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.