chapter  16
13 Pages

The Ocean of Being and the Web of Becomings: the pilgrim’s progress on Indic horizons


The classical Indic intellectual traditions can be a source of both promise and dismay for interpreters who approach them with the categories of ‘religion’ and ‘atheism’. On the one hand, we have the fairly widespread image of India as a land steeped in perennial wisdom, one that has been appropriated in complex ways by the conceptual structures of Theosophy, deep ecology, vegetarianism, new religious movements, transnational yoga, and so on. For more than a century now, certain Indian forms of spirituality have been hailed for their promissory note of a via media for Westerners seeking to dismantle the Abrahamic binary of institutionalised religion versus militant atheism. On the other hand, several lines of post-colonial critiques have pointed out that the association of India with ‘spirituality’ is a complex product partly of the British colonial exoticisation of the Orient as sunk into an ahistorical passivity and partly of some Indian intellectuals’ projection of the Orient as the saviour of the fallen soul of a materialistically depraved West. Consequently, if according to the rst representation of India, its atmosphere has forever been saturated with spirituality, according to the second deationary account, its aura of spirituality is a social construct that emerged under the conditions of colonial modernity. Clearly, then, before we begin to explore whether classical Indian thought can illuminate contemporary Western debates relating to ‘religion’ and ‘atheism’, we have to address the methodological issue of whether its diverse universes possess any equivalents or correlates for these terms.