Sunday, September 21, 2014

One and the Many: Looking at the Question of Religious Pluralism in India from a Materialist Philosophical/ Theological Perspective

One and the Many: Looking at the Question of Religious Pluralism in India from a Materialist Philosophical/ Theological Perspective

There is a Vedic aphorism in India: “Truth is one, sages call it by many names.”  This aphorism has been used to denote the religious/ cultural tolerance in India. The Vedic theologies/ philosophies like Advaita (non-dualism) hinge on the logic of One, of course, which is not the totalitarian One.  The Advaitic logic of One, according to its theologians and philosophers, is nothing but ‘all-inclusive mansion which has many rooms within.’ For them, this Oneness is to be explained in terms of its depth and abyss, mystery and negativity; but not in terms of the numerical logic of One.[i]  Indian Christian theologians who appropriated the Vedic philosophy/ theology, found it as the epistemological habitation for the Christian doctrine of trinity-the logic of accommodating many in to One.  As efforts to interact with ‘the other’ religious and philosophical traditions in India and to make Christian theology contextual and ‘indigenous’, these theological inventions are to be validated and acknowledged.   At the same time, the absence of the dialogical engagement with the materialistic philosophical traditions makes us inquisitive and on the other hand, invokes us to listen more carefully to the theologies from the margins that posed sharp criticisms to the transcendental logic of the Vedic theologies in Indian Christian Theology.

It may be true that the materialistic philosophical traditions like Carvaka/ Lokayata and the counter-Vedic religious traditions like Buddhism and Jainism might not have made a visible effect in the Indian theological/ philosophical academy. At the same time, those interrogations to the transcendentalist, all embracing, and accommodative politics of the Vedic epistemologies and the subsequent legitimizations of the ‘unitary social orders’ are still validated in the political/ theological aspirations of the marginalized sections in the contemporary post-modern/ post-colonial India. For example, we have to ask certain questions like how do we address the Ambedkarite political philosophy that vehemently challenges the Vedic logic of One that pretends to be all inclusive and plural? How does he appropriate the materialist religious/ philosophical traditions in India to augment the political becoming of the marginalized in Indian democracy?  What would be our response to Ambedkar’s re-definition of religion as an ethico-political practice (Dhamma) that denies any kind of notions of a Transcendent Big Other who legitimizes the theo-logic of a ‘unitary social order’ from ‘beyond’?  Setting it in this wider spectrum, this paper tries to address the question of religious pluralism as it is attended by the Vedic and non-Vedic religious traditions in India and tries to formulate a theological response to the problem of ‘one and the many’ from the materialistic philosophical traditions in India. It analyzes how the early materialistic philosophical traditions like Lokayata addressed the question of plurality differently and how it has been appropriated in the (post) modern and the (post) colonial Indian context by Ambedkar in order to re-define the notions of God, human freedom, and religion.  By addressing the problem of ‘one and the many,’ this study proposes a materialist philosophical/ theological response to the problem of religious pluralism in India.  

Published in NCC Review, September 2014 issue.
Rev. Dr. Y. T. Vinayaraj


[i] For a detailed study on this point see, S. Wesley Ariarajah, “One and Many: The Struggle to Understand Plurality within the Indian Tradition and Its Implications for the Debate on Religious Plurality Today” in Divine Multiplicity: Trinities, Diversities, and the Nature of Relation, edited by Chris Boesel & S. Wesley Ariarajah (New York: Fordham University Press, 2014), 106-118.