International Journal of Hindu Studies

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Online ISSN: 1574-9282
Print ISSN: 1022-4556
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Adapting the SWOT matrix used in the study of the effectiveness of organizations, this article employs the notion of “strategic fit” to examine reasons frequently put forward to explain the positive reception of Swami Vivekananda’s message by sympathizers during his visits to the United States and England. The article suggests that Vivekananda maximized the strategic fit of his message by addressing prominent Christian theological concerns of the day, which would have impinged on many in his circle who retained their Christian identity. It is argued that, by recasting these concerns within the framework of his understanding of Vedānta, Vivekananda loosened, if not completely untied, the theological moorings of the religious way of thinking of his audience, as exemplified by his invitation that each person should accept Ramakrishna “in your own light” and his emphasis on the “most intensely impersonal” nature of the religion he offered. The article concludes that Vivekananda’s insistence on the “impersonal nature” of the religion he promoted, and the fluid interface between Hindu arguments and his idea of a universal religion, arguably left contentious questions for later generations of devotees to resolve.
This study accounts for disparate portrayals of divine destroyer Śiva in the normative Rāmāyaṇa and Mahābhārata as opposed to Kālidāsa’s amatory Kumārasaṃbhava and Raghuvaṃśa by contrasting the primary and secondary Sanskrit epic authors’ respective reliances on the Mānavadharmaśāstra and the Kāmasūtra. By arguing, per Richard Johnson’s postpoststructuralism, that these mythological and philosophical differences deliberately reflect those poets’ specific sociohistorical contexts, this inquiry accounts more accurately for Śiva’s classical-epic depictions than do Stella Kramrisch’s and Wendy Doniger [O’Flaherty]’s investigations informed by Claude Lévi-Strauss’s structuralism and Don Handelman and David Shulman’s researches influenced by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s poststructuralism. The present work, in revising such prevailing Indological notions as Romila Thapar’s traditional construal of the “classical,” Donald R. Davis Jr.’s anthropocentric definition of puruṣārtha (human aim), and Sheldon Pollock’s unvarying characterization of śāstras (treatises), models a historically aware approach that appreciates the interrelationship of mythological philosophy and philosophical mythology.
In the opening lines of his essay “Karma-Yoga,” Swami Vivekananda claims that knowledge is the one goal of humankind. It is clear from the context of this claim that Vivekananda means to count knowledge—and spiritual knowledge in particular—as a final goal of humankind. His claim, then, is that spiritual knowledge is the one final goal of humankind. This claim seems inconsistent, however, with claims in other passages that count spiritual pleasure, freedom, and mokṣa itself as additional final goals. One interpretive strategy is to invoke Vivekananda’s kinship with Śaṅkara and count these states as ultimately identical. This interpretive strategy is problematic, however, for at least two reasons. First, several scholars advance convincing arguments against the view that Vivekananda’s nondualism is aligned with Śaṅkara. Second, reading Vivekananda as a nondualist in this context precludes further analysis that might be philosophically productive. The claim that spiritual knowledge is spiritual pleasure, for example, might be analyzed in terms of a part-whole relation. Part of spiritual knowledge is knowledge of the eternal bliss of ātman-brahman. To know the eternal bliss of ātman-brahman is to experience it, and to experience the eternal bliss of ātman-brahman is to attain spiritual pleasure. Part of spiritual knowledge, then, is spiritual pleasure. Other arguments might be advanced in support of the identity of spiritual knowledge and spiritual freedom as well, without simply assuming that Vivekanada disregards distinctions among these states.
This article has two purposes. First, it aims to reformulate the threefold model of exclusivism, inclusivism, and pluralism that has become standard in the theology of religions. It will then give an analysis of Swami Vivekananda’s theology of religions that utilizes this reformulated model. Specifically, the article will argue for a differentiation of exclusivism, inclusivism, and pluralism on three distinct levels: the level of truth, the level of salvation, and a third, increasingly important level in our current global situation, the level of social interaction. It will be argued that Vivekananda’s theology of religions is inclusivist with regard to truth and pluralistic with regard to both salvation and social interaction. It is hoped that the article will contribute both to the ongoing theological and philosophical conversation on religious diversity as well as advancing our understanding of the teachings of Vivekananda, whose thought has been characterized, variously, as pluralistic, inclusivist, and even as an articulation of Hindu nationalism. These varied interpretations arise partly from a failure to differentiate between the claim that many religions are true and the claim that many religions can lead their adherents to salvation, as well as a failure to give due attention to, or to cynically dismiss, the ethical claim of Vivekananda’s teaching that it is incumbent on all of us as human beings to cultivate an attitude of acceptance toward the religious other. Vivekananda’s teachings are thus at least as important in the twenty-first century as they were when he first articulated them.
This article is an exploration of the dialectic of this-worldly activism and the practice of self-effacement in Swami Vivekananda’s discourses. He often exhorts his audiences to cultivate the vigorous strength to live courageously in the world on the basis of their spiritual conviction that they are rooted in the true self ( ātman ) beyond all spatiotemporal limitations. The boundless ātman , to be realized by effacing the egocentric self, would become the imperishable source of their fortitude to live with fearlessness in a world of suffering. Since the ātman is not constrained by the egocentric bounds of the “I”, to become recentered in its illimitable heart is to move towards a universal morality. Through this return to one’s imperishable center of existential gravity, one transcends fear and hatred of the “other” as a radically alien being. While his socioreligious worldview is imprinted with aspects of Advaita as formalized by Śaṅkara, he also occasionally endorses the theocentric visions of Rāmānuja and Madhva and declares that all these Vedāntic pathways point towards the effacement of the ego and the generation of fearlessness.
Comparative Anthropology
This article compares modern Advaita (nonduality) Vedānta and Roman Catholic afterlife beliefs, with special attention to the dialogue of Swami Vivekananda, formal Roman Catholic teachings, and Edith Stein. It draws also on other commentators and includes some brief reference to other forms of Vedānta. It analyzes significant congruences, parallels, differences, and critical issues. The article begins with a focus on essential similarities and contrasts in theological anthropology, situates these within the spiritual ideals of modern Advaita Vedānta mokṣa and Catholic Christian redemption, and relates them to conceptions of heaven, purgatory, hell, and reincarnation, between the two traditions. It also draws into the dialogue a view of rebirth espoused in the modern Christian Hermeticism of Valentin Tomberg.
This article argues that Swami Vivekananda developed a distinctively Vedāntic form of virtue ethics that deserves a prominent place in contemporary philosophical discussions. After showing how Vivekananda motivated his own ethical standpoint through a critique of deontological and utilitarian ethics, the article outlines the main features of his Vedāntic virtue ethics and his arguments in support of it. The article then compares the differing approaches to the problem of moral luck adopted by Vivekananda and by the contemporary philosopher Michael Slote. By means of this comparison, the article identifies some of the potential philosophical advantages of Vivekananda’s Vedāntic virtue ethics over other ethical theories.
The great eleventh-century figure, Rāmānuja, belonged to the Śrīvaiṣṇava community that worshiped the divine as Viṣṇu-with-Śrī, the Lord-and-Consort. But he also embarked on a project to develop an interpretation of the first-century Vedāntasūtra, which presented the supposedly core teachings of the major Upaniṣads, traditionally the last segment of the sacred corpus of the Vedas. Rāmānuja sought to reconcile the devotional commitments of Śrīvaiṣṇavism—which was built on the human yearning for the divine that was incomprehensibly Other while graciously accessible—with the conceptual demands of the Vedānta in which a profound identity between the individual self (ātman) and the impersonal, ultimate explanatory principle (brahman) was taught. This reconciliation of difference and identity came to be called “Qualified Nondualism.” In his earliest work, the Vedārthasaṃgraha, one of the ways Rāmānuja points to reconciliation is through identifying a single state of consciousness as both cognition of nonduality (the Vedāntic project) and the emotionally valent experience of happiness (the supreme expression of the human encounter with the divine). It does not seem that he systematically pursues this conception of how a state can be both cognitive and affective, and such an analysis will require independent philosophical analysis. Thus, this article argues that if a state of consciousness were indeed both cognitive and affective in this way, we would have a full explanation for how the devotional approach of a human being to Viṣṇu-with-Śrī can also be the self’s realization of identity with brahman.
Vedānta Deśika produced his monumental poetic biography of Kṛṣṇa in a time when Kṛṣṇa-centered devotionalism was expanding to become perhaps the dominant mode of bhakti across South Asia. Central to this phenomenon is the growing popularity of the Bhāgavatapurāṇa, and especially of its exploration of Kṛṣṇa’s erotic play with the gopīs in his youth. Troubled by the unrestrained and seemingly adharmic sexuality of Kṛṣṇa, Deśika used the literary techniques and narrative paradigms of the mahākāvya to assimilate but also domesticate this increasingly important Bhāgavata episode: Kṛṣṇa’s eroticism remains central but confined within more conventional marital norms and is thus made dharmically and theologically acceptable. Once he has resolved these dharmic problems, however, Deśika is happy to explore the soteriological, devotional, and paradoxical dimensions of erotic love with Kṛṣṇa.
This article maps the Manvantara section of the Mārkaṇḍeya Purāṇa to reveal a patronymic pattern at play which is key to understanding the interplay between the mythologies of Goddess and Sun found in the Mārkaṇḍeya. It explains why the Devī Māhātmya occurs, especially in the Manvantara, which has puzzled scholars since colonial times. The article argues that the compositional strategy was implemented to present the Goddess as an analog to Viṣṇu, Manu, Sun, and the Indian king, all paragons of preservation.
Salasar Bālājī, Churu District, Rajasthan. A poster photographed by the author.
Mehandipur Bālājī, Karauli-Dausa District, Rajasthan. A poster photographed by the author.
This ethnographic-historical article analyzes urban merchant devotees and collaborating ritualists as agents of cultural change, as witnessed in the recent evolution of miracle deities in Rajasthan. The article focuses on two seemingly opposite manifestations of Hanumān in that state, locally called Bālājī, and argues that merchants’ patronage of these deities has inexorably pushed their divergence. One Bālājī, considered mature and peaceful, promotes merchants’ lineage solidarity and upward mobility. At the same time, the other Bālājī, childlike and aggressive, treats anxiety disorders arising from spirit possession that threaten many of the same merchants’ families. The article interprets these dual outcomes within the Indic cosmological understanding that we live in the Kali Yuga, an era of moral degradation. Hence, devotees say that humanity is nowadays impelled to seek worshipful relationships with miracle deities, thereby restoring order in the world and providing boons for the faithful. The article contends that urban merchants need both of the Bālājīs’ distinct repertoires of miracles, representing the authority of Hanumān as a savior for our times, to address their aspirations and obstacles. Urban merchants’ patronage of these deities’ temples, and their construction of visitors’ facilities, have spurred the rise of devotional publics in northwestern India, extending beyond merchant society itself. Meanwhile, such patronage has also advanced a trend towards pan-Indian canonical Hinduism, bringing the Bālājīs in line with a nationwide norm. The article thus suggests that primordial folk beliefs about divinity are potentially reconfigured in novel ways when merchants prioritize deities based on obtaining miracles.
This article explores the nature and genealogy of Mohandas K. Gandhi’s concept of conscience/antarātmā (inner soul/spirit), the cardinal principle of his religious politics. Much previous scholarship, solely relying upon English materials, has explained the nature of Gandhi’s concept of conscience in relation to Western and Christian Protestant traditions. By chronologically examining his lifelong discourse on conscience expressed in English and antarātmā in Gujarati and Hindi writings, this article shows that: (1) Gandhi developed a distinct variant of hybrid thought that was essentially different from the prevalent negative conception of “guilty conscience” in the modern West by integrating ideas of conscience and ātmā/ātman; (2) since the notion of ātmā was intimately related to the ascetic bodily discipline (brahmacarya), Gandhi identified the essence of his satyāgraha campaign as ātmabaḷ (the force of ātmā) and believed that taking the vow of brahmacarya could enhance one’s vital energy (vīrya); and (3) as Gandhi reached his last years, and the most controversial phase of his intellectual evolution, he developed a new understanding of an inner voice/antarno avāj whose nature was “mystical” (gūḍh), and thereby difficult even for him to articulate in any language.
Līlā, as a concept and term, has a long and complex history in Sanskritic Hinduism, yet, irrespective of context, it has routinely been translated by words signifying “play,” “sport,” and “game” in English and other languages. Focusing mainly on the term’s philosophical and theological connotations in Sanskritic Hinduism, this article challenges these facile and often misleading renderings. It analyzes the semantic functions and nuances of this deceptively multifaceted and important term over a range of contexts, from Vedāntic interpretations of Bādarāyaṇa’s Brahmasūtra 2.1.33 to the term’s meaning over a wide range of occurrences in Hindu tradition. In the process, attention is also given to the associated terms krīḍā and khelā.
The location of Vedic schools (I am grateful to my daughter Alisha Cohen for creating this map)
The Bhagavadgītā is often interpreted in the light of the larger context of the Mahābhārata epic or in comparison to later religious or philosophical texts. Much less attention has been given to the relationship between the Bhagavadgītā and the older Upaniṣads. This article analyzes the relationship of the Bhagavadgītā to the Upaniṣads formally affiliated with the Kṛṣṇa Yajurveda (the Kaṭha, Śvetāśvatara, and Maitrī Upaniṣads) and demonstrates that these four texts are linked together in a complex textual network of mutual references as well as shared themes. This article argues that scholars must understand both the emerging theism of the Bhagavadgītā and its “proto-Sāṃkhya” philosophy in the context of the Kṛṣṇa Yajurveda school and its greater theological and philosophical concerns.
This article discusses the nineteenth-century debate between German and British Indologists on ancient Indian commentators, shedding light on how Italian Indologists received and responded to this discussion. It reveals why Italian scholars, although trained under the most eminent German philologists, often disagreed on the status of native commentaries, sometimes viewing them as an unreliable guide to interpreting the Vedas and other texts. Moreover, Italian criticisms of the German approach to ancient Indian texts reflected differences in the ideological concerns underpinning the hegemonic discourses between Europe and India. Because of both transnational reception and nation-building concerns, the history of Italian Indological studies represents a unique perspective in the context of European approaches to the subcontinent.
Amidst the positively enormous body of literature on processes of the development of Hinduism in Southeast Asia, considerably fewer studies attempt to address the topic of Hindu particularism in the region. Many studies gravitate toward Balinese Agama Hindu Dharma, with perhaps mentions of Batak, Dayak, and others. Ultimately, there is so much evidence in favor of the idea of local religious communities that are simply “Dayak Religion” or “Batak Religion,” the question then arises: Why do these communities get called “Hindu” at all? In this article, based upon a collection of fieldwork in the region and historical analysis, the potential value of the discourse of Hindu particularism through the cases of the Batak, Dayak, and Balinese is examined. In each of these three cases, those scholars of Hinduism will find elements familiar. However, if they are keen observers, scholars of Hinduism will also indeed find elements that are specific to each Southeast Asian context, influenced by a confluence of Dutch colonialism, Japanese imperialism, and the modern Indonesian state. Thus, the article argues what is at stake for these communities that might not otherwise be considered “Hindu” at all is a matter of governmental recognition and, therefore, of livelihood.
The Shambhala Facebook group created a space for individuals to reimagine their religious teachings and practices without the Tibetan Tantric Buddhist student-teacher relationship, which received much criticism after Shambhala’s spiritual leader, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, had been accused of sexual abuse by some of his students. This article examines how digital space contributes to Shambhala members’ negotiations of religious authorities through their communications and membership on the Shambhala Facebook group, for example, by establishing meditation groups that incorporate Shambhala teachings but not the student-teacher relationship. The collection of posts and comments on the Shambhala Facebook group show how the communication processes utilized by this online social group are an example of relational authority, or what Heidi A. Campbell describes as “a negotiation of reciprocity and agency between different parties.”
This article employs digital mapping to better understand historical and contemporary interpretations of pilgrimage routes in Vārāṇasī, North India. Focusing on visitation circuits linking the Aṣṭabhairava (Eight Bhairavas), it compares digital maps of these circuits to descriptions in the fourteenth-century Kāśī Khaṇḍa, nineteenth- and twentieth-century maps, and contemporary listings and pilgrim activity. Mapping and comparing these variants illuminate ways in which sacred geographies are conceived of and interacted with, as well as the various authorities, explanations, and justifications used to make sense of complex systems in sacred spaces. This study does not support theories of the “degradation” of a previously more uniform or ideal sacred landscape, nor explanatory models which suggest that more contemporary routes are the result of historical waves of development. Rather, the routes mapped suggest that an array of context-contingent resources and logics are selected and combined based upon a particular agent’s immediate circumstance in order to determine appropriate ritual action. Instead of describing an historical arc or uncovering an obscured tension between authorities, this study identifies the toolkit with which the sacred territory of Vārāṇasī is remade and reinterpreted, over and again.
This article examines the changing nature of Tantra in the digital era by focusing on three online tāntrik practitioners from Assam. The region of Assam has a long reputation as the quintessential “land of black magic,” and this reputation has continued in the realm of the internet and online tāntrik services. The article argues that these Assamese cyber-tāntrikas reflect at least three key transformations in the practice and representation Tantra. First, they represent a profound challenge to traditional forms of tāntrik authority and a new kind of digital authority—what Heidi A. Campbell calls “alogorhythmic authority”—whereby one gains status and reputation not through established religious institutions but rather through the amplifying power of social media platforms. Second, they reflect the ways in which Tantra in the popular imagination has been largely identified with black magic and also combined with a wide variety of other magical practices from around the globe, most commonly with a (highly stereotyped) version of Voodoo. Finally, they reflect a kind of “Americanized” version of Tantra, which is defined primarily in terms of sex, love, and romance—though also with a uniquely Indian twist and a special focus on the dynamics of marriage, family, and caste relations.
Layers of the Bhaktāmar Stotra development
This article addresses Bhaktamar Mantra Healing (BMH), a healing practice based on a popular Jain stotra. After a preliminary discussion of Tantra and Tantric elements in Jainism, BMH is introduced as the most recent layer in a complex tradition that grew around the Bhaktāmar Stotra and conceptualized as a “Tantric reconfiguration”: a relatively recent creative blending of Jain devotional and Tantric elements with some new influences resulting in a systematized, democratized, and (to an extent) commodified brand of spiritual healing available on the spiritual marketplace. It then proceeds to examine BMH’s significant digital media presence to demonstrate how information provided on the effectiveness and mechanics of mantra healing reveals a complex interplay of shifting religious, spiritual, and scientific narratives and how functional differences between different digital media forms impact upon the prevalence of these different narratives. Ultimately, the article argues that approaching BMH as a Tantric reconfiguration emerging from an encounter of a Jain practice with consumer culture is helpful to make sense of what sets BMH apart from other uses of Jain mantras and of the importance of the digital space BMH has made for itself.
This article offers a dialogue with Mukund Lath. It is comprised of three parts: Part One introduces Lath’s body of work. The second and third parts are a jugalbandī, a duet or dialogue with Lath through his essays “Identity Through Necessary Change” (2003/2018) and “Thoughts on Svara and Rasa: Music as Thinking/Thinking as Music” (2016). In the first essay, Lath discusses the question of identity and self, suggesting through classical Indian music, rāga music, that it is change and plurality, not continuity despite change, that define the human person. In the second essay, Lath creates a dialogue between music and thinking. He looks into the denotative and the evocative elements of language through the notions of abhidhā and vyañjanā, focusing on vyañjanā that is at the heart of music and projecting it as a pramāṇa that reveals a thought-like self-reflexive trajectory at the emotive level of consciousness. In the mirror of thinking, Lath suggests, this unique self-reflexivity that music has to offer becomes more transparent. In the mirror of music, this article adds to Lath’s discussion, thinking can rediscover its own vyañjanā aspect and, moreover, overcome the illusion of “one truth” as its alleged goal.
This article examines the Śrīvaiṣṇava validation of the doctrine of self-surrender to the Supreme God Viṣṇu (prapatti). Prapatti is mentioned by Rāmānuja (traditional dates: circa 1017–1137 CE), the most authoritative teacher (ācārya) of the tradition, as an auxiliary to the path of devotion (bhaktiyoga) that he teaches as a means to mokṣa. After the time of Rāmānuja, prapatti was developed as an alternative means. However, the post-Rāmānuja teachers were committed to arguing that Rāmānuja teaches prapatti as an independent means. The article focuses on Vedāntadeśika (traditional dates: circa 1268–1369 CE), the most influential post-Rāmānuja teacher, and his interpretation of Rāmānuja’s prapatti as a teaching of soteriological prapatti in Vedāntadeśika’s under-researched Nikṣeparakṣā. Vedāntadeśika’s interpretation reflects his harmonization of Rāmānuja’s ambivalent statements regarding prapatti and synthetization of traditional authorities. This study thus contributes to the understanding of Vedāntadeśika’s Nikṣeparakṣā and its development of the doctrine of prapatti and to his critical role in systematizing this doctrine.
The tradition of Nyāya philosophy centers on a dispassionate quest for truth which is simultaneously connected to soteriological and epistemic aims. This article shows how Vācaspati Miśra brings together the soteriological concept of dispassion (vītarāga) with the discourse practices of debate (kathā), as a response to Buddhist criticisms in Dharmakīrti’s Vādanyāya. He defends the Nyāyasūtra’s stated position that fallacious reasoning is a legitimate means for a debate, under certain circumstances. Dharmakīrti argues that such reasoning is rationally ineffective and indicates unvirtuous qualities. For Vācaspati, fallacies are a way to prevent the spread of morally weighty falsehoods when no other method is available to a debater. After showing textual relationships between Vācaspati’s defense and Dharmakīrti’s earlier criticism, it evaluates their arguments, concluding that Vācaspati’s position involves irresolvable tensions with other Nyāya commitments.
Rarely is the presence of the Gujarati saint Jalarām Bāpā (1799–1881) felt more immediately, and indeed collectively, by his devotees in India and throughout the diaspora than when his narrative is recited during the Jalarāmkathā. This article examines the multiexperiential nature of the Jalarāmkathā as it unfolds through various transcendental mediums, all of which center on the kathākār, a public teller of the narrative. It is framed by recent scholarly discussions regarding Robert A. Orsi’s suggestion that we need to go beyond the modern, liberal, Western historiographical paradigm and allow the real encounter with the gods to be brought back into scholarly conversation and analysis. In this respect, the article argues that kathā in general, and the Jalarāmkathā in particular, not only provide the conditions for Orsi’s notion of “abundant event” to become manifest, whereby the presence of the transcendent is fully experienced by the devotees, but also shed further light upon the notions of “abundant space” and “abundant performance.”
The pursuit of kalyāṇ is pivotal for many Hindus. The Hindi kalyāṇ is close, yet not equivalent, to the English term “well-being.” It is a desirable, utopian, holistic state of being that facilitates a range of pursuits: worldly and extra worldly, secular and religious, mundane and soteriological, material and spiritual. In other words, kalyāṇ is the aim of their lives as Hindus. This article aims to establish the widespread everyday use of kalyāṇ in contemporary North India, despite its absence from the academic literature, and to trace its usages, meaning(s), and spread in the Hindi-Hindu public spheres, through three cases: the classic Indic theory of well-being (puruṣārthas), the Kalyāṇ magazine published by Gita Press since 1926, and the theology of kalyāṇ in everyday lived religion. The article argues that kalyāṇ, as it is rooted in urban and modern ideas of “the good life,” synthesizes the holistic fourfold aims of the puruṣārthas and broadens their meanings. Thus, kalyāṇ is an individual, self-achieved state that does not have much to do, at least in theory, with predetermined conditions such as caste, gender, destiny, and karma.
Many scholars have identified sūkṣma dharma (subtle dharma) as a central theme of the Mahābhārata. However, beyond recognizing it as an understanding of dharma that is elusive and ambiguous, there has been relatively little investigation into the meaning and implications of sūkṣma dharma. As this article shows, even if the central episodes of the main story leave sūkṣma dharma undefined or unclear, the Mahābhārata’s embedded narratives (upākhyānas) offer more explicit descriptions and demonstrations that can shed light on this otherwise elusive understanding of dharma. By focusing on three substories, the article argues that sūkṣma dharma is presented as a coherent and communicable teaching about how to act in morally ambiguous situations. This understanding of sūkṣma dharma, as the article shows, is often associated with subaltern characters who demonstrate their knowledge through—what the article characterizes as—intuition and spontaneity in everyday situations.
In a comparative study of karma theodicy and atonement theodicy, as developed by some Hindu and Christian theologians, this article argues that they present teleological visions where individuals become purged, purified, and perfected in and through their worldly suffering. A karma theodicy operates with the notion that there is some form of proportionality between past evil and present suffering, even if such correlations can only be traced by an enlightened sage or are known to the omniscient God. Christian mystics too seek not so much to explain suffering as to identify suffering with the agony of Christ on the cross, and they envision such suffering as part of a unitive journey where their love of Christ is purified. In these ways, both styles of theodicy use rational resources towards the goal of explanation, while reminding their adherents that the faltering intelligibility that they seek is to be seen as an integral component of their active participation in a sense of theological mystery that enfolds, and yet transcends, their finite existences.
This article reexamines Sri Aurobindo’s multifaceted response to the problem of evil in The Life Divine. According to my reconstruction, his response has three key dimensions: first, a skeptical theist refutation of arguments from evil against God’s existence; second, a theodicy of “spiritual evolution,” according to which the experience of suffering is necessary for the soul’s spiritual growth; and third, a panentheistic conception of the Divine Saccidānanda as the sole reality which playfully manifests as everything and everyone in the universe. While a number of scholars have already discussed Aurobindo’s theodicy, I highlight the significance of three aspects of his theodicy that have been largely neglected. First, I emphasize the crucial theodical role of the “psychic entity,” Aurobindo’s term for the evolving, reincarnating soul within each of us. Second, I elucidate the skeptical theist dimension of his theodicy, which previous scholars have overlooked. Third, I argue that Aurobindo’s approach to the problem of evil may have been shaped, in part, by the teachings of Śrī Rāmakṛṣṇa. Along the way, I also reconstruct the subtle chain of reasoning underlying Aurobindo’s various theodical arguments. In the concluding section, I suggest that there are conceptual resources within Aurobindo’s thought for responding to some of the most serious objections scholars have leveled against his theodicy.
Svāmī Vivekānanda’s (1863–1902) relationship with his guru Śrī Rāmakṛṣṇa ( ca. 1836–1886), and his role in the creation of the Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission in the final decade of the nineteenth century, has attracted far more scholarly attention than the meanings invested in Vivekānanda after his death by devotees and admirers beyond the Math and Mission and by the various organizations that have disseminated these meanings. To redress this imbalance, this article examines the message embodied in, and projected by, the Vivekananda Rock Memorial at Kanniyakumari. It explores the Memorial’s contribution to Kanniyakumari’s expanding role as a tourist destination and the problematic nature of the story that has provided the rationale for the Memorial’s location. It shows how evolving versions of this story have fed the different understandings of Vivekānanda’s mission now institutionalized respectively in the Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission and the Vivekananda Kendra, which manages the Memorial. It argues that the creation of the Memorial has directed attention away from Kolkata (Calcutta), the scene of Vivekānanda’s interaction with his guru Rāmakṛṣṇa, and thus away from that seminal relationship. The Memorial presents, instead, Vivekānanda’s experience at Kanniyakumari as the defining moment in his evolving mission as a “spiritual nationalist.” The article concludes by noting implications of this shift for the critical understanding of Vivekānanda, emphasizing the importance of the Rock Memorial’s function as an increasingly popular portal to “Vivekānanda of Kanniyakumari.”
The classical traditions of Vedānta in India explored the problem of why an omnipotent being like God would permit sentient beings to suffer in His creation. This article explores the solution provided to the problem of suffering by the sixteenth-century philosopher Vyāsatīrtha. Vyāsatīrtha argued that there is a satisfying explanation of why God would permit suffering to both exist and to be unevenly distributed among the individual souls trapped in transmigratory existence. He claims that we can only reconcile the idea of an independent, omnipotent God with the existence of suffering by assuming that God’s treatment of the individual souls is based primarily in their eternal, immutable ethical natures and not purely on their conduct/karma as some earlier philosophers suggested. The article is based on original translations of the passages in the Tātparyacandrikā where Vyāsatīrtha makes these arguments against his Advaita and Viśiṣṭādvaita opponents.
It has long been recognized that the Indian subcontinent is home to two markedly different systems of kinship that broadly correspond to prominent linguistic and geographical divisions in the region: those of the Indo-Āryan North and the Dravidian South. Moreover, scholars have widely agreed that the most distinctive feature of Dravidian kinship is the widespread practice of cross-cousin marriage in its various forms. In the Indo-Āryan North, by contrast, a man is generally forbidden from marrying a woman to whom he is biologically related in any way within a fairly large number of generations. Nevertheless, by the close of the first millennium CE, Brāhmaṇa intellectuals throughout India shared in common both a canon of scriptural sources and a complex tradition of jurisprudence known as Dharmaśāstra. Hence, this raises the question: How did classical Brāhmaṇical jurists of the North and the South deal with the controversial issue of cross-cousin marriage? It is this question that this article aims to address in comprehensive detail. In particular, it will trace the treatment of cross-cousin marriage within Dharmaśāstra from the earliest texts of the tradition up to the two earliest and most prominent juridical defenses of the custom, composed in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. It will then conclude by drawing attention to a rare case where a particular Dharmaśāstra work can be seen to have influenced the marriage practices in a particular region of South India in the premodern past.
In Harivaṃśa chapter 83, Kṛṣṇa’s brother Baladeva changes the course of the river Yamunā, using his plough. This article reviews previous interpretations of Baladeva’s deed by André Couture and Lavanya Vemsani and develops in detail an interpretation briefly proposed by A. Whitney Sanford, whereby the deed is viewed, among many superimposed views, as at some level a sexual assault. This angle is explored in the article in various ways, with close reference to the Sanskrit text. The article includes discussion of the dialogue between Baladeva and the personified Yamunā, Baladeva’s connection to plough agriculture, the dynamic between Baladeva and Kṛṣṇa, and Vaiśaṃpāyana’s commentary on the events.
Top-cited authors
Ankur Barua
  • University of Cambridge
Joydeep Bagchee
Philip Lutgendorf
  • University of Iowa
Deonnie Moodie
  • University of Oklahoma
Ayon Maharaj
  • Ramakrishna Mission Vivekananda University