Friday, March 30, 2012

Does the Veda have an "author"?

Traditionally, the Veda is said to have been "seen" by some ancient sages, the ṛṣis and the term ṛṣi is analysed as derived from the root dṛś- `to see'.. The Nyāyasūtra and its commentary reproduce this claim and discuss the reliability of the Veda's seers (draṣṭṛ).
One might wonder why are they not called just ''authors''. Does this terminological choice mean that they saw something which already existed before they saw it?
A preliminary answer is that even the Sanskrit words for ''author'' (such as upadeṣṭṛ) tend to emphasise a person ability to put together words, or to teach them, rather than her ability to fully invent something. Moreover, the Veda is not a fictional work, and accordingly its ''authors'' can be said to have ''seen'' it in a way comparable to what one could say about a non-fictional writer, like a natural scientist, who ''perceived'' the truth of a certain law and later put it down in a text which cannot be said to be her ''invention''.


andrew said...

daṇḍin's idea that sanskrit is 'a divine language that was adapted by great sages' (saṃskṛtaṃ nāma daivī vāg anvākhyātā maharṣibhiḥ, 1.33ab) seems relevant, though what the seers 'see' is a language rather than a set of texts. according to ratnaśrījñāna, this means that some seers, despite the fact that they themselves spoke 'regional languages' (deśabhāṣās), were able to learn the 'language of the gods' because of their extraordinary virtue, and since their time it has been current among men under the name 'sanskrit'. this resonates with the nyāya position that god authored the vedas, which were subsequently 'seen' by ṛṣis.

elisa freschi said...

Hi Andrew (and welcome here),
what do you mean with "what the seers 'see' is a language rather than a set of texts"? Did not they see a precise set oftexts, namely the Vedas?
As for what you label "the Nyāya position", I am inclined to think that it became the Nyāya position only by the time of Jayanta (and not before him). What do you think?

andrew said...

daṇḍin's ṛṣis might have seen the language in the vedas, but he doesn't say that (nor does his buddhist commentator). probably it is anachronistic to call the view that god composed the vedas 'the nyāya position', but kumārila and his followers argued against this position, and it would provide a rationale for speaking of 'seers' rather than 'authors' (though i would be interested to see whether the nyāyasūtra and its bhāṣya entail or presuppose divine authorship, or if there are other explanations).

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