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Hindu Mysticism Paperback – January 8, 2017
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About the Author
S.N. (Surendranath) Dasgupta (1887-1952) was a Professor of the University of Calcutta, President of the Indian Philosophical Congress, as well as one of the 20th century’s most prolific proponents of Hindu thought. The author of the monumental five-volume text, A History of Indian Philosophy, Dasgupta also wrote more popular works to introduce Indian thought and spirituality to Western audiences—most notably, Hindu Mysticism, The Study of Patanjali, Yoga as Philosophy and Religion, and Yoga Philosophy.
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Intended for the Western layperson, the book covers the various kinds of mysticism found in India: sacrificial (Vedic), Upanishadic, Yogic, Buddhistic, Classical (the Puranas, the concept of bhakti), and Popular (contemporary saints and poets). Through this survey, we get a great introduction to all the important holy texts of Hinduism and learn how they fit together.
The book is charmingly written, not with dry scholarly detachment (like Feurerstein, whom I can't stand) but with verve and reverence toward its subject. For a taste of Dasgupta in his more scholarly mode, go to Project Gutenberg, where the first volume of his monumental "A History of Indian Philosophy" is available for free.
I don't think I'll spoil anything if I retype the last paragraph of this book here:
"But, you may perhaps ask, what may I gain by knowing India as it really is at its heart? Well, that is a different matter. Perhaps you may derive gain, perhaps not. You may further ask what it is that one gains through such spiritual longing, realization, or mystical rapture. And I shall frankly confess that one certainly gains nothing that will show itself in one's bank account. But with all my appreciation and admiration of the great achievements of the West in science, politics, and wealth, the Upanishad spirit in me may whisper from within: What have you gained if you have not gained yourself, the immortal, the infinite? What have you gained if you have never tasted in your life the deep longing for deliverance and supreme emancipation? And the spirit of the saints of ages whispers in my ears: What have you gained if you have not tasted the joys of self-surrender, if your heart has not longed to make of you a flute in the hands of Krishna, that master musician of the universe, and if you have not been able to sweeten all your miseries with a touch of God?"
Each lecture deals with a different aspect of Vedic mysticism. There are separate lectures explaining mysticism as found in the Vedas, the Upanishads, in the Yoga system, Buddhist mysticism; and mysticism in the Bhakti tradition.
What distinguishes this book from others is not only the manner in which Dasgupta arrives at the heart of each tradition, providing important, incisive insights into each tradition, but the manner in which he provides the best articulation of those traditions this reviewer has encountered.
Despite the fact that this book is based on lectures given nearly ninety years ago, its contents will stand the test of time. Highly recommended.