Sulabhā and Indian Philosophy : Rhetoric, Gender, and Freedom in the Mahābhārata

Black, Brian (2023) Sulabhā and Indian Philosophy : Rhetoric, Gender, and Freedom in the Mahābhārata. In: Ancient Women Philosophers : Recovered Ideas and New Perspectives. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp. 38-56. ISBN 9781009028769

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In a well-known scene from the Mahābhārata, the female renunciate Sulabhā engages in a philosophical debate against King Janaka. This chapter will examine Sulabhā’s arguments and methods, while demonstrating that she makes important contributions to philosophical discussions that are going on throughout the text. I will focus on three aspects of her argument: (1) her discussion on good speech; (2) her articulation of the ethics of renunciation; and (3) her characterisation of the highest knowledge as beyond the dualities of gender distinctions. As I will show, Sulabhā makes original contributions to ongoing debates about rhetoric, ethics, and ontology in Indian philosophy. I will also address the thorny question of whether Sulabhā should be understood as a woman philosopher, or as a literary character most likely constructed by male authors. Despite the ultimate unanswerability of this question, Sulabhā articulates an understanding of enlightenment (mokṣa) that is as available for women as for men.

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12 Jun 2024 13:35
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