BOOKS: The Mind of Adi Shankaracharya by Y. Keshava Menon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This book does a good job of that at which the title hints, offering the reader insight into the philosophy of Adi Shankaracharya. Along the way, Menon presents clear descriptions of Indian philosophical concepts such as Maya, Avidya, Antahkarana, etc., and also compares and contrasts Shankaracharya’s philosophy with those of other philosophers (from both the East and West) as a means to clarify ideas that can be subtle and complex.
That said, what the book isn’t is an unbiased and objective look at Shankaracharya’s ideas. While Menon doesn’t go as far as to support the supernatural myths of Shankaracharya’s life (which are only discussed in the Appendix,) and he skirts that 800-pound gorilla of Hindu philosophic controversy, caste, he does present the philosophy as an advocate for Shankaracharya rather than as an indifferent scholar who merely wishes to deliver arguments and ideas while inviting thought among his readers.
While the book deals with epistemology, ethics, and various aspects of metaphysics, the biggest single subject is Self. I found the explanation of this topic to be fascinating. I had previously understood that among the major differences between Shankaracharya and Buddha was on this question. While I still find the Buddhist approach to Self (or, more properly, lack of Self — i.e. Anatta) to be the more compelling and parsimonious explanation, I feel that I was provided with about as clear an explanation of the Hindu (generally) and Shankaracharyan (specifically) views on Self as one could wish for.
I’d recommend this book. If you’ve come away from reading about subjects like “Maya” (Is it illusion? Is it NOT illusion?) this book can definitely help offer clarification, and (as books on philosophy go) it’s readable and not too jargon-laden. That said, if one is looking for a book that is not advocating a philosophy but, rather, objectively providing ideas and contrasting explanations, this book may bias your views.
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