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Conclusion Both commentators within the Indian tradition and modern scholars have treated the Upani∑ads 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 social dimensions of Upanishadic philosophy. Through highlighting and examining the dialogues, I have demonstrated that the narrative episodes are not merely superfluous information or literary ornamentation , but fundamental aspects of the philosophical claims of the texts. I have focused on the social context that is provided by the texts themselves. As we have seen throughout this book, the social world of the Upani∑ads is not the realm of myth or fantasy, but rather represents the real, at least in an idealized representation, social world of ancient Indian brahmins. This is not to claim that the concrete scenes depicted in the stories and dialogues are historically true: I have not claimed that the brahmodya in King Janaka’s court actually happened, or that Pravåhaˆa really taught the doctrine of the five fires to Uddålaka ≈ruˆi. Rather, this book maintains that these scenes represent the kinds of episodes that were part of the social world of brahmins. As a way of exploring the social dimensions of the Upani∑ads, I have discussed the dialogues in terms of four groups: (1) instructions passed from teachers to students, (2) debates between rival brahmins, (3) discussions between brahmins and kings, and (4) conversations between brahmins and women. Throughout all four kinds of dialogues, åtman is the idea that is discussed most, although it is defined and explained in a number of ways by different literary characters. Despite the differences, however, knowledge of åtman consistently represents the new Upanishadic knowledge that is defined in contradistinction to the traditional Vedic knowledge about the sacrifice. The dialogues not only serve to highlight teachings about åtman, but also connect this knowledge to specific 169 170 The Character of the Self in Ancient India people and particular situations, indicating that knowledge of the self is particularly important to brahmins and to a number of specific situations in a brahmin’s life. Thus, by means of looking at the dialogues, we have seen that the Upanishadic notion of the self is not merely a philosophical insight, but a way of living one’s life. We began by examining dialogues between teachers and students . These dialogues show an interest in the moment of instruction and record how knowledge is transmitted. By means of describing the interactions of specific characters, the dialogues outline modes of address and modes of behavior that accompany the transmission of knowledge. Different teachers employ different means of instruction, but in all cases they follow the script of the upanayana, and they all impart discourses about the self. One of the central activities for brahmins is participating in the brahmodya. As we have seen, there are two main types of brahmodya that feature in the Upani∑ads: the private debates that establish a relative hierarchy among brahmins, and the public tournaments, which are depicted as competitive, and where the reputations of brahmins, and sometimes political power, is at stake. The brahmodya is especially emphasized in the B®hadåra£yaka Upaniƒad, where Yåjñavalkya uses the public debate as a forum for establishing authority for both himself and his patron, King Janaka of Videha. Yåjñavalkya proves his superiority not only by displaying his knowledge of the discourse, but also by how he advances his arguments and marshals debating tactics. In addition to establishing himself as superior to a number of KuruPa ñcåla brahmins, Yåjñavalkya also emerges quite wealthy. As performing sacrifices is no longer the primary occupation of brahmins, Yåjñavalkya is an example of how brahmins make a living in a changing world. In addition to his success in winning philosophical debates, Yåjñavalkya is also known for his friendly relationship with King Janaka. Indeed, the conversations between Yåjñavalkya and Janaka are among several dialogues between brahmins and kings throughout the Upani∑ads. These dialogues often depict the king teaching the brahmin and in some cases even claim that particular doctrines originated among kings. As we have seen, however, many of these same doctrines are recorded in earlier Brahmanical literature and thus these claims cannot be taken as historically accurate. Nevertheless, this literary strategy taken by brahmin composers indicates...


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