Commenting on a great scholar of Indian philosophy (M. Biardeau)

Who influenced you more in Indian philosophy? Whose methodology do you follow, perhaps without even being aware of it?

Before you answer, let us try to focus on women before we think at the many other men who might have been influential.
I, for one, cannot stop admiring Madeleine Biardeau‘ s work.

I do not know well enough her work on the Mahābhārata (which was characterised by the attempt to try to make sense of the various upākhyānas as part of a single text). You can read about its methodology (with a focus on her understanding of orality and her resistance to any “scientific” approach to critical editions) in Colas 2012 (Journal Asiatique 300.1). Charles Malamoud’s obituary also focusses on Biardeau’s work on the epics.

What I have really read, used and appreciated, is, however, M. Biardeau’s philosophical work. Her Théorie de la connaissance et philosophie de la parole dans le brahmanisme classique (1964) is still a classic about Indian philosophy of language, which joins philosophical depth and careful acumen in the translations from Sanskrit of Mīmāṃsā, Vyākaraṇa and other texts. Similarly, her translations of Vācaspati’s Tattvabindu, of Maṇḍana’s Sphoṭasiddhi and of Bhartṛhari have not become the standard translations, preventing further attempts, (chiefly) because of not having been written in English but in French. ALthough I might disagree with some of her choices (most notably: her translation of varṇa with “lettre”, letter, which I think is inaccurate and partly misleading), I admire her way of combining accuracy and breadth. She translated whole works, like G. Jhā and several scholars of the past, while at the same time making sense of each sentence.

Did you ever read M. Biardeau’s essays, books and translations? Which one do you like or dislike more? If you don’t know her, which other women influenced you more?

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

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2 thoughts on “Commenting on a great scholar of Indian philosophy (M. Biardeau)

  1. I’m quite strongly influenced by women scholars.

    Jan Nattier sets the bench mark in studying Mahāyāna texts and wrote probably the best individual article of 20th century Buddhist Studies in 1992: The Heart Sūtra: a Chinese apocryphal text? Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies. Vol. 15 (2), p.153-223. It’s an important exemplar of both good scholarship and good writing. I keep going back to it to re-read it. The last article I submitted to a journal was directly inspired by this one. And the next one will be too.

    Sue Hamilton transformed my understanding of Buddhism and opened up a whole new world for me. I constantly refer to her work both explicitly and implicitly. Sadly she retired from academia some years ago, but her books are still unmatched for insights into early Buddhism.

    Collett Cox is a key figure in understanding Vaibhāṣika (aka Sarvāstivāda) thought that provides essential background to the early Mahāyāna. Noa Ronkin’s book Early Buddhist Metaphysics is an important contribution. Signe Cohen’s book on the Upaniṣads is another touchstone for me. Mary Boyce’s work on Zoroastrianism has also been very helpful.

    Outside this context one of the most important influences on my thinking has been the late Lynn Margulis, a microbiologist who is famous for discovering that mitochondria were once free-living bacteria and collaborated with James Lovelock on his Gaia Hypothesis. Her approach to evolution transformed my understanding of the world (and helped me to see Richard Dawkins’ “selfish gene” thesis as Neoliberalism applied to biology).

    • many thanks for all these interesting suggestions! I did not know Noa Ronkin nor Signe Cohen and will try my best to find something of them soon.