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Mind, Indian philosophy of

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-F070-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved July 14, 2024, from

Article Summary

Despite the enormous complexity of the Indian philosophical tradition, all the different schools developed within a common worldview mapped out by the three ideas of saṃsāra, karma and mokṣa (or nirvāṇa in the case of Buddhism). This soteriological context, which informs much of Indian philosophy, is of particular importance for the philosophy of mind, giving it a distinctive character unparalleled in the Western tradition. Speculations about the nature of mind originated in Upaniṣadic teachings that salvific knowledge comes from looking inwards. We see in the earlier Upaniṣads (from about the eighth to the fifth centuries bc) a careful classification of normal states of consciousness, but eventually liberation from the cycle of rebirth and suffering was framed in terms of the individual’s ability to manipulate and ultimately transcend such states through the pursuit of a set of ascetic practices known as yoga. These ascetic practices led to a liberating state of consciousness which the Upaniṣads equated with the realization of a transcendental Self known as the ātman. With the development of Buddhist thought in India (from the fifth century bc), the philosophical tradition became divided. Generally, Buddhist schools of thought were united in their opposition to the existence of the ātman, whereas the so-called orthodox Hindu schools continued to favour the Upaniṣadic position. The practical quest for liberation from suffering remained central, however, to the entire philosophical tradition as the Upaniṣads gave way to a more systematic philosophizing. Subsequently, Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike continued to accept the results of meditative practice as being a legitimate concern for philosophical speculation. A dialectical relationship between theory and practice meant that philosophical disagreements created not just differences in the interpretation of meditative experiences, but also shaped such practices themselves in different ways. The apparent empirical vein of the Upaniṣads was also continued in all schools of thought, leading to richer and more detailed phenomenological classifications of experience. This rich ontological landscape is what gives Indian philosophy of mind its distinctive character.

Citing this article:
Laine, Joy. Mind, Indian philosophy of, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-F070-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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