Identity, Difference and Diversity: A Journey from the Bṛhadāraṇyaka-Upaniṣad to Mukund Lath

Daniel Raveh*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

In this paper, I offer a close comparative reading of a creation myth from chapter 1 of the Bṛhadāraṇyaka-Upaniṣad, which opens with the startling statement “ātmaivedam agra āsīt”, “in the beginning there was the self (ātman)”. I read this classical text with Śaṅkara, its foremost commentator, in dialogue with an ensemble of Indologists (Wilhelm Halbfass, Greg Bailey and Frederick Smith) and theorists (Walter Benjamin, Ramchandra Gandhi and Hélène Cixous), and vis-à-vis, the creation myth narrated in chapter 1 of the Book of Genesis. My aim is to decipher the intrinsic relation between identity, difference and diversity underlying the Upaniṣadic myth, and the ambivalent relationship (fear and desire) between self and other depicted here. The Upaniṣad presents a narrative of “the self first”, and implied is the aspiration to retrieve and rediscover this first self, the ātman, which precedes and encompasses everything else. I challenge this narrative drawing on Mukund Lath’s paper (J World Philos 4:6–23, 2003/2018). According to Lath, being is becoming, and change is a precondition of identity-formation. Identity, he argues, does not only accommodate but also invites change and plurality. Identity for Lath is a matter of creation, not restoration. It is pregnant with the future, not obsessed with premordiality. Lath’s unique case study for his counter-Upaniṣadic discussion of identity and self is classical Indian music, rāga music.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Indian Council of Philosophical Research
DOIs
StateAccepted/In press - 2024

Keywords

  • Bṛhadāraṇyaka-Upaniṣad
  • Change
  • Creation myth
  • Identity
  • Mukund Lath
  • Rāga music

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