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Thursday, November 4, 2010

Contrary to duty obligations

One of the critical junctions of Veda's validity and moral action is the Śyena sacrifice. This is a malefic sacrifice prescribed in the Veda and aiming at damaging one’s enemy. Prabhākara, like Śabara and Kumārila, firmly denies that such a sacrifice is to be performed. But why, asks an objector, since it is prescribed in the Veda, like all other sacrifices? (A Western parallel may be evoked by some cruel penalties prescribed in the Bible for what we now consider to be minor offences.)

How can the Veda, which is an instrument of knowledge (pramāṇa) prescribe something which should not be performed? And how can we state that it should not be performed, if it is in fact prescribed in the Veda? Obviously not because of some over-ranking moral principle (such as "Morality"), since the Veda is the only Absolute acknowledged by Mīmāṃsakas and much of their philosophy would collapse if only they would not adhere to this economy of principles. Hence, Mīmāṃsakas state that the śyena should not be performed because of the Vedic rule "One should not perform any violence" (na hiṃsayāt). However, one might object that violent acts (namely, animal sacrifices such as the Agnīṣomīya one) are prescribed elsewhere in the Veda and are indeed performed. So formulated, the problem amounts to the presence of contradictory statements within the Veda. Nor could one or the other be eliminated, since the Veda is a valid instrument of knowledge in all its parts.

How can one logically explain cases of conflicting obligations, such as the Śyena one? One might suggest that the only condition that would allow one to perform the Śyena, namely the desire to harm one's enemy, entails itself something forbidden. This leads to an interesting ethical dilemma, i.e., is desire to perform violence in itself to be punished? The inclusion of desire within ethics implies a stoic approach to emotions, which seems to harmonize with Rāmānujācārya's one one (in Tantrarahasya IV).

2 comments:

VS said...

Thats a real dilemma. One explanation (I am no expert) could be that certain sections in the text were included at different points of time and hence the contradictory tones.

elisa freschi said...

Hi VS and wellcome back!
As for the Veda, you are most probably right. The contradiction is due to different textual layers. But this is no viable solution for whomsoever tries to make sense of the Veda (or any other Sacred Text) as a reliable text. And the logical problem arises even in relatively common cases (see today's post, http://elisafreschi.blogspot.com/2010/11/can-we-explain-away-contrary-to-duty.html).

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