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Monday, April 2, 2012

Social and theoretical issues while dealing with religious pluralism

Jayanta deals with religious pluralism in a passage of Nyāyamañjarī 4 (let us call it "Sarvāgamaprāmāṇya", short SĀP) and then again in his philosophical drama Āgamaḍambara (henceforth ĀḌ). The two texts are closely linked and many parallel passages have indeed been located in the critical edition of the SĀP (Kataoka 2004). The general point of both texts is the same, insofar as both indicate that all Sacred Texts can be regarded as valid, with a few exceptions. Their validity is in both texts argued for from both a Mīmāṃsāka and a Naiyāyika point of view.

This similarity of approach and content lets the rare points of divergence appear in a striking way. These are:

  1. 1. The validity of Pāñcarātra texts, which are admitted among the valid sacred texts together with the Śaiva ones in the SĀP (although only with a negative formulation, i.e., as ''not invalid''), whereas the ĀḌ is much more cautious.
  2. 2. The status of several Śaiva cults, which are seen with more suspicion in the ĀḌ, whereas the SĀP states that Śaivas do not contradict the Veda and does not deal extensively with more ''problematic'' Śaiva and Śākta sects .

One could try to solve the problem by considering the fact that the Pāñcarātrins are only mentioned in passing in the SĀP, whereas they are a main topic of the ĀḌ, since the queen seems to favour them. Moreover, one might add that the ĀḌ could reflect a later stage of Jayanta's thought.

A different tentative explanation is to consider the distinct purpose of the two texts. The ĀḌ tells the story of Saṅkarṣaṇa who is appointed by king Śaṅkaravarman as a sort of ''Minister of religious affairs''. Thus, his position is not so far from that of the historical Jayanta, who was also a minister of Śaṅkaravarman. Due to his political role, Saṅkarṣaṇa needs to look at religions also from the point of view of their social impact. Consequently, he needs to take care of antisocial religious practices, such as the ones of some Śaiva ascetics. He also needs to take care of the disturbing behaviour of the Pāñcarātrins, who claim to be Brāhmaṇas, and thus intervene in the Brāhmanas' assemblies.
Thus, it is understandable that Saṅkarṣaṇa needs to clean out the religious horizon. Since Jayanta himself is mentioned negatively by some Śaiva ascetics in the ĀḌ, one might imagine that he also took part to similar campaigns.

By contrast, the SĀP has chiefly theoretical aims as shown already by the fact that it focuses on texts rather than on practices. Therefore, it can deal with the abstract problem of the validity of other sacred texts and only mentions the issue of deviant religious practice insofar as it has an impact on the criterion of the acceptance by the great people. Accordingly, it can be more open towards the other religions, seen as sets of sacred texts rather than as social practices.
The historical ''occasion'' of the SĀP is in fact the intellectual interest on the validity of Sacred Texts which originated around the middle of the first millennium AD and had become much stronger by the time of Jayanta (suffice here to mention Yāmunācārya's Āgamaprāmāṇya, on the validity of Pāñcarātra). This interest focused on the problem of the validity of Sacred Texts other than the Veda and was probably linked with the raise of beliefs external to the Veda, which needed an intellectual discussion and/or an apologetics. Apart from Buddhist and Jaina discussions about the validity of the Buddha's and the Jina's word, even ''Hindū'' authors had to loosen their criteria in order to make room for new beliefs. Already Kumārila feels the need to address the problem of non-Vedic beliefs and concludes that from a certain point of view one can speak of validity in regard to them all (sarveṣāṃ prāmāṇyam, TV ad 1.3.2), since the non-Vedic elements entailed in, e.g., Buddhist texts, can be read in an instrumental way, e.g., as encouraging one to give up one's attachment to worldly things. By contrast, Kumārila is much less tolerant when it comes to the acceptance of other religious practices.

The practical concern re-emerges, within SĀP, in the last section, where the king Śaṅkaravarman's campaigns against the Nīlāmbaras are mentioned and, accordingly, the restrictions listed for texts to be admitted as valid are stricter than what had been established until that point. For instance, although section one's hesitation already showed that one's inner hesitation is not a criterion, the final section lists it among the preconditions for the validity of a sacred text.

For other posts on Jayanta's way of approaching the problem of the validity of other religions, see this post. For the problem of one's emotions as guides while judging about these matters, see this post.

3 comments:

अश्वमित्रः said...

I've always been interested to know what traditional brahminical authors had to say (in Sanskrit) about Islam and Christianity. An author like Jayanta could not have imagined, I guess, religions so profoundly different from the Indian ones, and his attitude to them would have had to be very different from the one you are describing.

Vidya said...

I somehow seemed to have missed this post and read it thanks to your reference in the previous post.

Given that naiyāyika-s are traditionally affiliated or connected with kālāmukha-s and other śaiva denominations, I was wondering about Jayanta's position with regard to the acceptance of
śaivāgama-s in the AD vs SAP.

elisa freschi said...

@ Aśvamitra: I am sorry I have not replied to your comment yet. I am not sure that Jayanta's approach would not work with Christianity or Islam. After all, they can be dealt with just like any other theistic religion… Buddhism seems to me to be often even more alien! What do you think?

@ Vidya: Jayanta's position is different in the ĀḌ and in the SĀP, for the reasons I have tried to sketch. Theoretically, he is ready to accept the Kālamukhas etc., but he sees that their extreme practices might be a social problem. He might have been a Śaiva, but if so he was probably a "mainstream" one, one for whom social order was not to be transgressed (at least, this is what *I* understood of him). Apart from the indirect evidence you mention, a further hint at his being closer to the Śaivas might be the fact that he is much more suspicious of Pāñcarātrins, at least in the ĀḌ, and that he deals much longer with the Śaivas (also in the SĀP).

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