- A History of Early Vedānta Philosophy, Part Two
First, to address the exact nature of this volume: the bulk of A History of Early Vedānta Philosophy, Part Twoby Hajime Nakamura was part of Nakamura's doctoral thesis submitted to Tokyo University in 1942, with, as the front flap states, "many additions and revisions done by the author himself." Part 1 was published by Motilal Banarsidass in 1976. For those interested, that first volume includes four parts: the chronology and significance of early Vedānta philosophy, early Vedānta philosophy as seen by other Indian (particularly Buddhist) thinkers and schools, scholars before the Brahmasūtra, and the nature and content of the Brahmasūtraitself. Part 2 is thus rather overdue, although various portions of this volume were published in the 1960s and 1970s. Hence, we should be grateful that the English-speaking world finally has more of the vast erudition of this titan of scholarship on Hindu thought, yet acknowledge that this is as much a pioneering historical document in Advaita research as a contribution to current knowledge.
Despite this reservation, let us begin with fulsome praise: how many scholars in any discipline from any period can rival Hajime Nakamura? Even in his dissertation, he shows wide familiarity with Hindu and Buddhist thought, having consulted sources in Sanskrit, Pāli, Prakrit, Tibetan, Chinese, Japanese, English, German, and probably others. Who, ever again, would have the courage, or the linguistic skills, to attempt a book called Ways of Thinking of Eastern Peoples?Truly this was a jñānasāgara!Still, one must say that the present volume has shortcomings beyond age: it is not particularly well-organized or "user-friendly," not always well-focused, and sometimes repetitious. The translations, while clear, are generally not graceful. And in the decades since the bulk of this was written, much additional scholarship on key figures and texts discussed therein has been published, and new theoretical conceptualizations have arisen to aid our understandings. Depending on one's view, this text reveals the notable absence of (or freedom from) contemporary scholarly currents of postcolonial, postmodern, or feminist critique, nor does it reflect the move to greater social history often apparent today. It is also surprisingly noncomparative, given the author's later work. This, then, is mostly a traditional history of the development of ideas by one of the pitāmahasof classical Indian scholarship.
The book is divided into four basic sections. First are remarks on the life, works, and ideas of post- Brahmasūtrabut pre-Śaṅkara thinkers such as Upavarṣa, Bodhāyana (who influenced Rāmānuja), and Bhartṛprapañca (whom Śaṅkara and Sureśvara opposed, particularly on jñānakarma-samuccaya), with frequent comparisons of their thinking with that of Śaṅkara. This section well traces the basic time and lineage of key thinkers, and nicely unpacks their views and later influence. [End Page 480]
Next is an extended consideration of Gauḍapāda's Māṇḍükyakārikās, which is probably the most important pre-Śaṅkara Advaita work. Nakamura describes and offers extensive analysis of each chapter (prakaraṇa)and its characteristics separately, particularly the thought (on consciousness states, māyā, ajātivāda, and Buddhist ideas, respectively) and practices ( ommeditation, Self-realization, asparśayoga, etc.) distinctive to each. He clearly shows the differences in doctrine and application among the chapters, and between them and the Māndūkya Upaniṣad. Nakamura raises the questions of the text's authorship, sacrality, unity, and extent of Buddhist influence, which had already been debated by many scholars at that time, and yet this section shows its age; while even-handedly summarizing the discussion to that point, and offering his own judiciously reasoned conclusions (most importantly, that they are four independently composed treatises), his conclusions are neither groundbreaking nor today near to the last word. In fact, I was reminded of reading through those debates as I was...