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Thursday, November 25, 2010

Basic Sanskrit Syntax

I mainly read śāstric Sanskrit, that is, ``scientific" Sanskrit. I have not been reading epics and purely religious texts since years, I am not able to enjoy poems and I highly enjoy philosophical and theological (in a large sense) debates.
In all these cases, Sanskrit seems to be much less difficult than usually thought, and relatively easy to master, if one does not take into account its semantic richness.
In fact, I mainly read sentences structured as follows:
A [is] B. Because of C.
This can be expressed as:

  1. 1. B A [asti/bhavati…]. C-tvāt.
  2. 2. B A [asti/bhavati…]. A hi C.
  3. 3. B A [asti/bhavati…]. tathāhi A1 [asti/bhavati] C.

(with A1 included in A).
There are also negative versions of the above, showing that the opposite cannot be admitted. Apart from pure negations (na hi…), one might read:

4. B A [asti/bhavati…]. A nonB-anupapatteḥ.

If the sentence is more complex and the author wants to elaborate further on C, s/he can add a further reason:

5. B A [asti/bhavati…]. C-tvāt, D-tvena.

And B A [asti/bhavati…] can again be expressed in several ways:

  1. 6. B A [asti/bhavati…].
  2. 7. A-[VI ending] B-tvam.
  3. 8. A-[IInd ending] prati B-tvam.
  4. 9. A B-tvena [dṛśyate…].

If one wants to stress that B is the predicate:

  1. 10. B eva A [asti/bhavati…].

Or, mostly in comments:

  1. 11. A B ity [arthaḥ/bhāvaḥ/yāvat]

Moreover, an objector might have something against it:

nanu.…iti cet?

Which forces the siddhāntin to reply:

ucyate:…

Either he partially corrects the objector:

satyam. kintu

Or he altogether refutes him:

tad ayuktam. yataḥ…
tan na sambhavati. E-tvāt

Monday, November 22, 2010

Is the ātman 'me'?

Can one identify the absolute consciousness of Vedānta (the ātman) as "himself'"/"herself"? The problem lies in the fact that the ātman is beyond this-worldly subjectivity, whereas "I", "my", etc. are this-worldy concepts, at least according to Advaita Vedānta.
Wolfgang Fasching (in his contribution to the Sussex conference I already discussed) suggests that nonetheless the ātman is what "I" truly am. Independently of all this-wordly connotations, "I" am first and foremost an ātman. This seems to be linked with Husserl's (and Zahavi's) claims about the mineness of experience. So re-phrased, the question sounds: Can ther be an "I" (and a "my") beyond or before this-worldly subjectivity? If one transcends not only one's identification with the body and some similar accidents (e.g., one's first or family name), but also whatever belongs to one's being different from the others, is there still an I left?
Fasching answers affirmatively:

Yet one could reply that my present experience is mine (the experience I am experiencing) totally independent of any distinction I draw to what is not me (i.e. of my having an I-concept).

That is, my experience would be felt as "mine" even if I would not feel my experience and myself distinct from the others and their experiences. Is it really so? Can there be an I which does not ipso facto posit a non-I? Does not "my experience" presuppose that I am experiencing something different from the experiencer?
I am not asking a metaphysical question, but a phenomenological one. I am not interested in knowing whether experiencer and experienced are ultimately real, but whether the event of experience can be experienced as belonging to one without implying its postulating an experienced object.

Fasching quotes Zahavi saying that

first-personal givenness ‘is not a contrastive phenomenon’, it ‘does not arise thanks to any discrimination between self and the world […].

But, he then asks, why should one call this non-contrasted experience of subjecthood "mine"? Because, Fasching explains, eventually the non-conventional subject we identify which does not exist, and "we" are nothing but that non-contrastive experiencer. Hence, the ātman is ontologically 'me'. What about its being 'me' from a phenomenological point of view? I tend to doubt it. Do Vedāntic readers have other clues?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Can one perceive other people's thoughts?

Śaiva authors believe the subject to be tantamount to cognition. There is no difference between the two and it does not make sense to say that the former has the latter. Consequently, a cognition should never become the object of another one, since it is intrinsically identical with the agent of the cognitive act. And it an agent could not become an object and still remain identical with its own nature of agent! But the upholders of this view have to face two powerful objections, that of memory, where a previous cognition seems to be the object of today's memory of it, and that of the yogic perception. In fact, yogins (or omniscient beings in general, the same applies to Buddhas) can allegedly have access to other people's thoughts. And this seem to imply that these thoughts are accessed as objects!

These objections are expressed in the text translated below, which is an excerpt of Utpaladeva's ĪPK-Vivṛti. Utpaladeva (the X c. Kaśmīrian founder of the "School of Recognition [of oneself as identical with the Supreme Lord]"), in fact, elaborates on these themes in his well-known Īśvarapratyabhijñākārikā (stanzas on the recognition with the Lord, ĪPK). The stanzas have been commented by the author twice. His vṛtti is an essential comment, often just clarifying the meaning of the stanzas. The vivṛti, on the other hand, is an elaborated philosophical commentary, which could also be read on its own. To the only extant fragments of this text, Raffaele Torella dedicated several essays and many seminars. In this post, I will examine the text of the Vivṛti ad 1.4.5, edited by this scholar in Mélanges tantriques à la mémoire d'Hélène Brunner.

[Obj.:] But it is impossible that something (e.g., whatever an object) is illuminated if it does not penetrate into the light. Nor is there, by saying so, a singleness of what is illuminated and what illuminates, because the grasped-part, like an illuminated pot, distinct from the grasper, although it is [ultimately] inseparated from the light, shines forth [as if separated from it]. In the same way, in the case of yogins (who can allegedly have access to other people's minds) the cognition of other cognisers apperas as a "this", i.e., as something else. Else, there would follow an error [since yogins would not be able to distinguish other people's cognitions from their own]. Therefore, if [as you claim] the cognition cannot be grasped by another cognition, how can there be a unity of memory, which has as content a [previous] experience and the experience [itself]?
The text seems at first quite difficult, partly because of the overlapping terminology. "Grasper" is in fact the same as "light" and "illuminator" and they all refer to the agent of cognition.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

What will future conferences look like?

Personally, I hate conferences where the speakers are in fact readers of (usually boring) papers. Even more so, if the papers have been used and re-used at several conferences. These conferences, I believe, are only useful because of their coffee-breaks, when one can meet interesting people, discuss interesting topics, get really into a stimulating theme.
But if it is so, why do not we organize conferences which resemble more the coffee breaks and less the reading rooms?
Apart from my past proposals (see under the label "methodology"), I am now considering the idea of a conference embedding a workshop. One could discuss the general problems involved by the conference in an open session, where stimulating questions may come from the public (I would not allow than 30' for each speaker and in any case not less than 15' for discussion, right after each presentation). Within the conference (e.g., on the second out of three days, or about midday of a single day), a more restricted circle might meet and discuss the technicalities the general theme implies. The restricted circle would involve only people who are really interested (and have registered, say, two weeks in advance). One would discuss problems which are yet to be solved in a more specific way.
For instance, the general session might be about the use of manuscript sources (are they reliable? unavoidable? dependent on the scribe's mood?) and the workshop on conventions for reproducing lacunae (or the like).

What do readers think? What worked for you? From which conference did you come back happy and enriched?

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Contrary to duty obligations in everyday life

Can we explain away contrary to duty obligations through an historical analysis of the texts implying them? Yes and No.

A comment by VS on my last post proposes the above solution and suggests that contradictions might be due to different textual layers. This is certainly true in many cases, but
  1. 1. it does not solve the intrinsic problem of whomsoever wants to make sense of the text prescribing the contrary-to-duty obligation. This applies to people who believe in that text (e.g. Mīmāṃsakas and the Veda, Christians and the Bible, etc.), to people who depend on it (such as law scholars having to do with a Costitution) and to thinkers who, like me, apply the principle of charity in order to make sense of the texts they analyse.
  2. 2. contrary-to-duty obligations may perhaps arise also outside texts.
Point 2 is connected with the general point of whether obligations may arise independently of an (external) authority (be it a text or not) enjoining them. One might propose (so also Angot) that they may arise out of one's own inner sense of duty. But I am not sure whether this is also not felt as an Authority.
Whatever the case, for sure contrary to duty obligations might arise out of the mixture of two different sources. For instance: What should one do, if one has promised to harm someone, given that a) one should do what one has promised to do and b) one should not harm others?

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).
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