The Character of the Self in Ancient India: Priests, Kings, and Women in the Early Upanisads

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SUNY Press, Feb 16, 2012 - Religion - 238 pages
Explores the narratives and dialogues of the Upanisads and shows that these literary elements are central to an understanding of Upanishadic philosophy.

This groundbreaking book is an elegant exploration of the Upanisads, often considered the fountainhead of the rich, varied philosophical tradition in India. The Upanisads, in addition to their philosophical content, have a number of sections that contain narratives and dialogues—a literary dimension largely ignored by the Indian philosophical tradition, as well as by modern scholars. Brian Black draws attention to these literary elements and demonstrates that they are fundamental to understanding the philosophical claims of the text.

Focusing on the Upanisadic notion of the self (ātman), the book is organized into four main sections that feature a lesson taught by a brahmin teacher to a brahmin student, debates between brahmins, discussions between brahmins and kings, and conversations between brahmins and women. These dialogical situations feature dramatic elements that bring attention to both the participants and the social contexts of Upanisadic philosophy, characterizing philosophy as something achieved through discussion and debate. In addition to making a number of innovative arguments, the author also guides the reader through these profound and engaging texts, offering ways of reading the Upanisads that make them more understandable and accessible.

Brian Black is Research Associate at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London.

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Page 3 - The truths of the Upanishads are before you. Take them up, live up to them, and the salvation of India will be at hand.
Page 5 - Aranyakas seem originally to have existed to give secret explanation of the ritual and to have pre-supposed that the ritual was still in use and was known. However, the tendency was for the secret explanation...
Page 5 - Aranyaka was meant to give secret explanations of the ritual and hence presupposed that the ritual was still in use and known. The tendency was of course for the secret explanation to grow independent of the ritual until the stage is reached where the Aranyaka passes into the Upanishad, and, by that time too, there grew up the order of dividing the life of the Hindu into the four stages or Asramas. 1 Aranye eva pathyatvat Aranyakam (Preface to Aita.
Page 3 - With the exception of the original text, it is the most profitable and sublime reading that is possible in the world; it has been the consolation of my life and will be that of my death"26.

About the author (2012)

Brian Black is Research Associate at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London.

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