Krishna Chandra Bhattacharya en 1901
Critique inaugurale de l'approche historiciste

Ce collage de citations et de notices en anglais est préliminaire à une lecture personnelle de l'œuvre de Krishna Chandra Bhattacharya (1875-1949). His critique of George Thibaut's historicism and blind philological approach to Vedānta in 1901 opened a new era of contemporary philosophy in India.

"Krishna Chandra Bhattacharya [sic], a Bengali Brahmin, was born in 1875 at Serampore near Calcutta, one of eight children of an impoverished clerk. Educated at Presidency College in Calcutta, he studied under B. N. Seal, who had revived the study of Indian philosophy. He was a brilliant student clearly destined for an academic career, but his unwillingness to appease British administrators prevented his obtaining an appointment commensurate with his ability, and he held a variety of teaching and administrative positions in government colleges. When he reached the retirement age of 55, he was principal of small Hoogly College. After retirement, however, he became professor in the Calcutta post-graduate department, spent two years at the Indian Institute of Philosophy at Amalner (where he was given the title of director), and finally became George V Professor of Philosophy at the University of Calcutta. After final retirement in 1938 he lived at Serampore, reading little because of failing sight, but writing a great deal and discussing philosophy with his sons and his many visitors until his death in 1949.

Bhattacharya led an austere life, and had few personal belongings. He was a devout Hindu, but not fanatic, and ate meat, if sacrificed to Kali. The progressives claimed him because he taught at the progressive Bethune College for women, and the conservatives claimed him because he observed the orthodox rites. He loved to travel, but never went outside India. He was a simple and retiring man, but proud within himself, never bowing to anyone or trying to advance himself."

George Burch, Contemporary Vedanta Philosophy, I, The Review of Metaphysics, Vol.9 No.3 (1956), p.486.

Professor Krishnachandra Bhattacharya (1875-1949) was King George V Professor of Philosophy in the University of Calcutta in the mid-thirties. By common consent, he is the most original and creative among the academic philosophers of India, situating Indian thought in the perspective of the world-philosophy of his time and, what is most important in a philosophic context, creatively reacting to Western thought and thus making additions to the corpus of philosophy. Professor Bhattacharyya's task was thus vastly different from, and more complex than, the task of those who, at the turn of the century of British rule in India, contented themselves with just comparing and contrasting Indian and Western philosophical concepts: important as such work undoubtedly was, all that it amounted to was writing history of philosophy. The much-needed creative reaction to Western thought was possible on the part of Professor Bhattacharrya because, while he did react with a traditional mind (if we may say so), he did not continue traditionalism. As a true philosopher who does not ignore his historical milieu but on the contrary makes history contemporary, Professor Bhattacharyya exploited the big jolt that indian mind received through the West by trying to formulate, initially in Western terms, the logic of the notions or concepts of Indian thought and then bring out differentia of that logic. Only thus is one's mentality restored to oneself, only thus is any originality in thought possible.

K. Bagchi, Towards a Metaphysics of Self. Perspectives on Professor Krishnachandra Bhattacharyya's unpublished essay on "Mind and Matter", Journal of Indian Philosophy, Vol. 9, 1981, pp. 19–37; spec. p. 19.

Lecture historiciste et lecture systématisante
Studies in Vedantism, 1909

Studies in Vedantism, publié en 1909, était à l'origine une Dissertation écrite en 1901 pour la Premchand Roychand Scholarship de l'Université de Calcutta. L'Introduction est un document philosophique d'une importance cruciale, parce qu'elle formule avec précision la controverse exemplaire entre les Historiens occidentaux et les Philosophes indiens, entre le "critical historian" et le "systematic philosopher". Krishna Chandra Bhattacharyya se livre à une critique en règle de l'approche historiciste de George Thibaut dans sa traduction commentée des Brahmasūtras et du commentaire de Sankara.

Une lecture philosophique est nécessairement une lecture systématisante

Introduction. p. VI


Here, then, we have to consider the special nature of the Upanishad texts. They may or may not have been revealed; but as they are, they are presented not as mere guesses from the outside to explain the facts of the Universe, not even as /p. VII/ leisurely philosophisings conducted on a necessary basis, but as embodying mystic intuitions, often the products of what has been called the mythologic imagination which sees philosophy in poetic symbols. There are sometimes attempts at reasoning, too, but then, by themselves they are hardly logically convincing, having not unoften an almost infantine [sic] naïveté [sic] about them. Now, the question here is, what should be our attitude towards these texts which, apparently at any rate, embody intuitions? So long as no obvious mark of spuriousness is discovered, they are to be regarded as genuine, though even a genuine intuition may be false in its content. The falsity, however, is not to be judged a priori but only after a strenuous endeavour to reproduce, if possible, the intuitions through such means as may have been laid down in the Sāstras, or, what we understand better, after an attempt to systematise all the texts into a well-rounded philosophy. The latter is the task which Sankara and other commentators have set themselves to accomplish. Hence admitting that the texts were never meant to be strung together into a system, it can still be held that the task of systematising is inevitably given to every student of the Upanishads.

Dr. Thibaut does not appear to have sufficiently distinguished the rôle [sic] of the philosophic systematiser from that of the critical or historical scholar when he lays down the caution that

"we must refrain from using unhesitantly and without careful consideration of the merits of each individual case, the teachings, direct or inferred, of any one passage to the end of determining the drift of the teaching of other passages."

A commentator is certainly open to severe censure when he asserts that a text bears a certain meaning which it cannot bear in a particular context. But when he simply means that the truth embodied in a particular text is inadequately expressed and should be developed or rendered more explicit in the light of other texts, or when he interprets a mythologic metaphor differently in different passages under the conviction that it is a natural symbol of many correspondent truths of different potencies or grades, he is to be deemed as perfectly within his rights as a philosophic interpreter and systematiser. A philosophic commentator, especially on unsystematised texts embodying speculative truths, has a far wider latitude than a literary commentator. Exegetical interpretation here inevitably shades off into philosophic construction; and this need not involve any intellectual dishonesty.


La doctrine de la Māyā est nécessairement présente
si la doctrine de l'ātman-brahman est explicite


A misconception of the latitude allowed to philosophical systematisation may be traced in Dr. Thibaut's remarks on Sankara's doctrine of Māyā. He tries to demonstrate that Sankara's doctrine of Māyā is nowhere to be found in the Upanishads except probably in an underdeveloped form in a few doubtful passages, and contends that the doctrine should not, thefore, be read into other passages which are intelligible without it. Let it be granted for the present that the demonstration is satisfactory. Later on he admits that the doctrine of "the final absolute identification of the individual self with the universal self is indicated in terms of unmistakable plainness" (p. CXXII) in the Upanishads. Now if the point were discussed as one of philosophy rather than of historical scholarship, it would not be difficult to perceive that the doctrine of Māyā is a necessary corollary of this doctrine of the individual being Brahman in Moksha (absolute liberation): for it is only in this identification that he realises that individuality was an illusion and that the distinction of subject, object, etc., possible only through this individuality, was an illusion too.

Jāti selon Krishna Chandra Bhattacharyya
Studies in Vedantism, 1909

p. 23, § 43–44

43. Not that universals among these shadowy names and forms, concatenating them, are unknown in Vedanta. The realist jati or universal is admitted both in Nyaya and Vedanta, though the latter emphatically disclaims the abstract denotational jati of the former. According to Nyaya, this jati is an eternal reality and its being co-ordinate [sic] with individual things. As has been already indicated, to Vedanta nothing is an eternal reality except the pure self. As to the other point, if an individual and its jati be taken to be distinct (and co-ordinate in reality), they cannot be unified in any way. The inherence, according to Vedanta, is a fiction. (This recalls the famous criticism of the Platonic doctrine of Ideas by Aristotle in his Nichomachaean Ethics.)


What view, then, does Vedanta itself hold? It understands the jati, not as the denotational real but as the connotational real (tatrānugato dharmah), not as co-ordinate with and distinct from the vyakti or individual, but identical with it on the one hand and of a different grade of reality on the other. The identity between attribute and substance (Dharma—Dharmin) is characteristic of the hylozoistic [sic] speculations of Vedanta and Sankhya (regarding māyā which is one yet many, or regarding prakriti which really evolves), following logically on the denial of inherence as a relation. This Dharma or attribute is again the essence, the persisting matter in relation to the Dharmin or thing, infinite in every individual, having the whole of the phenomenality behind it.

44. Vedanta might very well admit that co-ordinateness of jāti and vyakti in the sphere of the pure "names and forms," that realm of shadows. The relation between jāti and vyakti, which has already been discussed, is in the region of formed matter where the more differentiated is less in reality. The realm of shadows or māyā may be compared to space, the principle of separation or "spread–out–ness," the nearest /24/ determinate symbol of the principle of difference, in which a mode may be said to be different from another in which it is included.

Là où le Nyāya conçoit la jāti comme «réalité dénotative», dans le Vedānta la jāti est une «réalité connotative». On serait tenté d'opposer en ce sens une pensée en termes de classes (une logique) à une pensée en termes de catégories (une ontologie).

The archetypal illusion
Krishna Chandra Bhattacharyya, The Subject of Freedom

Samedi 16 janvier 2016

Le style de Krishnachandra est d'une sobriété et d'une exactitude incomparables dans le choix des mots. Cette sobriété explique, comme dit Daya Krishna dans l'article cité ci-dessous, his minimalist writing of concise, short works. Son écriture précise, littérale, dépouillée de toute figure de rhétorique, est néanmoins très difficile à suivre parce qu'il utilise les mots du langage ordinaire dans des emplois extraordinaires. Un défi supplémentaire pour le lecteur éclairé est de retrouver en filigrane dans son anglais d'une parfaite correction grammaticale et d'une grande élégance philosophique les mots sanskrits sous-jacents, et de retrouver en filigrane dans son argumentation les concepts et les problématiques du Vedānta. En voici un exemple pris dans le §7 de The Subject of Freedom, où il décrit la surimposition (adhyāsa) du corps sur l'ātman (en anglais the self).

"7. You and he are to me subjects individualised in the objective body, the body being, however, as much distinguished from them as from myself. Like their bodies they also can be spoken of as individual, but while the individuality of he is evidently derived from his body which is this to me, the individuality of you appears to be prior to that of your body. You are individual to me primarily through my act of addressing and only secondarily through what appears to my imagination as your identification with or appropriation of your body."


Adhyāsa [adhyāropa] «Surimposition»

Michel Hulin
Encyclopédie philosophique universelle

L'adhyāsa est un concept propre au Vedānta non dualiste. Sa définition la plus complète se trouve dans l'introduction du Commentaire de Śaṅkara aux Brahma-sūtra. [En français: Śaṅkara, Prolégomènes au Vedânta, trad. L. Renou, A. Maisonneuve, 2e éd., 1980.]

La surimposition est conçue, comme son nom l'indique, sur le modèle de ce type particulier d'illusion d'optique dans lequel l'œil, ne parvenant pas à distinguer deux plans étagés en profondeur devant lui, rabat sur un seul de ces plans et amalgame confusément les formes appartenant à l'un et à l'autre. Si, par exemple, je contemple distraitement le ciel à travers une vitre sale, sans pour autant prêter attention à la présence de cette vitre, je surimposerai au ciel, sous forme de nuages, d'objets volants lointains, etc., les taches qui la constellent. Dans la doctrine védântique les deux plans sont représentés d'une part par le Soi (ātman) pur, illimité, libre, omniscient, etc., d'autre part par les «conditions limitantes extrinsèques» (upādhi), essentiellement le corps, les organes et les sens. Leur surimposition réciproque se traduit 1) par la particulari- /2785/ sation du Soi: il apparaît délimité par le corps et les organes, solidaire d'eux, ancré par leur intermédiaire dans un lieu et dans un moment; 2) par l'animation du corps et des organes: ils acquièrent la «vie», l'apparence de l'automotricité et de l'unité fonctionnelle. Sous l'effet de la surimposition, donc, le Soi épouse toutes les limitations et infirmités du corps, il est entraîné dans les heurs et malheurs d'une histoire personnelle et croit transmigrer de naissance en naissance. La surimposition apparaît ainsi comme la forme privilégiée d'actualisation de l'ignorance originelle (avidyā) et débouche elle-même sur l'émergence du moi empirique concret (ahaṃkāra) qualifié pour l'activité sociale, rituelle et profane, mais en même temps voué à l'errance et à la souffrance.

La réflexion philosophique s'est attachée à décrire la structure de la surimposition. Elle requiert la participation active du sujet et n'est cependant pas assimilable à un comportement inséré dans la durée concrète. Elle est en effet «sans commencement» (anādi) et «connaturelle au sujet» (sahaja). Chez Padmapāda, disciple direct de Śaṅkara, elle devient un processus s'étageant sur toute une série de niveaux transcendantaux: la surimposition du Soi et de l'ignorance originelle produit le «témoin» (sākṣin) , celle du Soi et du témoin produit l'ego, celle du Soi et de l'ego produit le «porteur de la notion de l'ego» (ahaṃkartṛ), celle du Soi et de ce «porteur» produit le sujet connaissant (pramātṛ), celle du Soi et du sujet connaissant produit le «vivant» (prāṇin) ou «sujet incarné» (śārīrin). L'accès à la délivrance, précisément parce qu'il passe par une prise de conscience de la forme: «Je suis le brahman», présuppose la disparition de la surimposition. Il s'agit d'une «dé appropriation» radicale du corps, des sensations, des phénomènes mentaux, etc., au terme de laquelle tout cela prend la forme d'un ensemble de processus objectifs «en troisième personne» qui se déroulent sous les yeux du sujet mais ne le concernent plus et ne l'affectent plus en aucune manière. Une telle expérience est probablement très proche de celle décrite dans le système Sāṃkhya sous le nom de viveka ou «discrimination» (v. ce mot). (Michel Hulin.)


L'identification involontaire et spontanée du soi avec le corps est l'illusion archétypale, l'archétype de toutes les autres fausses connaissances. Krishnachandra, dans le passage cité, attire notre attention sur le fait que l'identification du soi au corps est toujours seconde par rapport à l'identification d'autrui avec son corps qui est presque toujours première.

Daya Krishna, "Can the analysis of adhyāsa ever lead to an Advaitic conclusion?" [2001], repr. in Contrary Thinking. Selected essays of Daya Krishna (Oxford, OUP, 2011), p.213.

"The identification with the body is perhaps the most involuntary identification that we know of. It is also the most foundational, primal and natural identification as it is not only the seat of pleasure and pain, but also responsive to our acts of will and thus the main centre through which we act on the world. Others too identify us primarily through our bodies and even in it mainly through the face as becomes evident when one has to identify a dead body. In fact, there is a radical distinction between the identification of the self with the body and the identification of the others with his or her body.

The former, though involuntary and natural, is always secondary whereas the latter is almost always primary. K.C. Bhattacharyya has drawn attention to this fact in his remarkable work entitled Subject as Freedom wherein he had built his whole philosophical edifice upon the notions of identification and deidentification and suggested that when one has deidentified one realizes that the prior identification must have been volontary [i.e. one's responsibility was engaged] in the sense that it need not have been there as there was no necessity about it."

Daya Krishna montre que la source de la description phénoménologique que proposait Krishnachandra au §7 de The Subject of Freedom est le début du Brahmasūtrabhāṣya de Śaṅkara. Traduction George Thibaut (1904):

It is a matter not requiring any proof that the object and the subject whose respective spheres are the notion of the 'Thou' (the Non-Ego) and the 'Ego,' and which are opposed to each other as much as darkness and light are, cannot be identified. All the less can their respective attributes be identified. Hence it follows that it is wrong to superimpose upon the subject — whose Self is intelligence, and which has for its sphere the notion of the Ego — the object whose sphere is the notion of the Non-Ego, and the attributes of the object, and vice versa to superimpose the subject and the attributes of the subject on the object. In spite of this it is on the part of man a natural procedure — which has its cause in wrong knowledge — not to distinguish the two entities (object and subject) an such as 'That am I,' 'That is mine.' — But what have we to understand by the term 'superimposition?' — The apparent presentation, in the form of remembrance, to consciousness of something previously observed, in some other thing.

Traduction Louis Renou (Prolégomènes au Vedānta, 1951):

Etant acquis que l'objet (viṣaya) et le sujet (viṣayin), domaines de la notion du toi et du moi, opposés par nature comme les ténèbres et la lumière, ne peuvent s'interpénétrer, et que leurs propriétés (dharma) peuvent s'interpénétrer bien moins encore, on doit considérer comme erroné de surimposer au sujet, essence spirituelle (cit), domaine de la notion du moi, l'objet, domaine de la notion du toi et les propriétés de l'[objet], et inversement de surimposer à l'objet le sujet et ses propriétés. Pourtant, surimposer à l'un l'essence et les propriétés de l'autre, en manquant à distinguer ces deux catégories (dharmin) et leurs propriétés, qui sont choses absolument distinctes, accoupler ainsi le vrai et le faux en disant 'je suis ceci' ou 'ceci est à moi', — c'est là une pratique innée de la vie courante, qui dérive d'une connaissance erronée.

Question. — Qu'appelle-t-on surimposition (adhyāsa)?

Réponse. — C'est le fait que telle chose déjà vue apparaît [à la conscience] (avabhāsa), dans telle autre chose, sous forme de souvenir (smṛti).

Krishnachandra innove sur deux points par rapport à Śaṅkara, en affirmant d'une part le rôle fondamental de la présence d'autrui et d'autre part notre responsabilité dans l'illusion dont nous sommes victime.

Eléments de bibliographie

In bold, KCB's texts republished

George Burch, Contemporary Vedanta Philosophy, I, The Review of Metaphysics, Vol.9, No.3 (Mar., 1956), pp.485–504.
Daya Krishna, Three Conceptions of Indian Philosophy, Philosophy East and West, Vol.15, No.1, July 1965, pp.37–51.
Mark Shapiro, Review: The Subject As Freedom, Philosophy East and West, Vol.16, No.3/4 (Jul. - Oct., 1966), pp.239–247
J. L. Mehta, The Problem of Philosophical Reconception in the Thought of K. C. Bhattacharyya, Philosophy East and West, Vol.24, No.1, January 1974, pp.59-70.
John E. Smith, Commentary on J. L. Mehta's "The Problem of Philosophical Reconception in the Thought of K. C. Bhattacharyya," Philosophy East and West, Vol.24, No.1, January 1974, pp.89-93.
George Bosworth Burch (Edited and with an Introduction by),Search for the Absolute in Neo-Vedanta: K. C. Bhattacharyya, Honolulu: University Press of Hawaii, 1976.
Sengaku Mayeda, Search for the Absolute in Neo-Vedanta: K. C. Bhattacharyya, Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol.97, No.3, July-September 1977, pp.375.
K. Bagchi, Towards a Metaphysics of Self. Perspectives on Professor Krishnachandra Bhattacharyya's unpublished essay on "Mind and Matter", Journal of Indian Philosophy, Vol.9, 1981, pp.19—37.
Jitendranath Mohanty, Krishna Chandra Bhattacharyya's Theory of Meaning, Journal of Indian Council of Philosophical Research, Vol.X, No.1, pp.105–109; repr. in Explorations in Philosophy. Indian Philosophy. Essays by J. N. Mohanty, Edited by Bina Gupta, New Delhi, Oxford University Press, 2001, pp.183–188.
Jitendranath Mohanty, Feeling, Poetics and Religion [1996], in Explorations in Philosophy. Indian Philosophy. Essays by J. N. Mohanty, Edited by Bina Gupta, New Delhi, Oxford University Press, 2001, pp.189—194.
A. Raghuramaraju, Debates in Indian Philosophy. Classical, Colonial and Contemporary, New Delhi, Oxford University Press, 2006, Chapter Four: Sri Aurobindo and Krishnacandra Bhattacharyya. Relation between Science and Spiritualism, pp.92-116.
Ramesh Kumar Sharma, Manyness of Selves, Samkhya, and K. C. Bhattacharyya, Philosophy East and West, Vol.54, No.4, October 2004, pp.425-457.

Krishnachandra Bhattacharyya, Studies in Philosophy, Edited by Gopinath Bhattacharyya, Third Revised and Enlarged Edition, Delhi, Motilal Banarsidass, 2008. Pp. xlvi+731.
ISBN 978-81-208-2972-5

Jay L Garfield, Solving Kant's Problem: KC Bhattacharyya on Self-Knowledge, in Joerg Tuske, Ed., Indian Epistemology and Metaphysics, London, Bloomsbury, 2019.