Philosophical commentaries in ancient India (UPDATED)

Commentaries can be manifold in ancient India. They have different purposes and form, but they all share some characters:

  • they have a given text as their main interlocutor/they are mainly about a given text
  • like with Origene’s commentaries, they are a genre in its own right, not a minor specialisation for authors at their beginnings (Sakai 2015, section 4, suggests that authors in fact needed to have already become acknowledged authorities before being entrusted with the honour of composing a commentary on an influential text.)
  • they are characterised by a varied but strong degree of textual reuse
  • they allow for significant degrees of innovation (This is evident in the case of the Navya Nyāya commentaries on the NS. Outside the precinct of philosophy, juridical commentaries often reflect the recent juridical developments much more than the original text they are commenting upon.)

What is a commentary? UPDATED

And how the Nyāyamañjarī and the Seśvaramīmāṃsā do (not) fit the definition

What makes a text a “commentary”? The question is naif enough to allow for a complicated answer. First of all, let me note the obvious: There is not a single word for “commentary” in Sanskrit, where one needs to distinguish between bhāṣyas, vārttikas, ṭippanīs, etc., often bearing poetical names, evoking Moons, mirrors and the like.

Podcasts on Indian philosophy: An opportunity to rethink the paradigm?

Some readers have surely already noted this series of podcasts on Indian philosophy, by Peter Adamson (the historian of Islamic philosophy and Neoplatonism who hosts the series “History of philosophy without any gaps” —which I can not but highly praise and recommend, and which saved me from boredom while collating manuscripts) and Jonardon Ganeri.
The series has several interesting points, among which surely the fact of proposing a new historical paradigm (interested readers may know already the volume edited by Eli Franco on other attempts of periodization of Indian philosophy, see here for my review). They explicitly avoid applying periodizations inherited from European civilisations, and consequently do not speak of “Classical” or “Medieval” Indian philosophy. What do readers think of this idea? And of the podcast in general?

I have myself a few objections (which I signalled in the comment section of each podcast), but am overall very happy that someone is taking Indian philosophy seriously enough while at the same time making it also accessible to lay listeners. In this sense, I cannot but hope that Peter and Jonardon’s attempts are successful.

The series includes also interviews to scholars: Brian Black on the Upaniṣads, Rupert Gethin on Buddhism, Jessica Frazier on “Hinduism” (the quotation marks are mine only), myself on Mīmāṃsā. Further interviews are forthcoming. Criticisms and comments are welcome! (but please avoid commenting on my pronunciation mistakes.)

Embedding (materialist) philosophy into a narrative (a guest post by Syed Arman)

This post starts a series of guest posts by younger colleagues. Syed Arman is a student of Muzaffar Ali and the following text was composed in connection with a class on Ethics. Please let me know what you think about this post and about the series by leaving a comment below.

A visit to the Cursed Village (The Lokayatas)

Summary: Sarah, a German girl, was on a visit to India for a study of its diverse culture and age old tradition. Here she meets Daksh, a young chap from a small town, who helps her in exploring the various spheres of the Indian heritage. It becomes an entirely different experience for her, many rare customs and traditions which she had only read about; she stands now a witness to all these. Sarah had an idea about what her visit in India would be like but there was something which came out of the box, and she is utterly astonished and dazzled to learn about that. It changes the way she used to look at the teachings of this land. Her visit to a place referred to as “Cursed Village” by the locals—the village of the Indian materialists, the Lokayatas—makes her realise that Indian philosophy is not limited to the limitless transcendental atman, but there are some who reduce transcendental Atman to the limited living-body and have a reason for that. The dialogues show how the cursed village turns out to be a blessing for Sarah and Daksh.

Written by:
Syed Arman
B.A. 2 nd yr. Philosophy Hons.
Hindu College, Delhi University, India

The full text is available below or here:

Should we have more dialogues, or more Asian philosophy?

Readers will have surely read the article by Garfield and Van Norden on The Stone concerning the need to either admit more philosophical traditions into the normal syllabi or rename departments as “Institute for the study of Anglo European philosophy” or the like.
However, someone might have missed Amod Lele’s rejoinder, here. He starts arguing that “Western Philosophy” is not as bad a label as it might look like and then concludes saying that the inclusion of Asian Philosophy, etc., in the curricula should be based on its relevance, not on the wish to be more inclusive, e.g., towards Asian American students.
On Academia.edu, Cosimo Zene explains, again in connection with Garfield and Van Norden’s article, speaks in favour of the necessity to study “World Philosophies”.
Following Amod’s arguments, one can, perhaps, decide that a certain philosophical tradition should not be included in the curricula because, unlike Indian philosophy, it is neither “great” nor “entirely distinct”. Cosimo, by contrast, seems to claim that dialog is an end in itself, since it “probes” one’s thoughts as well as on the basis of political and ethical reasons (what else could help us in solving moot political issues, if we are not trained in mutual understanding?).

What do readers think? Do we need more dialogues (with whatever tradition), more space for the great traditions of Indian philosophy, etc., or a little of both?

EURIAS fellowship program 2017/2018

The European Institutes for Advanced Study (EURIAS) Fellowship Programme is an international researcher mobility programme offering 10-month residencies in one of the 18 participating Institutes: Aarhus, Amsterdam, Berlin, Bologna, Budapest, Cambridge, Delmenhorst, Edinburgh, Freiburg, Helsinki, Jerusalem, Lyon, Madrid, Marseille, Paris, Uppsala, Vienna, Zürich. The Institutes for Advanced Study support the focused, self-directed work of outstanding researchers. The fellows benefit from the finest intellectual and research conditions and from the stimulating environment of a multi-disciplinary and international community of first-rate scholars.

खपुष्प तुच्छत्वम् पूर्वोत्तरमीमांसादर्शनयोर् न्यायदर्शने च

खपुष्पं भवत्सिद्धान्त इत्यादिप्रयोगेषु तु भाट्टानां पुष्पे खसम्बन्धित्वारोपेण आरोपितखपुष्पपदार्थनिष्ठासत्त्वादीनां सिद्धान्ते सत्त्वेन प्रयोगः । इदं न खपुष्पम् इत्यत्र तु पुरोवर्त्तिनो ज्ञानाविषयत्वभाव एवार्थः स्यात् । इति तन्मते आरोपविषयता शब्दजन्यविकल्पवृत्तिविषयता चालीकस्याङ्गीक्रियेते , तथैव तस्य अभावात्मकधर्म्माश्रयत्वमपि । अत एव तद्रीत्या अलीकलक्षणं किं स्यात् इति चिन्तनीयम् , न हि तन्नये मनोवृत्तिविषयत्वसामान्याभावोलीके इति । कालासम्बन्धस्तु तल्लक्षणं वक्तुं शक्यते ।

वेदान्तिनां नये तुच्छस्याध्यारोपाविषयत्वात् कथञ्चिच्छब्दमहिम्ना शशशृङ्गपदेन विकल्पात्मकमनोवृत्तौ जातायामलीकत्वस्य विषयत्वमङ्गीक्रियते । तथापि विकल्पस्य ज्ञानत्वानङ्गीकारात् ज्ञानाविषयत्वमलीकस्य सम्भवति । अथापि विकल्पस्य ज्ञानाद्विविच्य प्रदर्शनाय तैः सत्त्वेन प्रतीत्यनर्हम् अलीकम् इत्युच्यते । उक्तानर्हताया अवच्छेदकञ्च किञ्चिद्वक्तव्यम् इति अत एव तन्नये तदेवावच्छेदकं तल्लक्षणं – सर्व्वदेशकालवृत्त्यत्यन्ताभावप्रतियोगित्वे सत्युत्पत्त्यादिशून्यत्वम् – इति सम्भवति ।
अथवा – उक्तप्रतियोगित्वे सति कालासम्बन्धित्वमेवालीकत्वं तदस्तु ।

तार्किकनये तु अलीकस्य ज्ञानसामान्याविषयत्वम् इति तन्नये न विकल्पवृत्तिरङ्गीक्रियते इति प्राप्तम् । अत एव ज्ञानाविषयत्वमेवालीकलक्षणम् । कालासम्बन्धित्वं वा ।

एतेषु सर्व्वेषु पक्षेषु इदं चिन्त्यं यत् –
तत्तन्मते तुच्छस्य यल्लक्षणं ज्ञानाविषयत्वदि तत् किं तुच्छे वर्त्तते न वा । वर्त्तते चेत् तस्यापि स्वरूपं प्राप्तं , नास्ति चेत् कथं तस्य तुच्छत्वम् ।
– इति ;
तुच्छस्यापदार्थत्वेनैव भेदप्रतियोगित्वादिभावधर्म्मानाश्रयत्वे सति पदार्थेषु तद्व्यावृत्तिः कथं सिद्ध्येत । तदसिद्धौ पदार्थानां तुच्छाभेदेनालीकत्वमापतेत् , तत्सिद्धौ च तुच्छे प्रतियोगित्वादिकमङ्गीकर्त्तव्यमापतेत् ।

– इति च ।

(My friend, Sudipta Munsi brought this post from the Bharatiya Vidvat Parisat to my notice and obtained permission from the author to cross-post it on this blog. Except for his name, the learned author, Srimallalitalalita, prefers to remain anonymous.)

What is the center of Indian philosophy?

Karl Potter (Presuppositions of Indian Philosophies, see here) relates all Indian philosophical systems to the fact that they are goal-oriented and all seek mokṣa ‘liberation’. Jonardon Ganeri (in his History of Philosophy in India, with Peter Adamson) introduces the subject in a similar way (see here), speaking of the fact of seeking the “highest good”. As often the case, Daya Krishna disagrees:

The deliberate ignoring of [the] […] twentieth century discussion […] is only a symptom of that widespread attitude which does not want to see Indian philosophy as a rationcinative enterprise seriously engaged in argument and counter-argument in its long history and developing […]. This, and not mokṣa, is its life-breath as it is sustained and developed by it. Those, and this includes almost everybody, who think otherwise believe also that Indian philosophy stopped growing long ago. (The Nyāya Sūtras: A new commentary on an old text, p. 8)

What do you think? Is there a common core to all Indian philosophical schools?