BOOK REVIEW: An Introduction to Indian Philosophy Chatterjee & Datta

An Introduction to Indian PhilosophyAn Introduction to Indian Philosophy by Satischandra Chatterjee
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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India has spawned a number of philosophical systems over the centuries. Chatterjee and Datta provide an overview of Indian philosophy by comparing and contrasting nine major schools of Indian philosophy—the six orthodox schools plus three well-known heterodox schools. The dividing line between orthodox and unorthodox hinges upon whether a philosophy accepts the Vedas as sources of authority.

After an introductory chapter that lays out the concepts that will be needed throughout the remainder of the book as well as providing brief sketches of nine philosophical schools, the remainder of the book is a one chapter per school examination of metaphysics, ethics, theology, epistemology, etc. The authors first consider the heterodox schools: i.e. Carvaka (a materialist /atheist approach), Jain (one of the major Indian religions), and Buddhist. After examining the heterodox approaches, Chatterjee and Datta take on the orthodox schools in the following order: Nyaya, Vaisesika, Sankhya, Yoga (which you may not have realized was a philosophical system), Mimamsa, and Vedanta.

There are a number of questions that recur as the authors compare these schools to each other. A major point of consideration is presence or absence of belief in a god, and—for those systems that believe in a God or gods—what is the role of said deity. It might seem that all the orthodox systems would be theistic, but this isn’t the case (e.g. Sankhya.) Another key question is how one can know something, i.e. what is acceptable authority—can one only trust one’s own senses or can one trust everything but one’s own senses? Then there is the matter of ethics and how each system regards ethical behavior. Of course, there are some elements that are unique to a given system, and so it’s not entirely a matter of comparison and contrast.

There are no graphics in the book and the ancillary material is limited to footnotes, a select bibliography, and prefaces to the various editions of the book. Note: I read the 2007 / 7th Edition of the book.

I won’t say this book isn’t dry. It’s a philosophy textbook, after all. However, it does provide a solid overview of the topic and seems to take great efforts to be unbiased (to the extent of sometimes not challenging philosophical ideas that are patently unsound in favor of reporting what advocates of the tradition propose.)

I’d recommend this book for anyone who’s looking for an overview of Indian philosophy.

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DAILY PHOTO: Bells and Big Feet at Shravanabelagola

Taken in November of 2013 at Shravanabelagola

Taken in November of 2013 at Shravanabelagola

This was taken at a Jain temple that’s about 160km (100mi.) from Bangalore. It has one of the world’s largest monolithic sculptures. The pics below give more indication of size.

IMG_1318 IMG_1306

DAILY PHOTO: Pigeon Liason at the Jain Temple

Taken in July 7, 2014 in Kochi.

Taken in July 7, 2014 in Kochi.

Taken at the Cochin Shwetambar Murthipujak Jain Temple, this photo captures one of the feeding times during which members of the Jain congregation get up close and personal with the local pigeon population.

DAILY PHOTO: Jain in White

Taken November 23, 2013 from Shravanabelagola Hill

Taken November 23, 2013 from Shravanabelagola Hill

The other day I posted a pic of the gigantic statue of Bahubali that’s located on Shravanabelagoli Hill. This is the view from the hill looking down toward the village. A Jain adherent was standing on the edge of the temple base looking down at path up to the temple.

DAILY PHOTO: Gomateshwara of Shravanabelagola

Taken on November 23, 2013 on Shravanabelagola Hill

Taken on November 23, 2013 on Shravanabelagola Hill

[As I was on the road yesterday and missed my Daily Photo post, I’ll double up today—if I can. I’m iffy because Bangalore got 2” of rain in an hour last night (which we arrived home in; I saw a city bus literally—no hyperbole here whatsoever—half underwater in an underpass.) Anyway, my internet connection is spotty at the moment, and could go out permanently at any moment.]

The Gomateshwara (a.k.a. Bahubali) sculpture at Shravanabelagola is the world’s largest monolithic stone sculpture. Gomateshwara was a Jain Arihant, and was said to be the second of 100 sons of the first Tirthankara.

An Arihant–literally a “vanquisher of enemies” (a rather bellicose title for a sect that won’t eat onions because the plant must be killed to harvest them), is one who has defeated anger, ego, deception, and greed. (Oh, THOSE enemies. you say.) A Tirthankara is a special kind of Arihant that appears every so often to revitalize the Jain community.

Shravanabelagola is not a well-known site. Being in rural Karnataka, and not on the regular tourist loops, it’s easy to miss. However it can be grouped nicely with trips to the temples at Halebidu and Belur.

Tip 1: You’ll have to walk to the top of a rather large hill in bare feet, so be prepared. On the bright side, the steps are quite clean and devoid of the usual multi-species feces common to footpaths in India.

Tip 2: Jains, like Hindus and some Buddhist sects, utilize the swastik emblem heavily. Despite the ubiquity of what some call the “twisted cross” or “swastika,” you are not in a den of neo-Nazis. That emblem, and its mirror-image, was used for thousands of years in South Asia before Hitler co-opted the symbol—presumably misinterpreting its meaning (as he misinterpreted so many things.) Ironically, it means a wish for good fortune.