The Bloomsbury Research Handbook of Vedanta
- ISBN: 9781350063259
- Published By: Bloomsbury Academic
- Published: May 2020
A title belonging to the acclaimed series Bloomsbury Research Handbooks in Asian Philosophy, The Bloomsbury Research Handbook of Vedanta explores the multiple dimensions of the near-infinite corpus of Vedāntic philosophy and interrogates the essential paradoxes inherent in the Vedāntic credo. The handbook, edited by Ayon Maharaj, consists of sixteen chapters by accomplished scholars of religion that have been organized into five sections that span over classical and modern approaches to the Vedānta. The book delineates thematic concerns and concepts propagated through the Vedāntic discipline, negotiates various interpretations of the Vedānta, and engages in further interpretations of the text premised upon cultural theorization.
Śaṅkara’s postulate of the Advaita acts as the fulcrum of the first segment of the book. The chapters in this section probe the perpetually changing, pluralistic temporal world of experience that is stated to be illusory, a view that stands in contrast to the non-dualistic existence propounded by the Advaita stream. These chapters further explore the intricate relationship of the pluralistic world with the eternal, individual self (jīvātman) and the impossibility of negating the plural. The final chapter of Part 1 is significant as it studies Jīva Gosvāmī’s documentation of the idea of acintya (inconceivability), a conception inherent in Caitanya Vaiṣṇava Vedānta. This concept attempts a resolution of the two conflicting notions that scriptures vacillate between i.e. differentiable and non-differentiable existence of God and the World. A few chapters in Part 2 have been dedicated to analyzing the conceptualizations of mystics and practitioners of religion. Chapter 5 hinges on Sri Ramkrishna’s Anekānta Vedānta, a validation of the pluralistic approach to ultimate reality, which is a state that can be achieved through anubhava or experiences. Chapter 6 examines Aurobindo Ghosh’s argument in favor of rebirth and reincarnation, the cyclical process through which the all-encompassing, eternal Brahman (saccidānanda) finds justification. Subsequent chapters examine diversification, both in Vedāntic traditions and in divergent views and ideas disseminated by various Vedāntic schools. Readers are exposed to interpretations of a wide range of concepts, such as karma, devotion, and liberation, as well as to the debate on the positionality of the self and the world in a non-dualistic existence.
The chapters in Part 4 of the book usher in a paradigm shift from the regular interpretations of the Vedāntic doctrines. Hagiographic texts such as Śaṅkaradigvijaya are located in the context of Vedāntic traditions and pertinent interrogations are made regarding ideas of identity, identification, body and disembodiment, and knowledge. The chapters in the final section of the book delve into contemporary discourses that have emerged from global perspectives on the Vedāntic ideology. Here, the concept of panpsychism is examined at the intersection of Western philosophy and Eastern philosophy, while the last essay questions how life can possibly be māyā (an illusion), an idea that has implications for how we understand dreams and hallucination. The author of the chapter concludes that the conscious self might choose to worship and indulge in selfless love directed towards God, who is Himself the manifestation of the world of plurality for the devotee.
Tim Gainey deserves appreciation for the selection of the appropriate cover image: an impressive woven tapestry that is an Indian artifact. The variegated shades indicate the refractive tendencies ingrained within the Vedāntic corpus, while blue, the predominant hue, is the symbolic colour for the Brahman. The appendices to the main body are also of interest. “Note on Sanskrit Transliteration.” “Chapter Summaries,” an exhaustive “Index”, and relevant citations in a simplistic format can aid research.
The editor’s introduction is a salient exposition to the contents of the book. In the process of tracing the significance of Vedāntic scholarship in global historiography and speculating about the future impact and reception of the same, Maharaj schools his readers in certain key theorems of the Vedānta. He identifies the source of the term ‘Vedānta’ and elucidates the contribution of the various sampradāyas (sects) in the development of the Vedāntic ideology. The book, however, presupposes the readers’ familiarity with the basic tenets and facets of the Vedānta, which is a limitation for novice scholars and general readers who are devoid of a formal academic background in religion.
Maharaj states that considering the vastness of Vedāntic scholarship, a single book can never endeavour to be all-inclusive. He clarifies that this book aims to provide a comprehensive overview of certain topics and areas of the Vedānta and simultaneously expand Vedāntic scholarship, which it successfully does. The extensive scope of The Bloomsbury Research Handbook of Vedānta, covering material as diverse as an inquiry into the true image of contemplation to Romain Rolland’s dialogue with Sigmund Freud on the epistemology of devotion and devotional experience, will encourage scholars to investigate an array of philosophical concerns and their expression in art and culture.
Anwesha Ray is a lecturer in the postgraduate section of the English department at Basanti Devi College, Kolkata (an affiliate of University of Calcutta).
Anwesha RayDate Of Review:March 31, 2022