Purushottama Bilimoria (with Amy Rainer Rayner) (Editor): History of Indian Philosophy
I counted no less than fifty-seven contributors to this sizable compilation of fifty-eight chapters (with a glossary of Sanskrit philosophical terms and an index) on the history of Indian philosophies spanning over three millennia. I only mention the number as naming the contributors would reduce this review of the volume to a litany of mere names, which include some very distinguished ones. This project embodies monumental patience; during the course of its virtually generational effort the field lost such stalwarts as Bimal K. Matilal, Ninian Smart, Daya Krishna, K T Pandurangi, Bibhuti Yadav, and two of the contributing authors. The editor-in-chief was understandably so relieved at its appearance that he chose to thank even animals, along with gods and humans, for its successful completion. The final product must be hailed as rendering yeoman’s service to the study of Indian philosophy. It sets a bench mark in the field and will remain the go-to text on the history of Indian philosophy in the foreseeable future.
It will surely gratify the readers that the volume under review presents the various streams of Indian philosophy in constant contact, as flowing in and out of each other as it were, for this truly reflects an aspect of Indian philosophy itself, which, to a certain extent, sets it apart from western philosophy. The various schools of western philosophy, such as empiricism or rationalism, typically succeed one another through the centuries, while the schools of Indian thought typically flow simultaneously down the centuries. This also meant that while the schools in India constantly criticized each other, they were also able to influence each other, thus encouraging a tendency towards synthesis, while the temper of western philosophy tended to be less so in the sense that each succeeding school was often perhaps more interested in criticizing the preceding one in the spirit of replacing it rather than integrating it, although some integration did take place. I mention this lest this perspective on the “woods” may be lost as we busy ourselves in examining the various lush “trees” in the form of individual entries.
A work of this kind naturally invites comparison with the pioneering work of Karl H. Potter, editor of the multivolume Encyclopedia of Indian Philosophy. The comparison turns out to be an illuminating one. That work was primarily chronological and thematic in nature while the work under review, although not eschewing these frameworks where necessary, is more topical in orientation, in the sense that it does not lose sight of the contemporary concerns of philosophy, as distinguished from its perennial ones. This distinction between the contemporary and the perennial may seem metaphysically vulnerable in the sense that what is perennial must also be present right here, but is nevertheless useful for it allows us to identify a remarkable feature, and for me a delectable feature of the volume, namely, its contemporaneity, not only in the sense that it represents the current state of scholarship in terms of the various trends, tendencies, and schools which make Indian philosophy what it is but also in the sense that it engages not only modern philosophical ideas but also broader concerns, such as Gandhian thought for instance, which characterize our times. It may also prove inspirational in its impact. Its perusal moved me to wonder whether Leibniz asked the wrong question: Why is there something rather than nothing? The editor (following Heidegger) has subverted this question elsewhere to ‘Why is there nothing rather than something?’ Would not an Indian Heidegger have asked: Why is there someone rather than no-one?