Friends, as researchers and teachers of Indian thought, from time to time we’ve been called upon to put Indian philosophy on the map, so to speak, in a simple, accessible way, whether in classrooms, talks, or papers directed to non-specialist readers. It’s a fun exercise to try to think through what are to us the well-worn paths of Indian thought through the eyes of a newcomer, yet I’ve always found it mildly frustrating, as the communicator in me fears alienating my audience by talking over them, while the scholar fears offending the nuanced sensibility of my colleagues in the inevitable act of oversimplification.
In discussing the classical period, what I’ve tended to use is something like the following (I’ve basically adapted this this from things I’ve written):
For our purposes, “classical Indian philosophy” refers to the philosophical developments in and around India from roughly 100 to 1800 CE. This period is bracketed on one side by the earlier proto-philosophical period centered on the late Vedic culture and its discontents (in the form of the Buddhist and Jaina revolts and the other śramaṇa movements of first millennium BCE), and on the other side, the modern period, characterized by a self-conscious attempt to reconsider and rearticulate Indian tradition in response to Western culture and science, and the problems of modernity more generally. Classical philosophers inherit questions and a wide-range of precursor views from the proto-philosophical period, including reflections on the way in which human action tends to entangle us in a complicated sequence of consequence and conditioning, responses to the problem of suffering,which include meditative praxis and liberating gnosis, and a general sensitivity to the relation between cognition and reality. Responses to these sorts of questions become distinctly “philosophical” in the classical period as our thinkers become explicitly concerned with both system-building and defending their holdings through dialectical engagement with rivals. Features which distinguish classical Indian philosophy include the common (though not exclusive) use of Sanskrit as the philosophical lingua franca; the consolidation of various schools of systematic thought (typically called darśanas, “viewpoints”) with burgeoning commentarial traditions upon the ur-texts of each school; and a concern with the rational justification of one’s beliefs or the holdings of one’s school, which in turn hinges on examinations of legitimate sources of knowledge (pramāṇas).
As you can see, I have tried a historically-oriented approach rather than a purely topical or conceptual introduction. I also know that we can problematize the classical period, and as Ganeri has recently argued, insert a distinctive “early modern” period (Phillips has simply called this the “late classical period”, but that’s another discussion). There are also those thinkers who are modern in chronology, yet still deeply classical in their sensibility. But, in any case, you must carve out the main contours before you can file away at the nuances, and this is my small attempt.
So what would you add? What would you change? Even better, what’s your introductory paragraph? The guidelines are (i) assume that the audience consists in “intelligent/educated non-specialists” and (ii) you get one paragraph.
This is an excellent start to the blog, Matthew. It clearly and comprehensively represents our area. I will attempt to problematize just one area of it, the so-called “proto-philosophical” period.
The idea that what was happening from, say 500 BCE to 100 CE, was proto-philosophical is mainstream, but, I think, incorrect. The idea philosophy is “explicitly concerned with both system-building and defending their holdings through dialectical engagement with rivals” is itself something of a Western enlightenment (and later) invention. When we look to ancient Western philosophers, particularly the pre-Socratics, we don’t narrow our discussion to those who fulfill these requirements. Even Plato and Socrates might be seen as a bit weak on their system-building, relying at times on allegories and myths to get across their points, and their “dialectical engagement with rivals” could also be questioned. Meanwhile, in my area of early, pre-Abhidhamma, Buddhism (and I think those comparing the Upanishads and Jain scriptures with ancient Western philosophy will agree) we find much more than just “proto” systems and engagement with rivals. We find hints of all of this being real, actual philosophy in many readings, and Pierre Hadot’s re-reading of ancient Western philosophy may further open avenues of comparison. If we look to India in search of modern/classical Western philosophical themes, we may not see “philosophy” until 100 CE, but if we extend our definition of philosophy to one that includes ancient Western philosophers, we also have to drop the “proto” and welcome thinkers such as the Buddha, Mahavira, and the authors of the Upanishads (including several women). While “proto” can simply mean “first”, it also, as here, can mean “before” as in “before there was philosophy proper.” As such, I’d like to see us talk about this earliest period as “early” or “ancient” and drop the “proto.”
If needed, we can make this a separate post or line of discussion. But for now I look forward to reading the thoughts of the other authors and of our readers.
Great point, Justin. I had a very similar conversation with my friend Chiara Neri not too long ago —she also mentioned Pierre Hadot and the pre-Socratians. This makes me think that scholars sensible to early Buddhist thought might be more deeply aware of “philosophy” as “art of living a correct life”.
Thanks for this, Justin. You have homed in on something that I realize now was bothering me a little, but you really put the light right on it. We need some way to make a distinction between the “Classical” period of the darshanas and the earlier period of the Upanishads, the Buddha, and the later epic literature. One way, which I was alluding toward is to recognize that the thinkers of the darshana period are more sensitive to issues of systematic coherence and sensitivity to counterarguments.
But you are definitely right about the problem with “proto-“. It may convey negative normative judgements; the thinkers in question “aren’t quite there yet”. It also makes the classical period the standard of evaluation.
You are right as well, that identifying philosophy with systematicity is problematic. What I had in mind was Wilfrid Sellars’ famous definition of philosophy: “The aim of philosophy, abstractly formulated, is to understand how things in the broadest possible sense of the term hang together in the broadest possible sense of the term.” But this prejudges the case against skeptics, mystics, and people like Kierkegaard, who saw system-building as antithetical to the right kind of life.
One way to get at what I was striving toward, without the bias toward system is to see something like deep coherence as a good toward which a philosophical thinker or school will aspire (with apologies to Walt Whitman). In this sense, this is entirely with the spirit of the pre-socratics, and Plato, as the Socratic elenchus was an attempt to help individuals recognize and deal with the deep incoherence of their surface beliefs and what Socrates/Plato took to be their deeper beliefs. It also fits nicely with the view of systematic inquiry in Vatsyanana: it is the reflective consideration upon what is given in experience and tradition.
Also, I recall that one knowledgeable and sympathetic non-specialist colleague once thought I was saying “Pre-philosophical” about this period, and that is definitely *not* what one wants to convey.
Maybe something else like “ancient” would be best.
You are invited to participate in the next session of the Logic and Religion Webinar Series which will be held on March 17, 2022, at 4pm CET with the topic:
Panentheism and Panpsychism: Are they Interrelated?
Speaker: Purushottama Bilimoria (University of Melbourne, Australia; San Francisco State University, USA; RUDN University, Russia)
Chair: Anand Vaidya (San José State University, USA).
The session will be held via Zoom through the following link:
For more information about the webinar schedule and speakers please check the link:
Abstract: There has been of late a wave of interest in panentheism, which is pertinent to religious philosophies of both the Western and Eastern traditions. The dominant contemporary descriptions of panentheism however appear to be biased toward theistic presuppositions – the Missing God help, even toward monotheism! Here I offer an alternative account, paying heed to the term’s etymology, and the concept’s roots in Indian religions, with its close counterparts in pantheism and polytheism. I next turn to panpsychism and explore various approaches to this thesis, with particular reference to certain conceptual problems (such as the ‘binding issue’) that have been raised in recent literature. I then draw on Indian theories to address this problem, particularly from the Viśiṣtādvaita, Sāṃkhya and Jaina philosophical systems. The principal concern in the second part will be on the question of the kind of – if any – relation that can be drawn between pantheism and panpsychism: is there a necessary connection? Even so, could it be that certain forms of panentheism entail a version of panpsychism (or the converse); or, to put it another way (a thesis I will propose and defend), that panentheism without panpsychism (of a particular kind) is blind, and panpsychism without panentheism (of a particular kind) is empty.
Join us 5 minutes prior to the beginning of the session!
With best wishes,
Francisco de Assis Mariano
The University of Missouri-Columbia
Well-done, Matthew, especially insofar as criticizing is much easier than offering a better attempt!
I would go for something like:
The so-called “Indian” philosophy, as usual with philosophy, does not constitute a unitary tradition. On the contrary, it is very much alive through the debates which have always constituted its backbone and around which its key texts have been formed. The shared background for such debates was, from perhaps the last centuries b.C. onwards, on the one hand the organization of philosophy into schools of thought (one might think at the Western “Positivism”, etc. and imagine them spread through centuries), and on the other the idea of analysing things with epistemologically sound instruments —the nature and number of such instruments was itself debated, but the idea that they were the pathway for each investigation was not. Beside that, (almost?) everything else was controversial: several Vedānta schools, especially from the 7th c. onwards, denied the existence of the world as we know it, calling it instead *māyā* ‘illusion’ and opposing it to the absolutely existing brahman. Some Buddhist schools denied the existence of anything at all, from the empirical subject (almost all Buddhist schools), to the empirical world (from the Sautrāntikas onwards), to the difference between empirical and absolute (the Mahāyāna schools), to the very existence of anything at all (Ratnākaraśānti). This should hopefully show how the precincts of “metaphysics” and “ontology” were conceived in a way different than the one Western scholars might be used to. The same applies to other fields, such as epistemology, in which more space was dedicated to the investigation on erroneous, negative and illusory cognitions, and knowledge was not the only object of investigation. What Western scholars would conceptualise as “ethics” is also differently dealt with, and the only assumption shared by almost each school of thought is the existence of some retribution (usually called *karman*, literally ‘action’). Of particular relevance within the Indian scenario is the philosophy of language, with particular focuses on the analysis of the meaning of sentences, of longer textual units and of prescriptive language. If one is not affected by the Western prejudice in favour of “originality”, one can easily say that “Classical” Indian philosophy is still alive, most of all in the form of commentarial literature to former texts.
Elisa, I like this a lot. I especially like how you highlight debates themselves, and not necessarily this or that school or issue. This is a great way to frame the nature of Indian philosophy.
Your initial sentences reminded me of a great line from Arindam Chakrabarti’s forthcoming book: “What is the philosophy of India? This question is as silly as the question: ‘Do you speak Indian?'”.
Great sentence by Arindam, as usual. I look forward for reading the book. Perhaps we could think of a jigsaw of our initial paragraphs, it is a fun exercise…
I like having multiple versions, representing our varied approaches and sensibilities.
Enjoying this conversation. I might suggest that we refer simply to a “pre-classical” period as well as a classical period.
But I’d like to raise questions in the other direction. It seems very strange to me to refer to philosophy written in 1750 CE as part of the “classical” period. In the West one might refer to a David Hume’s Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding as a “classic”, but it would not be studied in a department of classics and one would certainly not say it was part of the “classical period” of Western philosophy. Nor, for that matter, would that likely be said of Chinese philosophy, where (to my understanding) “classical” would really only refer to the Warring States period or shortly after.
Ganeri’s suggestion that it be referred to as “early modern” is provocative and intriguing. And before that, I think it’s fair to refer to Rāmānuja and Abhinavagupta as “medieval” rather than “classical”; they are building on a much larger corpus of literature than is, say, the author of the Nyāya Bhāṣya, and they are treating a very different set of concerns.
I think this is especially important given the unfortunate tendency among Western historians to treat Indian philosophy as basically stagnant. To identify seventeen centuries of recorded Indian philosophy as a single period seems only to reinforce that notion.
I also enjoyed a lot Justin and Matthew’s discussion. And I see your point against the idea that Indian Philosophy has no history. However, I would use “medieval” only with great caution, since:
1. unlike in the case of the West, no one has a clear idea about when does the Indian Middle Age start.
2. more importantly, “Middle Age” is not a neutral category. It makes one think that Rāmānuja (etc.) was less central a figure than Śaṅkara and that his period in the history of Indian Philosophy was only an interval between the “real” philosophy and the British rule.
3. Don’t we study Plato and Hume in the same class(es) about the “History of Western Philosophy”?
Short: perhaps the problem arises as soon as we try to use axiological categories (like “proto-“, or “classical”, or “medieval”)?
Is there a clear idea in the West about when the Middle Ages start? That’s news to me. It always seemed like a disputed question.
It also doesn’t seem to me that figures being medieval makes them less central: I would argue Aquinas is a more central figure to Western philosophy than, say, Empedocles. If we think of medievality (is that a word?) as constituting merely an interlude, that seems to suggest that only we do not understand the history of Western philosophy. To be sure, there are many histories of Western philosophy that jump straight from Aristotle to Descartes, but those are very bad histories.
And sure, in classes on the history of Western philosophy we study both Plato and Hume… and Nietzsche and sometimes even Heidegger.
Indeed, Amod, there is not just one “clear idea in the West about when the Middle Ages start,” but several!
It’s definitely a gray area; perhaps less gray than in India, but still gray.
In terms of history, there are many different possible starting points for the Middle Ages that one could argue for.
In terms of _philosophy_ however, there is a pretty clear delineation, and that’s Boethius and the fall of the Roman empire. Boethius was one of the last people to have first-hand, wide-spread access to ancient Greek and Roman philosophical texts, and after the fall of the Roman empire, much of the Greek tradition was lost to western Europe until new translations were made (both from the original Greek and from Arabic) in the 12th century. There is still a lot of Neo-platonic influence in post-Boethian philosophy, but for the most part, the philosophical tradition had a pretty radical break there, so it makes sense to call “medieval” that period which starts after Boethius.
Thanks a lot. I was also trying to say that the kind of break we experience in the West after the Fall of the Western part of the Roman Empire is hard to compare to any event in the Indian subcontinent. The arrival of the Islamic invaders could have had a similar impact…but did not, since it was a long process, since the disappearance of Buddhism from the subcontinent is much more significant (and Buddhism declined for centuries before disappearing), and also because the invasions had little *philosophical* significance for a long time (basically, many Indian schools just kept on with their work ignoring Islam even in the 18th c.).
I get your point about “classical”, Amod. Personally, I have felt that tension too, but somehow, I don’t feel so bad about it. Maybe it’s because when I use the term now, I don’t intend to use it to suggest an analogue with the western “classical” period (which is often just called “ancient” anyway; life is confusing.) When I think about it, by “classical”, I mean a time when the distinctive contours of Indian philosophy really start to settle. And with “distinctive”, we potentially run into the same problems that Justin mentioned above. But that’s another story.
We could just say “early”, “middle” and “late”, I suppose. But for now, I don’t really mind something like “ancient”, “classical” and “modern”, perhaps with “early modern” set between the latter two. Relatedly, Ganeri’s point about early modernity (in his 2011 *The Lost Age of Reason*, OUP) is not meant to supplant the notion of “classical Indian thought” as much as suggest that the classical period does not stretch from the dawn of the common era to the dawn of the colonial period; there is a distinct early modern period that may be inserted between the classical and contemporary periods, and which has a number of distinct expressions, including the revolutions in logic and metaphysics championed by the late Naiyayika Raghunatha Shiromani (c. 1460-1540).
Incidentally, Ganeri’s book is fascinating for a number of reasons, including his tracing the remarkable intersections between Hindu, Islamic, Jaina, and European thought in India during the Mughal period.
Other related book of interest is Andrew Nicholson’s fascinating “Unifying Hinduism”, which effectively argues that the “early modern period” is itself the period in which the “distinctive contours of Indian philosophy really start to settle” – that’s when the idea of six darśanas really becomes accepted, for example. I agree, though, that “distinctive” is a problematic word in this context too.
Nicholson’s book has helped me think through an idea that was a bit inchoate in me before – I think one of the big problems in studying Indian philosophy is that we tend to efface its (precolonial) history. And I think that’s exactly what happens when we treat basically all of it as belonging to one period.
I agree, Amod, that Nicholson’s book is really excellent and helpful in this regard. I would suggest that we can agree that the notion of “the six darshans” was fluid and the selection of the six we currently have is a fairly late development and also simultaneously accept that there were in fact a number of distinct schools that consolidated in the centuries after the sutra period. The two aren’t mutually exclusive claims. Indeed, his work shows that Hinduism or “Hindu Philosophy” is neither a modern fabrication and projection backward, nor is it a timeless monolith. The truth, as often is the case, somewhere in the middle.
Hi everyone, great discussion.
I usually think of “classical Indian philosophy” as beginning with what you might call the “sūtra period” (roughly something like 200 BCE – 200 CE). That’s the period when the foundational texts of many of the major schools came about and that major debates about the self, the means of knowledge, universals, etc. really got underway. We could call the period before that “early” taking a cue from the typical use of “early Buddhism” to refer to the Nikāyas and maybe The Questions of King Milinda.
As for the end of “classical Indian philosophy,” I’d usually put that sometime around the disappearance of Buddhism as a major force in India (circa 1300-1400?). Interesting things happened after that, but without the major Brahmanical-Buddhist tension, Indian philosophy changed. So, maybe we could call that “Medieval” or “Middle”, just meaning between classical and modern. And I like the idea posted earlier that modern really begins when people started to reckon with Western influences.
So, here’s my first draft attempt at a chronology. (Note: those “circas” are doing a lot of work!) What do you think?
Early period: c. 1000 BCE – c. 200 BCE
Sūtra period: c. 200 BCE – c. 200 CE
Classical period: c. 200 CE – c. 1400 CE
Middle period: c. 1400 – c. 1800
Modern period: c. 1800 – 1947
Postcolonial period: 1947 – present
Excellent! Thanks for the break-down, Ethan. I personally like this 6 part chronology and would encourage refinements or counterproposals if anyone has them.
As in the West (see my comment and Amod’s above), I’m sure we’ll never reach anything like a consensus on historical periods in Indian philosophy. With something like this model, though, we can get into the nitty-gritty of what exactly was happening in each period, thus clarifying our justifications for the dates we propose and the ways we describe the period itself.
I also like ‘Middle’ over ‘Medieval’ as it alleviates worries that we’re dealing with anything linked to European dates/events.In fact, following on the suggested Sūtra period, I would be tempted to seek Indian names for each period, based either on what major developments occurred in them or on Indian chronologies.
Ethan, this looks good to me. Thank you.
An idea for the next step: a short description of each, distinguishing it from the other periods. These need not be necessary and sufficient conditions, but tendencies. Want to keep it going?
Sure, here’s my continued attempt (although now I really want to look at Franco’s book…).
Early period: c. 1000 BCE – c. 200 BCE
Includes most of the Upaniṣads, early Buddhism, early Jainism, and lots of schools mentioned in these texts. I can’t recall the dates of most of the Vedas off hand – are some of them even earlier than 1000 BCE? This period is characterized by a generally less regimented, more informal style (i.e., little in the way of logical theory was developed yet).
Sūtra period: c. 200 BCE – c. 200 CE
Includes many of the foundational sūtras of later important schools (Nyāyasūtra, Saṃkyākārikā, Mīmāṃsāsūtra, Abhidharma texts (?), Mahāyāna texts, Mūlamadhyamakakārikā, etc.). Of course, dating these and other texts is controversial (I’m not sure about the Brahmasūtra, for example). This period generally sees the first attempts at in depth philosophical system building (maybe not the right phrase for Madhyamaka, though!) and the articulation of more regimented logical and epistemological rules for philosophical debate.
Classical period: c. 200 CE – c. 1400 CE
Includes most of what goes by the name “Indian philosophy” today: the six darśanas, Grammarians, Buddhism, Jainism, Cārvāka, etc. Major philosophical issues: Brahmanical vs. Buddhist views on the self, pramāṇavāda, logic, causal theories, meaning, etc. In this period you get debates that were sustained for many centuries, with philosophers from different schools reacting to the same texts and ideas (i.e., philosophical texts always argue for their own school, but in sharp, sustained dialogue with several other schools). If your main interest is logic and epistemology, you might break up this period a little more along lines of major watersheds such as early Nyāya, post-Dignāga thought (including Dharmakīrti, Kumārila, Uddyotakara, etc.), later Buddhist epistemology (e.g., Ratnakīrti), New Nyāya, and so forth. If your main interests are more on metaphysical issues like the self and causation, maybe Abhidharma, Sāṃkhyā, and Vedānta would figure more heavily. I suspect a post-Śaṃkara rise of idealist schools figures in here somewhere, too. Is having the “classical period” so long (1200 years) a blessing or a curse? What do you think?
Middle period: c. 1400 – c. 1800
Honestly I don’t know much about this period, but my thought is that after Buddhism was no longer a major force schools like New Nyāya and all the Vedānta schools were free to debate more with each other, rather than worrying about Buddhist opponents. Was there much interaction with Islamic philosophy during this period? What about Sikhism or the Mughal period (like Akbar’s attempt to create his own religion)?
Modern period: c. 1800 – 1947
Again, I don’t know this period very well, but my idea is that Indian philosophers started coming to grips with interactions with the West. Big events would be Ramakrishna and Neo-Vedānta, Gandhi, Ambedkar, etc. (although Ambedkar and Neo-Vedānta also figure in the next period).
Postcolonial period: 1947 – present
Philosophical thought after independence. Would include people who specifically identify as “postcolonial thinkers” as well as contemporary philosophers of all stripes.
I am still antsy about the “classical period”. 1200 years, containing an immense amount of philosophical activity (a significant amount of which survives), all represented as a single period? Seems sketchy. Most notably, the decline of Buddhism seems clearly to me to transform the philosophical landscape, and happens in the middle of this period. By the time of Rāmānuja and Abhinavagupta, as I understand it, Buddhism is no longer the serious foe it was for Śaṅkara. It seems to me that by the eleventh century we are very much in a medieval or middle period – but one still also distinct from the “early modern” period of 1400-1800.
I guess that for me, the reason that I am not as bothered by it is that from my perspective, we can recognize that within a single period, there may be changes, growth, and various sorts dynamics that still fit within the broad parameters of the time given. In the western context, couldn’t “ancient philosophy” as a broad category, span from Thales to Boethius or Augustine? That’s about a millennium.
Ethan, I forgot to thank you for this. I will look at it in more depth in a bit. For now, after a quick glance, seems good.
I don’t mind a long-ish classical period, but Amod’s concerns are relevant.
A quick thought about modernization: I have some friends who are interested in things like the Siddhanta literature on astronomy and such (admittedly, it’s out of my ken), and that would be an interesting place to look at some of the tensions and developments in the late middle/modern period. For example, they criticize the models of the universe in the Puranas as woefully out of touch and fanciful. That is one area of “modernization” which may be fruitful to look at, even if it’s at the borders of philosophy, strictly defined. Does anyone else have more to say about these movements?
In this connection, Eli Franco’s recent book about periodizations and historiography of Indian Philosophy is worth mentioning. It gives one the chance to ponder about the origin of schemes we have learnt in the “primary school” of our Sanskrit studies, and about how no periodization is neutral.
I just looked up Franco’s book on your mention. Thanks for this. It looks great. For anyone interested, you can see this announcement:
While at it, here are the other books mentioned or alluded to in this thread so far.
Ganeri’s *The Lost Age of Reason*: http://www.amazon.com/The-Lost-Age-Reason-Philosophy/dp/0199218749
Nicholson’s *Unifying Hinduism*: http://www.amazon.com/Unifying-Hinduism-Philosophy-Intellectual-Disciplines/dp/0231149875/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1389232348&sr=1-1&keywords=unifying+hinduism
Phillips’ *Classical Indian Metaphysics*: http://www.amazon.com/Classical-Indian-Metaphysics-Refutations-Emergence/dp/0812692985/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1389232419&sr=1-1&keywords=classical+indian+metaphysics
out of all of the possible criteria for establishing some chronological framework, i incline towards language, genre, and style. my reasons are mostly negative. if we opt for a social-historical approach, we might end up explaining philosophical developments by referring them to historical developments that we don’t quite understand and which often depend on outdated and politically dubious historiographic principles (at least in the case of the “islamic invasion”). if we opt for a content-based approach, we might end up reproducing the thematic arcs of earlier scholarship and overlooking ideas and trends that have historically received less attention. (this, i think, is part of jonardon ganeri’s intervention: read the early modern texts before you dismiss them as boring and derivative.)
i would distinguish different genres of philosophical writing: the sūtra (characteristic of a relatively early period), the complex of sūtra and bhāṣya and the characteristic “bhāṣya style” (as per louis renou), various types of commentaries and their role in producing a philosophical “system” (e.g., kumārila, prabhākara, śaṅkara), the separate philosophical essay or collection of essays (e.g., pārthasārathimiśra, appayya dīkṣita, etc.), and the student’s handbook. these are, roughly, in order of first appearance—but it’s not a linear development, as anyone remotely concerned with periodization will tell you.
Andrew, I think this is a very important point. Categorization is not at all a neutral operation and one always thinks to be “right” and to be doing the “ultimate” periodization, but this is not the case and in centuries scholars will look back at us and laugh of us just like we laugh of those who wrote that the great time of Indian philosophy was the Vedic one and that all that followed was nothing but systematization and elaboration.
Since, however, we cannot avoid thinking, interpreting and categorizing, let us at least keep in mind how provisional this is and how precarious our categories are.
I think genre is one important element of periodization, but not the only one. We certainly shouldn’t be too quick to read Indian philosophers “off” of their times as reactions to other social and historical developments, but it’s possible to err in the other direction as well – and indeed I think that’s exactly the direction the study of Indian philosophy has gone in since the Orientalists, acting as if it had no relation whatsoever to historical developments outside itself. I think that’s not only wrong, it also makes Indian philosophy look significantly more boring, abstract and irrelevant than it is.
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Characterising Buddhism and Jainism as “revolts” is to overlook about 50 years of historical scholarship. The Brahmano centric view of the Central Ganges Plain pre-Asoka ought to have been put to rest a long time ago.
Hi Jayarava, I agree with you. I was reading the day before yesterday Eltschinger and Krasser’s Foreword to their volume on *Scriptural Authority, Reason and Action* (discussed by me also on this blog: http://indianphilosophyblog.org/2014/01/24/scripture-authority-and-reason-about-a-new-book-edited-by-vincent-eltschinger-and-helmut-krasser/) and was surprised to find the following statement: “As early as 400 BCE, the Buddhists, Jains and Ājīvikas (to name only three) had begun to contest the validity of the Vedic religion…” (p. vii). Although Bronkhorst is not my favourite author, I thought that his contributions had at least made it clear for everyone that no “pristine purity” ever existed.
There was NEVER a time where only one language was spoken, one ethnic group existed, a single religion was practiced and so on
I am open to state the relationship between the shramana traditions and the late Vedic traditions more neutrally, if “reaction” seems to give too much priority to the former. Fair enough.
Still, nothing said above by either of you seems particularly decisive.
My initial sentence read “centered on the late Vedic culture and its discontents. . . ” This does not presuppose a monolithic, pristine purity (and neither does Bronkhorst’s statement above).
Nor is it out of touch with claims in recent scholarship. C.f. Musashi Tachikawa’s (1992) own periodization in Franco’s text, p. 31.
Frankly, the statement I gave seems kind of banal, to me, esp. given the fact that in a short introduction, we can’t but overgeneralize a bit. The question is what kinds of practices were common and available to the shramana participants, and which they chose to reject/adapt/reform, etc. What was the background, so to speak.
All of that said, both of your point about remaining sensitive not to artificially prioritize a certain picture of Vedic India is well taken. We can accommodate the fact that the Vedic culture was earlier and to some degree “there” when Buddhism, Jainism, and the like developed, without making it the center of every movement, as if its legitimacy had to be the core issue at stake. If this is your main point, I’m all in.
thanks for your kind reply Matthew. Just for accuracy`s sake: I quoted from Krasser and Eltschinger and I added that I would have expected Bronkhorst`s description of the original coexistence of (at least, I would say) two models to change this basic approach.
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