Being, Substance, and Essence in Indian Philosophy: The Heart of the Matter (TT19)

Location: Trinity College
Date: May 3, 2019
Time: 1.30pm – 6.00pm
Sutro Room, Trinity College, Oxford
Friday, 3 May 2019 – 1:30pm to Saturday, 4 May 2019 – 1:30pm

This two day conference on Being, Substance, and Essence in Indian Philosophy brings together international scholars for an afternoon and morning of ‘Comparative Philosophy’ in Oxford on 3-4 May. The conference will explore Indian approaches to metaphysics, and will culminate in an edited volume following up in our Routledge collection on Dialogues in Indian Philosophy.

As the West has puzzled over the ‘material’ of existence since Democritus and Aristotle, so too Indian history has suggested different candidates for that elusive all-explaining idea: the ‘substance’ of things. Indian thinkers spoke of creation as clay taking many forms, energy evolving through many modes, semantic ‘markers’ dividing the blank field of chaos, or words emerging from a bare potentiality. We find thinkers in the philosophical dialogues of Vedānta or the epic debates of the Mahābhārata arguing over whether it is atoms, time, eternal substance, the field of consciousness, or some basic ‘stuff’ or ‘ground’ (satya, dravya, vastu, pradhāna, prakṛti, aśraya, avasthā, or intrinsic svabhāva), that accounts for the world. Others wondered whether substance and identity are merely illusions created by the human desire to see continuity where there is only change. These debates sought to sift what is existent from what is illusory, contingent from contingent, agentive from accessory, transcendental from uncertain… and these debates were also central to whether humans can determine anything to be fundamentally ‘divine’.

This conference will bring together scholars exploring India’s many theories of Being in a sophisticated but accessible way. Speakers will lead discussion on key philosophies and the insights they suggest, presenting both Indian ideas and perspectives from Western traditions.

All welcome, from Philosophy to Oriental Studies, Theology and Religious Studies, History, and other disciplines.

Friday 3 May

1.30-3.30pm: Early Vedanta, Samkhya, and Vaisesika.

4-6pm:  Advaita, Visistadvaita, Bhedabheda.

Saturday 4 May

9-11am: Madhyamaka, Kashmiri Saivism, Jainism.

11.30am-1.30pm: Ontological essence (svabhava), Non-being, Western reflections.