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T.S. Rukmani

Contact Information




Department of Religion
Concordia University
1455 de Maisonneuve West
Montreal, Quebec, H3G 1M8, Canada.



(514) 848-4085



(514) 848-4541


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Background Information

Currently Rukmani is the Chair in Hindu Studies at Concordia University, Montreal, Canada. This is the only Chair of this kind in the whole of North America and perhaps the world over.Her major publications include critically annotated English translations of Yoga Sanskrit manuscripts like Vijnanabhibksu's Yogavarttika (in four volumes) and Sankara's Yogasutrabasyavivarana (in two volumes). Besides Yoga philosophy her other specializations include Advaita Vedanta (book: Sankara,The Man and His Philosophy); Puranas and popular Hinduism (book: A Critical Study of the Bhagavata Purana); Sankhya Philosophy; itihasa studies (in particular the Mahabharata); Dharmasastra; Hindu Diaspora; Sanskrit Literature (especially Kalidasa); and Women Studies. She has published research papers in all of these areas.

New Abstract

Dynamics of Being and Becoming in Hindu Thought: A Hermeneutic Exercise

Hindu Thought, very early in its growth, developed and contrasted the twin ideas of 'engagement in the world' and 'disengagemnet from the world' which I call 'Becoming' and 'Being' in this presentation. They can be equated to 'pravrttimarga' and 'nivrttimarga' which became standardized in later religious and philosophical literature in Hinduism and mentioned as such by Sankara in his introduction to his commentary on the Bhagavadgita. Using Sankara'a age i.e. the eighth century of the Common Era as a watershed, when all the marks that define and distinguish these two paths got sharpened, this presentation examines the dynamics of the growth of these twin concepts. It will become clear, in the course of the examination, that 'pravrtti' and 'nivrtti' were the logical outcome of the spiritual outlook which characterized Vedic thought and which became the hallmark of Indic civilization in its various manifestations. Pravrtti and Nivrtti will continue to make adjustments and add on new meanings in the period of the various reform movements and well into the modern age where we find thinkers like Panduranga Sastri Athavale interpret these values in an unique manner.

Read the entire paper in PDF format (32K, 14 pp.)

Previous Abstract

Misperceptions of the early Orientalists and and their enduring impact on contemporary understandings of Indic traditions.

W.C. Smith proposed a radical idea called a critical corporate consciousness to be adopted when research is conducted in the humane sciences i.e. in the study of man by man, in his paper "Objectivity and the Humane Sciences: A New perspective," in Transactions of the Royal Society of Canada, Series IV/Volume XII/ 1974. In this paper he bemoans the fact that in the name of objectivity, the study of humans conducted in the human sciences, has not done justice to the study of subjects where human beings themselves are the objects of study. He calls into question the very idea of objectivity as applied in the sciences, when applied to the social sciences involving humans.

For Smith, there is no truly objective knowledge when humans study other humans which is theoretically inapt and practically disruptive. So one has to resort to corporate critical consciousness which Smith explains as No statement involving persons is valid...unless its validity can be verified both by the persons involved and by critical observers not involved Thus, in summary, Smiths unique contribution in the study of other people, be it their culture, social customs or religious behaviour, was to discard both objective knowlege and subjective knowledge in themselves, and instead adopt a corporate critical consciousness in order to avoid as far as possible, the pitfalls which would otherwise characterize such studies.

Applying this criteria to Oriental scholarship in the West, Smith recounts their successive stages as: first ignorance, secondly impressionistic awareness of random parts of the culture (an outside subjective stage); thirdly, a growingly systematic and accurate yet insensitive and externalist knowledge of fact (an objective stage); and more recently, and richly promising, the beginnings of serious and even profound humane understanding of the role and meaning of those facts in the lives and culture of the persons involved. He goes on to state that this last is a personalist knowledge. Referring specifically to the study of Indias religious history, in this context, Smith mentions that this personal knowledge ...generates statements about Indian life that both Indian and outside observers jointly recognize as true and illuminating.

We are painfully aware that, while there are exceptional Oriental scholars like Smith, who try to follow this path, it is still not the norm in academic research circles that study other cultures. Perhaps books like Kalis Child could have been written differently if such a methodology were to be adopted.

When I use the title Misperceptions of the Early Orientalists I talk about the incorrect understanding of these early Orientalists who adopted the so-called objectivist methodology. That in effect meant an objectivist study of a human society or religion by a subject who already had a subjectivist understanding of how religion, ethics, philosophy, cultural norms etc., had to be, which were based on what he already knew from his own religion, culture and society. I am deliberately using a gender-biased language here, for almost all of the early Oriental scholars were indeed men.

While the subjectivity of a persons own background might intrude in humane studies unknowingly even when there is an empathetic approach to the other, another kind of subjectivity also operated in early Oriental Studies which scholars like Edward Said have so eloquently portrayed. This mainly flowed from a superiority complex derived from being more powerful than the other due to various circumstances and situations. While earlier this was manifested in the psychology of the colonizer we can find its reincarnation presently in those who wield superior economic or political power.

One critique of this study of the Misperceptions of the early Orientalists, could be to say that it is no more relevant as there are any number of scholars like Smith himself, who genuinely worked and are working within a personalist methodology. While there are some exceptionally sensitive scholars in Oriental Studies today, there are also an equal or even more numbers who have not crossed the threshold of the limitations pointed out by Smith and so this can still be relevant.

While that in itself can be a justification for this kind of study, another compelling reason is that the early beginnings of the study of any discipline, especially if the scholars are well known and eminent in their field, define for later generations, among other things, the methodology and approach to understanding alien ideas and concepts. In a sense we like to go back to what was done before in order to advance further in the field. In the process, very often, the previous errors in conveying the ideas of a foreign religion and culture not only get perpetuated but get entrenched into the disciplines themselves.

These are enough justifications for examining the misperceptions of the pioneers of Oriental Studies. To misperceive is to perceive incorrectly and we will see how some of these eminent scholars perceived incorrectly the culture and religion of another people, sometimes, in spite of their best intentions and sometimes with ulterior preconceived notions. Because these are eminent Indologists, historians, and sociologists, what they wrote still has a certain power and authority in their respective fields. I shall first give some samplings of these misperceptions often due to a subjectivist attitude based on the scholars own religion and culture, and then using devas as an example will demonstrate how the very understanding of Hinduism has been distorted due to this initial misperception, and continues to hold sway to the present day.