The “Pizza Effect” in Indian Philosophy

We all know what “the pizza effect” means. For those who do not, let me elaborate. Pizza was first exported to the United States, processed and reshaped by Americans, and then exported back to Italy thus becoming the popular Italian food. What Italians know or what the world knows today as the Italian Pizza is basically the form that Americans gave it. Likewise what we today know as “Indian philosophy” is mostly the understanding that is significantly influenced by European elaborations. The term “Indian philosophy” used to sound an extremely loaded word to me some years back and our recent course on comparative philosophy has made me realize how significantly hollow this term is. Nonetheless, we cannot but use this expression for want of a better term. In this paper I am going to show how eclectic the term and concept “Indian philosophy” is using a post-colonial method. I will argue that it is only using a comparative method that it is possible to discuss the authentic and holistic “Indian philosophy”. I must say that I have been influenced by what Daya Krishna calls a “comparative ‘comparative method’” and I am trying to use this method in explaining what is “comparative” about the “comparative method”. I think Daya Krishna made assiduous efforts through all his writings on Indian philosophy to take it out of the model of understanding that Europeans had tried to fit it in and what was, under the spell of Orientalism, followed by modern Indian writers of the history of Indian philosophy. In other words European Orientalists made unceasing efforts to understand Indian philosophy from the perspective of Western philosophy. Now since it was this understanding of Indian philosophy that was accessible to modern Indian intelligentsia, the modern understanding of Indian philosophy suffered or in some sense is still suffering from what we call “the pizza effect” here.

In what we are going to discuss in the forthcoming pages, one thing is absolutely clear: the notion of Indian philosophy as we know it today is broadly based on the misconceived notions of European-understanding of it and their Indian followers. In this post-colonial world we want to come out of that colonial hangover and explore what Daya Krishna calls “authentic Indian philosophy”. In fact there is nothing “authentic” about any philosophy at all. Philosophy is beyond “authentic” and “not-authentic”. But here we intend to explore how and why were the ideas manipulated; ideas those grew out in ancient and early medieval India as a part of thought process of the intelligence that used the method of expression as the Sanskrit. In this paper I shall be dealing with India philosophy, nay South Asian philosophy, only in its Sanskrit sources because I also believe that Orientalism has also offered an undue advantage to Indian philosophy of only including within its arena the Sanskrit sources, be it Hindu, Buddhist or Jaina. Philosophy written in any other language barring Sanskrit in what we now know as South Asia does not seem to find a place in books on Indian philosophy. Scholars like Daya Krishna and Andrew Nicholson have also felt this concern vacuum. In my discussion with some commoners from India I have often come across the romantic idea that “philosophy in India is hidden in Sanskrit alone” which to me is outrightly unacceptable. This is the result of the Brahmanic hegemony and I plead for the inclusion of the philosophical works written in whatsoever South Asian languages in the main-stream discourse on Indian philosophy. Now getting back to our point of trying to understand how Indian intellectuals were trying to understand their own philosophical systems , I cannot help but quoting Daya Krishna:

The deepest anguish of the Indian intellectual is that he is unrecognized in the West as an equal, or as an intellectual at all. (p. xiv)

We have already known how the ideologies of the minds of colonized people work and what Daya Krishna points out above is in fact the central theme of how colonized Indian mind was working in making its efforts to understand itself through Other’s eyes. One of the dilemmas of Indian intellectuals writing on “their own” philosophy was that they were writing at a time when India was experiencing a strong cultural flux under the British colonial rule. To illustrate my point and also the one made by Daya Krishna above I add from Bhushan and Garfield:

The failure of recognition is tragic. These philosophers wrote in a context of cultural fusion generated by the British colonial rule in India. They were self-consciously writing both as Indian intellectuals for an Indian audience and as participants in a developing global community constructed in part by the British Empire. They pursued Indian philosophy in a language and format that could render it both accessible and acceptable to the Anglophone world abroad. In their attempt to write and to think for both audiences they were taken seriously by neither”. (p. xiv)

In their recently edited volume titled Indian Philosophy in English From Renaissance to Independence Bhushan and Garfield have brought forward to us the Indian authors who played a prominent role in shaping modern India and its understanding of its own philosophy. This anthology of the essays on Indian philosophy was written by those Indian intellectual of the 19th century who “demonstrate that the colonial Indian philosophical communities were important participants in global dialogue, and revealing the roots of contemporary Indian philosophical thought”. This sounds contrary to what Daya Krishna might have to say;

“Anybody who is writing in English is not an Indian philosopher…..What the British produced was a strange species–a stranger in his own country. The Indian mind and sensibility and thinking [during the colonial period] was shaped by an alien civilization. [The British] created a new kind of Indian who was not merely cut off from his civilization, but was educated in a different way. The strangeness of the species is that their terms of reference are the West ….. They put [philosophical problems] in a Western way. This picture of Indian philosophy that has been presented by Radhakrishanan, Hiryanna and others …..[each of whom is an Indian, writing philosophy in English during the colonial period] is not the story of Indian philosophy. We have been fed on the Western presentation of Indian philosophy, which hardly captures the spirit and history of Indian philosophy…..If I were not to know Indian philosophy myself, I would say that [their presentation] is wonderful, that it presents it clearly, with great insight and understanding. Now I know a little Indian philosophy, I say that they did not……They are not concerned with the problems that Indian philosophers were concerned with.”

These words of Daya Krishna are very challenging for a modern student of Indian philosophy. Being himself an adapt in Indian philosophical literatures he knew how slowly and strongly, but deeply and remarkably the Orientalism has transformed the South Asian minds and what can they see today when they look at their own thoughtful literature. Exploring this deep psychological state of loss and recovery of Self under Colonialism, Asis Nandy says;

Colonialism is also a psychological state rooted in earlier forms of social consciousness in both the colonizers and the colonized. It represents a certain cultural continuity and carries a certain cultural baggage……… It also explains why colonialism never seems to end with formal political freedom. As a state of mind, colonialism is an indigenous process released by external forces. Its sources lie deep in the minds of the rulers and the ruled. Perhaps that which begins in the minds of men must also end in the minds of men (p. 2-3).

It might sound like I am getting off the main theme of our paper, but I want to emphasize the fact that Daya Krishna had understood this problem of the “colonized state of mind” where people simply have fossilized their ‘philosophy’ by regarding it as ancient and thus letting it die deep in the past. In other words, what Indian philosophy is today is that one can study it as a subject of past, say history, but not as a subject of present. And this is one of the major problems when we look at Indian philosophy today. I think we must note Chakravarthy’s comments here:

Faced with the task of analyzing developments or social practices in modern India, few if any Indian social scientists or social scientists of India would argue seriously with, say, the thirteenth-century logician Gaṅgeśa or with the grammarian and the linguist philosopher Bhartṛhari (fifth to sixth centuries), or with the tenth-or eleventh-century aesthetician Abhinavagupta. Sad though it is, one result of European colonial rule in South Asia is that the intellectual traditions once unbroken and alive in Sanskrit or Persian or Arabic are now only matters of historical research for most – perhaps all – modern social scientists in the region. They treat these traditions as truly dead, as history” (p. )

For the serious students of Indian philosophy the challenge is to think how it could be brought out from the dead chamber and make it alive by making people think through it. It sounds indeed so ironical that Indian philosophy is often tagged with the expression “it is more of a way of life”, but it has simply remained confined to its death. A good example could be the state of Indian philosophy in Indian universities today. From my personal experience having been a part of a number of Indian universities, I feel that the courses are designed such that students “know” about Indian philosophy, but do not develop an edge to see what it is. Nicholson further adds;

Students in literary theory today, whether in Calcutta or Cambridge, take more inspiration from Aristotle than from Abhinavagupta. If they are acquainted with Indian philosophy at all, it is regarded only as a historical curiosity, not as a vital philosophical tradition (p. 21).

Daya Krishna had a deep realization of the above mentioned fact and he emphasized that the Indian philosophy should not be regarded as something full and final. In addition to this he also raises another problem related to the various schools of thought belonging to different traditions and the individuals who contributed to these schools or traditions. The problem precisely is that we have never thought of looking at for instance Śaṅkara independently from his tradition. Reading Śaṅkara as a representative of the Advaita Vedānta is simply compromising his personal philosophical genius at the cost of the affiliation with his traditional school. Daya Krishna says:

No distinction, therefore, is ever drawn between the thought of an individual thinker and the thought of the school. A school is, in an important sense, an abstraction. It is a logical construction springing out of the writings of a number of thinkers who share a certain similarity of the outlook in tackling similar problems……Basically, this is the reality of the ‘schools’ of Indian philosophy. Yet it is never presented as such. Śāṁkhya, for example, is identified too much with Īśvarakṛṣṇa’s work, or Vedānta with the work of Śaṅkara. But this is due to the confusion between the thought of an individual thinker and the style of thought which he exemplifies and to which he contributes in some manner. All that Saṁkara has written is not strictly Advaita Vedānta. Nor is all that Īśvarakṛṣṇa has written, Sāṁkhya. Unless this is realized, writings on Indian philosophy will continuously do injustice either to the complexity of thought of the individual thinker concerned, or to the uniqueness of the style of thought they are writing about (p. 14).

This and many other problems persist in Indian philosophy because we never explored the historiography of Indian philosophy in detail. This exercise has only started to begin recently with scholars like Richard King and Andrew Nicholson. For someone like me who is based in textual studies of the Sanskrit sources of Indian philosophy, knowing that Arthur Schopenhauer read the Latin translation of the Upaniṣads which had been translated by French writer Anquetil du Perron from the Persian translation of Prince Dara Shikoh entitled Sirre-Akbar (“The Great Secret”) was a shock. It was a shock because my first teacher of Indian philosophy had told me that I should read Arthur Schopenhauer and Paul Deussen if I really wanted to understand Indian philosophy. Paul Deussen who was highly influenced by Schopenhauer and his ideas about Indian philosophy, had its most direct influence of the nineteenth-century German idealism on the young discipline of Indology through his writings particularly on Upaniṣadas. Deussen played an important role in shaping what we today know as Indian philosophy. He regarded Upaniṣads as unambiguously Vedāntic in their outlook and also claimed that the Sāṁkhya was a school that later grew out of the Upaniṣads. He seriously treated Indian philosophy in a comparative way and made philosophical claims based on insights from Eastern and Western philosophy. His widely read translations of the Upaniṣads had an enormous effect in scholarly opinion of Vedānta in the twentieth century, and it was he more than any one else who was responsible for the opinion that Advaita Vedānta was the genuine representation of the Upaniṣads. (Nicholson: p. 134). Here is exactly where we understand the value of Daya Krishna’s “comparative ‘comparative method’” lies. Deussen used a comparative method to understand Indian philosophy and today we understand that his comparative method needs to be looked through an authentic or a more refined comparative method. Nicholson’s comments about Deussen’s approach are worth a note here;

Despite his recognition that India contained a multiplicity of philosophical voices, not just one, through his historical typology he was able to uphold the notion inherited from Schopenhauer of a “concordance of Indian, Greek, and German metaphysics; the world is māyā, is illusion, says Śaṅkara;-it is a world of shadows, not of realities, says Plato;-it is ‘appearance only, not the thing in itself’, says Kant”. This unified vision of the world’s philosophies championed by Deussen became enormously popular in the twentieth century, and its influence is still felt today” (p. 138).

Deussen was constructing “his” understanding of Indian philosophy surrounding Vedānta system alone. He even thought that the “whole Sāṁkhya system is nothing but a result of the denigration of the Vedānta by means of the growth of realistic tendencies” (p. 136). According to him the Yoga and Sāṁkhya were simply the lower stages of development of the highly polished philosophy namely the Vedānta. We will see later in the paper how his ideas were solely based on the Sarvadraśanasaṃgraha of Mādhava, a fourteenth-century Advaita Vadāntin.

Coming to another issue that Ninian Smart has raised is related to the problem of categorization of the Indian philosophy into the āstika and nāstika schools. This is another example that makes us think how eclectic the categorization of Indian philosophy is. I think this is an important issue and there are many examples one can offer about the inconsistent ways in which this categorization of Indian philosophy has been implements. This concept was vaguely present in the early Sanskrit texts like the Mahābhārata and the Buddhacarita of Aśvaghośa, but the present classification was of central significance to the late medieval doxographers. Uniquely enough a sixth century Tamil text titled Maṇimekalai seems to offer such an idea that culminates in regarding the Buddhist logic as the final school. This text has been completely overlooked by historians of Indian philosophy because it was not written in Sanskrit (p. 149). Haribhadra Suri (eighth century), a Jaina author enumerates the six schools of Indian philosophy as Buddhism, Nyāya, Sāṁkhya, Jaina, Vaiśeṣika, Mīmāṃsā (p. 155). Later, the most famous doxography was composed by the fourteenth century scholar Mādhavācārya in his famous text titled the Sarvadarśanasaṃgraha. He discussed fifteen schools of Indian philosophy in this book using a hierarchical order starting from the materialists and culminating in the Vedānta. Being himself a Vedāntin he propounded that all schools of Indian philosophy culminate in Vedānta. In his opinion only the Advaita Vedānta was the authentic Vedānta, and he regarded the other schools of Vedāntas as the nāstika schools. It was Mādhava’s popular classification of āstika and nāstika that Deussen had inherited, explains Nicholson;

Although it has been praised in the past for the clarity with which it presents philosophical doctrines, for my purposes it is most interesting for its ideological slant, and the techniques and the dominance of Advaita philosophy in the modern period that the Sarvadarśanasaṃgraha has often been considered an accurate depiction of the Indian philosophical schools, so much so that Deussen’s volume on India in his Allgemeine Geschichte der Philosophie is largely based on Mādhava’s text (p. 159).

In conclusion I think in the post-colonial world today we have started realizing where the flaws of our approach and understanding a colonial ideology lies and the comparative method as shows above is a remedy if applied carefully makes us realize that we study Indian philosophy in disguise. In the recent times the philosophers like Karl H. Potter and Alex Watson have advocated for the study of Indian philosophy as Indian philosophy and I think I agree with them in the sense that we should first try to understand the native philosophical systems of any culture without comparing them with the systems those we may already know of. And only after we try to learn the basic skeleton of a system should we we using the comparative method. I would prefer calling the former “the internal comparative method” and the latter “the external comparative method”. In the context of Sanskrit sources it becomes an imperative task to go back to the original Sanskrit texts of Indian philosophy and not depending solely on the understanding of the translations. The time also demands revised translations of the important Sanskrit texts in Indian philosophy so that we cannot be mislead by the Deussenian approach.


  1. 1. Daya Krishna, (1989) Comparative Philosophy: What is it and What it Ought to Be in Interpreting Across Boundaries. Larson and Deutsch, eds. MLBD, Delhi.
  2. 2. Halbfass, W., (1990) India and Europe, An Essay on Philosophical Understanding, MLBD, Delhi.
  3. 3. Halbfass, W., (1985) India and the Comparative Method. Philosophy East and West 35.I (1985): 3-15
  4. 4. Bhushan, Nalini and Garfield, Jay. L., (eds.) (2010) Indian Philosophy in English – from Renaissance to Independence, OUP, New York.
  5. 5. King, Richard., (1999) Indian Philosophy, An Introduction to Hindu and Buddhist Thought, Edinburg University Press, Edinburg.
  6. 6. King, Richard., (1999) Orientalism and Religion, Post-Colonial Theory, India, and ‘The Mystic East’, Routledge, London / NY.
  7. 7. Krishna, Daya., (1991) Indian Philosophy – A Counter Perspective, OUP, Delhi.
  8. 8. Larson, Gerald,., (1989) Introduction: The ‘Age-Old Distinction Between the Same and the Other Interpreting Across Boundaries. Larson and Deutsch, eds. MLBD, Delhi.
  9. 9. Nandy, Ashis., (1983) The Intimate Enemy – Loss and Recovery of Self Under Colonialism, OUP, Delhi.
  10. 10. Nicholson, Andrew, J., (2010) Unifying Hinduism – Philosophy and Identity in Indian Intellectual History, Columbia University Press: New York.
  11. 11. Breckenridge, Carol. A. and van der Veer, Peter (1993) Orientalism and the Post-Colonial Predicament – Perspectives in South Asia, University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia.
  12. 12. Raghuramaraju, (2006) Debates in Indian Philosophy – Classical, Colonial, and Contemporary, OUP, Delhi.
  13. 13. Pappu, Rama Rao, (1982) Indian Philosophy : Past and Future, MLBD, Delhi.
  14. 14. Smart, Ninian, (1989). The Analogy of Meaning and the Tasks of Comparative Philosophy, Interpreting Across Boundaries. Larson and Deutsch, eds. MLBD, Delhi.

Author: Mrinal Kaul

I am a Kashmirian Orientalist

4 thoughts on “The “Pizza Effect” in Indian Philosophy”

  1. first of all, vansa raaz theek chiva ? excuse me, my kashmiri is bad but your blog is awesome! it is very rare to find serious indian blogs of such polished and well versed nature. It is even rare to find serious discussions on Indian philosophy by Indians..(in a country where most jains dont know about the atheism of Jainism or Buddhists unaware of the Chaatvari Arya Satyani, and Hindus, as usual confused or uncaring)

    Most people even outside think that Indian philosophy (at least Hindu) is confined to Vedanta, or at most Bhakti. While not questions the greatness of these traditions there are many other traditions over which there has not been much serious research or public knowledge. Added to the number of Buddhist, Jain and other philosophies (Tantra, Yoga etc) which themselves have a mind boggling diversity, the volume of work done in the whole of India is immense.

    One must also emphasize that Indian philosophy is not confined only to religious or spiritual matters, but also to grammar, linguistics, math, epistemology, logic and so on. much effort is required to remind the indian mindset of its past richness, without exaggerating..(vaiminka shastra and all spooky stuff.)

  2. / I agree with them in the sense that we should first try to understand the native philosophical systems of any culture without comparing them with the systems those we may already know of. And only after we try to learn the basic skeleton of a system should we we using the comparative method./

    I cannot agree more with this statement. Comparison starts when you have the fundamentals established on their own terms.
    The domination of Advaita and Neo- advaita has coloured the proper understanding of any other Indian system. That idealism has dominated the major philosophers is fairly well known and advaita seamlessly blends with those ideas. I am myself a visishtadvaitin by conviction and feel that we have overlooked many important works from other schools of thought.

    Also, knowledge of Sanskrit and any other source language our text is in, is really crucial. Learning it through translations is at best partial if not biased. English is less suitable for presentation of classical Indian themes.

  3. Very well said about Indian Philosophy! I am planning to do my master degree thesis on Daya Krishna. I would be happy to learn more about him and i request your help in this regard!

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