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Thursday, October 29, 2009

Authors and authoriality in Indian philosophy

I have been arguing in several older posts (see: 1, 2, 3, 4) that in Indian philosophical texts the concepts of "copyright" and, consequently, of "plagiarism", lack. . Everyone copies, better, everyone uses his predecessors words and conclusions as building blocs (Bausteine) for one's own work. Why, then, are authors so frequently recorded in Indian philosophical texts? Many, possibly most, philosophical texts are said (either in the mangala or in the colophon) to be "the work of...". Moreover, authoriality is a big issue whenever it refers to past and well-known authors, such as the author of one's school foundational text, Vyāsa, etc. It is so even in schools -like Mimamsā- which maintain the independence from an author of the Veda.
The apparent contradiction may possibly be solved if one considers that "author" and "authoriality" do not share the same meaning in classical Indian philosophy and contemporary enquiries. The author could have been felt, in the first one, as a pra-vaktr, that is as "an excellent upholder" of the school's ideas. Kumārila and Jayanta Bhatta seem to have been seen and to have understood themselves as such.
The situation is different in case of semi-divine authors, such as the Vedic rsis, Gautama within the Nyaya school, Kapila, etc.). They are of foundational importance because they are endowed with an epistemological faculty to ground what they say, through intellectual intuition (yogipratyaksa). Some schools, such as Mimamsa, deny any validity to yogipratyaksa. But even the ones which acknowledge such possibility for some extraordinary human beings, do not rely on it for the successive history of the school. Hence, a first authorial foundation is useful to ground -through the yogipratyaksa faculty of an extraordinary human being- the validity of the whole system. But thereafter the system is developed through a succession of authors and commentators who are nothing more than the voices expressing the school's ideas.

16 comments:

VS said...

I liked the expressions 'excellent upholder' and 'intellectual intuition'.

I think the purpose behind these texts was to share or spread knowledge.

Isnt it possible that the so called author was just asked to put down in writing the thoughts of some other knowledgeable person who might have just preached?

elisa freschi said...

What do you mean? Are you referring to the process of writing or to that of composing a text? If the former, you are certainly right, most (if not all) texts are either notes taken during a lesson or texts dictated and written by someone who was not the author. If the latter, almost all Indian "authors" understand themselves as just re-working on previous teachers' ideas. Those who do not do so are either exceptions or texts claiming to have a divine origin. Among the exceptions are authors such as Raghunātha Śiromaṇi and Dharmakīrti. But it is difficult to evaluate their rupture with the preceding tradition. Dharmakīrti, for one, is very critical against other traditions, not his own!

VS said...

Thanks for explaining. At least I can say that since people thought differently and decided to prove their points through logic and texts, they enriched the environment.

elisa freschi said...

Yes, I absolutely agree. That's why we keep on reading their texts!

sujanasi said...

It's true that the founder's name is a means of justifying the validity of the system, but I don't think it is only the yogipratyaksha, that matters. For example, as Patanjali in the Mahabhashya justifies some of his ideas, quoting Panini's sutra, he doen't concider it to be the result of yogic experience. More likely he uses Panini's words as Shabda, the forth paramana, defined in the Nyaya-sutras as aptopadeshah shabdah.

elisa freschi said...

Thanks a lot, Sujanasi, for this insightful comment. You are right in highlighting the faults of my (too general) view. Grammar is, by the way, often an exception within Indian culture (for instance because it does not accept the idea that the ancient the better in regard to Pāṇini/Kātyayana/Patañjali).
Let me just point out two elements in favour of my general view:
1. even in the Grammatical tradition, Pāṇini tends to be regarded as an extraordinary human being (he is, for instance, called muṇi), so what holds for Patañjali does not necessarily hold for the later school.
2. please prove me wrong, but I would say that Patañjali's attitude towards Pāṇini does not imply that he accepts his words as authoritative in themselves. Rather, he discusses them, even emends some of them. He accepts the Aṣṭadhyāyī because it works (not out of śabdapramāṇa). I cannot recall any usage of śabdapramāṇa by Patañjali in regard to Pāṇini.
3. The NS is probably later than Patañjali. The very antiquity of Patañjali could hint at a less formalised attitude.

sujanasi said...

Dear Elisa, I totally agree with your first and third notes, but I'm not sure about the second one. Discussing in Paspasha-ahnika the question, whether padartha is akriti or dravya, Patanjali first of all claims that both attitudes are right, because there are two sutras in the Ashtadhyayi, one of them implying akriti as padartha, another one dravya: kim punar akririh padartha ahosviddravyam? ubhayathaityaha. ubhayatha hiacaryena sutrani pathitani...
(P. 6 in the first Vol. of Kielhorn's edition)
I'd rather say Patanjali often criticizes Katyayana, but Panini's words are always valid for him.

By the way, if I'm not mistaken, we met 3 years ago in Edinbourgh.

elisa freschi said...

Evgenija? I was wandering about the same thing. So, nice to 'meet' you again.
I will have to work a little bit to find an instance of dissent, but I would say that Patañjali does examine critically Pāṇini's views and is open to the option that they might need a further clarification (e.g., he accepts many of Kātyāyana's glosses).
Whatever the case, Grammar and Mīmāṃsā seem to be schools initially not explicitly grounded on an alleged yogipratyakṣa-endowed founder. Their founders have been seen as extraordinary ones only later on (Vallabha counts Jaimini's MS within śrutipramāṇa). I still cannot see how far they were 'authors' (in Western sense), though. What is your feeling? What about Bhartṛhari's case?

sujanasi said...

Yes, it's me...
Probably there are some disagreements between Patanjali and Panini. I just wanted to stress the way of reasoning used in the MBH, based on Patanjali's respect towards Panini.
As for the question of the authorship, it seems to me, Bhartrihari was not interested in such 'Western' matters. He investigated a great number of doctrines, whithout ever identifying their origin. For him these were just different methodological approaches, each of them valid in certain situation. Bhartrihari dealt not with history of Indian philosophy, but with typology.
Speaking on the problem of the authorship in general, it's a funny thing, that the authorship of many late works was ascribed to most prominent thinkers, so that the name of the author made the text more valid.Perhaps our concept of authorship is not to be applied to Indian culture?

elisa freschi said...

OUR concept of authorship surely does not apply, but the very fact that most Indian texts are not anonymous proves that SOME concept of authorship plays a role there. I am working on this topic since a long time, if you like I can send you the latest draft of a paper of mine thereon (too long to be posted on the blog!).
Thanks for the idea of typology in Bhartṛhari's thought. Did you already express it somewhere, so that I can quote you?

sujanasi said...

I have answered you by e-mail.

elisa freschi said...

Again on Panini/Patanjali: it might be that the very idea of justification was still not present in the early history of Indian philosophy. Panini came eventually to be regarded as endowed with a sort of yogipratyaksa, too, later on. At Patanjali's (and even more Katyayana's) time, debate was still open about Panini (although, possibly, there were other fixed texts) and one did not feel the need to ground the validity of his system through yogipratyaksa.

sujanasi said...

The only way to justificate a grammatical sutra is to demonstrate that it can be applied successfully in the course of grammatical operations, without contradicting the other sutras. Sure it has nothing to do with yogipratyaksha. But I don't think, it is worth to deny the very existence of justification at this period.

elisa freschi said...

Right, I did not mean that the need for justification was not felt at all. I just meant (and I should have stated it clearly, you are right), that the need for an ultimate justification through śruti or yogipratyakṣa was not felt. But your words suggest a further solution: that Grammar is indeed grounded in direct experience, though not on intellectual intuition, but rather on direct experience of the actual linguistic usage. So, Pāṇini's system would be justified because it works –so, at least, until Patañjali, later on, as Sanskrit ceased to exist as an external paradigm independent of learned usage, Pāṇini 'became' a seer himself.

L N Srinivasakrishnan said...

The fact that an author was considered an 'excellent upholder' of a school's ideas, is a wonderful way of putting it. So the implication might be that as long as you uphold and expound what's held to be the school's main ideas, the question of plagiarism may not arise.

An example of vyakarana may be relevant in this context. Bhattoji Diksita is held by many modern writers of having lifted ideas from his teacher without any acknowledgment.

That however does not seem to have bothered his contemporaries even those who were critical of him. What however seemed to have bothered some of the latter is that he controverted i.e., not upheld, his school's ideas and brought in his own.

I'm not sure, for example, if Jagannatha criticized Bhattoji for using his teacher's materials liberally. Only for differing with him and criticizing him.

elisa freschi said...

Thanks a lot, L N Srinivasakrishnan, that's an excellent example, especially because it is relatively late and points to the persistence of the phenomenon. In fact, later Paninian grammars such as the Siddhāntakaumudī and the Laghusiddhāntakaumudī (for outsiders: these Grammars just rearrange Pāṇini's sūtras for didactic purposes in a more "logical" way) are evidences of the fact that innovation consisted in loyalty to one's school, at least in India.

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