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Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Flexible Mīmāṃsā Philosophy

The closer I work on some Mīmāṃsā terms, the more I realise how loose they might be. I do not mean to say that they are not technically used, in fact they are. But the need for a formal and fix classification seems not to have arisen until after the X century. Before that point, they discuss names of prescriptions (vidhi), auxiliary acts (aṅga) and even means for knowing them (the very central term PRAMĀṆA) without caring for my need for ordered lists and co-occurrences.
This might be due to the fact that I (we?) work with just a few texts predating Kumārila. The differences one notices in the available texts may just reflect different positions in earlier, not extant ones. These earlier ones might include explanations of shifts in order/meaning/connection of terms which I am eagerly and in vain looking for. The same applies to horizontal relationships to other schools of Indian thought (such as the interactions with Grammar, Ritual Studies and Dharmaśāstra, about which I am not fully aware).

10 comments:

sujanasi said...

It seems to me, this problem is not peculiar to mimansa only. Patanjali and Bhartrihari for example also use terms in such a loose way, shifting without explanations from one meaning of a term to another.

elisa freschi said...

Thanks for this comment. Would you also say that in later Vyākaraṇa terms are less "open" to shifts of meaning?

sujanasi said...

Bhartrihari's commentators usually specify, in which sence he used the word. In fact I doubt, whether even Bhartrihari's contemporaries also used words in such a free way, for it seems to be natural only for an early period of the development of philosophy.

elisa freschi said...

Do you include among "Bhartṛhari's commentators" also the author of the vṛtti? Even if this has not been authored by Bhartṛhari himself, it is surely very close to him temporally (and hence its dis-ambiguations would tell us that Bhartṛhari's style was felt as "poetical" or "old-fashioned").

sujanasi said...

Probably the main point is, that karikas and vritti belong to different genres. A commentator must elucidate the meaning of the words, whereas the author of the karikas expresses his ideas in an elliptical and less consistent way. Bhartrihari's style was never old-fashioned, though very peculiar.
It seems very likely, that the texts whose structure implied, that they must be learnt by heart, were composed in a loose way, while those that could exist only in written form are more successive and strict in using the terms.
There is an article by Bronkhorst 'Literacy and rationality in ancient India', where he assumes, the wide-spread of literacy to stipulate the development of Indian philosophy in a systimatised form.

elisa freschi said...

Thanks for your competent answer. I understand your point about oral/written texts as long as the first ones have been composed prior to the invention of script (and the strictness of conventions it implied). Thereafter, the fact that kārikās still use words in a rather loose way seems not to be self-evidently justified. In fact, one might argue that the very kārikās to be learnt by heart should be more technical, so that one learns a proper usage of technical terms (as in the Maheśvara sūtras).

uylenspiegel said...

I think the problem is even wider. Frequently, it's quite challenging to say if the given word is a term or just an ordinary word, the context being often of little help. In European philosophy and other branches of science we find that the Greek/Latin languages are employed to produce new terms and the very fact of their "foreign" origin helps to distinguish them from "ordinary" words. But there seems to be nothing similar in Sanskrit based literature.

elisa freschi said...

Thanks for this interesting insight. I never thought about that, but you are absolutely right and this contributes to the almost unique status of Sanskrit (and ancient Greek). In my experience, the more one reads, the more one gets aware that most words have in fact at least a technical shade of meaning. So the question would be: how far into a subject was the target-public? How much is one allowed to miss without misunderstanding completely the text?

uylenspiegel said...

> the more one reads, the more one gets aware that most words have in fact at least a technical shade of meaning.

I would also reverse this thesis - every technical term retains at least a shade of the original meaning of the "ordinary" word from which it was derived.

So, knowing the original, "ordinary" meaning may help to catch the picture Indian thinkers kept in their minds when they chose this word (and not the other) to use it as a term.

That's why I always consult dictionaries like Vacaspatya, Sabdakalpadruma...

elisa freschi said...

I agree on your choice of using Indian dictionaries, they often offer interesting insights. And they entail much more material I, for one, will ever be able to master. On the other hand, I am not sure one can always detect what the "original", non technical meaning was. I doubt that there is always an original meaning which is non-technical. In many cases, one just has a plenty of different technical meaning (one in Grammar, another in Mimamsa, to name the instance I am most acquainted with). Lastly, our disagreement points to the fact that the same term may be 'technical' in a Western language but not in Sanskrit. Many common names of flowers, to name the easiest example, do not have a non-technical equivalent. Maybe the cases I mention (of technical terms lacking an "original" non-technical meaning) are just instances of terms which are technical for us, but parts of one's common knowledge in India. This may be due also to the role of Grammar.

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