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3.5 out of 5 stars
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on 21 August 2002
This is a jewel of a book. Skilfully using choronology, historical context and a typology of Indian views of reality as a framework, it sets the vast diversity of ancient Indian philosophy into a comprehensible form. But in doing so, on the other hand, it never loses sight of the way that simplification might misrepresent the diversity. And, moreover, it never lets its classifications obscure the fact that Indian philosophers combined reason and faith in a way unfamiliar to the Westerner.
"Indian Philosophy, a Very Short Introduction" runs through the different darshanas (viewpoints) of the ancient Indian philosophers. It makes a detour for Buddhism, but accepts that the Very Short Introduction format does not permit Jainism and Sikhism to be covered. The underpinnings of the Buddhist worldview are particularly well-explained.
The text is as easy to read as can be hoped for such a complex subject. Although it is easy to confuse the various darshanas, they are signposted by the handy chronologies that are interspersed among the different chapters. One minor complaint is that the "Very Short Introduction" format resembles a word-processed mimeograph shrunk to A5 size, and is over-priced as such.
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VINE VOICEon 22 September 2008
This excellent entry in the VSI series would serve as a good introduction to philosophy in general, as it takes pains to define terms like metaphysics, epistemology, exegesis and soteriology, basic terminology that might be new to the non-specialist. It is a scholarly but very readable account, with useful illustrations.

In the nineteenth century, specific schools of thought were presented to the West as 'Hinduism' or 'Indian philosophy', and these views - polytheistic and monistic - are very often still regarded as representative. This is rather like presenting Lutheranism as 'European religion' and Existentialism as 'European philosophy'. Another excellent book in this series - Hinduism, by Kim Knott - corrects the first misapprehension, and this present book corrects the second.

Philosophy and religion have combined in Indian thought in a way that differs from the Western tradition - at least, since Kant and the Enlightenment. Thus, a work like this invites us to approach philosophical enquiry in a new way, or at least to recognize an alternative approach.

Like all the authors in this series, Hamilton has the problem of encapsulating a vast subject into a small space. In Chapter 1, the author describes the selections she has made and why she has made them - in particular, why she chose to exclude Jainism. The book concentrates on the classical period beginning in the 5th century BC (interestingly, a history of Western philosophy would likely begin in the same era, with the same backward glance at the religious and mythical traditions from which it evolved). The 6 classical darsanas are mentioned, and enough authors and texts are referenced to give you plenty of scope for further study, if you wished.

Highly recommended.
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I am a big fan of the entire "Very Short Introduction' series, and have read several dozens of them. However, even in that field of mostly outstanding introductory books, this one stands out. I cannot give it enough praise. This is an eminently readable yet extremely intellectually stimulating book. It manages to convey the full richness and subtlety of Indian philosophical tradition, or at least as much of it as can fit in this format. Hamilton takes us through the historical development of the Indian philosophical thought, linking each new development to the previous ones, and emphasizes its significance. This is the first book that has convinced me that there are highly sophisticated philosophical traditions that have emerged outside of the Greco-Roman world. It would be of interest to anyone interested in philosophy, and not just for those interested in Indian thought. I highly recommend this book.
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on 15 July 2013
It offers an accessible short introduction into a vast, complex and 'exotic' for the Westerner topic. I had to re-read it 2-3 times to get a fuller understanding, and it was worth it.

It is very interesting to notice the vast richness, diversity and long history of Indian thought, which is not well known in the West. You still meet many books entitled 'History of Philosophy' while what they mean is 'History of Western Philosophy'.

It is also interesting to find out parallels between Eastern and Western thought.

Although it would be too crude to summarise it this way, I would say that there are two major strands in Indian philosophy; one being the brahmanical tradition and its attachment to the proper execution of its rituals and the study of its books; the other being a more radical strand, exemplified by Buddhism, that dismisses the ritualistic tradition as pointless.

The nature of reality is a central point of concern for both of them; while brahmanic thought tends to see reality as constructed by the words of the traditional scriptures, Bhuddism focuses instead on the ways humans sense the world and how that affects their viewpoints.
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on 2 March 2008
Richard Gombrich of Oxford University describes this book as 'lucid' and Damien Keown of London University describes it as 'accessible'.

Really? By page two I am reading (or should that be 'trying to navigate') a 96-word sentence, complete with parentheses, two semicolons and two uses of the phrase 'and/or'.

By page three, I am reading:

"We also know that at least part of what is not-God is both plural (all the individual souls)and everlasting. Less abstractly, this last point tells us something important about the nature of human beings, in themselves a part of reality that might be comprised in any of a number of ways. And in addition to this, we know that some kind of system of causation links present behaviour to an unknown future mode of existence."

I'm afraid that beginning a sentence with the words "Less abstractedly" does not render what follows less abstract.

Overall, a disappointing book that definitely doesn't do what it says on the tin. I gave up and my largely unread copy is now for sale on Amazon Marketplace. I don't recommend it to you.
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on 22 September 2014
Simple and clear guide to themes in Indian Philosophy. Clearly its not an in-depth treatise but for the interested observer its a nice introduction.
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on 1 January 2010
I had hoped with this book to have a high level brief introduction to Indian Philosophy prior to a visit. I found the book very unsatisfactory from this point of view - in fact I gave up half way through having lost the plot - not the norm. To my mind the author did not define her target audience & associated objective of the book and hence I suspect many will find it a disappointment. My advice is if like me you want a high level introduction to understand the way of life and beliefs then this is not for you.
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on 12 May 2010
the author lack either (a) sufficient knowledge of indian philosophy in order to dumb it down succintly or (b) talen for succint presentation or maybe even both.

i wouldnt call the book useless, though if you're an extroverted intuitive type (in terms of jungian type) you can get the gist of indian philosophy and some key concepts. but that is not really the credit of the author who does a less than good job in trying to making a lucid and condensed presentation but ends up stabbind in different directions and leaving the reader with a patchy and random overall picture
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