Science and Philosophy in the Indian Buddhist Classics, Volume 3: Philosophical Schools

Science and Philosophy in the Indian Buddhist Classics, Volume 3: Philosophical Schools

Edited by Thubten Jinpa, Somerville, Mass.: Wisdom, 2022. 516 pp., hardcover, $29.95.

This work is the third in a series inaugurated by the Dalai Lama called Science and Philosophy in the Buddhist Classics. The first two volumes were entitled The Physical World and The Mind and focused on the nature of reality. The third and fourth volumes are devoted to philosophy.

The current volume presents treatises on both non-Buddhist (Sankhya, Vaisesika, Nyaya, Mimamsa, Vedanta, and Lokayata) and Buddhist (Vaibhasika, Sautrantika, Cittamatra, and Madhyamaka) schools. This provides the reader an authentic resource for delving into both major traditions and addressing such questions as, What are the basic components of the world we experience? What is the nature of their ultimate reality? And how can we come to experience that for ourselves?

Based on classical Indian sources, this volume describes the specific views of each school and the arguments behind them. Differing from traditional presentations, which include refutations of opposing views, this book omits the refutations, simply providing a detailed survey of each school independent of Buddhist critique.

This book provides a perspective on how much the two schools share. Yes, the Buddhist schools part company with the Hindus on two principal points—the authority of the Vedas and the question of the existence of a permanent self (atman)—but the similarities are also striking.

Having stayed in a Hindu monastery for six years, I was drawn to read the section on the Vedanta, the best-known of the Hindu schools in the Western world, which asserts that nondual consciousness is alone real. Vedanta bases its tenets on the meaning of the Upanishads (the final part of the Vedas) as opposed, for example, to the Mimamsa, which emphasizes the meanings of mantra set forth in the Vedas. This section also points out that the Vedanta was influenced a great deal by earlier schools such as the Sankhya. But I was surprised to read that “contributions of Vedanta to Indian Philosophy in the strict sense, especially in the domains of epistemology and logic, have been less significant than those of other schools.”

We learn that Buddha taught addressing the needs and capacities of his disciples: “To disciples interested in the practice of freedom from attachment, he primarily taught practices free from attachment; this is the scriptural collection of the sravakas. To disciples interested in the vast, he taught such things as the ten levels (bhumi) and the six perfections (paramita); this is the scriptural collection of the perfections or of the bodhisattvas. To those disciples especially interested in the profound, he primarily taught practices of desire; this is the scriptural collection of the Secret Vajra Vehicle.” Of the four Buddhist schools, Vaibhasika and Sautrantika teach the principles of the lower vehicle, and the Madhyamaka and Cittamatra propound the higher vehicle.

It is impossible to do justice to these discussions by trying to summarize them. The depth of teachings within each school presented in this volume is astonishing. This is not a volume to read through and be done; it is a work to cherish and preserve in our hearts. I stood up and bowed deeply after reading some sections. I am sure that readers would feel the same.

Dhananjay Joshi

The reviewer, a professor of statistics, has studied Hindu, Zen, and vipassana meditation for forty years. He reviews regularly for Quest.