- Hindu and Buddhist Ideas in Dialogue: Self and No-Self Edited by Irena Kuznetsova, Jonardon Ganeri, and Chakravarthi Ram-Prasad
“I Proudly Act and Sleep Who Touched and Saw”
Hindu and Buddhist Ideas in Dialogue: Self and No-Self, edited by Irena Kuznetsova, Jonardon Ganeri, and Chakravarthi Ram-Prasad, is a book by philosophers engaging with classical Indian views on self and consciousness that presents not only Hindu and Buddhist views in dialogue but also the contributors in dialogue with one another. Each philosopher/scholar addresses a period, school, or argument in the long history of classical thought on the subject of self (or no-self), and most, it is evident, shared drafts, with the result that the volume feels like a textbook—except that the papers are too original in some instances. As we are told by Ram-Prasad (p. 1), the book was motivated from the first by the editors’ sense that while classical Buddhist views and arguments on self, or no-self, and consciousness were garnering welcome attention in analytic philosophy (e.g., Siderits et al. 2011), those of Hindu schools such as Advaita and Nyāya, which have much to say on these topics, were not. The gap is filled here, and with papers drawing not just on these two relatively well-known schools, Advaita and Nyāya, but also on Sāṃkhya, Mīmāṃsā, and Kashmiri Shaivism. There is greater unity still, in that the last paper, by Barua, supplementing a ten-page introduction by Ram-Prasad, presents an overview of the essays’ achievements, and, indeed, through the lens of the papers, as understood by Barua, provides perspective on broad questions about the value of classical Indian thought as a whole for contemporary philosophic concerns. In other words, Ram-Prasad and Barua—and some of the other authors as well—assume the role of a reviewer cognizant of the papers as a unit. What I have to say, then, is a kind of meta-review.
Barua’s identification of the most vital areas of the classical literature on point seems to me largely on target. These include a dimension of what he calls, following Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, the trans-empirical, or, as I prefer, the yogic or contemplative, including renunciant views of self that have it as fundamentally non-natural, as capable of having nothing to do with the world. This is not to say that thoroughly [End Page 253] naturalist and non-yogic accounts of a self cannot be constructed out of lines of classical reflection and argument: witness the work of Ganeri, who argues against a spectatorial model of a true self or consciousness endorsed in both Hindu and Buddhist contemplative traditions and in favor of an embodied self that is natural but for that no less sui generis in developing attitudes and emotions that matter, that are endorsed, and as endorsed become part of what it intrinsically is (a view best expressed in Ganeri 2012, a chapter of which appears here). It is hardly fresh news but the philosophic diversity of the classical Indian scene probably cannot be over-stressed. However, there is a tendency—within many papers, although not in Barua’s or those on earlier, practically pre-classical, ideas about self and consciousness, by Black, Jakubczak, and Burley—to overlook contemplative strands of classical thought because they do not connect well if at all with the dominant reflections on the topics in either the analytic or phenomenological traditions of the West. Even Barua misses this failing, and I should like to highlight it while examining the book’s handling of the main arguments for a self.
Synchronic and diachronic cognitive syntheses, as evident in a subject’s recognitions—expressed, for example, in “This thing that is yellow has a smooth feel” (unifying over sensory modality) and “This is that Devadatta I saw yesterday” (unifying present and past)—are mainstays in classical pro-self argumentation, and...