T.S. Rukmani Concordia University
I HAVE had the privilege of meeting Dr. Richard De Smet in Shimla at the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, when we both participated in a Seminar organized by the Institute in 1989. We had opportunities of discussing Sankara's Brahman and the Christian concept of God at that time without being able to fully understand each other's position. That has been at the back of my mind all these years, and I was happy when Bradley Malkovsky asked me to write on Dr. De Smet's view of Sankara's Brahman for the Bulletin. I thus got an opportunity to revisit that topic ·again and have done so in what follows. Needless to say that, because of the limitation of space, I have not been able to do full justice to the topic.
Before I venture to write something on Dr. De Smet's approach to the ontological understanding of the Brahman-concept in Sankara's Advaita Vedanta (hereafter Advaita), I would ·like . to state what I understand by comparative work. In order to do a comparative study of two different religions o.r theologies, either in a religious or theological sense, it is not necessary to somehow fit the ontology·and epistemology of the two systems being studied to appear as if they mean the same thing. In such an approach there is injustice done to both the systems and one ends up trying to, sometimes, fit round circles into square pegs. It is wise to acknowledge that religious. and theological schools that rise and grow in different cultural milieus can have a rationale of their own and the best we can do, as scholars, is to understand and appreciate the dynamics of that growth in their own setting. There is a historical dimension to every growth, and we sit on the shoulders of our predecessors such that a comparative study can only "pretend" to be an independent, objective approach. A corollary to that is the question as to whether the judgment - of another philosophy/theology/religion will be acceptable to the other, when the approach is generally based on the values, concepts, even the vocabulary and language of the one who studies the other, which the other need not or does not recognize.
In Dr. De Smet's case we know that he was working through the languages in which the original material of the two schools he studied was available as for instance, Sanskrit for Sankara's Advaita and English or any other language for the other
T. S. Rukmani is currently Professor and Chair of Hindu Studies at Concordia University, Montreal, Canada and was previously the first Chair in Hindu Studies and Indian Philosophy at the University of Durban-Westville, South Africa from 1993-1995. She holds Ph.D. and D.Litt. degrees from the University of Delhi, where her last assignment was as Principal, Miranda House, University of Delhi. She is a Sanskritist by training, and her areas of specialization are religious and theological issues in Hinduism, reform movements in India, women studies, Gandhian studies, Indian philosophy (in particular Advaita Vedanta, Samkhya, and Yoga) and the Upanishads. She is the author of ten books and numerous journal articles: Her latest books are Yogasutrabhasyavivarana, Vols. I and II (Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal, 2001) and Yogasutras of Patanjali with the Commentary ofVyasa (Chair in Hindu Studies 2001).