Utpaladeva's Conception of Self in the Context of the Ātmavāda-anātmavāda Debate and in Comparison with Western Theological Idealism

Philosophy East and West 62 (3):339-358 (2012)
This essay examines the unique conception of self (atman) developed by Utpaladeva, one of the greatest philosophers of the Kashmir Saiva Recognition (Pratyabhijña) school, in polemics with Buddhist no-self theorists and rival Hindu schools. The central question that fueled philosophical debate between Hinduism and Buddhism for centuries is whether a continuous stable entity, which is either consciousness itself or serves as the ground of consciousness, is required to sustain all the experienced features of embodied physical and mental activity, and, in the context of the conceptualization of the world as saṃsara, whether such a self persists between rebirths and in liberation. Utpaladeva argues contra Buddhists and contra other atmavadins not only that differentiation and unity or change and continuity are compatible, but that a coherent account of our experience requires a continuous dynamic substratum that accommodates both. The Pratyabhijña's atman is opposed to that of Nyaya, Vaiseṣika, and Mimaṣs;a insofar as it is de-individuated, which makes it close to Advaita's Brahman, also a universal consciousness, from which it differs, however, insofar as it is theological and acts as the contentbearer by taking on forms, as opposed to being impersonal and passive. When compared with theologies, both from within and outside the wider domain of Hindu thought, the Pratyabhijña proves to be unique in that it gives a philosophically nuanced account of God, who stands in a nondual relationship to the individual self. This essay also compares the Pratyabhijña's theological account of self with the theological idealism of Berkeley and Bradley, finding it closer to the latter. Comparing the Pratyabhijña with its nearest Western philosophical counterparts should make it more accessible and intelligible from the standpoint of the Western academy and pave the way for involving its rich and distinctive conception of self in the fledgling cross-cultural philosophical dialogue on questions concerning self and consciousness
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DOI 10.1353/pew.2012.0035
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