Is the Veda the body of God? (Yoshimizu 2007–II part)

How can one interpret a Vedic passage by saying that a certain meaning was not “intended” (vivakṣita), while still thinking that the Veda has no personal author?

The Mīmāṃsā cannot renounce the idea that the Veda has no personal author (apauruṣeyatva): its whole theory about the Veda’s validity depends on this principle. However, Kumārila needs also to explain in which sense one can decide whether an interpretation of the Veda is right or not on the basis of whether it is intended (vivakṣita). How can one speak of intention if there is no author?In his 2007 article Kumārila’s Reevaluation of the Sacrifice and the Veda, Kiyotaka Yoshimizu explains how Kumārila avoids the easy way-out of saying that one speaks of intention (vivakṣā) only in a metaphorical way. Instead, some verses of the Tantravārttika suggest that one can attribute this vivakṣā to the paramātman (supreme Self) embodied in the Veda. What can this mean? Yoshimizu suggests that Kumārila “holds the Veda that consists of sounds alone to be able to constitute the body of the supreme self” (p. 227). Would not this contradict the idea that the Veda has no author? Not really, since the Veda has no personal author (a-pauruṣeya), whereas according to this view it would be the paramātman itself to be embodied in the Veda. The phonemes of the Veda would constitute its body and not be authored by it.

The idea reminds one of the Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta claim that everything in the world (we included) is the body of God, insofar as God can rule it as if it were His own body.

The verse at the centre of Kumārila’s discussion of the paramātman-Veda relation is the following one:

śabdabrahmeti yac cedaṃ śāstraṃ vedākhyam ucyate |

tad apy adhiṣṭhitaṃ sarvam ekena paramātmanā ||

The mention of Bhartṛhari’s śabdabrahman is explicit and strenghtened by a quote from Bhartṛhari’s Vākyapādīya after a few lines. I tend to interpret śabdabrahman (a term made of śabda ‘linguistic expression’ and brahman) as a karmadhāraya, i.e. ‘that brahman which consists of language’. Accordingly, I would loosen the opposition between the paramātman and its “Vedic body” and rather think of the paramātman as consisting of the phonemes of the Veda, whereas the phonic (audible) form of the Veda would be its corresponding body. Accordingly, I would understand the verse quoted above as follows:

That Sacred Text which is called Veda and is the brahman consisting of language,

is completely supervised by the single supreme Self.

This leads to a few problems: To begin with, how can it be that the single paramātman has only the Veda as its body (and not the rest of the world)? Perhaps because 1. the paramātman does not contradict the pluralism of the world, a supreme Self which is not the only entity around (see this post); 2.the paramātman in its linguistic form is tantamount to language and is in this sense beginningless and endless; the Veda is language in its pure form, independent of historical accidents and in this sense it is equated to the śabdabrahman.

A further problem is: If the śabdabrahman is tantamount to the Veda, what does it mean that the paramātman supervises it? I am inclined to think that the paramātman supervises the phonic (dhvani, nāda) form of the Veda, just like varṇas (phonemes) can be said to govern their phonic counterparts. But I am aware of the fact that the distinction between the two levels (phonemes and phones) is not explicitly made in this verse.


For another post on Yoshimizu’s 2007 article (especially focusing on the problem of paramātman and hinting at a further similarity with Viśiṣṭādvaita), see here.

Comments and discussions are welcome. Be sure you are making a point and contributing to the discussion.

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10 thoughts on “Is the Veda the body of God? (Yoshimizu 2007–II part)

  1. The Bhāgavata Purāṇa, which is often considered, in a metaphorical way as containing the gist of the Vedas (निगमकल्पतरोर्गलितं फलं शुकमुखदमृतद्रवसंयुतम् – 1/1/3), and also which has the general Purāṇic aim of amplifying the meaning of the Vedas (इतिहासपुराणाभ्यां वेदार्थमुपबृंहयेत्।), expresses a similar idea, for in the Bhāgavata Māhātmya (Ch. 3, verses 61-62) we find Uddhava saying to Śaunaka that the Lord (Hari) concentrated all his powers (śakti) into the Bhāgavata and then He disappeared and entered into the ocean of Bhāgavata, and in this way it (i.e. the Bhāgavata) is the visible verbal image (pratyakṣa vāṅmayī mūrti) of Hari, and that by serving, listening, reading or seeing it one is delivered from all sins –

    स्वकीयं यद्भवेत्तेजस्तच्च भागवतेऽदधात्।
    तिरोधाय प्रविष्टोऽयं श्रीमदागवतार्णवम्॥६१॥
    तेनेयं वाङ्मयी मूर्तिः प्रत्यक्षा वर्तते हरेः।
    सेवनाच्छ्रवणात् पाठाद्दर्शनात् पापनाशिनी॥६२॥

    • Thank you, Sudipta, for this interesting parallel. I guess that mūrti here means that the Bhāgavata is the physical image of God, not God Himself. I hope that in the case of the Mīmāṃsā, which refuses the idea of “traditional” Deities, their parallel claim can be read as meaning that the phonic Veda is supervised by the śabdabrahman, which is again the Veda in its nitya form…

      • Thank you, Elisa, for your comment.

        You have indeed made a very interesting point of the subtle distinction between the image of God and God Himself. Probably the word hareḥ in the sixth-case ending prompted you to make this distinction.

        However, if verse 62 is read with verse 61, an additional interpretation turns up, for in the immediately preceding verse (# 61), it is said that the Lord, after concentrating all his powers into the Bhāgavata, “disappeared” and entered into the ocean of Bhāgavata, i.e. no separate existence of the Lord is to be found apart from the Bhāgavata.

        Just like the Mīmāṃsakas, who do not accept any separate existence of deities, but for whom devatva is virtually the same as mantramayatva, here too the Bhāgavata is the “vāṅmayī” mūrti. But according to the Vedāntins, vāk cannot reach the Supreme Reality (yato vāco nivartante aprāpya manasā saha – Taittiriyopaniṣad), so to discount this problem pratyakṣā is used as an adjective of vāṅmayī (but not mūrti, for mūrti is already mūrta).

        • Hi Sudipta and thanks for your further elucidation. Now the comparison (between the Bhāgavata as God and the Vedas as śabdabrahman) holds even better. I am only still not convinced by a marginal point, i.e., your interpretation of vāñmayī, which I would understanda as an adj. to mūrti. In this way, pratyakṣā would refer to vāṅmayī mūrti and not just to the former. You are right in asking why a mūrti should be said to be pratyakṣa, since this is part of its svarūpa. I guess that the adj. is for the sake of emphasis: the Bhāgavata is not just the body of God in its subtle form. Rather the Bhāgavata as we know it, in its phonic form is His bodily form.

    • Hello India!
      Silently I try to trace the steps in your reasoning,
      but terms defy me persistently since Im Swedish.
      You say that “the Bhāgavata) is the visible verbal image (pratyakṣa vāṅmayī mūrti) of Hari, and that by serving, listening, reading or seeing it one is delivered from all sins –” …
      How old is this saying? How old is the idea that we need to be delivered from our sins?

      • Hi Sigurd,
        I hope Sudipta will also add his answer. As for my opinion: the concept of pāpa is ancient (the term is found already in the most ancient Indian text preserved, i.e., the Ṛgveda), but it probably evolved from a material to a moral concept (“sin”). In other words: the term might have denoted at first the “evil” things one had done, independently of whether they were intentional. This meaning probably precedes the moral one and it has been preserved until today in non-philosophical milieus (I recall in a Hindī novel the pāpa arisen from the death of a cow whose rope was too tight, although the owner never meant to kill her).
        That of māhātmyas is a rather late genre, connected with popular devotion (māhātmyas are still written even today). I would not be able to date the Bhāgavata Māhātmya, but it is closely connected with the Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavas, whose “founder” was Caitanya (1486–1534).

  2. Prof. Yoshimizu kindly informed me that Kumārila’s move might have had also a sociological background, insofar as stating that the Vedas are all supervised by a *single* paramātman might have also been an appeal for the unification of different groups of Brahmans identifying themselves with the various śākhās.

    In his 2008 contribution in the ZDMG, Yoshimizu connects Kumārila’s point re. the vivakṣā of the Veda with his (enigmatic) opening of the Ślokavārttika. This initial verse is somehow surprising, since it seems to be a praise of Śiva, something one would not expect from an “atheist” Mīmāṃsaka. But, explains Yoshimizu, “Kumārila praises Śiva as a personification of the Veda, because Kumārila characterises him as having a body (deha) made of ‘purified knowledge’, which we can etymologically construe as the essence of the Veda” (pp. 67–68).

    • I like this sociological interpretation very much. Probably a clue to this sociological interpretation is to be found in the following exposition of the word, ‘svādhyāya’, in Pt. Paṭṭābhirāma Śāstri’s Sanskrit commentary, Arthāloka, on the Arthasaṅgraha of Laugākṣī Bhāskara:

      स्वश्चासावध्यायश्च स्वाध्यायः। स्वपदं स्वकुलपरम्परावाचकम्। अधीयत इत्यध्यायः शाखा। स्वकुलपरम्परागता शाखेत्यर्थः। (p. 6)

      Now in the event of everyone sticking to and claiming the authenticity of only his own recension of the Veda, it would amount to refusing authenticity of the other recensions, and ultimately it may lead to the genesis of the objection of the human origin of the Vedas (pauruṣeyatvāpatti). So the ‘single paramātman’ interpretation gives a nice solution to the problem.

  3. Thank you.
    So the origin of both the concept of God and Sin are lost in preliteracy.
    I cant help wondering if there are more religious concepts whose origin (or definitions) cannot be traced through the texts? Sacrifice? Prayer? Holiness?
    Its a pity I know so little; which are the oldest religious texts in the world?
    What religious terms do they contain?