Voice and Verse - I
A visual summary of key texts from various schools of Indian philosophy. Volume I - Nyāyasūtra
In December 2020, when the world was still battling health and existential issues, Pixar released a heart-warming movie to rekindle the beautiful idea that our existence precedes our essence, with every living moment being complete in itself. The brilliantly made tearjerker film, Soul, reflects on our tussle with finding a purpose in life. For many creative professionals, the question of knowing life’s purpose intimately connects to finding your voice. Unlike the movie Soul, most creatives devote many years of their life to find their distinct style — the meeting of the soul with the skill to realize their voice, something shaped through years of practice and reflection.
What does it mean for philosophers to find their voice? According to Edward S. Casey, we become philosophers by the process of incorporating and transmuting the voice of others. The mind absorbs and synthesizes several philosophical voices to create an intellectual individuality shaped over decades or a lifetime. This intellectual voice, in turn, influences others to find their uniqueness, their own voice.
To be othered and to other in turn — to become myself through others and to encourage others to become themselves in turn — this is the cycle of voice in philosophy.
Like a universal law, the cycle of voice also holds for the rich philosophical tradition of India. We have seen robust systems constructed over centuries through endless creation and sharing of ideas.
Indian philosophers expressed their voice in Sanskrit verses while staying true to the key metaphysical ideas of their respective schools. Nāgārjuna and Dharmakīrti built their philosophical systems on the foundational teaching of impermanence in Buddhism. Gaṅgeśa and Udyotakara developed metaphysical and epistemological theories on Nyāya’s realist standpoint. Adi Shankaracharya established Advaita Vedānta on the absolute monism of Brahman while the Jains built their system on the moral principle of non-violence and the epistemological and metaphysical idea of relativistic pluralism.
Every school has its beginning in either a founder or a foundational text(s). Later philosophers wrote detailed expositions on the founder’s teachings or the texts to create robust philosophical systems touching on various aspects of metaphysics, epistemology, logic, and ethics. It’s also worth noting that all texts have dedicated chapters to refute the philosophical arguments of other schools. This led to a rich philosophical tradition in India spanning more than 2500 years. It’s worth exploring these scriptures and commentaries to understand their significance and impact on the intellectual and cultural landscape of the Indian subcontinent.
I will summarise some key philosophical texts in a series of articles, with every article dedicated to one or a maximum of two texts from a single school.
To make things more interesting, visualizations will replace words to capture the structure and essence of these texts.
I’ve selected 14 texts for the “Voice and Verse” series on the following criteria:
The philosophical work established major thoughts of the school.
The author proposed new and compelling arguments to build upon the philosophical ideas of a school.
The text provides detailed expositions of various theories and refutes arguments of other schools.
Several other authors have mentioned the work in consideration.
The current plan is to write about “Voice and Verse” once every two months to cover these fourteen texts by the end of 2022.
Let’s start the series with a visual summary of Nyāya Sūtra — the foundational text for the Nyāya school written by Aksapada Gautama.
Download PDF version of the visual summary
Overview (Full view)
Major philosophical themes and structure
Book 1 (Full View)
Book 2 (Full view)
Book 3 (Full view)
Book 4 (Full view)
Book 5 (Full view)
I hope the visual summary gives a good idea about the overall structure of Nyāya Sūtra. You can also read the following articles for an in-depth understanding of the Nyāya philosophy.
How do we know? - An introduction to Nyāya epistemology
A matter of perception - Perception in Nyāya Epistemology
Not your ordinary perception - Perception in Navya-Nyāya
A fiery mountain - Logic in Nyāya philosophy
Finding (your own) voice - Edward S. Casey