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Monday, January 24, 2011

Again on sound

A Mīmāṃsaka has a powerful device against the Vaiśeṣika claim that śabda (linguistic sound) is momentary. In fact, we do communicate and communication presupposes that we know what is said and this would not be the case unless we already knew the śabda our discussants utter. Hence, śabda must be fix.

What has, then, the burden of explaining changes in accent, lenght, tone, etc.? An easy way-out would be to distinguish between word (śabda) and sound (nāda) and to say that only the latter changes accordingly. But this duality may be too metaphysical for a down-to-earth pragmatist. Hence, Rāmānujācārya (I am not sure about how frequent this idea was among Mīmāṃsakas) suggests instead that it is only the manifestatory (phonetic) effort which varies, thus making the permanent śabda appear slightly different.


Jayarava said...

This distinction between sound and word seems similar to a discussion by the Japanese Buddhist Kūkai in the 9th century. He studied Sanskrit in China with an India teacher, and may have picked up some of the discussion you are referring to. Though I suspect he takes it in an entirely new direction.

One of his important works is called Shōji jissō gi 'The Meanings of Sound, Word, & Reality'. He discusses the relationship between the three in terms of types of Sanskrit compounds.

In terms of the single syllable 'a' Kūkai says that the exhalation and vocal vibrations are the sound; the 'word' is what this sound stands for, i.e. non-arising (anutpada); and the 'reality' is that no 'thing' (dharma) arises. He also applies the analysis to the Mahāvairocana Sūtra (aka Mahāvairocana Abhisaṃbodhi Tantra) as a whole; and to a single verse from the sūtra.

The overall subject of Sound, Word, Reality is the nature of perception and the possibility that the Dharmakāya can communicate itself through mantra (and mudrā and maṇḍala).

elisa freschi said...

Thanks, Jayarava, I knew nothing about him. Your hint makes me reconsider a point I could not solve, that is, why did the recitation of, e.g., the Lotus Sūtra become so important (almost "magic") for some forms of Japanese Buddhism, although the text recited has been translated and re-translated (and is, hence, far away from the "Buddha's one" –if ever it existed as such). Moreover, how could language, believed to be conventional, be a path through the Bodhi?

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