In my previous post on this topic, I had neglected an important source and I am grateful for a reader who pointed this out. The relevant text is a verse of Kumārila’s (one of the main authors of the Mīmāṃsā school, possibly 7th c.) lost Bṛhaṭṭīkā preserved in the Tattvasaṅgraha:
The one who jumps 10 hastas in the sky,
s/he will never be able to jump one yojana, even after one hundred exercises! (TS 3167)
daśahastāntaraṃ vyomno yo nāmotplutya gacchati |
na yojanam asau gantuṃ śakto ’bhyāsaśatair api ||
This argument is referred to by Dharmakīrti (one of the main authors of the Buddhist epistemologic school, a younger contemporary of Kumārila) as an opponent’s claim in his Pramāṇavārttika:
[Obj.:] [Each faculty] cannot transgress its own nature, even if, through exercise, there is some specific [improvement], like in the case of jumping, and of water and heating (water —even if very much heated— will never start burning, because it is outside its nature). (PS 122a–c in Ram Chandra Pandey’s edition)
abhyāsena viśeṣe ’pi laṅghanodakatāpavat svabhāvātikramo mā bhūd iti ced.
Dharmakīrti’s commentator Manorathanandin makes the connection explicit:
For it is not the case that a person, having exceedingly exercised in jumping, jumps one or half a yojana, nor does water extremely heated start burning.
na hi puruṣo ’tyarthaṃ laṅghane kṛtābhyāso yojanam ardhayojanaṃ vā laṅghayati, nāpy udakam ekāntaṃ tāpyamānaṃ dahanībhavati.
The verses by Kumārila and Dharmakīrti are translated in a 1986 article by M. Inami. Readers who do not know Japanese will find the TS verse mentioned in Kataoka 2011, Part 2, p. 44:
[A] human being cannot reach the state of omniscience because of the limits of human abilities.
McClintock 2010 translates both verses and she adds a useful explanation concerning the example of water:
[W]ater can be heated only to a certain poin. No matter how much fuel one adds to the fire, water will never be induced to burst into flames. (p. 209)
Her translation of the second is especially noteworthy, since it evokes a slightly different scenario:
Even if cultivation (abhyāsa may bring about excellence (viśeṣa), the transcendence of [a thing’s] nature does not occur, as [is observed in the cases of] jumping and heating of water. (p. 208)
To this objection Dharmakīrti reacts by saying that mental qualities can develop more than physical ones, like jumping and heating, because (see again McClintock 2010, pp. 210–212):
- In the case of jumping, one always comes back to the ground and does not retain the previous result, unlike in the case of wisdom.
- In the case of heating, water turns into something else, which does not occur in the case of accumulating wisdom.
An empiricist like Kumārila would have probably replied that there is no evidence for these claims and the discussion went on, since Śāntarakṣita (the author of the TS, in which Kumārila’s BṬ is partly preserved) rebutted that one cannot express one’s disbelief in something just because one has not seen it and so on.
In case you are curious: one hasta seems to be about 18 inches (i.e., 46 cm). Thus, jumping 10 hastas “in the sky” seems already a lot, unless “in the sky” does not refer to high jump (which is a recent insertion in the Olympic games) and rather refers to long jump. A yojana seems to have been differently interpreted, but is surely more than one mile. (The MW dictionary oscillates between 2,5 and 9 miles).
This post is a prosecution and emendation of this one.