Phenomenology and Saiva Siddhantha


K.Loganathan, University Sains Malaysia, Penang, Malaysia.


One of the most powerful movements in the 20th cent Western philosophy is that of Phenomenology attributed to Edmund Husserl. Some of the most prominent Western philosophers such Heidegger, Derrida, Levinas and so forth were inspired by this thinker and have developed variants of hermeneutics that now constitute the most powerful philosophical movement in the West. Phenomenology also became the methodology for sociological research and this in turn gave birth to other methodologies such as Conversation Analysis, Ethnomethodology and so forth. The purpose of this article is point out the inescapable limitations inherent to the phenomenology of Husserl and its variants and the need to accept the methodological principles of Saiva Siddhanta even for sociological studies. Another relevance of this article is that there appears to be important similarities between the phenomenology of Husserl and the Viddantic philosophy of the 19th century Caccithananthar as outlined in his Vethantha Ilakkanam, Uttama Vaatham, Kalvi Aathara Villakam and so forth. The notion of EPOCHE, phenomenological reduction ( called nivritti in Tamil,) appears to be common to both. The stream of consciousness which is somewhat ‘corrupted’ can be purified somehow through some kind ‘cleansing’ and thereby enjoy ‘pure consciousness’ and hence apodictic certainty. The pure consciousness is the cutha caittanyam also called Brahman. This view is what we want to challenge and through that point out that such self cleansing is impossible without gaining what the Saivites call ARUL that’s extra personal.

The following passage taken from the book Phenomenology and Sociology, edited by Thomas Luckmann, states very succinctly the methodological principles involved.

Phenomenology describes the constitution of our experiences by recourse to the most direct evidence available. Its criteria of verification differ, however, from those used to good purpose in social sciences. In contrast to the epistemologically na´ve observations and ‘measurements’ of more or less public events that we practice in the social sciences when we look for ‘data’, the ‘data’ of phenomenology are of a more elementary nature. We find them by inspection of our experiences. By using the methods of phenomenological ‘reduction’ we proceed step by step from historically, biographically, socially and culturally concrete features of everyday experience to its elementary structures. This is a procedure that differs from the ‘inductive’ generalization of empirical sciences. Evidently, the results of inspection and ‘reduction’ can be communicated in a further step to fellowmen. By recourse to evidence of the same kind on their part they can be intersubjectively verified."(pp 8-9)

This view of phenomenological reduction of everyday experiences, judging them with respect to the most direct evidences available to oneself and communicating the ‘data’ to others who in turn by recourse to the same evidences can confirm or disconfirm is wrought with many difficulties. These are, we may note here, similar to the notions of tanporuddu anumAnam and pRrar poruddu anumAnam that was first articulated by the Tamil Buddhist logicians in the 5th cent A.D. itself but which can be traced to the logic outlined in Marapiyal of Tolkappiyam dated around the 3rd cent. B.C.

The notion of " intersubjective confirmation" and its necessity for ascertaining TRUTH presupposes not only the being-there of OTHERS but also that TRUTH is of the sort that can be assented to by OTHERS as well and who are independent from oneself. Here we should note that the notion of OTHERS, others just as the same as oneself exceeds phenomenological reduction. The TRUTH of their being-in-the-world is already given and hence requires no phenomenological reduction for being certain of it. And this means being-already-with-others and moving-together-with-them are truths already presupposed and hence requiring no phenomenological reduction and subsequent intersubjective confirmation at all.


Also when we analyze human behavior in such situations, more often than not there are protests, violent disagreements, intimidation, ridicules, castigation and what not. The deeper the Truth, the more violent the disagreement and even willingness to battle, combat and so forth. This is quite visible among members of religious cults where members of each cult or ideology fervently believe they possess Truth and all others have no choice but to accept it. This raises the question: Why are there such violent disagreements? And can the method of phenomenological reduction identify the elementary structures of such violent disagreements and explain its possibility?


Saiva Siddhanta tradition, in choosing Pedagogic Hermeneutics as its methodology seems to begin with the understanding that with respect to claims about TRUTH there can be violent disagreements and that agreement is possible only under certain conditions. Different individuals who are independent beings (i.e. not reflections of a single Brahman in different pot-like enclosures) can come an agreement only when they enjoy what Tolkappiyar called otta kaatci i.e. the sameness of vision or understanding. I LEARN SOMETHING through my hermeneutic interpretive studies of TEXTS and when I communicate this to another person, I in fact seek to INSTRUCT him on it. Because through this I throw the other into a hierarchically lower position of being my student, initially there is resistance and reluctance. When the OTHER is philosophically immature, the resistance can even be irrational and violent as it would appear to be subduing or vanquishing the person concerned in combat-like engagement. But however among the philosophically mature or less egoistic, there may be willingness to LEARN and through that an EFFORT to SEE WHAT IS BEING POINTED OUT. It is in the course of such efforts that hermeneutics utties are practiced and the sameness of vision enjoyed. When, despite the sincerity and practice of appropriate utties, sameness of vision is impossible and hence the sameness of understanding, then of course agreement is not possible. This also means that the initial claim LACKS OBJECTIVITY and hence something not a FACT but rather a piece of imagination or as the Vedantic scholars would put it, a KARPITAM.

The possibility of intersubjective agreement in this sense ensures OBJECTITY, i.e. what is being claimed is NOT a KARPITAM, a pure mental construction. Now when we inquire further into this possibility of different and independent individuals coming to an agreement, a sameness of SEEING, we see the workings of what can be called ‘episodizations ’ or cangkaarams which is simultaneously the expression of ARUL, a benevolence. When a person LEARNS to see what is being pointed out and succeeds in seeing the same, there is episodization effected in his understanding perhaps unknown to himself. The initial understanding that stood as a prejudice blocking off the sameness of seeing must be episodized, put off as now belonging to the past and in its place install something NEW to condition the seeing. If the person is not relieved off the existing ways of seeing and Being, he can never learn to see what is being pointed out and which may be outside the present reach of his understanding.

But what are the conditions for the occurrence of such episodizations or cangkaarams within understanding that in a way ‘purifies’ one of prejudices?

If X is episodized to let Y emerge and be the present, then X has to be seen as a WHOLE for otherwise its LACK cannot be seen and articulated. The X has to be seen as a TOTALITY in order to see what is still wanting in it, what DEFIENCY lurks but remains somehow unnoticed. Episodization takes place when this LACK or DEFICIENCY is HIGHLIGHTED and made to be SEEN by the person. Though initially the person may be perturbed, annoyed and may even become violent and abusive, this LACK within his understanding destabilizes him and thereby makes him more open and less egoistic. This inner humility creates the necessary conditions for emergence of something new, Y, with the earlier X pushed now as belonging to the PAST of the person. Episodization is ‘depresensing’_ the dethroning of that which stands as the ongoing, the current, the reigning NOTION and replacing it with another that is less deficient in some ways.

It must also be noticed that what is thus episodized is also something that’s PUSHED DOWN in the ladder of progress, development and growth, as something that now belongs not only one’s own past but also a LOWER WAY OF BEING. But it is not wiped out and discarded; it is retained within the current, the ongoing but as that which has been assimilated, understood and thus incorporated as an integral part of one’s own understanding. It is retained there in the understanding and because of which relapses into lower stages of development are prevented. Now this also means that that which is emplaced as the NEW i.e. Y is also a whole but somehow LESS DEFECTIVE than X that was displaced. This means the person who lives by Y is a better or a more developed individual than one who lives by X. In other words we are introducing here the notion of Homo Hierarchicus of Louis Dumont without however justifying Varnasrama Dharma with casteic social implications. The developmental differences that we are articulating here has nothing to do with Varnas that are either biological or sociological.


The phenomenological movement in the West, in failing to note such a view of different individuals coming to an agreement also has failed to note the existence of hierarchical differences among individuals. Failing to note also the developmental aspects, they also have failed to acknowledge the existence of an ABSOLUTE END, or PARAMUKTI as that TOWARDS WHICH all individuals are moving, knowingly or unknowingly. Each episodization pushes an individual a step higher and this continues rather tirelessly until AN ABSOLUTE END is reached where further episodizations are not only impossible, but also the need for it does not arise at all and the self is also given to understand that. The self HAS FINALLY ARRIVED HOME, the Thiru CiRRampalam the FINAL HOME, the VIIDU and understands that it has arrived so. This FINAL way of Being of selves is that towards which all are moving and about the meaning of which the philosophers are in endless battles. But how can we be sure of this, that Saiva Siddhanta is in fact the Siddhanta?

There is STRUCTURE and GENESIS in pedagogic Hermeneutics that centers on the notion of episodization as the universal activity underlying different people coming to agreements. There is GLOBAL STRUCTURE and LOCAL STRUCTURE of that which is episodized, i.e. X; and SEQUENTIAL STRUCTURE in relation to X that’s episodized and Y that’s allowed to emerge and constitute the present. The sequentiality is also GENETIC— Y is generated from X by the act of episodization that simultaneously removes a lack in X thereby generates a Y that is not deficient in that way. The Genetic relationship that we note here is not the WHOLE-PART or pakuthi-vikuthi or avayavam-avayavi relation relationship that’s articulated in Tolkappiyam and many other texts but rather the athikaara muraimai that’s also noted in the same text. The X and Y are separated by acts of episodization and hence not only is there a historical relationship in which X is historically prior to Y but also hierarchical relationship in which Y is higher than X in some ways.

This genealogical relationships between X’s and Y’s also disclose that there is TELEOLOGY not for the world as a whole in Hegelian fashion but rather for the individual who enjoys/suffers the edisodizations and thereby gets transported to higher ways of Being. The teleological nature of the growth of individual understanding points to the existence of a LIMIT, an ABSOLUTE END for this movement which exists for the present as the NOT-YET but something that’s a distinct possibility. This PARAMUKTI is not for the world process but rather for the individual self which gives the primordial meaning for existence as such.

This GENESIS AND GROWTH is not simply morphological, biological, or even psychological ; it is much more inclusive. For acts of episodization , in transporting the self from lower to higher also DESTROYS IGNORANCE that surrounds the understanding of the self and thereby the human finitude itself.. Since this is simultaneous with TRANSMUTATION , the genesis is also PURIFICATIONAL and hence the episodizations are simultaneously ABSOLVING. As one progresses in this manner, one becomes less and less IMPURE ; there is CLEANSING or tiikkai of a sort and because of which there is personal development. The person becomes a better person and sometimes even a higher kind of species: though human yet divine- a mahatma.

Episodization or cangkaaram is NOT a kind of destruction, a WANTON dismantling, a deconstruction and so forth but rather a RESTRUCTURING or RECONSTITUTING the understanding so that it is better or more developed than before. It is generative-destructive or antham-aathi as Meykandar would put it that’s simultaneously purificatory i.e. a tiikkai.

Phenomenology and Pedagogic Hermeneutics

What unites the phenomenological movement of the West with the Dravidian philosophical tradition is the notion of "return to the things themselves" the foundational notion of Sangkam culture and which was termed in Tamil as IYALNERI, a constant theme throughout the long history of Dravidian culture. No authority except the things themselves or the world as it stands, was accepted . The Civajnana Botham establishes METAPHYSICA UNIVERSALIS not through quoting Vedas or Agamas but rather BY ANALYSING THE WORLD and our understanding of it. But there is an important difference between these two traditions that should not be overlooked. The ‘things’ studied in Dravidian Philosophy are not simply experiential data but rather TEXTS or TEXT-ANALOGUES where a TEXT is also understood as having a DUALITY of structure—the SURFACE STRUCTURE and DEEP STRUCTURE, where the former are the contents of experience while the latter are hidden or concealed but which is the NIMITTA KARANA or the AGENTIVE CAUSE of the experienced reality.

A TEXT , as already noted in the days of Tolkappiyam itself, not only has a whole-part relationship among it’s constituents but also a ATHIKARA MURAIMAI , a sequential organizational structure that shows itself in paragraphing, chapter headings , divisions into various parts and so forth. It is this sequential structure more than the whole-part structure, that discloses the presence of an INTENTIONAL organization that in fact fabricates the observable structure of the TEXT. The hidden presence of INTENTIONALITY with its AGENTIVITY is disclosed for seeing and understanding only when the sequential organization of the TEXT is noted, interrogated and through that the presence of episodizations acknowledged. Such interrogations involve what are called utties i.e. ontopretations, the going from the features of Surface Structure to the elements of the Deep Structure that are present simultaneously and configure the experiential. It must noted that such utties are not the practices of epoche, the bracketing off the nonessential and the retention of only the essential, an eidectic reduction or phenomenological reduction of a kind in which the elementary structures are identified. The Saiva Philosopher does not function like a geometrician who seeks out the IDEAL geometrical shapes from the natural by subtracting away the situational specifics but rather like an archeologist who would dig up the ground in order to bring into open the hidden, the covered up, the concealed and so forth. The ontopretations help the investigator to ACCESS the hidden and thereby UNDERSTAND the phenomenal or the experiential realities and through that gain an understanding of a meaningful kind.

BEING and Being-one-with-BEING

The notion of intersubjective confirmation in Phenomenology has another important limitation that should be pointed out too. Phenomenology has to presuppose as a given truth the fact that there is a community, or as Habermas would put it, a communicative community for it to survive as a field of science. It cannot function without this presupposition for otherwise it will lack intersubjectivity. The pedagogic hermeneutics of Saiva Siddhanta however does not have this restriction and because of which it can also approach metaphysical questions without abandoning the notion of science, something Phenomenologists cannot handle.

The recognition of the centrality of episodizations or cangkaarams not only in the growth of self understanding but also as underlying the whole range of phenomenal reality, its ubiquitous presence points out that there is BEING from whom emanates all these episodizations. As Meykandar put it, CangkAra kAraNAkiya muthalaiyE muthalAka udaiththu ivvulaku: the world as a whole has BEING as its episodising/configuring GROUND. This means that when the individuals take a metaphysical turn to existence, they seek agreement not with fellowmen but rather with BEING itself. Existence becomes genuinely RELIGIOUS in which an individual seeks ONENESS WITH BEING and not so much with fellowmen. The social mode of Being-in-the-World is backgrounded and Being-one-with-BEING is foregrounded. The pattern of existence changes and becomes essentially religious but under the regulation of ARUL.

The philosophical understanding of the nature of this metaphysical existence has been the substance of philosophical debate for more than a millenium in the Tamil country and it is impossible to summarize all of it in a few passages. However, it must be pointed out that Saiva Siddhanta as distinct from other schools of thought in India, did not abandon the Hermeneutic-Scientific basis and hence the spirit of science even in metaphysics or religious existence. In seeking to be in agreement with BEING, it suffers change or transmutation so much so that in the end the ego-self is completely submerged and BEING is allowed to shine forth totally and completely. The total agreement at this limiting point is also the total loss of egoity i.e. ‘I’ness and ‘mine’ness.

In this manner the pedagogic hermeneutics of Saiva Siddhanta, in contrast to Phenomenology, allows a rational appropriation of the whole gamut of human experience- the personal, social as well as metaphysical or religious.

Paper presented at the First Saiva Conference organized by the Federation of Saiva(Hindu) Temples,U.K. 11th and 12th July, 1998, London


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