Skip directly to content

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

Friday 3 May – Saturday 4 May 2019

Sutro Room, Trinity College, Oxford

This 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 2019. The conference will explore Indian approaches to metaphysics, and will culminate in an edited volume following up on Categorisation in Indian Philosophy (Routledge 2014):

https://www.routledge.com/Categorisation-in-Indian-Philosophy-Thinking-Inside-the-Box/Frazier/p/book/9781409446903

Exploring Ontology in India

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 philosophical dialogues in Vedānta or epic debates in 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 diversity and change. These debates sought to sift what is existent from what is illusory, contingent from contingent, agentive from accessory, transcendental from uncertain... and the results were also central to whether anything can be determined as 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 are welcome, from Philosophy to Oriental Studies, Theology and Religious Studies, History, and other disciplines. 

Friday 3rd May 2019

1.303.30pm: Early Vedanta, Samkhya, and Vaisesika.

4–6pm:  Advaita, Visistadvaita, Bhedabheda.

Saturday 4th May 2019

911am: Madhyamaka, Kashmiri Saivism, Jainism.

11.30am1.30pm: Ontological essence (svabhava), Non-being, Western reflections on Indian approaches.