During the three days of this workshop on philosophy of language in South Asia I have been repeatedly asked why I would want to “remove” the aspect of eternality from the concept of nitya. In fact, I think the situation is rather the opposite.
“Eternality” is a later overinterpretation of a term which, in my opinion, originally did not mean that, and continued not to have eternality as its primary meaning throughout its history.
nitya (as shown by Minoru Hara, JAOS 79.2) is etymologically adjective meaning ‘inherent’. This meaning is completely in harmony with its use in the same semantic field as siddha, autpattika, apauruṣeya and svābhāvika in Vyākaraṇa and Mīmāṃsā, as well as dhruva.*
So, how comes that one starts speaking about temporality in connection with nitya? In my hypothesis, there are three steps:
- In connection with the Mīmāṃsā vs Nyāya controversy, Mīmāṃsā authors insist on the apauruṣeya aspect of language, whereas Nyāya authors insist on language as pauruṣeya. Since language is pauruṣeya, it is not nitya in the sense of being kṛtaka ‘made up’, ‘artificial’. Thus, once again, nitya is not opposed to ‘temporal’ but to ‘artificial’, once again pointing to an opposition which does not have “eternality” as its primary focus.
- The Mīmāṃsā vs Nyāya controversy evolved also into a Mīmāṃsā vs Buddhist Epistemology controversy. For Buddhist epistemologists, whatever is kṛtaka is also kṣaṇika. Here temporality comes into the picture. Still, the point is not about “eternality” vs, “temporality”, but rather about “fixed/permanent/ummovable” vs “ephemeral”, as shown by the examples mentioned (mountains and rivers are said to be respectively kūṭastha– and pravāhanitya).
- Euro-American interpreters are used to the topic of temporality and to the concept of eternality, which plays a big role in the Graeco-Roman and in the Judaeo-Christian worldviews. Thus, they are inclined to interpret concepts in this sense, just like it happens with concepts like “Scripture”, “God”, “letter” and the like, which have been introduced uncritically in the Indian debate.
*Yes, you might find nitya also in connection to anādi ‘beginningless’, which might be interpreted temporally (I rather think it just means “for which no beginning can be proved”). But this is just one among the many terms used in juxtaposition with nitya (see above for several others).
P.S. I recently wrote an article on nitya. You can read the pre-print version here.
To my knowledge, Veṅkaṭanātha’s Seśvaramīmāṃsā (henceforth SM) has been commented upon only once in Sanskrit, namely in the 20th c. within the 1971 edition. The title of the commentary is Sūkṣmārthaṭīkā ‘gloss on subtle meanings’. As often the case with commentaries, some moot issues are just not commented upon, but the commentary is very often insightful and useful at the same time, providing identifications of speakers and adding interpretative cues. Also relevant is the fact that its author is a outspoken Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedāntin who, unlike the author of the SM, does not feel compelled to assume a Mīmāṃsā standpoint. Therefore, in case of conflict (for instance, at the beginning of the commentary on PMS 1.1.6, pp. 88–89 of the 1971 edition) he highlights the differences between the Mīmāṃsā perspective presented in the main text and the Viśiṣṭādvaita one. Thus, he makes it indirectly visible that Veṅkaṭanātha’s choice of reading PMS 1.1.6 as focusing on the signification power of language instead of on the permanence of phonemes is not only one legitimate interpretive choice within Mīmāṃsā hermeneutics, but also an effort aiming at the harmonisation of the PMS with the lore of Viśiṣṭādvaita Veṅkaṭanātha needed to take into account.
In this way, the Sūkṣmārthaṭīkā‘s author also indirectly points out the gigantic effort Veṅkaṭanātha undertook, almost seven centuries before, when he tried to propose a synthesis of Pūrva Mīmāṃsā and Vedānta.
These reasons should make it clear why I deemed it relevant to include a translation of the Sūkṣmārthaṭīkā to my study of the SM. I can also add that in general recent Sanskrit scholarship often tends to be neglected only because it is recent and Sanskrit, whereas I cannot see any a priori reason for not engaging in a close study of both recent and ancient texts in Sanskrit, and for not reading both English, French, German, Italian, Japanese and Sanskrit recent scholarship.
PS: I wrote that I don’t see any a priori reason, because I can understand that life is short and one needs to decide what to read, and that reading one’s colleagues’ or future evaluators’ articles might be pragmatically the most advisable choice. But studying Sanskrit is already a non-pragmatic life choice, so that it cannot be reduced to career moves. Moreover, preserving ideodiversity (copyright: Houben), even within the Sanskrit ekumene should be at least part of the mission of people engaging with such non-pragmatic life-choices. Don’t you think?
Could we all agree about the fact that a criticism needs to be motivated in order to be accepted? I see, in some cases we think that there is no point in engaging with someone, because he or she is not worthy of our attention. But then, it is perhaps better not to engage in criticisms either.
Prof. Ramkrishna Bhattacharya addresses a similar issues (why studying Ancient Indian Philosophy) in a recent paper, here. He starts with the constatation that “it is there” (like the Everest’s being there should be enough to make one wish to climb it). He then adds that ancient philosophers like Thales or the Cārvākas were the first natural scientists since they addressed the question of what there is without recurring to myth. In this sense, modern scientists only demonstrated experimentally what these thinkers had already intuited. Moreover, in some significant cases, such as dialectics, a few thinkers only developed the field significantly in a way which is relevant even for today’s philosophy. He then concludes:
This is why ancient philosophy has much to teach us even today, for much of it was grounded in sound theoretical thought.
Do you agree? I, for one, would add that what appears to me as in need of an explanation is rather the fact of not studying the history of philosophy. Would you ever focus on the philosophy written in Polish between 1550 and 1580 only? If not, why would you want to focus on Anglophone philosophy of the last thirty years at best?
No, taught Martin Buber, since a monologue lacks the dimension of Otherness. He was so adamant about that, that he even applied it to the case of God. Maurice Friedman (Martin Buber. The Life of Dialogue, p. 82) describes the relation of God and each single human being as follows:
If God did not need man, if man were simply dependant and nothing else, there would be no meaning to man’s life or to the world. ‘The world is not divine sport, it is divine destiny’.
Martin Buber’s own words (I and Thou, p. 82) are even more direct:
You know always in your heart that you need God more than everything; but do you not know too that God needs you—in the fullness of His eternity needs you? […] You need God, in order to be—and God needs you, for the very meaning of life.
Somehow, I am not surprised that Maurice Friedman participated in one of Daya Krishna’s saṃvādas (one can read the transcripts in Intercultural Dialogue and the Human image, Maurice Friedman at Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts.
The reason for gender-unbalanceness? Often just carelessness
…and the fact that we think that being a man is the norm and women are an exception or a subcategory, just like “Italians”, “green-tea lovers” or “plumbers”.
For an interesting study on this topic, see this summary on the Washington Post about dialogues in movies: It turns out that women speak way less than men. Not because of the lack of heroines, but rather because whenever one adds a less relevant character (such as a shopkeeper), one is inclined to add a “normal” human being, a man (you would not want to add an Italian shopkeeper to your movie unless you had a special reason to do so, would you?).
Seems to be a good reason to ponder about the people we invite to conferences, collected volumes and the like: It might be that we also invite more men than women at first, since men are instinctively felt to be the more normal kind of scholars. For more on this topic, check this post (by me and Malcolm Keating).
Consider the following:
Italy is now a unified country and no longer dominated by Austrian, Spanish or French rulers. Why do we need only more foreigners to supervise Latin publishing and translations?
Greece is now a unified country and no longer dominated by Turk rulers. Why do we need only more foreigners to supervise ancient Greek publishing and translations?
What do you think? I, for one, would answer that the more and the better scholars engage with these world’s treasures, the better. I am not sure that having an Italian passports makes me a priori a better candidate.
Now, you might consider that I am also not an ideal candidate, since I do not share the same set of beliefs of Cicero or Catullus. However, I am not sure one needs to believe in Aphrodites in order to understand Catullus’ desperate love for Lesbia, nor does one need to believe in Zeus to understand Cicero’s quest for justice. One might say that I am allowed to study Catullus, etc., because no believers of his religion are left but that the principle of “insiders only” still applies in case of religions/political systems/langauges/… of which there is still a living tradition.
This is a legitimate point of view, but one needs to be aware of the fact that it leads to isolationism. One would only be allowed to study people whose religion/language/set of beliefs… she or he shares, with no adhikāra to look beyond his or her field. Moreover, I wonder how one would be able to look critically at his or her field, if she or he had had no chance to learn about how different the world can be.
Long story short: I am still a believer in the enriching power of saṃvāda, ‘dialogue’.
We have discussed several times (see also here and here) about the problem of how Indian philosophers should be part of normal classes on Medieval philosophy, Epistemology, Philosophy of Language, etc. etc. Podcaster and scholar of Neoplatonism and of Falsafa Peter Adamson makes several interesting points on the Blog of the APA, in this post.
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.