Soul: Indian Concepts
SOUL: INDIAN CONCEPTS
The scripturally based historical religions that originated in India, including Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, and Sikhism, hold nuanced and distinctive perspectives on the concept of the soul. In a shared cultural environment, each tradition sought to relate itself to influential and established religious ideals, yet to distinguish its own position with respect to that ideal. The soul is one such concept. All of the traditions accept the fundamental ontological premise that there is an animating and vital incorporeal aspect of human beings, the presence of which distinguishes life from death. The status of the soul with respect to bodily life and death is a key issue, and in the Indian traditions this implicates the law of karma, which holds that actions have a residual force that has influence over an individual beyond the present lifetime and is thus the driving force behind the cycle of birth and death (saṃsāra ). Notably, this residual force of karma is never equated with the soul in Indian traditions. Liberation from this cycle, which all the traditions define as the ultimate goal, is achieved by spiritual knowledge and practice as defined by each tradition.
It is necessary to keep strictly to the notion of the soul as an animating and vital principle when discussing Indian traditions generally, for the spiritual meanings of the term from Western classical traditions, including the immortality of the soul and its participation in an eternal afterlife, which are commonly understood as a functional definition of soul in the contemporary Western context, are not found in Indian traditions. Indian religions invest the concept of the soul as a life-force with their own distinctive meanings. For example, a major difference between classical Indian and Western traditions is the Indian traditions' critique of the individuated state in their visions of spiritual liberation. In Indian religions, ordinary bodily embodiment is the individuated state that acts and thus gives rise to karma. Since spiritual liberation is defined as the cessation of karma, and thus release from the cycle of birth and rebirth, the individuated state in which one produces karma is dissolved when spiritual liberation is achieved. This means not only that the body is dissolved, but also the individuated state of the life-force or soul. There is no philosophically developed idea of a personified, individually identifiable soul that continues to exist in an eternal afterlife in Indian religions. How the residual force of karma can influence successive lifetimes is a problem that the Indian traditions address and will be discussed with respect to each tradition in the sections that follow. Their common ground is that in their imagining of the achievement of spiritual liberation, which is freedom from karma and the cycle of birth and rebirth, the individuation characteristic of ordinary embodiment is dissolved.
The Indian traditions tend to envision the path of spiritual liberation in epistemological and devotional terms. However, there is an exception to the general rule in Indian traditions that individuality is incompatible with the achievement of spiritual liberation, and this approach adds an ontological dimension. There is a special category of the embodied, perfected being who is spiritually liberated; this category also contrasts with Western notions, which tend to view embodiment as indicative of an imperfect state. In Indian traditions, one can be perfectly spiritually realized and yet remain in the body, though it is understood that this is a rare occurrence. This is not an ordinary instance of embodiment, since perfected beings do not create karma and its effects, although they do act in the world. Each Indian tradition has its own nuance in describing the nature of the perfected being, but they have in common the assertion that the perfected being has a holistic vision of truth beyond the ordinary limitations of humankind. This special category of perfected, embodied being generally describes categories of religious leaders in the Indian religious traditions, including the gurū in Hinduism, the Buddha in Buddhism, the Jina in Jainism, and the ten gurūs in Sikhism.
In addition to these major differences with Western notions of the soul, the Indian traditions pose distinctive philosophical questions with respect to the concept, including whether the soul is temporary or permanent; whether it is autonomous; whether it is real or not; whether it is subject to karma or not; and whether it is personal or universal. The overwhelming evidence of profound differences between Indian and Western ideas of the soul has led many to question the applicability of the term to Indian traditions, to the extent that the influential classical Sanskrit term ātman, which is most commonly believed to correspond to the Western notion of the soul, is no longer translated as soul by modern translators of the Upaniṣad philosophical texts; they instead translate ātman as "self." The advantages of using "self " are as a marker of difference from Western notions, and as an indicator of the Indian traditions' concern with personality, karma, and self-awareness in defining the nature of humankind. The main drawback is the Western tendency to equate self with ego, which is unfortunate because Indian traditions offer a profound and consistent critique of the ego as a limited and materialistic obstacle to true spiritual knowledge. In this light, it seems that the connotations of the available English terms are either too transcendent or too materialistic to represent the Indian positions, which revel in explorations of the gray area in between, toward developing ideas on this mediating concept.
Vedic Concepts of the Soul
The Vedas, which include the Vedic hymns (c. 1500–1000 bce), the liturgical and mythological Brāhmaṇas and Āraṇyakas (c. 1000–800 bce), and the philosophical Upaniṣads (the earliest texts date to circa 700–400 bce, the middle texts to circa 400 bce–100 ce, with later texts written up till the sixteenth century), are some of the earliest oral and written texts in Indian religious tradition. Hinduism claims all of these texts as its own revealed canon. Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism reject the Vedas as a foundational scripture, but maintain dialogue with formative concepts, especially those articulated in the Upaniṣads.
In the ritualistic world of the Vedic hymns, the main concern is with transformations, especially those effected by the performance of sacrifice. An influential hymn (Ṛgveda 10.90) portrays the creation of the universe by the primordial, bloodless sacrifice of a Cosmic Man. This hymn may have provided a cosmic precedent for the Vedic people's central ritual practice of blood sacrifice with animals, primarily goats and horses, as represented in many Vedic hymns. The hymns preserve the sense of gravity and care with which the people approached the taking of a life, and their rationale for the ritual involved speculation on the soul. For example, a hymn on the horse sacrifice (Ṛgveda 1.162) proclaims that the horse is not really harmed by the slaughterer's axe; instead, the horse goes on pleasant paths to the realm of the gods as an offering, bearing the prayers of the community.
Other hymns deal with the subject of natural death outside of the ritual context of sacrifice; in these cases the body is also burned to effect a transition (Ṛgveda 10.14, 10.16, 10.56). The biological body (śarīra ) is burned, but again it is asserted that the fire in a sense makes the body whole, unharmed, or "cooked fully" so that the dead person or beloved (nonsacrificial) horse can "go forth to the fathers." The hymns seem to suggest that there is then a brief, disembodied stage, in which the spirit has no body, breath, or senses, before joining with another body. This stage, which is only very briefly represented in the hymns, involves the concept of tanū. The tanū is perhaps a subtle structure that attracts various cosmic forces, such as manas (mind, heart, life-force; see Ṛgveda 10.58), asu (animating power), prāṇa (breath), and mental forces to intersect and facilitate the creation of a new body. Thus it makes individual the cosmic universal forces that are unborn (aja ) and thus transcendental. These forces that are unborn are represented in another famous creation hymn, the Nāsadīya (Ṛgveda 10.129), in which creation is a "stirring" of vital forces such as heat and breath, presenting an important universal homology to the human microcosm. Another way that this universal dimension is expressed in the Vedic hymns is through the concept of ṛta (Ṛgveda 7.66.12–13, 1.105.12), which has been translated as "truth" and "cosmic order"; more recently, it is translated as "harmony." Ṛta is the subtle foundation of the universe that is distinct from, yet harmonizes, all of the elements within it, thus connecting the potentially chaotic parts into a related whole.
These ideas concerning the levels of human and cosmic reality and their intersection, which were suggested but not philosophically developed in the Vedic hymns, provided material for the central focus on metaphysical and cosmological issues in the subsequent yet connected texts, the Upaniṣads. Interpretation of the Vedic hymns was initiated in the Brāhmaṇas and the Āraṇyakas, but it was the Upaniṣads that took up the question of knowing the knower in a sustained fashion, to the extent that the Upaniṣads were considered to be the branch of the Vedas that contained salvific knowledge (jñānakāṇḍa ), in contradistinction to the other branches, which were considered to contain information about rites (karmakāṇḍa ).
Upaniṣad means "hidden connection"; the texts by this name purport to describe the unseen vital forces operative in the universe, their connection to things that can be seen, including humankind, and humankind's ability to know them through a mystical as opposed to a rational knowledge. The texts' thesis is that through self-knowledge one can break through ordinary consciousness, which is most often represented in the texts as dualistic perception, and in so doing achieve the ultimate experience of unity with the foundational essence of the universe.
The Upaniṣads use the term brahman to indicate this foundational essence, which is a synthesis of the Vedic hymns' ideas of aja (unborn) and ṛta (harmony), yet points beyond them, since brahman is understood to be an ontological absolute, an unchanging ground of being that supports and pervades all things in the universe. As the primary entity, brahman is an undifferentiated, subtle unity; in gradual acts of self-transformation, this subtle unity experiences a densification that creates aspects of the universe. Humankind is understood to be a densification of brahman. In terms of ordinary perception, one cannot see the essence of brahman within humankind, but one can infer its presence from the necessities of living, including breath (prāṇa ), as well as the fact that one "eats food and sees what is pleasing" (Chāndogya Upaniṣad 5.12–18); these are the specificities of name and form (nāmarūpa ) and distinguishing marks (liṅga ) of personal identity, and they point toward, but are not identified with, the essence of brahman within.
The essence of brahman as it relates to humankind is known as the ātman, or self. The ātman is humankind's "hidden connection" to brahman. While the ātman is seemingly individualized, since it exists in every human being, it is not stamped with the individual personality of a given person; rather, it is the agent that holds together the individual's personality, and as such it is identical in everyone. Thus it is possible to see a relationship between the concept of ātman and that of tanū from the Vedic hymns.
The ātman can be thought of as a "central instance of cognition" in humankind, indicating its special connection to mind, for the ordinary personality is subject to karma and transmigration until one achieves knowledge of the ātman 's identity with brahman. At death, "a person consisting of mind only" (that is, one who knows brahman ) merges with brahman, never to return; in contrast, those who perform actions, such as sacrifices, pass into elements such as sky and wind before taking birth on earth again; and at a still lower level, "those who do not know these two paths become worms, insects, or snakes" (Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad 6.2.15–16). The ātman holds together the phenomenological personality, but it has no distinguishing marks characteristic of individuality. It is thus an agent of continuity, not a mark of personal identity. When spiritual liberation is achieved, the ātman merges with brahman ; the individual marks of a person are dissolved, both in terms of the body and personality structure, and in terms of the mind, as individual self-reflective consciousness dissolves into pure, nondualistic consciousness.
Hindu Concepts of the Soul
As many scholars have noted, the Upaniṣads are the most influential texts in terms of subsequent developments in Hinduism. Drawing on them, several prominent philosophical schools in medieval India developed distinctive perspectives on the nature of the self, including the possibility that one could achieve spiritual liberation while in the state of embodiment.
The Advaita Vedānta school of Śaṅkara (c. 788–820 ce) posits that the phenomenal world is illusory (māyā ), and is made up of layers or sheaths (kośa s). The subtle body (sūkṣma śarīra or liṅga śarīra ), which preserves personal identity and is subject to karma and transmigration, is made up of three sheaths; breath (prāṇamāyā ), mind (manomāyā ), and cognition (vijñānamāyā ). In contrast, the only reality is brahman and ātman ; however, humankind does not know this due to the ignorance (avidyā ) of reliance on sense perception. Since ignorance is the source of humankind's bondage, knowledge (jñāna ) is the path to liberation; specifically, knowledge of the nonduality (advaita ) of reality.
While the Advaita perspective has been understood to be uncompromisingly world-rejecting, the viewpoint does permit the thesis that one can be liberated while embodied. The Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad states that "He attains brahman even here" (4.4.7); Śaṅkara's commentary on this verse understands it to mean that "He attains brahman, identity with brahman, liberation, living in this very body." Thus, liberation is epistemological, not ontological; it requires one to transcend bodily consciousness by dissociating with the physical and psychological aspects of the body. A modern illustration of this approach would be the world famous female gurū, Ānandamayī Mā (1896–1982), who referred to her physical body only as "this body," and who would not feed herself, but was instead fed by her devotees.
Later medieval philosophers responded to Śaṅkara's position on the nature of humankind's relationship to brahman as well as the possibility of living liberation. These philosophers all have a theistic component to their philosophies. Rāmānuja (1017–1137 ce) was the chief proponent of the Viśiṣṭādvaita or Modified Nondualist school of Vedānta. In his view, the ātman (or jīva ) is literally bound to the body and its psychological modalities; this is not illusory as in the Advaita system. Though the self remains untouched by the faults of humankind, it is still bound up with them, and must be liberated by exhausting the negative effects of karma. Thus, while Śaṅkara tended to put the emphasis on knowledge, Rāmānuja put it on action. One is to perform duties of a devotional, moral, and ritualistic nature with complete detachment (karma yoga ) towards the results or benefits of the action. God is the focus of these activities. In Rāmānuja's thought, dedicated and unselfish action devoted to God burns off bad karma and increases knowledge, so that one can achieve equanimity in this life and achieve liberation when one leaves the body upon death (videhamukti ). In this liberated state, the self reaches God's (Viṣṇu's) heaven (Vaikuṇṭha), where it resides in a brahman -like state in intimate association with God but not identical with God; thus the modified nondualism of this school's perspective.
Madhva (1238–1317) was the chief proponent of the Dvaita or Dualist school of Vedānta. In his philosophy, God (Viṣṇu) is the only independent, self-existent (svatantra ) reality; all other aspects of existence are dependent (paratantra ) on God. This is a relational, not absolute, dualism; the individualized self of humankind is a reflection of God, but this knowledge is obscured by an ignorance that is metaphysically derived from God. The self becomes deluded into identifying itself as the ego, and this creates the bond of karma. The will of God drives the system. In an argument that was subsequently controversial, Madhva suggested that it was God's will to liberate some selves but not others, an idea that resembles a theory of predestination. The path to liberation is through action, including (in ascending stages) detachment from the body, devotion to God, study and critical reflection on the scriptures, and meditation on the attributes of God as presented in the scriptures; all of these represent indirect knowledge of God. The final stage is the direct and immediate vision of God, which is permitted by God's grace. This is living liberation, but it is not the final state of spiritual liberation, for the body continues to exist through a special category of residual karma (prārabdha-karma ). Ultimate liberation takes place when the self leaves the body at death and travels through the worlds of the gods, at last arriving at the enjoyment (bhoga ) of God, in which the liberated self communes with God in full and blissful consciousness.
The Tamil-language Śaiva Siddhānta school, which tradition views as founded by Meykaṇṭār (thirteenth century) and whose canonical texts date from the mid-twelfth to the fourteenth centuries, shares many of its central concepts with the Sanskrit school of the same name. Śaiva Siddhānta views the world as composed of three irreducible realities, Lord (pati ), soul (Tamil, uyir ; Skt., paśu ), and bond (Tamil, iruḷmala ; Skt., pāśa ). As described by the most prolific author in the tradition, Umāpati Civācāryār (c. 1290–1340), in his canonical text, Tiruvaruṭpayaṉ (The fruit of divine grace), the soul is located between Lord and bond. Through knowledge and devotional action, the soul loosens the grip of the aspects of the bond that are karma and māyā ; then, through the Lord's grace, the soul achieves the attainment of the Lord and experiences bliss and pure knowledge in a relationship where "the two are as one," which is this school's distinctive take on the advaita theory.
Hindu Śākta Tantric tradition centralizes the Goddess in its path to spiritual liberation, understanding her to be brahman. While accepting the monism of advaita, this form of Tantrism emphasizes the relationship between one and many; brahman is one but is embodied in many forms, including the ātman in humankind. A distinctive ritual practice is to "interidentify" (nyāsa ) aspects of the microcosm (many) with the macrocosm (one) through physical, mental, and verbal practices, creating a set of relations between them. The adept then dissolves the distinctions, creating a reunification of both the spiritual and material aspects of reality.
Buddhist Ideas of the Self
In early texts, the Buddha (c. 563–486 bce) is represented as a teacher who places the greatest emphasis on the human condition as it is experienced here and now. A famous example is the metaphor of the wounded man from a middle-length discourse attributed to the Buddha, by which he contrasts the immediacy of the situation with the misguided posing of contextual questions that cannot be answered: "It is as if … a man who had been wounded by an arrow thickly smeared with poison … would say, 'I will not have this arrow removed until I have learned the name of the man [who shot him]…the clan to which he belongs … whether he is tall or short….'" (Majjhima Nikāya 1, 428). It is this emphasis that informs a current stream of discussion in Buddhist studies, with some practitioners and scholars questioning the relevance of ideas of metaphysical import, including karma and rebirth, to the Buddha's original teachings. These proponents themselves acknowledge, however, that, historically, Buddhism has been understood by practitioners to involve these ideas, as evidenced by the traditional assertion that the Buddha saw his own past lives at the time of his enlightenment, and that his foster-mother saw her past lives as she passed into nirvāṇa (Pali, nibbāna ), as well as the influential image of the "wheel of becoming," which pictures both pleasant and painful realms of rebirth.
The Buddha used the same lexicon of religious terms in use during his time, including those in the Upaniṣads, to distinguish his thought from others. His insistence on anātman (Pali, anattā ), meaning "no ātman," is an example of this. There is no unchanging subtle essence to humanity, for everything arises and exists in a codependent, mutable fashion to become material phenomena, including humankind, which is composed of the five aggregates: body (rūpa ), sensation (vedanā ), perception (Skt., saṃjñā ; Pali, saññā ), mental formations (saṃskāra ; samkhāra ), and consciousness (vijñāna ; viññāṇa ). Yet with humankind, karma is implicated, as the following saying attributed to the Buddha suggests: "There is no 'being' found here [within oneself], only a heap of karmic constituents. Just as the word 'chariot' is used when we come across a combination of parts, so we speak conventionally of a [human] being when the Five Aggregates are present" (Saṃyutta Nikāya 1, 135).
What, then, is the continuity that carries forth the influence of karma incurred on either an individual or a social basis? Drawing on the early Buddhist text, the Sutta Piṭaka, Karel Werner (1988) has argued that there are several terms that suggest an idea of a personality structure in the early Pali texts that is rather like the tanū in the Vedic hymns. All of them are mental, not bodily, as we saw with the ātman of the Upaniṣads and Vedānta. One term is the "mental body" (nāmakāya ), which controls the mental aggregates and is opposed to the body; another is the mind (manas ), the sixth sense within the perception aggregate that controls the other senses; another is consciousness (viññāṇa ), one of the aggregates and the one that is understood to give rise to the whole person in the chain of dependent origination; and another is the "collection of one's characteristics or habits" (citta ). Drawing on the abhidamma philosophy of early Buddhism, Rupert Gethin (1994) has suggested that bhavaṅga, a form of consciousness that defines who one is, is determined for the next birth by the last full consciousness process of the present life. Each of these concepts denotes a way to imagine the continuity of constantly changing elements through death and into rebirth, as required by the karma theory. However, any confusion of these terms with an unchanging essence such as ātman was understood to represent ignorance, which was suffering (dukkha ). Later texts in the Mahāyāna school emphasized the doctrine of śūnyatā (emptiness), that everything was empty of own-being, amplifying the message of the earliest texts that there is no unchanging essence.
Jain Concepts of the Soul
Discourses attributed to the spiritual leader (Jina) Mahāvīra (c. 599–467) demonstrate his profound concern with instructing disciples in self-discipline, which is primarily understood to involve the liberation of the soul (ātman or jīva ) from the bondage of karma. In the Uttarādhyayana Sūtra, which is believed to record the final lectures of Mahāvīra prior to his liberation and is thus one of the most important texts in the Śvetāmbar sect's canon, he lists nine eternal verities that define the universe and provide the context for humankind's striving for liberation (Uttarādhyayana Sūtra 28.14): sentient soul (jīva ), insentient nonsoul or matter (ajīva ), contact of karma with the soul (āsrava ), bondage of the soul by karma (bandha ), meritorious forms of karma (puṇya ), demeritorious forms of karma (pāpa ), blockage of the contact of karma with the soul (saṃvara ), dissociation of the soul from karma (nirjarā ), and liberation (mokṣa, nirvāṇa ).
A dualism exists at the center of Jain ontology and soteriology. Sentient souls are nonsubstantial and innumerable; they are characterized by consciousness, bliss, and energy. Insentient nonsouls are characterized by physical matter, space, motion, rest, and time. Together they make up the universe, in a connection that is constituted by karma. Improper karmic actions are imagined to be a fine dust that sticks to the soul. The path of liberation (mokṣa-mārg ) is in essence the sundering of this connection; thoughts and practices that result in detachment are encouraged, so that the soul is "dry" and will not attract the dust of karma as would a "wet" or passionate soul. The soul is coterminous with the body in its current state of bondage (svadehaparimāṇa ), and experiences the joys and sorrows of karma. For those who seriously pursue the path of purification, ultimately the soul completely releases itself from connection to matter. In the final state of liberation the soul is kevalin (possessing infinite knowledge), alone and autonomous, residing immobile for eternity at the highest point of the universe in Jainism's traditional cosmology. Yet even here there is a reminder of the soul's journey from the body, for the soul retains the outline shape of the body, yet it is featureless.
There are several conditions Jainism sets in terms of the possibility of achieving spiritual liberation. First, it is crucial that one has a human birth. Jains believe that animals are in the process of advancing through karma, which informs the Jains' cardinal practice of ahiṃsā (nonviolence), but only human beings can achieve spiritual liberation. Further, it is understood that mendicants, rather than laypeople, are in a position to achieve mokṣa. On the macrocosmic level, Jain cosmology suggests that there are only certain places and times when mokṣa is possible; thus, one can be born and live at a time when spiritual liberation is not possible. In this case, making progress towards mokṣa remains ethically enjoined. Mendicants engage in rigorous practices in order to obliterate voluntary karma and even involuntary bodily actions, in keeping with ideal Jain figures; for example, celebrated monks have fasted to death, and Jinas are popularly understood to have adamantine bodies. Jain laypeople focus not so much on the ideology of mokṣa-mārg, though they do practice five vows similar to the monks', but on devotional activities that produce good karma or merit, including providing material support for the mendicants, endowing temples, performing pilgrimages, celebrating festivals, and singing praises to the Jinas; these activities foster the well-being of individuals and the community of Jains.
Sikh Concepts of the Soul
Sikhism considers the soul (ātman or jīva ) embodied in humankind to be a divine spark (joti ): "The body belongs to the material world, but the spirit or soul in it is the essence of God" (Ādi Granth 695). God is known by several names in the Ādi Granth scripture (Akāl Purakh, the Timeless One; Ik Oaṅkār, One Being Is; Sat Kartār, the True Creator); God is formless and never incarnates, but is spiritually manifest in all the aspects of creation. The problem for humankind is the state of haumai, in which the person believes that he or she is independent and self-reliant, and is thus ignorant of God's nature and the connection between God and soul. A corollary of haumai is māyā, by which humankind is unable to see the oneness and reality of God through the veil of seemingly individualized aspects of the world. These fundamental misunderstandings influence one's karma, which in turn leads to rebirth.
The goal of spiritual liberation is to replace the sense of "I-am-ness" with identification with the divine will of God. A key practice is nām-simran or remembrance of the divine name, which as a practice is an individual or group recitation of scriptural verses. It is understood to be more than this, however, because the word (bāṇī ) of God is the one true gurū subsequent to the passing on of the tenth gurū, and as such is what leads humankind toward God-consciousness on a daily basis, permitting humankind to experience unity with God through meditation on God's word.
According to Gurū Nānak's Japujī, which opens the Sikh scriptures, there are five realms of consciousness in humankind's progression towards spiritual liberation: Dharam khaṇḍ, awareness of the world and one's actions; Jñāna khaṇḍ, knowledge of the greatness of God's creation; Saram khaṇḍ, spiritual illumination; Karam khaṇḍ, innate performance of moral action; and Sac khaṇḍ, realization of the truth of oneness with God. The emphasis in the Sikh tradition is for all Sikhs to strive to become a jīvanmukti, one who experiences the fullness of God consciousness in the here and now.
Vedism and Hinduism
Brooks, Douglas Renfrew. The Secret of the Three Cities: An Introduction to Hindu Śākta Tantrism. Chicago, 1990. Beautifully written introductory yet comprehensive discussion of Hindu Tantric worship of the Goddess; includes translation of the influential Tripurā Upaniṣad.
Deutsch, Eliot. Advaita Vedānta: A Philosophical Reconstruction. Honolulu, 1980. A short, lucid presentation of the fundamental concepts of a philosophical school whose teachings have been influential from medieval times until the present day.
Fort, Andrew O., and Patricia Y. Mumme, eds. Living Liberation in Hindu Thought. Albany, N.Y., 1996. A meticulous and accessible edited volume exploring classical Hindu philosophical and theological discussions of the soul through embodied spiritual liberation in Vedānta, Yoga, and Śaivism, with a comparative concluding essay.
Hallstrom, Lisa Lassell. Mother of Bliss: Ānandamayī Mā (1896–1982). New York, 1999. Very engaging scholarly discussion of a beloved and internationally famous female gurū.
Harper, Katherine Anne, and Robert L. Brown, eds. The Roots of Tantra. Albany, N.Y., 2002. This important volume takes up the issue of defining Tantra and explores its meanings and practices in history, art and archaeology, and texts, including comparison with the Vedas.
Mahony, William K. The Artful Universe: An Introduction to the Vedic Religious Imagination. Albany, N.Y., 1998. Very accessible discussion of the philosophical and artistic imagination as revealed in Vedic hymns and the Upaniṣads.
O'Flaherty, Wendy Doniger, ed. The Rig Veda: An Anthology. New York, 1984. Remains the most accessible and interesting translation of key selections from this famous collection of hymns.
Olivelle, Patrick. Upaniṣads. New York, 1996. Classic translation of twelve principle Upaniṣads, including a lucid introduction to the texts' literary history, composition, cosmology, and theories of humanity.
Pechilis, Karen, ed. The Graceful Guru: Hindu Female Gurus in India and the United States. New York, 2004. An accessible discussion of historical, philosophical, cultural, and gender issues on female gurūs through an introduction, biographical articles on ten gurūs, and an afterword.
Prentiss, Karen Pechilis. The Embodiment of Bhakti. New York, 1999. Includes an introduction to the Tamil Śaiva Siddhānta school, along with an analysis and translation of Tiruvaruṭpayaṉ, one of its fourteen canonical texts.
Roebuck, Valerie J, trans. and ed. The Upaniṣads. New York, 2003. A new translation of thirteen principle Upaniṣads, including the Maitrī Upaniṣad. Includes a short, lucid introduction to the texts' history, authorship, and key concepts.
Slaje, Walter. "Water and Salt (III): An Analysis and New Translation of the Yājñavalkya-Maitreyī Dialogue." Indo-Iranian Journal 45, no. 3 (2002): 205–220. Important and interesting discussion of the ātman as a "central instance of cognition" that represents the highest concentration of the "distilled essence" of brahman.
Werner, Karel. "Indian Concepts of Human Personality in Relation to the Doctrine of the Soul." Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland 1 (1988): 73–97. Werner has argued forcefully and convincingly that soul as it is commonly understood in Western tradition is not a category that applies to Indian traditions. This article, which is a substantially revised version of an earlier essay ("Personal Identity in the Upaniṣads and Buddhism," in Victor B. Hayes, ed., Identity Issues and World Religions [Bedford Park, South Australia, 1986], pp. 24–33), addresses the philosophy of human personality in the Vedic hymns, the Upaniṣads, and the Sutta Piṭaka in the Pali canon of early Buddhism.
Anderson, Carol. Pain and Its Ending: The Four Noble Truths in the Theravāda Buddhist Canon. London, 1999. Revisions the historicity of the four noble truths, arguing that they may not have been a central teaching originally, but emerged as such around the middle of the first millennium.
Egge, James R. Religious Giving and the Invention of Karma in Theravāda Buddhism. London, 2002. This study provides an important historical contextualization of the development of the karma theory in early India, including comparison with Brahmanical and Jain theories.
Gethin, Rupert. "Bhavaṅga and Rebirth According to the Abhidamma." In The Buddhist Forum, vol. 3 (1991–1993), edited by Tadeusz Skorupski and Ulrich Pagel, pp. 11–35. London, 1994. Argues that a special form of consciousness provides the link between birth and rebirth.
McDermott, James P. "Karma and Rebirth in Early Buddhism." In Karma and Rebirth in Classical Indian Traditions, edited by Wendy Doniger O'Flaherty, pp. 165–192. Berkeley, Calif., 1980. This article provides an important review of several early Buddhist perspectives on reconciling the doctrine of impermanence with the theory of karma and rebirth.
Mitchell, Donald W. Buddhism: Introducing the Buddhist Experience. New York, 2002. An accessible and interesting single-volume scholarly introduction to early Buddhism; Buddhism in India, Tibet, and East Asia; Buddhism in Asia today; and Buddhism in the West.
Ñāṇamoli, Bhikku, and Bhikku Bohdi, trans. The Middle-Length Discourses of the Buddha: A Translation of the Majjhima Nikāya (Teachings of the Buddha). Somerville, Mass., 1995; 2d ed., 2001. Well-received translation of early sayings attributed to the Buddha on nirvāṇa and the four noble truths. Includes introductory discussion and summaries of the discourses.
Omvelt, Gail. Buddhism in India: Challenging Brahmanism and Caste. New Delhi, India, 2003. An accessible new reading of Buddhism in India through the lens of B. R. Ambedkar's (1891–1956) strong emphasis on the ethical and egalitarian nature of the Buddha's thought in his critique of Hindu metaphysics and social structure.
Walters, Jonathan S. "Gotamī's Story." In Buddhsim in Practice, edited by Donald S. Lopez, pp. 113–138. Princeton, N.J., 1995. Translation of a popular story on the Buddha's foster-mother's nirvāṇa, with a lucid introduction that explains the significance of her recollection of her past lives for Buddhists.
Walters, Jonathan S. "Communal Karma and Karmic Community in Theravāda Buddhist History." In Constituting Communities: Theravāda Buddhism and the Religious Cultures of South and Southeast Asia, edited by John Clifford Holt, Jacob N. Kinnard, and Jonathan S. Walters, pp. 9–39. Albany, N.Y., 2003. Convincingly argues that "sociokarma" is an underrepresented topic in scholarship on Theravāda Buddhism, and provides a seven item typology, from social karma to the karma of institutions. The other articles in this volume offer diverse, relevant reflections.
Werner, Karel. "Indian Concepts of Human Personality in Relation to the Doctrine of the Soul." Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland 1 (1988): 73–97. See annotation in Vedism and Hinduism section.
Cort, John E., ed. Open Boundaries: Jain Communities and Cultures in Indian History. Albany, N.Y., 1998. Eleven fascinating articles, the majority discussing textual materials, though a couple of articles discuss sacred space and ritual. In the introduction the editor intriguingly notes a parallel between Jain soteriological and social meanings of "other."
Cort, John E. Jains in the World: Religious Values and Ideology in India. New York, 2001. Drawing on texts and fieldwork, the author discusses relationships between the prescriptive ideology of the path of liberation and the experience of worldly well-being in the lives of Jain people in Gujarat, India.
Granoff, Phyllis. "Life as Ritual Process: Remembrance of Past Births in Jain Religious Narratives." In Other Selves: Autobiography and Biography in Cross-Cultural Perspective, edited by Phyllis Granoff and Koichi Shinohara. Oakville, Ontario, 1994. (Reprinted as "Jain Stories Inspiring Renunciation," in Donald S. Lopez, ed., Religions of India in Practice, pp. 412–417 [Princeton, N.J., 1995].) Provides a translation of Jain didactic stories illustrating humankind's inability to recognize former kin in new births, and the karmic consequences.
Jaini, Padmanabh S. The Jaina Path of Purification. Delhi, 1979. Classic account of Jain beliefs from an analysis of authoritative textual materials, providing distinction between the two major sects in Jainism. Includes very detailed discussion of types of karma and stages of the soul's path towards liberation. Also includes many illustrative diagrams and photographs, one an image of a liberated soul in the shape of a body.
Jaini, Padmanabh S. "Karma and the Problem of Rebirth in Jainism." In Karma and Rebirth in Classical Indian Traditions, edited by Wendy Doniger O'Flaherty, pp. 217–238. Berkeley, Calif., 1980. The author discusses the topics with reference to classical texts. Includes two appendixes, one a diagram and discussion of Jain cosmology, and the other a speculative discussion of how the effects of karma are transferred at rebirth.
Kelting, M. Whitney. Singing to the Jinas: Jain Laywomen, Maṇḍaḷ Singing, and the Negotiations of Jain Devotion. New York, 2001. Important fieldwork-based discussion of the participation of laywomen today in Jain devotional practices and their teaching activities therein.
Cole, W. Owen, and Piara Singh Sambhi. The Sikhs: Their Religious Beliefs and Practices. London, 1978. Remains the most accessible and comprehensive single volume that covers the history, beliefs, and practices of the Sikhs. Includes appendixes on the Sikh code of conduct, translations of key prayers, and the structure of the Ādi Granth scripture.
McLeod, Hew. Textual Sources for the Study of Sikkhism. Chicago, 1990. Provides translations of key texts in an accessible volume, including hymns to the divine name, stories of the gurūs, and the Sikh Code of Conduct.
Singh, Dharam. Sikh Theology of Liberation. New Delhi, 1991. Concise, engaging account of Sikh beliefs concerning the soul.
Singh, Nikky-Guninder Kaur. The Feminine Principle in the Sikh Vision of the Transcendent. Cambridge, U.K., 1993. Important feminist study of pervasive images of the feminine in Sikh scripture, including the image of the bride as a symbol of the beauty of both soul and body.
Thursby, Gene R. The Sikhs. Leiden, 1992. Concise and accessible volume focusing on the history and community of the Sikhs. Illustrated with beautifully reproduced black-and-white photographs with explanative captions.
Karen Pechilis (2005)