Even professional philosophers usually don’t know that Indian philosophy even exists. They may think that the Bhagavad Gita is an example of it, so they get the impression Indian philosophy isn’t all that rigorous or deep. (The Bhagavad Gita is not un-philosophical, but it’s really just an episode in the Mahabharata, an enormous literary epic.) Or they read some Chinese philosophy, get the same impression, and just write off all of Eastern philosophy. (Chinese philosophy is philosophy only in a loose sense.)
Real Indian philosophy looks like this:
If it be asked: how the rememberance of an existent object be said to have an object, and how its rememberance can be without it, it is replied that it is so because of having that form. And the form also is possible because of latent impression even without the sense-object relation.
If it be said: since the remembrance is observed even when the object is extinct, remembrance cannot be said to have an object; how can the remembrance of that object arise without it? Because of being of that form. If it be asked: How can it have that form without sense-object contact? Because of mere latent impression.
The object in the remembrance is only the form of knowledge and it is experienced by witness-intelligence, and not by empirical knowledge. Since the witness is not perceptible like empirical knowledge, there is no infinite regress, nor self-dependence.
I chose this passage at random (from Deutsch and van Buitenen’s Source Book of Advaita Vedanta; it’s Vimuktatman’s 12-century criticism of the Prabhakara theory of perceptual illusion), but it perfectly illustrates why nobody reads, or even knows about, Indian philosophy: it’s too damn hard. Unless you already know all the schools, and all the classic positions and terminology, and all the standard moves, it’s extremely hard to tell what’s happening. You’re not even supposed to read this stuff so much as to memorize it and then get oral instruction.
Nevertheless, any philosophy student will be able to tell that there’s some serious philosophical work happening here, and the fact that Western philosophers don’t know anything about this stuff is an embarrassment.
There’s a play by Bhatta Jayanta, a 9th-century philosopher, recently released in translation by the Clay Sanskrit Library as Much Ado About Religion, which features a series of debates between members of different philosophical schools. The book is a good way to get a glimpse into the culture and methods of Indian philosophy. (But it’s still hard to follow the arguments.)
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Indians are famously good memorizers. Part of the reason that so many Western philosophers know nothing about Indian philosphy may be that we’re unwilling or unable to attain the level of textual mastery you really need to engage with it.
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Thomas McEvilley’s Shape of Ancient Thought explores the historical relationship between Greek and Indian thought. Any philosopher with even a passing interest in the history of their field should take a look at it.
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Skarphedin has a new post up about the Greek influence on Indian astronomy.