Hinduism Vedānta
by
Vishwa Adluri
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 April 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 January 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399318-0061

Introduction

Indian philosophy (darśana) is traditionally classified into two main groups: orthodox or āstika systems, which accept the authority of the Veda, and heterodox or nāstika schools, which do not. Of the six schools comprising the āstika category, Vedānta, Yoga, and Nyāya survive beyond the 17th century, with Vedānta progressively emerging as a major school of āstika darśana. Etymology allows us to understand Vedānta as the “end of the Veda,” that is, the goal of the Veda, or the final appendices to the Veda. Hence, Vedānta primarily refers to the Upanishads, that is, the final portions of the Veda, although expanded upon through various commentaries on the Upanishads as well as independent works. But as a darśana, Vedānta is one of the six schools of orthodox Indian philosophy, undertaken as a commentary (mimāṃsa) of the Upanishads. Vedānta is hence also called uttara mimāṃsa, to distinguish it from those commentaries that interpret ritual (also called pūrva mimāṃsa). Sectarian texts such as the Puranas espouse some version of Vedānta philosophy, thus continuing and popularizing the tradition. Vedānta remains a living tradition of philosophy within India, with many schools, a system of discipleship and initiation, and a large number of publications. These editions are often of a high standard and available for much less than Western texts, while others are written primarily for a nonacademic audience. Vedānta is classified into several subschools, including Advaita Vedānta, or strict nondualism; Viśiṣṭādvaita, or qualified nondualism; Dvaita Vedānta, or dualism; minor Vedānta schools such as Dvaitādvaita, Śuddhādvaita, Acintya Bhedābheda, Purṇādvaita, etc.; and modern Advaita Vedānta. Although all the schools share a common textual basis (such as the prasthāna trayī), their interpretations thereof differ, with a basic point of doctrinal difference being the conception of the relation of God (īśvara) or being (brahman) to the individual soul (jīvā or ātman); Advaita and Dvaita represent the two extreme poles here. Many Westerners will be familiar with the school of Acintya Bhedābheda philosophy through the work of its major proponent in the West, Śrīla Prabhupāda. However, Advaita or the nondual school of Vedānta mostly dominates the discussion; the literature on Advaita Vedānta easily surpasses that on Viṣiśtadvaita, the next best known, and on Dvaita (one of the smallest).

General Overviews

Hiriyanna 2000 and Dasgupta 1992 are two standard introductions to Indian philosophy. Hiriyanna, in particular, is concise and more narrowly philosophical than Dasgupta’s historical survey. Both authors follow a partly chronological, partly teleological order with Vedānta (usually in its Advaita form) usually treated as the last of the schools. This reflects a broader prejudice that Advaita constitutes the final and highest stage of philosophical development that tends to overshadow the contributions of the other schools as independent, highly sophisticated schools. Raju 1985 eschews the historical, genealogical approach of these works for a systematic presentation in the manner of the great histories of Western philosophy. The author’s command over the language and style of Western philosophy and extensive discussions of Western philosophers (for example, Kant, Wittgenstein, and Ryle) make this a good choice for an introductory text for Western students. Dhirendra Mohan 1960 is an introduction to the central concept of pramāṇa, essential for grasping the epistemology of the Vedānta schools. Sastri’s translation of Vedāntaparibhāṣā (Dharmarāja Adhvarin 1942), a 17th-century treatise on Advaita epistemology, is still widely used as a textbook. Cowell and Gough 1882 is a translation of a 14th-century South Indian overview of sixteen schools of Indian philosophy. Potter, et al. 1988 covers 884 secondary sources (books and articles) up to 1985. Entries are indexed according to names and subject terms; each entry encompasses a discussion of roughly one to five lines. Potter 2002 and Mohanty 2000 are both advanced-level works, as both depart from the darśana framework for presentation and rearrange topics according to their own (unfolding) philosophical logic. Mohanty is more idiosyncratic but perhaps also the more challenging of the two.

  • Cowell, E. B., and A. E. Gough, trans. Sarva-darśana-saṃgraha, or Review of the Different Systems of Hindu Philosophy by Mādhava Ācārya. London: Trübner, 1882.

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    The sole translation of this 14th-century text, this work provides a good overview of sixteen systems of Indian philosophy beginning with the Cārvaka, Bauddha, and Jaina systems (as nāstikā schools the furthest away from Vedānta) and culminating with Sāṃkhya, Yoga, and Vedānta. The original Sanskrit text is available in Abhyankar, Vasudev Shastri, ed., Sarva-darśana-saṃgraha of Sāyana-Mādhava (Pune, India: Government Oriental Series Class A, no. 4, 1951).

  • Dasgupta, S. N. A History of Indian Philosophy. Vols. 1–2. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1992.

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    Volume 1, which presents an overview of the classical systems of Indian philosophy, contains an extensive discussion of the “Śaṅkara School of Vedānta,” focusing especially on its epistemology. Volume 2 complements this with a history of the school down to Madhusūdana Sarasvati.

  • Datta, Dhirendra Mohan. The Six Ways of Knowing: A Critical Study of the Vedanta Theory of Knowledge. Calcutta: University of Calcutta, 1960.

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    The book’s title refers to the six pramāṇas (which Datta accurately translates as “ways of knowing” rather than the more common “proofs”) accepted in Advaita philosophy. Although Datta’s sympathies clearly lie with Advaita (a criticism that applies to most writers on Vedānta, including Mysore Hiriyanna), the book is a useful introduction and more accessible than the other standard work on Vedānta epistemology, the 17th-century Vedāntaparibhāṣā (Dharmarāja Adhvarin 1942).

  • Dharmarāja Adhvarin. Vedāntaparibhāṣā. Edited and translated by S. S. S. Sastri. Adyar, India: Adyar Library, 1942.

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    Although dismissed as a late compendium, this 17th-century text is still widely used in Indian universities as a basic introduction to “Advaita Epistemology and Ontology.” Sastri does not make any attempts beyond a basic introduction to clarify the issues at stake, which can be problematic for those unfamiliar with standard Vedānta examples such as “the snake on the rope,” etc. Nonetheless, the translation is easy to read and buttresses this book’s claim to a standard reference work.

  • Hiriyanna, Mysore. Essentials of Indian Philosophy. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 2000.

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    This standard introductory work provides an overview of the six āstika or “orthodox” systems based on the Veda and the three nāstika schools (Jainism, Buddhism, and Cārvaka or materialism). Its discussion of Vedānta is somewhat biased toward Advaita.

  • Mohanty, Jitendranath N. Classical Indian Philosophies. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2000.

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    Like Potter 2002, this is a departure from the standard systematic/historical approach to presenting darśanas. However, even more so than Potter’s text, this remains a work for more advanced audiences. Brings the perspective of a well-known scholar of phenomenology to bear on Advaita.

  • Potter, Karl H., Austin G. Creel, and Edwin Gurow. Guide to Indian Philosophy. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1988.

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    Reference work surveying material published up to 1985. Entries are listed both by subject and author index, and the work is especially recommended for those interested in contemporary Vedānta scholarship. Unfortunately, the publication is a bit out of date, and a revised edition is needed.

  • Potter, Karl. Presuppositions of India’s Philosophies. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 2002.

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    Eschews the traditional system of presenting Indian philosophy according to its different schools. Potter is more interested in why specific schools may have held certain views rather than in merely outlining what they held and that they held it to be so. Presupposes a degree of familiarity with the Indian systems, as Potter breaks them up and rearranges them according to his own thematic headings.

  • Raju, Poolla T. Structural Depths in Indian Thought. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1985.

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    Intended as a companion to Radhakrishnan’s Indian Philosophy (London: Allen and Unwin, 1923) and Dasgupta 1992, Raju’s work aspires to be taken seriously as a philosophical work rather than a historiographical account. This approach has both strengths and weaknesses: while allowing Raju to avoid the pitfalls of historicism, it leaves the beginner with hardly any historical orientation.

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