Book Review by Terri McNichol

Terri McNichol, an author and artist, has kindly written a review of my book, which is given below. She describes the central thesis of my work and explains why the study of the classics is still important and worth pursuing.

Sapiens and Sthitaprajna: A Comparative Study in Seneca’s Stoicism and the Bhagavadgita (hereafter Gita), by Ashwini Mokashi is an important addition to the growing list of publications of comparative ethics based on ancient wisdom texts. In contrasting Seneca’s writings with the text of the Gita, Mokashi makes an important contribution to the field of developing ethics in a global context. Such a dialogue can elucidate overlapping virtues despite great cultural and geographic variation showing that people from dissimilar cultures, follow a different ordering of values rather than hold differing values (1). In the Gita section of the Hindu epic, Mahabharata, two factions of the same family face off with one another on the battlefield with time on “pause,” while the epic’s protagonist the warrior and great archer Arjuna, has an existential crisis. He confides his fears to his charioteer, Krishna, that he knows by day’s end all the casualties will be that of his kin. Unbeknownst to Arjuna, Krishna, is actually the avatar of the Hindu God Vishnu, who walks Arjuna through the nature of life disciplines of knowledge, action and devotion that are not always fixed entities, but require, at times, expanding and re-ordering.  The Sthitaprajna is the practitioner who has succeeded in conquering the “inner battlefield” of the warring self to reach a selfhood of moral clarity that is reflected in his actions conducted with equanimity and non-attachment. Sapere (v.), although negatively inserted into the Enlightenment war cry, to this day it remains anchored in Greek, Jewish, Christian thought as the thread linking successive sources of Europe’s spiritual tradition of being “wise” or “knowing.” Morality was preserved in the lives of a Sapiens who singularly could make a great difference to the world by exercising his moral power so much so that the wise person becomes unconquerable in the world in understanding the laws of nature and following the Stoic ethical principles [p. 57]. Sapiens and Sthitaprajna advances the conversation with the classics at a time of waning general humanities curriculum. As, W. T. De Bary, author of The Great Civilized Conversation wrote, no other approach than studying the classics and the perennial questions will give us a clearer sense of direction for value judgments that have been informed by the experience of the best minds of the past and the best way to do this is to have engaged them in conversation (2).

(1) Rosemont Jr., Henry. (2015). Against Individualism: A Confucian Rethinking of the Foundations of Morality, Politics, Family, and Religion. Lexington Books. London. Pg. 21

(2) http://www.neh.gov/about/awards/national-humanities-medals/william-theodore-de-bary

Published by ashwinimokashi

Ashwini Mokashi's book 'Sapiens and Sthitaprajna' is on Comparative Philosophy on the concept of the wise person in Stoic Seneca and the Gita. The book talks about how wisdom leads to happiness. This book is now also recognized by the American Philosophical Practitioners Association from New York. Her next book, a work in progress, is an account of a meditational community in India. Her broad interest is in synthesizing wisdom from various ancient traditions in the context of modern challenges.

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