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An iconoclast and a heterodox thinker
The year beginning September 24, 2023 marks the birth centenary year of Padma Vibhushan Kotta Satchidananda Murty (1924-2011).
The year beginning September 24, 2023 marks the birth centenary year of Padma Vibhushan Kotta Satchidananda Murty (1924-2011). Murty was a stellar philosopher of India. He has been described by his contemporaries as unique’, ‘rare’, ‘dazzling’, ‘creative’, ‘bold,’ and ‘modern India’s leading’ philosopher. He was a prolific writer. His writings cover Indian, Western, Japanese, Chinese, Islamic, Christian philosophy; philosophy of education; social and political philosophy; peace studies; ethical and religious studies; philosophical foundations of India’s foreign policy and comparative study of Indian and western philosophies.
His books Reason and Revelation in Indian Philosophy; The Advaitic Notion; Vedic Hermeneutics; Nagarjuna and Naihshreyasa Dharma can be regarded as his magnum opuses. His book Far Eastern Philosophies is a pioneering work by any Indian author on Chinese and Japanese philosophical traditions.
Murty occupies a distinctive position among philosophers. “He is a heterodox thinker as well as a critical traditionalist. Few specialists in Advaita Vedanta have been so severely critical as he has been in Revelation and Reason in Advaita Vedanta, and few have presented such an admiring exposition of it as he has done in his Advaitic Notion. His writings contain original ideas, critical observations and insightful comparisons.” To the question put to him by Arvind Sharma about where he stood philosophically, Murty candidly replied, “I oscillate between Śankara and Rāmānuja”.
Murty was a fervent writer. His first book in Telugu titled Śrimad Bhagavadgītā: Navayakhyanamu, comprising about 500 pages, was published in 1941when he was just 13; his last book Life, Thought and Culture in India (A.D. 300-1000) was published in 2002 when he was 78. In the intermittent years, he published 13 books in Telugu, 31 books in English, and one book in Hindi.
In his writings, Murty demonstrated that philosophy does not deal with abstract and abstruse issues alone, for him the ‘problems of philosophy are nothing but the problems of life’. That is why his writings are relevant to our time and needs.
Murty agreed with the saying that there are no final answers in Philosophy. For him, “No mortal is omniscient and infallible, and there can be no policies and programs which are perfect and immutably correct. Practical wisdom is often the result of a heated and direct clash of many viewpoints”. This, he admits, is mutatis mutandis applicable to the theories and explanations propounded by him. Murty was open to all kinds of criticisms of his own philosophy.
Murty studied Philosophy and spent all his working life teaching in Andhra University. He served as Vice-chancellor of Sri Venkateshwara University, Tirupati; and Vice-chairman University Grants Commission, New Delhi. In 1992, an international seminar was organized on his philosophy. Professor Murty was present throughout the seminar. In the concluding session of the seminar, he responded to the criticisms of his participants.
The Philosophy of K. Satchidananda Murty contains a selection of the proceedings of the seminar. Another national seminar was held on the published writings of K. Satchidananda Murty a year after his passing away. About 40 scholars from all over the country participated in the seminar. Reason, Revelation and Peace: Evaluations of K. Satchidananda’s Philosophy containing the selected papers was published in 2020.
Murty made a deep impact on his seniors and contemporaries. In 1963, when Murty was less than 40 years of age, Hamayun Kabir, an eminent literary scholar and philosopher, and a minister in the Government of India, spoke of him as one of “the outstanding philosophers of the younger generation’’. In 1970, the great Suniti Kumar Chatterjee described him as the one on whom the “mantle of Dr. Radhakrishnan has fallen worthily”. His contemporaries like Daya Krishna, too, were dazzled by Murty’s wide range of reading, “not only in the field of philosophy but in that of literature also spanning all centuries and both the Eastern and the Western traditions. He also displays a deep insight and understanding of philosophical traditions both of India and the West, a combination which is rare indeed… Few philosophers in India seem so much at home in literature as Murty seems to be”. Sangaku Mayeda the leading Indian and Buddhist Studies scholar of Japan wrote, “Murty is a rare Indian philosopher who has paid much attention to the socio-political setting of modern or contemporary Indian philosophy. . . . He has even taken up for discussion, though briefly, the Caste Problem which has hardly been argued by Indian philosophers past and present”.
Nagarjuna University has a centre for the study of Afro-Asian Philosophies named ‘Professor K.S. Murthi Centre for the study of Afro-Asian Philosophies.’ Famous publishers Routledge, London and New York is bringing out five volumes of Murty’s unpublished writings. The International edition is published and the South Asian edition shall be available in December.
Murty lived an ideal life, a true exemplar of the authentic life. He lived what he preached; he taught what he believed in. He was an ideal man; an ideal scholar, an ideal administrator, an ideal colleague and an ideal friend. He believed, preached and practiced that “daily there would be occasions which ‘let-down’ and ‘let-up’ one and it is wise to preserve equanimity without being depressed or elated”. These qualities make him tower over his peers.
(Writer is Former Professor of Philosophy, Delhi University)