From beginner-friendly introductions to classic works of Indian philosophy, this page features books to suit any learning style. It’s worth noting that there is no single best book on Indian philosophy. The best book for you will depend heavily on your preferred learning style and the amount of time/energy you’re willing to spend reading. For example, if you tend to find classic works of philosophy difficult to understand, you might want to start with a short, beginner-friendly introduction. If you prefer more depth, you can choose a more comprehensive introduction or pick up one of the classics.
It’s also worth noting that it is not a list of personal recommendations. Personal book recommendations tend to be highly subjective, idiosyncratic, and unreliable. This list is part of a collection of over 100 philosophy reading lists which aim to provide a central resource for philosophy book recommendations. These lists were created by searching through hundreds of university course syllabi, internet encyclopedia bibliographies, and community recommendations. Links to the syllabi and other sources used to create this list are at the end of the post. Following these links will help you quickly find a broader range of options if the listed books do not fit what you are looking for.
Here are the best books on Indian philosophy in no particular order.
Indian Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction – Sue Hamilton
Publisher description: India has a long, rich, and diverse tradition of philosophical thought, spanning some two and a half millennia and encompassing several major religious traditions.
In this intriguing introduction to Indian philosophy, the diversity of Indian thought is emphasized. It is structured around six schools of thought that have received classic status. Sue Hamilton explores how the traditions have attempted to understand the nature of reality in terms of inner or spiritual quest and introduces distinctively Indian concepts, such as karma and rebirth. She also explains how Indian thinkers have understood issues of reality and knowledge–issues that are also an important part of the Western philosophical tradition.
An Introduction to Indian Philosophy – Roy W. Perrett
Publisher description: This wide-ranging introduction to classical Indian philosophy is philosophically rigorous without being too technical for beginners. Through detailed explorations of the full range of Indian philosophical concerns, including some metaphilosophical issues, it provides readers with non-Western perspectives on central areas of philosophy, including epistemology, logic, metaphysics, ethics, philosophy of language, and philosophy of religion. Chapters are structured thematically, with each including suggestions for further reading. This provides readers with an informed overview whilst enabling them to focus on particular topics if needed. Translated Sanskrit texts are accompanied by authorial explanations and contextualisations, giving the reader an understanding of the argumentative context and philosophical style of Indian texts. A detailed glossary and a guide to Sanskrit pronunciation equip readers with the tools needed for reading and understanding Sanskrit terms and names. The book will be an essential resource for both beginners and advanced students of philosophy and Asian studies.
Classical Indian Philosophy – Adamson & Ganeri
Publisher description: Peter Adamson and Jonardon Ganeri present a lively introduction to one of the world’s richest intellectual traditions: the philosophy of classical India. They begin with the earliest extant literature, the Vedas, and the explanatory works that these inspired, known as Upani.sads. They also discuss other famous texts of classical Vedic culture, especially the Mah=abh=arata and its most notable section, the Bhagavad-G=ita, alongside the rise of Buddhism and Jainism. In this opening section, Adamson and Ganeri emphasize the way that philosophy was practiced as a form of life in search of liberation from suffering. …
A Sourcebook in Indian Philosophy – Radhakrishnan & Moore
Publisher description: Here are the chief riches of more than 3,000 years of Indian philosophical thought-the ancient Vedas, the Upanisads, the epics, the treatises of the heterodox and orthodox systems, the commentaries of the scholastic period, and the contemporary writings. Introductions and interpretive commentaries are provided.
Oxford Handbook of Indian Philosophy – Jonardon Ganeri
Publisher description: The Oxford Handbook of Indian Philosophy tells the story of philosophy in India through a series of exceptional individual acts of philosophical virtuosity. It brings together forty leading international scholars to record the diverse figures, movements, and approaches that constitute philosophy in the geographical region of the Indian subcontinent, a region sometimes nowadays designated South Asia. The volume aims to be ecumenical, drawing from different locales, languages, and literary cultures, inclusive of dissenters, heretics and sceptics, of philosophical ideas in thinkers not themselves primarily philosophers, and reflecting India’s north-western borders with the Persianate and Arabic worlds, its north-eastern boundaries with Tibet, Nepal, Ladakh and China, as well as the southern and eastern shores that afford maritime links with the lands of Theravda Buddhism. …
Publisher description: In the first major English translation of the ancient Upanisads for over half a century, Olivelle’s work incorporates the most recent historical and philological scholarship on these central scriptures of Hinduism. Composed at a time of great social, economic, and religious change, the Upanisads document the transition from the archaic ritualism of the Veda into new religious ideas and institutions. The introduction and detailed notes make this edition ideal for the non-specialist as well as for students of Indian religions.
Publisher description: Part of the ancient Hindu epic The Mahabharata, The Bhagavad Gita is one of the enduring religious texts of the world
The Bhagavad Gita is an early poem that recounts the conversation between Arjuna the warrior and his charioteer Krishna, a manifestation of God. In the moments before a great battle, Krishna sets out the important lessons Arjuna must learn to understand his own role in the war he is about to fight. Krishna reveals to Arjuna his true cosmic form and counsels the warrior to act according to his sacred obligations. Ranging from instructions on yoga to moral discussion, the Gita has served for centuries as an everyday, practical guide to living well.
In the Buddha’s Words – Bhikkhu Bodhi
Publisher description: This landmark collection is the definitive introduction to the Buddha’s teachings – in his own words.
The American scholar-monk Bhikkhu Bodhi, whose voluminous translations have won widespread acclaim, here presents selected discourses of the Buddha from the Pali Canon, the earliest record of what the Buddha taught. Divided into ten thematic chapters, In the Buddha’s Words reveals the full scope of the Buddha’s discourses, from family life and marriage to renunciation and the path of insight. A concise, informative introduction precedes each chapter, guiding the reader toward a deeper understanding of the texts that follow.
The following sources were used to build this list:
University Course Syllabi:
- History of Indian Philosophy – University of Hawaii
- So You Want to Teach Some Indian Philosophy?
- Indian Philosophies – Macalaster University
- Bibliography for the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Epistemology in Classical Indian Philosophy
You might also be interested in the following reading lists:
- The Best Introductory Philosophy Books
- The Best Books on Buddhism
- The Best Books on Chinese Philosophy
Or browse this collection of over 100 philosophy readings lists to find more philosophy book recommendations.
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