Category Archives: Introduction to Indian Philosophy

The Vedas and the Upanishads

Part I of Bina Gupta’s An Introduction to Indian Philosophy is titled “The Foundations”, and it has chapters on the Vedas and the Upanishads. The main feeling I had when reading these chapters was that I was doing something illicit. The more I felt this, the more I understood why Indian philosophy is not taught more widely in American colleges.

Gupta in the book doesn’t address the elephant in the room: How can a philosophy which supposedly has its foundations in the Vedas and the Upanishads be taught in a public space in a secular society? 

This leads to the feeling of illicitness, as if the proponent of Indian philosophy in academia is trying to sneak in something through the back door. This much we know: the Enlightenment values which are the basis of public discourse in America involve rendering religion and spirituality private. This we also know: this conception of the public domain has lead to deep quarrels about the role of religion in the public domain. Given this context, how can one read about the Vedas without feeling that a) the Enlightenment values are under attack, and b) the Christian theologians are getting the short end of the stick, since they are being asked, as theologians, to leave the public domain only to give minority “theologians” a voice?

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The Philosophy of Pluralism

I have started reading An Introduction to Indian Philosophy (2012) by Bina Gupta. It seems so far very good. This is the kind of book which in the past I would read a chapter or two, and set aside. But now I am intent on reading the whole book, and others like it.

Reading the Introduction, I could already feel my old instinct to set the book aside. Why? Let’s distinguish three things: Western philosophy, Indian philosophy and philosophy of pluralism. By “philosophy of pluralism” I mean a theoretical framework which raises questions about, and provides a context for, the coming together of different philosophical traditions. In the Introduction, Gupta aims to situate Indian philosophy for a reader who is familiar with Western philosophy. But what is missing is a framework for how any such comparison can happen. It leads to treating things as clear which are anything but clear. It is that lack of clarity, which I experienced in picking up a book like this as I don’t get it or that’s not quite right, which made me put it down.

This is not a criticism of Gupta’s knowledge of philosophy, either Indian or Western (which I am certainly not in a position to question). Nor is it to fault her. It is a catch 22. Before there can be a substantial philosophy of pluralism, there would have to be more awareness of other traditions (as is the aim of this book). And yet before such awareness can arise more substantially, there has to be a philosophy of pluralism.

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