Unity in Plenitude


On December 19, 1925, in Calcutta, the first All-India Philosophy Congress was held in order to rediscover and further develop the rich philosophic patrimony of the subcontinent. The direction given by its President, the great Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore, was that philosophers should look to the philosophy of the people.1 His words echoed Gandhi’s pointer to the village and its values. In this, as in many matters, Tagore and Ghandi showed keen good sense which time is proving prophetic.

It was good sense, for were a person raised in a village to visit New Delhi or New York he would need a city dweller in order to get around and make arrangements for lodging. On a trip to the source of the Amazon, however, only a native accustomed to traveling by foot and finding food and shelter in the forest would be of help. The more sophisticated the guide the less he could be of-assistance; the guide from Delhi or New York would be totally helpless.

There is more here than mere common sense. Horticulturalists have found that the more highly refined a strain of rice the more reduced are its capabilities for adaptation. Conversely, wild grains have great capacity for adaptation and survival. Hence, they are looked upon genetically, not as deficient, but as treasuries of the capacities needed to develop grains adapted to new or more difficult environments. In archeology new findings are continually manifesting human capacities for iron work and for art long before these had been expected on the basis of earlier developmental theories. These and similar findings have suggested the need to reconsider the oversimplified evolutionary model of an univocal and self-sufficient process from the less to the more perfect. Especially, they call for a reassessment of views predicated thereupon regarding the origin and the nature of foundational understanding of the nature and meaning of the human person.

This reassessment as regards the basis of human self-understanding is further urged by the combination of, on the one hand, the great antiquity of Sruti such as the Vedas and the Upanishads and, on the other hand, their unique continuing capacity to judge what is worst and to inspire what is most noble in human behavior. "Like a rich man, who knows how to bring both new and old things out of his treasure house," they bear witness to a transcendent dimension of human reason. Through the ages this has made possible the drama of life in the simplest household, while relativising the accomplishments of even the greatest human empires. It transcends time, but grounds every temporal vision.

Gradually, even grudgingly, we adjust our chronology of human life lived with care and concern upon learning, for example, that at the time of the claimed arrival of the Aryans, roughly between 2,000 and 1500 BC, the peoples of the Indus valley already had cities such as Harappa and Mohanjodaro with design, drainage and public facilities often surpassing those of the present.2 C. Kunan Raja points out that, as prior to the Vedas there existed a great people and an advanced civilization, the hymns of the Rg Veda are not anticipations but "a scanty remnant from an earlier date of an immense store of philosophy, grand, sublime, profound, clear and definite." Hence, "the latter-day systems of philosophy must be traced to earlier stages through the Upanishads to the Rg Veda and also to a much earlier stage of Pre-Vedic philosophy."3 If we are to choose the appropriate tools for such a task it will be important for us to know how much earlier this might be.

Everything said thus far simply pales before the realization that Harappa and Mohanjodaro existed during only the last one-half of one percent of the 200,000 years since the time people left their polished stone instruments in the Mysore areas to the south. This, in turn, is but one-tenth of the way to those people in East Africa whose fossils can be traced back some 2,000,000 years.4

As the love of wisdom, philosophy and especially its metaphysics must search out the content of the comprehension which bore man up in this successful voyage across so vast a sea of time. What was the bark? What was its tiller, and by what was it guided and corrected? How did its crew hold together through the countless stormy trials, and how did they manage to emerge with such complex and elegant cultures?

For discovering this prehistoric understanding writ in the lives of countless generations it will not be sufficient to search for its echoes in the texts of hymns and myths which we can trace only to relatively recent time. Anthropology will be necessary, but it will not constitute a sufficient tool for, as Arthur Keith has noted correctly,5 the issue is too philosophical to be decided by empirical means alone. To anthropology then must be added philosophy, especially as hermeneutics. Fortunately, recent progress in this field, following some key insights of Heidegger, makes it possible to articulate more precisely the goal of our search, to elaborate a method for its discovery, and to begin to apply the method to the phenomenon of totemism in primitive societies. The intention here is not simply to discover thought that is past, but to identify that indispensable principle for human life which grounds cultures and transcends


Heidegger’s assessment of the relation between Plato and the Pre Socratics provides both a key to his articulation of the task to be undertaken and an illustration of the method he elaborated for its accomplishment. Pre-Socratic philosophy reflected in a general and unsophisticated manner the variety and powerful vitality of reality. To improve upon this vision Plato had focused on forms, natures, or ideas, which he elaborated through dialectics with such great dialectical brilliance that all western philosophy since then has been termed by Alfred North Whitehead a set of footnotes to Plato. Unfortunately, the progress made in the conceptual clarification of the variety of nature was accompanied by a corresponding loss of sensitivity to the power and activity of nature, that is, to its existential reality. To remedy the loss, Heidegger held, we must now return to the vision of the Pre-Socratics in order to retrieve its dynamic existential element. Forward progress in philosophy today, that is, the development of insight that is radically new, will depend, not upon further conceptual development of modern forms, but upon reaching back prior to Plato in order to develop what he had omitted.6

This example from Heidegger’s thought is replete with indications for a methodology for our project. First, one needs to look at thought historically. This does not mean merely the forward direction of Hegel’s search for ever more formal articulation. Like genetic strains in horticulture, these become increasingly enslaved to ever more specific conditions as they become more remote from their origins. On the contrary, what is most essential must be sought where in principle the forward process of scientific conceptualization cannot operate. It must be sought in that which is essentially unscientific, according to the terminology of the "scientific interpretation that brands as unscientific everything that transcends its limits."7 Radical newness is to be found, if anywhere, not in further elaboration of what has already been conceptualized, but in a step backward (Der Schritt zuruck) into that which was in some way present at the beginning of philosophizing and has remained unspoken throughout. Far from having been thought or even been thinkable, this reality has been obscured by the objectifying effect of much of the thought which has been developed thus far.8

The task then will be, not merely to restate in a more perfect manner what has already been less perfectly stated, but to open ourselves to the reality toward which our historical efforts at conceptualization as such were not directed. Thus, one finds in the term ‘metaphysics’ reference to that which lies "beyond" (meta) the project of Aristotle’s Physics. The Brhadaranyaka Upanishad states that "when to the knower of Brahman everything has become the Self, then . . . what should one think and through what, . . . through what . . . should one know the Knower?"9 Similarly, the Brahma Sutras state as a first principle that "(Brahman is not known from any other source) since the scriptures are the valid means of Its knowledge."10

One method for developing a greater awareness of this foundation of thought consists, then, in looking back as far as possible toward the origins of thought in order to rediscover what subsequently had been left unsaid because, it seems, too rich for the limited capacities of categorization. This is a return to our beginnings precisely in order to begin again in a new and more radical manner. To do this one must avoid projecting the limitations of one’s own conceptualizations upon the origins. Hence, the manner of approach must not be that of the defining and delimiting which systems of philosophy require for their structured processes of reasoning. Instead, it must be one of enquiry, that is, of opening to what has been left unsaid.

It would appear important, therefore, to look back into human experience for the mode and content of thought which preceded not only the beginnings of philosophy in the proper sense of the term, but the forms of mythic symbolization which specify the distinctive cultures which derive therefrom. For this we must employ data from anthropology regarding life in primitive societies throughout the world. This, in turn, will require the development of a philosophic hermeneutic adapted to discovering in the simplest forms of the lived experience of mankind what is foundational, and therefore common.

The term ‘primitive’ itself is in need of rehabilitation along etymological lines in order to convey once again that which is first and basic for all else. It is a fundamental fallacy, notes Heidegger, to believe "that history begins with the primitive and backward, the weak and helpless. The opposite is true. The beginning is strongest and mightiest. What comes afterward is not development but flattening the results from mere spreading out; it is inability to retain the beginning . . . (which) is emasculated and exaggerated into a caricature."11

How can these beginnings be known? Because they precede, not only the philosophical tradition, but even the pre-philosophical oral tradition expressed in the myths, it is necessary to invert the general hermeneutic directive to attend to the words themselves. Instead, the following special hermeneutic principles must be followed in analyzing and interpreting the philosophic significance of our origins, namely (a) the manner of acting will be more significant than what is said; (b) the manner of thinking and feeling will not be separable from the manner of acting; and (c) the preconditions or conditions of possibility of this manner of thought, feeling, and acting will be the most significant of all.

To implement this the remainder of this chapter will take the following three steps. First, an anthropological analysis of the totem as the primitives’ means for social self-identification and coordination will determine the structural characteristics of their life and thought. Secondly, an internal-analysis of these structures and their transformations will show that they depend for their meaning upon a unity, a whole, or a fullness; further, hermeneutic reflection will identify where this unity is to be sought in the life of the primitive. Finally, awareness of this unity will be located in the notion of the totem as a plenitude and the participational vision of reality this entails.


During the last century anthropologists remarked the constant tendency of primitive peoples in the most disparate places to identify themselves and their relations with other men and with nature in terms of a totem. This might be a bird or animal, or at times, even an inanimate object or direction. Because all areas of life in these simplest societies were predicated upon the totem, their culture is termed totemistic. Levi-Strauss’ totemism is a history of the anthropological work on this notion in this century,12 and thereby a history of anthropology itself since 1910. It begins with a severely reductionist critique of the totem by positivist anthropological theory.13 The notion, however, proved to be so essential that it could not be dispensed with. Hence, there followed four steps by which successive schools of anthropology progressively reconstructed the formal structure of the totem. Not surprisingly, the steps are those by which one constructs a formal analogy of proper proportionality of the form A: B:: C: D.

First, A. P. Elkin identified the simple logical relation A: C between, e.g., a bird and a tribe. This had both an analytic function for classifying groups so as to implement rules of inter-marriage, and a synthetic function expressing continuity between humans and nature. Secondly, Malinowski added subjective utility or pragmatic value to this relation, pointing to the biological significance of the totem as good to eat, or to its psychological importance in controlling fears.

Thirdly, to explain the special use of certain types of animals anthropologists went beyond subjective utility to objective analogy. At first this was stated by M. Fortes and R. Forth merely in terms of direct resemblance or external analogy of the members of a tribe or clan to their totem. For example, just as tribe C is similar to the eagle (A: C), so tribe D is similar to the sparrow (B: D) or A: C :: B: D. Fourthly, A. R. Radcliffe-Browne corrected this by noting that the analogy was between sets, not of similarities, but of differences. Just as the high flying eagle (A) is different from, but related to the low flying sparrow (B), so the members of two tribes (C and D) are both distinct and related, i. e., A: B:: C: D. In this view the totem was not necessarily good to eat, but it was good to think.

These four steps reconstructed the essential analogy of forms in the totemic relation, but this was not yet structuralism, i. e., structure alone, for content had not yet been reduced to form. Levi-Strauss took that step and directed attention to the logical connection between the pairs of opposites, i. e., between the A: B, on the one hand, and the C: D, on the other. He located the principle of the unity between the species chosen as totems and their tribes in a formal condition, namely in their having in common at least one formal characteristic which permitted them to be compared.14

If, in fact, this condition and hence the unity of such structures requires other factors beyond the order of form and structure, the investigation of such factors would require methods of analysis different from structuralism. We have begun, however, with the formal in order to be able to draw upon the extensive developments in the abstractive science of anthropology. Upon the formal structure thus scientifically established we can now reflect with the tools of philosophic hermeneutics in order to establish whether further meaning is to be sought in the totemic fact and if so where it can be found.


There are, indeed, reasons to believe that more is required than can be articulated in the purely formal structuralist analysis of Lèvi-Strauss. First of all, his thought in classifying the pairs of species is of a categorical nature. Such thought has all those limitations of definition which concerned Heidegger. B. Lonergan describes it as a method of determination, which therefore has limited denotation and varies with cultural differences. Levi-Strauss’ condition for the totemic relation between the pairs A: B and C: D, namely, that the pairs have in common at least one characteristic in terms of which they can be compared, cannot be fulfilled by categorical thought alone. Because that consists of forms which are contraries and hence limited, none of its objects could constitute the common element required for the total unity of structures. In principle, the search for the basis of the unity even of formal structures cannot be carried out in terms of the limited denotations of abstractive knowledge. Instead, it requires transcendental thought or intending which is "comprehensive in connotation, unrestricted in denotation and invariant over cultural change."15

The need for this comprehensive and cognitive unity is confirmed by Jean Piaget from the nature of structuralism itself. He criticizes Lévi-Strauss for attending too exclusively to structure, form and essence, which abstract factors, he claims, can be explained psychologically by the mere permanence of the human intellect. What is more fundamental for structuralism is the fact that structures are generated by a system of operational structural transformations. These transformations require a subject which cannot be impersonal, for it is the cognitive nucleus common to all subjects. Neither can it be individual for, through the series of transformations in which the structure is constituted on ever new and broader levels, this subject is progressively decentered.16 Hence, in principle it must be beyond any contrary or any concept; it must be unique and comprehensive. Much as Nicholas of Cusa’s "folding together" or complicatio, the system of structural transformations points to a unity which is reducible to no individual.

This first level of reflection upon the structural analysis of totemism in terms of form alone points to what Heidegger referred to above as "the unthought". He identifies a number of its characteristics. It must be one, unlimited, and spirit; it is the principle of all transformations and the basis of the unity, form and content of all structures.

A further and hermeneutic level of reflection by Paul Ricoeur in his essay, "Structure and Hermeneutics," identifies where this principle of the totemic relation is manifested. Above we questioned the self-sufficiency of the notion of a common characteristic by which the totemic species and the tribe are compared. Ricoeur continues this question noting that, while structural relations are based proximately upon semantic analogies, more fundamentally they depend upon real similarity of content.17 For this reason, the totemic relations or homologies between species in categorical terms presuppose as the conditions of their possibility a more fundamental unity of meaning; this, in turn, presupposes a corresponding unity or whole of meaning and of being. There is "no structural analysis . . . without a hermeneutic comprehension of the transfer of sense. . . . In turn, neither is there any hermeneutic comprehension without the support of an economy, of an order in which the symbol signifies . . . (for) symbols symbolize only within wholes which limit and link their significations."18

Further, this fundamental whole or plenitude of meaning is both cognitive and affective, for man first perceives meanings through feelings. Hence, the concrete logic of the primitive will have, not only cognitive, but affective aspects, and both will be essential to our search. Earlier in this century the philosopher anthropologist Lucien Levy-Bruhl pointed out that the two were not yet distinguished in what he termed the "collective representations" by which the members of a particular tribe interpret and respond to other men and to nature. The totemic logic of proportionality between men and animals unfolds against the background of a general cognitive affective sense of kinship, between men and totemic animals. It is to this collective representation of kinship that we must look in order to discover the awareness of the plenitude upon which the totemic relation was grounded.

The scientific constructs and models which help to interpret life, because they abstract from time, are synchronomous. With Heidegger, it must be urged that they express the form only and not the content or the reality; they are not life, but only "a secondary level of expression, subordinate to the surplus of meaning found in the symbolic stratum."19 The actual appearance of this meaning takes place only in diachronous relations, that is, those in which the "disinterested, attentive, fond and affectionate love (of kinship) is acquired and transmitted through the attachments of marriage and upbringing."20 We must look to this process, to the life of the family in its simplest human contexts of tribe and clan, for that fundamental and foundational meaning. Remaining unthought, it is the principle of all beings and meanings.

Further, the search for this principle must inquire without imposing delimiting categories. Hence, our questions must not concern individual realizations, for the "unthought" is never adequately expressed in any individual’s life or any combinations thereof. Instead our questions must concern the conditions of possibility for concrete life as lived within the unity of a tribe. This exceeds even the diachronous succession of generations, while being pointed to by those concrete tribal lives as the non-thematized condition of their possibility.


The members of a tribe, clan, or other group living and acting together must not look upon others simply as alien, antithetic, or indifferent. Rather, others must be considered with positive attitudes of unity, such as care or concern. Further, such attitudes must be more than merely subjective. If they have promoted rather than destroyed human life through the aeons of so-called primitive life, these are ways in which human not only feels, but actually are, well. They must then reflect something essential to objective human reality. This is the more true of their condition of possibility. What then is the condition of possibility of these positive attitudes of one towards the other in a tribe or clan?

This question was studied by Levy-Bruhl in his work, How Natives think, on the cognitive-affective collective representations of the first and simplest societies. His investigations led him to the totem as that in terms of which these persons saw themselves to be united in accordance with what he terms the law of participation. In the most disparate places and climes tribes identified an animal or thing as their totem, its specific nature being differentiated according to the locale. Their perception of their relation to this totem was not simply that of a person to his father from whom he derives, to his name by which he is designated externally, or to a later state which he will enter, such as that following death. Levy-Bruhl notes that under questioning they reject all such relations as inadequate. Rather, the members of the tribes insisted that they quite directly are their totem. "They give one rigidly to understand that they are araras at the present time, just as if a caterpillar declared itself to be a butterfly." They understand their relation to the totem to be one of simple identity or, in the words of Levy-Bruhl "a mystical community of substance."21

This unity is in no wise merely an abstract identity of essence or nature, such as would be reflected by a structuralist analysis of forms. Rather, it is a concrete and living identity or participation in the totem. It is in these terms that the primitive interprets his entire life, determining both the real significance of the actions he has performed and what he should or should not do.

In analyzing the most characteristic of the primitive’s institutions--such as (a) totemic relationship . . .--we have found that his mind does more than present his object to him: it possesses it and is possessed by it. It communes with it and participates in it, not only in the ideological but also in the physical and mystical sense of the word. The mind does not imagine it merely; it lives it . . . their participation in it is so effectually lived that it is not yet properly imagined.22

This insistence upon unity with the totem manifests a state of both thought and feeling prior to the dominance of objectification. Unity has not yet been dominated by multiplicity. It is a concrete identity, indistinguishably both objective and subjective.

This mode of understanding was first termed by Levy-Bruhl, not anti-logical or a-logical, but "prelogical."23 In this he reflected his own initial positivist bias that there could exist only a series of single and externally related units, and consequently that any logic must consist of such terms. In his posthumously published Carnets, however, he retracted the term ‘prelogical’, for his investigations had shown that the primitives did indeed have a consistent pattern of meaning. Their societies had not been held together by understanding everything as a series of units of which the totem is but one. The totem was understood to be the One in which all the others had their identity, their meaning, and their unity among themselves. Such a reality cannot be just one being among many others. As that in terms of which all members--no matter how many--in the tribe have their meaning, the totem is for that tribe the fullness or plenitude of reality and meaning in which all live or participate as a community. Due to this symbiosis the primitive’s knowledge of the reality expressed in the totem is immediate, rather than inferential.

In turn, a person’s relation to other members of the tribe and to nature is understood in terms of their relation to this totem. Through participation in the common totem the many members of the tribe are intimately related one to another; like brothers, they see themselves to be more deeply united than distinguished. This is reflected in very varied forms of contact, transference, sympathy, and telekinesis as, for example, when the success of a hunter is understood to depend more radically upon what is, or is not, eaten by his wife than upon any other factor. These and other examples manifest an intense understanding of the unity and relatedness of the members of the tribe in a manner not dependent upon the surface spatio-temporal or empirical factors. It is not that such relationships are not also known and acted upon by the primitive. Nevertheless, they see the reality of their life as a participation in the totem and on this they base their interpretation of the nature and reality of their relationships to all else.


The road we have taken has many of the characteristics of the classical a posteriori way to the existence of God. (a) It begins from a reality that did actually exist, namely, the successful and progressive life of man through the thousands of centuries which constitute almost the entirety of human experience. (b) It sought the principles of this existence, namely, the content of the primitive’s understanding which made possible this successful human life. (c) It concluded to that totemic unity and fullness in which men had both their being and their unity. This established both plenitude and participation as the foundational principles of the human mind and social life.

This road differs, however, from the classical five ways of Thomas Aquinas (see lecture III). (a) Being essentially anthropological in material, it began with humans in the early stage of human development. (b) Being essentially hermeneutic in method, it attended to the conditions of possibility for the understanding manifested by these men. (c) This combination of anthropological and hermeneutic factors concluded to the plenitude, not as it is in itself--the much subsequent science of metaphysics will be required for that--but as appreciated by the primitive mind in its totemic mode.

This difference should not be considered to be merely negative. The thought of the primitive is not merely a poorer form of what people in subsequent ages will do with better tools. Heidegger suggested that in an important sense it is only by returning to the origins that important progress can be made. I would like to suggest three ways in which this is true of the return to the totemic vision through the combined tools of anthropology and philosophic hermeneutics.

1. Man will progress in his ability to understand in increasingly more formalized terms and systems the relationships which obtain in society, in nature, and between the two. If these scientific elaborations are not to be merely empty signs, hypothetical systems, or external relations, they must draw upon the plenitude of meaning expressed first in the totem. This will be required not only for their certainty as the concern of Descartes, but for their content and unity as pointed out by the classical realist philosophies. This will be particularly necessary if the process of development is to implement, rather than supplant, man’s values and transcendent aspiration

What has been said of the sciences should, with appropriate adaptation, be said of metaphysics as well. It is the task of metaphysics as a science to establish with rigor its processes of definition, reasoning, and conclusion. As we shall see in the third lecture, the intelligibility of an entire science is dependent upon the intelligibility of its subject, and it is the search for that intelligibility which has ever led the mind in reasoning regarding Plato’s One or Good. All are clear that this plenitude cannot be constituted by any limited instance or any combination thereof. Plato’s notion of reminiscentia may be more helpful than is generally thought if employed in terms, not of the hypothesis of a prior existence of the individual in a world of ideas, but of the real experience of our totemic ancestors. They subjected to the acid test of time the proposition that if human life is to be lived it must be lived in terms of a unity, a whole, a plenitude in which all have their being and meaning. This was the cultural heritage they bequeathed to subsequent ages. Indian thought reflects this in being characterized by a quest for the highest value of life, for moksa or spiritual freedom. The Greeks reflected this in their myths, in the context of which Plato was able to proceed from multiple instances of goodness to the one Goodness Itself which, as the sun, gives light to all in this cave of time.

2. This is not only a question of the past. Gandhi has pointed out that a new nation cannot be built unless it finds its soul. Menendes y Pelago said this well:

Where one does not carefully conserve the inheritance of the past, be it poor or rich, great or small, there can be no hope of giving birth to original thought or a self-possessed life. A new people can improvise all except intellectual culture, nor can an old people renounce this without extinguishing the most noble part of its life and falling into a second infancy similar to senile imbecility.

What Gandhi added was that this spirit or culture is to be found, not only in books, but in family and village life. Some have taken this as an issue of economics; in fact, it is one of metaphysics.

How is such a metaphysics to be elaborated ? Here the original suggestion of Heidegger assumes particular importance. He noted that philosophic traditions, in proceeding to ever more intensive analyses, trade existential content in order to gain formal clarity. From within the scholastic contexts of both East and West it is protested rightly that the vital significance of the classical analyses is not appreciated. Meanwhile, more and more classify all such analyses as at best ideological superstructures which obscure attention to the reality of life. Following Heidegger’s suggestion we have stepped back to a point prior to Plato’s and Aristotle’s development of selective analyses at which life was lived in communion rather than conceived in abstractions; we have stepped back beyond myth to totem. There a crude but robust sense of plenitude and participation can be found. It gave men, who had naught else, an awareness of their unity one with another and an appreciation of the importance of the actions of each. With that, and that alone, they were able, not only to traverse the vast seas of time, but to arrive with such treasures in the form of epics, myths and hymns that our several cultures have lived richly on the interest of this endowment alone.

Even to live wisely on the interest, however, it behooves one to be as clear as possible concerning the capital; this is especially true in philosophy. Both as a sequential process of evolving human understanding and as a process of retrieve, it is essential to know what came before in order to plan one’s next step and have the materials with which it can be fashioned. As noted above, however, one finds a significant body of scholarship based on a supposed evolution from polytheism to monism. Others would hold that monism is the more original and that the evolution consisted in the progressive introduction of a plurality of gods. The two suppositions are used by their proponents, not only to order chronologically Vedic hymns and passages in the Upanishads, but to interpret the meaning of their key phrases and ideas. The same can be said regarding such key notions as matter and spirit, monism and pluralism.

In fact the totem is none of these, but expresses the unity and plenitude from which subsequently some will evolve an explicit monotheism, while others will develop theories regarding the development of the physical universe. Both will have their roots in the unity which is the totem, but neither will exhaustively state its potential meaning. More importantly, neither will be completely deprived of that unspoken totemic context of its meaning. Hence, as we shall see, it will be as erroneous to interpret Vedic thought in India as a proto-materialism as it will be to interpret pre-Socratic philosophy in that manner.

3. Precisely because this vision of unity in plenitude is the foundational one for human life the steps taken in the initial phases of its clarification and articulation will be statements of that which is essential in order that life be lived and lived well in the particular culture. As the Vedas express these conditions of possibility, Prof. Mahadevan remarks that they can no more rightly be said to be produced than Newton can be said to have produced, rather than to have discovered, the law of gravitation. They are indeed discovered or "the heard" (sruti) as one bores deeply into the accumulated sediment of our long experience in living, till finally "like joyous streams bursting from the mountains" they come forth as revelations of the Real."24

Theologians, however, are in difficulty if they restrict their views simply to the words of their scriptures, for faith then becomes fideism. As century succeeds century the words lose their existential content, become empty signs, and are filled with ideas which are at best ephemeral and possibly even dangerous. In times such as these they come to be progressively less understood and then ignored. For the working philosopher dedicated to wisdom and to comprehension these dangers are greater still. It is the philosopher’s special task to work out the order of reasons, to clarify the significance of the steps in reasoning processes, and to test and ground their principles. One does this so that the intuition of the One in all and all in One, of the plenitude and the participation by which we live and breathe and have our being, may pervade our minds, inspire our hearts, and guide our steps.

It is supremely wise of philosophers such as Suresvara to recognize that their reasoning processes are only preparatory, ground clearing operations, whereas the knowledge of the One arising from sruti is immediate and non-relational. It is not the product of their reasoning, but is made known by Scripture through implication. Here the philosopher meets the real challenge of metaphysics and joins with the seer in concern for that which surpasses name and form.

As negative statements must be based upon positive content, in implication the philosopher’s negative statements that Brahman is "other than the unreal, the insentient, and the finite" would appear to need to be based upon positive awareness of "non-relational, nonverbal content".25 The philosopher must ask in what way such meaning is present to the awareness of the one who hears sruti. The strong emphasis in Indian thought upon unity would seem to suggest or facilitate the appreciation of a presence which is unveiled, that is, revealed by the words of the sacred text.

It has been the burden of this lecture to suggest that this presence can be further appreciated if we look, not to the individual alone but to the mother-lode of human experience lived intensely in family and clan. There it is commonly found that parents, though quite inarticulate, nonetheless convey to their children a vibrant and concrete, if equally inarticulate, sense of such characteristics of existence as unity, truth, and goodness. The above analysis showed how the totem expressed in a non-verbal manner an awareness of unity, and even of plenitude, in which all were united; it also indicated the manner in which some of this meaning might now be retrieved.

If, indeed, some non-verbal awareness of unity and participation is present as the basis of all truly humane life, then metaphysics may not be an esoteric concern; the realities with which it deals may be much more present than the data for which one needs telescopes, expeditions, laboratories, and computers; karma yoga may be integral to jñâna yoga; and emancipation, as reflecting the true nature of man,26 may be being lived in the simplest and most familiar surroundings. In the words of Chakravarti Rajagopalachari--C. R., the beloved Rajaji of Madras --

Whether the epics and songs of a nation spring from the faith and ideas of the common folk, or whether a nation’s faith and ideas are produced by its literature is a question which one is free to answer as one likes. . . . Did clouds rise from the sea or was the sea filled by waters from the sky ? All such inquiries take us to the feet of God transcending speech and thought.27


1. P.K. Mukherji, Life of Tagore (New Delhi: Indian Book Co., 1975), p. 153.

2. The Vedic Age, ed. R.C. Majumdar and A. D. Pusalker (Vol. I of "The History and Culture of the Indian People" (Bombay: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, 1957), pp. 169-198.

3. C. Kunhan Raja, Asya Vamasya Hymn (The Riddle of the Universe): Rg Veda 1, 164 (Madras: Ganesh, 1956), pp. xxvii--xxxix; and Poet-Philosophers of the Rg Veda: Vedic and PreVedic (Madras: Ganesh, 1963), pp. x-xi.

4. Stephen Fuchs, The Origin of Man and His Culture (Bombay: Asia Publishing House, 1963), pp. 47-49; G. E. Daniel, "Archaeology" in Macropaedia, The New Encyclopedia Britannica (Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica, 1977), vol. I, p. 1082.

5. Arthur B. Keith, The Religion and Philosophy of the Veda and Upanishads (Harvard Oriental series, Vol. XX-XI (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1925), p. 195.

6. "Our asking of the fundamental question of metaphysics is historical, because it opens up the process of human being-there [in its essential relation—i. e. its relations to the essential as such and as a whole--opens it up] to unasked the possibilities, futures, and at the same time binds it back to its past beginning, so sharpening it and giving it weight in its present. In this questioning, our being-there is summoned to [its history in the full sense of the word, called to history and to] decision in history." Martin Heidegger, An Introduction to Metaphysics (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1961), pp 36-37 and 32.

7. Ibid., p. 136.

8. "The criterion of the unthought demands that the heritage of thought be liberated in respect of what still lies in reserve in its ‘as been’ (Gewesenee). It is this which holds tradition initially in its sway and is prior to it, though without being thought about expressly as the originative source." Heidegger, "Letter on Humanism", trans. by E. Lohner, in W. Barrett and H. Aiken, Philosophy in the Twentieth Century (New York: Harper & Row, 1971), pp. 270-302.

9. Br. Up., IV, v.15.

10. Brahma-Sutra. I, i. 3.

11. Heidegger, Introduction to Metaphysics, p. 130.

12. Claude Levi-Strauss, Totemism (Boston: Beacon Press, 1963).

13. It was in that context that earlier research into the origins of Indian thought such as that of A. Keith (op. cit., Vol. I, pp 195-97) has tended to discount the significance of the totem, pointing, e.g., to the absence of one or another specific factor, such as ritual eating, which was in no sense essential to the notion. The subsequent anthropological work described here, by which the notion has been scientifically reconstructed, provides the basis for restating the question. This is the more true as Keith himself argues, even regarding the meaning Brahman, from the fact that a notion such as that of a supernatural power pervading the universe is generally found in all other tribes in other parts of the world and from its having been a basic factor in early Indian thought. Ibid., Vol. II, p. 446.

14. Levi-Strauss Totemism, pp. 87-88. Cf also The Savage Mind (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1970), p. 93. In Totemism (p. 82) he notes that E. E. Evans-Pritchard had held that the primitives looked upon the totemic animals and the tribes as collateral lines descending from God as their common origin, and that this implied that their reality or content was essentially related. This would correspond to Heidegger’s "unthought" which founds the meaning of all things and unites them among themselves. For the structuralist, however, content is not distinct from form.

15. Bernard Lonergan, Method in Theology (New York: Herder & Herder, 1972), p. 11. Sergio Moravia cites passages from Levi-Strauss which indicate some recognition of this need. They speak of spirit as a subject of the universal categories, and of the transformation of structures as the unconscious activity of the spirit. (La ragione nascosta, scienza filosofia nel pensiero di Claude Levi-Strauss) (Firenze: Sansoni, 1969), pp. 325ff.

16. Jean Piaget, Structuralism (New York: Harper and Row, 1970), pp. 139-41.

17. "A careful examination of The Savage Mind suggests that at the base of structural homologies one can always look for semantic analogies which render comparable the different levels of reality whose convertibility is assured by the ‘code’. The ‘code’ presupposes a correspondence, an affinity of the contents, that is, a cipher." Paul Ricoeur, "Structure and Hermeneutics" in The Conflict of Interpretations, Essays in Hermeneutics (Evanston, III,: Northwestern Univ. Press, 1974), p. 56. See also Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method (London: Sheed and Ward, 1975).

18. Ibid., p. 60.

19. Ibid., pp. 48 and 56, n. 18.

20. Levi-Strauss, The Savage Mind, p. 37.

21. Lucien Levy-Bruhl, How Natives Think (Les functions mentals dan les societes inferieures; New York: Washington Square Press, 1966), p. 62.

22. Ibid., pp. 324 and 62.

23. Ibid., ch. III.

24. T. M. P. Mahadevan, Invitation to Indian Philosophy (New Delhi: Heinemann, 1974), p. 14. The simile is taken from the Vedas.

25. R. Balasubramanian, The Taittirîyopanisad Bhâsya Vârtika of Sureúvara (Madras: Center for Advanced Study in Philosophy, University Of Madras, 1974), p. 180.

26. S. Dasgupta, A History of Indian Philosophy (Delhi: Motilal Banaridas, 1975), Vol. 1. p. 58.

27. C. Rajagopalachari, Ramayana (Bombay: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, 1976), p. 312.

Last Revised 06-Feb-09 02:18 PM.