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Awareness in Indian thought

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-F040-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved June 21, 2024, from

Article Summary

Classical Indian schools all stake out positions on awareness, its intrinsic nature, its place in the causal processes crucial to human accomplishment, its relations to objects in the world, and the possibilities, according to certain religious or spiritual theories, of mystical transformation. In several prominent instances, stances taken on awareness may be said to constitute the most salient differentiation among schools, so central to a school’s overall outlook is its view on the topic. Classical epistemological conceptions, for example, are in large part shaped by positions on awareness, and the spiritual philosophies for which Indian thought is best known present theories of awareness to guide meditation and mystical practice. Yogic, Vedāntic and Buddhist mysticism all came to be supported by views of the true nature of awareness or its native state.

In the professionalized debates that fill the immense proliferation of philosophical texts in the classical period (from approximately ad 100 to the eighteenth century and later), key issues are whether awarenesses have forms of their own or assume content only with reference to objects, and the precise nature of the relation, or relations, of awarenesses to objects in the world, including the role of awareness in human activity. Some important positions are shared across schools, and apart from the anti-theoretic polemics of Mādhyamaka Buddhists and others, a phenomenalist and idealist stance, a representationalism, and a direct or causal realism are the major theories concerning the content of awarenesses.

The world-oriented philosophies of Logic (Nyāya) and Exegesis (Mīmāṃsā) engage spiritual or mystical views (principally, Buddhist Yogācāra and Advaita Vedānta) on the issue of self-awareness or awareness of awareness. The exchange between upholders of Nyāya and Advaita Vedānta (Vedāntic Monism) on this score is, in particular, an admirable philosophical achievement.

Citing this article:
Phillips, Stephen H.. Awareness in Indian thought, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-F040-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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