[INDOLOGY] Vincent Eltschinger, Caste and Buddhist Philosophy

Alexander von Rospatt rospatt at berkeley.edu
Sun Feb 24 00:33:53 EST 2013

I am glad to announce the recent publication of

Vincent Eltschinger, Caste and Buddhist Philosophy: Continuity of Some Buddhist Arguments against the Realist Interpretation of Social Denominations. (Motilal Banarsidass, 2012, xxi, 235 p, ISBN: 9788120835597)

in the Buddhist Tradition Series published by Motilal Banarsidass. This important book has previously only been published in French (Vienna: Arbeitskreis für Tibetische und Buddhistische Studien, Universität Wien, 2000) and is now for the first time made available in English.

 	Here is a brief description:
From the sixth to the eighth century CE, the Buddhist philosophers paid considerable attention to the issue of the caste-classes. Far from seeking to reform the non-Buddhist social environment, they endeavoured to undermine theoretical attempts at “naturalizing” the social statuses, especially Kumarila’s doctrine of the perceptibility of jati. Significant parts of their critique is strongly indebted to earlier, mainly canonical arguments shaped in order to neutralize the Brahmins’ pride in caste. But closer scrutiny also reveals the innovations that were made possible by the renewal of Buddhist semantics around the so-called apoha (“exclusion”) theory. Eltschinger’s study presents the gist of the early Buddhist arguments, the modalities of their appropriation by later philosophers as well as the new developments induced by the epistemologists.

The author offers a detailed analysis of the arguments against the Brahmanic ìnaturalization of caste, ”as propounded by Dharmakirti (ca. 600 CE) and his successors up to Prajnakaragupta (ca. 800 CE), and in the process pays close attention to their historical context as exemplified by the writings of Aryadeva, Vasubandhu, Dharmapala, and Candrakirti. The first section provides a survey of the canonical material in relevant Pali Suttas and subsequent Avadana and Jataka literature. The main part of the book presents the final stage in the evolution of polemics against the “naturalization” of caste in the sense of “any attempt to include caste among the things that do not depend or proceed exclusively from human thought and arbitrary conventions, i.e., to consider caste as agreeing with nature and not merely with people’s social and linguistic habits.

Alexander von Rospatt, Professor 
Department of South and Southeast Asian Studies
Group in Buddhist Studies, Director
University of California 
7233 Dwinelle Hall # 2540
Berkeley, CA 94720-2540
Phone: +1-510-6421610
Fax: +1-510-6432959
Email:  rospatt at berkeley.edu

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