The following is an interview with Deepak Sarma, author of Classical Indian Philosophy: A Reader.
Question: What was the inspiration behind this book?
Deepak Sarma: I’ve taught classes in Indian philosophy since 1998 and I was not happy with the introductory sections and some of the readings found in the discipline’s standard tome, namely Radhakrishnan and Moore’s Sourcebook in Indian Philosophy. So I began supplementing the text with relevant introductory materials that I wrote and with selections from primary sources that were more provocative, or simply better and more easily read translations. The process has been inseparable from my teaching goals: to provide clear and concise texts that facilitate entry into the Indian philosophical world and that challenge readers to consider the validity and defensibility of their own philosophical presuppositions. Eventually I was creating course packets that, for all intents and purposes, supplanted Sourcebook. Envisioning the course packets as a book that others could use was the next and obvious step.
Q: Are there any significant themes or threads that run through the selections?
DS: The major point of controversy that I am seeking to address in this book is the debate between the realists and the idealists, manifested in the Indian philosophical context as the debate between the Nyaya and Vaisesika schools (realists) and the Yogacara school (idealists), or as the debate between the Madhva school of Vedanta (realists) and its counterpart, the Advaita school (idealists). While the issue is philosophically interesting, it is also one that everyone has addressed at some point (“Is all that I perceive merely a hallucination?” or “Do the things I observe exist?”). I’ve wondered about this issue since my undergraduate days at Reed College and have spent much of my intellectual and academic life debating it.
Q: How is this book relevant today?
DS: While it is easy to relegate books such as this one to the archaic, that would be an error of tremendous proportions. The selections found in Classical Indian Philosophy: A Reader address fundamental issues that should be known and pondered by all thinking and reflecting sentient beings. All sentient beings must be made aware of the presuppositions that they hold. They must learn about the potential flaws in their presuppositions and, perhaps, ways to defend them despite these flaws. And, if they cannot defend them, then they must either change their presuppositions or live knowing that they have an Achilles heel that will likely be exploited one day. At the same time, thinking sentient beings must also learn to find flaws in others’ presuppositions. The idea is to learn to present and defend one’s fundamental ideas and to demand the same of others. Classical Indian Philosophy: A Reader is a means toward attaining these ends.
Q: In what classes and how do you envision this text being used?
DS: This book could be used in introductory and advanced classes in Indian philosophy for both undergraduates and graduate students. Several of the selections are advanced and could be used for more in-depth study. I have also included suggestions for further reading for those interested in pursuing issues in greater detail. My hope is that both instructors and students will seek further clarification with the help of these suggested readings. The Reader is also a trampoline by which one can soar further into rarified heights of reflection or into the captivating clouds of contemplation. My hope is that it will be a pleasant and productive entryway into the tradition of Indian philosophy and for some, into a lifetime of self-reflection.