Saturday, March 30, 2013

Round-table on the philosophy of testimony: UPDATED

Within the 2013 Coffee Break Conference, I will host a panel on the Philosophy of Testimony. Besides the usual scheme (short presentations+long discussions about each of them), I am thinking of having a final round-table, open also to people working with testimony (e.g., anthropologists, scholars working with statistics…). In order to avoid to have nothing but a final chat (which is always nice, and will anyway take place throughout the conference), I and the other participants agreed on some of the questions we would like to discuss. We will next send them to the participants of the other panels of the CBC conference.

Here are our proposals (1--4 are my ideas, whereas I owe to Massimo Cuono, Marco Lauri, Sudipta Munsi and Roy Tzohar the other suggestions):

  1. 1. Is it legitimate to pay one's witness (as is frequently the case in anthropology and/or whenever one works with statistics)? How much does economical interest alter the testimony?
  2. 2. Is perception reliable enough to become the object of testimony (can we, e.g., trust someone when she refers about what she has seen, although we know that it was dark and that she probably believes to have seen more than she has actually seen)?
  3. 3. Is second-grade testimony (e.g., I refer that S told me that p) reliable?
  4. 4. How can the reliability of a witness be tested? Can, e.g., the fact that she is honest be a criterion? Or that she has proved to be reliable in a certain (different) case?
  5. Is the medium of testimony neutral? In other words, what role does the form of testimony play? This is especially relevant in the case of written testimonies from authors of the past.
  6. How much does testimony depend on memory? Can we trust the former and mistrust the latter?
  7. Is testimony publicly available? Or are only some interpreters allowed to interpret it? 
  8. Connected with the above is: What distinguishes the judge's and the historian's (etc.) use of testimony?

What would you add/change? Which aspects of the philosophy of testimony need to be debated?

For further information on the CBC in general and on Philosophy of Testimony in particular, see this  (CBC) and  this (Testimony) wiki page. Within this blog, see this post. For the original post on the philosophy of testimony, see here.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

A(n Indian) world full of creatures: Gilles Tarabout on nature

From Hompi, Karṇataka
Is the world as we see it or not? Both in India and in the West, one has believed for centuries that this was not the case and that the world was full of living, though unperceivable, beings. The historian of philosophy Tullio Gregory writes that the space from earth to sky was believed —in the Western Middle Age— to be full of various kinds of angels, hierarchically ordered.

In Indian religious and popular culture (though not in the philosophical reflection, I am inclined to think, see here) one similarly sees that one believes and believed in a variety of intermediate beings occupying each inch of land, earth and sky. The anthropologist Gilles Tarabout underlined this aspect in (at least) two of his papers. In one of them, published in RiSS and dealing with astrology in Kerala, Tarabout refers of how astrologers consulted by the committee of a temple regularly describe the temple as full of presences, part of which may need to be pacified.

In his recent speech at the conference on The Human Person and Nature in Classical and Modern India, Tarabout has repeated how "No place is free of occupants". Thus, while building something new, one needs to pacify these powers, especially insofar as several of them may be malevolent or at least ambivalent. Among the former are listed bhūtas, pretas (which are described by Tarabout's informants as malevolent due to their untimely death) and are violent deities, whereas among the latter are yakṣīs which are dangerous female beings, honoured as goddesses and thought of as the spirits of unmarried dead girls. Only the serpent-deities may remain and most gardens in Kerala have a spot which is left wild and where nāgas are thought to dwell. In an interesting document of the Colonial time reported by Tarabout a spot of land is said to be sold together with cobras, the sky above, the underground with its treasures and the corresponding part of hell…

I guess that ancestors (pitṛs) would instead be counted among benevolent creatures. Do you have any evidence of the contrary?

Furthermore, this background assumptions partly explain also why non-theistic religions such as Buddhism and Jainism did not feel the need to deny the existence of nāgas, devas, and so on, and why monotheistic Indian religions acted in the same way: these beings were not the object of a specific faith but were just part of the description of the world as it is. Thus, they did not compete with the Buddha, the Jina, Viṣṇu, etc., for their believers' hearts.

For the program of the Rome conference on nature, see here. For my contribution to the conference, see here. For a further contribution to the conference, see here.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Round Table on the Philosophy of Testimony

Within the 2013 Coffee Break Conference, I will host a panel on the Philosophy of Testimony. Besides the usual scheme (short presentations+long discussions about each of them), I am thinking of having a final round-table, open also to people working with testimony (e.g., anthropologists, scholars working with statistics…). In order to avoid to have nothing but a final chat (which is always nice, and will anyway take place throughout the conference), I am considering to send the participants some of the questions we would like to discuss.

The following ones are my proposals, for the time being:

  1. 1. Is it legitimate to pay one's witness (as is frequently the case in anthropology and/or whenever one works with statistics)? How much does economical interest alter the testimony?
  2. 2. Is perception reliable enough to become the object of testimony (can we, e.g., trust someone when she refers about what she has seen, although we know that it was dark and that she probably believes to have seen more than she has actually seen)?
  3. 3. Is second-grade testimony (e.g., I refer that S told me that p) reliable?
  4. 4. How can the reliability of a witness be tested? Can, e.g., the fact that she is honest be a criterion? Or that she has proved to be reliable in a certain (different) case?

What would you add/change? Which aspects of the philosophy of testimony need to be debated?

For further information on the CBC in general and on Philosophy of Testimony in particular, see this  (CBC) and  this (Testimony) wiki page. Within this blog, see this post.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Raffaele Torella on Nature in India and the West

"Nature" is conceptualised in different ways in different parts of the world and the Western concept of nature has been deeply influenced by Giordano Bruno's philosophy of nature, Descartes' dualism, Schegel's holism, the Romanticism and so on.
Such interesting implications have been highlighted by Raffaele Torella during his introduction to the conference on The Human Person and Nature in Classical and Modern India. Torella also noted that the term prakṛti, which is assumed as the standard translation of "nature" is altogether absent in the Vedic Saṃhitās and Brāhmaṇas and in the Vedāṅgas or in Grammar [and, I would add, in Mīmāṃsā and in ritual literature] it is found with a quite different technical meaning. It has, thus, no cosmological implication and no association with materiality. A form which is described as prakṛti is foundational in a structural, but not material sense.

Within Sāṃkhya, prakṛti is a feminine term, but there is no clear assertion that it is feminine in the Sāṃkhyakārikā, apart from its comparison to a nartakī 'dancer' [Attention: in a contribution to the same conference, Bruno Lo Turco has, by contrast, maintained, that the equation prakṛti-feminine and puruṣa-masculine is evident in the Sāṅkhyakārikās, due to the gender of the two terms and to the fact that puruṣa does originary mean 'male'). The polarization of feminine-masculine is, instead, found in tantrism, with the feminine as the source of the world.

Furthermore, in both Classical India and the Classical West, one encounters both a natura naturans and a natura naturata. The first one conceals itself behind the phenomena. The Sāṅkhya prakṛti, due to its subtlety is not accessible to perception, just like Heraclitus says that physis "loves to hide" (kryptesthai philei).

Do you have further elements on nature as feminine before tantrism?

For the program of the conference, see here. For my contribution to the conference, see here.

Friday, March 22, 2013

āpātadhī in Vedānta Deśika and Rāmānuja

Reading Vedānta Deśika (aka Veṅkaṭanātha) often means having to do with syntetic expressions which can be understood only if one knows their background. One of such cases is āpātadhī or āpātapratīti, which recurs in the Seśvaramīmāṃsā, the Mīmāṃsāpādukā and in other texts by Vedānta Deśika (I owe this last notation to Marcus Schmücker).

An āpātadhī/āpātapratīti is, literally, a 'dropped down notion'. But what does it mean for a notion to be fallen down? I was first stimulated to read its antecedents in Rāmānuja's Śrī Bhāṣya by Halina Marlewicz' The question of the unity of Karmakāṇḍa and Jñānakāṇḍa according to Rāmānuja (available here). There, she translated this expression as follows:
[…] due to an instantly apparent (āpāta) and clear ascertainment of a durable and eternal effect, which is immortality, [which ascertainment is obtained from] the Upaniṣadic statements, occurring in the same part of the Veda of one's own Vedic tradition acquired by learning, one becomes qualified to study Uttara Mīmāṃsā […]
(adhyayanagṛhītasvādhyāyaikadeśipaniṣadvākyeṣu cāmṛtatvarūpānantasthiraphalāpātapratītes tan […] śarīrakamīmāṃsāyām adhikaroti). 

However, I am not completely convinced by the idea of equating āpātadhī with a sort of instantaneous enlightenment, as if it were due to a śaktinipāta.
Consider, by contrast, the following statement in a previous page of the Śrī Bhāṣya:
āpātataḥ pratītir vidyata eva, tathāpi […] āpātapratīto 'py arthaḥ saṃśayaviparyayau nātivartate.

The context is that of VS 1.1.1, discussing whether one needs to undertake a further study of the Vedānta, although one has already studied the phonic form of the Veda. The propounder says:

There is indeed a notion [of the content of the Veda] which derives out of descending down [automatically, from one's study of the phonic form of the Veda], nonetheless the meaning [of the Veda which one has acquired through] a descended cognition […] is still liable to doubt and contradictions.

If I am right, then, the āpātadhī is the cognition of the Veda's meaning one obtains automatically, as a consequence of one's study of the phonetic form of the Veda. This is still not stable enough and could be assailed by doubts, thus one needs to study the meaning of the Veda systematically, through the (Pūrva and) Uttara Mīmāṃsā.

For further posts on Vedānta Deśika's Seśvaramīmāṃsā, see this one and this one (in Sanskrit).

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Applying for (Indological) grants

While you are writing an application, who is your target reader? And which are the main elements in your cv you should be highlighting?

I spent a (long) day in a couching workshop of the Austrian FWF, and the following points are the most interesting things I learnt (please note that the German grants tend to work in a similar way, whereas there might be differences where research is funded by private trusts).

  1. 1. One writes for the Expert Evaluators (aka Peer-Reviewers, Gutachter). No one else will decide about the content of one's application.
  2. 1.1. This means that the structure and the form of the application will never be more important than its content
  3. 1.2. A further implication is that one should not worry about being understood by lay readers. There are no such ones.
  4. 2. About 30% of the applicants have their applications funded.
  5. 3. Projects are not rejected because the co-applicant is not qualified enough, nor because the international cooperator are not enough qualified, nor because other projects on the same discipline have already been funded, nor because humanities are not "significant". The main reason for failure is the project's intrinsic weakness.
  6. 3.1 Reasons for failure might be: lack of a hypothesis (sheer datebanks are not financed), lack of discussion of the status quo of research, no previous publications, vague methodology, really poor English.
  7. 4. A further reason for failure is the fact of trying to fit an interesting project into a funding instrument which does not correspond to it. In short: if you are an established researcher, don't try to apply for an early-career grant. Vice versa, if you are at the beginning of your career, don't try to apply for funds for established researchers. Find the right funding instrument for your project.
  8. 5. Women are less than 25% of the applicants, whereas they are almost 45% of the funded grants.
  9. 6. It is important to be able to show: a network of international cooperation and, more importantly, an excellent track of publications on international journals. All the rest (prices, publications on local journals and newspapers, teaching experience) does not really count much. 
 What are your experiences with accepted/rejected grants? Do you plan to submit a project?

For concrete opportunities I am aware of, check the label "opportunities and projects".

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Likes and Dislikes in an Indological conference

What works and what does not work in a (traditional) conference? This is my personal list:

  1. 1. Don't read. I can understand that reading helps if you are shy and/or you cannot speak English well enough and in similar cases. But please consider that reading will strongly diminish the likelihood that you can communicate something. Thus, rather focus on speaking less or in a simpler way, but without reading.
  2. 2. In this connection, I wonder whether we should really keep on forcing everyone to speak in English. Perhaps simultaneous translations would be a more expensive but much more effective alternative?
  3. 3. Putting down your thesis with no evidence (no texts being quoted, no secondary literature, no interviews, nothing!).
  4. 4. Only putting down evidences with no thesis (describing what you have read/listened to, with nothing new added).
  5. 5. Too many words in the slides (one does not know whether she should read it or listen to what is being said).
  6. 6. Slides with typos (as a consequence: write less in your slides, so that you can have enough time to proof-read it).
  7. 7. Too few slides: One rightly tries not to have too many slides, but too few also do not work, since one is distracted by a slide referring to X while the speaker is talking about Y. Thus, if you want to use a ppt, be sure you have an image for each one of the main parts of your speech.
  8. 8. Don't recycle a speech deemed for a different audience/purpose. It feels bad to be a second-choice-listener!

  1. 1. Refer to other speeches within the same conference (it feels like being in a workshop and one sees links one might have missed).
  2. 2. Focus on your strengths: if you are a great narrator, narrate. There is not a single way to be an academic and there is no point in being, e.g., a shallow manuscriptologist although you think that manuscriptological studies are more "scientific" than narrations.
What would you add or delete from the list?

On reading at conferences (pros and cons), read this post (and its comments) and this post. On an alternative idea of conferences, see this one and the corresponding wiki. For a list of dislikes in Indological presentations, see this post. For a former list of dislikes at conferences, see this post.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Provocative conclusions on sentience of plants in Classical India and in the West

continuum of life
  • For post-Renaissance Westerners, the idea of a continuum between plants-animals-human beings is a recent conquest.
  • In Ancient and Classical India, it seems the default view.
"plants'' as a class
  • For most Westerners, the idea of a plants as members of a whole (just like of “animals” or of “minerals”) is obvious.
  • In Ancient and Classical India, hierarchies among each of these groups, which are not conceived of as closed ones.

According to the Padārthadharmasaṅgraha ad Vaiśeṣika Sūtra 4.1.28 (sthāvarās tṛṇauṣadhivṛkṣagulmalatāvatānavanaspataya iti, where plants figure within a list together with earth and stones) and Buddhist Canonical sources (see Schmithausen's inspiring articles on the sentience of plants),  the common term seems to be sthāvara, but it is far less used than vṛkṣādi or more detailed lists enumerating trees (vanaspati or vṛkṣa), bushes, creepers and herbs.

The latter point also involves the fact that there is much less a cut between the one group and the other. Environmentalism in the West has to face serious objections against the equality (or even similarity) of human beings and animals, not to speak about plants. This objection is not raised as such in India.


  • The concept of “nature” is not at all “natural”.

(The good point is that this means that it can improve.)

Provocative expressions of dissent are welcome.

On sentience of plants, see also this post (be sure to check the interesting comments) and this one (on Buddhism).

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Sanskrit punctuation and related matters

How to punctuate a Sanskrit text?

If you use an Indian script, such as devanāgarī, you can stick to the conventions of this script.
If you have to transliterate into Roman alphabet, then, these are my rules of thumb:

  1. 1. You need to distinguish between what is typical of devanāgarī (or other Indian scripts) and what is typical of Sanskrit as a language. Skip the first and keep the second. E.g., writing sambandhaśca instead of sambandhaś ca does not make sense in Roman alphabet (although it makes much sense in devanāgarī, where a beautiful grapheme for श्च is available). By contrast, writing ceti instead of ca iti makes sense, insofar as it corresponds to a feature of Sanskrit as a language, namely the use of sandhi.
  2. 2. For the same reason, before using daṇḍas in your transliterated text, ask yourself what they should mean. If they indicate a pause, use full stops (and commas, if you like), which have in fact the purpose of indicating a pause in Roman alphabet. There is no point in using a devanāgarī punctuation within a Romanised text. If, by contrast, you are using daṇḍas to indicate a metrical structure, then you could consider using slashes (//) which are commonly used in English (etc.) texts to indicate verses. However, a strong convention among Indologists suggests the use of daṇḍas for indicating verses (| at the end of the first hemistich and || at the end of a verse).
  3. 3. Remember that Sanskrit texts as we received them usually express through words what we would  express through punctuation. This makes the use of additional punctuation redundant. For instance, if a sentence begins with kaḥ, kadā, kutra, kim, etc., there is no need to add a question mark at the end (unless you are preparing a text for beginners, who might need additional help).
  4. 4. More important: be consistent. Don't use first full stops in verses, then slashes and last daṇḍas.

What are your rules of thumb? Do you transliterate Sanskrit? Do readers expert in Pāli (or other classical Indian languages) have something to add?

On a related topic (translation of Sanskrit texts), see this post.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Postulating a fruit for a Vedic injunction

According to Mīmāṃsā hermeneutics, a prescription must include a fruit to be realised. This is not an optional element, but an unavoidable building block of its structure, just like the bhāvanā (the action prescribed). Thus, what to do in case no result is mentioned in a Vedic prescription? The Mīmāṃsā answer is the viśvajinnyāya 'the rule about the Viśvajit' sacrifice, so called because it has been elaborated in connection with the case of the Viśvajit sacrifice, which is in fact prescribed without any fruit to be realised through its performance. According to the viśvajinnyāya, whenever no result is mentioned, svarga, i.e., enduring happiness must be postulated as the result. Why exactly svarga? Because it is desired by everyone (unlike particular results, such as sons, cattle, rain, etc.).

A same problem applies in the case of the prescription to study the Veda (svādhyāyo 'dhyetavyaḥ), which also lacks the mention of a result. Vedānta Deśika discusses it in his commentary on Mīmāṃsāsūtra 1.1.1. There he says that one needs to postulate a result which should be desired  by everyone (sarvakāmya), analogically extended (atideśa-āgata) from other sacrificial prescriptions which mention it, obtained through commendatory statements, etc., which name it, and instrumental for the satisfaction of ancestors and gods. The relavant passage reads:

svādhyāyo 'dhyetavya iti vidhes svavākye phalādarśanāt, […] vidhyānarthakyaprasaṅgād viśvajinnyāyena svargaṃ vā bhāvyaṃ parikalpya […] adhyayanacodanāliṅgakātideśāgatajapādhyayanārthavādoktapitṛdevatṛptidvārakaṃ sārvakāmyaṃ phalam upādāya […]

Since one does not see the result (phala) of the prescription ''One has to study one's portion of the Veda'' in the sentence where it is itself [prescribed] (svavākya)[…] since there would be the undesired consequence that the prescription would be meaningless, we have alternatively (vā) postulated a heaven to be realised according to the Viśvajit-rule (and attributed it to the prescription to study). […]
Thus, we have accepted a fruit which is desirable to all, through which gods and ancestors (pitṛ) gain their satisfaction, expressed in commendatory statements (arthavāda), recitation and murmuring, and obtained (āgata) through an analogical extension whose mark is the injunction (codanā) to study.

Why does one's studying of the Veda satisfy gods and ancestors? Because one's study of the Veda is described in the Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa (, but I am copying from Kane) as a Brahmayajña: "4--7 compare ṛk, yajus, sāman and Atharvāṅgiras texts respectively to offerings to gods of milk, ghee, soma and fat and it is stated that the gods being delighted and satisfied with these, bestow on the man who performs brahmayajña affluence and security, life-breath, seed, his whole self and all auspicious blessings and streams of ghee and honey flow for his departed pitṛs" (Kane, vol. 2.1 p. 701).

For further posts on Vedānta Deśika's Seśvaramīmāṃsā, see this one and this one (in Sanskrit).

Saturday, March 9, 2013

The Human Person and Nature: a conference in Rome, 13th--15th March 2013

Will you be in Rome next week? Consider visiting the Museum of Oriental Art (where wonderful pieces from Gandhāra are kept) and listening to at least some speakers of the following conference. Then, let me now with a comment what you enjoyed more (or less).

14th March: Classical India
Morning Session, Museo Nazionale d’Arte Orientale
‘Giuseppe Tucci’, via Merulana 248, Sala degli Specchi

9.30–10.00 Authorities

10.00–10.30 Raffaele Torella (Rome): Introduction

10.30–11 Gilles Tarabout (Paris): Spots of wilderness. “Nature” in the Hindu Temples of Kerala

11.00–11.30 coffee break

11.30–12.00 Elisa Freschi (Vienna): Systematizing an absent category: discourses on “nature” in Prābhākara Mīmāṃsā

12.00–12.30 Rosa Fernandez Gomez (Malaga): Savouring the rasa of life. The artful yogi in Kashmir Śaivism

12.30–13.00 Giuliano Boccali (Milan): The description of Himālaya in Kālidāsa’s Kumārasaṃbhava I, 1–17

13.00–15.30 lunch

Afternoon Session, Museo Nazionale d’Arte Orientale
‘Giuseppe Tucci’, via Merulana 248, Sala degli Specchi

15.30–16.00 Carmela Mastrangelo (Rome): Natural languages and cultural language — substrate influence and classical tradition in the Sanskrit grammars by Paulinus a Sancto Bartholomaeo

16.00–16.30 Bruno Lo Turco (Rome): Woman, nature and satī

16.30–17.00 Gioia Lussana (Rome): Fluid Mother Goddess: water and blood as the flowing sacred essence of Mahā Devī in śākta tantrism of Kāmākhyā

17.00–17.30 coffee break

17.30–18.00 Elisa Ganser (Paris): Poetic convention, theatrical artifice, and the place of nature in Indian dramatic theory

18.00–18.30 Maria Piera Candotti (Turin), Tiziana Pontillo (Cagliari): Is svabhāva a strictly grammatical expression in the Mahābhāṣya? Notes on the early history of a philosophical term

18.30–19.00 Laura Giuliano (Rome): Guhā in Indian art: the place of manifestation. Representation of a concept, rethinking the landscape, recreating the natural space

15th March: Modern and contemporary India
Morning Session, Museo Nazionale d’Arte Orientale
‘Giuseppe Tucci’, via Merulana 248, Sala degli Specchi

9.30–10.00 Giorgio Milanetti (Rome): Introduction

10.00–10.30 Daniela Berti (Paris): Gods’ rights and environmental policy in Himachal Pradesh

10.30–11.00 Jayati Srivastava (New Delhi): Environment as discursive contestation: Narratives of environmentalism in India

11.00–11.30 coffee break

11.30–12.00 Giorgio Milanetti (Rome): Journeys through nature in Jayasi and Tul’si: hints of an urban-rural divide?

12.00–12.30 Mario Prayer (Rome): Looking at man and nature in rural Bengal: Manik Bandyopadhyay’s novel Padmā nadīr mājhi

12.30–13.00 Mara Matta (Rome, Naples): Womanizing nature in Indian literature and cinema

13.00–14.30 lunch

Afternoon Session, Istituto Italiano di Studi Orientali,
Sapienza University of Rome, via Principe Amedeo 182b, room 1

15.00–15.30 Ursula Münster (Munich): Human-elephant relations in contemporary South India

15.30–16.00 Sanjukta Das Gupta (Kolkata, Rome): Representing “tribes” and nature in colonial India: British accounts of Chotanagpur and Santal Parganas

16.00–16.30 Christine Lutringer (Lausanne): Experimenting nature: local knowledge and scientific research in India’s “rice bowl”

16.30–17.00 Daniel Münster (Heidelberg): Agrarian alternatives: An ethnographic research programme on human-nature relations in contemporary India

17.00–18.30 General discussion

Friday, March 8, 2013

TOC of my forthcoming volume on reuse of texts in Indian Philosophy: UPDATE

This is the provisional Table of Content of the forthcoming volume on the analysis of the reuse in Indian philosophical texts.

Preface, by Raffaele Torella

The re-use of texts in Indian Philosophy, by Elisa Freschi (Vienna, ÖAW)


Quotations, References, and the Re-Use of texts in the Early Nyāya Tradition, by Payal Doctor (CUNY-LaGuardia Community College)

Types of quotations as connected to the types of siddhānta in the Nyāyamañjarī 6, by Alessandro Graheli (Vienna)

Quotations of the Kāśikāvṛtti in Grammatical texts and the manuscript transmission of the Kāśikāvṛtti, by Malhar Kulkarni (IIT Mumbai)

Āgamārthānusāribhiḥ. Helārāja’s use of quotations and other referential devices in his commentary on the Vākyapadīya, by Vincenzo Vergiani (Cambridge)

Quotations, References, etc. A glance on a late Mīmāṃsaka's writing habits, by Elisa Freschi (Vienna, ÖAW)

Quotations and (lost) commentaries in Advaita Vedānta: Some philological notes on the 'Fragments' of Bhartr̥prapañca, by Ivan Andrijanić (Zagreb)

“Old is Gold!” Madhusūdana Sarasvatī’s way of referring to earlier textual tradition, by Gianni Pellegrini (Turin)

The Case of the Sārasaṅgaha. Reflections on the Reuse of Texts In Medieval Singalese Pāli Literature, by Chiara Neri (Rome "Sapienza")

The creative erudition of Chapaṭa Saddhammajotipāla, a 15th-century grammarian and philosopher from Burma, by Aleix Ruiz-Falqués (Cambridge)

The introduction of canonical and non canonical quotations in Pāli commentarial literature, by Petra Kieffer-Pülz (Mainz, AWL)

Dharmottara’s Re-Use of Arguments from the Kṣaṇabhaṅgasiddhi in the Pramāṇaviniścayaṭīkā, by Masamichi Sakai (Cambridge, Massachusetts / Tokyo)

Commenting by quoting. The case of Manorathanandin's Pramāṇavārttikavr̥tti, by Cristina Pecchia (Vienna)

Text re-use in early Tibetan epistemological treatises, by Pascale Hugon (Vienna, ÖAW)

A discussion of some problems related to the Madhyamakaratnapradīpa with particular attention to the quotation from Saraha’s Dohākośagīti, by Krishna Del Toso (Trieste)

"As it is said in a Sūtra": Liberty and Variation in Tibetan quotations from the Buddhist scriptures, by Ulrike Rösler (Oxford)


Quotations in Vedic Literature: is the changing of a mantra a stylistic device or
the degeneration of a “beautiful mind?
, by Elena Mucciarelli (Tübingen)

To borrow or not to borrow? The case of "vaibhavīyanarasiṃhakalpa" within the scope of Pāñcarātra literature, by Ewa Debicka-Borek (Krakow)

Observations on the Use of Quotations in Sanskrit Dharmanibandhas, by Florinda De Simini (Naples/Turin)

Re-use in artistic field: the iconography of Yakṣī, by Cristina Bignami (Cagliari)

Any suggestion concerning the sections' titles, their sequence, their internal organization, etc.?

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Plants in Buddhist and non-Buddhist Indian Philosophy

Plants are explicitly described as non-sentient by most philosophers. Some of them are even quite crude in denying any sentience to trees. Why? Probably because they had to contrast popular "superstitions" according too much importance to plants, especially to trees.

In many of the early Buddhist legends, drawn from such sources as the Jātakas, the Dhammapadatthakathā, the Mahāvastu, the Dīpavaṃsa, the Divyāvadāna, the Aśokāvadāna, and so forth, an important dialectic is set up between the morally and spiritually perfected Buddha and various nonhuman deities such as yakṣas (Pāli, yakkhas) and the serpent deities, the nāgas. On the one hand, the Buddha incorporates and presides over a pre-existing mythology of nature. In so doing, the new religion of Buddhism is able more readily to meet the needs of an unlettered laity (Sutherland, Yakṣa in Hinduism and Buddhism p. 26).
(I would say that the same process applies to many "Hindu" religions. For instance, Arjuna marries, among other women, a nāga-princess, and his brother a Rākṣasī.) Then, philosophers had to sort out a consistent theology out of these inclusive processes and, thus, tended to deny the sentience of plants. Buddhist may have been even more harsh in this process (see Schmithausen's illuminating essays on this topic) due to the typically "Buddhist dialectic between nature and ascetism" (Sutherland, p. 28).

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Universal salvation in Appayya Dīkṣita

Some Vedāntins (beginning perhaps with Vācaspati) have conceived the possibility of universal salvation (sarvamukti), i.e. the condition in which all living beings are liberated. The most compelling depiction of it I know of is found in Appayya Dīkṣita's works (especially in his Śivādvaitanirṇaya and Siddhāntaleśasaṅgraha).

Appayya seems to come to the idea of sarvamukti in a purely logical way: liberation is possible for every living being. More than that, liberation is necessary for all of them, since the very bond is actually only illusory (given that nothing but brahman ultimately exists). Thus, given that time is endless, sooner or later  every living being will be liberated from nescience (ajñāna) and recognise his/her/its original identity with the brahman.
Until that moment, however, nescience is not completely destroyed and, thus, the brahman keeps on being reflected in the multiple mirrors of the single souls, which are no more than mirrors reflecting the only brahman but believing to be different from it. This means that the brahman is itself not completely free and that no soul, however advanced in the path, can be completely released.

Thus, the liberation of all other living beings is, so to say, in our own interest ("so to say" is needed, since ultimately speaking there are no multiple living beings), since until every one is released, no one can attain oneness with the absolute brahman.

Does this sound convincing? Do you see possible parallels/influences from the Buddhist concept of Bodhisattva and/or with the communio of human beings (NB: only human ones) in Christianity?

On endless time, have a look at this post.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Buddhist Manuscript Culture: Textuality and Materiality

 The team of the AHRC-funded "Sanskrit Manuscripts Project, Cambridge" (i.e., Dr. Vincenzo Vergiani, Dr. Daniele Cuneo and Dr. Camillo Formigatti) has informed me about their first project workshop, which bears the following title:

Buddhist Manuscript Culture: Textuality and Materiality

The workshop will be held at the Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, Cambridge, on 12th-13th April 2013. All are welcome.

Further details and a provisional programme can be found at:

The workshop has extremely interesting speakers, focusing on different points of view on manuscriptology, e.g., looking at manuscripts as material objects (Hildegard Diemberger and Michela Clemente, Camillo Formigatti, Imre Galambos…) or as vehicles of a text (Cristina Scherrer-Schaub, Harunaga Isaacson, Francesco Sferra, Péter-Dániel Szántó, Vincent Tournier, Gergely Hidas, Michael Hahn, Martin Straube, Margaret Cone, Lata Deokar…).
What interests you more? And why?

12th April

9.30–10.15 Keynote speech: Cristina Scherrer-Schaub
The poetic of the page to beat time on the template. Inquiry into a form adopted in Indian/Indic manuscripts outside India

Codicology and History of the Book

10.15–11.00 Martin Delhey (University of Hamburg)
Once again on the problem of provenance of North-East Indian and Nepalese Buddhist manuscripts: with special reference to 12th century manuscripts from the Indian monastery Vikramaśīla
11.00–11.15 Coffee Break
11.15–12.00 Harunaga Isaacson (University of Hamburg)
Scattered leaves: on some Buddhist Tantric prakīrṇapattrāṇi in Cambridge University Library [provisional title]
12.–12.45 Hildegard Diemberger and Michela Clemente
(University of Cambridge)
Tibetan book printing: tradition and technology
12.45–13.30 Imre Galambos (University of Cambridge)
From paper to palm leaves: Medieval Chinese manuscripts in the pothī format
13.30–15.00 Lunch Break
15.00–15.45 Camillo Formigatti (University of Cambridge)
Buddhist Nepalese manuscripts in the Cambridge University Library collections: towards a typological classification [provisional title]
15.45–16.30 Francesco Sferra (University of Naples “L’Orientale”)
Apropos of Some Buddhist Tantric Manuscripts: Add. 1108, Add. 1708.1, Or. 158
16.30–16.45 Tea Break
16.45–17.30 Vincent Tournier
Protective verses for travellers: notes on a leather fragment of the *Diśāsauvastika-gāthā*s recovered from the Bāmiyān region
17.30–18.15 Arlo Griffith (EFEO Jakarta)
The transmission of Buddhist scriptures to ancient Indonesia as witnessed by manuscripts preserved on Bali and inscriptions discovered throughout the archipelago

13th April

Philology and Textual Transmission

10.00–10.45 Martin Straube (University of Halle-Wittenberg)
The textual transmission of Kṣemendra’s Bodhisattvāvadānakalpalatā
10.45–11.30 Margaret Cone (University of Cambridge)
[title tba]
11.30–11.45 Coffee Break
11.45–12.15 Michael Hahn (University of Marburg)
Editorial problems of Śivasvāmin’s Kapphiṇābhyudaya
12.15–13.00 Lata Deokar
Subhūticandra’s Amarakośaṭīkā [provisional title]
13.00–15.00 Lunch Break
15.00–15.45 Peter Szanto (University of Oxford)
Revisiting lists of Tantric Buddhist trespasses
15.45–16.30 Gergely Hidas
A new look at the Mahāśītavatī
17.00–17.45 Tea Break
17.45–18.30 Round table

Monday, March 4, 2013

Sentience of plants in Indian philosophy

Are plants sentient beings or are they just living beings? In Classical India there seem to be two possible alternatives, i.e., a popular approach which regards plants as sentient and a scientific one which regards them as non-sentient.
The first one is was probably the most widespread one, since it is the target of the criticism of the upholders of the scientific view. One finds it represented also in Dharmaśāstra texts, in Purāṇas, Āgamas and in Dramas. Lambert Schmithausen has detected traces of it also in the Buddhist Canon, whenever monks refer to what (illiterate) lay people might be thinking. It is also the standard view of Jainism.
The latter view, by contrast, is the one adopted by possibly all philosophical texts I am aware of whenever they directly deal with the issue.
However, I started wondering what would Vaiṣṇava Vedāntins say about this topic (which is, I have to admit, not the most debated one in Indian philosophy), given that plants are regarded to be sentient by several Vaiṣṇava Purāṇas. While looking for an answer, I found this passage by (Śrī) Rāmānuja, in his Śrī Bhāṣya ad Brahmasūtra 1.1.4:

deva-asura-gandharva-siddha-vidyādhara-kinnara-kimpuruṣa-yakṣa-rākṣasa-piśāca-manuja-paśu-śakuni-sarīsṛpa-vṛkṣa-gulma-latā-dūrvādīnāṃ strīpunnapuṃsakabhedabhinnānāṃ kṣetrajñānāṃ vyavasthitadhārakapoṣakabhogyaviśeṣāṇāṃ muktānāṃ svasya cāviśeṣeṇānubhavasambhave svarūpaguṇavibhavaceṣṭitair anavadhikātiśayānandajananaṃ paraṃ bhrarhmāsti.

"Since it is possible that liberated beings, distinguished according to the respective specifications of supporter (as a tree), nourishment (as several plants) and object of experience (as herbs which cannot be eaten but can be seen, touched, etc.) have experience of themselves without specifications, the arousal of the super abundant bliss without limitations (avadhi) for the selves distinguished in feminine, neuter and masculine —gods, asuras, gandharvas, siddhas, vidyādharas, kinnaras, kimpuruṣas, yakṣas, demons (rākṣasa), ogres (piśāca), human beings, cattle, birds, snakes, trees, bushes, creepers, herbs and so on— through what is set into motion (ceṣṭita) by the transformations in the qualities of the own nature [of the brahman], is the supreme brahman".

Here there is a lot I do not understand (any help is welcome!), but any translation seems enough to highlight the fact that there in an unbroken succession from gods to bent herbs, which are all said to be selves (kṣetrajña, literally 'knower of the field') and that all of them can have experience (anubhavasambhava). Note that, as usual in India, the sentient beings are ordered in a rigorous succession from the highest to the lowest and that trees are on the upper level among plants. This is explained in Purāṇas and in the first kind of literature described above insofar as trees offer nourishment and protection to other living beings and are, in this sense, selfless and generous.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Can we trust our Sanskrit authors when they criticise someone else?

Can we trust the representation of a Sāṅkhya idea found in a Buddhist text? Or of a Cārvāka point of view in a Vedānta one (and so on)?
In favour of the reliability of such representations runs the following argument by Ernst Steinkellner (in his paper of the forthcoming Proceedings volume of the Fragments conference, 2012):

For the simple reason that citing an opponent's words or meaning incorrectly would be contrary to the very purpose of quoting in the first place. If the educated people were to recognize an error, a distortion, or even an ill intention in a citation or reference, a subsequent refutation would be considered thrashing empty straw and futile.

This appears like a sound and cogent argument, however:

  1. 1) it only works in case of current debates. I would not trust in a similar way Buddhist objections embedded in a late Mīmāṃsā text at a time when Buddhism had already vanished from India. In such cases, stock objections are repeated and might even be simplified.
  2. 2) it only works in case of up to date authors. Some authors might have been living at the periphery of the philosophical debate and have missed some of its nuances. This might be the case of Śabara when he addresses the sphoṭa theory if it is true that he lived after Bhartṛhari had developed a more complex version of it.
  3. 3) it only works where we can presuppose an up to date audience. If an author is addressing an objection only in order to, e.g., keep his fellow believers content with their faith, he might just attack a simpler version of the objection. I have encountered this sort of cases in contemporary Indian philosophy and have no ground for thinking that it has never been the case in Classical philosophy.
  4. 4) it only works in case of intelligent and honest authors, who have understood the objection in the first place and are not trying an easy way out of a difficult objection. I am not an expert on apoha, but during the apoha workshop in Vienna, Spring 2012, a learned participant was quite convincing in claiming that Jayanta had misrepresented (either on purpose or because he did not understand it) Dharmottara's theory of apoha.

This does not mean that Steinkellner's argument does not hold. It probably holds within the context of Steinkellner's article, i.e., within the Pramāṇavāda school and especially as regards Jinendrabuddhi's quotations of Sāṅkhya. But it might need some additions if applied to the whole of Indian Philosophy.

What do you think? Do you have further elements in favour or against it? Instances in favour of its application?

On quotations see, among many others, this post.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Kiyokazu Okita, Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism and textual reuse by Baladeva Vidyābhūṣaṇa

 In a recent volume of Religions of South Asia (6.2. 2011, appeared in December 2012), K. Okita focuses on a Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava author, Baladeva Vidyābhūṣaṇa (c. 1700-1793), who —first in his school— wrote a commentary on the Brahmasūtras. Since the Gauḍīya school was the last one to write a commentary thereon, Baladeva had before him some major predecessors. Okita takes into account the commentaries by Śaṅkara, Rāmānuja and Madhva.
As could be expected, Baladeva often re-uses Madhva's commentary. This is logical, because the Gaudīya Vaiṣṇavism developed out of a branch of Madhva's school and because Baladeva himself used to be a Madhvaite.
Nonetheless, Okita shows how Baladeva also re-uses Rāmānuja's commentary, due to the fact that their schools tend often to converge, notwithstanding their distinct origin.
Furthermore, elements of Śaṅkara's commentary are also reused by Baladeva, especially as prima facie views.
This leads Okita to the development of a threefold scheme for Baladeva's "quotations" (I would prefer "textual reuse"), including:

  1. 1. "when he cites from the śrutis and smṛtis,
  2. 2. when he quotes a previous Vedāntin in a way which is different from the original author's application;
  3. 3. when he copies a previous Vedāntin following the original author's use" (p. 209).

One notices that this scheme embeds two points of view:
  1. A. the type of source (śruti-smṛti vs. a follow Vedāntin) 
  2. B. the kind of reuse (as an objection or in the same spirit as in the original text)
What do you think of this scheme? Could it help highlighting aspects you did not think of before?

On a different taxonomy of quotations, see this post. On the topic of textual reuse, see this post (among many others). On another article in the same issue of Religions of South Asia, see this post.

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