India's progressive emergence on the world stage, in terms unimaginable just a few decades ago, oblige us to reconsider its image as nurtured by the West for over two thousand year: a prestigious image maybe, but also greatly reductive, as the privileged home of occult knowledge, ecstasy and asceticism, or-quite the opposite- of fabulous riches and voluptuous pleasures. Rather than getting to know India, the West has preferred to dream of it: one result has been that Indian thought, albeit unanimously celebrated as the seat of the highest wisdom, has not been granted even the smallest place on the great stage of the history of philosophy.
This book present the thought of pre-modern India first and foremost by outlining the cultural parameters within which it arose and developed, and should independent of it; sometimes differing in form and outcome, but more often very close to Western thought, and certainly never 'alien'.
"This is a marvelous pices of compact insight in all respects: a fresh view of the whole area, always sound and based on firsthand experience with the material. I really mean it when I would like to call in the best modern survey of our field at an extraordinary high level of penetration."
Reffaele Torella is professor of Sanskrit at University Of Rome "Sapienza", where he has also taught for long Indian Philosophy and Religion, and Indology. His preferred fields of research are Kashmir Shaivism, linguistic speculation, Buddhist epistemology and manuscript logy. Among his main publication, there is the first critical edition and annotated English translation of Utpaladeva's Isvarapratyabhijna-Karika and vrtti, the fundamental theoretical work of Pratyabhijna philosophy and of Hindu Tantrism as a whole (MLBD, Delhi 2002); the Italian translation of the Sivasutra with Ksemaraja's commentary (Milan 1999); Eros and emotions in India and Tibet (Einaudi, Turin 2007; in Italian). He has has been the scientific responsible and co-author of the section "Science in India" in the multivolume work History of Science (Rome 2002; in Italian). Along with Bettina Baumer, he has recently organised the first International Workshop on Utpaladeva (Indian Institute for Advanced Study, Shimla 2010).
At the end of last century, when the Istituto dell’Enciclopedia Italiana requested me to take 0n the scientific direction of the section devoted to India in their great Storia della Scienza — all ten of its splendid volumes now having been published, one after the other - what helped me overcome my perplexity at such a heavy commitment was above all the idea of getting cultivated readers to know an India that was different from the usual mystical India, and so forth, to which they were accustomed} On that occasion, I was also asked to write my own contribution on Indian thought, which, in line with the work itself; would primarily concern theories on reality, epistemology and logic. The challenge of presenting the thought of India — perhaps for the first time — abstracting as far as possible the religious and soteriological dimension — was far too exciting not to be accepted. This book is the result of that initial contribution, albeit of wider scope and more in depth.
The West’s love story with India (in actual fact, reciprocated in a rather tepid manner) is over two thousand years old, fascination with India having started well before the campaigns of Alexander the Great. Since then the West has always made much of Indian ‘wisdom’, but has taken great care not to grant it even the smallest space in its histories of philosophy. Although ‘most wise’, Indians have never been admitted to the great halls of western philosophy, not even as auditors. Wise, ascetic, impersonal, deniers of the world, despisers of passions and emotions, Indians have enjoyed undoubted prestige in the imagination of the West which, however, wholly preoccupied in utilising them as a foil to its own identity, seems to have set aside quite early on any desire for real investigation of the meanders of this grand and enormously complex civilisation.
The aim of this work is to help readers approach the thought of India from inside, seeking to outline, first and foremost, the cultural parameters within which it arose and developed and within which it should be read, with the final aim of answering the crucial question as to whether India is entitled to belong to the general history of philosophy (the answer is clearly affirmative). it is not a manual, even though it does its best to present the greatest possible quantity of data. It also contains a not negligible dose of arbitrariness, shown for example in granting certain schools less space than they have traditionally enjoyed (e.g. Vedanta) and more space to others, or even including for the first time schools wrongly deemed marginal, such as the Pratyabhijna. This, however, is not merely the personal V taste of the author, matured over decades of frontier work exploring the manuscript tradition and philological-philosophical interpretation of the texts, but also reflects the desire to present to the reader what he/she particularly and presumably knows least: for example, the naturalism of the Vaisesika system, or the linguistic and epistemological thought of Buddhism, rather than what is to be found in actual manuals (the Upanisads for example are barely mentioned, their relevance from any properly ‘philosophic’ perspective being fairly limited).
The size of the book itself has forced me to leave out both ethics and aesthetics. Although — all things considered — excluding the former was fairly easy, for the latter it was much more painful. The extraordinary level of India’s poetic and aesthetic thought needs a separate volume — as would also its linguistic thought, to whose importance and originality I have however repeatedly made reference in this volume.
I shall conclude in Indian fashion, recalling with deep gratitude my forerunners in these studies: Raniero Gnoli, my guru and predecessor in the Chair of Sanskrit at Rome’s ‘Sapienza’ University and his own guru Giuseppe Tucci, a ‘guru of gurus’.
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