What is Buddhist Philosophy?

Fri 1/21 • 4PM - 5PM PST

Zoom

My question is not: Was there ever something worth calling Buddhist philosophy? In premodern South Asia the existence question (perhaps all too readily) admits of an answer: Yes, there was. My problem does not concern the existence of Buddhist philosophy, but the meaning thereof. It is not hard to find philosophy in South Asia; rather, there are a few too many candidates for what one could mean by “Buddhist philosophy,” not all of which are congruent. I make a modest start here on characterizing and assessing the many meanings of Buddhist philosophy in history and in our historiography by (a) Reconstructing one model of Buddhist philosophy—Buddhist philosophy as part of a wider (Sanskrit) epistemic culture of theory and as “a public research program in epistemology”— on the basis of Buddhist philosophical textbooks from the 10th to the 12th centuries C.E; and (b) Showing what such a model—important though it is to acknowledge—can overlook, namely the psycho-social dynamics inherent in the way that philosophy plays out in the world and in the lives of some of its practitioners.

Sonam Kachru is an Assistant Professor at the University of Virginia in the Department of Religious Studies. A historian of philosophy, his research centers on the history of Buddhist philosophy in premodern South Asia. His first book is Other Lives: Mind and World in Indian Buddhism (Columbia University Press, 2021).

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