Indian and Tibetan philosophy

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-F086-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved May 25, 2019, from

Article Summary

The people of South Asia have been grappling with philosophical issues, and writing down their thoughts, for at least as long as the Europeans and the Chinese. When Hellenistic philosophers accompanied Alexander the Great on his military campaigns into the Indus valley, on the western edge of what is now the Republic of India, they expressed delight and amazement upon encountering Indians who thought as they thought and lived the sort of reflective life that they recommended living.

Nearly all philosophical contributions in India were made by people writing (or speaking) commentaries on already existing texts; to be a philosopher was to interpret a text and to be part of a more or less well-defined textual tradition. It is common, therefore, when speaking of Indian philosophers, to identify them as belonging to one school or another. To belong to a school of philosophy was a matter of having an interpretation of the principal texts that defined that school. At the broadest level of generalization, Indians of the classical period were either Hindus, Buddhists or Jainas (see Buddhist philosophy, Indian; Hindu philosophy; Jaina philosophy). In addition to these three schools, all of which were in some sense religious, there was a more secular school in the classical period, whose tenets were materialistic and hedonistic (see Materialism, Indian school of). The end of the classical period in Indian philosophy is customarily marked by the arrival of Muslims from Turkey and Persia at the close of the first millennium. The contributions of Indian Muslims added to the richness of Indian philosophy during the medieval period (see Islamic philosophy).

Writing was introduced into Tibet not long after the arrival of Buddhism from India in the seventh century. The earliest literature of Tibet was made up mostly of Buddhist texts, translated from Indian languages and from Chinese. Eventually, ideas associated with Bon, the indigenous religion of Tibet, were also written down. Tibetan philosophers followed the habit of Indians in that they made their principal contributions by writing commentaries on earlier texts (see Tibetan philosophy). Key Buddhist philosophers from Tibet are Sa skya Paṇḍita (1182–1251), Tsong kha pa Blo bzang grags pa (1357–1419), rGyal tshab dar ma rin chen (1364–1432), mKhas grub dge legs dpal bzang po (1385–1438) and Mi bskyod rdo rje (1507–54).

Citing this article:
Hayes, Richard P.. Indian and Tibetan philosophy, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-F086-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2019 Routledge.

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