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Classical Indian Philosophy: A Reader.

The arrival of a new anthology is welcome news to instructors of undergraduate courses in Indian philosophy. For over a half-century we have had to rely on S. Radhakrishnan and C. Moore's Sourcebook in Indian Philosophy, which many feel has become outdated. With the steady growth in the study of Indian philosophy and in the number of available translations since the Sourcebook was compiled in 1954, the time is certainly ripe for a replacement. In this review, I will compare Deepak Sarma's Classical Indian Philosophy: A Reader and the earlier reader, with a special emphasis on the strengths and weaknesses of each for use in the undergraduate classroom.

In the introduction Sarma labels his new book a "doxography." likening it to Haribhadra's Saddarsana-samuccaya (Compendium of the Six Systems, 8th c. CE,) and Madhava's Sarva-dariana-samgraha (Summary of All the Systems, 14th c. CE). Sarma acknowledges that his new anthology differs from those pre-modem texts in allowing those schools to speak in their own words, rather than summarizing the views of the competing schools. The main connection of these two pre-modern texts to Sarma's book, he writes, is that "I too have arranged my doxography hierarchically, culminating with Vedanta," specifically with the school of Dvaita Vedanta, the school that Sarma himself advocates. One obvious question for any doxographer is how many schools to include. Haribhadra's work enumerates six (although he acknowledges that a seventh, the Carvaka school of materialism, might also be included). Madhava's work lists sixteen. Sarma's anthology includes nine: the now-standard "six schools" of the affumers (astikas), Nyaya, Vaisika, Samkhya, Yoga, Mimamsa, and Vedanta, plus three of the so-called denier (nastika) schools, Carvaka, Buddhism, and Jainism. The Vedanta section is further divided into three sub-sections, on Advaita, Visistadvaita, and Dvaita Vedanta.

It may be mere coincidence that the nine schools treated by Sarma are the same nine included in the Radhalcrishnan and Moore Sourcebook, in almost the same order (only the Buddhism and Jainism chapters are reversed). To my mind this is a missed opportunity. One of the best things to happen to the study of Indian philosophy in the past forty years has been the increasing acknowledgement of astika schools beyond the standard six cited in most introductory textbooks. In particular, the explosion of interest in the schools of Kashmir aivism and Caitanya's "Inconceivable Difference-in-Identity" (Acintya-bhedabheda) Vedanta has led to numerous new translations of works. Inclusion of a few more schools would not have weighed down Sarma's slim volume too much, and would have been a helpful acicnowledgement that there is intelligent life in India outside the "six schools."

Each chapter in Sarma's book begins with a brief and very helpful synopsis of the main tenets of each system, broken down into three parts, epistemology, ontology, and soteriology. Historical details of the texts from the anthology are generally kept to a minimum: the name of the author, the title of the text, and the century in which it was composed. There are some oversights, however. Sarma writes in his introduction to Samkhya that "Samkhya texts do not typically contain polemics or responses to attacks, as the texts of other schools of Indian thought do" (p. 167). This is true of the Samkhya-karika, the one Samkhya text he includes, but it is false for other major Sanskrit texts such as the Yukri-dipika and the Stimkhya-pravacana-sutras. It would have been useful for students if Salina had included a short selection from chapter five of the Sitmkhya-pravacana-satras, which features a thorough disproof of the existence of a creator god. Besides giving a glimpse to readers of what a polemical Samkhya text looks like, this would help remind them that the astika schools were not always theistic. Sarma misleadingly generalizes in the book's introduction that "among the Hindu traditions" moksa or apa-varga is the goal (p. xvii), overlooking that most Mimamsakas strive for heaven (svarga), not liberation (moksa). A caveat against using astika and "Hindu" as synonyms would have also been welcome, as it would have pointed out the ambiguity and historical variability of these categories. (The Jain doxographer Haribhadra listed Jainism and Buddhism among the astika schools; the Mimamsaka Kumarila Bhatta regarded Samkhya and Yoga as non-astika traditions.)

Both Sarma's Classical Indian Philosophy and Radhakrishnan and Moore's Sourcebook draw from previous translations by other scholars, with the exception of the chapter on Dvaita Vedanta in Sarma's book. Therefore, the usefulness of these books to undergraduates in large part depends on the quality of these translations. Some of the selections in Sarma's text are heavy with unexplained technical jargon and untranslated Sanskrit words (e.g., "pseudo-probans," p. 82; "samavaya-relation," p. 87). This tendency reaches its climax in the selection from Kanada's Vaigesika Sutras. The translation of the fifth sikra of the Vaigesika Sutras, for instance, is hardly a translation at all: "Prthivi, apa, teja, vayu, kala, dik, atma, and mana are the dravyas" (p. 144). Sarma does include translations of these Sanskrit terms a few pages earlier, in his introduction to the Vaigesika chapter, but students should not be expected to flip back and forth for a translation when the words ("earth," "water," etc.) could have easily been translated in the main body of the text. Furthermore. Sarma uses different forms of the terms in his summary of Vaisegika tenets (atman instead of atma, manas instead of mana) which might make a student with no Sanskrit background assume that these have different meanings. Another sutra is translated, "Dravyatva is stated by its being in many dravyas" (p. 145). Without a knowledge of the meaning of the Sanskrit suffix -tva, the general reader is completely lost.

The reading selection in the Nyaya chapter, taken from S. C. Vidyabhusana's 1913 translation of the Nyaya Sutras of Gautama, is much more successful. In contrast to the Vaisesika chapter, Vidyabhusana translated all terms into English, with Sanskrit in parentheses where appropriate. In smaller type, Sarma also includes Vidyabhusana's own modern gloss on the sutras, which does a great deal to clarify technical terms. However, Sarma nowhere lets his readers know that the words in smaller type are not from the original Sanskrit text of the Nyaya Sutras. nor does he explain that these parts come from a modern commentary. This is a significant oversight, since students ought always to know what text they are reading and whose interpretation of a sutra is being presented. The Nyaya chapter is one of the most successful in the book precisely because the reading selection is long enough, translated into proper English, and accompanied by helpful explanatory notes. Many of the other reading selections would have been made much clearer if Sarma had provided notes along the same lines as Vidyabhusana's. As the book currently stands, students will be heavily dependent on their teacher's ability to explain technical Sanskrit terms and fill in the gaps of arguments.

Another series of decisions that gives a glimpse of an editor's mindset is how long the treatment of each of the philosophical schools is, and what texts are included or excluded. For instance, Radhakrish- nan and Moore's Sourcebook includes fifty-six pages of Hinayana Buddhist texts, perhaps a reflection of mid-twentieth century concerns to excavate the earliest, and purportedly most authentic, stratum of Buddhist teachings. By contrast, Sarma includes an excerpt of only one Hinayana Buddhist text, the Dharma-cakra-pravartana Sutra, totaling three pages. Sarma's sections on Madhyamaka and Yogacara Buddhism are considerably longer. But since the Madhyamaka and Yogacara philosophies developed through critiques of earlier Hinayana concepts (such as svabhava, or essence), it would have been helpful to include more from Hinayana. An excerpt from the lively dialogue between King Milinda and the monk Nagasena in the Milinda-patilut (Questions of King Milinda), the closest Buddhist analogue to the Socratic dialogues, would have been one obvious choice. Instructors who include Hinayana Buddhism in their curricula will have to rely on handouts or other books alongside Sanna's.

Other schools of philosophy are much more thoroughly represented. Sarma includes forty-four pages of translations in his section on Nyaya and thirty-five pages of Jain texts. This length seems about right. Some of the other sections, such as Sarrikhya (seven pages) and Minfamsa (five pages) are too short. Another interesting contrast between Classical Indian Philosophy and the Sourcebook is their respective treatment of Advaita Vedanta. Widely considered in the nineteenth and early twentieth century to be the most important school of Indian philosophy, Radhakrislman and Moore devote thirty-three pages to an Advaita translation, more than to Dvaita or Vigistadvaita. Sarma, by contrast, allots four pages to Advaita source material, perhaps partly an indication of how the reputation of Advaita Vedanta has declined in certain academic circles in the West. Since Sarma notes that Advaita Vedanta borrows from the Madhyamaka Buddhist idea of the "two truths" (p. 208), it would have been particularly helpful to provide selections from at'llcara's Brahrna-siitra-bhigya 2.2.19-32, where the Advaita founder attacks Madhyamaka and Yogacara. This would have also averted a possible misconception that because Yogacara Buddhists and Advaita Vedantins are both called "idealists" (p. xx), they are fundamentally in agreement. In fact, Sankara's dismissal of these Buddhist schools is so complete that he even suggests that the Buddha's "hatred of all beings induced him to propound absurd doctrines by which they would become thoroughly confused" (BSB 2.2.32, G. Thibaut translation).

Deepak Sarma's Classical Indian Philosophy: A Reader, while a welcome new resource, will work better as a supplemental text for courses on Indian philosophy than as the main text. One reason for this is simply its brevity; including more and longer reading selections would have given instructors more room to pick and choose based on their students' interests. At 243 pages, Sarma's book is less than half the length of the Raclhakrishnan and Moore's 684 page Sourcebook in Indian Philosophy. Whether or not Sarma intended it as such, this new book would function well as a corrective supplement to the Sourcebook. Sarma's good sections on Jainism. Nyaya, and Dvaita Vedanta, along with his clear introductory summaries, compensate for some weaknesses in the earlier anthology. Perhaps in his book's second edition Sarma will be able to fill some of the lacunae I have described. With longer reading selections and more explanatory notes, Deepak Sarma's Classical Indian Philosophy could yet displace Radhakrishnan and Moore's Sourcebook in Indian Philosophy as the go-to resource for classes in Indian philosophy.


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Author:Nicholson, Andrew J.
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Date:Jul 1, 2013
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