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PPR Research Seminar

Date: 10 November 2010 Time: 4.00-6.00pm

Venue: Bowland North SR10

Brian Black (Lancaster)

Debates Between Brahmins and Buddhists: Senses of Self and Not-self in the Upanisads and Nikayas

As is widely recognised, many of the contrasting conceptions about consciousness, personal identity, and the psycho-physical components of a human being, which were articulated by Hindus and Buddhists during the classical period in Indian philosophy, were prefigured by speculations in the Vedic Upanisads and the Buddhist Nikayas. While Brahmin composers of the Upanisads tend to posit a self that is essential, stable, and eternal, the early Buddhists deny the notion of an abiding self, instead discussing human beings in a way that emphasises change and multiplicity. One of my aims in this paper is to bring attention to how the Upanisads and Nikayas articulate their arguments and positions. Unlike most later sources of Indian philosophy, both the Upanisads and Nikayas present their philosophical views within the context of narratives about teachers, students, and rival philosophers. As I will argue, the literary dimension of their philosophical stances has important implications for how we understand Brahmanical and Buddhist senses of the self, as well as how we understand the relationship between the two traditions. In some cases the Upanisads and Nikayas employ similar rhetorical strategies, or draw from a shared set of analogies and metaphors, indicating that the boundaries between the two traditions can sometimes be pliable and fluid. In other cases, however, their views are put forth in opposition to those of their rivals, thus reifying the differences between contrasting traditions and viewpoints, and using the philosophy of self as a mark of identity for their traditions.

This paper will conclude by re-examining the debates about the self among Brahmins and Buddhists in the context of recent theories (Hopkins, Samuel 2008, Bronkhorst 2007) about the presence of two distinct and contrasting cultures in North India during the period of the second urbanization (roughly 800-200 BCE).


Who can attend: Anyone


Further information

Organising departments and research centres: Politics, Philosophy and Religion PPR


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Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences
Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences
Lancaster University
Lancaster LA1 4YD
United Kingdom

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