The Philosophy of Life
by Swami Krishnananda


PART II: A COMPARATIVE STUDY OF SOME WESTERN PHILOSOPHERS

Introduction

It has been said that there is a radical difference between the Western and Eastern methods of approach in the pursuit of philosophy. Western philosophers are generally distinguished from the Eastern by their exclusively rationalistic approach to Truth, and in their paying not much attention to or even totally abrogating the claims of intuition. No doubt, there were some great mystics in the West, too, who proclaimed the possibility of and the necessity for an intuitional approach to Truth by transcending the realms of sense, understanding and reason; but, unfortunately, they are not regarded as regular philosophers and their teachings are looked upon with a certain amount of suspicion. This happens because of the curious argument that the super-rational has no place in philosophy proper. And there are those in India who think that an attempt to study and understand the methods and conclusions of the systems of the West is just energy misspent, holding as they do the view that the way of faith and intuition in philosophy is the only practicable, useful and trustworthy one. We need not, however, fully agree with these extreme propositions of the traditional conservatives on either side. Knowledge is neither Western nor Eastern, but universal. It is not true that Indian philosophers set aside reason as absolutely futile, though they point out its natural limits. There are certain schools in India which establish their systems purely on rational grounds, without, at the same time, discrediting the value and need of intuition, in any way. The great philosopher, Sankara, who was an ardent adherent to authority and revelation, made full use of the powers of reason in founding his stupendous metaphysical system and said that the Vedanta is ornamented by the fact that its strength lies not merely in appealing to revelation but reason and experience also, adding, however, a note that unbridled reason which goes counter to revelation should be rejected as unhelpful. On a study of the history of philosophy in the West we come across variegated types of philosophers who made diverse approaches to the problems of life and established several schools of thought, which generally comprise vast fields of observation, investigation and research, such as logic, epistemology, metaphysics, aesthetics, ethics, psychology, axiology and mysticism. In modern times, however, the implications of discoveries in physical science have practically become a part of the study of philosophy. In our study, we may usefully turn to several of the methods employed by the great thinkers of the West, for a rigorous training of the mind before setting about forming categorical judgments on the nature of Truth. We have already observed that the philosophy of Swami Sivananda is characterised by an integrality in its meaning, method and scope, and it discards nothing as totally useless, though it accepts nothing without sifting it through the sieve of well-considered thought and experience born of intuition. It would certainly add to one’s knowledge to make an analytical, critical and comparative study of the magnificent doctrines and discoveries of some of the great Western thinkers and of the Vedanta philosophy of Swami Sivananda. The special feature of his interpretation of the Vedanta is that it is not opposed to any philosophical or speculative school, but accepts each at a particular stage in the evolution of the human consciousness.

We can safely commence with Immanuel Kant.