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Friday, June 24, 2011

Cicero pro domo sua

I felt personally addressed by an intriguing post by Vidya (here) which asks how could one with little or no knowledge of rituals be able to understand Mīmāṃsā texts.
The post is highly recommendable and raises many interesting points.
Personally, although I have been reading Mīmāṃsā texts for …(too many) years now, not only I lack a lot of the knowledge I should have, but also I am not in the position to acquire it, being a mleccha woman.

Let me first be apologetic: the same problem does not only apply to tantric āgamas (as admitted by Vidya), but also to texts dealing with Medicine, Yoga, Architecture. meditation techniques and any other technical subject (one is reminded of endless discussions about whether a non-Buddhist might understand Buddhist texts). Further, I would say that sharing the authors' worldview (which seems to be Vidya's main point) is fundamental also for philosophical texts. One cannot think of editing or translating Kumārila or Jayanta just through a bunch of manuscripts and one's acquaintance with Sanskrit. One should (I believe) be ready to engage in a philosophical dialogue with them.
This leads me to a further point: Mīmāṃsā authors are not yajñikas (as established by Daya Krishna in his well-known The Mīmāṃsaka and the Yajñika). They do not (or not merely) aim at performing ritual in a correct way, they aim at conceiving the ritual in a correct way. This is evident in thousands of cases where the end-result does not change and yet authors argue at length about which principle should be applied (e.g. MS 12.1.10-11). To disregard this fundamental difference, I believe, is to do violence to the deep philosophical significance of Mīmāṃsā.
Last, a word of caution: Vidya seems to imply that a contemporary yajñika might be in a better position to understand a Mīmāṃsā text. This might be true. Among my favourite Mīmāṃsā scholars are several Indian paṇḍits, such as G. Jhā, P.K. Sen and K. Pandurangi, whom I immensly admire. But knowing how something is done today does not automatically entail knowing how it was made at the time of Śabara. I dedicated several posts in the last months to the history of the terms tantra and prasaṅga and hope to have been able to show how their meaning changed throughout centuries. In short: being aware of philosophy and of philosophy in history seems to me the fundamental precondition for understanding Mīmāṃsā philosophical texts.
Yet, Vidya is right. I argued elsewhere that it is ironic that examples, meant to be clarifications, are often the hardest part of a Mīmāṃsā passage. What should one do? First, work in a team with people who are more acquainted with rituals or with ritual manuals (paddhati). Second, think along the Mīmāṃsā way. "Think ritually", as F.X. Clooney would put it. This implies some revolutions, for instance, thinking in a spatial way rather than in a temporal one.

What is the readers experience in fields where they are outsiders?

On team-work, see here. On thinking spatially, see here (in Śrautasūtras), here (in Śrautasūtras and early Mīmāṃsā), here (in general) and here (on absence as a spatial and not temporal category). On the use of history, see here. With God's help, I will be speaking about how to critically editing a philosophical text during the next WSC.


Vidya said...

Thanks for sharing your perspective on this. The post was just a result of my own struggle in understanding some of these texts.

And as you also rightly point out, any textual study also has to deal with the process of thinking along the "Writer's Worldview". If the said world view only involves concepts and epistemological basis and their details. (as in nyāya, vyākaraṇa etc) it is one thing. But here we are encountering the issue of a concept which have a practical paddhati as its primary basis.

One can't put the difficulty much better than how you say it:

The example that is supposed to clarify is so layered in obscurity that it takes more time to understand the implications of the example rather than the concept it attempts to explain. I liked that phrase "Think Ritually" but also find it extremely hard to do that.

elisa freschi said...

Thanks for your answer. We probably slightly disagree as far as the role of ritual in Mīmāṃsā. I would say that Mīmāṃsā authors used rituals as their raw matter, just like Grammarians used the spoken language. I would not say that one needs to be a Sanskrit native speaker to understand Pāṇini's conceptual world, whereas being a native/almost native speaker would be important in order to master Sanskrit. Similarly, my aim is not to perform rituals, but at most to understand the way Mīmāṃsā authors conceived them (e.g., in a hierarchical way, where nothing disappears and there are only substitutions).
Beside that, knowing more about the rituals would be a main advantage. In order to do that, I use Mīmāṃsā and non-Mīmāṃsā primers. Unfortunately, I never met a yajñika who was interested in working with me. Have you?

michael reidy said...

I've seen the Fire Ceremony on a couple of occasions at Dasara. For the 9 days a large team of Brahmins going from morning to night. The first morning they start the fire with a bow. I saw that going quite easily but I have heard of them spending hours and not being able to get a fire started. You are thinking bad thoughts said Swami. On readjustment of the mental attitude they got a fire going. It's very impressive.

Vidya said...

No, I have not had an opportunity to interact with any yajñika. I have seen / knew a few of them while growing up and have (over) heard their discussions - mostly in familial encounters.

elisa freschi said...

I am sorry for this delay, your comment has been initially blocked by the spam-detector.
Do you mean to say that having seen the Fire Ceremony enables you to better understand texts about it? Or that only people who have seen it would be able to understand such texts? Or that only people who have been able to experience some sort of a religious experience might be able to understand texts talking about religion (in a Rudolf Otto-like meaning)?

michael reidy said...

Hi Elisa,
I wouldn't claim any special understanding of Yajnas as a result. One is amazed at the level of sureness that they have with the long recitations and the steadiness of the metre and rhythm. The belief that accompanied the failure to start the fire (anecdote) are part of the correct attitude that is important for the success of the yajna I suppose. May I tell you that I was also blessed by the temple elephant in the Siva Temple at Tiruvanamalai. Put a coin out to it and it will take it and give you a pat on the head. I loved that.

(You may recollect our discussion of upamana. I am posting a little note on that and would welcome your comments)

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