A Brief Map of Indic Thought: Knowing Tantra from Krishna and Vedanta and Beyond

Krisha showing Arjuna what's beneath appearances in the "Bhadavad-Gita"

If you’ve ever been curious about Indian thought, yet can’t seem to keep straight the difference between Veda and Vedanta, Upanishad and Atman, Shiva and Sutra, this post is for you. A roadmap to help first time explorers navigate the baffling complexity of Indian thought. Of course, what follows will be a radical oversimplification. But it may help first timers out there get a sense of the terrain of Indic thought, and not be overwhelmed not even knowing where to start.

The last few posts I’ve been exploring Buddhism, and in particular, Vajrayana Tibetan Buddhism. There are strong similarities to the worldview described by Tibetan Buddhism and the networkological perspective. Tibetan Buddhism views the stuff of the world as fractal, relational, relative, perspectival, practically infinite in spacetime, with practically infinite potential in its aspects, with reification as the primary source of problems, and with everything seen as a refraction of the whole, including ourselves. All of these notions are shared, in one form or another, by the networkological worldview.

Studying Buddhism, however, inevitably leads to Hinduism, and if in my last post I tried to differentiate some of the vehicles of Buddhism from each other, this post will attempt to provide a basic roadmap to help folks orient in the baffling proliferation of worldviews that is the Hindu Tradition. As will become clear, many of the ideas within Buddhism are shared by various Hinduisms, and that both traditions evolved over time, and often in relation to each other.

Learning the Pitfalls of Trying to Study Indic Thought

For this reason it’s probably best to refer to the nexus of Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, Jain, and other schools which originated within, or drew primary inspiration from India (ie: Chinese and Japanese Buddhisms) as “Indic” philosophies, as some scholars have suggested. For in truth, these various approaches to the world have more in common than not, and it’s difficult to understand any of them in  isolation from each other, just as much as it’s often difficult to understand changes in these traditions over time without mentioning how these various schools responded to each other.

One problem  that is often encountered in studying all of these traditions is one mentioned by Kim Knott, namely, that different texts on these approaches have different biases. Western scholarly approaches to the study of these traditions are often radically different from western or Indic “devotional” sources, which aim to recruit converts, or help practitioners master a spiritual discipline. Often devotional sources will pull as much from oral transmission and personal experience, much as Indic sources have for millennia, as much as from scholarly forms of documentation, evidence, etc. And very often, there are simply different criteria as to what counts as worthwhile in these approaches. For example, in traditions that believe in reincarnation, attributing a work to a particular author might be inherently problematic, because the author of the physical text might be seen as a reincarnation of an earlier sage who “really” wrote the text. For example, either you believe that the philosopher Nagarjuna lived over six hundred years, or that he was several different people telescoped into one. Likewise, criterion for dating texts might be radically different in sacred/devotional texts and western scholarly ones.

It seems to me there’s benefits to taking all of these varied sources. The very fact that the authorship and dating of texts might be different in sacred/devotional and western scholarly contexts is itself worth learning, and there’s much that can be learned from the living oral tradition, still alive today. For in fact, many of the written texts in these traditions are only bare-bones guidelines, which were understood as needing explication. In fact, the sutra (thread) genre, one of the most famous in Indic literatures, makes use of short aphorisms which condense large amounts of knowledge. This makes them easier to memorize. The teacher then needs to explain and fill in the context. A great example is that I mentioned in an earlier post, Robert Thurman’s excellent Jewel Tree text, in which he spends several hundred pages expanding on the meanings of a 10 page poetic text.

It’s also worth noting that when texts are prepared by those from various devotional traditions, they might be biased against certain other traditions. Hindu texts on Indian philosophy might present Buddhism as a strange aberration which has since died out in India. And so those who read texts on ‘Indian philosophy’ might find that the text covers the “six schools,” all of which are Hindu. Buddhist oriented sources, however, often view Hinduism as a mere precursor to the flowering of Buddhism. It’s essential to have an understanding of where any given text is coming from, and in regard to the Indic tradition, there are so many options.

Another concern when studying Indic thought is simply how ancient much of it is. Scholars vary widely about the age of the earliest sources, but none contest the fact that the Indic spiritual tradition is the oldest continuous culture on the planet. Most of the earliest texts were conveyed orally for centuries, perhaps even millennia, before being written down. And we know from how many of these texts continue to be passed down this way today just how careful and accurate this can be when done in the disciplined manner which often occurs in this context. But this makes dating texts, both absolutely and relative to each other, as often a highly problematic affair.

Then there’s the issue of language. Most of the Indic scriptures are written in Sanskrit, though there are exceptions, such as the original Buddhist scriptures being written in Pali, a related yet distinct language. And as anyone studying Indic thought quickly comes to learn, one quickly has to develop a lexicon of Sanskrit terms to understand much of anything being said. However, often there are competing etymologies of words, offered by competing schools. And while the same terms are used by most schools, they are used in often very different ways. And so, just because you know what a word like dharma means in one context doesn’t mean you know what it means in another. In fact, understanding how a given school redefines each crucial term in the general Indic lexicon is often a key to understanding what they’re trying to say.

Then there’s the continual competition for followers. Very often the position a school takes on ritual sex, or the caste system, or whether liberation is social or individual, can have radical differences on how popular it is, and this translated into followers, money, buildings, power, etc. And many of the shifts within these belief systems seem to occur in relation to the attempt to compete for followers.

Few philosophical traditions in the world can better be described as a multiplicity as the Indic tradition. For there truly are certain themes which unify the entire tradition in nearly all its forms, even if these are radically distinct in others.

Basic Time Periods: The Vedic Prehistory

Let’s now lay out a general map of this often bafflingly dense terrain. Time periods are likely to be the most helpful path, though I won’t generally mention dates, because they are so disputed. One great source to help with the general layout like this is the oddly named text The Yoga Tradition, by Georg Feuerstein. Despite the name, and the fact that it does emphasize the Yogic side of things, the text is actually a very accessible guide to the sheer proliferation of Indic thought.

The earliest Indian religion occurs in the mists of prehistory. This oral tradition, passed from generation to generation, was originally written down, giving rise to what many consider the oldest scriptures in the world, known as the Rig Veda, or Veda, and hence, this period is known as the VEDIC PERIOD. The Veda are hyms to a pantheon of gods, many of which weren’t essential to later Hinduism. That said, Indra, Brahma, Shiva, and Vishnu make their appearance here, though their later importance is only evidenced later.  After this period, the priestly caste, or Brahmans, wrote down in precise details the rules for the rituals of the various sacrifices needed to keep the gods happy and the world going, and these are the Brahmanas, composed in what can be thought of as the post-Vedic or BRAHMAN PERIOD.

It is only after this that the famed Upanishads are written, and we can call this the UPANISHADIC PERIOD. The word upanishad means something like to “sit nearby,” because they were originally secret doctrines that were only communicated orally, metaphysical doctrines abstracted from hints dropped here and there in the Vedas. The Upanishads are the key philosophical texts of the ancient Indian religion. And it is here that we really see some of the notions that have made ancient Indian thought so famous emerge.

The Upanishads, or Atman is Brahman

It’s in the Upanishads, for example, that we see the famed equations “Atman is Brahman” and “Thou art that” which form the foundation of nearly all later Indic thought, and these are worth exploring. Atman is the name for the universal self, the self of which all our selves are mere emanations, while Brahman is the creative principle, of which the god Brahma is the incarnation who, while dreaming, emanates worlds from himself. Brahman is the creative principle and that which is created. By equating these, the worldsoul or spirit of the cosmos is equated with the creative principle which is also the stuff of the world. And we are that, for we are versions of atman. And so, whatever you look at, whatever you apprehend, “thou are that.” Hence the is the goal of all meditation, to see beyond the illusions, called maya, to learn that despite appearances, all is one, the many hide the one, and the one manifests in all the many.

This sort of  immanence is one of the key features that, in nearly all its incarnations, distinguishes the Indic tradition, and while there are traces of these notions in the early Vedas, it is truly in the Upanishads, themselves technically the final books of the Vedas, that we see these ideas take the mature form that would influence all that followed. As the final books of the Vedas, the Upanishads are often known as the Vedanta, which just means the conclusion of the Vedas.

Many, Many Yogas

It is in this period that there’s a real shift away from the physical rituals and sacrifices of the Brahman priests, most importantly the fire ritual, to the notion of inner sacrifice. And hence inner discipline shifts from being something merely practiced by ascetics in the forest, to mainstream disciplined practice.

And so, the period of the composition of the Upanishads is also that in which many of the traditions of spiritual discipline, or yoga, begin to take shape into distinct traditions. India was always full of ascetics, including those who broke away from the official Brahmanical rituals. In fact, anyone who practiced extreme renunciation was seen as generally being able to store up enough power of one sort or another to be able to perform superhuman feats. But it is during the period of the composition of the Upanishads that we see the eight traditional yogas begin to take shape. Yoga simply means “yoking” or “unity,” in that one who is disciplined in a particular way becomes yoked to or in union with the spiritual power they are trying to merge with. And this word is often used in ways far beyond its traditional use in Europe in America, where yoga is generally seen as a physical practice, or simply meditation.

Physical yoga, however, is called hatha-yoga. But devotion to a god through passion and ritual is also known as yoga, known as bhakti-yoga. Discipline in terms of action is known as karma-yoga, while the use of sacred sounds to resonate with the fundamental frequencies of the universe, since in many Indic traditions, the fundamental stuff of the world is vibration (with so many parallels to contemporary string theory), is known as mantra-yoga. And the use of knowledge to free the self is known as jnana-yoga.

All these and more were considered forms of discipline which could help bring the devotee closer to liberation from suffering. And here we see another common thread in all Indic traditions, namely, that the goal is always this, liberation. But the various yogas weren’t systematized and synthesized into the dominant yoga tradition that influenced all that came afterwards until Pantjali much later. During the period of the composition of the Upanishads, however, there were simply many competing traditions, mostly passed down orally from teacher to disciple, outside of formal schools.

The Epic and Classical Periods: From the Ramayana to Buddhism and the Gita

Now we approach a period in which dating becomes a bit less problematic. In the millenium before the common era, we have what can basically be called the EPIC PERIOD, named after the period in which the two great Indian epics, the Ramayana and Mahabharabata, were composed. Of course, these come in many versions, often in different languages, and seem sewn together from countless smaller episodes that were part of the patchwork oral culture that only was written down much later. These sprawling mystical epics are the Illiad and Odyssey of India, depicting everything from great battles, mythical stories of gods, and great love stories, and they continue to be incredibly popular in today’s India as vibrantly living stories.

The most famous part of these epics is the section of the Mahabharata known as the Bhagavad-Gita. Again, scholars argue over the date of composition, and whether it really was originally part of the Mahabharata or added later. It seems the text was written around the start of the common era. The Gita is one of the most important texts in Indic thought, and part of what makes it so remarkable is the extent to which it transforms the Hinduism of the Upanishads to compete with Buddhism.

For it is in the middle of the epic period that both Buddhism and Jainism find their start. And while Jainism, with its emphasis upon radical nonviolence and incredible asceticism, has always been a relatively small offshoot of Hinduism, Buddhism was quite a different story. If the Buddha lived about 500 B.C.E., about the same time as Confucius, Lao-Tzu, and Socrates, the religion remained a relatively small Hindu offshoot as well, until the northern Emperor Ashoka made it his state religion about 200 years after the Buddha died. After this, Buddhism became incredibly popular, particularly as it developed and changed, shifting from its original more individual focus, and onto a more socially oriented form, the Mahayana Buddhism which Ashoka seems to have played a large part in formulating, by directing the third Buddhist council, and then propagating throughout his empire. Once the basic notions were fleshed out into the highly complex arguments of Nagarjuna in the 2nd century C.E., Mahayana Buddhism was a force to be reckoned with.

Many date the start of the classical period with rise of the Gupta dynasty in the 2nd century B.C.E., and it is in this period that we see the shift from Buddhism from Therevada to Mahayana, and with this, widespread popularity, and the shifts in Hinduism to compete with this. For the Gita is in many ways the way Vedic tradition fought back, absorbing many of the innovations of this new upstart worldview. In the Gita, the warrior Arjuna is about to engage in battle, but he has qualms of conscience, because even though he knows he fights on the side of those who would be better for the everyday people, he sees people he knows on the other side. The god Krishna, an incarnation of Vishnu, comes to visit him to give him council. And Krishna counsels that he should act, but his act should be an inner sacrifice. That inaction isn’t an option, because that’s just a different type of action. And that what’s most important in all this is one’s relation to karma.

Karma is a word with a complex history in Indic thought, for it can mean action, cause, effect, memory, habit, and many other things, depending on the context. In earlier Vedic texts, it was one’s actions, and the effects thereof, which then determined one’s later character, and one’s reincarnation. Karma and reincarnation are another thread which weave their way through most of Indic thought from its earliest period to the present. While in earlier texts it seems that one’s actions simply accrue merit towards one’s next reincarnation, Krisna’s description of karma in the Gita seems a deliberate theft from much of what made Mahayana Buddhism so distinct, and hence appealing, to the masses.

For Krishna in the Gita, it’s not one’s actions that accrue good or bad karma, but one’s intentions. If all your actions are a sacrifice, they will aim at benefiting the world around one, and if that is the case,  you won’t act based on your own egoic desires. Overcoming one’s own limited egocentric perspective is key. And if you see the through the illusions of the world, produced by your ego and its karma, you’ll see that atman really is brahman, at least in the figure of Krishna/Vishnu, who both is the whole world, and the principle of its salvation. By becoming one with this, one achieves liberation, has all ones actions as sacrifice, and will act for the benefit of all.

What Krishna suggests here is quite similar to Mahayana Buddhism, which doesn’t view desire itself as something which needs to be extinguished, but rather, attachment to an egocentric worldview. While early Buddhism, in its Therevadic and currently extinct varieties, seems to value the removal of desire, Mayahana Buddhism argues that “nirvana is samsara,” and that if one acts out of compassion for others, you overcome attachment, are free from egocentric desire, and realize the interconnectedness of all things, hence, emptiness of self, objects of desire, and objects in the world.

And like Mahayana Buddhism, Krishna articulates liberation as blissful. If early Buddhism depicted nirvana in simply negative terms, now it was bliss. And bliss in the Indic tradition (ananda in Sanskrit), is a crucial term, it is the self-contentment that the gods feel. It is dynamic, steady pleasure that has no need for an external object. Liberation provides one with bliss, for one is free from bondage to fleeting pleasures and contingent pains. Bliss is freedom, it is what gods experience, and which they radiate out in all directions. All we have to see is that the path to bliss lies all around us, in moving beyond the illusions of our egocentric perspectives. Realize that all is one, and that all our actions should be for the benefit of all, since all are one, and the pain of others is intertwined with my pain. And in doing so, one will be increasingly freed of bad karma, and one’s bondages, both in perception and desires, will increasingly evaporate in a self-perpetuating cycle.

It’s difficult to say whether this perspective is that of Mahayana Buddhism or Gita period Hinduism, for in fact, they both share the perspective described above. The Gita can be seen, in many senses, as a bid to retake the masses for Hinduism. And as the history of India shows, Buddhism simply couldn’t compete. Hinduism absorbed much of what made Buddhism distinct, but it had the advantage of being in sync with the traditional gods and rituals which Buddhism dispensed with. Buddhism isn’t a religion, its a therapeutic psychology. And while Mahayana Buddhism allowed for a worship-like relation to Buddhas and Boddhisattvas of various sorts, it simply couldn’t compete with the tradition of the historical Indian gods. The Gita was for many the best of both worlds, the compassionate path to liberation described by Mahayana Buddhism, but without having to get rid of the gods.

As Buddhism changed and developed, many of its later schools incorporated various deities as avatars of the Buddha or vice-versa, and Tibetan Buddhism is often described as a synthesis of the original Bon religion of Tibet and the modified Mahayana Buddhism that developed in the later classical period. The Yogacara movement in Buddhism had a large influence Tibetan Buddhism via the figure of Asanga, just as Hinduism reinterpreted many of its gods via Buddhist principles. Increasingly Hinduism and Buddhism became flavors of the same multiplicity of perspectives, all of which nevertheless shared the broad notions of liberation, discipline, interconnectedness, compassion, karma, attachment, unity in multiplicity, etc.

Towards the end of the classical period, the takeover of Buddhist principles comes to completion with the figure of Shankara, perhaps the most famous of the Hindu philosophers. It is during the classical period that the so-called “six schools” of Indian philosophy come to be, though it’s important to note that these are schools of Hinduism. These include the radically atheistic materialist Cavarka school, as well as the dualist, emanationism of the Samkhya school, a fascinating evolutionist school in which there are many stages of the differentiation of nature by means of the ingression of spirit within it.

Shankara’s school is the most famous, and it goes by the name of Vedanta, often Advaita Vedanta.  Shankara wrote in the 8th century C.E., and he helped complete the reconquest of the Indic philosophical tradition for Hinduism, by making Hinduism completely non-dualist. Reinterpreting the Vedic tradition in completely non-dualist form, he reworked many of Nagarjuna’s key developments in Mahayana Buddhism, in which one needs to continually blast apart reifications and binaries in the name of emptiness (shunyata), which is in between presence and absence, A and not-A, derifying whatever it touches and pointing instead to the relational intertwining of all that is. Shankara claims the anti-essentialism of Nagarjuna for the Hindu tradition, using it to interpret the works of the Vedic tradition, and the Upanishads in particular, giving rise to what has since been known as the philosophic school known as Vedanta.

The Vedanta school based itself upon the Vedanta (the other name for the Upanishads). While the Upanishads are semi-dualist, for they opposed the maya of illusion with the truth of Atman/Brahman, with maya being distinct from Atman/Brahman, Shankara eliminated this weak dualism and replaced it with complete non-dualism. Just as Mahayana Buddhism argues that nirvana is samsara, and hence, nirvana isn’t removal from rebirth as much as learning to see it differently, so it is that Shankara sees the illusions which compose this world as part of Atman/Brahman itself. While some later thinkers would temper Shankara’s non-dualism, it is with Shankara that the absorption of Mahayana Buddhism’s innovations finds its peak. After this, Buddhism would mostly flourish outside India, in China, Japan, Tibet, and to the South of India (ie: contemporary Burma, Myanmar, Indonesia, etc.).

The Tantric and the (Semi-)Monotheistic Periods

Towards the turn of the millennia, the political situation in India becomes less stable, Buddhism is no longer a strong cultural presence, and Hinduism starts to shift again. It begins to incorporate many folk traditions into it, and it many previously hidden and esoteric practices start to become not only more mainstream, but integrated into relatively mainstream practices and even written down and intellectualized. These new practices and scriptures are often described as the Tantras, and this can be thought of as the Tantric period.

Tantra, whether in Hindu or Buddhist form, involves a series of procedures, which Feuerstein calls psychotechnics, which like the yogas brought together in Pantjali’s great 2nd century C.E. synthesis, but in many new forms. Tantras often involve channeling energies, performing rituals, and attempting to develop potentially magical powers. Very often, the physical world is seen as a dream, and intense visualization seen as being able to modify the very structure of the physical world, just as mantra-yoga sees sound as able to reconstitute the matter of the physical world.

But Tantra is more than just rituals aimed at producing magic. Rather, it also marks a philosophical shift in Indic thought. Firstly, it valorizes the female principle as much as the male principle, and sees the radical powers of creativity as that of the feminine aspects of the cosmos. And with this came the valorization of the body, sexuality, and this world in all its manifestations. If early Buddhism presented the Middle Path as that between asceticism and hedonism, and Mahayana Buddhism saw this world as redeemable by a change in way of viewing the world, then Tantra saw this world as the very source of liberation, power, and godliness. Radical immanence is the order of the day, and the world itself, long despised in Indian thought, and the body with it, were finally seen as good. From ascetic rituals of self-denial that go back to the start of India’s spiritual practices, desire finally makes it appearance as the road to god.

None of which is to say that Tantra is simply hedonism, far from it. Tantra uses desire to bring its adherents closer to the deity, tapping into the creative power of the gods that reveal themselves in the body. The goal is still liberation, and hence, transcendence of attachment, but desire acts like a ladder, helping us to learn to dissolve ourselves in ecstasy as a way of getting closer to the unity of all that is, without allowing our attachments to the pleasures produced distract us. Tantra uses meditation and various yogic practices as tools to detach us from attachment, and while some saw it as a regression to simple magic, others saw it as the birth of a this worldly technics for liberation, one which no longer saw desire as bad, only attachment. Rather than renounce the world, the goal is to learn to live it differently, a process begun with Buddhism, and brought to the next level by the practices of Tantra.

Tantra famously makes use of ritualized sex in some of its rituals, and this led many traditional Brahman to see it as a radical departure from the proper path towards liberation, not to mention the other problems they had with Tantric practices. And there’s no question that some of Tantra was orgies and magic. But a complex philosophy built up from this. And as Tantra intertwined with Buddhism and entered Tibet, it gave rise to the complex system I described a few posts earlier.

But this isn’t the end of the story at all. For at the same time as Tantra is flourishing, worship of the various gods in the Vedic tradition was shifting. Krishna was a god of compassion, one of the first to emerge within the otherwise rather cold ritualistic society of the Brahmanic tradition. But increasingly, the gods became more human. With the Tantric period, we see the rise of Shiva’s consort, Shakti, a female deity worshipped throughout Hindu Tantra as the power within Shiva.

The worship of Shiva and Vishnu became increasingly important parts of the Vedic world as Tantra increased in popularity, and in particular, by means of integrating with the worship of Shiva via Shakti. Both the worship of Shiva and Vishnu, known as Shaivism and Vaishnavism, respectively, became increasingly popular within the Indian world.

This tendency only increased as India came under Muslim control during the Mughal Empire which started during the 1500’s. Vedic religions were seen as dangerous polytheisms, but the worship of Vishnu/Krishna and Shiva had enough monotheistic elements as to be less offensive to the Mughal authorities than other forms of Indian religion. And so we see the rise of a quasi-monotheism in India during this period, as well as a firm condemnation of Tantra, with its magic and sexual rituals. It’s for this reason that Hindu Tantra has largely disappeared in India, but it thrives in Buddhist forms in Tibet to this day. Sikhism arises during the Muslim period as well, during the 1600’s. Integrating aspects of Sufi Muslim mysticism with the traditional beliefs of India, Sikhs are radical monotheists for whom ritual is less important than persona, inner devotion, combined with charity and, like nearly all Indic beliefs by this period, moving beyond attachment.

The Colonial Period to the Present

It’s at this period that the Portugueses and then the British began to make their presence felt, and the rest is colonial history. Some Indic texts, now called Hindoo, start to be translated into western languages, with the Bhagavad Gita being translated into English in 1785, early enough to influence figures as diverse as Hegel, Goethe, Emerson, Whitman, and various other 19th century Euro-American thinkers. But it is only with Swami Vivekanada that there was a proponent for the Indic tradition that spoke to the Euro-American nations in a language they could understand, namely, English. Vivekanada described Hinduism, but did so in largely Vedanta terms, and it is for this reason that non-dualist Vedanta has been seen as representing all Hinduism up until Europeans and Americans began to go to liberated South Asia in droves in the 1960’s to study these traditions firsthand. And in the process, many discovered the sheer variety of traditions, for none of those described above ever fully went away, there were always living fossils of previous forms. In a land of 800 languages, and over 800 million people, and a thriving oral tradition to this day which operates in tandem to written print culture, it is unlikely that it would be otherwise.

But it is only in the last forty years or so that the true diversity of Indic thought is being explored. And this is hardly surprising, since so much Euro-American scholarship is still influenced strongly by the legacies of colonialism, from the work of early “orientalist” scholars to the often radically oversimplifying romanticizing western acolytes of the 1960’s.

Many practitioners of Indic traditions today have argued that many of the disciplines, philosophies, and approaches also need to change in relation to the differing needs of western individuals. For example, if liberation is the goal, then urging westerners to identify with “emptiness” often leads to an increase in the feeling of alienation which results from contemporary capitalism. But as many contemporary Buddhists have argued, Buddhist shunyata is not the same as western anomie. For if the western self is often estranged, the traditional Indic self, like that in the Far East, is often highly enmeshed in a culture that doesn’t prioritize the individual at all. And so the needs of the enmeshed self are different from that of the estranged self.

This is why so much of Indic thought, whether Buddhist or Hindu, needs to be read in relation to its cultural context, and its insights then translated to western contexts, and modified accordingly, if they are to be helpful towards a goal of liberation. And as this post has worked to show, liberation is one of the guiding threads that links the Indic tradition in all its forms. Hopefully after reading this, some first time readers will feel more confident approaching some of these materials.

Where would I recommend going to take this deeper? The work of Georg Feuerstein is a great start, including his books The Yoga Tradition and Tantra: The Path of Ecstasy, which in combination do a really great job of introducing the history of what today we call Hinduism. Kim Knott’s Hinduism: A Very Short Introduction is a great intro to contemporary Hinduism. For primary sources, check out Radhakrishnan and Moore’s A Sourcebook in Indian Philosophy is a great collection, and Indian Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction by Sue Hamilton does a great job of introducing classical Hindu schools.


~ by chris on April 13, 2012.

4 Responses to “A Brief Map of Indic Thought: Knowing Tantra from Krishna and Vedanta and Beyond”

  1. The “Final resting place” of the Indic thought is, no doubt, the Veda; Vedanta and Buddhism being no more than Post-Vedic efforts to recovering the beauty and wisdom of the Veda, and the reaction to that effort, respectively.
    So what do you have to say on that?

    • This all depends on your perspective. There are many Indian traditions, and many claim to have the “final” foundation. I don’t generally believe in final foundations. And I’m certainly not an expert on Indian thought, this is simply my attempt to share with others the notes that I found helpful in making sense of things myself. There are certain fields in which I’m pretty knowledgeable, but this isn’t one of them. I’m just an interested non-expert, if one with a background in other types of philosophy. But it seems to me that for someone who grew up outside a thriving Indian community, in India or its diaspora, finding a way into Indian thought can be daunting. And so I’m simply trying to present a point of entrance.

  2. I agree with you, completely; but should also add that the Rig-Veda is not understood, or claimed to be, even in India. Neither has it called upon the resource of Faith for its own survival over millennia. Philosophy can’t be about this or that perspective, is about a universal language, or else…

    here is the link to my blog, which may interest you,

  3. […] via A Brief Map of Indic Thought: Knowing Tantra from Krishna and Vedanta and Beyond « Networkologies. […]

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