Friday, October 30, 2009

Is Madhva's hermeneutics dualist?

I just had the pleasure to read the paper delivered by Michael Williams at the 14th World Sanskrit Conference. It focuses on Madhva's interpretation of the Chāndogya Upaniṣad passage (-a tattvamasi), but it is also interesting as a first glance into Madhva's hermeneutical strategies. Williams rightly, I believe, underlies the fact that Madhva accepts as self-understood the idea that once you have known the principal (pradhāna) componen of something, you have automatically known also its secondary (apradhāna) components. In the instance considered in the article, Madhva argues that, through knowledge of Viṣṇu (God), one can get to know also the world. This may well be true, although I would not expect Madhva to say something like that. Is not he the one who upholds the irreducible difference (atyanta-bheda) between God and the world? If there is such a difference, how could one fully know the world through knowing Him? One could answer that the difference lies in fact in the world's dependence on Him (whereas He is absolutely independent and autonomous). Hence, the world would be qualitatively similar to God (the example used to illustrate the pradhāna-apradhāna state is that of a ball of clay and the remaining mass of clay), although it ultimately relies on Him.
Does not this reduce the importance of Madhva's emphasis on the difference between God and the world? Does not this mean that there is in fact no dualism here? I can know better understand why Madhva himself did not label his philosophy Dvaita (dual) Vedānta. Still, his appeal to common experience as an epistemic instrument to seize difference looses much of its strength if difference does not regard the nature of God and the world, but just their dependence/independence (…hardly seized, by the way).

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Authors and authoriality in Indian philosophy

I have been arguing in several older posts (see: 1, 2, 3, 4) that in Indian philosophical texts the concepts of "copyright" and, consequently, of "plagiarism", lack. . Everyone copies, better, everyone uses his predecessors words and conclusions as building blocs (Bausteine) for one's own work. Why, then, are authors so frequently recorded in Indian philosophical texts? Many, possibly most, philosophical texts are said (either in the mangala or in the colophon) to be "the work of...". Moreover, authoriality is a big issue whenever it refers to past and well-known authors, such as the author of one's school foundational text, Vyāsa, etc. It is so even in schools -like Mimamsā- which maintain the independence from an author of the Veda.
The apparent contradiction may possibly be solved if one considers that "author" and "authoriality" do not share the same meaning in classical Indian philosophy and contemporary enquiries. The author could have been felt, in the first one, as a pra-vaktr, that is as "an excellent upholder" of the school's ideas. Kumārila and Jayanta Bhatta seem to have been seen and to have understood themselves as such.
The situation is different in case of semi-divine authors, such as the Vedic rsis, Gautama within the Nyaya school, Kapila, etc.). They are of foundational importance because they are endowed with an epistemological faculty to ground what they say, through intellectual intuition (yogipratyaksa). Some schools, such as Mimamsa, deny any validity to yogipratyaksa. But even the ones which acknowledge such possibility for some extraordinary human beings, do not rely on it for the successive history of the school. Hence, a first authorial foundation is useful to ground -through the yogipratyaksa faculty of an extraordinary human being- the validity of the whole system. But thereafter the system is developed through a succession of authors and commentators who are nothing more than the voices expressing the school's ideas.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


In classical Indian literature and philosophy, most texts have an author. Indologists and Sanskritists have been challenging these attributions almost since the beginning of Indology. Thus, we have learnt that Vyāsa, Patañjali, Gautama, the Buddha, etc. are not the authors of the texts attributed to them, which are, instead, often the result of centuries of re-elaborations.
In the last ten years, however, the trends is inverting. Alf Hiltebeitel's Rethinking the Mahabharata, Federico Squarcini's (and Daniele Cuneo's) interpretation of Manu and Ronald Davidson's attributions of Tibetan texts in his recent Tibetan Renaissance are all instances of how the issue of authorship has gained increasing importance in South Asian studies. All these scholars have detected authorial traits in texts which had been thought to be almost authorless by the preceding generation. They have (convincingly) argued that Indian texts are part of a network of authors, that they react against previous texts and directly influence succeeding ones, that Indian authors have a clear agenda. Somehow, these scholars are turning back, though in a theory-loaded way, to the Indian traditional approach to texts as authored.
One might imagine a counter-trend agains the overstress on authoriality to emerge in some 50 years. So, one is left with the problem of using trends without clinging at them.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Spoken Sanskrit: why?

A couple of years ago, the Indology mailing list has hosted a great number of very interesting posts on spoken Sanskrit. Stella Sandahl, for one, has argued that so-called spoken "Sanskrit" is full of Hindī neologisms (sebaphalam as apple, for instance, although there were no apples in classical India) and has little to do with the classical language. On the same track, George Hart has pointed to the self-restriction of spoken Sanskrit, which does not aim –he maintains– at expressing complex thoughts and is only meant for everyday usage. Thus, it does not do any harm and can be fun, but no more than that.
I understand such concerns but am more in favour of spoken Sanskrit, basically for two reasons (apart from the practical reason of using Sanskrit as a medium with Indian paṇḍits).
  1. 1. It can be useful for didactic purposes. In my years of teaching experience, I noticed that students have usually either a figurative memory (and are hence quite helped by visualizing the written form of a word) or an aural one. In this second case, remembering the way a word sounds or the context of a conversation may be more helpful than hours of memorizing declension-endings.
  2. 2. I hope that to acquire some proficiency in spoken Sanskrit may lead to thinking in Sanskrit along with the texts one is working on. And I am absolutely sure that one needs to think along with a text in order to make sense of it (especially in case of śāstric Sanskrit, but I guess that similes may also be difficult if one is not ready to follow them beyond what is explicitly written).

(For the ones who want to participate, Adrian Cirstei is collecting spoken Sanskrit resources.)

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Plants as sensory living beings

Plants are described in many texts of Jainism, Buddhism (although Schmithausen has shown how they do not represent the final opinion) and "Hinduism" as ekendriya, that is as "endowed with a single faculty". Jainas are clear about the identification of this single faculty as touch (sparśa in Sanskrit) and many texts agree in attributing to plants the touch-related sensations of heat/cold, etc. In this sense, the fact of having just one sense faculty agrees with the collocation of plants on the bottom end of the evolutionary scale of living beings, together with other subtle entities without any individual body. However, it is difficult to see why touch should be the first sense faculty to appear in a living being. In fact, touch is usually connected with air (vāyu) and both are in the middle of the list of elements/sense faculties. I have already discussed elsewhere (in Italian) the order of the gross elements as connected with the subtle ones and the sensory faculties.
This issue, together with the consideration that Jainism usually preserves many features of the oldest strata of Indian philosophy, points at the possibility that ether (together with sound as its content and ear as the corresponding sensory faculty) has been added on top of the list of gross elements (ether/air/fire/water/earth). At an earlier time, air would have been the first of the list and, consequently, touch would have been the first sensory faculty to emerge in the simplest living beings.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Scribal "errors"

A colleague working on Arabic manuscripts made me consider a further issue about Indian manuscripts: their size. We are used to manuscripts with relatively few lines per page (usually 5-12, as far as my experience reaches: I have never seen instances of manuscripts with more than 18 lines per page). This could make "errors" due to going from the same group of syllables to the same one repeated later on (and, hence, skipping whatever is in between), less frequent.
It would be interesting to compare the percentage of such errors in Indian and non Indian manuscripts.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Scribes and scribal traditions

A recent article by Shilpa Sumant (to be published in the proceedings of WSC 14th) drew my attention to the problem of scribal traditions. A single manuscript might be carelessly written or not, but what shall we think when all the manuscripts of a certain text are uniformly full of the kind of various readings one would certainly label as "errors" due to carelessness? I am leaving aside the case of manuscripts copied in order to acquire merit (puṇya). Does this hint at the fact that manuscripts have been copied in a domestic/ritual dimension, that they were thought of as important tools rather than as "treasures" to be preserved? I expect, for instance, a handbook on how to build amulets to be somehow careless written by someone who just wants to understand what he reads and, hence, does not care for the difference between va and ba (which he would anyway pronounce in the same way). On the other hand, I would not expect important mistakes to occur in such practical books (a lacuna would make a medical passage unusable and surely needs to be filled, at least with a marginal note).

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Theodicy, karman and other possible solutions

Problem: could a benevolent and omnipotent God not save all of us? In fact, some of us die without having obtained the boon of faith and, thus, seem not to have been chosen by God. But why should God, who is omnipotent, not bestow faith (and/or the ability to do good actions) to everyone?
Possible solutions:
1. (Augustin/Luther/Calvin like): God does not want to save us all, for reasons we don't know, he chooses some of us.
2. (Aquinas, Erasmus of Rotterdam): God does want to save all of us, but we have to do our best, too. Nonetheless, he can also save people who do not 'deserve' it (but this leads back to the question: why not in all cases?).
2. (Indian): God does want to save all of us, but he relies/depends on the law of karman. Hence, he always gives us a "second" chance by means of letting us be reborn again and again.
3. (Origen) God wants to save all of us and does it.

How could we then account for the fact that, as long as they were alive, some people seemed not to have been 'chosen' by God? Of course, one cannot judge according to human meters, such as richness or health, but what about faith? Can anyone be saved without faith? This could be answered as follows:
3a. The fact that some of us seem to have not been chosen depends on His wish to be served in different ways (in a devout way by people to whom he bestows faith and in a, e.g., 'humanistic' or 'enlightened' one by people to whom he does not bestow it).
I could not locate a precise defence of view 3a. anywhere.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Silent Reading and Scribes

The issue of silent reading in India has also some consequences for textual criticism. If one could ascertain that silent reading became the rule in, for instance, the 17th c., then one could imagine that scribes copying a manuscript were no more used to read aloud (even if with a low tone of voice) and that hence focused on what they were seeing rather than on what they were hearing. A component linked to the form of what one sees will possibly always be present (in a scriptorium where a single person reads and dictates, that single person might accidentally read an 'e' instead of an anusvāra, etc.). But until now we are used to consider also aural kinds of errors (e.g.: ta instead of da in the South), which should become less and less frequent if silent reading is the rule.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Vedānta Deśika: Dharma is not perceivable by normal human beings

Vedānta Deśika (Seśvaramīmāṃsā ad 1.1.4) then confutes the above mentioned thesis that dharma can be seized through direct perception. This confutation entails the necessity of Sacred Texts for human beings. However, Vedānta Deśika is careful enough not to rule out the possibility for God to see dharma, since he always stresses the fact that this is impossible "for people like us" (asmadādi). In this way, he skilfully harmonizes Mīmāṃsā and theism. The following is an excerpts of his argument:

That he (Jaimini) refutes by the words “A contact with something existing” and the following ones of the sūtra. In this regard, this is the succession of the connection [of the sūtras]: In regard to dharma “perception is not a condition [for knowing it]”. Why? “Because it seizes existing [objects]”, that is, because it grasps present (vartamāna) objects. And why is it so? To this doubt he replies… What indeed [is perception]? The usage (prayoga) of the sense faculties. That must be direct perception. Hence, how can there be [direct perception] in regard to dharma? Nor is it a condition. In fact, dharma is found as something which is done at the moment and which has been done, according to its fruit. Hence, direct perception could grasp it? By no means! If indeed the own nature of a substance or [a quality or an action] is seen (maybe: could be seen) through direct perception as “dharma” in the form “this is dharma”, in the same way as one sees “this is a pot”, and if in its regard we could regularly (niyamena) grasp that immediately after this object (artha, that is, dharma) –which has been determined (nirdiṣṭa) as being the instrument to realise a [desired] result– that [result] comes into being, then through direct perception together with repeated instances of seeing we could ascertain “this is the instrument to realise something good”. [But], since the [desired] result consisting in heaven etc. cannot now be present, because of the fact that it will occur in another body, it cannot be grasped that [dharma] is the instrument to realise it. Nor does the action last until the [desired] result is experienced. The unseen potency (apūrva) which is realised by the action, though it lasts [longer], is not perceivable by people like us. [Else, one could propose that] it (the instrument to realise the desired result), in fact, consists in obliging (anugraha) the Deities. [But,] indeed, the desire (abhiprāya) of one cannot reach perceivability by another (hence, the Deities' intention cannot be directly perceivable by us). Hence, since at the level of the result there is no act (karman) and at the level f the act there is no result, it is impossible for us to grasp the relation of thing to be realised and instrument realising it inhering in both (since we never grasp them together). Hence, the fact that [direct perception] seizes [only] present things can be established (siddh-) as the cause for the fact that direct perception cannot grasp dharma.

Through that also the example concerning the nature of a precious stone is refuted (see above). In fact, the heaviness of a precious stone, even if contemplated thousands of times, is not grasped by the eyes.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Is silent reading thinkable in India?

An old post by Péter-Dániel Szántó on Augustin's remarks about St. Ambrose, made me reflect about the subject of silent reading in India. Silent reading was virtually absent in the Ancient World (Augustin's very remarks about St. Ambrose show how extraordinary it looked to him) and around the 800 AD one could still distinguish only between low-voice self-reading or loud-voice reciting. What about India? The very idea of silent reading seems to conflict with some of the basic tenets of the Indian culture, for instance, the idea that one has to study with a teacher and that culture is propagated orally (written texts being only a support for orally transmitted notions). However, one might imagine that silent reading reports could come out of different milieus, such as that of kāvya (are there any instances of people reading on their own?). Buddhist milieus could also display a different attitude towards silent reading, since they display a different attitude towards book and orality in general. Finally, I expect a different attitude to be detectable in Tibet.
The issue is not a mere curiosity since silent reading deeply changed our way to read and, hence, to write. Writers tried to focus on the form of the verse (think at poetry from the XIX c. onwards) rather than (or: together with) on its sound. Private readers needed more books (one each instead of the single copy read and commented upon by the teacher during a lesson.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Again on perception of imperceptible things: what is at stake?

I guess that my purpose in showing tidbits of the Indian discussion about the perceivable nature of dharma could get lost until I spell it out: What is a direct perception which perceives imperceptible things? A Mīmāṃsā author would stick at his empiricism and say that it is no direct perception (and that it does not exist). But the definition of direct perception is just human-made, hence. conventional. It is based on average human beings and although such average human beings are the absolute majority of the human adult population, this is still no definitive argument for ruling out exceptions as "mistakes". Still, what is left to us –the majority of the population– unless we can rely on such average data? What if perception could be totally different from the sense perception we are used to? This does not amount to a philosophical experiment like the "brain in the vat" one, because it should refer, in the intention of Dharmakīrti-like Buddhists, at least, to an actual (even desirable) possibility, the attainment of awakening. Furthermore, such possibility is said to be humanly reachable. So, there are human beings who developed a faculty (perception of imperceptible things) which is altogether absent in normal human beings, but CAN be reached by them.
How can such a faculty develop out of nothing? Should not it be present to a lesser degree in all of us? Buddhist and Nyāya authors seem to deny it altogether (if it were so, then everyone would be justified in using its own faculties to build its own set of beliefs, relying on the scant "amount" of dharma he can see by herself). But it is surely not impossible as a logical contradiction is.

What if dharma were perceivable?

The objector in Vedānta Deśika's Seśvaramīmāṃsā ad 1.1.4 then drives consequences out of the premiss that direct perception is not bound to the sense faculties. If direct perception is possible even outside their precincts, then Sacred Texts are no more the only way to know dharma. Hence, one does not need Sacred Texts anymore and dharma is just a normal subject, as medicine and politics –about which many human beings write or lecture. To avoid this consequence, Buddhists such as Dharmakīrti, or Nyāya authors may claim that dharma is perceivable only by those who are adequately trained ("enlightened" or ṛṣi) and that, hence, one still requires Sacred Texts in order to achieve such training. But this runs the risk to be circular.
Writes Vedānta Deśika:

Hence, it is correct that dharma can be directly perceived. In the same way, it is also inferable. Since there is no distinction among the visible causes of service (sevā), learning (adhyayana), etc., no difference of fruit (phala) can be seized without a further condition (nimitta, that is, dharma). Therefore, in this way, since the dharma is directly perceivable and inferable, like it [occurs] in the case of Ayurveda and of politics (arthaśāstra) [whose texts are composed by human authors], also a human sacred text (āgama) [would] be possible (or: "in regard to the dharma, which is cognizable through direct perception and inference, a human text would also be possible, just like politics and medecine [in regard to artha]"). Hence, if through these instruments of knowledge (why plural? does it entail human communication too?) the object of a prescription (codanā, as in MS 1.1.2) could be ascertained as dharma, then prescriptions seizable only through much effort (āyāsa) (that is, the Vedic prescriptions, requiring hermeneutic efforts) would be fruitless. And the interpretation [of MS 1.1.2] as stating that “only the prescription” [is a means of knowing dharma] would not be suitable. If (atha) a certain meaning, not stated by a prescription [and] not contradicted by it [would be dharma], then there would not be anymore the thesis that “only the prescription” [is a means of knowing dharma]. If, on the other hand, a certain [meaning] opposed to the [prescription], like that taught by the Buddha, etc., [could be dharma], then also the interpretation (avadhāraṇa) [of MS 1.1.2] as “the prescription is an instrument [for knowing dharma]” would not be suitable, because it (prescription) would be contradicted.

Hence in all cases the [sūtra 1.1.2] “Dharma is a meaning having a Vedic prescription as its instrument of knowedge” (I am following here Vedānta Deśika's interpretation of this sūtra) would be improper (durvaca).

(This translation has partly been discussed with Marion Rastelli)

I am not sure about the sentence on service. To me, it seems to mean that one undertakes service to God, and study, out of similar reasons (being a Brahman, being born in India…). Service to God would not lead to a super-natural result if it were not for an additional reason (dharma, understood as bhaktidharma).

Self-awareness of pleasure and pain vs. self-awareness of cognition

In a previous post on Vedānta Deśika's Seśvaramīmāṃsā ad MS 1.1.4 I quoted a passage about the fact that dharma might be perceptible "[even] for Mīmāṃsākas, like our [inner] pleasure and [pain]". The learned editor of the Seśvaramīmāṃsā, T. Viraghavacharya, explains that the example of pleasure and pain is only meant for Mīmāṃsakas, "not for us" (na tv asmān prati). In fact, "according to our opinion, pleasure and [pain] cannot be seized by the sense faculties (indriya), because they shine forth by themselves (svayamprakāśa), since they are of the nature of cognition". According to the Mīmāṃsā, on the other hand, "cognition would not be an example, because it is only inferred through the fact that one has known something" (that is, one infers the fact that there has been a cognitive act because one ends up knowing something, but one does not "perceive" cognition while occurring –so Kumārila).
Hence, pleasure and pain are –as far as Mīmāṃsakas are concerned– the only candidates for being directly perceivable, although not through the outer sense faculties. On the other hand, if Vedānta Deśika had spoken to a wider audience, he could have used the instance of cognition (also directly perceived although not through the outer sense faculties).
Further consequences of that:
1. Vedānta Deśika spoke to a mixed audience (he does not mention the cognition example, which would not have been shared by Mīmāṃsakas, but he specifies that the pleasure and pain one is meant "for Mīmāṃsakas", thus admitting that there are further readers who are not Mīmāṃsakas).
2. Does point 1 mean that Vedānta Deśika had in view just Bhāṭṭa Mīmāṃsakas? In fact, Prābhākaras would have thought of cognition in a very different way.
3. Cognition is admitted by Viraghavacarya to be "directly perceivable". This does not seem to be the same as what Dharmakīrti, for one, claims when he speaks of cognition as svayamprakāśa. In fact, for him cognition is not "perceived" insofar as there is no perceiver beyond it. Viraghacarya's seems, hence, to be a different position, influenced by the assumption of an enduring subject beyond cognition. Whose position is this?
4. What does this entail in regard to the possible Prābhākara side of Vedānta Deśika's Mīmāṃsā?

Monday, October 5, 2009

Pet-linguistic instances

In order to get to similar results (the primacy of the agent), different linguistic structures can be analysed. Indian authors chose the ones which they thought to be more paradigmatic, due to their background assumptions.
Mīmāṃsā authors elaborated so much around the idea of an urgency conveyed by prescriptions because they had the Veda as the main focus of their speculations.
On the other hand, theist authors such as Abhinavagupta in his Tantraloka (but see also Sadyojyotis' commentary on the Svayambhūvāgama), elaborated on the usage of the causative (thinking at the way God makes people act in the world).
Where they aware of the fact that the linguistic instances they chose were closely linked to their background theories?


Tantra seems to have a quite different meaning in Ritual Sūtras and in Mīmāṃsā. In the first ones it indicates the basic form of a ritual, to be repeated in the rituals derived from it (that is, it indicates what is known in Mīmāṃsā as prakṛti!).

In Klaus Mylius' Dictionary of Old-Indian Ritual, tantra is defined as follows: "Grundform, Regelwerk einer Opferkategorie; so ist das Neu- und Vollmondopfer zugleich tantra für alle iṣṭis". In Mīmāṃsā, on the other hand, it indicates the performance of direct subsidiary rites just once (although they apply to all parts of the main sacrifice). Pārthasārathi Miśra defines it as follows: "tantra is indeed the common performance of the subsidiaries, like the pre- and post-sacrifices in regard to the offerings of the [rice-cake] to Agni etc. (tantraṃ nāma sādhāraṇam aṅgānuṣṭhānam –yathāgneyādiṣu prayājādīnām, AN V, xi adhyāya, intro ad 1, p. 295). That is, the pre-sacrifices are performed just once, but they apply "in common" to all offerings.
How did this shift of meaning occur?

I am grateful to Dr. Tiziana Pontillo who pointed out a definition of tantra in Lāṭyayana Śrauta Sūtra: bhūyiṣṭhaṃ tantralakṣaṇam (VI.9.13). This can still be consistent with the idea of tantra as prakṛti ("the characteristic of tantra is to be found in many rituals"). However, from this one can also develop a different concept of tantra. In fact, the sūtra could also be interpreted as "the characteristic of tantra is that [what is performed by means of it] is present (that is, valid) in many [offerings]".

Friday, October 2, 2009

Vedānta Deśika on the boundaries of sense perception

The following is the beginning of Vedānta Deśika's discussion on whether dharma can be siezed by sense perception. He has four arguments in favour of that (in yellow is a point I am not sure about):

Once the investigation on dharma has been undertaken through the [question] on whether there is no instrument for knowing [dharma] and whether there is another instrument for knowing [it], here first of all is confuted the validity of other [instruments of knowledge], according to the succession (krama) of the two established ascertainments in regard to the possibility of the compound in its parts “codanālakṣaṇa” [to express two meanings] [see Vedānta Deśika on MS 1.1.2, where codanālakṣanaḥ is first interpreted as "having no other instrument of knowledge outside Vedic prescription" and then as "having prescription as instrument of knowledge [and hence not being unknowable]"]. Hence, in this case, can [direct perception] be an instrument for knowing dharma or not? –this is the point to be inquired. What is correct? It can. To elaborate: here, substance, action (kriyā), quality, etc., which can be talked about through the word “dharma”, are established through direct perception –this is agreed upon by everyone. The fact that they can be instruments to realise something good, on the other hand, although it is difficult to be seized by people like us at once (that is, through direct perception) (sahasā), is nonetheless easily grasped through the direct perception, assisted by a heap of saṃskāras, of those who are used to that, like the reality of a precious stone (ratna) [is easily grasped by experts, but not by common people]. [Moreover,] like in the case of the appearances of the beloved one for one who is love-sick (kāmātura), an intense meditative visualization (bhāvanā) can raise a directly perceivable idea (dhī). [Furthermore,] one commonly experiences that there is a graduation in the grasp of sense faculties, like in the case of crows, owls, vultures, etc. And the obtaining of the pitch is seen in regard to those who take part to this graduation. And hence either the graduation in intensity gets somewhere exhausted, because of its nature of graduation [just like one cannot jump until the moon, no matter how long one practices –as pointed out by Kumārila] like the graduation of measures, [and it is] so for every sense faculty, or [the graduation in intensity] could generally (that is, in all cases) be practised (prayuj-, caus.) as a graduation in intensity of direct perception. If this is the case, all super-sensuous object is established to be sensory in relation to someone
[e.g. perception of small ants is sensory for one who has well trained eyes], because the exhaustion [of the graduation of intensity of direct perception] would not be possible without (that is, before) the fact that everything [has become] its content (viṣaya). As for the topic under discussion (prakṛta), this can be inferred in detail: dharma etc. can be grasped by someone's sense faculties, because they are knowable things, like the palm of a hand. Or, for the mīmāṃsakas, in regard to this premiss (“dharma etc. can be grasped by someone's sense faculties”) (pratijñā) [the reason is:] because they are directly perceivable, like our own pleasure and [pain]*. [Lastly, we know that dharma is perceivable out of śabdapramāṇa. In fact,] the great ṛṣis themselves speak about the direct perception of great ṛṣis and yogins, engendered by their dharma and energy: “Hence, he clearly sees all, as it is, through the energy of dharma”.

*One needs an additional argument for Mīmāṃsakas, since the sheer fact that "they are knowable things" would not be enough for a Mīmāṃsaka to prove that dharma, etc., are seizable by the sense faculties. They could be known –a Mīmāṃsaka would argue– through the Veda. On the other hand, the second argument would not be valid for non Mīmāṃsakas, since pleasure and pain are, according to non Mīmāṃsakas not seized by the senses, rather they are by themselves known. In fact, they are believed to be instances of cognitive acts and, hence, self-luminous (svayaṃprakāśa).

(Seśvaramīmāṃsā, ad 1.1.4) (This translation has been discussed with Marion Rastelli)

The boundaries of sense perception

I am strongly suspicious about the claim that one can directly perceive objects other than the ones we all perceive. I do not believe, e.g., in mystic perceptions. However, I am well aware that the argument runs circular unless it is soundly ground in ontology. To say that only what is perceived is perceivable does not add any information. On the other hand, anthropology proves that our perceptions are influenced by what we are used to think of as perceptible. Finally, I claimed elsewhere (see my italian blog on the Word as Instrument of Knowledge) that our sense perception can be altered by what we are linguistically aware of.
Whatever the case, the problem of whether dharma (and brahman) can be directly perceived is an intriguing one. Theists and followers of the Buddha, the Jina, etc., have to state that (at least some special ones) can perceive it, but they are then left with the risk of newcomers claiming they perceive it, too. "Traditional" Mīmāṃsakas are hard empiricists and stuck at the idea that "nothing beyond the physical world is perceivable", including in the physical world also inner sensations of pleasure and pain.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Why should one study both the prescriptive part of the Veda and the Upaniṣad?

In his Seśvaramīmāṃsā, Vedānta Deśika (XIII c., possibly the most influential Viśiṣṭādvaitin after Yamuna and Rāmānuja) describes the link between the necessity of studying the Veda from an epistemological perspective and the necessity of including in it also the Upaniṣads. I can fully understand his first argument (also the Upaniṣad are valid, because their intrinsic validity is not invalidated due to faults found in their speaker), but I am puzzled by the next one. It seems to say that in the Brahmasūtra and its commentary the validity of the Upaniṣad will be established, whereas in the Mīmāṃsāsūtra the Upaniṣad are acknowledged as an important part of the Veda, but their [independent] epistemological validity is not admitted.

Everything can be a proper (samañjasa) object, once an instrument of knowledge has cleared it up. Hence, a complete reflection on the way instruments of knowledge work is of significance || 20 ||

“A reflection on the instrument to know dharma”: so has [the subject] been in general denoted.

Hence, also a reflection on mantras, commendatory statements, smṛti etc., will find its place in it || 21 ||

In the reflection on the means for knowing the nature (rūpa) of prohibitions and injunctions,

also a reflection on the means for knowing the adharma which is prohibited will be present [in his commentary on MS 1.1.2 Vedānta Deśika elaborates on the subject of adharma being included in the investigation on dharma] || 22 ||

[Obj:] But in regard to the [Upaniṣadic] sentences about the brahman, who rely (viśram-) on the own nature [of brahman], there is no status of being a means for knowing the dharma; [hence] there should not be any reflection on them here || 23 ||

[Reply:] Let it not be like that! Since here one undertakes an inquiry (jijñāsā) on the meaning of the Veda in general, the validity of the whole Veda has to be described from the beginning. || 24 ||

Hence, since an instrument for knowing dharma is an instrument of knowledge because it has no faults on the part of the speaker, also a sentence on brahman is established to be a means of knowledge in general [for both dharma and brahman, and not just for brahman] || 25 ||

The reliance (viśrānti) on the own nature in general will be then discussed in the Śarīraka (Brahmāsūtra),

in fact, here, although there is no mention of the [Upaniṣad statements], the validity [of the whole Veda] will be established

so much that, insofar as they do not aim at their own nature, and are [rather] to be supplemented to a prescription,

the reflection [on the Upaniṣadic statements] is then reached, but not an instrument for [their] validity || 27 ||

(Seśvaramīmāṃsā concluding verses of the commentary on MS 1.1.3) (My previous translation has been improved by Marion Rastelli)

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