Will Classical Indian Philosophy become a new classic?

While in college, Deepak Sarma struggled through one of the classic texts in Indian philosophical thought: Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan’s and Charles A. Moore’s A Source Book in Indian Philosophy.

Once he found himself teaching the subject as an associate professor of religious studies, Sarma saw his students dealing with some of the same issues he had experienced while reading the book’s translations.

As his new book, Classical Indian Philosophy, debuts, Sarma hopes to replace that older classic with a more modern version that undergraduate students will find accessible.

“I began by writing new introductory notes for Radhakrishnan’s and Moore’s tome, first published in 1957,” Sarma said.

Looking at piles of notes and materials, he realized he had enough information to write his own Indian philosophy book. He used a draft of the book with his introductory class in 2009 and received feedback on content clarity and ease of reading.

“I want to keep alive ancient Indian thoughts that span 2,500 years,” he said.

Sarma hopes his text becomes the new classic of Indian philosophy, a subject that is gaining popularity but is still only taught on a dozen campuses.

The anchor of Sarma’s book are the Vedas, ancient scriptures of Hinduism that have given rise to many different schools of thought and interpretation. He includes text and explanations from Carvaka, Jain, Buddhists (Yogacara and Madhyamaka), in the heterodox Nastika tradition, which is outside the sacred Vedas scriptures. He also includes a sampling from the classical Indian schools of Mimamsa, Nyaya, Vaisesika, Samkhya, Yoga Advaita, Visistaadvaita and Madhva—all  based on the Vedas.

Using a template form, he has organized the readings by the tradition’s history, followed by explanations of the different theories of ontology (about what exists), epistemology (the knowledge base) and soteriology (theories of salvation). Then, he offers a translated text for reading. For those interested in further exploration of the topic, he offers suggestions of additional source material.

The book covers a range of thoughts from idealism to realism. Sarma ends the book in the tradition of the Madhva school, in which his personal beliefs are grounded, that draws upon the principles of realism.

“I think this book will engage students,” he said.

The book does not have to be read from cover to cover, Sarma explained, but can be read in sections, put aside, and then opened to another new section.