Monday, February 27, 2012

The self is not changeless

If the self is changeless and eternal, how can it really act and know? If it does not really act nor know (as claimed by Sāṅkhya authors), how can it be conscious? If it is just conscious of itself, with no further content, who could desire liberation? Would you be satisfied of an eternal act of self-awareness, with no further content?

Mīmāṃsā authors took a different way and stated that the self is not changeless. Not in the abvoe way, at least.
A great contemporary Mīmāṃsā scholar, K.T. Pandurangi, writes:

"The concept of substance of the Bhāṭṭas and the Prābhākaras is the same as that of the Nyāya-vaiśeṣikas. However, in the case of ātman, which is considered as a substance, the Bhāṭṭas accept pariṇāma or avasthāntara in the process of cognition" (Pandurangi 2006, p. 104). "[T]here is am important difference between the Bhāṭṭa concept of ātman and the Nyāya-vaiśeṣikas concept of it. While cognition is an attribute of ātman according to Nyāya-vaiśeṣikas, it is a modification or a state of ātman according to Bhāṭṭas'' (Pandurangi 2006, p. 145).

Pandurangi's Pūrvamīmāṃsā from an interdisciplinary point of view is an excellent book. Unfortunately, very much like Indian classical works, it rarely mentions the exact source of a certain statement. In this case, it is probably Kumārila's Ślokavārttika, Ātmavāda:

It is not prohibited to say that the self is not fix (nitya) |

if what one means is just that it can evolve (vikriyā), [since] there is no cessation of it by that ||

If there were an absolute destruction of it, there would be destruction of the actions performed and accrual of actions non-performed |

but not in the case it reaches a different stage, like in the ordinary experience of childhood, youth and [adulthood] (when the same person is said to be a child, then a young person and then an adult) ||
(nānityaśabdavācyatvam ātmano vinivāryate | vikriyāmātravācitve na hy ucchedo 'sya tāvatā || syātām atyantanāśe 'sya kṛtanāśākṛtāgamau | na tv avasthāntaraprāptau loke bālayuvādivat || 22cd-23cd)

On the subject in Mīmāṃsā, see this post (on Prābhākara Mīmāṃsā views) and the tag "subject".


David Dubois said...

The Mimamsakas seem to follow the dilemma as formulated by the Buddhists : EITHER the self is immutable and useless ; EITHER it changes and is no Self really.

Of course the Mimamsakas claim to give a solution : the Self can change while remaining itself. But how exactly ?

After all those years of reading them, do you find the Mimamsakas provided any good answer ? I believe they invented lots of wonderful arguments, but I find the Pratyabhijnâ answers much more satisfactory.

elisa freschi said...

Dear David, thanks for the input. The Mīmāṃsā view, how I understand it, is the self is not changeless in the sense that it evolves without loosing its nature, like a human body evolves from childhood to old age and is still recognised as the same human body. This means giving up the Nyāya-Sāṅkhya-Vedānta idea of a self which is potentially detached from everything happening in the world and untouched by it. In a certain way, this self seems more a "person" than a "pure self". You might try to ask me a more precise question, but I am afraid I cannot give you full details, since I did not find much more in the texts I am aware of.

As for the second part of your question, I see your point re. Pratyabhijñā. As a pupil of Raffaele Torella and Raniero Gnoli and a friend of many skilled Pratyabhijñā-scholars, I cannot but appreciate their arguments! What seems to me more liable to refutations are their metaphysical assumption of Parameśvara-paramātman —which can make sense of everything else but is a really BIG assumption, which seems to be proved only a posteriori— and their belief in several Śaiva texts of various origin…how do you deal with these two points? Last, if you were looking for a personal answer, I am still looking for it myself. I find Mīmāṃsā arguments appealing because they are empirist in the common world (loka) and accept the authority of the Veda in the deontic-ethic sphere, which seems to me a very rational choice. I also like their adherence to what we see, unless and until a contrary evidence arises.

David Dubois said...

Dear Elisa,

As for the religious background of the Pratyabhijnâ, I don't think it jeopardizes the philosophical nature of it, for scritural authority plays no part in the estabishment of their thesis. This demonstration fills sections I and II, while âgama is section III. It comes AFTER the demonstration and adds nothing essential to it.

Regarding the assumption of a Suprême Lord (parameshvara), I don't see exactly what you mean. If I understand well, I would sayt this hypothesis is secondary : what is important is to establish that consciousness has the attributes of this Supreme Lord, or some of his attributes. The materia prima of the Pratyabhijnâ demonstration is self-awereness, not God. That is, recognition could still be usefull, even if "God" doesn't exist.
Now, if you find that this link between consciousness and those divine attributes is of a mephysical nature, I'm afraid I don't understand. Could you please be more precise ?
And thank you for your efforts !

elisa freschi said...

Thank you, David, for engaging in this vāda. What I meant, roughly, is:
once you have somehow established that there must be some consciousness (including a Buddhist type of subject-free consciousness) you still need to prove 1. that this consciousness cannot exist without someone who is endowed with it and 2. that this someone is the supreme self, and 3. that he is one only. Against 1., one could say that the *function* of a self might be enough, without the self. For instance, vāsanās could explain memory and so on. Against 2. and 3., one might contend that the continuity of memory and of the link from cognition to action might make one postulate individual selves. And this postulation is also supported by one's intuition about oneself (at the laukika level, at least). The assumption of a divine Self and that He is the only subject (unlike in the Śaivasiddhānta) is intellectually intriguing but demands some sort of a leap of faith. What do you think?

David Dubois said...

My pleasure, Elisa.
"Once consciousness is established" ? But consciousness is obvious. Therefore, it doesn't need and cannot be established (but I understand you said "somehow"). In the end, Pratyabhijnâ's only pramâna is self-awareness. And this is no postulation or metaphysical entity, but the very entity that is aware of those words now.
Regarding 1 : consciousness IS the self. What would be a self without consciousness ?
2 and 3 : yes, ok, those are more tickling... As I understand it, Pratyabhijnâ establishes quite cogently that consciousness is quite LIKE God (if such a being exists). That ressembles the Renaissance humanist doctrines of Pico and co about Man being "like" God because of his free-will, etc. So, I'm not entirely convinced either. But, I must add, I'm far from having understood all of the details of the Pratyabhijnâ demonstration ! I'm making my way through the Vimarshinî. And the Brihatîvimarshinî remains a jungle. So...
Still, what I got pushes me to try to understand more.
Regarding continuity of self and the memory argument, I find the Pratyabhijnâ arguments that establish continuity through recognition (not exactly memory) a little better than Mîmâmsâ. Regarding unity of all individual selves, well, it's less clear, I must admit.
But rather than saying that the charge of the proof is on the side of the Pratyabhijnâ, why not choose the other way : What establishes the plurality of selves ?

elisa freschi said...

Dear David,
thanks again. As for your points:
1. you seem to oversee the possibility that we have the attributes of consciousness without a permanent entity to whom they pertain. Awkward as it seems, it cannot be ruled out. The only way you can object it is by appealing to common sense. But then,
2. common sense also tells you that you and me are distinct selves. Don't you think you have friends, relatives and colleagues, who are different than you?
In other words, I think you are using common-sense arguments in one case and then refuting them in the other…

David Dubois said...

Dear Elisa,

1. Again, I do not see to whom consciousness could pertain. Consciousness IS the subject and the agent. But how could it be discontinuous ?

2. I would not appeal to common sense in this matter, but to common experience. It is first person experience which - when taken seriously - is the proof that the Self is consciousness, one and source of all objects.

+ 3. Regarding other subjects, I can recognize them as "subject" only inasmuch as I recognize them as consciousness, the only one there is, i. e. that very consciousness that recognizes them as consciousness.
Recognizing others only confirms that there is only one consciousness. I mean, for me, aknowledging others mean aknowledging the one conscoiousness in others. In other words, I recognize that we are one and the same consciousness becoming self-aware AS different bodies, breathes and thoughts.

elisa freschi said...

Dear David,

1. I am here just taking the role of a Buddhist Pūrvapakṣin, but why should consciousness PERTAIN TO something? Why could not there be just consciousness? The fact that consciousness is commonly encountered in embodied beings might be just an accident or the result of a mistaken superimposition.

3. I think that what you now call "experience" is in fact a theory-influenced experience. I might be wrong, but I am inclined to think that had not one studied philosophy, one would just meet with friends, etc., considering them other than oneself. In short: such an "experience" does not offer a further evidence apart from the one we derive out of śabdapramāṇa, since it relies on it.

David Dubois said...

1. Fine. I'm not claiming consciousness pertains to something or someone. And I don't believe Pratyabhijna does either. It rather claims that consciousness is the self, as the synthesis of cognitions. So there is just consciousness. The main point of divergence is : for Pratyabhijna, consciousness is not a thing, not an objet, especially not an objet of perception. It is self-awareness. You seem to say that consciousness is an objet. Is that the case ?

2. Let's admit first person experience is "influenced" (a rather vague terme)by theory - I would say language. But not discursive language. But it could be expressed as : "I am consciousness, free to manifest as self and as other". Common sense often veils first person experience, hence the necessity of removing those veils through arguments.
But in first person experience, what does tell you that you are another consciousness than the one you guess in others ?

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