Friday, September 28, 2012

Practical purposes of Indian philosophy

Are we studying Indian philosophy in order to solve problem?

In an interesting comment to this post, Aleix Ruiz-Falqués asks:

There are many problems nowadays (War, Famine, Economic Crisis, etc) and the role of philosophy is to offer a guideline for thinking correctly about these problems, so that we can solve them. This is exactly the practical approach of Indian philosophers. But I wonder if we (philologists and doxographers) are as practical as ancient and modern philosophers. I have heard many times, from academics, that "we are not here to solve problems, but to point them out" - to "problematize", as they call it. I think this is bullshit, because the real agenda is to preserve a teaching post per saecula saeculorum. What do you think? For instance: starting from Mīmāṃsā, how do you approach the recent tensions between Israel and Iran? I remember a Nyāya pandit once told me something like: "For the naiyāyikas, the problems of terrorism are simple to solve: you send the army..." etc.etc. He was Indian, of course, and 100% philosopher.

 I am not completely sure I can subscribe to the idea that Indian philosophers are "practical". I guess that many of them were and many others were not. And problematizing is my favourite activity…

Nonetheless, I see Aleix' point and it is difficult to deny that if philosophers want to be paid through taxes (i.e. by the money earned by simple people) they must be ready to have also a social function. Plus, luckily enough he did not claim that philosophers should solve problem, bur rather offer a guideline to think correctly about them.
This social function amount to, in my opinion, instructing people in the following:

  • logical thinking: e.g., show that if B is included in A and if X claims that ~A (e.g.: no European fundings for agriculture, we do not want to pay taxes for that!), he or she cannot then claim that B (e.g.: more European fundings for tobacco-farms of my county!).
  • epistemological thinking: e.g., show that one cannot believe that A because "someone" (e.g. Wikipedia) said it, unless this "someone" is a reliable source.
  • looking at the broader picture: due to our psychology (or perhaps physiology), we tend to focus on today's egg and cannot take into account the disasters the egg-industry might produce. A philosopher should be brave enough to logically warn about the consequences of today's actions and choices (be it about climate change or about women's instruction).

As for the problems with religious and political fundamentalism, I can see Mīmāṃsā's contribution as highlighting the distinction between a descriptive and a prescriptive reading of Sacred Texts. Once Sacred Texts are not read as descriptions of the way the world is, one will no longer have to condemn people for believing in the existence of dinosaurs, nor will one speak about the "contrast" of religion and science.

What do you consider the purpose of scholars of (Indian) philosophy?

For my thoughts on applied Indian philosophy, see this post. The present discussion with A. Ruiz-Falqués started on this post.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Philosophy and Philology of Sanskrit works

Are we doing philosophy, when we are trying to understand what jāti means in Bhartṛhari? Consider the following passage from a comment by Aleix Ruiz-Falqués to this post:

I think […] that doxography includes studying the views of old philosophers:
What I mean is that when we study (let's say) Kant, we spend more time discussing what he really says than what he says. So instead of learning from Kant, we speculate about Kant, as if unearthing a treasure, as if Kant's philosophy was not explained in Kant's books. In Indian Philosophy there is a lot of doxography. I'm reading right now a book on Bhartṛhari and Dignāga, and I can't believe there are so many different interpretations of the word jāti in Bartrhari (let alone other words in Bhartṛhari, let alone the word jāti in other philosophers). I think that when we spend hours and hours trying to understand what Bhartṛhari means by "jāti", we are doing philology, not philosophy. Philology is great, no doubt. But we should not be confused about this: one can do philology on philosophical texts, and still one is not doing philosophy. I think we should do philosophy, without giving up philology. The first ones that come to my mind are Schopenhauer and Chomsky (among those influential Western thinkers who benefited from Indian ideas). I have no special sympathy for any of them, but still, they are or were modern thinkers and they did/do not read Indian Philosophy esoterically (emphasis added by me, EF). 

This is a very important point and I am grateful to Aleix for being brave enough to raise it. Personally speaking (see also the last paragraph below), I tend to think that trying to understand what Kant really meant is not just philology, because understanding requires the exercise of one's critical thinking. But let me be more precise:

  • Suppose I try to understand what Dharmakīrti means while referring to the non-conceptual perception of a patch of blue. Now suppose that I dive into the concept of "blue" (nīla) and read kāvya and other texts to understand what exactly is meant by this term in Sanskrit (speculating about the fact that it must be a darker blue than the one of the sky in a sunny day, given that Kṛṣṇa's complexion is said to be so black that it becomes blue and so on). This is a valuable exercise, one for which one needs to know texts and context and it is part of philology.
  • Suppose, by contrast, that I choose to focus on "non-conceptual perception" (nirvikalpapratyakṣa). I might need to read a lot of Dharmakīrti, and of Kumārila's criticism against it. In several cases (e.g., in Taber's Kumārila On Perception), one will also consider the concept of perception in Russell and in several other contemporary philosophers. Would not you say that this is part of a philosophical enterprise? 
More in general,

  • does not philosophy amount (also) to "thinking clearly" (the definition is Daya Krishna's)?
  • is exegesis not part of philosophy (at least after H.-G. Gadamer)?

This does not mean to say that we should only pause on terms and forget about the broader picture. On the contrary, we can only understand the meaning of each key-term of a philosopher once we have understood her whole thinking. But assuming that this is by itself clear might be misleading. I am personally not convinced by the idea that Kant is crystal clear and that one only needs to read him in order to understand him. Not to speak about Dharmakīrti, whose context was so far away from ours that we surely need plenty of philological work to reconstruct it and whose contribution needs plenty of philosophical efforts in order to be evaluated.


  • it is probably true that in most countries of Europe Indian philosophers are examined overwhelmingly from a philological point of view,
  • but elsewhere they are dealt with "philosophically" almost independently of what they actually said.

It lies on the shoulders of researchers to find a suitable balance. Have you found it? Which authors do you think did find it? I have my own list, if someone is interested.

(When I read Aleix' comment, I could not help thinking "touchée", since I am exactly working on an article where I discuss the meaning of jāti (vyakti, artha, viṣaya, piṇḍa… and various other terms related to the semantic sphere of "meaning" and "referent") in Jayanta, thus be warned: I might be biased.)

The post which originated this interesting discussion is this one. For my own thoughts on philosophy vs. history of philosophy, see this post.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Mediating between Western and Indian Philosophy

Western philosophy, to the extent that it refuses to take an interest in these texts, will remain, as I've said before (paraphrasing Nietzsche), nothing more than a catalogue of its own prejudices.
(Justin Erik Halldór Smith)

Without knowing anything of Sanskrit philosophy, one cannot be a "genuine" philosopher, but rather someone who is avoiding dangerous questions (i.e., the very core of the philosophical enterprise).

If one were to object that one cannot be an expert on everything, and that one consequently neglects Indian philosophy because of lack of time, the appropriate answer would be, in my opinion: team work. One cannot be an expert on everything, but one ought to know that one is not and one ought to seek advice and help. From whom? From people who must be aware of both Indian and Western tradition and must be able to mediate and "translate". In the same post where I read the line reproduced here above, J.E.H. Smith also claims that he would like to become such a philosopher. I cannot but wish him good luck (and offer him my help, in case he could need it).

Do you share a similar agenda? Or similar concerns? Why (not)?

You can read the entire blog post by J.E.H. Smith here. And you can read a similar program in my own "about" page in Academia.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Where to publish "Indological" staff?

Shall we have our contributions published by Indian publishers or by Western ones? Within "Indological" journals or discipline-specific ones?

I am very  much convinced of the benefit of publishing on journals which are read by a wider audience, so that you are read by people specializing on your discipline, but within different scenarios. This has the advantage for you of receiving impartial criticisms and for them to get aquainted with South Asian materials (which becomes, in the long run, a benefit for you, too, since it enhances the chances of South Asian topics being taught, and, consequently, of South Asian positions opening).

However, the risk is big. Writing about sphoṭa on a journal on linguistics means that no one of the people you are usually in touch with will probably even know about your article. In addition, you will have to explain obvious points (e.g.: who was Bhartṛhari, what is the impact of Grammar in India, and so on). Thus, my usual solution is a compromise and I try to publish on both sides.

The problem is amplified in the case of books, since the choice becomes even more complex there, as Indian publishers come decisively into the picture. They offer at least two advantages: lower prices (and, hence, more accessibility) and the possibility of being read also in India. The alternatives are publishing in the West within an "Indological" series or within a "discipline-specific" one. To these two cases, my comments above apply.

What do you choose to do? And why?

For my doubts about the label "Indology" and about areal boundaries in general, see this post and this one (with many interesting comments).

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Still working on your PhD in Sanskrit and looking for a job?

A few weeks ago I posted about a vacancy in the University of Vienna. The deadline was close and many thought that this meant that applications were not really welcome. However, this was not the case and I am pretty sure that the Department did not appreciate the fact that it received only an extremely low number of applications. This time, there is a little bit more time.
The Department of South Asian, Tibetan and Buddhist Studies (Faculty of Philological and Cultural Studies) of the University of Vienna is looking for someone who could fill the vacancy of a full-time pre-doctoral position in South Asian Studies.

Maximum duration of employment: 4 years
Degree of employment: 30 hours/week [in my experience, this means that you must physically be at the Department for at least 30 hourse per week]
• Mag.phil., MA or comparable degree in South Asian Studies, Indology or a related discipline in the Humanities
• Excellent knowledge of Sanskrit
• Good command of German
• Good command of English
• Good general computer skills and familiarity with IT applications and solutions relevant to text-based pre-modern South Asian Studies
• Capacity for teamwork, organizational talent, reliability, thoroughness

Applications should include the following documents:
• Letter of motivation
• Curriculum Vitae
• Two letters of reference

Applications should be submitted to the Job Center of the University of Vienna ( no later than October 10, 2012, with reference to job identification number 3399.

Personally, I might add that a pre-doc position does NOT imply you must be starting now your PhD, but just that you have not finished it yet.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Commands and assertions in Indian and Western Philosophy

Are commands re-phrasable as assertions?
Time and again, both in India and in the West, someone tried to rephrase commands and to make them look like assertive statements. Why? Because assertive statements are "easier" to handle. They have truth-values, one can build correct inferences out of them, etc.
As for the Indian essays, the most interesting one is, in my opinion, Maṇḍana's. Maṇḍana explained that "X must do A!" is tantamount to "A is conducive to something X desires". For instance, "You must sacrifice!" is tantamount to "Sacrifice is the tool to realise something desirable (such as happiness, the obtainment of cattle and so on)".
As for the Western side of the enterprise, centuries later Karl Menger (1939) construed "X must do A!" as "Either X does A or there is a sanction". In logical language:

X does A v S

Georg von Wright has slightly rephrased the S as meaning not "Sanction" but "Liability to being sanctioned", but this does not alter too much  its "Lutheranic" allure.

A further attempt (Mark Fischer 1962 and others) has been that of attributing truth values to commands via their obedience: obedience would then be to commands what truth is to assertive statements.

But the problem remains that an assertive statement might be true or false independently of further circumstances, whereas a command has intrinsically different characteristics: it requires a specific addressee, a connection with time, and it must be "uttered", i.e., given. It does not exists in a vacuum.

Am I forgetting any interesting example, either in India or in the West?

On the truth value of imperatives, see this post. On Maṇḍana and contemporary ethics, see this post.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Do you want to work as a Sanskritist? Learn Hindī!

A few weeks ago I posted an advertisement of the University of Vienna, looking for a new employee within their project on the critical edition of the Nyāyabhāṣya. The position has been advertised only very late, there was little time left to gather the papers required, plus it was Summer. Anyway, the result was: a strikingly low number of people applied. This is surprising, given that there seem to be that many bright and unemployed Sanskritists all over the world. Thus, if you want to work as a Sanskritist, you might consider moving to Vienna.
If not, this is my second-best advice:
Free yourself from your self-inflicted time boundaries. 
In the last months, the Indology mailing list has hosted far more announcements regarding positions in Modern and Contemporary South Asia than in Classical India. Why don't "we" apply? Because we figure out we are not qualified nor interested. But this is only due to the contingent fact that we were trained to think of "Indology" as a distinct field (which is not the case, in my opinion). We are, rather, interested in poetry (with Sanskrit poetry as our favourite one), or in history (with Sanskrit manuscripts, etc., being such an interesting witness), or in soteriology (with perhaps a particular predilection for some Sankrit religious works), etc. If we could focus on what really drives us, we could get rid of the time frame we have chosen and start considering it also within a different time setting. And it would be easier to find a job, then…

Are you interested in Literature? Do work also on contemporary Hindī (or Bengalī, or Urdū, etc.) novels. Are you interested in Yoga, Ayurveda, dance? Do not neglect their contemporary evolutions. Are you fascinated by languages? Sanskrit and Vedic are great, but Hindī still awaits its Pāṇini, who can make it look as crystal clear as Sanskrit. "The earlier the better" is just a wrong syllogism (if it were not, we would all have to study prehistorical art and literature only). In my field, i.e., philosophy, I can say that K.C. Bhattacharya is incredibly fascinating and intriguing and it is hard to understand why he is relatively neglected by both scholars working on Western philosophy (who are busy with Heidegger and Analytical Philosophy) and scholars working on Indian one (who do not read anything written in English nor in Sanskrit after the 18th c. at latest).

If you were to object that time is too short to start working within a later scenario, let me rephrase: Life is too short to work on something you do not like or enjoy. But is it really the case that you enjoy all works written in Sanskrit better than all works written in any other Indian language? If this is the case, and you are a "real" Indologist, please leave a comment and explain how it works!

(In case you were wondering: I studied a lot of Hindī and of contemporary Tibetan and a little bit of Bengalī and forgot most of all of them. I wrote a little bit on contemporary Indian philosophy, and I enjoy reading it.)

For my doubts about the label "Indology", see this post and this one (with many interesting comments).

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Rule-extensions in Indian Linguistics and Ritualistics

At the core of the basic framework of Sanskrit systematic thought (and possibly of many other scientific treatises written in every kind of languages) is the practical and effective opposition between general and specific rules. This opposition entails the need of a device for properly extending rules, especially in the case of an overlapping of rules. In the Indian culture this need has lead to an analysis of the abstract structure of the extension of rules, which has been probably inaugurated by the ritualistic tradition. This developed a methodology often considered as a good antecedent of the grammatical substitution-system and of other sophisticated patterns of scientific descriptions, such as the Mīmāṃsā's ones.
 Nevertheless, this underlying arrangement of technical works is not often made explicit, so that all its features are to be patiently detected by a modern reader, often merely by starting from some terminological hints hidden in the texts, such as tantra and prasaṅga.

What other terms made you consider in a different way the whole structure of the way one reasons within śāstras?

I have written way too much on this blog on tantra and especially on the more obscure prasaṅga (a couple of examples are this post and this one, but just enter any of the related terms in the search engine on the left).

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Didactic of Sanskrit

I have been learning Sanskrit for many years and hope to improve my knowledge of it all my life long. Furthermore, I had for many years the priviledge of teaching Sanskrit and I look forward for the next chance of doing it again. This probably applies to you, too. Nonetheless, the didactic of Sanskrit is a sort of terra incognita. This might have to do with the fact that many Sanskritists feel that teaching is only something they have to do, whereas their true vocation would be to just research. Or with the fact that pedagogy is generally considered as a sub-field, one for people who failed in the main topic ("if you are not able to be an historian/a philosopher/a philologist, etc., you are ready to become a pedagogist").
Still, this is a pity. Because learning and teaching Sanskrit without being aware of the best tools to do it means wasting one's and other people's time.

At the last IIGRS (click here for the whole programme) there were two incredibly well-prepared and well-documented papers on the didactics of Sanskrit (a theorical one by Sven Wortmann and a practical one, showing how an actual class can be structured, by Ann-Kathrin Wolf). Everyone seemed to have enjoyed them and the follow-up discussion has been a great success. Here is my personal highlight:

  •  There are several kinds of students (analytical, visual, auditory… ones). Thus, one needs to use the tools which are more effective to each of them.

This is tantamount to say that one has to know oneself. There is no point in trying to focus on learning by heart the declension of devaḥ if you are a visual type and would rather be able to remember its graphic form. Nor does it make sense to focus on it if you are an auditory type, who would remember all the forms of devaḥ once you have encountered them in an actual conversation. Sven and Ann-Kathrin stressed the importance of leaving one's "comfort zone" and trying out other learning styles, but I am not completely sure I agree with that. If you are an analytical type, knowing about the Indoeuropean background will help you, but if you are a visual one, you will just have to learn by heart two sets of paradigms (the i.e. and the Skt ones). And so on.

What was your experience in learning Sanskrit? And in teaching it? What would (or could) you improve?

On the last IIGRS, see also this post. On Spoken Sanskrit (a powerful tool if you are an auditory type), see this post and this one. On my own efforts of explaining Sanskrit syntax (in an analytical way, I am afraid), see this post.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Another Amazon review on a Mīmāṃsā book

I wrote a nex Amazon review on a Mīmāṃsā book, namely Lars Göhler's Reflexion und Ritual in der Pūrvamīmāṃsā.
  1. 1.  Because I would like to try to exploit all means, even more widely accessible ones, to initiate discussions on Indian philosophy.
  2. 2. Because I would like to help readers in getting a first impression of whethere they might be interested in buying/reading the book.

As for the content of my reviews, I always try to:
  1. 1. be as short as possible (after all, it is not a real review and no one cares about my detailed opinion),
  2. 2. describe the target readership (so that one immediately knows whether she is interested in the book or not)
  3. 3. add a link for further discussions.
During the last IIGRS conference, I could discuss this project with some colleagues. Some of their objections were:
  1. 1. Why should you care, since you are surely not going to gain any prestige out of it?
  2. 2. Are not you afraid of getting new enemies?
Objection no. 1 is sound and I would sound naïve in trying to say that "the future of the discipline is important for me". Let me then just say that the healthier Indology is, the more likely it is for all of us not to die of starvation.
As for objection no. 2, one can safely write anonymous reviews.

Can you think of other reasons for writing or not writing short reviews on Amazon, Philpapers and so on?

On my project of using Amazon and similar websites, see this post and this one.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Buddhism on the Silk Road (CBC 2013)

The following is the call for papers for the panel "Buddhism on the Silk Road", planned for the 5th Coffee Break Conference (Turin, September 2013):

Chair: Fanny Meunier (EPHE, Paris)

As well as goods, ideas were conveyed along the Silk Road. “Silk Road Buddhism” commonly refers to the transmission of Buddhism from India to China. Similarly, we call “Greco-Buddhism” a syncretism born from the meeting of the Buddhist culture, coming from India, and the Hellenistic one that spread in Bactria and the Gandhara region after Alexander the Great (323 BC) and through the Kushan Empire. These two traditions (even though themselves multiple) can roughly represent the situation of Buddhism along the Silk Road, from (Western) Central Asia to Eastern Asia from late 2nd century BC to 6th century CE ca.

We would like :
  • to compare Buddhism along the Silk Road to Indian Buddhism at the above mentioned period (through the issues of doctrinal vocabulary translation, of doctrine changes, of texts transmission, etc),
  • to discuss the role of the merchant people living along the Silk Road as cultural receivers and conveyors of Buddhism (one could also evocate the pre-Buddhist cultures of these peoples),
  • to have a chronological and typological view of the diffusion of Buddhism by comparison of these different cultures.

Invited fields of research: philology, history, history of art, theology, linguistics.

Studied areas: Northern India, Iranian, Tocharian, Tibetan, Chinese (and beyond).

Any suggestion will be taken into account. Please send a provisional title and a long abstract (ca. 1000 words) to the chairwoman (Fanny Meunier: before the 30th April 2013.

NB (forthcoming):
HANSEN, V. (2012): The Silk Road, a new history, Oxford University Press.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Glances from the IIGRS 4: Nature and the Meghadūta

I am presently in Edinburgh, attending the 4th edition of the IIGRS. Indology is somehow like a small family, but it is widespread over the world, thus conferences are often a great chance to see old friends and meet new ones.
I have attended two out of the three preceding IIGRSes. This time, the atmosphere seems more relaxed than before, partly before we got closer and more experienced, partly because the organizer (Robert Leach) is himself informal and easy-going. Maybe the IIGRS will end up resembling more a Coffee Break Conference, who knows?

Among the papers, I liked a lot Aleix Ruiz-Falqués' paper, A new reading of the Meghadūta, which pointed out some overseen features of the Meghadūta. The Meghadūta is a short poem (109 stanzas) by Kālidāsa where, after a short introduction, a Yākṣa who has been exiliated far away from home asks a cloud to go to his beloved one and give her a message. The longest part of the poem is the depiction of how to get there, followed by 14 stanzas with the message. For instance, Aleix showed how Kālidāsa explicitly states at v. 5 that a cloud, being insentient, cannot convey a message. Thus, the whole poem should be seen as depicting the folly of the Yākṣa and this creates a tension for the reader, who knows that this kind of folly is among the symptoms of love-in-separation and could even lead to death. Thus, Aleix suggested that the whole poem is tragicomic, like the Don Quixote.
Aleix also pointed to the fact that we usually describe the Meghadūta as being about nature. But, in fact, there is nothing like 'our' nature in the Meghadūta. Nor, I would add, in India in general. Nor in the West in general. In fact, what we now call nature is the combination of flora, fauna, landscape. It is a construction and not a datum. It has been 'produced' by poets, painters, garden-designers, etc., especially from the ones we group under the label of 'Romanticism'.

For more on nature in Indian Philosophy, check this other blog of mine (warning: in Italian!).

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Jaina heroic non-violence

Does one need to be breave in order to be non-violent? And is this an intrinsic connection or one due to historical reasons?

There has unquestionably been a ubiquitous connection in traditional South Asia between warrior and ascetic meditator, the conqueror of external enemies and the one who overcomes inner psychological foes. Jainism’s position as a religion of non-violence, which at the same time appealed to a warrior aristocracy throughout India up to the early centuries of the second millennium CE, need not then appear paradoxical, being most realistically explained by the central position within it of the quality, required by both ascetic and fighter, of intensely restrained control, and also by the promotion of a type of religio-political authority which in idealised form could encompass both the worldly and the soteriological (Paul Dundas, The non-violence of violence, in Religion and Violence in South Asia (Hinnells and King eds.), 2007, p. 52).

On Jainism and heorism, see this post.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Ready for more? A Coffee Break Conference on the re-use of texts

Are you fed up of boring conferences, where papers are read as if this were part of a hidden liturgy, whose meaning one no-longer remembers (since no one engages actively in it)? Would you rather like to compare ideas and discuss yours and other people's insights? You might be ready for the next Coffee Break Conference.

More seriously: a Coffee Break Conference is a conference designed for more interaction and less stiffness. We would like people to engage about ideas in a relaxed atmosphere, as it is usually the case only during coffee breaks.
After the first (Rome, June 2010), the second (Rome, September 2011) and the third edition (Cagliari, June 2012), a shorter meeting will be held in Rome, December the 21st and a proper conference in Turin, September 2013. Readers are very welcome to participate, if they don't mind spending hours discussing together before, during and after it.

As for the Rome meeting in December, a panel will discuss about the re-use of texts in Classical India. I started working on this topic several years ago, and several among the speakers have been working with me on a collective volume on the topic of the re-usal of texts in Indian philosophy. The conference will be a great chance to compare our results and to discuss them with the data derived from different milieus, such as the re-use of texts among Vedic poets. Given the fact that we have to priviledge to have an art-historian among the organisers of the CBC, I hope to be able to make her participate and compare the case of the re-use of architectonic elements in temples, etc.

On Coffee Break Conferences in general, see this post.
On quotations in India, see this post (on quotations in Indian philosophical texts),this post (on the purpose of such a study), this one (on marks of quotations), this one, this one (quotations in India and in the West), this one (quotations and originality), this one (on a tassonomy of quotations) and this one (on when authorities are explicitly mentioned).

Monday, September 3, 2012

Were Jainas non-Aryan? Or rather heroic Aryans?

Some scholars (e.g. Johannes Bronkhorst) interpret the early history of India along the lines of the conflict between a Vedic current and a śramaṇic one, which has been later attested in the writings of Buddhists and Jainas. Some among them interpret this opposition as an Aryan-non Aryan one (I tend to be sceptical about this interpretation, see this post). Others speak of various groups of Aryans, opposing each other, possibly because some had reached India before the others.

I recently read an interesting passage about the link between Jainas and the preceding Vedic background, showing an unexpected continuity between the two:

World renunciation of the sort followed by the Jains, Buddhists and other groups was an institution which entailed not so much the abandonment of social ties for a career of mendicant quietism as an entry into a heroic way of life which derived a great deal of its ethos, at least at its outset in the Ganges basin around the seventh or sixth centuries BCE,from an affinity with the early Indo-Āryan warrior brotherhoods, bands of young menwho at certain times of the year engaged in raiding, concomitant violence and the purificatory practice of celibacy.
The Mallas, whose name was traditionally perpetuated in the discipline at which Padmaprabha claimed to excel (cf. Sanskrit malla, ‘wrestler’),were in origin one such group, and both the Buddhist and Jain scriptures describe them ashonouring the remains of Mahāvīra and the Buddha, both members of the warrior (kṣatriya) class.

In this context, then, I would like to suggest that Jainism can profitably be regarded asexemplifying throughout its history what has been styled the ‘path of heroism’ (vīryamārga), a reconfiguration of warrior codes of bravery and physical control in the ascetic search for spiritual power and mastery (Paul Dundas, The non-violence of violence, in Hinnells and King, Religion and Violence in South Asia, pp. 40--41)

I wonder whether this last remark could apply also to Buddhist milieus?

On Aryan vs. non Aryans, see this post.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Are (Jaina) women more able to control sexual instincts?

For Jainas, renunciation of sexual intercourses is of extreme importance. Not only is celibacy one of the 5 vows for a monk, even for lay people sexual intercourses are seen as a negative distraction from one's religious duties. Paul Dundas explains the gender-implication of this view:

Quite clearly this perspective on sexuality is thoroughly androcentric. Al-though concern is continually shown in the cheda sūtras for the chastity of nuns, the safeguarding and confirmation of this virtue is invariably the task of monks, and it can be concluded that celibacy has largely been presented within the Jain learned tradition in male terms (Paul Dundas, Sthūlabhadra's Lodgings, in Celibacy and Religious Tradition, p. 192).

So, what remains for nuns to be actively done?

In fact, their situation seems somehow similar to that of women in Western fairy tales and myths: although their male counterpart are the ones who are praised for their celibacy, and although some women are described as desperately craving for sex and most others as weak, nonetheless it is easy to find examples of average women who are less disturbed by sex in their regular activities:

women […], despite their supposed innate susceptibility to erotic passion,
are regarded as being capable to a far greater extent than males of controlling its influence through the regular performance of fasting.
[…] In these terms it is surely not accidental that there are many more Jain nuns than monks (pp. 192--193).

I am not sure I understand the last point. Does the author mean that it is easier for women to become nuns, given that it is easier for them to renounce their sexual life? And is anyone by chance aware of other reasons for the higher number of nuns (which is, by the way, also true in the Catholic Church and perhaps also in other religions)? (I would think of external reasons, such as the fact that becoming a nun has been, at least in some Christian countries, a way to escape from an undesired marriage).

On ascetism and celibacy in Jainism, see this post.
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