Friday, December 17, 2010

What determines the fortune of a text? The case of Jayanta

Jayanta Bhatta's NM is a rich compendium of the philosophical debates on ontology, epistemology and linguistics in classical Sanskrit literature, and it is thus an invaluable tool for investigation on these topics. Due to its clear prose and thorough exposition, the NM has been often used to access a wide range of crucial themes in Indian philosophy.
Jayanta was active in Kashmir, in the late 9th c. CE and belonged to the pracīna ("old") tradition of Nyāya ("Indian logic"). His opus magnum, the NM, is introduced by him ("maṅgala", vv. 4-8, p.1 of NM 1895, the editio princeps) as a mere re-arrangement of former exegeses of Gautama's Nyāyasūtra (the root text of the Nyaya tradition, henceforth NS), in acknowledgment of his debt to his predecessors. Jayanta also clarifies at the very outset of the NM (NM 1895:12) that his work focuses on the classification of categories utilised in Nyāya and on the definitions of these categories; he thus informs his reader that the third type of sūtras present in the NS, the parīkṣāsūtras ("examining aphorisms"), will be discussed by him only occasionally.
Jayanta was acquainted with earlier commentaries of the NS, including works that are still extant such as the Nyāyabhāṣya, which was probably his main source, and others which are lost, such as Śaṅkarasvāmin's commentary. He was also conversant with major works of the main interpreters of the Indian philosophical context, from Buddhist Pramāṇavāda ("epistemology"), to Mīmāṃsā (more precisely Pūrvamīmāṃsā, "Vedic ritual exegesis"), Vyākaraṇa ("grammar"), etc. Thus the NM is a key link in the history not only of Nyāya, but of other traditions as well.
The NM unfolds in 12 books called āhnikas ("daily lessons"). It is conceptually structured in two major parts: the first 6 books treat the pramāṇas (means to acquire knowledge, such as sense perception, inference and language); the second 6 the prameyas (objects of knowledge) and the other 14 padārthas ("categories") listed in Nyāyasūtra 1.1.1. Of the four pramāṇas accepted by the Nyāya tradition, śabdapramāṇa ("language as an instrument of knowledge", "verbal testimony") alone is discussed in books 3 to 6.
Why has this masterpieces rarely quoted and copied? Why has it not been as influential within Indian Philosophy as contemporary interpreters would expect?

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