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Character of the Self in Ancient India, The

Priests, Kings, and Women in the Early Upanisads

Brian Black

Publication Year: 2007

This groundbreaking book is an elegant exploration of the Upanis|ads, often considered the fountainhead of the rich, varied philosophical tradition in India. The Upanis|ads, in addition to their philosophical content, have a number of sections that contain narratives and dialogues—a literary dimension largely ignored by the Indian philosophical tradition, as well as by modern scholars. Brian Black draws attention to these literary elements and demonstrates that they are fundamental to understanding the philosophical claims of the text. Focusing on the Upanishadic notion of the self (aµtman), the book is organized into four main sections that feature a lesson taught by a brahmin teacher to a brahmin student, debates between brahmins, discussions between brahmins and kings, and conversations between brahmins and women. These dialogical situations feature dramatic elements that bring attention to both the participants and the social contexts of Upanishadic philosophy, characterizing philosophy as something achieved through discussion and debate. In addition to making a number of innovative arguments, the author also guides the reader through these profound and engaging texts, offering ways of reading the Upanis|ads that make them more understandable and accessible.

Published by: State University of New York Press


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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii-ix

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pp. xi-xii

One of the fundamental arguments of this book is that philosophy, as well as academic work in general, is not the result of solitary reflection, but rather is generated and produced through an active engagement with other people. Nowhere have I learned this more profoundly than in the process of researching and writing this book. This work ...


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p. xiii

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pp. 1-28

The seventh section of the Chāndogya Upanişad begins with a dialogue between Nārada and Sanatkumāra. Nārada approaches his teacher and asks for instruction in the typical manner for Upanishadic students. Sanatkumāra, however, demands to know his educational background before taking on Nārada as his pupil. Nārada responds: ...

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CHAPTER ONE. Teachers and Students: The Emergence of Teaching as an Object of Discourse

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pp. 29-58

In addition to describing a number of specific literary personae, these dialogues also present us with several more general character traits for social categories like teachers and students. Teachers show a reluctance to teach and often test pupils as a pedagogical exercise. Students are characterized by their honesty and eagerness to learn, addressing the teacher in respectful ways and offering to work for ...

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CHAPTER TWO. Debates between Brahmins: The Competitive Dynamics of the Brahmodya

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pp. 59-100

In this chapter we will look at dialogues that feature brahmins debating against other brahmins. Similar to the upanayana, these debates (brahmodya) are presented as a distinct practice, often in contrast to the performance of sacrifice. Yet unlike the dialogues about teaching, the brahmodya is characterized as competitive and aggressive, risking ...

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CHAPTER THREE. Kings and Brahmins: The Political Dimensions of the Upanisads

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pp. 101-132

We will now turn our attention to a number of dialogues between brahmins and ksatriyas. Some of these encounters feature a brahmin giving a king a private instruction, while others depict the king teaching the brahmin. Indeed, the king teaching a brahmin is a prominent motif throughout the late Brāhmanas and early Upanisads, with some ...

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CHAPTER FOUR. Brahmins and Women: Subjectivity and Gender Construction in the Upanisads

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pp. 133-168

In the previous chapters we have looked at dialogues where brahmins teach students, debate with other brahmins, and discuss philosophy with kings. In these situations we have seen that the participants in the dialogues and how they interact with each other are essential aspects of the texts. As such, the Upanisads do not merely articulate philosophical ...

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pp. 169-174

Both commentators within the Indian tradition and modern scholars have treated the Upanisads primarily as a collection of abstract philosophical doctrines, analyzing the transcendental claims without taking into consideration how philosophy is rooted within a social and historical context. It has been the intention of this book to look at the ...


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pp. 175-196


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pp. 197-200


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pp. 201-210


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pp. 211-224

E-ISBN-13: 9780791480526
Print-ISBN-13: 9780791470138
Print-ISBN-10: 079147013X

Page Count: 238
Publication Year: 2007

OCLC Number: 174144979
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Character of the Self in Ancient India, The

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Upanishads -- Criticism, interpretation, etc.
  • Self in literature.
  • Hindu literature, Sanskrit -- History and criticism.
  • Character in literature.
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