Friday, April 27, 2012

Why is Prabhākara hardly studied at all?

Of the scholar known as the “founder” of the school, Prabhākara Miśra, only one text (his Bṛhatī) is extant, and only a fraction of it has been edited and published. Before him, possible forerunners are known only because their names are sometimes quoted in other works. The lack of a satisfying edition of the Bṛhatī, together with its terse style, has made direct access to Prabhākara prohibitive to most scholars. In fact, even ancient Indian philosophers, though crediting Prabhākara with the “foundation” of the school, preferred to quote his commentator, Śālikanātha Miśra and the custom has continued ever since. Śālikanātha himself, though much clearer than Prabhākara, did not intend to convey the basic tenets of his school in an easy manner for the sake of non-Mīmāṃsakas. It is indeed not until a later time that Indian philosophers felt the need to compose easier abridgements of their schools’ doctrines. Instances of this kind of texts are the Bhāṭṭa Mānameyodaya or the Naiyāyika Tarkasaṅgraha, which are used even today as introductory manuals.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Commentaries and novelty in Indian philosophy

Unlike modern Western Philosophy, Indian Philosophy developed chiefly through commenting on older works. Even innovations were mostly conveyed (or rather ‘concealed’?) through the re-thinking of someone else’s words. From what precedes it is obvious that a comment does not always furnish an absolutely reliable interpretation of the text it is commenting on. Nevertheless, it shows us the way, say, xvii century readers read that work and interpreted it.

Therefore, I agree with Eli Franco that before refusing the interpretations we find in comments, we must provide very sound reasons:

First, does this interpretation fit within the immediate context of the verse? Second, was the verse interpreted in this manner by any of Dharmakīrti’s commentators, and if not, why is the traditional interpretation to be rejected? 
Franco adds a third interesting point:
Third, does Dharmakīrti actually attempt to establish the validity of perception and inference by relying on the authority of the Buddha? (Franco 1999:65)

This third point amounts to verifying if the author one is dealing with actually implements the principles one seeks to recognise in his work.

On the risk of relying on commentaries, see this post.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Does Indian Philosophy require experts to be read and understood?

Do we need to philosophically understand the philsophical purport of a text we are working on? Well, would you imagine reading or editing a medical text without understanding anything at all about what it describes?
My purpose in this comparative study is twofold. First, I seek to understand the doctrine of the self as presented in the original Mīmāṃsā texts. To do so, one must achieve a philosophical understanding of the doctrine; one cannot interpret a text adequately—be it philosophical or medical or mathematical, and so forth—unless one understands in some measure independently of the text what it is about. Comparison of the presentation of a philosophical idea in one text with presentations of the same or similar ideas in other texts stimulates philosophical understanding of it, insofar as to comprehend something is to know to what it is similar and from what it is dissimilar. […] My second, subsidiary purpose is to recover a lost argument from the history of Western philosophy. The study of another philosophical tradition often affords a philosopher new perspectives on types of reasoning that exist in his own but, for whatever reasons, have been forgotten or left undeveloped. 
(John Taber, The Mīmāṃsā Theory of Self-Recognition. Philosophy East and West 40 (1), p. 35)
I have been overtly provocative. But what do readers think? Did you ever edit a technical text? Do you think one needs a specific expertise for doing it?

On this topic, see this post (especially the interesting comments by Falecius). On philosophy as a technical subject (and on the opposite view), see this post. For my view on this topic (in case you did not have enough…), see this presentation.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Internet Open Access & Copyright Law In the EU

This is a guest post by Fiona Causer, elaborating on our interesting discussion on Open Access (see this post). Fiona Causer is currently a student pursuing her bachelor's degree in Legal Studies. She enjoys writing and seeks to use it as a vehicle to convey ideas and engage others in discussing relevant issues of our day. We both hope this contribution might be of practical help for academic authors and readers.

Open Access is a necessary augmentation to currently published scientific articles because the free availability of current research benefits all scientists, a statement noted by Jonathan Grey, of the Open Knowledge Foundation, in the EU discussion of the benefits of Open Access. “The results of publicly funded research should be circulated as widely as possible as a matter of principle,” he stated in a webcast broadcast on July 18, 2011. Having established the importance and relevance of Open Access, we now turn to the discussion of publication rights and revision privileges.

Academics and researchers across the European Union and United Kingdom are currently in discussion regarding the properties and ownership rights of Open Access publications. Open Access is the unrestricted right to access, reference and publish any Internet publications, including journal articles and scholarly research. A particular issue is the legality of revisions on any existing web or offline publications: Can a person update an Open Access article at any time? Also, to whom does the copyright belong when an article is published in Open Access? The question of Open Access highlights the importance of holding an on-going dialogue around legal and copyright issues surrounding academic writings and journals provided online. This article will address some of the concerns with the intersection of legal and copyright issues present in today's academic research climate. The importance of the legal aspect cannot be overestimated because in future instances, how an attorney or a paralegal studies and interprets these issues could dictate which academics have their work plagiarized or which get the proper protection as others read and cite their work.

At present, the crucial issue is who has the publication rights. Open Access can be published while being subject to further copyright permission or only with granted permission copyrights, it all depends on how the article is published as to who can reproduce it and under what circumstances. Many times, this depends on reuse of an article for purposes other than the original. For example, if the work is already copyright-approved and published for academic purposes, but is then going to be reused for commercial purposes at a later point in time, then the copyright holder of the original content can express approval or disapproval for its commercial use. It is most often the option by Open Access to allow all reproduction publications, and the copyright is most often held by the publisher, not the author.

Revision privileges would be also limited to the publication copyright holder and not to the recipient of the Open Access article or story. Many publishers include barriers that limit the revision of the articles, but not the publication, resourcing, or distribution for copy, teaching, or instruction. As to whether the article is published off line, on the web, in a journal, or in a reference publication, the rights to revision and updates to the article belong specifically to the copyright holder, which is in most cases, the publisher.

The original copyright holder of all articles is the author. However, in publication, the right of copyright usually transfers directly to the publisher, even in Open Access publications, and is accompanied by a transfer agreement that specifically spells out the rights and privileges of both the author and publisher. The SPARC Author Rights Initiative has an online discussion of which rights the author may want to terminate and under which circumstances the author may wish to retain all ownership of their written work. Utilizing the key points in their information will help future authors determine the best publishing criteria for their specific works, especially in an Open Access landscape where copyright ambiguity is an ever-present reality.

Personally, I enjoyed working on this post with Fiona, since she never refuted discussing any point of it. I hope she will also enjoy engaging in further discussions… try and ask!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

The external object in Dharmottara

It is often not easy to understand the point of view from which Buddhist Epistemologists elaborate their theories. A typical example is that of the existence of external objects, which is in most cases ultimately denied, but which is presupposed in order to explain the theory of knowledge. For instance, in the case of perception:

external object (the ultimate particular, svalakṣaṇa)
the mental image of this object (svalakṣaṇākāra),
which imparts its image on
the conceptually constructed object (santāna)

The order is inversed in the case of inference (and consequently of Linguistic Communication, which is a case of inference):

out of no specific external object, one gets
an āropitākāra (a superimposed image,
which appears as external), out of which,
an adhyavasita object

Therefore, in the latter case there is no connection whatsoever with the svalakṣaṇa. But, interestingly enough, the inference is not exactly like an error. Dharmottara (in Jayanta) explains that, though mistaken, it keeps some loose connection with the object. In other words, even if the object is not actually in touch with the epistemological process, the inference works because of an indirect link with it.

The above is part of what I understood during many interesting discussions during the Apoha Workshop. I am particularly grateful to a debate between Shoyu Katsura and Larry McCrea on the last day. Errors are entirely my fault.

On the Apoha Workshop (and for further links on apoha), see this post.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Apoha in Dharmottara

I am presently attending a thought-provoking workshop on apoha, held in Vienna, Akademie der Wissenschaften. The programme of the workshop is to read Kumārila's refutation of apoha as depicted in Jayanta's Nyāyamañjarī and then Jayanta's depiction of the Buddhist reply.
Kumārila must refer to Dignāga's theory (since he did not know Dharmakīrti's one), whereas the reply in Jayanta is Dharmottara's one.

Dignāga's and Dharmottara's theories seem to be utterly different. Dignāga, Ole Pind (who authored a PhD thesis on Dignāga's theory of apoha, available online here) informed us, really defines apoha as abhāva (absence) and vyāvṛtti (exclusion) and uses it as if it were the exact equivalent of a positive universal (which he cannot accept for inner-Buddhist reasons). But an apoha so conceived can be easily attacked insofar as it posits the external existence of an absence.
Dharmakīrti, in order to avoid Kumārila's criticism, defined apoha as an internal image. But
Dharmottara adjusts this position by saying that apoha is neither external, nor internal. Why? It cannot be external because it is not real, nor can it be internal, because it is not of the nature of cognition (abodharūpatvāt, in Jayanta, NM 5, section 2.6 in Kataoka's 2009 edition). What is it then? I would suggest that it can well be an action, that of excluding. But Dharmottara (as represented by Jayanta) rather says focuses on apoha as the āropitākāra ("externalised image", i.e., the result of the action of negating anything else which is projected on the outside) and says that it is nothing at all (na kiñcid eva). Why is this āropitākāra not of the nature of cognition? Because it is the externalised image, which is no (longer) a mental event.

In this way, all objections against it are easily defeated (since both the arguments against an external apoha and against an internal apoha become pointless). But the solution seems somehow paradoxical. Of course, Dharmottara can reply that this is due to the fact that this solution regards the worldly level (vyavahārika) and not the ultimately real one (paramārthika).

On Jayanta, see this post. On apoha, see this one.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Using Western Philosophy while working on Indian philosophical texts?

Although I work chiefly on an Indian philosophical system, the Mīmāṃsā, my readers find many references made to both classical and modern Western Philosophy in my texts. It is so because I do not think it is possible to leave my Western background, which constitutes also the background of my philosophical understanding, completely out of the enquire. Therefore, I have tried to explicitly point out all similarities and analogies which could have in any way influenced me. However, I am not proposing a comparative study of, say, Kumārila and Anselmus, but am rather using comparison as a method. Besides that, the texts I will be dealing with are chiefly philosophical ones and could be hardly understood without philosophically re-thinking them.
From a different point of view, the study of another philosophical tradition, I believe, often offers new and useful points of view even in regard to our most basic tenets. Commonly agreed conclusions may seem the only possible ones and one could fail to weigh their value if one does not compare them with radically different solutions offered to the same (or a similar) problem by another culture.

Do you acknowlede your philosophical background? Do you think you can obliterate it altogether while approaching an Indian text?

On the same topic, see also this post. On the problem of "implicit paradigms", see this post.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Why looking philosophically at Sanskrit texts?

Why should one look at Sanskrit philosophical texts through a philosophical approach? Are not specialists of Sanskrit language enough? Why should one bother understanding the philosophical implications of the text?
A first answer is that these texts have been written for philosophers, and hence deserve a philosophical audience. Furthermore, a philosophical approach makes it often possible to uncover aspects of a text a non-philosopher would not have thought of.

In the case of Jayanta's Sarvāgamaprāmāṇya, this approach made it possible to consider more closely some of the elements of the text, such as the interpretation of the mahājanaparigraha. This oscillates between a quantitative agreement and the qualitative component of this agreement, which must be free of inner disagreements and involve the best part of the society. Furthermore, why did Jayanta feel the need to mention the absence of fear towards a certain religious text among the criteria for accepting a religious belief? A philosophical approach made it possible to distinguish, within Jayanta's texts, between theoretical and social worries and, consequently, between the social aspect of fear and its theoretical background, i.e., the role of emotions within epistemology. The latter aspect had been neglected in the past analyses of the Sarvāgamaprāmāṇya, and could be noticed thanks to a properly philosophical approach.

On Jayanta in general, see this post. On social and theoretical issues within the Nyāyamañjarī, see this post. On the consensus gentium in the Nyāyamañjarī, see this post. On emotions within epistemology, see this post.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Jayanta's Mīmāṃsā sources

Within Mīmāṃsā, the seminal Mīmāṃsāsūtra by Jaimini has been commented upon by Śabara in his Bhāṣya. Next, Kumārila Bhaṭṭa commented upon different portions of the Mīmāṃsāsūtra and the Bhāṣya in four works, i.e., the Ślokavārttika, the lost Bṛhaṭṭīkā, the Tantravārttika and the Ṭupṭīkā. The general tendency in Sanskrit philosophy is to consider Kumārila or his interpreters as the final authority and to read Jaimini and Śabara through his lenses.

While working on a portion of Nyāyamañjarī 4 —the Sarvāgamaprāmāṇya— with Kei Kataoka, we could ascertain what follows as for his Mīmāṃsā sources. In an article, Alex Watson could detect a direct quote of Prabhākara and I would be glad to receive further hints concerning Jayanta's sources.

The main source of the Sarvāgamaprāmāṇya was the Tantravārttika commentary on Mīmāṃsāsūtra 1.3.1-4, by Kumārila Bhaṭṭa (as already ascertained in Kataoka 2004). To Kumārila we could add the role of Śabara as direct source of Jayanta, since in several cases Jayanta prefers Śabara's interpretation over Kumārila's one. As hinted at above, this contradicts a general tendency and is hence of particular significance.
Beside Śabara and Kumārila, we could ascertain that Jayanta also relied on a source within the opposed branch of Prābhākara Mīmāṃsā, although it has not been possible to find an exact textual parallel in the work of Prabhākara Miśra or of his first commentator, Śālikanātha Miśra.

Does this mean that Jayanta could read the work of a Prābhākara author before Prabhākara?

On Jayanta in general, see this post.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Taking stock of Jayanta

Bhaṭṭa Jayanta lived in Kaśmīr towards the end of the first Millennium A.D. and recognised himself as a member of the Nyāya school of philosophy, a current of Indian philosophy focusing on logic and epistemology. Nonetheless, he was also an expert of another school of Indian philosophy, namely the one called Mīmāṃsā, which deals especially with the exegesis of Sacred Texts. His main focus was, in fact, the epistemology of language and although his opus magnum, the Nyāyamañjarī, claims to cover all instruments of knowledge and knowledge-contents, about one third of it is dedicated to language. Jayanta uses both the Nyāya and the Mīmāṃsā approaches in order to elaborate an epistemology of language which joins the advantages of each approach. For instance, Jayanta is able to take into account both the point of view of the speaker, as typical of Nyāya, and that of the listener, as typical of Mīmāṃsā; both the point of view of the single words, as typical of Nyāya, and that of the sentences, as typical of Mīmāṃsā, and so on.

Consequently, Jayanta offers many points of interest, both from an historical point of view and from a theoretical one. On the one hand, he sums up the developments of Nyāya and Mīmāṃsā up to the X c. A.D., on the other he points to new solutions to the topics he deals with. At the same time, however, in order to evaluate his contribution, scholars working on Jayanta must thoroughly know the work of his predecessors.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

How to avoid the "risk" of relativism

Although Jayanta and Kumārila at occasion admit the validity of all religious systems (see this post), they are far from accepting relativism.
That Jayanta's approach does not result into a relativistic position is due to its being anchored to the Veda as a fixed parameter, and especially to Kumārila's interpretation of it. In fact, Kumārila's defence of tradition and of the necessity of relying on an authority is very far from the acceptance of any authority just insofar as it is an authority. Insightful, in this regard, is Wilhelm Halbfass' reply to John Taber in Beyond Orientalism (1997):

Kumārila does not simply represent a special kind of traditionalism; he is a fundamentalist. For him, traditionalism (which is characterized by the acceptance of ancestral habits, commonly recognized standards, etc.) is nothing more than conventionalism. To be sure, Kumārila did not have to face the modern specter of relativism. Yet he was familiar with numerous incompatible religious traditions and moral codes, and he faced these traditions as well as his own tradition from the outside. He did not simply advocate what he had received from and through his tradition, but he set himself the task of identifying an underlying principle for his tradition, and of defending it in an open arena of philosophical debate (p. 480).

On Jayanta's approach to other religions, see this post.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Social and theoretical issues while dealing with religious pluralism

Jayanta deals with religious pluralism in a passage of Nyāyamañjarī 4 (let us call it "Sarvāgamaprāmāṇya", short SĀP) and then again in his philosophical drama Āgamaḍambara (henceforth ĀḌ). The two texts are closely linked and many parallel passages have indeed been located in the critical edition of the SĀP (Kataoka 2004). The general point of both texts is the same, insofar as both indicate that all Sacred Texts can be regarded as valid, with a few exceptions. Their validity is in both texts argued for from both a Mīmāṃsāka and a Naiyāyika point of view.

This similarity of approach and content lets the rare points of divergence appear in a striking way. These are:

  1. 1. The validity of Pāñcarātra texts, which are admitted among the valid sacred texts together with the Śaiva ones in the SĀP (although only with a negative formulation, i.e., as ''not invalid''), whereas the ĀḌ is much more cautious.
  2. 2. The status of several Śaiva cults, which are seen with more suspicion in the ĀḌ, whereas the SĀP states that Śaivas do not contradict the Veda and does not deal extensively with more ''problematic'' Śaiva and Śākta sects .

One could try to solve the problem by considering the fact that the Pāñcarātrins are only mentioned in passing in the SĀP, whereas they are a main topic of the ĀḌ, since the queen seems to favour them. Moreover, one might add that the ĀḌ could reflect a later stage of Jayanta's thought.

A different tentative explanation is to consider the distinct purpose of the two texts. The ĀḌ tells the story of Saṅkarṣaṇa who is appointed by king Śaṅkaravarman as a sort of ''Minister of religious affairs''. Thus, his position is not so far from that of the historical Jayanta, who was also a minister of Śaṅkaravarman. Due to his political role, Saṅkarṣaṇa needs to look at religions also from the point of view of their social impact. Consequently, he needs to take care of antisocial religious practices, such as the ones of some Śaiva ascetics. He also needs to take care of the disturbing behaviour of the Pāñcarātrins, who claim to be Brāhmaṇas, and thus intervene in the Brāhmanas' assemblies.
Thus, it is understandable that Saṅkarṣaṇa needs to clean out the religious horizon. Since Jayanta himself is mentioned negatively by some Śaiva ascetics in the ĀḌ, one might imagine that he also took part to similar campaigns.

By contrast, the SĀP has chiefly theoretical aims as shown already by the fact that it focuses on texts rather than on practices. Therefore, it can deal with the abstract problem of the validity of other sacred texts and only mentions the issue of deviant religious practice insofar as it has an impact on the criterion of the acceptance by the great people. Accordingly, it can be more open towards the other religions, seen as sets of sacred texts rather than as social practices.
The historical ''occasion'' of the SĀP is in fact the intellectual interest on the validity of Sacred Texts which originated around the middle of the first millennium AD and had become much stronger by the time of Jayanta (suffice here to mention Yāmunācārya's Āgamaprāmāṇya, on the validity of Pāñcarātra). This interest focused on the problem of the validity of Sacred Texts other than the Veda and was probably linked with the raise of beliefs external to the Veda, which needed an intellectual discussion and/or an apologetics. Apart from Buddhist and Jaina discussions about the validity of the Buddha's and the Jina's word, even ''Hindū'' authors had to loosen their criteria in order to make room for new beliefs. Already Kumārila feels the need to address the problem of non-Vedic beliefs and concludes that from a certain point of view one can speak of validity in regard to them all (sarveṣāṃ prāmāṇyam, TV ad 1.3.2), since the non-Vedic elements entailed in, e.g., Buddhist texts, can be read in an instrumental way, e.g., as encouraging one to give up one's attachment to worldly things. By contrast, Kumārila is much less tolerant when it comes to the acceptance of other religious practices.

The practical concern re-emerges, within SĀP, in the last section, where the king Śaṅkaravarman's campaigns against the Nīlāmbaras are mentioned and, accordingly, the restrictions listed for texts to be admitted as valid are stricter than what had been established until that point. For instance, although section one's hesitation already showed that one's inner hesitation is not a criterion, the final section lists it among the preconditions for the validity of a sacred text.

For other posts on Jayanta's way of approaching the problem of the validity of other religions, see this post. For the problem of one's emotions as guides while judging about these matters, see this post.
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