- An Introduction to Indian Philosophy: Perspectives on Reality, Knowledge, and Freedom by Bina Gupta
In An Introduction to Indian Philosophy: Perspectives on Reality, Knowledge, and Freedom, Professor Bina Gupta undertakes an ambitious task. Her purpose for putting this book together is threefold. The first reason is to show Western readers that Indian philosophy is a discipline that is both intellectual and rigorous (p. xi). Second, Gupta desires to present each Indian philosophical system on its own terms and then subject it to criticism. Finally, she proposes to introduce students who have familiarity with Western philosophy to the basic concepts of Indian philosophy so that they may procure an understanding of the Indian mind (p. xi).
Through her first point, that Indian philosophy should be understood to be intellectual and rigorous, Gupta immediately makes two things clear. First, throughout the book, she will illumine some of the scholarly dialectic surrounding Indian philosophy. For example, a bit later in the book she highlights the debate surrounding the issue of reality in the Advaita system. Some scholars in the past, such as Indologist Paul Hacker, have argued that there is no basis for ethical action in an unreal world. Gupta clarifies that this is a misunderstanding of the Advaita distinction between real and empirical (p. 238). The world is illusory but not unreal. Thus, one remains responsible [End Page 664] for one’s actions and is subject to ethical judgments until one attains full realization. Through this specific instance Gupta makes the reader aware of relevant scholarly conversations.
Second, Gupta positions herself on one side of the scholarly dialectic regarding Indian philosophy. This dialectic, which continues today, has centered on whether Indian philosophy, and Hindu philosophy in particular, should be understood as theology or philosophy. In taking this position, she bases her book on the premise that Indian philosophy is a serious analytical practice that deserves proper recognition from Western and Indian scholars in general, and scholars of philosophy in particular (p. 6).
Perhaps this premise is what led Gupta to organize the book in such a highly systematic fashion. Utilizing a historical-thematic approach, she traces the different Indian philosophical schools chronologically and through both the epistemological category of pramāṇas, or means of acquiring knowledge, and ontological categories of self, karma, and liberation. With the exception of her presentation of the Vaiśeṣika school, Gupta structures each of her chapters according to these categories. Within these categories there are also subcategories. Gupta begins by introducing the Vedic corpus, particularly the Saṃhitās and Upaniṣads, as the foundation of nearly all Indian philosophy.1 The second subcategory is non-Vedic systems, namely the Cārvāka, Buddhist, and Jain schools. Third is the subsection of ancient systems and includes the Mīāṃsā, Sāṃkhya, Yoga, Vaiśeṣika, and Nyāya Darśanas. Gupta then splits the Buddhist schools and Vedānta Darśana into a separate subcategory of systems with global impact. Finally, she concludes with the two subsections on the teachings of the Bhagavad Gītā and modern Indian thought. Each of these subsections is concluded with an appendix of translated texts that have been used in the subsection. Thus, Gupta is able to uphold the integrity of the original texts relevant to each philosophical school while presenting each philosophical system as lucidly and clearly as possible.
On the whole, Gupta satisfies her initial objectives in writing this book. Although by this time there are many books available on Indian philosophy, there are a number of reasons to separate Gupta’s work from these. One reason is that, as she enumerates in her preface, some facets of Indian philosophy are quite difficult to grasp and explain. To remedy this situation, she has done a remarkable job in making Indian philosophy accessible through two specific means. First, she continuously provides cross-comparisons between Indian and Western philosophical concepts as well as between Indian philosophical schools. For example, at the end of the subsection...