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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Boundaries and sacredness

One of the characteristics of whatever is "sacred" or "religious" seems to be its being segregated from the corresponding normal behaviour (see M.S.'s point about it in this post). This might mean that walking, eating, cooking, etc., might all be secular as well as religious activities and that the difference lies first and foremost in their context. If the context sets a precise boundary, secluding them from normal experience, then they acquire a religious meaning. This is what would happen within a Vedic ritual, which encompasses all sorts of "normal" activities (such as the one listed above).
Does this apply to language as well? Indian grammarians seem to imply that the correct use of language bestows religious merit. But how does this happen? The topic has been dealt with recently by Paolo Visigalli and Marco Ferrante at the second CBF. I am sure I misunderstood most of their papers, but long summaries might be downloaded here. An intesting way to start the discussion is the first vārttika by Kātyāyana on Pāṇini. The vārttika says:
siddhe śabdārthasaṃbandhe lokato 'rthaprayukte śabdaprayoge śāstreṇa dharmaniyamaḥ yathā laukikavaidikeṣu.

In George Cardona's translation:

It is given from every day communication in the world that there is an established relation between words and meanings; it is also given that the use of a word is prompted by a given meaning in that one uses words in order to convey meanings. This being so, a restriction intended for merit (dharmaniyamaḥ) is established by the grammar, like in common and Vedic words.

The last point might imply that Grammar imposes a restriction into language and that only a so-restricted language may convey a meaning. Interestingly enough, the clause yathā laukikavaidikeṣu might mean that no language is intrinsically "sacred" (not even Vedic) and that, rather, sacredness depends on the way one adds special constraints to it. These constraints might be those of correctness, but perhaps also of a conscious usage (one which is made correct by Grammar and not just by the fact that one is a native speaker).
The main point seems to be that religious merit (dharma) has to do with a selection among equally possible options (niyama). Do readers know of other contexts of usage of the compound dharmaniyama?

I never blogged specifically on Indian Grammar, but if you look for "Grammar", you will find several posts dedicated to special issues (such as the minimal significant units according to Indian Grammarians, the interactions between Grammar, Mīmāṃsā and Ritual Sūtras, etc.).


Jayarava said...

Pāli confuses niyama and niyāma.

dhammaniyāmatā is used in Pāli texts: So A i.286 says that "ṭhitāva sā dhātu dhammaṭṭhitatā dhammaniyāmatā "sabbe saṅkhārā aniccā"

"Just this property remains, being founded on dhamma, being restricted by dhamma: all formations are impermanent"

Dhammaniyama is also understood as being like a law of nature. "the natural law governing the relationship and interdependence of all things" BuddhaNet

The kinds of miraculous events that accompany the birth, awakening and death of the Buddha (earthquakes etc) are said to be dhammaniyāma by the Pāli commentarial tradition.

For a critical view of the use of niyama in Pāli and how it has been interpreted in modern times there is this long essay by my friend Dhīvan: Sangharakshita, the Five Niyamas and the Problem of Karma. It's unpublished so far.

elisa freschi said...

Dear Jayarava,
I am answering just now because I have been struggling to understand your comment about "The kinds of miraculous events…".
If I am not wrong, this means that the compound has been intended as a pañcamītatpuruṣa (a limitation *for the sake of* dharma) by Kātyāyana and as a ṣaṣṭhītatpuruṣa (a limitation *regarding* dharma, i.e., the transcendent). I wonder whether this shift was made wilfully or whether the two usages coexisted since ancient times. Or maybe one of the two translations is just wrong?

andrew said...

you've probably encountered patañjali's three explanations for this compound (dharmāya niyamaḥ, dharmārtho niyamaḥ, dharmaprayojano niyamaḥ). a quick search turned up some other uses, which i don't have time to think very deeply about at the moment:

jaimini 2.4.7 kartus tu dharmaniyamāt kālaśāstraṃ nimittaṃ syāt (because of a restriction on a quality of the agent [of the agnihotra], the agnihotri has to perform this duty for life).

jaimini 10.5.12 (talking about ekadeśagrahaṇa) codanāsu tv apūrvatvāl liṅgena dharmaniyamaḥ syāt (we should use a textual indication to figure out the dharmaniyama).

it also shows up in sucaritamiśra's commentary on the ślokavārttika (verse 20 in the upamānapariccheda), where "similarity" (sādṛśyam) is taken as a dharmaniyama. maybe we can translate dharmaniyama in these cases as "restriction as to the ritual procedure" (saptamītatpuruṣa).

manu 8.122 has adharmaniyamāya "to prevent injustice" (olivelle).

it also occurs in uddyotakara's nyāyavārttika and vātsyāyana's nyāyabhāṣya in the discussion of the word siddhānta.

elisa freschi said...

THANKS Andrew for this learned and insightful addition!
I had altogether forgotten Patañjali's commentary but I know see that it had forged my interpretation of dharmaniyama as a pañcamītatpuruṣa and as relating to dharma in the sense of religious merit.
As for Jaimini, I am inclined to think that in both cases what is at stake is a niyama in the Mīmāṃsā techical sense, i.e., a restriction among viable options. Dharma seems to mean just "characteristics". I would translate MS 10.5.12 as follows: "As for prescriptions, by contrast, since they introduce something new (i.e., they are utpattividhi), the restriction concerning the [ritual] characteristics [enjoined] should occur through an indirect indication (liṅga)".
And MS 2.4.7 as "Due to the restriction of the characteristics of the [ritual] agent, the teaching about time has to be [interpreted] as stating a condition (nimitta)". I.e., due to the fact that one has restricted the agnihotra (etc.) to the characteristics of needing a living agent, …
It seems to have the same meaning of "restriction concerning a characteristics" also in the passage of Vātsyāyana you mention (NBh ad 1.1.26), where it is said that a siddhānta is a "saṃsthiti of something established" and a saṃsthiti is described as "itthambhāvavyāvasthā, dharmaniyamaḥ", i.e., the determination of the being such, the restriction to certain characteristics.

Seen from this perspective, dharmaniyama might have had a more general meaning of "restriction concerning characteristics" (also in Kātyāyana). The "religious" meaning it acquired might be due to the general point (as hinted at in the post) that secluding an activity from common life makes it appear as "sacred".

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