from this experientialist approach to religion. The importance of these syncretic experiments for the Brahmos and for Vivekananda is attested to by the enthusiastic and disproportionate approbation they received despite their 9

 van der Veer (2001): 72.  Narendranath Datta was Vivekananda’s birth-name. See Introduction, note 44. 11  See for instance, Eastern and Western Disciples (1949); Schneiderman (1969); Rosselli (1978); Gupta (1974); Sarkar (1985); Sarkar (1991); Sarkar (1993); Chatterjee (1993); Raychaudhuri (1999); Sen (2001). 12  Chattopadhyaya (1999): 42–3; Eastern and Western Disciples (1949): 31. 13  Eastern and Western Disciples (1949): 76–83. 14  See De Michelis (2004): Chapter 4. ‘Realisation’ was also at the centre of Vivekananda’s ‘science of religion’: see Chapter 2. 10

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very limited duration and questionable profundity.15 This is how Vivekananda later described Ramakrishna’s encounters with other faiths: The next desire that seized upon the soul of this man was to know the truth about the various religions. Up to that time he had not known any religion but his own. He wanted to understand what other religions were like. So he sought teachers of other religions. By teachers you must always remember what we mean in India, not a bookworm, but a man of realisation, one who knows truth at first hand and not through an intermediary. He found a Mohammedan saint and placed himself under him; he underwent the disciplines prescribed by him, and to his astonishment found that when faithfully carried out, these devotional methods led him to the same goal he had already attained. He gathered similar experiences from following the true religion of Jesus the Christ.16

It is not only that Ramakrishna can be thus interpreted as attesting to the cherished Brahmo ideal of the unity of all religions, but he does so in the form of direct experience with a ‘man of realisation’ and affirms the truth of other religions not on the basis of doctrine but through mystical insight achieved by following established ‘methods’. Understood in this way, Ramakrishna begins to resemble the holy grail of the ‘Bengal Renaissance’, the phenomenon Rabindranath Tagore and Brajendranath Seal, among others, named ‘the Universal Man’, who unifies all religions and all forms of spiritual culture within himself.17 Keshab seems to have sometimes aspired to such a state himself, while he along with other more eclectic Brahmos saw the ‘Oriental Christ’ uniting Europe and Asia as the embodiment of such an ideal.18 From a sharply opposed proto-nationalist position, the novelist Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay seems to have interpreted Krishna as a figure who embodies the universal ideal of Hinduism and demonstrates the perfection of human virtues.19 While Krishna’s historicity, pace Bankim, was open to doubt20 and Christ was tainted by association with India’s increasingly unpopular British rulers, Ramakrishna’s spiritual virtuosity could be confirmed by anyone who made the trip to Dakshineshwar. Not only that, but in an increasingly nationalist climate,  His Islamic sadhāna was overseen by a Hindu convert to Sufi Islam and his Christian sadhāna was provoked by a vision of Christ, neither lasting for more than a few days. Nevertheless, if the intensity of one’s experience is taken as the crucial measure, then it is possible to believe that this was enough for Ramakrishna to have grasped the fullest insight into Islam and Christianity. Saradananda (1978): 298–300, 338–41; Sarkar (1997): 323–5. These episodes were also referred to admiringly by Müller in RM: 319. 16  ‘My Master’ (see below for more information on this lecture). CW4: 173–4. 17  Tagore (1931); Seal (1933). See Kopf (1975). 18  Kopf (1979): 268–76. 19  Kaviraj (1995): 80–81, 86–7. 20  CW1: 438. 15

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Ramakrishna offered the prospect of a universalism rooted in the soil of Bengal which confirmed the superiority of tolerant Hinduism. While it would take some time for Vivekananda to articulate a clear vision of Ramakrishna as the Hindu Universal Man, this emphasis on realisation and catholicity as the basis for Hindu universalism is the underlying ideology which enabled ex-Brahmos like Naren to accept an otherwise deeply traditional sādhu as their spiritual guide.21 Despite Naren having seen ‘the ideal human being’, as he would refer to Ramakrishna three years after his death in a letter to the Benares pandit Pramadadas Mitra (one of several mentors in this period), this encounter with the Universal Man does not seem to have yielded a clear sense of mission. The lack of any sense of direction was a source of frustration and self-doubt for Naren in the difficult years after the death of his guru: My belief in the blessed hand of God [īśvarer maṅgalahaste biśvas] has not left me, and it will not leave me, and my belief also in the scriptures does not waver. But, by the will of God, for the last 5–7 years, my life has become very full of struggles ... . I have received the ideal scripture. I have seen with my own eyes the ideal human being [ādarśa manuṣya]. And yet I cannot accomplish anything by myself in a full manner. This is such a great misery [atyanta kaṣṭa].22

The root of the problem faced by Vivekananda was that his conversion at the feet of Ramakrishna was achieved not through rational assent, but through personal example and his induction into mystical states which transcended reason. In a talk entitled ‘My Master’ which he gave in different forms to groups of his supporters in New York and London in 1896, Vivekananda told of the transformation that Ramakrishna had worked in his own religious development: It is not what is spoken, much less the language that it is spoken in, but it is the personality of the speaker which dwells in everything he says that carries weight.23 I have read about Buddha and Christ and Mohammed, about all those different luminaries of ancient times, how they would stand up and say, ‘Be thou whole’, and the man became whole. I now found it to be true, and when I myself saw this man, all scepticism was brushed aside.24

This is a rather simplified account of the gradual process by which he came to regard this eccentric sādhu as a man intoxicated by the real presence of God, instead of dismissing him as a rustic lunatic;25 nevertheless, it serves to reveal the 21

 Sarkar (1997): 325.  Letter to Pramadadas Mitra, 8 July 1889. BR: 226; CW6: 206. 23  CW4: 178. 24  CW4: 179. 25  See note 133 of this chapter. 22

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degree to which Vivekananda considered his salvation to have been the result of an encounter with an inspired ‘personality’, rather than conversion to a coherent religious doctrine. How then to express the significance of Ramakrishna to a world lacking the benefit of such first-hand experience? There is an important distinction to be made in Vivekananda’s works between his transmission of (what he took to be) Ramakrishna’s teachings and his explanation of his master’s significance as a figure in world religious history. This was a distinction not lost on Vivekananda himself as we can see from this entreaty in a Bengali letter to his brother disciples to teach the principles taught by Ramakrishna, rather than spreading knowledge of their master: Always keep in mind, that the Lord [Ramakrishna] Paramahamsa, came for the benefit of the world [jagater kalyāṇer] – not for name or fame. Propagate what he came to teach and nothing else. No need to mention his name – that will look after itself! [If you think] by saying ‘our guru must be honoured’ that you’ll get a following, and everything else will take care of itself – no way!26

In the early stages of his visit to America, Vivekananda followed his own advice and did not seek to promote knowledge of Ramakrishna in his lectures, even when presented with a golden opportunity at the World’s Parliament of Religions in Chicago.27 There is not a single word in the Chicago addresses about his master, whom he would describe later as ‘[a] man whose whole life was a Parliament of Religions’.28 If Vivekananda had already developed a message with Ramakrishna at the centre, then we would expect his guru to feature significantly in these addresses as the foremost exemplar of the ‘religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance’.29 Nevertheless, the influence of Ramakrishna’s religious pluralism can in fact be seen more clearly in these early speeches, as his paraphrase of the Bhagavadgītā in his first speech in Chicago indicates: ‘all men are struggling through paths which in the end lead to me’.30 If Vivekananda initially advised his brother disciples to concentrate on spreading Ramakrishna’s message rather than his name and adopted this policy himself during the early part of his sojourn in America, then what had changed by the time he began discussing Ramakrishna in front of American and British audiences in 1896? In Chapter 3 we noted how Advaita Vedānta became central to Vivekananda’s teachings from towards the end of his second year in America and in Chapter 4 we saw how at around the same time he was reading Vedāntic texts with a view to 26

 New York, 25 September 1894, BR7: 6; CW6: 274.  Although, according to an article in the Boston Evening Transcript, 30 September 1893, he does seem to have distributed pamphlets about Ramakrishna in Boston, CW3: 472. 28  Vivekananda used this phrase in a speech in Calcutta in 1897. CW3: 315. 29  ‘Response to Welcome’, Chicago, 11 September 1893, CW1: 3. 30  Italics in original, CW1: 4; Bhagavadgītā: 7.21–2. Cf. Sarkar (1997): 325. 27

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constructing ‘concrete ethical forms’ on the basis of Advaita; it would seem that in this same period beginning in the autumn of 1894 Vivekananda became convinced that presenting Ramakrishna to the world was as important as conveying his master’s teachings. In these other examples we can observe the formulation of a more assertive universalist Hindu ideology centred on Advaita Vedānta and, while acknowledging that Vivekananda did not normally present Ramakrishna as an Advaitin, I shall argue that the same is true of Vivekananda’s presentation of Ramakrishna. Throughout this time Vivekananda was in frequent contact with the other disciples of Ramakrishna and with his own small band of supporters in Madras. This correspondence, in Bengali and English respectively, shows that they were becoming deeply engaged with the question of how to present Ramakrishna to India and the world. Vivekananda guided Alasinga Perumal, the editor in Madras of the affiliated neo-Vedānta journal, the Brahmavadin, in the composition of a life of Ramakrishna in English as early as November 1894 and clearly had his eye on a global audience: ‘Avoid all irregular indecent expressions about sex etc…, because other nations think it is the height of indecency to mention such things, and his life in English is going to be read by the whole world. I read a Bengali life sent over. It is full of such words.’31 Although Vivekananda developed this bowdlerised and universalised interpretation of Ramakrishna while he was living in America and Britain, it was not developed solely to suit a Western audience. As well as censoring his guru’s sayings to fit Victorian sensibilities, Vivekananda was also engaging with questions which had more relevance to an Indian audience; for example, he advised his gurubhai Ramakrishnananda in a Bengali letter of 1895 that ‘it is not necessary to preach that Ramakrishna Paramahamsa is an avatar’32 and encouraged Ramakrishnananda and another gurubhai, Brahmananda, to portray the period beginning with Ramakrishna’s birth as a Satya Yuga or ‘golden age’ in India’s history.33 However, what is most distinctive about these interchanges is not their discussions of censorship and the niceties of hagiography, but the development of a conception of Ramakrishna’s significance which went beyond reverence for his teaching and exemplary spiritual life to attribute to him a universal salvific mission and proclaim him as the embodiment and explanation of the entirety of both Hindu and foreign scriptures. In various letters to his brother disciples Vivekananda elaborated this hyperbolic interpretation of Ramakrishna:

31  CW5: 53. The ‘Bengali life’ refers to his cousin Ram Datta’s Śrīśrīrāmakṛṣṇa Paramahaṃsadeber Jīvanvṛttānta published in 1890. Sil (1997): 103–4. Presumably these ‘words’ referred to bodily functions and sex, subject matter which audiences in nineteenthcentury Britain and America might well have felt uncomfortable with. 32  BR7: 111; CW6: 310. 33  CW6: 318, 327–8.

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Is [Ramakrishna] the Lord of India only? That small-mindedness [saṅkīrṇa bhāber] has been the cause of India’s downfall [adhaḥpatana], and until [this idea] has been destroyed, her welfare [kalyāṇ] is impossible.34 In the Ramakrishna Avatar [Ramakṛṣṇābatār] there is knowledge, devotion and love – infinite knowledge, infinite love, infinite activity, infinite compassion for living beings. You have not yet been able to understand him. ... What the whole Hindu race has thought in ages He lived in one life. His life is the living commentary to the Vedas of all the nations.35

Ramakrishna’s teaching urging the tolerance of different religious paths as equally valid paths to God had been edged aside by the grander vision of him as the saviour of the world and the living commentary on all religious texts. The first speech in which Vivekananda talked at length about Ramakrishna, entitled ‘My Master’, and delivered to an audience in New York on 23 February 1896, clearly manifests this new interpretation of Ramakrishna.36 Vivekananda began this lecture by arguing that, because of Ramakrishna, India was set to shift the course of world history from a materialistic path to a spiritual path: ‘The power has been set in motion which, at no distant date, will bring unto mankind once more the memory of its real nature; and again the place from which this power will start will be Asia.’37 Although Vivekananda went on to describe the life and teachings of his master to his audience he only did so once he had established the framework within which he believed Ramakrishna’s life should be understood: ‘I am going to present before you the life of one man who has put in motion such a wave in India. But before going into the life of this man, I will try to present before you the secret of India, what India means.’38 This ‘secret’ of what India ‘means’ is what Vivekananda calls ‘spirituality’, more specifically, a commitment to the renunciation of anything which stands between the devotee and the ‘realisation’ of the divine. Ramakrishna stands for Vivekananda as the living proof of the vitality and invincibility of that spiritual essence which represents the core of Indian civilisation and which is at the same time vital to the future well-being of the world: ‘The more such men are produced in a country, the more that country will be raised; and that country where such men 34

 Letter to Ramakrishnananda, early 1895, BR7: 169; CW6: 331.  Italicised section in English in original. Letter to Brahmananda, USA, 1895. BR7: 73; CW6: 320. 36  Unfortunately in The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda this New York lecture has been combined with a lecture delivered in England in ‘late November or early December’. Burke argues that passages which deal with ‘Indian customs’ and ‘Ramakrishna’s practice of various religions and his conclusions regarding their underlying unity and identity of goal are from the England lecture’: SVW2.1: 531–3. 37  CW4: 154. 38  CW4: 156. 35

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do not exist is simply doomed, nothing can save it.’39 Since the example of the life of Ramakrishna and the power which he had set in motion could produce people of such high spiritual character, Vivekananda believed that his British and American audiences could not afford to ignore the message of his master. Finally, Vivekananda set out what he saw as the mission of Ramakrishna to the world: ‘To proclaim and make clear the fundamental unity underlying all religions.’40 There has been a definite shift here from the earlier message that all faiths are different yet equally viable paths to the same goal towards a theology of religions where all religions have the same underlying essence which has been rediscovered by Ramakrishna.41 Although Vivekananda does not explicitly mention Vedānta in this lecture, it is quite clear that Vivekananda also believed that the principles unifying all religions were taught exclusively by Vedānta. For instance he asserted that ‘Vedānta ... preaches the principle which is the background of every religion and of which all the prophets and saints and seers are but illustrations and manifestations.’42 The figure of Ramakrishna that Vivekananda now represented to these foreign audiences seems to play the same role as Vedānta in his philosophy of religion – indeed to be almost interchangeable with it – as the basis for the understanding of the true nature of all religions and demonstration of their unity. While in these first lectures on Ramakrishna his identification with Vedānta was largely implicit, later lectures would make quite clear that Ramakrishna’s life – crucially, his life, not his teachings – should be interpreted as the explanation of a theology of religions with Advaita Vedānta at the top: Then came one whose life was the explanation, whose life was the working out of the harmony that is the background of all the different sects of India, I mean Ramakrishna Paramahamsa. It is his life that explains that both of these [dualism and non-dualism] are necessary, that they are like the geocentric and the heliocentric theories in astronomy. When a child is taught astronomy, he is taught the geocentric first ... but when he comes to finer points of astronomy, the heliocentric will be necessary, and he will understand it better. Dualism is the natural idea of the senses.43

It is thus not so much that Vivekananda attributed Vedāntic teachings to Ramakrishna, but rather that Ramakrishna became a symbolic embodiment of this Vedāntic Hindu universalism in his public lectures. This interpretation of Ramakrishna drew heavily on the concept of the avatar, where God comes down to earth at a moment of crisis to re-establish true religion. 39

 CW4: 187.  CW4: 187. 41  See Chapter 2. 42  ‘Religion: its methods and purpose’, 14 May 1896. CW6: 17; SVW2.2: 181. 43  ‘The Vedanta in All its Phases’, Calcutta, 1897. CW3: 348–9. 40

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Vivekananda’s description of Ramakrishna in the ‘My Master’ lecture as a ‘power set in motion’ is a subtle way of attributing to his master a status far beyond that of an ordinary religious teacher, hence his quotation of a famous passage from the Bhagavadgītā to signal a parallel between Ramakrishna and Krishna: ‘“Whenever virtue subsides and vice prevails, I come down to help mankind.”’44 Although Vivekananda may not have always looked kindly on the promotion of Ramakrishna-worship by other disciples, this idea of Ramakrishna as an avatar transforming world history became a key device in his explanation of Ramakrishna’s global significance.45 In the article ‘Hindu religion and Sri Ramakrishna’, written in Bengali (probably in 1897), Vivekananda repeatedly pressed the claim that his guru had a divine mission of salvation: [T]he Lord Sri Ramakrishna came down as an avatar [abatīrna haiyachen] for the benefit of humankind to display himself as a living exemplar [udāharaṇ] of the essence [svarūp] of the Sanātana Dharma [Eternal Religion] before the eyes of the world, having embedded in his own life the essence of this universal, perennial, and worldwide Sanātana Dharma.46

Speaking of Ramakrishna in such an abstract manner as the embodied ‘essence’ of India’s spirituality allowed him to fit him into a historical narrative where India had been, and always would be, continually reminded of her true nature and vocation as the land of spirituality with a mission to bring religion to the world by the intervention in history of divine providence.47 After returning to India in 1897 from his four years in America and Britain, Vivekananda first began to speak about his Master before Indian audiences. While there were elements of Vivekananda’s portrayal of Ramakrishna directed specifically at his compatriots, in particular those captivated by the nationalist 44  CW4: 154; Bhagavadgītā: 4.7. Too subtle it would seem for his brother disciples who challenged him: ‘Why did you never openly preach Ramakrishna as an avatar in those [other] countries [odeśe]?” Vivekananda’s response was to argue that the scientism of Western audiences made such proclamations inadvisable, BR9: 12/ CW6: 465. 45  In a letter to Shivananda, written in 1894, Vivekananda wrote ‘Dude [bhāyā]! I have not the slightest doubt that Ramakrishna Paramahamsa is the daddy of God [bhagabāner bābā]!’, but then a year later he explained that ‘“Avatar” means those who have attained the state of Brahmanhood, or who are liberated whilst living. I’m not able to see what is unique about an avatar. In time all living beings from [the god] Brahmā to the most inert things will achieve liberation whilst alive.’ First quotation: BR7: 50; CW7: 483; second quotation: BR7: 111; CW6: 311. 46  This article was originally published in Bengali as ‘Hindudharma ki?’ (‘What is Hinduism?’) in the journal Udbodhan in 1901 and is reprinted in the Bengali works of Vivekananda as ‘Hindudharma o Srī Rāmakṛṣṇa’, BR6: 4; CW6: 183–4. 47  There are also shades of Thomas Carlyle’s ‘Great Man’ theory of history in some of his descriptions of Ramakrishna: ‘The waves of religious thought rise and fall, and on the topmost one stands the “prophet of the period.”’ CW7: 24.

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zeitgeist of the 1890s, there were also continuities between these statements and the image of Ramakrishna which Vivekananda presented in America and in the account which he passed on to Müller in 1896. This suggests that he did not regard the spiritual and moral crisis of contemporary India as wholly different from that of America and Britain: Such renunciation [that of Ramakrishna] is necessary in these days when men have begun to think that they cannot live a month without what they call their ‘necessities’ … [and] a man should arise to demonstrate to the sceptics of the world that there yet breathes a man who does not care a straw for all the gold or all the fame that is in the universe.48

Vivekananda thus saw materialism as one of the dangers inherent in modern life in both its Western and Indian manifestations. Ramakrishna’s example of a man who disdained such things was just as valuable in New York as it was in Calcutta. In the responses Vivekananda gave to his rapturous welcomes across India we can see the symbolic importance of Ramakrishna for Vivekananda’s attempts to create a national religious revival through a universal religious mission. In his homecoming address delivered in Calcutta in 1897, Vivekananda proclaimed the vital significance of his master for the future of the Hindu nation: It seemed that we were going to change this theme in our national life, that we were trying to replace a spiritual by a political backbone. And if we could have succeeded, the result would have been annihilation. But it was not to be. So this power became manifest. I do not care in what light you understand this great sage ..., but I challenge you face to face with the fact that here is a manifestation of the most marvellous power that [there] has been for several centuries in India, and it is your duty as Hindus to study this power, to find what has been done for the regeneration, for the good of India, and for the good of the whole human race through it. Ay, long before ideas of universal religion and brotherly feeling between different sects were mooted and discussed in any country in the world, here, in sight of this city, had been living a man whose whole life was a Parliament of Religions.49

Rather than adopting an exclusivist and parochial view of Ramakrishna when he was in India, Vivekananda proclaimed that this ‘power’ would work through India for the entire human race. However, it was the Hindus who needed to find unity and a sense of a national mission through the harmonising example of Ramakrishna. This ‘power’ allowed Hindus to seize upon the ‘ideas of universal religion and brotherly feeling between different sects’ as Hindu principles which proved the superiority 48

 From the ‘My Master’ speech delivered in London or New York (see above). CW4: 184. 49  CW3: 314–15.

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of their religion. Ramakrishna also demonstrated that India was still the land of religion and spirituality which could not therefore be developed along the utilitarian principles which had become associated with rationalist Brahmo reformers.50 Vivekananda’s argument that Ramakrishna had the power to unify the multifarious Hindu traditions behind a single national purpose was never systematically developed, but it was based on the belief that his master had embraced all of the different philosophies and practices of the Hindus and, more controversially, that these various Hindu traditions could only be truly understood through the life of Ramakrishna. In a Bengali letter to Ramakrishnananda dating from the beginning of 1895, Vivekananda advised that the work which his fellow disciples were planning to publish for the propagation of Ramakrishna’s teachings should contain the following points: Anything that all the avatars, plus the Veda and Vedānta, have accomplished, He has realised [kare dekhiye gechen] by Himself in a single life. Without understanding His life, it is not possible to understand the Veda, Vedānta, avatars and so on – why not? [Because], He was the explanation! From the day He was born the satya-yuga has commenced. From now on all discrimination [bhedābhede] is abolished and even outcastes [ācaṇḍāla] will receive [His] love [prem].51

Thus Ramakrishna became the source of an egalitarian universal religion which meant that the lowest castes would no longer be prevented from accessing the spiritual truths of Vedānta. The sources of religious knowledge which were previously restricted to the Brahmin priesthood could now be understood by all through the life of a single man. This would mean that the caste-system would no longer present an obstacle to the unification of the Hindu nation on religious lines.52 Vivekananda’s representation of Ramakrishna in India suggests that he needed him to perform a specific role in the reformed Vedāntic Hinduism which he hoped to spread around India and to the wider world. Nationalist religious reformers from Vivekananda onwards faced a stern challenge in Indian religious diversity and caste division.53  Vivekananda claimed in an interview with The Hindu, February, 1897, that ‘[a]ll the modern reformers take to European destructive reformation, which will never do good to anyone and never did.’ And argued that ‘[w]henever there was any reforming sect or religion which rejected the Vedāntic ideal, it was smashed into nothing.’ CW5: 217. Sen (1993): 294. 51  Italicised section in English in original. BR7: 172; CW6: 335. 52  The caste system itself seems to have been considered by Vivekananda to be an integral part of Hinduism: ‘Caste has kept us alive as a nation, and while it has many defects, it has many more advantages.’ From the Boston Herald, 15/5/1894, CW2: 489. See also Bayly (1999): 150–51, 165–6. 53  van der Veer (2001): 72–4. 50

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While Vivekananda tended to more or less disregard Muslims and other non-Hindu communities of India when he talked of the nation,54 this still left him with a problem insofar as the Hindus themselves were divided along religious and social lines. The weaknesses which he associated with his compatriots were linked to what he called ‘the religion of “Don’t-touchism”’,55 which meant that high-caste Hindus would be more concerned with maintaining their ritual purity than reviving the nation and that they would rigorously impose their own separation from other castes at the expense of common-feeling between Hindus. Caste restrictions, which would presumably prevent universal participation in a postulated national religion, made any national unity based upon a religious identity improbable and, as we have already seen, a religious revival was the only basis upon which Vivekananda could conceive of a national revival.56 As the symbol of a triumphant Hindu universalism, Ramakrishna stood for the unity of Hindus regardless of distinctions of caste or sect and augured the beginning of a new golden age, but the defining mission of the Hindus would be to unite around this descended ‘power’ and assist in its transmission to the world. Thus even in his Indian speeches, Vivekananda made clear that Ramakrishna’s universality embraced West as well as East. This is hardly surprising when we see how Vivekananda’s account of Ramakrishna developed over several years which he spent in America and Britain, the results of his thinking being first presented in public in New York. While Naren encountered ‘the ideal man’ through the idiom of the intertwining currents of nationalism and universalism in late nineteenthcentury Bengal, this depiction of Ramakrishna as the symbolic ‘power’ behind a renascent Hindu universalism only emerged once Vivekananda had settled upon a Vedāntic message which required a symbol unifying dualism and monism, outcaste and Brahmin, Hindu Indian and foreigner. The Swami and the Professor When Vivekananda reflected on Müller’s potential to assist in the transmission of Ramakrishna’s message to the world in an article in the Brahmavadin he foresaw a triumph for his movement. The two men had met in Oxford just a few weeks before the time of publication on 6 June 1896 and Müller had shown Vivekananda the 54  The speech Vivekananda made in Calcutta on his triumphant return to India which is quoted above is a typical example of how easily he equated ‘the national life’, ‘Hindus’ and ‘India’. It would have been hard to do otherwise since, as the above speech also shows, he saw the renewal of Hinduism as the basis for the revival of India. Cf. Sen (1993): 292–4. 55  This was Vivekananda’s own translation of the idiomatic Bengali term ‘chū̐tmārge’. Letter to Brahmananda, 1895, BR7: 72–3; CW6: 319; Interview in Madras Times, February, 1897. CW5: 222. 56  This was also the position adopted by Bankim under the influence of Positivism. Kaviraj (1995): 142.

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proofs of his forthcoming article on Ramakrishna, ‘A Real Mahātman’. Not only had Müller produced a work expounding the importance and authenticity of this ‘mahātman’ (Great Soul) with the authority of decades at the pinnacle of academia and public intellectual life, but he had done so, according to Vivekananda, in a manner which recognised the universality of Ramakrishna as the ‘embodiment’ of Vedānta: Max Müller is a Vedāntist of Vedāntists. He has, indeed, caught the real soul of the melody of the Vedānta, in the midst of all its settings of harmonies and discords – the one light that lightens the sects and creeds of the world, the Vedānta, the one principle of which all religions are only applications. And what was Ramakrishna Paramahamsa? The practical demonstration of this ancient principle, the embodiment of India that is past, and a foreshadowing of the India that is to be, the bearer of spiritual light unto nations.57

These words suggest a unity of vision and purpose between the two men which might seem surprising given the Swami’s missionary zeal and the Professor’s cultivated air of scholarly detachment. The cooperation which ensued between Müller and Vivekananda turned out to be rather more complex, but the representation of Ramakrishna which emerged as a result did indeed suggest a remarkable affinity between their views on Vedānta and the nature of religion. ‘A Real Mahātman’ appeared in the August 1896 issue of The Nineteenth Century, a popular London-based literary journal founded in 1877 by James Knowles. Müller had been in sporadic contact with members of the Brahmo Samaj since his meeting with Dwarkanath Tagore (1794–1846) in Paris in 1846.58 Now, several decades later, through his correspondence with Brahmos including Keshab Chandra Sen and Pratap Chandra Majumdar, he had become aware of a new force in Indian religious life. Ramakrishna had been dead for ten years when Müller wrote this article but by this time he was a more widely-known figure than he had ever been during his lifetime. Müller took it upon himself to find out about the life of this remarkable holy man, who had not only fascinated his Brahmo friends, but had also inspired the first Hindu missionaries to preach Vedānta in America and Britain; this article represented the results of his first enquiry. A short book, expanding upon this previous article followed in 1899, by which time Müller had had the chance to gather further sources, most significantly from Vivekananda, whose words, with Müller’s redactions and interpolations, would constitute the bulk of the text.59 Although his article written for the Nineteenth Century was published after he had begun correspondence with Vivekananda in April 1896, it was completed

 ‘On Professor Max Müller’, Brahmavadin, 1896, CW4: 281.  Bosch (2002): 406–22. 59  Sharma (1989): 90. 57 58

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before he was able to request materials from this new contact.60 Müller was clearly not content that he had done justice to Ramakrishna in such a short piece and the most obvious source of additional materials was the movement dedicated to his name which had sprung up in India. In late 1895 or early 1896 he made contact with Alasinga Perumal who sent him issues of his publication containing selected sayings of Ramakrishna.61 Müller’s contact with the Brahmavadin suggests that he was already aware of the interpretation of Ramakrishna offered by Vivekananda and his followers in composing this first article. He seems to have had a positive impression of Ramakrishna’s Indian supporters, and praised their work in this article: [Ramakrishna] has left a number of pupils behind who after his recent death are carrying on the work which he began, and who are trying to secure, not only in India, but in Europe also, a sympathetic interest in the ancient philosophy of India, which it deserves as fully as the philosophy of Plato or Kant.62

He also wrote to Alasinga on 14 March 1896 praising the Brahmavadin: ‘I have read with great pleasure the numbers of the Brahmavadin which you have kindly sent me. What I like is the spirit of pure Hinduism, more particularly Vedāntism, unadulterated by so-called Theosophy.’63 Müller was thus satisfied that the disciples of Ramakrishna were sound followers of Vedānta, untainted by what he saw as the esoteric distortions of the Theosophical Society.64 Müller’s awareness of and sympathy towards Vivekananda’s movement probably facilitated the friendly contact which they established in 1896. Vedānta was at the centre of this relationship since both he and Vivekananda saw this, ‘the ancient philosophy of India’, as the true religion of the Hindus and as the basis for the religious revival of India and perhaps also of the world. The first direct contact between Müller and Vivekananda was made when Vivekananda sent Müller a pamphlet about Ramakrishna, to which Müller responded with a short message of thanks in which he expressed his support for Vivekananda’s efforts to make Vedānta known in America and Europe.65 Vivekananda had arrived in Britain in the spring of 1896 and was keen to arrange a meeting with Müller in order to cultivate further the good will of this potentially valuable ally. Müller seems habitually to have gone out of his way to offer hospitality to visitors from the subcontinent and Vivekananda duly paid him a visit at his 60

 SVW2.2: 170–71.  SVW2.2: 197; RM: 312. 62  RM: 312. 63  SVW2.2: 197. 64  Müller would later come to revise slightly this favourable view of the purity of the ‘Vedāntism’ taught by Vivekananda’s movement: see below. 65  SVW2.2: 170. 61

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house in Oxford on 28 May 1896.66 As well as showing the Swami around some of the colleges and the Bodleian library, Müller informed Vivekananda of his forthcoming publication on Ramakrishna and his intention to expand it into a monograph, requesting his new acquaintance’s assistance in providing fresh sources. Vivekananda responded to this appeal by providing some of his own pamphlets and contacting his brother disciples in June67 and Alasinga in August68 to ask for more materials to be sent from India to assist Müller in the composition of an extended work on Ramakrishna. Müller does not seem to have been very impressed by the materials provided by the disciples of Ramakrishna, a fact reflected in a letter to Vivekananda’s English representative, Sturdy,69 and in the lack of material which he attributes to any source other than Vivekananda, Alasinga, or Pratap Chandra Majumdar in Ramakrishna: His Life and Sayings. In a cautious preface to the part of the biography based upon Vivekananda’s material, Müller talks of the ‘dialogic process’ whereby a historical event or figure becomes distorted over time through the very reporters who make knowledge of it available to the world. Bearing in mind that Müller actively sought reliable materials on Ramakrishna from Vivekananda,70 we can perhaps be justified in detecting a hint of frustration and disappointment behind Müller’s statement that ‘even [Vivekananda’s] unvarnished description of his Master discloses here and there the clear traces of what I call the Dialogic Process … And I am really glad that it does so.’71 He would presumably have been happier to have had more reliable documentary information in addition to that which he had already, rather than the chance to place before the world an example of the distortions of the dialogic process. In his assessment of Vivekananda’s material, Müller assumes a naivety and artlessness behind the latter’s account which is hard to credit once we have seen Vivekananda’s letters impressing upon his fellow disciples and Alasinga the importance of providing Müller with materials suited to a scholarly Victorian and calculated to promote Ramakrishna as the world’s teacher of universal religion. In a letter in Bengali to Ramakrishnananda dated June 24 1896, Vivekananda wrote Max Müller ... has agreed to write a biography of Ramakrishna, [and] wants all the sayings of [Ramakrishna]. Organise and send all the sayings to him – in other words, everything about work in one place, about renunciation in another, similarly with reference to devotion, knowledge, etc. You must start this work 66

 See Müller’s posthumously published article (1905), ‘Some of my visitors’: 8.  CW6: 364. 68  CW5: 112. 69  ‘What I want to know is whether there are any more [sayings of Ramakrishna], and whether there are any more fully developed, and not mere aphorisms.’ Letter of 28 November 1896, quoted in SVW2.2: 291–2. 70  RLS: 44; SVW2.2: 273. 71  RLS: 22. 67

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Religion for a Secular Age right now. Except that you should exclude all those sayings which come across innappropriately in English. Use your sense to give as far as possible other words in all those places. You [should] change ‘kāminī-kāñcan’ into ‘kāmkāñcan’, lust and gold etc., we want to express universal sentiments with regards to his teaching. It is not necessary to show this letter to anyone. Finish the aforementioned work, having translated and classified all the sayings ... .72

Vivekananda’s letters reveal the mind of an accomplished propagandist and the shortcomings which Müller found in his material were almost certainly not the result of the Swami’s own inability to gauge the likely attitude of his Western audiences. It is clear that Vivekananda had imposed standards of censorship on both his gurubhais and his followers in Madras, whom he had entrusted with the task of providing materials for Müller, similar to those which the Professor himself had demanded, namely, claims of divinity, and mention of miracles, nudity and vulgarity had to be excised.73 Müller’s considerable circumspection in his treatment of Vivekananda’s material stemmed in part from an ambivalence in his own attitude to Ramakrishna, which resembles Vivekananda’s oscillation between holding Ramakrishna safely at arm’s length as a rather distant symbol of activism and religious revival and immersing himself in helpless subjection to his master’s will. Of course, Müller never embraced Ramakrishna as fulsomely as Vivekananda did, in fact his use of scholarly language seems calculated to imply that his interest in Ramakrishna did not extend beyond presenting him as a particularly interesting specimen of Hindu devotionalism or as the means by which the West might come to study Vedānta in the same manner in which they might study Plato.74 However, on the basis of this effusive letter of April 1896 which Müller wrote to Vivekananda, we can be

72  ‘Śrījīr sambandhe myāksmūlārer likhita prabandha āgāmī māse prakāśita habe. Tini tā̐r ekkhāni jībanī likhite rāji hayechen. Tini śrījīr samasta bāṇī cān. Sab uktiguli sājiye tā̐ke pāṭhāo—arthāt karmasambandhe sab ek jāygāy, bairāgya sambandhe anyantra, airūp bhakti, jñān ityādi ityādi sambandhe. Tomāke e kāj ekhani śuru karte habe. Sudhu je sab kathā iṅrejīte acal, seguli bād dio. Buddhi kare se sakal jāygāy jathāsambhab anya kathā dibe. ‘Kāminī-kāñcan’ke ‘kām-kāñcan’ karbe – lust and gold etc. – arthāt tā̐r upadeśe sarbajanīn bhabṭa prakāś karā cāi. Ei ciṭhi kāhākeo dekhābār ābaśyak nāi. Tumi ukta kārjya samādhā kare samasta ukti iṅrejī tarjamā o classify kare [etc.].’ BR7: 204. The more sensitive parts of this passage have been excised in the English Complete Works, CW6: 364. 73  For examples of Ramakrishna’s use of explicit language and his decidedly un-Victorian attitude to sexuality and bodily functions, see Sil (1998): Chapters 3, 4, and 5; and see also Kripal (1998). Müller’s own concern that Ramakrishna’s sayings should be censored are evident from this letter to Vivekananda dated 2 August 1896: ‘not everything that interests us and people in India will interest the English public. Even Ramakrishna’s “sayings” will have to be sifted to avoid offending the taste of readers in Europe.’ SVW2.2: 273. 74  RM: 312.

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assured that Ramakrishna’s life and teachings affected Müller to a degree which is usually concealed in his published writings: As for your beloved master of blessed memory, Bhagaban Sri Ram Krishna, how can I ever tell you what he is to me, I love and worship him with my whole heart. To think of him makes my eyes fill with tears of gladness that I was permitted to hear of him. His sayings, published in the Brahmavadin, are my greatest delight. How wonderful that his teachings should have been borne-off to this far-off land where we had never even known of his existence! If I might only have known him, while he was yet with us!75

Müller and Vivekananda were both involved in negotiating a compromise between their own conflicted and unclear views of Ramakrishna, the more outlandish claims of some of his disciples and the ideal way to present him to a potentially sceptical audience. We might better understand the appeal of Ramakrishna’s intuitive and nonrationalist religiosity to both Müller and Vivekananda in the context of the emergence of a ‘cult of simplicity’76 at the same time in late Victorian England and Bengal. Sumit Sarkar explains the appeal of the playful and childlike holy man, Ramakrishna, to the middle classes of Calcutta (including of course Vivekananda) as the opiate, not of the masses, but of jaded white-collar Bengalis worn down by the grind and insecurity of clerical work and disillusioned by the failed promise of the ‘Bengal renaissance’ and the lack of any credible alternative to British rule: For the bhadralok, the hiatus between the myths of renaissance improvement and nationalist deliverance encouraged moods of introspection and nostalgia. There was a partial turning away from forward-looking male activism towards a series of logically distinct but often intermingled ‘Others’; past as contrasted to present, country vs city, a deliberate feminization as opposed to active masculinity, the attractive playfulness and irresponsibility of the child and the pagal77 as against the goal-oriented instrumental rationality of the adult male. One can now begin to understand the scope and power of Ramakrishna’s appeal ... .78

If we compare this to Owen Chadwick’s account of ‘the cult of simplicity’ in modern Europe we can begin to see how the appeal of the pagal was not as specific to Bengal as Sarkar suggests:

75

 SVW2.2: 170–71.  Chadwick (1975): 251. 77  A Bengali term equivalent in this context to ‘holy fool’. 78  Sarkar (1997). 76

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A book is to write on the cult of simplicity in the later nineteenth century. They did not know where they were. Then they felt as though they should return to what they knew to be authentic, the posture of the little child in the gospel. Thérèse of Lisieux wrote an autobiography so naïve in its beauty that she became for a time the centre of the cult of simplicity among some very clever men; but so simple that it was not anti-intellectual, she knew what she knew and described it without conscious art.79

While Chadwick refers specifically to Thérèse of Lisieux as the exemplary simple saint, he could perhaps equally well be talking of Ramakrishna. A Real Mahātman These machinations over the representation of Ramakrishna did not take place in a vacuum, but rather in a context where questions of authenticity, credibility and the authority to represent the religion of the Hindus were sharply disputed. Müller’s first published writing on Ramakrishna was entitled ‘A Real Mah­­ātman’, indicating that the main opponents against whom Müller targeted his arguments here were the members of the Theosophical Society who claimed to be in spiritual communion with ‘Mahatmas’ or ‘the Masters’ in Tibet.80 In writing about Ramakrishna, Müller felt himself to be combating the esotericism of Madame Blavatsky (1831–91), Colonel Olcott and their followers by showing that while the Indian religious and philosophical traditions were far from dead, they were not alive in the exotic manner suggested by the Theosophists.81 He reiterated the purposes behind this earlier article in the opening pages of Ramakrishna: My object [in writing the article of 1896, ‘A Real Mahātman’] was twofold: I wished to protest against the wild and overcharged account of Saints and Sages living and teaching at present in India which had been published and scattered broadcast in Indian, American, and English papers, and I wished to show at the same time that behind such strange names as Indian Theosophy, Esoteric Buddhism and all the rest, there was something worth knowing, worth knowing even for us, the students of Plato and Aristotle, Kant and Hegel, in Europe.82

79

 Chadwick (1975): 251.  These were believed to be human beings possessing extraordinary powers. Godwin (1994): 53–61. 81  I explore this aspect of Müller’s responses to Ramakrishna and Vivekananda in more detail in a forthcoming article in Numen. 82  RLS: 1–2. 80

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Müller thus depicts himself as an objective and clear-headed guide to ‘Indian Theosophy’, careful to avoid hyperbole and the miraculous on the one hand, while fully appreciative of the philosophical essence occluded by such blind enthusiasm.83 Vivekananda, who had endured a long and chequered history of involvement and conflict with the Theosophical Society, shared Müller’s concern that the Theosophists would tarnish the reputation of Hinduism.84 In an unpublished paper he claimed that ‘Indian thought, charlatanry, and mango-growing fakirism had all become identified in the minds of educated people in the West, and this was all the help rendered to Hindu religion by the Theosophists.’85 This hostility to the Society was publicly expressed in a lecture in Madras in 1897 where Vivekananda rubbished the Theosophist’s claims about Mahatmas in the Himalayas: It was never preached on this soil that the truths of religion were mysteries or that they were the property of secret societies sitting on the snow-caps of the Himalayas. I have been in the Himalayas. You have not been there; it is several hundreds of miles from your homes. I am a Sannyāsin, and I have been for the last fourteen years on my feet. These mysterious societies do not exist anywhere.86

William Emilsen has argued that Vivekananda’s engagement with John Locke’s and David Hume’s empiricist philosophies and August Comte’s Positivism during his college days instilled in him a ‘ruthless scepticism’ that would reject all knowledge not founded in experience, including Blavatsky’s Tibetan Mahatmas.87 However, it would be oversimplifying matters to regard Vivekananda’s and Müller’s critical remarks as evidence of a clear-cut division between, on the one side, Müller and Vivekananda united as ardent rationalists, and on the other, the Theosophists as esoteric obscurantists. Müller clearly held the disciples of Ramakrishna in higher esteem than the Theosophists, yet it would seem that he was not entirely convinced that Vivekananda was a reliable ally against such esotericism: Even now, when I see well-intentioned men like Vivekānanda preaching the doctrines of the Upanishads, of Bādarāyaṇa and Śaṁkara in America, and 83

 Müller claimed that Madame Blavatsky threatened to challenge him to a debate in Oxford but failed to carry out her threat; an omission which surely robbed posterity of a moment of spectacular controversy to rival that of the Huxley-Wilberforce debate on evolution. ALS: 152. 84  For an account of Vivekananda’s dealings with the Theosophists see Emilsen (1984). 85  CW4: 319. The intriguing phrase ‘mango-growing fakirism’ refers to an integral part of the Indian stage magician’s repertoire where a mango tree appeared to grow rapidly before the eyes of the audience. See Dadswell (2007). 86  CW3: 279. Vivekananda had already fiercely attacked Theosophy in his welcome address in Madras. Emilsen (1984): 215–16. 87  Emilsen (1984): 199–200.

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gaining, as I read, numerous converts, I still seem to perceive now and then something of the old Blavatsky leaven that has not yet been entirely thrown off. Vedāntism requires no bush, no trappings, no tricks.88

This scepticism was not entirely unfounded given Vivekananda’s extensive early contacts with Theosophists, but more so because some suspiciously ‘Theosophical’ ideas persisted in Vivekananda’s thought. For instance, in the ‘My Master’ lecture, Vivekananda claimed that men of Ramakrishna’s spiritual gifts had the power to transmit thoughts across great distances of space and time without the need for human intermediaries, much like the Mahatmas of Theosophy: ‘Few understand the power of thought. If a man goes into a cave, shuts himself in, and thinks one really great thought and dies, that thought will penetrate the walls of that cave, vibrate through space, and at last permeate the whole human race.’89 It appears that Vivekananda objected not so much to the idea that amazing psychic powers akin to those claimed for Blavatsky’s Eastern adepts were possible, since he clearly believed in such powers himself, but rather to her making such claims without proper authority and in such an extravagant fashion that Hinduism as a whole would become an object of ridicule. Müller, Vivekananda and, indeed, the Theosophists, were all united by participation in a modern secular culture where the extraordinary had not been eliminated but rather uneasily assimilated to a hegemonic ideology which we might call ‘scientism’.90 I use the word ‘uneasily’ because the attitude which Müller and Vivekananda manifest towards Ramakrishna’s powers and those of his Yogi compatriots might best be termed ambivalent. The point at which the extraordinary became scientifically plausible was far from clear with the result that both Müller and Vivekananda mingled belief, incredulity and bewilderment: No doubt it is difficult to believe all the things which the ancient Yogins are credited with, and the achievements of modern Yogins also are often very startling. I confess I find it equally difficult to believe them or not to believe them.91 This is in the books [on Yoga]. I can [hardly] believe them, nor do I disbelieve them. What I have seen I take ... .92

Müller and Vivekananda distinguished fiercely between, on the one hand, the authentic spiritual powers of genuine Hindu holy men, such as Ramakrishna and, on the other hand, the ‘humbuggery’ of Theosophy. They did so, however, with a lack of clarity about the boundaries of plausibility in assessing these yogic feats. 88

 ALS: 150.  CW4: 177. 90  Olson (2008). 91  RLS: 6. 92  ‘Breathing’, San Francisco, 28 March 1900. CW1: 509. 89

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Theosophy was perhaps the most flamboyant example of a number of pseudo-scientific and ‘occult’ psychological theories and practices such as Mesmerism, Spiritualism, Christian Science and New Thought which flourished during the nineteenth century, often in both metropole and colony.93 The psychic powers championed by such movements were taken seriously by many because they mirrored the pre-eminent scientific paradigms of the time, and were often couched in persuasive quasi-scientific language.94 The Society for Psychical Research (SPR), which included eminent scientists and intellectuals among its participants, investigated and thereby lent at least temporary credibility to the phenomena postulated by theosophists and spiritualists.95 Vivekananda’s immersion in this pervasive culture is exemplified by his participation in a discussion in London on the question ‘Can Psychic Phenomena be proved from a Scientific Basis?’ in which he argued that such phenomena as ‘spirit-rappings’, ‘table-rappings’ and ‘telepathy’, while they might be the subject of ‘a good deal of hoax’, were ‘experiences of the superconscious state of the mind [and] the very stepping stones to real pyschological investigation’.96 This conviction that amongst the frauds there are genuine cases of extraordinary psychic or spiritual power which are worthy of scientific investigation underlies both Vivekananda’s hostility to Theosophy and his interpretation of the spiritual force possessed by Ramakrishna.97 While Vivekananda like many others regarded Blavatsky as a fraud, his faith in Ramakrishna’s spiritual gifts was founded upon first-hand experience, particularly of Ramakrishna’s ability to induce trances in himself and others.98 Vivekananda recounted a striking episode years later in a conversation in Bengali with Sharat Chandra Chakravarti, describing how Ramakrishna passed on his powers to him: No, really! 3 or 4 days before the Lord [Ramakrishna] left his body he called me aside alone one day, and, seating me before him, he looked steadily at me and fell into a state of trance [samādhistha]. Then I really began to experience 93

 See van der Veer (2001): Chapter 3.  Winter (1998); Oppenheim (1985): part 3; Hanegraaff (1996): Chapters 3 and 15. 95  These investigations ended in accusations of fraud against Blavatsky, severely damaging her movement. Oppenheim (1985): 174–8. Among the SPR’s members were Henry Sidgwick, William Gladstone, Alfred Tennyson and numerous Fellows of the Royal Society. Oppenheim (1985): 135–41. 96  This talk is undated. CW4: 192–5. For a detailed account of Vivekananda’s relationship to the cultic milieu of Bengal, America and England see De Michelis (2004). 97  Müller seems to have held a similar view: ‘Though imposters certainly exist among the Indian Yogins, we should be careful not to treat all these Indian saints as mere imposters.’ RLS: 7. 98  This is another ambiguity in Vivekananda’s conception of Ramakrishna, since he also attributed to the latter the view that the acquisition of magical powers was a distraction from religious realisation (while, it is worth noting, affirming the reality of such powers). CW6: 516. Cf. De Michelis (2004): 175. 94

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that a subtle emanation like an electric shock [sukṣma tej electric shock-er mata] was entering my body! Gradually, I too lost external consciousness and became inert. For some time I remained like this, unaware of anything. When external consciousness came back, I see the Lord crying. When asked why, the Lord said affectionately, ‘Today I’ve given you everything I possess [jathāsarbasva toke diye], and have become a beggar [phakir halum]! With this power you will do a lot of work for the world [jagater anek kāj kare] and then return.’ I think that it is this power which makes me just go from this work to that work.99

Vivekananda does not seem to have spoken publicly of his own trances, but similar events with other subjects appear in material provided by Vivekananda for Müller’s Ramakrishna which the latter published unedited: A woman, a perfect stranger to [Ramakrishna], came to see him once at Dakshineshvara many years afterwards. ... Ramakrishna told his disciples at once that she had the qualities of a Devi in her, and he would prove it to them. He ordered them to burn some incense before her, and taking some flowers, placed them on her feet and addressed her as ‘mother’. And the lady who never knew anything before of meditation, or Samadhi, and had never seen him before, fell into a deep trance with her hands folded into the act of blessing. That trance did not leave her for some hours, and he got frightened at the thought that her husband would accuse him of some black magic. ... By-and-by she came to herself, and when she opened her eyes they were quite red, and she looked as if she were quite drunk. ... This is one of many instances of the same kind (evidently cases of hypnosis).100

Müller’s interpolation that these trances were ‘evidently cases of hypnosis’ suggests that he saw this passage as an example of distortion wrought by the ‘Dialogic Process’ which he had just described. Vivekananda’s narration of this story is seen by Müller as adopting a miraculous explanation of an event which could be better explained scientifically. Although Müller attempted to demystify Ramakrishna’s powers as examples of hypnotism, this does not quite succeed in making the intended distinction between the Swami as participant in the Dialogic Process and the Professor as its observer. Hypnosis was itself adapted from Mesmerism, a psychological theory initiated by Franz Mesmer (1734–1815) in which trances could be induced and cures effected through the channeling of an invisible liquid psychic substance labelled ‘animal magnetism’.101 While James Braid (1795–1860) had discarded the more controversial aspects of Mesmerism, the processes behind hypnotic

99

 BR9: 122; CW7: 206–7.  RLS: 28. 101  Winter (1998): Chapter 2. 100

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trances remained mysterious.102 Ironically, Braid had been inspired in his early researches into hypnosis by tales of Indian Yogis, so Müller sought to rationalise Ramakrishna’s powers by appealing to a Western medical practice which was itself inspired in part by the trances of Yogis and Mesmerists. In any case, Müller’s familiarity with psychological explanations of ‘miracles’ made it possible for him to accept or at least suspend judgement upon a whole range of Yogic feats: We are told by eye-witnesses and trustworthy witnesses that these Yogins go without food for weeks and months, that they can sit unmoved for any length of time, that they feel no pain, that they can mesmerise with their eyes and read people’s thoughts. All this I can believe ... .103 That what is called a state of Samadhi, or a trance, can be produced by the very means which are employed by the Yogins in India, is, I believe, admitted by medical and psychiatric authorities.104

Rather than taking issue with Müller’s attempts to account for Ramakrishna’s powers by the standards of the mundane authorities of modern psychology and medicine, Vivekananda embraced these cautious endorsements as yet more evidence of Müller’s sympathy for Hinduism: ‘It is not a fact that the Professor is an utter disbeliever in such subtle subjects as the mysterious psychic powers of the Yogis.’105 It would be overstating the case to claim that Müller was as comfortable with the concept of psychic powers as was Vivekananda. For Müller, a scientific account of psychic powers was achieved by reducing them to the idiom of established sciences – psychiatry and medicine; for Vivekananda, such psychic powers in fact reveal the limitations of the established sciences and require the development of what we might call ‘occult’ sciences.106 By studying the life of a man like Ramakrishna, one might, Vivekananda believed, discover scientific laws thereby expediting progress towards human perfection: Quite recently, there was such a man who lived the life of the whole human race and reached the end­­ – even in this life. Even this hastening of the growth must be under laws. Suppose we can investigate these laws and understand their secrets and apply them to our own needs; it follows that we grow. We hasten our growth, we hasten our development, and we become perfect, even in this life.

102

 Winter (1998): 184–6; Gauld (1992).  RLS: 6–7. 104  RLS: 7. 105  ‘On Professor Max Müller’ from the Brahmavadin, 1896. CW4: 413. 106  De Michelis (2004): 117–18. 103

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This is the higher part of our life, and the science of the study of mind and its powers has this perfection as its real end.107

Müller, by contrast, specifically disavowed any such attempts to imitate sannyasis or even to conduct scientific research into their abilities along more conventional lines: We need not fear that the Samnyasins of India will ever find followers or imitators in Europe, nor would it be at all desirable that they should, not even for the sake of Psychic Research, or for experiments in Physico-psychological Laboratories.108

The uneasy collaboration between Müller and Vivekananda required drawing a line beneath such differences in order to focus on the common ground which united them; namely, a commitment to the universalist Vedāntic principles which they believed Ramakrishna represented. But even here it was necessary for Müller to reassure himself and his audiences that the Vedānta of the Ramakrishna movement was no threat to ‘true’ Christianity’ The apparent conversion of American Christians to Ramakrishna’s ‘gospel’ by Vivekananda and other disciples is explained away by Müller with the assertion that many ‘call themselves Christians, without even having had an idea of what Christ really taught’ and that they therefore have ‘a hunger for religion which sooner or later wants to be satisfied’.109 Müller also seems to have thought, or perhaps hoped, that Vivekananda was first and foremost engaged in the teaching of Vedānta as a philosophical system rather than as an alternative religion to Christianity in America, so that in his first letter to the Swami, written on 2 April 1896, he wrote: ‘I hope you will continue your work in America and make both Sankara and Ramanuja widely known.’110 Given Müller’s preference for Vedānta, and given his belief that it constituted the basis for all Hindu religiosity, it is not surprising that he did not distinguish between ‘the religion of Ramakrishna’ and the Vedānta taught by Vivekananda in America.111 Müller was as aware as Vivekananda himself was that Ramakrishna was no expert authority on any Vedāntic texts,112 but, again like Vivekananda, he was 107

 ‘The Power of the Mind’, Los Angeles, 1900, CW2: 19.  RLS: viii. 109  RLS: 7–8. 110  SVW2.2: 170. Müller also remarked in ‘A Real Mahātman’ that the followers of Ramakrishna ‘are trying to secure, not only in India, but in Europe also, a sympathetic interest in the ancient philosophy of India, which it deserves as fully as the philosophy of Plato or Kant’: 312. 111  RLS: 8. 112  For instance, he repeated P.C. Majumdar’s claim that ‘Ramakrishna was not in the least a Vedāntist, except that every Hindu unconsciously imbibes from the atmosphere around some amount of Vedāntism, which is the philosophical backbone of every rational 108

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concerned to stress that the Hindu saint was ‘thoroughly imbued with the spirit of that philosophy, which is, in fact the air breathed more or less by every Hindu who cares for philosophy or religion’.113 The ‘Sayings of Ramakrishna’ which Müller published as part of his book on Ramakrishna are prefaced by Müller as ‘interesting’ and ‘important’ because ‘they represent... an attempt to give prominence to the devotional and practical side of the Vedānta, and because they show the compatibility of the Vedānta with other religions’.114 This interpretation of Ramakrishna as a teacher of a ‘practical’ Vedānta and an exponent of the compatibility of Vedānta and other religions is so close to the Vedāntic doctrine which Vivekananda was teaching in America and Britain at this time that one might be forgiven for thinking that Müller had uncritically accepted Vivekananda’s own interpretation of Ramakrishna. However, in the article ‘A Real Mahātman’, which Müller wrote before establishing direct contact with Vivekananda, he described Ramakrishna as a man ‘thoroughly imbued with the spirit of the Vedānta philosophy’.115 Müller had by this time already had some contact with Vivekananda’s disciples, which may well have influenced this Vedāntic interpretation, yet, given his view that Vedānta was the only religion of the Hindus worthy of the name, there can be little doubt that he would have been predisposed to interpret Ramakrishna in such terms in any case.116 Müller obviously did not want his generally positive interpretation of Ramakrishna to be misconstrued by suspicious Christian clerics and missionaries as an apologetic for Hinduism, or as an attack on Christianity. However, his efforts to show that Vedānta was the true religion of India were partly motivated by a wish to present a favourable image of India to the West in opposition to those missionaries and Anglo-Indians who denigrated the religion and philosophies of the Hindus as pernicious and ignorant idolatry. In his Three Lectures on the Vedānta Philosophy (1894) he sought to impart some of his own enthusiasm for the Vedānta to his audience ‘in order that in future the map of India, from the Himalayan mountains to Cape Comorin, should in their minds be coloured, not grey and black, but bright and golden’.117 Müller and Vivekananda both must have realised that Ramakrishna would receive a more positive reception if he was presented as the proponent of a particular philosophy which had already gained a certain amount of sympathy

cult. He did not know a word of Sanskrit, and it is doubtful whether he knew enough Bengali. His spiritual wisdom was the result of genius and practical observation.’ RLS: 46. 113  RLS: 51–2. Sharma (1989): 90. 114  RLS: 72. 115  RM: 309. 116  ‘If the people of India can be said to have now any system of religion at all ... it is to be found in the Vedānta philosophy.’ IWCTU: 249. 117  TLV: 118.

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in intellectual circles in Europe and America.118 Furthermore, Müller agreed with Vivekananda that Ramakrishna himself was evidence for the truth and vitality of Indian thought: ‘A country permeated by such thoughts as were uttered by Ramakrishna cannot possibly be looked upon as a country of ignorant idolaters.’119 This was a sentiment echoed approvingly in Vivekananda’s Bengali review of Müller’s Life of Ramakrishna where he imagined the British public asking themselves ‘Can the country that has produced a great world-teacher like Shri Bhagavān Ramakrishna Deva, be really full of such abominations as we have been asked to believe in?’120 Ramakrishna’s significance was not limited to India for Müller, otherwise he would hardly have devoted such time and energy in the very last years of his life towards the appreciation of Ramakrishna among English speakers. While the boldest visions which Vivekananda entertained of the global proselytisation of Vedāntic Hinduism under the auspices of the Ramakrishna Avatar went far beyond anything Müller could countenance, Ramakrishna nevertheless augured the dawning of a new age. This would be based not specifically on the unification of religions under a Hindu spiritual ascendancy, but rather constructed on the unity Müller already saw between those who lived always in the divine presence: This constant sense of the presence of God is indeed the common ground on which we may hope that in time not too distant the great temple of the future will be erected, in which Hindus and non-Hindus may join hands and hearts in worshipping the same Supreme Spirit – who is not far from every one of us, for in Him we live and move and have our being.121

This was at least enough for Vivekananda to feel assured that the readers of Müller’s works on Ramakrishna would understand him as the symbol of the future universal religion.122 Conclusion In the interpretation I have offered in this chapter of the emergence of Ramakrishna on to the world stage Vivekananda is not the only protagonist; instead, he was 118  Neevel (1964): 55. See also Jackson (1994), Chapter 1 for a description of the role which the Transcendentalists and others played in popularising Indian philosophy in America. 119  RLS: viii. The apparent lack of idolatry in classical (especially Advaita) Vedānta was an important part of its appeal to Hindu modernisers: see Hacker (1995): 233–5. 120  CW4: 414. 121  RLS: x. 122  Vivekananda recommended Müller’s book on this basis to an audience in California in 1900. CW8: 79.

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accompanied in his efforts by Müller on the basis of their shared commitment to Vedānta. With the help of his Indian supporters and gurubhais, and despite his initial misgivings, Vivekananda developed an interpretation of Ramakrishna as the force or avatar who would inaugurate a golden age in India and turn the world away from materialism towards spirituality. For India, this would mean discarding the distinctions of caste and sect and uniting in the cause of a purified Vedāntic Hinduism with a global mission; the rest of the world, meanwhile, would receive spiritual tuition from the nation which had produced such a great sage, accepting his message of renunciation and the underlying unity of all religions in Vedānta. The fruits of these efforts can be seen in the lectures which Vivekananda delivered on Ramakrishna and the materials which he and his helpers passed on to Müller. The cooperation which took place between Müller and Vivekananda demonstrates the important role that transnational connections could play in the representations of Hindu religion which were disseminated to Anglophone audiences in this period. Their common enemy, the Theosophical Society, represented an alternative model for East-West interaction which both Müller and Vivekananda feared would damage the credibility of Vedānta. Müller, despite his reservations, relied upon Vivekananda and other Indians for information about Ramakrishna, while Vivekananda believed that he could achieve global recognition for his Master and his movement with Müller’s support. Both men had, as we have seen in Chapters 3 and 4, developed conceptions of Vedānta as a potentially universal religious form rooted in the essentials of the individual’s experience of the Infinite. By rather precariously assimilating Ramakrishna to Vedānta, they hoped together to ensure that the Anglosphere received the most congenial impression of the ‘authentic’ religion of India and, perhaps, the future religion of the world.

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Conclusion The most extraordinary thing about Vivekananda’s meeting with Müller in Oxford in 1896 was the fact that each felt able to grasp the other’s religious views effortlessly. This was not, as Müller might have imagined, because of some latent intellectual affinity between speakers of ‘Aryan’ tongues, nor was it, as Vivekananda may have wished to believe, because the influence of Hindu philosophy had managed to cause a wholesale revolution in European thought. Instead, this Bengali Hindu reformer could talk intelligibly with an Anglo-German Professor about a Hindu holy man and an ancient Indian intellectual tradition because the ideas of religion held by liberal educated Europeans and their Indian counterparts had been shaped in common measure by developments in conditions of life and thought specific to the late nineteenth century. The most obvious common factor we can turn to in explanation of this shared comprehension of religious matters is the pervasive feeling among Müller, Vivekananda and their contemporaries of an impending crisis for religious belief in Europe, America and India. ‘Science’, broadly conceived, clearly had a large role to play in fostering this uncertainty, but perhaps a more insidious danger for religion lay in the general reconfiguration of its moral and intellectual aspects according to secular standards. In describing modern Vedānta as a ‘religion for a secular age’ I wished to signal two crucial facets of Müller and Vivekananda’s religious thought: firstly, the dominance of an essentialist and universalising concept of ‘religion’ as distinct both from the ‘religions’ and from secular spheres of human concern; secondly, the conviction that religion needs to adapt to survive in what was taken to be a secularised world. The emergence of the concept ‘religion’ has been explained by Talal Asad as a development owed to the intertwining processes of European modernisation and colonial expansion, and, elsewhere, as intellectually symbiotic with its antonym, ‘the secular’.1 The ‘scientific’ approaches to religion discussed in Chapter 2 are the most obvious examples of the appeal this way of thinking had to Müller and Vivekananda, but Vedānta itself became very closely identified with religion in this sense, insofar as it was seen to encapsulate most adequately the essentials of religion. Our two protagonists responded vigorously to the apparent challenge which science and its partisans presented to religion. Müller constructed his Science of Religion on a ‘positivist’ platform, turning away from ideas of providence and attempting to replace intellectually discredited conceptions of divine revelation 1

 Asad (1993); Asad (2003). See also van der Veer (2001): Chapter 1.

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with a quasi-naturalistic historicist study of the development of religious ideas in human language and psychology. Vivekananda, meanwhile, re-interpreted the seers and yogis of ancient India as scientists of religion, who had discovered spiritual laws valid in all times and in all places, which might answer all sceptics if they were only followed correctly by people of the present day. In Chapter 3, meanwhile, we considered how Vedānta was seen to contain cutting ripostes to the materialists who argued that human life could be reduced to the movement of matter, and their positivist allies who rejected the possibility of any reality beyond the senses. This most ancient philosophy had shown, according to them, that the pure subjectivity of the ātman transcended not only the body but also phenomenal consciousness, and that empiricism was vitiated by the innate ignorance (māyā, avidyā) of all beings. In their efforts to defend religion from its enemies, Müller and Vivekananda did not reject the authority of secular forms of knowledge (science, history, philology) over religion; on the contrary, they recognised that their audiences wanted to hear justifications of religion through the very intellectual practices which had served to undermine its credibility in their eyes. Vivekananda explained his reluctance to portray Ramakrishna as an avatar in the West as a concession to scientism,2 but his lectures in India were just as likely to proclaim the unique ability of Vedānta to withstand the shock of modern science as those in England or America. Müller nevertheless detected hints of the miraculous in Vivekananda’s presentation of his guru and in compensation adopted the language of contemporary medicine and psychology in order to explain to his readers Ramakrishna’s capacity to send himself and others into trance-like states. It seems clear, then, that Müller and Vivekananda were quite aware of what they were doing in their dialogues with secular thought; gladly conceding ground over the inessential and miraculous aspects of religion, while steadfastly refusing to cross the ‘Rubicon’ by accepting ‘evolutionary materialism’s’ claims about human nature, mind and ontology. However, when we turn to questions about religion’s place in the world and its relation to ethics, it is less clear that either of them realised how far they had accepted secular norms in their presentation of religion and Vedānta. In Chapter 4, where we considered their attempts to reconcile Vedānta with late nineteenth-century ethical convictions, I argued that Müller and Vivekananda accepted almost without reservation the secular position that the worth of a religious tradition could be measured most reasonably by its moral fruits in this world. Both men were equally committed to placing religion in the secular spaces of private conscience, philanthropy and the public debating forum. If, as Peter van der Veer has argued, the secular and the religious were produced symbiotically in colony and metropole, we should not be surprised to see religious responses in the idiom of the secular arising simultaneously in Britain and India.3 But was it a mere coincidence that for our two protagonists, Vedānta was the 2

 See Chapter 5, note 44.  See Introduction.

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favoured religious form for a secular context? Modern conceptions of Vedānta seem to have emerged from the beginning of the nineteenth century in debates about the reasonableness of religion, specifically in comparisons of the Upaniṣads with the Bible, and the perceived apologetic strength of Vedānta as the quintessential ‘natural religion’, or the only rational religion, was invoked again by these late nineteenth-century religious idealists in their struggle against materialism. The adoption of Vedānta as the religion best fitted for their apparently secular age by Vivekananda and Müller, was not a result of borrowing from East by West, or vice versa; rather it was the product of a rich and complex interaction between Europeans, Americans and Indians as they sought to shape and comprehend the future of religion in a secularising world.

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Index

absolute idealism 21–2, 25–9, 31, 34, 85 Absolute, the identity of with the self 73, 82, 84, 90–91, 131, 139 transcendence of 32, 34, 85–7, 102–3, 109, 111 Alasinga Perumal 136, 148, 156–7 Arya Samaj 67 Aryanism 64–6, 177 Aryans 65–8, 171 Asad, Talal 171 atheism 2, 4, 19, 89, 107, 117 atheistic views 46 ātman 90–96, 100, 105, 111, 138, 172 avidyā (see also: māyā) 91, 96–8, 100–102, 111, 127, 172 Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay 4, 13, 41, 46, 110, 119, 145, 154 Bengal 10, 13, 80–82, 89, 141–2, 145–6, 154, 159, 163, 177–83 bhakti (see also: devotionalism) 20, 81 fn.13 Blavatsky, Helena, Madame 160–62, 163 Brahman (see also: Absolute, the) 6, 19, 31, 80, 82, 109, 123 apparent identity with the universe 31, 85, 91, 97- 99, 102–3 identity of the self with (see also: tat tvam asi ethic) 73–4, 77, 82, 90–96, 100 Brahmo Samaj 37–41, 80–81, 118, 155 New Dispensation 40, 118 Sadharan Brahmo Samaj 20–21, 39–41 Braid, James 164–5 Buddha 57, 61, 63 Buddhism 5, 16, 57, 63, 101 Bunsen, Baron Christian von 38, 70 Burnouf, Eugène 17 Büchner, Ludwig 42, 88

Calcutta 8, 20, 75, 144, 152, 159 Carlyle, Thomas 151 fn.47 caste 22, 41, 153–4, 169 Castrén, Matthias 61 fn.57 Chadwick, Owen 3, 13, 88, 115, 159–60, 177 Chatterjee, Partha 8 Chattopadhyay, Bankim Chandra (see: Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay) Christ 17, 63, 70, 77, 92, 146 religion of 37–8, 47, 56, 59, 68, 105, 110, 117, 145, 166 Christian missionaries 88, 109–10, 119, 123, 167 Christianity Alexandrian 66, 105–6 as basis for morality 113, 115–17 comparison of other religions with 18, 56–8, 68 crisis of 88–90, 108, 113–19 Müller’s critique of contemporary 37, 52–3, 59, 106, 108 Vivekananda’s view of 88–9, 109, 119 Clement of Alexandria 105 comparative religion 49–51, 59, 74, 77, 86, 115, 183 Müller’s methodological approach to 50, 54–6, 61, 69 compassion 130, 135, 137, 139, 140 Darwin, Charles 24, 42–4, 88–9, 92–3, 117 Darwinism 38, 44, 88–90, 115, 127, 129, 175, 180, 183 Datta, Narendranath (see: Narendranath ‘Naren’ Datta) Debendranath Tagore 40–41, 80–81, 114 deism 60, 64 deists 59–60, 68–9 Deussen, Paul 2 fn.5, 79, 105, 115, 129–36, 138–40, 175

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devotionalism 21, 39, 41, 118, 145, 158 Eckhart, Meister 103, 105 eclecticism 145 empiricism 94, 97–8, 172 essentialism 53–4, 59, 64, 68 evolution 31, 41–5, 81 German idealist philosophy 22, 26, 42 in India 21, 28, 46, 82–4, 87, 94 Hacker, Paul 54, 123, 130–34, 137, 139 Haeckel, Ernst 23, 42, 44–5, 88 Halbfass, Wilhelm 1, 10, 13 fn.71, 79 fn.3, 114, 124, 131 fn.72 Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich 16, 21–2, 25, 27–8, 41–2, 46, 54, 60, 82–4, 103, 111, 160 Herder, Johann Gottfried von 37, 60, 105 Hinduism 39, 41, 80, 88, 115, 154 fn.54 Müller’s view of 37, 106, 156, 165 neo-Hinduism 7, 10 Vivekananda’s view of 5, 10, 21, 67, 154, 169 Hume, David 20, 23, 27 hypnotism 164–5 India 4 European perceptions of 15–16, 160, 167 Vivekananda’s idea of 67, 89, 120–21, 143, 145, 149–54 individualism 82, 119, 135, 140 Infinite, the Müller’s idea of 25, 27–8, 36, 38, 43, 51–2, 70–71, 77, 116 Kant, Immanuel Kantian categories 29–30, 60 Müller’s response to 23–8, 30, 47, 60, 94, 97–8, 127 theory of causation 29–30, 94 Vivekananda’s response to 29–30, 47 karma 41, 126, 128–9, 140 Keshab Chandra Sen 38–41, 75, 118, 122, 144–5, 155 eclecticism of 39–40 Killingley, Dermot 8, 79–81, 131

Kopf, David 38, 80 Krishna 13, 110, 145, 151 Kālī 4, 19–20, 82 language, Müller’s theory of 23–5, 43, 64, 89, 92 liberal Protestantism 36–8, 51, 105 Lotze, Hermann 22–3, 42, 111 mahatmas (see: theosophy) Majumdar, Pratap Chandra 25, 87, 155 materialism ethical implications of 46, 83 evolutionary materialism 23, 25–6, 42–3, 46–7, 68, 126, 172 māyā (see also: avidyā) 29–33, 91, 96, 98–102, 111, 138–9, 172 Mesmerism 163–4 Mill, John Stuart 20, 28, 109 monism immanent 82–4, 86–7, 95, 111, 133, 139 spiritual 133–5, 137 volitional 134–5, 137–9 Müller alleged conversion to Vedānta 5, 86 anthropology, interest in 61 fn.57, 116 autobiography 38, 118 education of 35, 105 Lutheran faith of 35, 104 Narendranath ‘Naren’ Datta (birthname of Swami Vivekananda) 9, 19–22, 39–41, 83, 144, 146, 154 nationalism 63–4, 66, 82–3, 89, 110, 122, 145, 151, 153 Olcott, Colonel Henry 130, 160 panentheism 16, 103 fn.111 pantheism 16, 20, 30–31, 83–5, 102–3 Parliament of the World’s Religions, Chicago 10, 49, 72, 147 Perumal, Alasinga (see: Alasinga Perumal) pietism 12, 35–6, 39, 41, 92, 111, 117–18 positivism 4, 70, 87, 97, 154 fn.56, 161 providentialism 38, 41, 69–70, 77, 81, 151, 171

Index psychic powers 162–6 psychology 70–71, 85 fn.34, 92, 94, 106, 165 Rabindranath Tagore 145 race 66–7 Radhakrishnan, Sarvepalli 11, 124 fn.47 Ramakrishna as avatar 148–51, 168–9, 172 authenticity of 155, 160 censorship of his sayings 148, 158 disciples of 110, 119, 142, 144, 147–8, 151, 153, 157 Christianity and Islam, mystical encounters with 20, 144–5 sayings of 148, 156–9, 167 teaching of tolerance 147, 149 Rammohun Roy 66, 79–81, 88, 104, 111, 114 rationalism 16, 22, 25, 29, 34–5, 47, 111, 120 Raychaudhuri, Tapan 10, 118 religion decay and growth of 28, 61–4 evolution of 28, 50, 58, 63 faculty of 25, 51, 60, 116 Müller’s definition of 50–52, 140 primitive 61–2 Renan, Ernest 28, 36, 65 revelation 16, 18, 38, 41, 69, 99, 144, 171 romanticism 15, 16, 60 Roy, Rammohun (see: Rammohun Roy) samādhi 164–5 scepticism 4, 20–21, 29, 71–2, 75, 144, 146, 161 Schelling, Friedrich 16–17, 22, 25, 27, 79, 84 Schlegel, Friedrich 15–17, 65 Schleiermacher, Friedrich 25, 27, 36, 54, 60, 76, 105 Schopenhauer, Arthur 16–17, 26–8, 32, 41, 79, 88, 111, 130, 132, 137 influence on Vivekananda 28, 32, 41, 137 interest in Vedānta 16–17, 79, 88, 111, 130 Müller’s response to 17, 26–7

187

Vivekananda’s critique of 33, 84, 134–5 scientism 151, 162, 172 scripture 7, 35, 39, 41, 51, 77, 81 Seal, Brajendranath 20–21, 81, 135–6, 139, 145, 176 secularisation 1, 3–4, 7, 12–14 Sen, Keshab Chandra (see: Keshab Chandra Sen) Shankara 6, 7, 22, 29, 63, 81, 93–9, 102–5, 123–4, 127–8 soteriology 7, 123 Spencer, Herbert 20, 28, 31, 41–5, 83 Spinoza, Baruch 36, 76, 84–5, 102 Tagore, Debendranath (see: Debendranath Tagore) Tagore, Rabindranath (see: Rabindranath Tagore) tantra 83, 111, 177 tat tvam asi ethic 130–40 Taylor, Charles 3–4, 89 fn.55 theism 20, 41, 80–81 Theosophical Society, the 130, 156, 160–61, 169 theosophists 160–63 theosophy 156, 160–63 universalism 66, 146, 150, 154 upaniṣads 5, 6, 91, 94, 98, 102–6, 108, 125, 173 Chandogya Upaniṣad 131 utilitarianism 35, 113, 115, 119, 121, 127, 135 van der Veer, Peter 1–2, 12, 66, 143, 172 Vedānta Advaita 6, 7, 93, 96, 123–4 compared to other religions 54–5, 58, 63, 77, 108–11 Ramakrishna’s attitude to 19, 20, 82, 84 traditional 6–7, 96, 99, 123–5, 137 amorality of Vedānta, alleged 123 as quietist personal philosophy 125 Christianity and 16, 18, 59, 80–81, 86, 104–6, 110, 166 classical 90, 96, 105, 108

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ethical implications of (see also: tat tvam asi ethic) 81, 84, 92, 113–15, 121, 123–4, 126, 128–9, 140 European views of 15–18, 22, 87 Hegelian 21–2, 82–3 in nineteenth-century Bengal 41, 80–81 neo-vedānta 7, 21–2, 54 Vedāntasūtras 5–7, 80, 91 vitalism 44–5 Vivekananda, Swami (see also: Narendranath ‘Naren’ Datta) conversion by Ramakrishna 4, 146–7

devotion to Ramakrishna 12, 41, 110 in India 10–11, 67, 132, 143, 151–2, 172 meeting with Müller in Oxford 154, 157 Mitra, Pramadadas, correspondence with 22, 28, 83, 146 viśiṣṭādvaita 104, 136 Windischmann, Karl 15 yoga 10, 29, 45, 73–5, 162 yogis 51, 73, 77, 78, 165, 172