Reviews of and Quotes From Dr. Schweitzer's Books

Here are my reviews of some of Albert Schweitzer's books. It is far from a comprehensive list of Schweitzer's books. All are English translations from French or German. Some of them are out of print, but generally can be found in a good research library or by a book search from a good used-book dealer. Also included here are reviews of compilations of his writings. See The Albert Schweitzer Page for reviews of books about Dr. Schweitzer and related information.

Indian Thought and Its Development

Written By:  Albert Schweitzer

Translated by:  Mrs. Charles E. B. Russell, 1936

Reviewed Edition:  Beacon Press, New York, 1957

Paperback, 284 pages

No ISBN Shown


Table of Contents

India has been a cradle of deep religious thinking for millennia. In this volume, Albert Schweitzer describes the history and development of Indian thought about the world and ethics. He presents a story of an uneasy co-existence in Indian thought of world and life affirmation alongside of world and life negation. While both have been present from the beginning of Indian religious thinking, world affirmation has in recent centuries been fueled by a natural desire for ethical action in the world, and has eclipsed the previously dominant and more intellectually convincing world negation.

Schweitzer shows great respect for Indian beliefs, particularly their willingness to extend ethical concerns beyond humans to all of life. However, he is not convinced that their ethical concerns are based on a firm foundation that will withstand critical appraisal. His concern with a firm foundation in Eastern thought is a consequence of his assessment that Western world affirmation and ethics had floundered since at least the eighteenth century. Without a rational, consistent foundation, ethical thinking and action cannot endure.

Indian Thought is a brilliant, consistent assessment of a huge body of religious thought. Those interested in Indian religious thinking through the early years of the twentieth century, or the interaction of Western and Eastern thought, will find it very rewarding. However, people interested in a discussion of Schweitzer's ethical philosophy--Reverence for Life--should turn elsewhere, such as his autobiography Out of My Life and Thought or the last chapters of The Philosophy of Civilization.

Quotes from Indian Thought and Its Development

"There are two great fundamental problems common to all thought: (1) the problem of world and life affirmation and world and life negation, and (2) the problem of ethics and the relations between ethics and these two forms of man's spiritual attitude to Being.

Just as I endeavor to understand and gauge Western thought from the standpoint of these two fundamental problems, so now with Indian thought."

"This is happening in the European thought of our own time. Opinions and convictions which have arisen from no kind of reflection about man and the Universe, but which are only concerned with man and human society, are given out as world-view and accepted as such, in the same way as we are content to call the history of the miserable wars waged on our little earth Universal History. Nothing is so characteristic of the want of thought of our time as that we have lost the consciousness of what world-view really is. "

"The Brahmins, then, taught as a great secret the mysticism of the identity of the souls of all beings and all things with the Universal Soul. According to this mysticism all that is of the nature of soul belongs to the Universal Soul. Man carries the Universal Soul within him. And because the Universal Soul dwells in all Being, it finds its own self again in all Being, in the life of plants as in the life of gods. This is the meaning of the famous Tat twam asi (That thou art thyself) of the Upanishads."

"The [Ahimsa] commandment [in Jainism] not to kill and not to harm does not arise, then, from a feeling of compassion, but from the idea of keeping undefiled from the world. It belongs originally to the ethic of becoming more perfect, not to the ethic of action."

"The great unknown thinker who unfolds his world-view in the Bhagavad-Gita ventures to enter into discussion of the problem of the mysticism of action. He cannot avoid it, because in the world-view of world and life negation he cannot justify action as such, but only as performed in devotion to God. But in his mysticism of action he sees that he is compelled to renounce the complete maintenance of the difference between good and evil. This is the price he has to pay to obtain recognition for action within the world-view of world and life negation.

The Bhagavad-Gita has a sphinx-like character.

It contains such marvelous phrases about inner detachment from the world, about the attitude of mind which knows no hatred and is kind, and about loving self-devotion to God, that we are wont to overlook its non-ethical contents. It is not merely the most read but also the most idealised book in world-literature."

"What is great in Ramakrishna and Vivekananda is that both experience and enjoy the state of ecstasy and yet are superior to it and draw their final criterion for the judgement of spiritual matters from ethical thought."

"The fact that [Mahatma] Ghandi has united the idea of Ahimsa to the idea of activity directed on the world has the importance not merely of an event in the thought of India but in that of humanity. Through him the attention of ethics is again directed to a fact which had been too much neglected: namely, that the use of force does not become ethically permissible because it has an ethical aim, but that in addition it must be applied in a completely ethical disposition."

"True ethics are world-wide. All that is ethical goes back to a single principle of morality, namely the maintenance of life at its highest level, and the furtherance of life. ... What we call love is in its essence reverence for life. All material and spiritual values are values only in so far as they serve the maintenance of life at its highest level and the furtherance of life."

"The enlightened ignorance of ethical mysticism is ignorance in so far as it admits how absolutely mysterious and unfathomable are the world and life. It is knowledge in so far as it does know the one thing which we can and must know in the sphere of this mystery, namely, that all Being is Life, and that in loving self-devotion to other life we realise our spiritual union with infinite Being."

Table of Contents of Indian Thought and Its Development

  1. Western and Indian Thought
  2. The Rise of World and Life Negation in Indian Thought
  3. The Teaching of the Upanishads
  4. The Samkhya Doctrine
  5. Jainism
  6. The Buddha and His Teaching
  7. Later Buddhism in India
  8. Buddhism in China, Tibet and Mongolia
  9. Buddhism in Japan
  10. The Later Brahmanic Doctrine
  11. Brahmanic World-View in the Laws of Manu
  12. Hinduism and Bhakti Mysticism
  13. The Bhagavad-Gita
  14. From the Bhagavad-Gita to Modern Times
  15. Modern Indian Thought
  16. Looking Backward and Forward

  17. Index

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