Friday, February 5, 2010

Necessity of Desire

I have argued here (in Italian) and here (in English) that desire is essential for action in Mīmāṃsā philosophy. In fact, Mīmāṃsā authors cannot even imagine a human being who acts if not because of desire. Hence, human desire has a role even in the Veda. The latter could not make people perform the rituals it entails if it could not prompt them. And in order to prompt them, it needs to single them out of the generic mass of human beings. In order to identify them, the Veda uses, again, desire. All rituals are not prescribed for generic human beings, since in this case no one would feel the prescription as regarding him/her directly and the rituals woudl remain non-performed. On the contrary, the Veda prescribes rituals to specific people, identified through their desires. It prescribes, for instance, a putrakāmeṣti to one who desires a son, a darśapūrṇamāsa sacrifice to one who desires heaven (=happiness) and so on. Hence, desire is not in itself part of the sacrifice, but it is required in order to get to the sacrifice one of its principal elements, the sacrificer.
When the sacrificer is specified in a different way (with formulas like "the one whose son was just born should perform the ritual …"), the desire is no longer needed by the Veda. It is, on the other hand, still needed by the person to engage into the action.
How do these two points harmonise? If desire is needed, why do people engage in sacrifices, who seemingly do not bear any result? Rāmānujācārya (Tantrarahasya IV, §10.5) can explain away most cases since he says that in the viśvajit and in similar sacrifices, where no specific person is prompted, one has to postulate as sacrificer someone who is desirous of haven. In fact, since 'heaven' means happiness according to the Śabarabhāṣya, this specification will suit everyone. In this way, one has satisfied at the same time the need for a specific sacrificer and that for a result to strive for.
But what about the case where a specific sacrificer is supplied, but no hint of a desire is left (see the formula mentioned above)? In order to make sense of these cases, Rāmānujācārya (and other authors?) has to abandon his usual Mīmāṃsā 'down-to-earth' attitude. In §10.11 he answers that the very non-performance of a prescribed duty is, for cultivated people, something one desires to avoid. "In fact, dharma is also one of the human purposes (puruṣārtha)". In saying so, Rāmānujācārya interprets artha as goal and connects it automatically with one's natural desire.

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