In this episode we sit down with Varun Khanna to discuss his upcoming course, YS 207 | The Upaniṣads. We first learn about his background as a pre-med student stumbling into Sanskrit when he tried to study Ayurveda in India, learning Sanskrit as a spoken language, and going on to earn his PhD at Cambridge University. We discuss the mysterious nature of the Upaniṣads, their relation to the earlier Vedic tradition and to later Indian philosophy, the schools of Vedānta, the meaning of key terms like Ātman and Brahman, and what studying the Upaniṣads offers us today in 2022.
Dr. Varun Khanna earned both his master’s degree in Sanskrit and his PhD in Hinduism (studying consciousness in the Upaniṣads) at the University of Cambridge. He has been teaching spoken Sanskrit, Pāṇinian Sanskrit grammar, and topics in Indian philosophy since 2008, and is now a Visiting Assistant Professor of Classics teaching Sanskrit at Swarthmore College.
Varun’s research interests lie in the intersection of Sanskrit grammar, Vedānta philosophy, and social justice. His latest work centers on the perspectives that ancient Sanskrit literature offers for thinking about equality, freedom, and justice. He is also working on a new Sanskrit primer that incorporates Pāṇinian grammar in order to help students learn the exact boundaries of the rules of Sanskrit.