Abstract

Dumont's essay “World Renunciation in Indian Religions,” given as the Frazer lecture at Oxford in 1958, has achieved a considerable reputation; it inspired, for example, J. C. Heesterman's article “Brahmin, Ritual and Renouncer.” Dumont's article is not easy to understand; I feel that the rather naive and hasty general comments: “The renouncer thinks as an individual, and this is the distinctive trait which opposes him to the man-in-the-world and brings him closer to the western thinker” are unfortunate. I also feel that greater historical and linguistic rigor is mandatory. But more important than questions of scholarship and of method, it seems to me that something crucial is missing from Dumont's essay. It is certainly useful to emphasize, as Dumont does, both in this essay and in his more recent Homo Hierarchicus, the structures evident in saṃnyāsa as an institution (“[H]e does not really leave society …”). Even here I could not help but feel that a Marxist approach would have yielded greater theoretical gains. (Cf. the remarkable essays by the late D. D. Kosambi.) I am sorry to see that Dumont has failed to come to terms with renunciation as a psychological event; I shall attempt to focus more closely than has hitherto been done on the psychological characteristics of asceticism.

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