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Friday, September 27, 2013

"Philosophy is the only thing alive''. An interview with Aleix Ruiz-Falqués (part 2)

Aleix Ruiz-Falqués (his blog is here) studies (in Cambridge) Pāli Grammatical Literature written in Burma. He is an engaged scholar and one who is not shy to get involved in controversies about ideas. You can read the first part of this interview here. This time I will be asking him more general (and more provocative) questions.
EF: In some of your posts (see here and here), you seem to be quite sceptical about Anthropology as applied to Buddhism (i.e., you seem to share the textual-based approach you described in the first part of your interview). You also exhibited some scepticism concerning comparative philosophy and comparatism in general. How do you see interactions with people outside your field? Are they still possible, these premisses notwithstanding?
ARF: I'm ---more or less--- a philologist. Thus, I don't believe interdisciplinarity is something additional. It is part of the discipline, since you can't do philology without history, etc. The problem I have with other disciplines, sometimes, is that they try to answer philological questions without philology and I think that's not possible. One needs to read the texts.
For instance, I read some time ago about the idea of canon in Pāli. Some anthropologists have been disputing the fixed idea of canon meaning the Tipiṭaka as we know it. They claim that in some libraries in villages in Thailand you don't find the whole orthodox canon but just parts of it, and then other texts that are not usually called canonical (some call them apocryphal). Now, all this information is really interesting, but it has nothing to do with the idea of canon in Pāli scholarship in Pāli, and I don't know why some scholars are against accepting the fact that some ideas are fabricated by an élite and still that's how they are. What the villagers do is not important at all.
EF: In my opinion, we are just talking about different things. Whenever I give a talk I tend to say at the beginning that I am not talking about the Veda as it is, but only with its intellectual reflection within the works of an intellectual élite.
ARF: Moreover, against those who consider Philosophy dead I maintain the opposite: Philosophy is the only thing alive.
EF: I cannot but agree. Saying that philosophy is dead is just part of a philosophical discussion. But then: if you cannot avoid asking philosophical questions, whence your hostility to using philosophy in the case of Buddhist studies?
ARF: Because I don't think that there is "philosophy" but "philosophies" and they are mutually incompatible. Thus, I like "applying" the philosophy I consider correct and I dislike applying the philosophy I consider incorrect. I more or less follow the ideas of a Spanish philosopher called Gustavo Bueno, who says that Philosophy is a knowledge of second degree. Philosophy would be the critical analysis of previously received knowledge, preferably knowledge already systematized, but not necessarily so. There are many disciplines and sciences and the main job of philosophy is the critical analysis of what we know.

EF: Can't this critical analysis (insofar as it is critical) be a shared enterprise? Why does it need to have only, say, Burma as its precinct of application?
ARF: It could be a shared enterprise, and in fact I believe it can only be such. If you want to say that I seemed to imply that I don't need comparisons to study Burma, well, I know that's not true.
We all need to compare. My problem with comparative studies is different, it has to do with the logic behind it, the aims of this research and its results, which seem to me very dubious most of the time. For instance,  I talk to a friend about Buddhist monasticism and the friend says "Oh, yes, that happened in Europe as well..." and he gives me the Rule of Saint Benedict. Now, I think that's a perfectly good topic of research, but the sheer comparison, trying simply to point out similarities as if they meant something in themselves, this I think is pointless.
EF: Well, I would say that sheer comparison (A is found also in context B) is non interesting because it is plainly descriptive. In other words: everything descriptive is uninteresting. I am also terribly bored by articles about history of art if they say things like "this sculpture represents a naked woman holding an arch".
ARF: I totally agree! My favourite target is "Buddhism and Science" ("What Kant said was already realized by Lord Buddha"…).
EF: I know this questions scares many. Do you have an overall idea of what you want to achieve within your research area? Are there priorities in your work or do you let yourself be driven by your interests of the moment?
ARF: I think I know (but then I might change my mind), but yes, right now I have a crystal clear idea of what I would do. I would like to study Pāli literature written in Burma and Theravāda Buddhism in Burma, from a  historical perspective. There is far too much for one person, thus drop me a line if you are interested.
As far as I am concerned, I'll be happy if I could do these two things before I die:
  1.  critical edition of Kaccāyanasuttaniddesa
  2. A study of Ariyavaṃsa and his Abhidhamma commentary Maṇisāramañjūsā

EF: Did you obtain a scholarship to study in the UK? Has it been difficult? What did you do ''right'' (I am asking so that someone else might copy you)?
ARF: I knew from a friend that there were some scholarships offered by one of the most powerful financial institutions in Spain, which has a sort of Fund for social work, scholarships, etc. They give yearly 20 scholarships for Masters and PhDs. Thus, I applied for a scholarship to study abroad and I got it, probably because they wanted to be sure that the person they give the scholarship to is passionate about his/her topic. It is probably the most effective way to know that s/he will not give up. Thus, I was lucky.
EF:  You have been studying in Spain, India, UK and have been researching in Burma. What would you recommend to younger colleagues?
ARF: It depends on the case. In my case, to tell you the truth, I went to India because I didn't know how to manage in Europe. But then, the approach in Pune University was very much plunging into the texts, and in case of doubt, reading a Sanskrit commentary, forget about English secondary literature. And I really liked that! Therefore, I would recommend to know the methods of every place beforehand and choose the method which is more suitable to one's own temper and interests. I prefer reading the sources.

What would you recommend?
Interviews are posted each last Friday in a month. You can read the first one (to Michela Clemente) here and the first part of Aleix' interview here.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Rāmānuja's Śrī Bhāṣya and its readers

Rāmānuja is usually considered the real founder of Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta. The Śrī Bhāṣya is usually considered his masterpiece. Thus, what would one expect in it?

Friday, September 20, 2013

How to justify Testimony? Indian and Western views

Concerning the Epistemology of Testimony, one can first distinguish between reductionists (claiming that Testimony is just a subset of Inference) and anti-reductionists (claiming that Testimony is a distinct instrument of knowledge). In India and in the West, we have reductionists (David Hume, Elisabeth Fricker, Buddhist Pramāṇavāda, Vaiśeṣika) and anti-reductionists (Thomas Reid, Jennifer Lackey, Arindam Chakrabarti, Nyāya, Mīmāṃsā).

Interestingly, however, in the West reductionists insist on the need for testimony to be grounded on something else (e.g., on the reliability of the speaker), whereas anti-reductionists claim that  we have a "presumptive right" to accept testimony, so that it "is a source of justification in its own right" (Gelfert 2010).

Monday, September 16, 2013

Secondary signification for Kumārila, Prabhākara and Rāmānuja

Can the Absolute be at the same time One and still be defined as existence, knowledge and bliss? Rāmānuja discusses this topic with an opponent in his Śrī Bhāṣya on Brahma Sūtra 1.1.1. The opponent says that if the Absolute brahman is only Oneness, then all attributes would end up as having to be understood only  metaphorically (lakṣaṇā). Rāmānuja replies that this would not be a problem, since contextual meaning (tātparyavṛtti) —which, we understand, includes the possibility of secondary signification (lakṣaṇā)— overrules direct meaning (abhidhānavṛtti):

Friday, September 13, 2013

Is the Veda the body of God? (Yoshimizu 2007–II part)

How can one interpret a Vedic passage by saying that a certain meaning was not "intended" (vivakṣita), while still thinking that the Veda has no personal author?

The Mīmāṃsā cannot renounce the idea that the Veda has no personal author (apauruṣeyatva): its whole theory about the Veda's validity depends on this principle. However, Kumārila needs also to explain in which sense one can decide whether an interpretation of the Veda is right or not on the basis of whether it is intended (vivakṣita). How can one speak of intention if there is no author?

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Sanskrit Lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania

Do you want to focus on research only or do you enjoy teaching? If the latter is the case, the US can offer you many job opportunities.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Group blog on Sanskrit (and) Philosophy

I am firmly convinced that any purpose we might want to achieve within Sanskrit (and) philosophy can only be achieved through a joint effort (alone, we will never be influential enough). Further, working together means more fun:-) This is the foundation of the Coffee Break Project (see here) and I would like it to be the foundation also of a group blog on topics of Sanskrit (and) philosophy. It should work along the lines of other group blogs in the field of (Western) philosophy (see for instance: or or of Chinese philosophy, see:

Friday, September 6, 2013

Plurality of subjects in Mīmāṃsā: Kiyotaka Yoshimizu 2007

Is the plurality of subjects compatible with the idea of a Vedāntic kind of liberation (in which there seems to be no distinction among different souls)? And can there be an absolute brahman if there are still distinct subjects?

I just read Kiyotaka Yoshimizu's Kumārila's Reevaluation of the Sacrifice and the Veda from a Vedānta Perspective (in Mīmāṃsā and Vedānta, edited by Bronkhorst and Preisendanz, 2007). The paper elaborates on thematics close to the ones dealt with by Roque Mesquita (Die Idee der Erlösung bei Kumārilabhaṭṭa, WZKS 1994) and John Taber (Kumārila the Vedāntin?, in the same Mīmāṃsā and Vedānta) and adds to the debate Yoshimizu's close knowledge of Kumārila in general and of his less studied works in particular. The article focuses in fact on the Ṭupṭīkā, Kumārila's commentary on the last part of the Pūrva Mīmāṃsā sūtra, and compares it with the fragments of the Bṛhaṭṭīkā and with the Tantravārttika.
Kumārila is the chief exponent of the Bhāṭṭa school of Pūrva Mīmāṃsā and the Mīmāṃsā is mainly a school of Vedic exegesis. The Vedic sacrifices necessarily require someone responsible for their performance and responsibility is explicitly said to be individual. In other words, the Vedic injunctions enjoin specific individuals and not human beings in general. Thus, they require a plurality of subjects.
However, Yoshimizu shows how Kumārila accepts the notion of a paramātman 'supreme Self' in different passages of his works. paramātman can be used as a synonym of God, Īśvara, but is mostly used as a synonym of the all-encompassing brahman. The latter would contradict the plurality of subjects which is required by Mīmāṃsā.
Thus, we need to imagine that Kumārila's paramātman does not entail monism. What else could it mean, then, to say that liberation is the "attainment of the supreme Self" (paramātmaprāpti, TV, quoted in fn. 6). Given that the paramātman seems to be in all authors who mention it a single entity, the TV claim seems to entail that everyone achieves the dignity of the single paramātman. How can this not contradict pluralism?
One might suggest that pluralism only exists in the saṃsāra, but could a pluralistic ontology be compatible with its monistic evolution, given that the paramātman is said to exist also along the saṃsāra? Would it make sense to think of living beings as leaving the proscenio of their plural world one after the other, in order to dissolve into the paramātman?
Alternatively, one should think of Kumārila's claim as entailing an ontology akin to the one later known as Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta, i.e., only God exists independently, but human beings are his features (viśeṣa) and are, hence, not identical with him.

Can you think of other ways out?

P.S. Yoshimizu kindly informed me that he might elaborate further on the topic of the paramātman a new paper for the next World Sanskrit Conference in Bangkok.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

1 year Post-Doc on Buddhism

The Leiden University Institute for Area Studies (LIAS) of the Faculty of Humanities at Leiden University invites applications for a One Year full-time position (Post-doctoral Fellow) in the field of Buddhist Studies, to begin as soon as possible.

One Year Post-Doctoral Fellow Position in the NWO Project Buddhism and Social Justice (1.0 fte)
Vacancy number: 13-249

Duties and responsibilities

We seek a Post-Doctoral Fellow with excellent qualifications to work in the NWO Project Buddhism and Social Justice. Specialization is open, but the applicant should focus her/his work on the general subject area of the project. The project is ongoing (see, with the One Year vacancy made possible by the departure of a present Post-doc fellow for a tenured appointment elsewhere.

Applicants should  have a demonstrably excellent academic track record in Buddhist Studies, and hold a PhD in Buddhist Studies or a related field, or its equivalent. They should have an excellent command of English and be prepared to present their research results in English. Within the one year time frame, the successful candidate should engage in research, prepare at least one article for publication, and participate in the project’s upcoming international conference.

What we offer
The position is for one year with a full-time appointment. The salary is determined in accordance with the current scales as set out in the collective labour agreement for the Dutch universities (CAO): min. € 2.427, max. € 3.491, with additional holiday and end-of-year bonuses. Candidates from outside the Netherlands may be eligible for a substantial tax break.

Further information

For more information about the position please contact Prof. dr. J.A Silk, tel. +31-71-527-2510, email Please note that applications should not be sent directly to Prof. Silk.

How to apply

Candidates please send your application (in English), including:
• a cover letter stating your motivation for this position, and proposed project
• a CV,
• copies of your academic transcripts,
• a copy of your PhD thesis and other relevant publications,
• the names and contact information for three referees.

These items should preferably be submitted in a single PDF document called “Family Name-Given Name-13-249.”

Review of applications will commence immediately and continue until the position is filled or this call is closed.

Please send your application electronically, indicating the vacancy number to:
All application materials should be sent in pdf format.

If it is not possible for you to submit an electronic application, you may mail your materials, citing the vacancy number, to:

M. van Asperen
Leiden University
PO Box 9515
2300 RA Leiden
The Netherlands

A telephone (or Skype) interview may be part of the selection procedure.

Further information:

Monday, September 2, 2013

New (Academic) Year, New Blog

I am planning to move to this new blog.
For the next month, I will post in both blogs, while starting from the end of September, I will only post in the new one.

  • Because wordpress makes it possible to embed pdfs, surveys, different styles of posts and other elements
  • Because it is more flexible (at least for people like me, who are not really at ease with html)
  • Because it allows tags, and I hope this will make the readers' experience more enjoyable
  • Because it allows for different pages to be ordered from the start-page, and I hope to be able to distinguish in this way between Sanskrit and English posts

Long story short, bear with me during the transition, update your links and don't forget to let me know what you think about the new blog!

Licenza Creative Commons
Quest' opera è distribuita con licenza Creative Commons Attribuzione - Non commerciale - Non opere derivate 2.5 Italia.