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Reviewed by:
  • Cit: Consciousness
  • Alan Preti
Cit: Consciousness. By Bina Gupta. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2003. Pp. xi + 203.

In his 1988 essay "Consciousness in Vedānta,"1 J. N. Mohanty pointed out that, Heidegger notwithstanding, a metaphysics of consciousness has been the destiny of Indian thought. Indeed, from the earliest Upaniṣadic speculations to the growth of the systems, the centrality of the concept of consciousness to the development of Indian philosophy can hardly be denied. It is even arguable that the nature and function of consciousness was perhaps the greatest bone of contention among the darśanas, with some of the more critical disputes turning on the details of a particular theory of consciousness. The importance of the concept lies in the almost universal agreement among classical Indian philosophers that consciousness enjoys a fundamental epistemic priority regarding the guarantee of any ontological claim; any claim with respect to the existence of such and such, to the way the world is, ultimately depends on evidence that is (or was) in some way present to consciousness. Consciousness is thus the fons et origo of all knowledge; in its absence nothing can be claimed about the world.

One of the most recent additions to a growing body of literature concerned with examining the concept of consciousness in Indian thought is Bina Gupta's Cit: Consciousness, the inaugural release of Oxford's Foundations of Philosophy in India series, initiated by the Centre for Philosophy and Foundations of Science in New Delhi. The editors intend for the series "to make available a critical reassessment of the philosophical achievement of the classical Indian tradition in such a way that it contributes to the dialogue between civilizations of the new century"—a prospect most welcome by those engaged in Indian and comparative philosophy. [End Page 619]

Cit: Consciousness is a natural extension of Gupta's work in The Disinterested Witness: A Fragment of Advaita Vedānta Phenomenology (1998). While concerned there primarily with the notion of the witness consciousness (sākṣin) in the Vivarana tradition of Advaita Vedānta, in Cit Gupta seeks to provide a more general account of consciousness in Indian thought. Her stated goals are "(1) to demonstrate the profound contribution of Indian thought to the theme of consciousness, and (2) to make Indian thought accessible to my readers, irrespective of whether they belong to the Indian or Western tradition" (p. 11). Consistent with the aims of the series, Gupta's approach is conceptual, rather than historical; her focus is specifically on various theories of the nature of consciousness and on the arguments advanced on their behalf. Concerns regarding the losses incurred by abstracting the theories from their historical context are balanced by the recognition that the historical development of a particular school yields one type of understanding, its conceptual structure another (p. 12). In this connection, one may note that Gupta's emphasis on the arguments and conceptual frameworks could make for greater accessibility to those unfamiliar with the territory; certainly the prominence of philological and historical concerns found in many accounts of the development of the schools can prove distracting to the reader seeking the specific philosophical issues.

Cit unfolds dialectically, beginning with an analysis of consciousness distilled from the Upaniṣads, continuing through the Nyāya-Vaiśesika and Yogācāra Buddhist views, and culminating with an examination of Advaita Vedānta, both in its classical form and in its "transformations" effected by the contemporary philosophers Sri Aurobindo, K. C. Bhattacharyya, and J. N Mohanty. The order in which the views are discussed is not arbitrary; Gupta's arrangement of the themes purposefully leads to an analysis of Advaita not only because it is, to her mind, "an amazing case of a sublime metaphysical system, subtle logical discursivity, and detailed phenomenological description" (p. x), but also in order to "show that the conceptual nature of the Advaitic theory of consciousness undergoes transformations in the hands of many contemporary thinkers, which makes the Advaitic theory of consciousness stronger and more responsive to modern philosophic challenges" (p. 13). The book, thus, in effect, seeks to vindicate an Advaitic view of consciousness. The final chapter includes a comparative assessment...