Saturday, September 24, 2011

Why working on concrete individual authors?

When one works on Sanskrit philosophy, one often swims in a sea of anonymous works and undatable manuscripts. The core of Sanskrit philosophy, indeed, is debatable as for date and/or authorship and/or geographic origin. However, there a few exceptions. I argue here that working on such exceptions offers some advantages.

For instance, Vedānta Deśika offers the non-common advantage to be a full-fledged individual. We know a lot about him, although mostly through almost hagiographical works. More than one hundred works of him have been preserved, and most of them seem to be genuinely attributed to him. Through comparing his devotional, theological and philosophical work, we can get an elaborated idea of his intellectual figure and of his contribution. Hence, Vedānta Deśika is one out of not many milestones in Indian philosophy. Reconstructing his thought is a difficult task, yet not an impossible one, insofar as it implies reconstructing the thought of a precise individual, through many possible sources, most of which authored by Vedānta Deśika himself.

Since I work mostly on Indian philosophy, I am mainly interested in reconstructing the philosophical profile of Vedānta Deśika. In order to do that, one cannot but rely also on his other works apart from the Seśvaramīmāṃsā (SM), but also on his predecessors' works, in order to evaluate Vedānta Deśika's contribution to the debate. In fact, Indian thinkers often tend not to emphasise their original contributions and rather to present them as if they were just (improved) interpretations of the foundational texts of their school.

In the case of the SM in particular, in order to reconstruct Vedānta Deśika's contribution, one will have to take into account the stand of the debate within Mīmāṃsā on the topics Vedānta Deśika deals with and then within Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta on the same topics and on the usage of Mīmāṃsā in general. Two fundamental steps in this regard will be Rāmānuja's Vedārthasaṅgraha (11th c., where also Mīmāṃsā doctrines are discussed) and Yamunācārya's Āgamaprāmāṇya (10 th. c., discussing the authority of Pañcarātra scriptures).

Have you been working on authors having a determined personality? Did it help your general understanding of Sanskrit philosophy and cultural history?

On Vedānta Deśika, see here.

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