Where East meets West

Jayshankar Lal Shaw,a professor of philosophy,has for the past 30 years tried to delve deep into the nuances of Indian philosophy.

Written by EXPRESS FEATURES SERVICE | Published: February 8, 2009 4:34 am

Philosopher par excellence,Prof Jayshankar Lal Shaw tells Shiv Sahay Singh that he has tried to find out answers to problems which have remained unsolved in the West with the help of classical Indian philosophy

Jayshankar Lal Shaw,a professor of philosophy,has for the past 30 years tried to delve deep into the nuances of Indian philosophy. And he has come out with a solution to problems that plague the people of the East and the West.

Known to the world for solving the ‘West woes using Indian philosophy’,the professor of philosophy of Victoria University in Wellington,New Zealand has more than 100 international publications and several books to his credit. He has delivered countless lectures across universities and won many academic laurels. Celebrated for his treaties Nyaya (justice),Dharma (ethics) and Epistemology (Knowledge),Prof Shaw is revered in academic circles as one who has tried to find out answers to problems which have remained unsolved in the West with the help of classical Indian philosophy.

However,unlike other academicians,Prof Shaw has not only restricted himself to attainment of personal pursuits but had tried to disseminate knowledge in the city of his birth — Kolkata — which he left in 1967. Besides research,Prof Shaw has formed many societies — Society of Comparative Philosophy Calcutta,Dum Dum Samskriti Samsad,Society for Global Philosophy and Culture,Calcutta. The societies have come up with his own money. He sees to it that these societies regularly hold healthy discourses to enrich the oldest discipline of knowledge — philosophy.

Not content with this,Prof Shaw has set up several societies in the West,including the Vedanta Society of Wellington and Bharat Samaj,Wellington. In spite of his academic works,Prof Shaw visits India and,particularly Bengal,at least twice a year to participate in lectures to which he is invited and visits the societies he has so fondly set up.

His contribution to Indian philosophy is so huge that a two-day seminar on his philosophy was held at Presidency College between December 19-20 last year where philosophers from various colleges and universities participated.

According to Prof Shaw,earlier the perception of Indian Philosophy in the West was associated with religion and since religion has dogmas it was not taken seriously. In fact,he considers Indian philosophy more comprehensive than Western philosophy.

Prof Shaw argues that Indian philosophy has emerged from a language which dates back to 2,500 years.

“Indian philosophy is a part of Indian Dharma which means ethics,in a large sense,a character which is missing in Western philosophies,” says Prof Shaw. According to him,by setting up philosophical societies he tries to remove the misconception regarding Indian philosophy and culture and thereby alleviates the superiority of Indian thought.

His interest in philosophy grew during his formative years as a student at Paikpara Manidra Chandra School in north Kolkata. Prof Shaw recalls that it was his teacher Shyamapada Sen who kindled his interest in the philosophy of Vedanta and Bhagwad Gita.

On why should people be interested in the study of philosophy,Prof Shaw argues that when there is so much unrest in the world with pitched battles being fought in certain pockets,an understanding of the basic question of life and existence and a critical examination of facts is of utmost importance.

“Philosophy makes one do things in a better way. It tells you how to assess the merits and demerits of a phenomenon. It helps you in having a global perspective and a clear notion on how to alleviate pain from the world,” he says.

He cites the example of Victoria University. The department of philosophy there has 1,000 students and the department of philosophy in the University of Calcutta,his alma mater,has not even 200!

However,according to the 67-year-old philosopher,there is still hope. In fact,in the number of universities Prof Shaw has been associated with,he has found several enthusiastic students yearning to learn the tenets of philosophy in the West. In India,too,the response from the youth is overwhelming. Last but not the least there are students and academicians who are eager to carry the torch of classical Indian philosophy forward.

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