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Saturday, March 2, 2013

Can we trust our Sanskrit authors when they criticise someone else?

Can we trust the representation of a Sāṅkhya idea found in a Buddhist text? Or of a Cārvāka point of view in a Vedānta one (and so on)?
In favour of the reliability of such representations runs the following argument by Ernst Steinkellner (in his paper of the forthcoming Proceedings volume of the Fragments conference, 2012):

For the simple reason that citing an opponent's words or meaning incorrectly would be contrary to the very purpose of quoting in the first place. If the educated people were to recognize an error, a distortion, or even an ill intention in a citation or reference, a subsequent refutation would be considered thrashing empty straw and futile.

This appears like a sound and cogent argument, however:

  1. 1) it only works in case of current debates. I would not trust in a similar way Buddhist objections embedded in a late Mīmāṃsā text at a time when Buddhism had already vanished from India. In such cases, stock objections are repeated and might even be simplified.
  2. 2) it only works in case of up to date authors. Some authors might have been living at the periphery of the philosophical debate and have missed some of its nuances. This might be the case of Śabara when he addresses the sphoṭa theory if it is true that he lived after Bhartṛhari had developed a more complex version of it.
  3. 3) it only works where we can presuppose an up to date audience. If an author is addressing an objection only in order to, e.g., keep his fellow believers content with their faith, he might just attack a simpler version of the objection. I have encountered this sort of cases in contemporary Indian philosophy and have no ground for thinking that it has never been the case in Classical philosophy.
  4. 4) it only works in case of intelligent and honest authors, who have understood the objection in the first place and are not trying an easy way out of a difficult objection. I am not an expert on apoha, but during the apoha workshop in Vienna, Spring 2012, a learned participant was quite convincing in claiming that Jayanta had misrepresented (either on purpose or because he did not understand it) Dharmottara's theory of apoha.

This does not mean that Steinkellner's argument does not hold. It probably holds within the context of Steinkellner's article, i.e., within the Pramāṇavāda school and especially as regards Jinendrabuddhi's quotations of Sāṅkhya. But it might need some additions if applied to the whole of Indian Philosophy.

What do you think? Do you have further elements in favour or against it? Instances in favour of its application?

On quotations see, among many others, this post.


Jayarava said...

I would need to do more research on this, but my sense is that Buddhist portrayals of other ideas are systematically falsified in order to appeal to the audience of the texts - other Buddhists. Of course the early texts were oral - stories told to audiences of other Buddhists so the changes of being caught out were low.

My first sense of this came when I began to read the Upaniṣads and Vedas (in translation) and realised that I had been mislead in the present. The Vedas in particular are a fascinating body of myth which is at least as interesting as the myth of Greece.

But for instance the beliefs of Brahmins are systematically skewed to make them look foolish and corrupt (Tevijja Sutta, DN13, for instance). Maybe, as today, some of them were that way, but can such people have been representative? I doubt it.

As for later, Sanskrit using, authors, I'm not sure. But I can tell you that Śiva is a Buddhist convert in at least two texts. All the Śaivites are secretly Buddhists, but don't know it ;-)

elisa freschi said...

Thank you, Jayarava, interesting points…which remind me of the fact that the Buddha is an avatāra of Viṣṇu.

I wonder whether philosophical texts suit more Steinkellner's argument?


As for the popular view that Gautama Buddha was an incarnation of Viṣṇu, I translate excerpts from P. N. Mishra’s Hindi book on the date of Ādi Śaṃkarācārya, Amiṭ Kālarekhā:

“According to Vişņupurāņa (Part III, Chapters 17 and 18), a person called Māyāmoha was the promulgator of the Buddhist, as also the Jaina Śvetāmbara and Jaina Digāmbara systems. In Agnipurāņa, the son of Śuddhodana is said to be the later incarnation of Mahāmoha (= Māyāmoha) –

महामोहस्वरूपोऽसौ शुद्धदनसुगतोऽभवत्।
मोहयामास दैत्यांस्तान् त्यजिता वेदधर्मकम्॥

Gautama Buddha’s father’s name was Śuddhodana, and his mother was Mahāmāyā Devī. His birth took place on the full-moon day of the month of Vaiśākha at the ‘Lumbinī Grove’ in Nepal. He belonged to the warrior-caste. The Buddha, who was an incarnation of Lord Vişņu had Ajāna for his father, and was born at Kīkaţa (Gayā, Bihar) – this is written in the Śrīmadbhāgavatapurāņa. That he was a Brahmin is known from some popular verses of the Bhavişyapurāņa (1/12/26-27; 4/12/27) as also from the following traditional lines –

बौद्धरूपस्स्वयं जातः कलौ प्राप्ते भयानके।
अजिनस्य द्विजस्यैव सुतो भूत्वा जनार्दनः॥
वेदधर्मपरान्विप्रान्मोहयामास वीर्यवान्॥

as also,

दो वनचर दो वारिचर चार विप्र दो भूप।
प्रातः जे सुमिनरन क्रेते न परे भवकूप॥

In Ānanda Rāmāyaņa it is written that his birth took place on the 7th day of the bright-half of the month of Pauşa. From this it is clear that Buddha, the incarnation of Lord Vişņu was different from Buddha, the incarnation of Mahāmoha.

Now we quote some lines from the Śrīmadbhāgavata Mahāpurāņa, connected with Buddha, the incarnation of Lord Vişņu –

द्वैप्यायनो भगवान्प्रबोधाद् बुद्धस्तु पाखण्डगणात् प्रमादात्।
कल्किः कलेः कालमलात् प्रपातुः धर्माम्नायोरुकृतावतारः॥

नमो बुद्धाय शुद्धाय दैत्यदानवमोहिने।
म्लेच्छप्रायक्षत्रहन्त्रे नमस्ते कल्किरूपिणे॥

In the following verse of the Śaàkara Digvijaya of Mādhavācārya, we find Ācārya Śaṃkara eulogising Buddha –

पाठिनकेतोर्जयिने प्रतीतसर्वज्ञभावाय दयैकसीम्ने।
प्रायः क्रतुद्वेषकृतादराय बोधैकधाम्ने स्मृह्यामि भूम्ने॥

Ācārya Śaṃkara did not refute the view of the Incaranations (avatāras). This he makes clear in his commentary on the Brahmasūtra ‘स्मृत्यनवकाशदोषप्रसङ्ग इति चेन्नान्यस्मृत्यनवकाशदोषप्रसङ्गात्’ – “As for the allusion to the Upanişadic text showing the excellence of the wisdom of Kapila, one cannot on that score put faith on any view of Kapila, even when it contradicts the Vedas, because that conclusion has for its basis only a similarity of the name Kapila, and because another Kapila, called Vāsudeva, is mentioned in the Smŗti, who burnt away the sons of Sagara.” (Brahmasūtra II/i/1, Swāmī Gambhirānanda’s translation, pp. 302-3). Therefore, it is clear that Ācārya Śaṃkara did not refute the view of the Buddhas extolled in the Purāņas, as also by the Ācārya himself, and it is only those Buddhas, who lent their support to the view of Māyāmoha, whose views he refuted.”

Anonymous said...

Thank you for raising such lucid questions. I would only add that our own criteria of reliability are strengthened by nearly one millennium of Oxford-like accurate (philosophical) debate, yet we are discussing here fabulous and fabulously continuous interactions between several doctrines with highest degree of sophistication. I found excellent in all these respects the work of Vincent Eltschinger: these authors falsify the opponents’ position, be that e.g. on caste or on authorless Veda, are they really? I would also emphasize the capacity of several religious/philosophical traditions of argumentation to rectify wrong presuppositions, false claims, and unfair refutations. If not, the whole edifice of ‘argumentative Indian’ interactions would crumble in nonsense filled with epistemic ghosts. (Eugen Ciurtin)

elisa freschi said...

Thank you, Sudipta. I am inclined to think that P.N. Mishra's arguments are an instance of misrepresentation, probably because of addressing an audience which is more interested in receiving something agreeable (the proof that Śaṅkara is more ancient than any other important author) than in honestly debating about a certain topic.

elisa freschi said...

Thank you Eugen and welcome to the blog! I have to admit that I am not sure I understood your point. Are you saying that we are biased and tend to see Oxford-like debates even in Classical India?

Dubois David said...

I think Utpaladeva's description of pramânavâda's views in Pratyabhijnâkârikâ, 1, chap. 2-3, is one of the most accurate description of an opponent's thesis and arguments I'm aware of. On the top of that, Utpaladeva aknowledges his debt.

Another example might be Abhinavagupta's description and discussion of Mandana Mishra'thesis on anirvacanîyâ avidyâ in Pratyabhijnâkârikâ, 2, 4, 20. Here the case is arguably less clear, as Abhinavagupta throws objections ("If all vikalpas are false, then your teachning of non-duality is false") that Mandana seem to answer ("the teachnig about non-duality is itself cancelled when it has achieved its purpose of cancellation of duality").

One instance of misrepresentation I know of is Kshemarâja about madhyamaka in Spandanirnaya, 1, 12. But then, is there a reliable account of madhyamaka in any non-mâdhyamika text ?

Cases of misrepresentation are much more common than accurate presentations.

That said, I think the more a text verges on the religious (= the more it assumes beliefs on the part of the audience), the less the account will be reliable.

Another factor is whether the thesis described is intuitive or counter-intuitive. That is why accounts of Nyâya positions are usually reliable, whereas those about madhyamaka are not.

Thanks for the article and for your work !

David Dubois


I generally agree with you, Elisa, though I must say that Mishra's book is principally occupied with proving the 507 B.C. date of Adi Sankaracarya [and the greatest evidence for this comes from the Copper Plate Inscription of King Sudhanva, dated 2663 Yudhisthira Era corresponding to 475 B.C.]. As for the fact that Suresvaracarya mentions Dharmakirti in his Brhadaranyakabhasyavartika, Mishra contends that it is a reference to one Dharmakirti Sagaraghosa, a Buddha preceding Gautama Buddha. Personally, I attach value to Mishra's work not for the conclusions he arrives at, but the need for reconsideration of many "settled" questions of Indian history he signals at.


In the introductory section of the Sarvasiddhāntasaṃgraha, ascribed to Śaṃkarācārya, the author writes:

aṃgopāṃgopavedānāmevaṃ vedaikaśeṣatā/
caturddaśasu vidyāsu mīmāṃsaiva garīyasī//16//
viṃśatyādhyāyayuktā sā pratipādyārthato dvidhā/
karmārthā pūrvamīmāṃsā dvādaśādhyāyavistṛtā//17//
bhavatyuttaramīmāṃsā tvaṣṭādhyāyī dvidhā ca sā/
devatājñānakāṇḍābhyāṃ vyāsasūtraṃ dvayoḥ samam//20//

The last verse quoted above amounts to saying that the Uttara Mīmāṃsā is divided into 8 chapters, with a further classification into the devatākāṇḍa and jñānakāṇḍa, both authored by Vyāsa. But the Saṅkarṣaṇakāṇḍa is generally known to be a work of Jaimini, though some also contend it to be a work of Kāśakṛtsna.

Again there is a separate chapter in the same book called ‘Vedavyāsapakṣaḥ.’ The very first verse explains the school as follows:

sarvaśāstrāvirodhena vyāsokto bhārate dvijaiḥ/
gṛhyate sāṃkhyapakṣāddhi vedasāro’tha vaidikaiḥ//1

The book closes with the delineation of the views of a separate school, viz. Vedāntapakṣa.

So which one of the above is the original Vedavyāsapakṣa? Moreover, the Mahābhārata is generally treated as itihāsa and clubbed together with the Purāṇas.

Also the author deviates while defining a Purāṇa as follows:

purāṇaṃ naṣṭaśākhasya vedārthasyopavṛṅhaṇam/
kathārūpeṇa mahatāṃ puruṣārthapravartakam// (Upodghāta, verse 10).

Here the adjective, naṣṭaśākhasya, is of great significance. This would mean that Purāṇas are amplified forms of only those recensions of the Vedas that are lost.

But the standard definitions of a Purāṇa are as follows:

purāṇaṁ kasmāt? purā navaṃ bhavati. (Nirukta);
sargaśca pratisargaśva vaṅśo manvantarāṇi ca/
vaṅśānucaritañcaiva purāṇaṃ pañcalakṣaṇam// (Vāyupurāṇa; Viṣṇupurāṇa)

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