INTERVIEW WITH DR. ASHOK KUMAR MALHOTRA
Dr. Ashok Kumar Malhotra is Distinguished Teaching Professor of Philosophy at the State University of New York at Oneonta. Teaching experience includes: Hinduism, Buddhism, and Taoism, Mysticism and Meditation in Indian and Chinese Traditions, Philosophy and Psychology of Yoga, Introduction to World Philosophy, Existentialism and Phenomenology, Philosophical Ideas in Imaginative Literature, Survey of World Religions, and Religions of India, China, and Japan. He has published 14 books and more than 50 articles on Indian, Chinese, Japanese and Comparative Philosophy and Religion. Recently, he is writing a series of books where he will be retelling 250 stories that he inherited from his grandpa while growing up in India. Calling them as Grandpa Chopra’s Stories for life’s Nourishment, they will be similar to the Aesop’s Fables where each will have a moral. The first series of 40 stories is already written and published as an eBook.
Q: Are there similarities between Indian and Chinese philosophies?
Ashok: Yes! The obvious similarity is between Indian meditation system of Yoga and Buddhism with that of the Chinese meditation method of Taoism. Another similarity is their emphasis on putting to practice the philosophical wisdom to create a good society where people could actualize their potential and live a happy contented life.
Q: Apart from Indian and Chinese philosophies are there any other different Eastern philosophies?
Ashok: There is Zen Buddhism that is widespread in Korea and Japan. Buddhism was brought to China in 527 AD by an Indian sage called Bodhidharma. The intermingling of Buddhism with Chinese Taoism gave rise to Zen Buddhism. During the 12th century, Zen Buddhism was introduced to Korea and Japan where it was incorporated into their respective cultures and became their way of life.
Q: From your eBooks you have a fascination for looking at the impact of Eastern and Western philosophies on each other?
Ashok: Historically, there has been mutual influence between Indian and Chinese philosophies and religions. Some scholars believe that Indian philosophy might have also influenced the Greek philosophers such as Plato, who seemed to have incorporated ideas on society from India while writing his famous book on The Republic. However, during the 19th century, there has been influence of India’s philosophy on the German thinkers such as Schopenhauer, Nietzsche and Max Muller. Another German scholar, Heidegger shows the influence of Chinese and Japanese philosophy and vice versa. The American Transcendentalists were also much intrigued by the Hindu books of the Upanishadas and the Bhagavad Gita. In India, Vivekananda, Tagore, Gandhi, Radhakrishnan and others were busy coalescing the Eastern and Western philosophies in their own world views during the 19th and 20th centuries.
: In your eBook SARTRE AND YOGA
it can be seen that Yoga is not just an exercise but a philosophy?
Ashok: In the West, Yoga has been popularized as a system of physical and meditation exercises to offer good health to the practitioner. Though Yoga has this component i.e. an art of sculpting the body, heart and mind, thus bringing harmony among them, it is a fully blown system of philosophy. It raises the questions regarding the nature of the universe, human being and good life by answering them in terms of the universe as the objective joyful consciousness, human being as subjective joyful consciousness and good life as the realization of this bliss in daily life through the utilization of the practical method of Yoga.
: You also practice Yoga yourself as seen in your eBook YOGA AND MEDITATION
– does this include the philosophy of Yoga also?
Ashok: Yes! All popular and serious forms of Yoga in the 20th and 21st centuries have their roots in the Yoga Sutras created in 500 B.C. by an Indian sage, Patanjali. I have been practicing and teaching Patanjali’s Yoga for the past 40 years. I have tried to form good habits of the body by eating the most nutritious foods (fruits, vegetables, nuts etc.); to inculcate the good habits of the heart by doing Asanas (physical exercises) and Pranayama (breathing exercises); and to institute good habits of the mind by performing Dhyana (meditation exercises) each day for 1 hour. I also visualize the connection between me and rest of existence especially other human beings. I put this meditative experience to action during my job and encounters with other human beings. At a personal and professional level, I have tried to help students, faculty and members of the community by presenting a TV show on “Yoga for Relaxation” on the Public Access Channel. This has been shown for the past two years and many people have told me that they were benefitting from doing these exercises with me through TV. Practice of Yoga philosophy has helped me to see the natural connection among all human beings. I spend my personal and professional life helping the unfortunate children of India and the world by building schools for them so that they will have a meaningful future. Yoga has taught me that we are all siblings who though come in different forms and colors but are painted by the same brush by the same creative energy.
Q: Is there one overriding Eastern philosophy?
Ashok: In the past, the spiritual/mystical aspects of the East were emphasized and they are still very popular in the West. However, Indian philosophy is multi-faceted and covers some of the major trends in the Western philosophical tradition such as logic, epistemology, analytic philosophy, phenomenology and existentialism.
Ashok: The emphasis on such martial arts as karate, judo, tai chi and others has contributed to such a fascination. During the 1980’s and 1990’s Warner Brothers capitalized on this allure of the public by creating its famous and popular TV series on Kung Fu. In this series, some of the wisdom of the Tao Te Ching was presented through the mouth piece of David Carradine, showing that wisdom can be transformed into “compassion in action.” I was fortunate to have been asked by the Warner Brothers to be a consultant for their 1992 series on Kung Fu: The Legend Continues. I was invited to transcreate a number of lines from the Tao Te Ching and Chung Tzu to be used by David Carradine.
Q: What are the main differences between Eastern and Western Philosophies?
Ashok: During the 20th century, the prominent Western view held that there was no Eastern Philosophy but only Eastern Religions. This was influenced by the belief that Eastern philosophies were concerned only with mysticism/spirituality and had no logical/epistemological content. However, due to the introduction of a wide variety of courses on Eastern philosophy and religion in universities and colleges throughout the Western world, the view is changing. Even though, there is still some bias among the traditionalists in the West that Eastern philosophy is nothing more than religion, more people are showing serious interest in the study of Eastern philosophy by discovering logical and analytic content. Some have started doing serious study of comparative philosophy by showing interesting parallels between existentialism and Eastern philosophy as well as by revealing analytical and logical themes in the two traditions.
Ashok: I find human life to be a wonderful gift that might not to be repeated again. Therefore, I have a positive outlook on life. I think that in “every misfortune there is fortune.” We might not have any control on natural or social events but we do have control on our reaction to them or what we want to do with them. This Americanization of mysticism and meditation might appear to the pessimist as a slap on the face of this revered discipline, but for the optimist, it is offering an opportunity for everyone to participate and learn about it. This popularization of yoga, meditation, mysticism and spirituality has brought these sacred and hidden disciplines to the very door steps of every American. I am happy that it is happening and people are ready to read and grasp these so called esoteric disciplines and make up their own minds.
Ashok: It is a very good question. As a philosopher, I have written 14 books and many articles. In many of these works, I talk about doing good to humanity. This talk may never lead to an action on the part of the reader. That is the problem with philosophy. When I was a little kid listening to more than 250 stories from my Grandpa Chopra, I wanted to be like each of the heroes of the story. I wanted to be like them immediately. That is the difference between philosophy and a story. Philosophy appeals to the mind only whereas a story with a strong moral appeals to the mind and heart and leads to an action. All these 40 stories are like Aesop’s Fables with a moral. Hopefully, after reading them, the readers would like to act upon what they had learned from them.