In this opening series of episodes on philosophy in India, Peter Adamson and Jonardon Ganeri first provide an orientation concerning the nature of philosophy in India and the historical context in which it emerged. They go on to discuss the Vedic literature, focusing especially on the Upanisads with their proposal of the unity of self and world, and the notion of karma. These ideas, and the knowledge claims of the brahmins who feature in the Upanisads, were criticized by the emerging traditions of Buddhism and Jainism. In addition to charting this conflict, these podcasts deal with philosophical ideas in ancient Indian literature, especially the epic Mahabharata. Also featured are interviews with guests Brian Black, Rupert Gethin, and Jessica Frazier.

Further Reading

F. Edgerton, The Beginnings of Indian Philosophy: Selections from the Rg Veda, Atharva Veda, Upanisads, and Mahabharata(London: 1965).

R. Gethin, The Foundations of Buddhism (Oxford: 1998).

K.N. Jayatilleke, Early Buddhist Theory of Knowledge (London: 1963).

B.K. Matilal, Epics and Ethics (Oxford: 2002).

W.D. O’Flaherty (ed.), Karma and Rebirth in Classical Indian Traditions (Berkeley: 1980).

W.D. O’Flaherty (ed.), The Rig Veda: an Anthology (Harmondworth: 1981).

P. Olivelle (trans.), Upanisads (Oxford: 1996).

R. Thapar, The Penguin History of Early India from the Origins to AD 1300 (London: 2002).

R.S. Sharma, India’s Ancient Past (Oxford: 2006).

1. Begin at the End: Introduction to Indian Philosophy

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In this introduction to the series, Peter Adamson and Jonardon Ganeri propose that Indian philosophy was primarily a way of life and search for the highest good. 

2. Sages, Schools and Systems: a Historical Overview

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A whirlwind tour of philosophical literature in India.

3. Kingdom for a Horse: India in the Vedic Period

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The Vedic period sets the historical context of the Upaniṣads, Buddhism and Jainism.

4. Hide and Seek: The Upanisads

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The ancient texts known as the Upaniṣads claim to expose the hidden connections between things, including the self and the world.

5. Do it Yourself: Indra’s Search for the Self in the Upaniṣads

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The god Indra seeks to learn the nature of his own self from another god, Prajāpati, and receives an answer worth waiting for.

6. You Are What You Do: Karma

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The origins of the idea of karma, its moral significance in the Upanisads, and an alternative conception in the Bhagavad-Gita.

7. Brian Black on the Upanisads

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An interview with Brian Black about the philosophical and social aspects of the Upaniṣads.

8. Case Worker: Panini's Grammar

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The pioneering Sanskrit grammar of Pāṇini and its implications for philosophy of language.

9. Suffering and Smiling: the Buddha

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The Four Noble Truths of the Buddha, and the function they are supposed to play in our lives.

10. Crossover Appeal: The Nature of the Buddha’s Teaching

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The Buddha offers two parables to explain the purpose of his philosophical teaching.

11. Carry a Big Stick: Ancient Indian Political Thought

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Two figures from the Mauryan dynasty, Kauṭilya and the king Aśoka, set out contrasting ideas about the ideal political rule.

12. Rupert Gethin on Buddhism and the Self

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Peter speaks to Rupert Gethin about the no-self theory, and its implications for Buddhist ethics and meditation practices.

13. Grand Illusion: Dharma and Deception in the Mahabharata

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The great Hindu epic Mahābhārata explores moral dilemmas and the permissibilty of lying, against the background of the ethical concept of dharma.

14. World on a String: The Bhagavad-Gita

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The Bhagavad-Gītā or “Song of the Lord” from the Mahābhārata ties its theory of detached action to an innovative conception of the divine.

15. Mostly Harmless: Non-Violence

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Vegetarianism and non-violence (ahimsa) in ancient Jainism, Buddhism, and Hinduism.

16. Better Half: Women in Ancient India

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Women philosophers and ideas about women in Buddhism, the Upanisads, and the Mahabharata.

17. Jessica Frazier on Hinduism and Philosophy

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An interview with Jessica Frazier about philosophical ideas and arguments in the Vedas, Upanisads and later Hindu texts.