Seminar on Indian Philosophy (HT 2024)

Convened by Dr Jessica Frazier

This series of regular seminars brings together scholars and students working on Indic philosophies and religions. It focuses on topics of current research: in each session, two people will present a context they are investigating for 20min, and then open it for discussion on key questions. All researchers, graduates and finalists in all areas are welcome to join.

Week 4 (Wednesday, 7 February) 4.30pm-6.00pm

Dr Jessica Frazier: Why Emptiness is Full: Madhyamaka as Allies with the Philosophy of Being
Madhyamaka is sometimes portrayed as Metaphysical or Semantic Nihilism, and certainly its many arguments are critical of normal object-individuated ontologies. Yet it also contains many arguments that seem to point to a 'gunky' realm of Being that is directly manifest, and ultimately unstructured yet full of rich structures and creative forces. This short discussion examines three arguments that Madhamaka's emptiness is actually very full...


Aamir Kaderbhai: Who am I? The self's relationship to itself in Kant, Deleuze and Saṅkara
Śaṅkara’s Advaitic philosophy claims that brahman as the coincidence of being, consciousness bliss (saccidānanda) is the only reality over and above the changing flux of the phenomenal world. In this he would seem diametrically opposed to the post-structuralist philosophy of Giles Deleuze that seeks to deconstruct appeals to Being as a category and theorise the onto-genetic role of difference and flux. Using Kant's notion of the transcendental unity of the apperception as a meeting point for these two philosophies, I will argue that that Saṅkara’s notion that the individual self arises from ‘mutual superimposition’ (iteretarādhyāsa) constitutes the individualised self (jīva) as a basic self-differing — as a subject-object relationship that appears within the self itself. This reveals a potential mutual enrichment between Śankara's and Deleuze's philosophies. I will end with a consideration of the implications of this philosophical picture of the practices of self-inquiry and meditation.

Week 7 (Wednesday, 28 February) 4.30pm-6.00pm

Jacob Fisher: 'Are We Right About Being Wrong? Memory, and the Certification of Mistakes According to Dharmakīrti and Candrakīrti'
Since we can remember being deceived, we must have on some level been consciousness of the subjective experience. But if we were conscious of the experience of being tricked, why were we deceived? This paper examines possible solutions to this problem as proposed by Dharmakīrti and Candrakīrti (c. 7th Cent.), with the help of Tibetan commentaries by Tsongkhapa and Khédrupjé (14th Cent.). It discusses their descriptions of the mechanism behind memory, and how we can warrant beguiled cognitions. While much research has been done on these subjects in contemporary scholarship (cf. Lati Rinpoche, and Napper 1980, Cabezón 1992, Cozort 1998, Thakchoe 2017), this paper draws out an unexplored and implicit difference in the methodologies of these two luminaries. It argues that while Dharmakīrti (in Pramāṇavārtika) is often forced to retreat into complex metaphysical solutions to these issues, Candrakīrti (in Prasannapadā, and Madhyamakāvatāra) through a consistent appeal to non-analytical worldly consensus (lokasiddha) and usage (lokavyavahāra), offers solutions that are verifiable via personal experience. This is however not at odds with his entrenched pessimism regarding the accuracy of non-yogic perception.


Daniel Ruin: 'Buddha-Nature and the Figure of the Angel: Henry Corbin's Writings on Buddhism'
This presentation introduces and evaluates Henry Corbin’s (1903-1978) contribution to the study of Buddhist philosophy. Primarily a specialist in Iranian Sufism, Corbin was a protean scholar who worked at the intersections between religious studies, phenomenology, and depth psychology. Corbin’s previously unpublished writings on Buddhism were made available in a 2019 English translation and feature readings of an eclectic mix of Mahāyāna texts. I will use this talk to introduce the major themes of Corbin’s thought as these are put to use in his interpretation of the texts. These themes include Corbin’s subtle critique of religious monisms and his original philosophy of the person as it incorporates the esoteric figure of the angel. I will close with some reflections on the Tathāgata-garbha doctrine, which informs the philosophical dispositions of the Buddhist sources in question. I suggest how a Corbinian reading may shed light on certain issues faced by some modern philosophical interpretations that attempt to square this doctrine with a broader understanding of Mahāyāna metaphysical commitments.