March 25, 2018 Author: Dr. Bosco Correya OCD 0 Comments

A towering contemporary philosopher is being compared here with another towering medieval philosopher. The difference between them is striking. One comes from the Indian context and other from the Western culture. One is an agnostic and other is absolutist\theist. But both go beyond the traditional understandings of the terms. Both struggle confronting the Reality. Their conclusions are never identical. One is satisfied with a tentative “let it be” (Gelassenheit) and the other goes all out for the Absolute and Eternal Being. One is satisfied with everydayness together with its finitude and the other reaches out to the Infinite and there is no turning back. Still the sense of openness we find in both the thinkers is striking. Further the act of thinking is tedious and serious activity for both. Finally both have contemporary relevance for today. This urges me to do a comparative study of these two great men, different in various aspects and still convergent in the crucial aspects of their search and findings. It is my attempt to show that between these two radically different philosophers there is a convergence that is the basis of our contemporary human predicament. So the relevance of the study lies in the fact that both the thinkers contribute together for a better understanding of the contemporary human life.

In our times, may be due to the emergence of the pluralism and relativism, comparative studies of religion and philosophy have become very common. In this article we make an attempt to analyse and compare the process of thought in Hiedegger and Sankara.  To claim to make an exhaustive comparison between these two thinkers would be an illusion. It is because the culture, the time, the concerns and the aim of these two thinkers are significantly different. Before proceeding any further we need to attempt to  understand the diverse cultural backgrounds .

We are aware that ordinary comparison between two different systems of philosophy is not possible. Still we dare to make this attempt cautiously, taking into consideration of  the normal objection against comparison. [i]


0.2. Heidegger

Every thinker philosophizes within a context and background.  Hence it is necessary that we acquaint ourselves with the context within which Sankara and Heidegger respond philosophically to the <time of need>.  First of all, we see why Heidegger takes up the issue of Being and spends a whole life time struggling with the question of Being.  His philosophizing springs from the strong conviction that the question of Being is basic not only to philosophy, but also to the very existence of man.  This question needs to be revived because it has been forgotten in the Western philosophical tradition.  Only pre-Socratic thinkers gave their thought to Being.  If Being had been in oblivion in traditional Metaphysics, Being is in slavery in modern technology.

            The main reason for the oblivion of Being was that in the history of philosophy, the ontological difference between Being and beings was not paid attention to.  Being was taken to be a being.  Metaphysics was concerned with beings and beingness, not with Being as such.  The traditional Metaphysics approached beings from two perspectives.  First of al, beings were analyzed in their beingness, i.e., in their abstracted  universal trait.  In this sense, the traditional Metaphysics was <onto-logy>.  Beings were also analyzed as if they were grounded ultimately in a <highest being>.  In this way, it was <theo-logy>.  Heidegger writes: “When Metaphysics thinks of beings with respect to the ground that is common to all beings as such, then it is logic as onto-logic.  When Metaphysics thinks of beings as such as a whole that is, with respect to the highest being which accounts for everything, then it is logic as theo-logic”.[ii].

            The problem of the obvlivion of Being was more intensified in the modern period with the mathematical and calculative thinking of Descartes.  With him, Metaphysics ceased to be Metaphysics, but became Epistemology.  Descartes’ philosophy marked the triumph of subjectivism.  Metaphysics was no more a question of Being, but a theory of knowledge.  Kant too was not free from this fault.  His Metaphysics was mostly an analysis of the unity of the fundamental faculties of the human mind.  When Kant said that the thing in itself, was not understandable, he too was abandoning the question of  Being.  With Hegel, the end of traditional Metaphysics began.  He identified Being with Absolute Spirit.  With him, subjectivism came to its climax.  But it was Nietzsche who was responsible for bringing the end of this Metaphysics to its completion.  The traditional misunderstanding of Being culminated itself in nihilism.  With Nietzsche’s  emphasis on <will-to-power>, man was entitled to exploit reality and he thinks that he is in full possession of Being.  With this background Heidegger begins his philosophical enterprise with a view to clarify the meaning of Being.


The eighth century, when Sankara lived and wrote, was the century that experienced the impact of various streams of thoughts.  The Buddhist thinker Dharmakirti, and Kumarila and Prabhakara, the thinkers of Pura Mimamasa school added their own contributions.  Besides these influences, the ontology of Nyaya-Vaishesika and Sankhya was also very prevalent. They advocate absolutely independent and eternal existence of Padartha and Purusha and Prakrti respectively.  Hence they uphold pluralistic and dualistic realism.  It was also a time when Brahman and the world were assigned equality of status by the Bhedabhedavadin (one who believes in difference and non-difference at the same time.  Unity and plurality, one and many were viewed as equally real and equally significant.  The exponents and thinkers of these camps neglected completely the absoluteness and unicity of Brahman.




  1. 1. Dasein VS Atman (Individual Self or Jiva)

When Heidegger speaks of Dasein he does not mean it as a mode of consciousness.  Dasein is more similar to Being than consciousness.  Sankara’s individual self can be approximately compared with Dasein.  Dasein is the <there> and <locus> of Being.  Hence it is more ontological than merely conceptual.  Individual self in its true essence is Brahman Itself.  Hence the Atman, which Sankara speaks of, is ontological and not merely, a conceptual term.

      Dasein refers to man’s special way of Being in which its own Being is an issue.  The name <Being there>, serves to distinguish human being from all other things, all other beings, while preserving its connection with Being itself.  For Sankara among all the existing entities of this phenomenal world, it is the individual self which is able to realize its true nature which is one with the Absolute Reality.

      For both thinkers the human person is undeniably finite.  Heidegger characterizes man as Being-towards-death.  Sankara explains the utter finiteness of the human person in terms of upadhis (limiting conditions or adjuncts)  maya. Etc.  Yet for both thinkers the finite human person, while remaining finite, somehow transcends its own self as well as all other beings, and is able to apprehend the Incomprehensible.  In order to apprehend the incomprehensible mystery of Being Heidegger analyses Dasein.  For Sankara to know Brahman is to know oneself truly.  The true essence of an individual self is Brahman itself.

  • The relation between Dasein and Sein and Individual self and Absolute Self

Dasein’s uniqueness consists in its ability to relate itself to its own Being.  The essence of Dasein lies in its own existenz.  Existenz refers to posssible ways for Dasein to be (zu sein).  Dasein is essentially transcending beyond existence.  It is characterized with the understanding of its own Being and is able to relate itself to its own Being and the Being of other entities.  It can thus be an active striving.  In the early Heidegger it is transcendental subjectivity or more precisely,.  Dasein which predominates. Essentially man’s relationship to Being is a transcendence.  It is called transcendence because it implies a surpassing, a transcending of being towards Being.  Although Sankara does not speak of the transcendence of man when he says that among all creatures only man is able to realize his non-duality with the Supreme Self (Brahman), it would amount to his transcendence in Heideggerian sense.

      For the early Heidegger Being is only in so far as its is understood pre-thematically or thematically by Dasein.  Hence Being is ontically conditioned by Dasein.  Sankara would never say that the Supreme Being (Brahman) is conditioned by individual self and depends upon his understanding.  In the view of Sankara human being and every creature are totally and ontologically dependent on Brahman and they are non-different from It.  Each human being has to realize his identity with the Absolute Reality (Brahman) by his very effort.  Hence Sankara would say that on the empirical level each human person is essentially a possibility.  In fact, on the transcendental level the individual self is non-different from the Absolute Self.  The means to realize his identity with the Reality is knowledge (jnanamarga).  Sankara speaks of two kinds of knowledge; the lower knowledge (apara-vidya) and higher knowledge (para-vidya).  The lower knowledge is the knowledge of the world of objects, events etc.,.  The higher knowledge is the knowledge of the Absolute Self.  This can be compared with the Heideggerian notion of the understanding which is not a narrowly intellectual faculty of Dasein, but an expression of the way in which Dasein exists.  The dynamic character of Dasein <potentiality-for-Being (Seinskonnen) is co-extensive with understanding.  As understanding, Dasein is always pressing forward.  For Sankara through higher knowledge (apara-vidya) the individual human person is always surpassing this world of effects and realizes its non-difference with the Absolute Reality.

      In Heidegger’s view, <Dasein is an entity which does not just occur among other entities.  Rather it is ontically distinguished by the fact that, in its Being, that Being is an issue for it…Understanding of Being is itself a definite characteristic of Dasein’s Being.  Dasein is ontically distinctive in that it is ontological>[iii]. <Dasein in itself is <ontological>, because existence is thus determinative for it>.[iv] Therefore, Heidegger defined the Being of the self not in relation to any entitiy but in its relation to Being.  It is on account of this essential relation that Heidegger refers to the Being of the self as <Dasein> and he conceives the essence of Dasein as lying in its existence.  Sankara also considers the essential relation of the self with the Absolute Self.  The individual self in essence is one with the Absolute Self .  It is due to this essential relation that the individual self is called Atman.  Brahman is the cosmic Transcendence and the Atman is Its Psychic Immanence.

      According to Heidegger the relation to Being, ek-sistence, is the very heart of human essence.  In the second phase of Heideggerian thinking this relationship is expressed by the term Gelassenheit (relesement).  In the view of Heidegger <man is , and is man, in so far as he is ek-sisting one.  He stands out into the openness of Being>>.[v] This relationship is not a causal relationship.  The relation is best described by the phrase letting be>. <Thinking brings this relation to Being solely as something handed over to it from Being>>.[vi]   <Man is essentially this relationship of responding to Being, and he is only this>>[vii]. The sole aim of the Vedanta is to make us realize that our individual self is in essence one with the Supreme Atman.  Sankara expresses this relation by the term <tadatmya>.  It is not an accessory and extrinsic relationship but one that is ontologically constitutive of every individual self.

      <Tadatmya> means non-difference. Brahman is considered as being the innermost reality of Its effects but not identical with them. Sankara maintains that inspite of the non-difference of cause and effects, we cannot insist on an absolute equality of characteristics. << If absolute equality were insisted on… the relation of upadana cause and effect would be annihilated.>>[viii] The non-difference of cause and effect does not do away with the superiority of the cause.

      Now we shall briefly expose various characteristics of Tadatmya.[ix]

  1. Non-reciprocity: The relation of the effect to the atman of the Cause is not mutual. << Names and forms (the finite realities) in all their states have their Atman in Brahman alone, but Brahman alone, but Brahman has its Atman in them.>>[x] So this relation is onesided. Thus << the apparent world has Brahman for its true nature and not vice versa.>>[xi]
  2. Dependence: Effect has no existence apart from the Cause. It is totally and ontologically dependent on the Cause. << It is an accepted principle even in the world that an effect is intimately dependent (anuvidhayin) on its Cause.>>[xii]
  3. Non-separateness: Non-separateness is due to the total, ontological dependence upon the Cause. << All the created beings abide within the Purusa, for every effect rests within its Cause.>>[xiii]
  4. Distinction: Though Sankara insists on the non-difference of Cause and effect, he denies at the same time their absolute identity. The immanence of the upadana into its effects is brought out by saying that the effect exists through the atman of the cause. He also stresses that effects are always superseded by their inner cause and thus inferior to cause. Hence it is distinct from it.

These are the different characteristics of  the Tadatmya which relates the finite realities to Brahman.     

      Although human beings cannot be essentially thought of without considering his relation to Being, it has been observed that what Sankara says about the relation between individual self and Brahman does not fully agree with the Heideggerian notion.  The relation between Being and man is not at all a causal relation for Heidegger.  For Sankara it is non-reciprocal causal relation.  For Heidegger man and Being are appropriated each other.  They belong to each other.  Man is essentially this relationship of responding to Being, and he is only this.  Being can essentialize itself as Being only because man is the <Da> of Being.  The inter-relation between Being and man is based on thinking.  Sankara would never say that Brahman needs man to its presencing.  For Sankara the relation of the effect to the cause is not mutual.  Sankara denies absolute identity between cause and effect.  Heidegger also does not speak of absolute identity between Being and beings.  He interprets identity in terms of belonging together of Being and man.  The event of appropriation (Ereignis) appropriates man and Being together through their essential togetherness.


      One of the criticisms levelled against Heidegger and Sankara is that there is a lack of  intersubjectivity in the philosophy.  Although the philosophy of intersubjectivity is very poorly developed by these thinkers, there is a profound basis for developing a philosophy of the Other in both thinkers.

      Heidegger says, <So far as Dasein is at all, it has Being-with-one-another as its kind of Being>[xiv].  Even the absence of interaction is a form of interaction and shows the essential structure of Dasein as Being with.<Even Dasein’s being-alone is Being-with in the world.  The other can be missing only in and for a Being-with.  Being-alone is a deficient mode of Being-with; its very possiblity is the proof of this>.[xv] His interpretation of intersubjectivity is limited only to a few pages in BT (1part, ch.4.pp.149-150).  Although Dasein is said to be essentially constituted as Being-with, Dasein can gain its authenticity only when Dasein is liberated from <they>  This shows that the communal world and fellowmen are hindrance for gaining authenticity.  It is to be noted that in the second phase of Heideggerain thinking the intersubjectivity is totally absent.

      Sankara’s philosophy of intersubjectivity can be developed on the basis of the great sayings (mahavakayas), Such as aham Brahma asmi ( I am Brahman), tat tvam asi (that thou art). In the Brihadaranyaka Upanisad we see, <Verily, not for the sake of the husband is the husband dear, but for the sake of the Self, (Atman, the Supreme self). Verily, not for the sake of wife is the wife is dear, but for the sake of the Self>. And so through all human relationships.  When one attains para-vidya, one is able to see the Supreme Self in everything and everywhere.  Not only his own self is one with the supreme self but also all contingent beings are non-different from Brahman.  At the dawn of Brahman-knowledge, one realizes that the true self of everything is Brahman.  At the rise of this realization one is liberated even at the embodied state.  This state is called Jivanmukti.  A Jivanmukta or liberated sage is in a position to perform actions without any attachment and works for the welfare of humanity.  In Sharma’s view the life of Sankara bears ample witness for this fact of disinterested service for the uplift of humanity.  Hence there is an implicit philosophy of intersubjectivity in these two thinkers.


      In his Daseinanalysis Heidegger says <state of mind> is a fundamental existential by which Dasein has moods (stimmungen).  The state of mind discloses moodwise the Being of the <there> in its <that-it-is> of its <there>, which, as such, stares it in the face with the inexorability of an enigma>.[xvi] Moods are not merely psychological phenomena.  They constitute the way in which Dasein is open to itself and to the world.  This inevitable and irrevocable <that-it-is> is nothing else but the <thrownness>.  The factical Dasein finds itself thrown into a given world.  As Zimmerman says <why any Dasein is in this particular situation is a complete mystery>.  State of mind primarily discloses Dasein’s <throwness> (Geworfenheit).  In its everyday Being-in-the-world, Dasein discloses itself to be <falling> from its ownmost self.  Falling is a definite existential determination of Dasein itself.

      Sankara’s doctrine of Avidya (ignorance) vaguely corresponds to Heidegger’s notion of Dasein in its basic state-of-mind disclosed in its thrownness and falling.  Avidya (ignorance) is very primodial, radical and innate to the individual self.  Sankara also does not explain the why of avidya, he says that it is inexplicable.  Heidegger also does not explain the why of the thrownness.  Man is born, when and where he does not choose.  He lives a life in a given situation that often seems beyond control.  And he dies and he does not know when and how.  Hence there is a sense of determinism in both thinkers especially in the notions of Geworfenheit and Samsara, Avidya and karma which are considered to be beginningless (anadi).

      The most fundamental difference is that inauthentic Dasein tries to escape its throwness.  Authentic Dasein accepts resolutely its thrownness and its finite poetentiality-for-Being.  For Sankara the goal of life is to overcome avidya (ignorance) and to realize Brahman-knowledge.



      According to Heidegger the basic and dynamic character of Dasein, <potentiality-for-Being>(Seinskonnen) is <Being-towards-death>.  For Dasein is such that as long as Dasein is, there is still something outstanding.  As soon as there is no longer anything outstanding for Daseon, Dasein no longer exists as such; death brings an end to Dasein’s <potentiality-for-Being>. Dasein exists finitely.. finishingly or end-ingly (endlich).

      This  concept of radical finitude, which is so central to Heidegger, finds its echo in Indian thought too.  The sunya of Buddhism is similar to the finitude of Heidegger .  The Indian concept of maya is considered as equivalent to sunya.  Neither sunya nor maya nor finitude are nihilistic or pessimistic.  They affirm courageously and consciously the radical finitude of reality.  Popularly understood maya is nihilistic and pessimistic.  But rightly seen, maya indicates the fundamental limitation and indescribability of reality and samsara (cycle of birth and rebirth) of man.  Maya points to the ultimate unreality of the empirical world and the one Reality of Brahman.

      The fundamental difference between Heidegger and Sankara is that Heidegger does not speak anything beyond the radical finitude of man.  Sankara, on the other hand, teaches us that the true self of the individual is one with Brahman.  Every other reality of the world is maya.  Hence Sankara is more optimistic than Heidegger.


      When Sankara reflects on the Reality of Brahman in philosophical terms, Heidegger’s notion of Being immediately comes to mind.  Many strands in the Philosophy of Heidegger show Vedantic traits.  It does not mean that Heidegger received any influence from Vedanta philosophy.  Perhaps it is because of the fact that <every thinker thinks only one thought>.[xvii] Again to quote Heidegger, <essential thinkers always say the same. But that does not mean the identical>.[xviii] Hence we find striking similarities in the thinking of these two great thinkers.

      For Heidegger Being is no-being, no-thing.  From the ontic perspective it is nothing, it cannot be described as such or such.  Similarly, Sankara says, <That Self (Brahman or Atman) is to be described by no, no>.  Dasgupta explains about this point: <Brahman differs from all other things in this that it is self-Iuminous and has no form; it cannot therefore be the object of any other consciousness that grasps it>.[xix] This sounds close to Heideggerian Being.  It is in the light of Being that every time a being appears as being.  (Jedesmal erscheint das Seiendes im Lichte Des Seins>> [xx] Heidegger recognises that we have no direct access to Being. We can only encounter Being in and through beings or entities which make it manifest to us. Hence his famous dictum is < enquiry into the Being of beings.>    

Heideggerain Being is absolutely different from beings.  It is not the beingness of beings.  It is not a genus of existing things nor merely the most universal concept.  Being is not God, nor is it any ontic ground of being.  For Sankara the Supreme Brahman is distinguished from all beings, it is not the same as the universal concept of existence.  It is beyond the realm of Jati (genus) and visesa (qualities).  It is qualityless Brahman (Nirguna Brahman ). Nirguna Brahman is not the same as God or Isvara.  The creation and sustenance of this world are attributed to Isvara(Saguna Brahman) not to the Nirguna Brahman.

      Being cannot be conceived objectively.  It cannot be represented, it can be  experienced within and as a highly developed form of Gelassenheit (releasement).  Sankara also says Brahman cannot be objectified or represented.  Brahman is not known by sense or reason.  Brahman can be realized only by intuition.  It transcends both speech and thought.  It can never be properly conceived or expressed.  Radhakrishnan writes about intuition: <Anubhyava (Intuiton ) is not consciousness of this or that thing but it is to know and see in oneself the being of all beings, the Ground and the Abyss>[xxi].   Heidegger also has a similar view of Being.  Traditional thinking lacks the key to think of Being, because it is controlled by reason and logic.  Authentic thinking is non-representational thinking which is elicited, guided and controlled by Being.  <Thinking brings this relation to Being sole as something handed over to it from Being>[xxii].<Being comes lighting itself, to language> [xxiii]. Hence it is Being which is the ground and the abyss of all human thinking.  For Heidegger the full truth of Being is not accessible even to the highest form of artistic or poetic insight.  The full truth o Being is forever hidden form us.  Being in the last analysis remains a secret, a mystery.  For Sankara the full truth of Brahman can be realized at the dawn of Para-vidya.

      The life-long effort of Heidegger was to think Being.  He has made it amply evident that Being is the ground-word of the western tradition.  The question of Being is the oldest question of philosophy right from the Greek thinkers.  He remains convinced that the inquiry into Being is the only concern of philosophy.  In similar way that Brahman-Atman is the ground word of the Indian tradition.  The whole Upanishads teach about it and help us to realize the Brahma-Vidya (Brahman-knowledge).  The life-long effort of Sankara is to know Brahman.  The whole of Indian tradition, and especially Vedanta tradition, is supremely oriented to and bound by Brahma-Vidya.  It is the sole concern of Sankara and Vedanta tradition.

      Although Being is indefinable, is nothing ontic, Heidegger has given also positive determination of being.  He explains Being as truth, language, thinking, Ereignis and so on.  Although there is no other or better description of Brahman than via negativa (not this, not this), Sankara has also given us the essential attributes of Brahman.  Brahman is reality, knowledge and infinity.


      According to Heidegger Being must primarily be understood as <nothing>, because <Nothing> is the primary manifestation of Being.  <Nothing> has to be understood as <no-thing> It is not a thing to be objectified.  Being is not an object.  It is no-thing at all.  It is not a subject, a person, a god.  Being cannot be conceptualized, defined, or put into representational terms.  Sein is not a Seiende or the reality of Seiendes.  <Being is no class or genus of beings>.[xxiv] In order to illustrate that Being can not be put into representational terms, Heidegger writes Being with a corssmark.

      For Heidegger Nothing is the veil of Being.  Being gives itself to the entities by withholding; presences by absencing.  Being remains hidden, withdrawn.  Heidegger writes Being with the crossed marks to stress the concealment aspect of Being.


      In fact the very ancient Indian tradition has  already hinted at the connection between Nothingness (void) and Being.  In the veditic tradition we see <Darkness there was at first in darkness hidden… And sages searching in their hearts discovered in Nothingness the connecting bond to Being>.[xxv] In the Taittiriya Upanisad we see again the connection between Nothingness and Being.  <Nonbeing was in the beginning and it was verily out of nonbeing that being arose<> Thus the ultimate reality (Being) is thought in terms of non-being.

      For Sankara the ultimate reality is Nirguna Brahman.  It is qualityless Brahman.  Brahman has no genus and posseses no qualities.  <There is no other or better description of Berahman than this;  That it is not-this, not-this (neti,neti)>[xxvi].  This means that from the ontic perspective Brahman is non-being (a-sat).  Everything that exists in the empirical level is sat (being).. Brahman is other than any sat.  The Upanisadic teaching of Brahman as neti, neti shows the utter inadequacy of human language before the hidden mystery of the ultimate truth.  The human conception of Brahman seems to be empty before the mysterious splendor of the Absolute Reality.

      Heidegger’s discussion of Being and nothing and his classification that Being can not be objectified is quite in keeping with Sankara’s position. For Sankara also Being is no class. At best it constitute a unique class with single member. For representing this Being Heidegger had to struggle. Heidegger also says Being gives itself to the entities. This remains one of the classic position of  the Upanisad where Brahman is accredited with two powers; one power to conceal and the power to project. One who does philosophy at the reflective level, he is in the empirical realm. In this realm Being is no longer available as Pure Being. But Being is clothed by name and forms. So quest for Being, though it starts at this subjective or inter-subjective level, it ends up in trans-subjectivity.  This trans-subjective level has given rise to mistakenly to the notion of nothingness.


      Heidegger II has a very rich and ontological notion of language.  Language is the speaking of Being itself.  Language is the articulation of the basic disclosedness of Being.  The essence of language for Heidegger is logos (as lying that gathers).  Logos is the primal gathering principle.  Heidegger analyses the verbal sense-legein, and states that it originally means <to gather, a bringing-together-into-lying-before>.

      According to Heidegger Being and Logos were originally united for the Greeks, but they eventually underwent a separation.  Language is the house of Being in the sense that language is <the lighting-concealing advent of Being itself>[xxvii]. So language is primordial and we can say that for the later Heidegger the thinking of Being becomes a thinking of language.  Man’s speaking first requires a listening and then a response.  <Man is capable of speaking only in so far as he, belonging to Saying, listens to Saying>[xxviii].

      A remarkable similarity can be noted between the notion of language of Heidegger and the word Brahman which is the original Vedic expression of physis  and logos.  The poets of Rgveda, like the pre-socratic thinkers, lived in an age of tension between mythical thinking and reflective thinking.  They too, were concerned with their inherited myths about the origin of the cosmos.  The central original myth in the Rgveda is the story of  how the great god Inda brought forth the manifold things of the earth from the concealment in a cave by uttering certain true brahmani or <formulations>.  The word Brahman, which in later Indian thinking came to stand for the first principle in the universe, here expresses on the one hand the creative power of speech, and on the other, emergence into being.  If Brahman on the one hand expresses the essence of the creative power of speech, and on the other expresses an <emergence into Being>, then we should be able to say that the word embodies the <original unity> of Physis and logos that Heidegger seeks in the thinking of the pre-socratics.  (The word, and the word was with God, and the Word was God>(Job,1,1). <And God said, Let there be light, and there was light>.(Gen,1,3).

      Heideggerian concept of  language can also be slightly compared with the Sruti (Scriptue).  Sruti means what has been heard or listened to.  In the Indian tradition the origin of Sruti is Brahman and ultimately identical with it.  Sruti is the primordial revelation or <Saying> of Brahman.  The sages and seers are capable of experiencing it because they belong to <Saying>. An authentic speaking, for Heidegger, must contain the silent reverberation of a listening.  It is very true of in communicating Sruti to the sages and seers.  What the sages and seers have experienced in the peal of stillness, has been communicated.

      Sankara’s philosophy of language is seen in his interpretation of  Maha-Vakyas (great-sayings) of Upanisads and gives importance to the Sruti Pramana (scriptural testimony) for transcendental matters.  For Sankara the first step for the realization of the Absolute Self (Brahman) is Sravana (listenting) to the Sruti.  Since Sruti is ultimately identified with Brahman, it is listening to Brahman itself in the peal of stillness.  This authentic listening enables one for resoning (Manana), for cor-responding to the <Saying> of the Absolute Self (Brahman).  This listening and cor-responding (manana) makes one authentic or ready for realization that the individual self is non-different form the Absolute Self.


      Through Heidegger is beyond the categories of Religion, he certainly has the tinge or tone of mysticism, as Caputo in his The Mystical Elements in Heidegger’s Thought has clearly shown.  Of course, Heidegger’s mystical element should not be considered in the narrow religious sense of the term – as one who mediates and contemplates so as to attain perfect union with God.  In fact, Heidegger neither affirms nor denies God in his works.  Heideggerian approach to God is entirely different from the traditional philosophy.  As Johnson says, <Heidegger does not take the extreme position of theism or atheism, but an approach of silent waiting>.  This <silent waiting> has a poetical and mystical tone.  He points out the need to overcome the metaphysical conceptualization of God.  <Man can neither pray nor sacrifice to this god.  Before the causa sui, man can neither fall to his knees in awe nor can he play music and dance before this god>.[xxix] For Heidegger metaphysical explanation of God is nothing awe-inspiring.  For example, there is nothing  awe-inspiring and facinating about the geological analysis of rain forest and mountain area; rain forest and mountain area, on the other hand, are themselves quite awe-inspiring and fascinating.  His rejection of the metaphysical idea of God as causa sui would seem to leave open the possiblity of  an non-metaphysical concept of God based on the concept of Being.  Although Heidegger never identified Being is quite similar to what certain theologians (e.g.Karl Barth) have said about the relation between man and God.  Since the term <God> has a metaphysical connnotation he prefers to use <devine>, <the holy> etc.  For Heidegger the presencing of <divine or <holy> has to be thought in the light of Being.

      In this thinking of divine and holy in the light of truth of Being we can see his mystical insight.  He is not a mystic in the christian sene of the term.  In India which is a land of sages and seers, has given birth to two religions-Buddhism and Jainism, which neither deny nor affirm God.  But they are great mystics in both these religions.  The founders of both these religions were great mystics.  Hence it would be too naïve to say that only a theist who believes in a personal God can be a mystic.  I would say that Heidegger is neither a theistic nor an atheistic mystic.  He is a non-theistic mystic.He is non-theistic mystic precisely because of his authentic thinking of Being and Divine.  His acceptance of the giveness (facticity) of Being, his courageous acceptance of the finitude, his persistent quest for the urgency of Being, his thinking of the Divine, his rich notion of Ereignis and Gelassenheit etc. point to the mystical elements in him.

      As regard Sankara there is no doubt that he was a great mystic and his whole philosophy is aimed at for the realization of Brahman which is a deep mystical experience.


      The early Heidegger insists on the anticipatory resoluteness for the authenticity.  In anticipatory resoluteness Dasein consciously takes over its ownmost Being which is instrinsically finite.  In anticipatory resoluteness Dasein accept its mortality and finitude.  Dasein becomes authentic to the extent that it stands out in its finite horizon and voluntary chooses its own finite possiblities.  Zimmerman says <it is this voluntarism and self-assertiveness> that stands out in the early Heidegger.  He further mentions <partly as the result of abandoning his faith, the young Heidegger overemphasized  the importance of will in the attainment of authenticity.  He suggested that human Dasein could become authentically human by dint of its own resolve, without divine assistence>.

      The later Heidegger insists on the attitude of Gelassenheit to approach Being.  The mystical notion of Gelassenheit lacks the element of voluntarism and self-assertiveness.  The element of submissiveness dominates in the notion of Gelassenheit.  For the early Heidegger anticipatory resoluteness (vorlaufende Entschlossenheit) is an essential condition for Dasein’s autenticity.  The later Heidegger replaced the notion of authenticity as anticipatory resoluteness with the notion of authenticity as releasement (Gelassenheit).  In the view of Zimmerman Gelassenheit is analogue to grace <when a thinker or poet is released from subjectivism-voluntarism and is appropriaed or enowned ((ereignet) by and for Ereignis.

      According to Sankara man realizes his true identity through true knowledge (paravidya) which is an active striving.  Man is not what is empirically seen as having a body, the senses and sensations, mind and consciousness.  He is truly the Atman (supreme Self), the transcending spirit embodied in space and time and is in bondage.  Hence man, being a synthesis of both the empirical and transcendental element of realism, there is always an urge in him to go beyond himself and realize his true self.

      This supreme goal can be attained only through divine election and grace.  Sankara says we must <assume that liberation is effected by a discerning (vijnanena) caused by his grace because scripture teaches it>.[xxx] This shows clearly the passive role of man for the Brahma-realization.


      In this thesis we have come across quite similar ways of approaching Being, the ground-word of the Western tradition and Brahman-Atman, the ground-word of the Indian tradition. But we have not been able to identify both these thought processes.  Though in many aspects the thoughts run close, they do not fully converge, inspite of  the many meeting points.    

In short we can say that from the point of view of Heidegger, we can develop sequentially the following notions: 1) Dasein (Da-Sein),  2) Seiende and Mitsein and 3) Sein itself with a cross-mark. There is an implicit shift from subjectivity and inter-subjectivity to Trans-subjectivity. This is the same order followed by Sankara in the Brhaman-Atman relationship. Trans-subjectivity for Sankara is Nirguna Brahman.

We could affirm that though Heidegger’s roots were in the west, his heart tended towards the East. As expressed by Johnson, <rooted in the <great beginning> of the Western philosophical traditions, Heidegger’s <heart> tends towards an Ur-Realm of the Primordial belonging together of the <great Beginnings> of the East and of the West>. This is because to quote Heidegger himself, <every thinker thinks only one thought>. Again <for this reason essential thinkers always say the same >, and we may add, the thought of Being.  So, in so far as thinkers are close to the Being, the primordial and original disclosure of Being, their thoughts do have various meetings points. At the primordial level, there is an all encompassing originality and togetherness of thoughts, cultures, religion etc.  This may be the reason for the similarity between Heidegger and the Vedanta tradition especially of Sankara, in spite of their divergent starting points.

[i]  Wilherlm Halbfass, << India and the Comparative Method>> in India and Europe, (State University of New York Press, 1988), pp. 419-433.

Raimundo Panikker, << What is Comparative Philosophy Comparting?>> In Interpreting across Boundaries: New Essays in Comparative Philosophy (ed. G.J Larson and E Deutsch, Princeton Uni Press, 1988) pp. 116-136.

[ii]  Heidegger, Identity and Difference, Trans. Joan Stambaugh (New York: Harper and Row, 1969), p. 70.

[iii]  Heidegger, Being and Time, Trans. By Macquarrie and Robinson, (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1990), p. 32: Sein und Zeit, p. 12. (hereafter, BT/SZ)

[iv] BT, p. 34/SZ p. 13.

[v] Heidegger, Letter on Humanism, in Basic Writings, Edited by David F. Krell, (London: Routledge Kegan Paul, 1978), 228. (hereafter, LH)

[vi] Ibid., p. 193

[vii] Identity and Difference, P. 31.

[viii] Vedanta Sutra Bhasya, 11,I, 6, p. 305. (Hereafter, V.S.B.)

[ix] Richard DeSmet explains these various features of Tatatmya in his various articles. The most important article is << Forward Steps in Sankara Research>>, Darshana International (Moradabad, Vol. XXVI, No. 3).

[x] DeSmet, <<Sankara‘s Non-Dualism (Advaita-Vada)>>, Religious Hinduism (Ed. DeSmet and J. Neuner, St. Paul Press, Banglore, 1997), p. 89. Quoted from TUB., 2. 6.1.

[xi] V.S.B. 111, ii, 21, p. 162.

[xii]  DeSmet, << Forward Steps>>, p. 41. Quoted from B.U.B., 1,v,14.

[xiii]  Ibid. Quoted from G.B., V111, 22.

[xiv] BT, p. 163/SZ, p. 125.

[xv]  Ibid. 157/120.

[xvi]  Ibid. 175/136.

[xvii]  Heidegger, What is called thinking? Ed. By J. Glenn Gray (New York: Harper Row, 1968), p.50. Was heisst Denken? P. 20.

[xviii] LH, p. 241\BH, p. 193.

[xix]  Dasgupta, History of Indian Philosophy, (Cambridge: University Press, 1955), Vol.5, p.444.

[xx] Heidegger, Wegmarken, (Frankfurt am Main: Vittorio Klosternann, 1978), p.7.

[xxi] Radhakrishnan, History of Philosophy, (London: George, Allen & Unwin, 1927), vol 2, p.512.

[xxii] LH, p. 193/ BH, p. 145.

[xxiii] Ibid, p. 239/192.

[xxiv] B.T. p. 62/S.Z. p. 38.

[xxv] Rg. Veda, X, 129.

[xxvi]  Brhadaranika Up. 11, 3.6.

[xxvii] L.H, p. 262/B.H, p. 158.

[xxviii]  Heidegger, On the Way to Language, Trans, by Peter D. Hertz, (New York: Harper & Row, 1971), p. 134/ US, p. 266.

[xxix] Heidegger, Identity and Difference. Trans, by Joan Stambaugh, (New York: Harper Torchbook Edition, 1974), p.72/70

[xxx] V.S.B. 2, iii,41.

Author: Dr. Bosco Correya OCD