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Advaita and the Project of Comparative Philosophy

Mukerji, Raju, and Shrivastava, in their somewhat distinctive ways, intervened in post-Kantian debates, sometimes mediated by British philosophers, about the nature of the self and the Absolute. Their hermeneutic projects were also pioneering exercises in ‘comparative philosophy’, and they often reflected on the methodologies of their readings, from within the contexts of Advaita, of various British idealists. Raju notes that comparative philosophy has been criticized for focusing primarily on similarities and not engaging critically with differences across conceptual systems.

For example, when Śaṁkara’s Brahman is compared with Spinoza’s eternal substance, it is forgotten that Śaṁkara applies a dialectic in indicating the self-established Brahman and would have disagreed with Spinoza’s attempt, through his geometrical method, to deduce the phenomenal world from the eternal. Therefore, Raju argues that comparisons should be attempted between entire systems of concepts with their detailed interrelations, and not between individual concepts (TR, 25). The emphasis on the methodical exploration of conceptual systems is reiterated by Shrivastava more specifically in the case of comparative studies of Śaṁkara and Bradley, which, he notes, ‘have usually contented themselves with merely pointing out superficial similarities and have therefore failed to probe deeper into their fundamental differences; or else they have overemphasized differences and consequently failed to appreciate the underlying unity in the thinking …’ (SB, 5).

A cursory reading of Mukerji’s Nature of Self would seem to suggest that he is engaged in merely cataloguing resemblances between European philosophical standpoints and Advaitic themes. For instance, Mukerji notes that Śaṁkara, in his commentary on the Praśnopaniṣad VI.2, had discussed four competing theories of consciousness and argues that ‘almost every theory of consciousness that is still in the forefront of philosophical discussion today’ can be placed under one of Śaṁkara’s headings (NS, 117). Again, he argues that Śaṁkara’s arguments against the Buddhist understanding of causality in terms of dependent arising ‘embody essentially Green’s criticism of Hume’s attempt to combine the theory of flux with causal connection’ (NS, 195).

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