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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Book discussion/Buchbesprechung: Vincent Eltschinger's “Penser l'autorité des Écritures”

The starting point of every discussion on this book is that it is an amazing achievement: more than 160 pp. of translation of Dharmakīrti's Pramāṇavārttika and Svavṛtti which will enhance further studies on Buddhist and non-Buddhist epistemology and, even more important if possible, enable non-Sanskritist readers to have a glance of Dharmakīrti's arguments on the epistemological foundation of one's beliefs and actions.
The first lot of my comments is directed on the long introductory study which is, explains the author, only a methodological device to avoid an over-loaded annotation. In fact, the introductory study is sometimes (most of all in the first chapter: Contexte historique et idéologique –V. Eltschinger is a passionate historian), a page-turner. Sometimes, on the other hand, it resembles more a collection of arguments needed to understand the following translation and hence runs the risk to be either too long (to be a handy compendium for the translation) or too short (if one –as in my case– looks for a philosophical insight into the Buddhist-Mīmāṃsaka debate).
More in detail, my only genuine criticism is about §1.3.3, p. 45, where the author describes the Mīmāṃsā's understanding of the Veda as
Les Smṛti et les Purāṇa ne sont source autorisées de connaissance du dharma que parce qu'ils corroborent une révélation incréée, seule inscrite dans l'ordre même des choses (emphasis of the author).
This would hint at the idea that there is a natural order of things and that the Veda is part of it. On the other hand, I have rather the impression that the Veda is felt by Mīmāṃsakas to be of a complete different nature as our common experience and to be the only possible authority in its precinct. That is, as for dharma, there is no order of things which enables the Veda to be the only authority, rather, the realm of dharma is tantamount to Veda. Moreover, the Veda is an instrument of knowledge (pramāṇa) only as far as its prescriptive part is concerned. Hence, no descriptive knowledge of dharma can be driven out of it, whereas V. Eltschinger's passage and even more his hinting at the order of things seems to imply that the Veda has an epistemological validity in its descriptive rather then prescriptive passages.

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