Phenomenology in Advaita Vedanta and the West

  • By Dr. Subhasis Chattopadhyay
  • November 15, 2022
  • Article states that the source of Phenomenology lies in Sanatana Dharma and needs to be explored further.

The following is an excerpt from the de Nobili Endowment Lecture given by the author at Satya Nilayam International Jesuit Centre for Philosophical Excellence affiliated to the University of Madras and which is part of Loyola (Autonomous) College, Chennai on 27th October, 2022 at 6.20 pm in an offline event.


The author has adapted the lecture to suit a wider audience here. This is not the entire lecture, nor is it the exact wording of the lecture.


Phenomenology has many definitions and yet it remains a discovery of Edmund Husserl (1858-1938) where Husserl realised that what we think is what is actually there in the outside world. I am not original when I say that Husserl realised the semantic nature of phenomena. In short it is agreed that phenomenology is the discovery of Edmund Husserl during the late 1890s. It is also agreed upon by western scholars that his book, Logical Investigations published at the turn of the last century quickened the modernist turn in western letters including not only modernity within European and American philosophy but also within English letters in those continents. 


It is my contention that Husserl imbibed, as we find in his writings, much that the German Idealists and the German Romantics wrote. These German thinkers were well acquainted with the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita as were the American Transcendentalists. The fact that the American Transcendentalists included the so-called Boston Brahmins is a testament to the fact that even before Husserl, western thinkers were steeped in both Samkhya and Yoga.


Yet when Husserl and phenomenology are both studied, we do not find this necessary reference to the Sanatana Dharma made. There is actually a silence about Husserl’s sources which is about the foundational quality, or the whatness of the being in the here and the now. 


This position is very different from the Buddhist position of the Middle Way between Idealism and Pragmatism and of the Buddhist notion of nothingness. I contend that Husserl through his readings of German and American thinkers, derived his phenomenology from the foundational questions to be found in the canon of the Sanatana Dharma. 


The rest of the lecture deals with the reworking of Husserl’s thesis by his doctoral candidate Edith Stein Ph.D. and her solution to the problem of empathy to be found both within Advaita Vedanta and in European philosophy. This will be published in a book form in its entirety and thus we have to end this report of the de Nobili Endowment Lecture, 2022. 


It is to be noted that the Problem of Empathy in Advaita Vedanta and Edith Stein had not been studied synoptically before this lecture was given at Chennai.


To read all articles on Vedanta


Author Subhasis Chattopadhyay has a Ph.D. in American Literature from the University of Calcutta. His reviews from 2010 to 2021 in Prabuddha Bharata have been showcased by Ivy League Presses. He has qualifications in Christian Theology and Hindu Studies and currently teaches English Literature in the PG and UG Department of a College affiliated to the University of Calcutta. He also has qualifications in Behavioural Sciences.

To read all articles by author


Also read

1. Practicing Advaita

2. Six means of Knowledge in Advaita Vedanta

3. Four basic principles of Advaita Vedanta

4. Advaita Vedanta in a Capsule  

5. Bhagavad Gita – Ch 2 Sankya Yoga of Knowledge

6. The Indian Origins of the Mindfullness Technique

Receive Site Updates