The Advaitins? Just blind believers!

The argumentative structure of Yāmuna's Saṃvitsiddhi

Yāmuna is not strictly speaking a Vedāntin, at least not in all his works. Nonetheless, the extant portion of his Saṃvitsiddhi (henceforth SSi) starts with a typically Vedānta concern, namely the exegesis of some Upaniṣadic statements, and especially of the word advaita within them.

The presence of an Upaniṣadic, and, therefore authoritative, starting point does not mean that there is no space for argumentation. By contrast, Yāmuna discusses at length various possible interpretations, so that the quotes open rather than closing the discussion. In this sense, the Upaniṣadic quotes have the same role of controversial sacrificial issues in Pūrva Mīmāṃsā: the discussion is prompted by the problem they raise. The structure of the first pages of the SSi is the same found at times in Veṅkaṭanātha’s philosophical works such as the Seśvaramīmāṃsā insofar as the opinions of several different schools are briefly examined and refuted. However, in these pages of the SSi the opponents have only one chance to speak out their opinion, the discussion does not involve a single speaker at length, and after one has been defeated, Yāmuna moves swiftly to the next one. The situation changes, even within the same SSi, once Yāmuna moves to a topic which has metaphysical and not only hermeneutical relevance, namely whether there is only one saṃvit ‘cognition’, or whether this is differentiated according to its various intentional contents. Here, the discussion turns into an engaging succession of objections and replies.

Yāmuna at times lets some space for sarcasm. An interesting case contrasts Yāmuna’s point of view to that of “believer” Vedāntins (the opponents are identified immediately before as brahmavidaḥ ‘knowers of brahman’. The context is that of the denial of any difference, so that one can postulate that these are Advaita Vedāntins):

Enough! This teaching about brahman suits [only] believers. We are not believers and resort to reason.

hanta! brahmopadeśo ’yaṃ śraddadhāneṣu śobhate. vayam aśraddadhānās ’smo ye yuktiṃ prārthayāmahe. (SSi 1942 p. 131).

Reuse and Intertextuality in the Context of Buddhist Texts

The real TOC!

The latest issue of the Buddhist Studies Review (33.1—2, 2016) has been published online. The printed issue will follow soon.

The core of the issue is constituted by a collection of articles on the topic of “Reuse and Intertextuality in the Context of Buddhist Texts” and edited by Elisa Freschi together with Cathy Cantwell and Jowita Kramer. Please scroll down for the table of contents.

I would be happy to receive any feedback on the project of dealing with reuse and intertextuality within the specific subfield of Buddhist texts. The Introduction is available OA on

P.S. the TOC below replaces the wrong one which was erroneously sent out on Monday the 23rd.

Modification as an evidence for the fact that mantras have meanings and an application of the Aindrīnyāya

Both Śabara’s and Veṅkaṭanātha’s commentary on the Mīmāṃsā Sūtra insist that mantras are not important only insofar as they are pronounced, but rather that they convey a meaning (technically: they are vivakṣitārtha `they have intended meanings’).
One of the evidences for the meaningfulness of mantras is the fact that mantras are modified (ūh-) in the ectype rituals. If, for instance, the archetype ritual is for Agni and the ectype ritual is offered to Indra, the mantra will be accordingly changed (e.g., from Agnaye juṣṭam to Indrāya juṣṭam). If the mantras had no meaning, there would be no scope for modifying them. If the pronunciation were enough to achieve some unseen potency (apūrva), one would just repeat the mantras in the same form.

Philosophical commentaries in ancient India (UPDATED)

Commentaries can be manifold in ancient India. They have different purposes and form, but they all share some characters:

  • they have a given text as their main interlocutor/they are mainly about a given text
  • like with Origene’s commentaries, they are a genre in its own right, not a minor specialisation for authors at their beginnings (Sakai 2015, section 4, suggests that authors in fact needed to have already become acknowledged authorities before being entrusted with the honour of composing a commentary on an influential text.)
  • they are characterised by a varied but strong degree of textual reuse
  • they allow for significant degrees of innovation (This is evident in the case of the Navya Nyāya commentaries on the NS. Outside the precinct of philosophy, juridical commentaries often reflect the recent juridical developments much more than the original text they are commenting upon.)

What is a commentary? UPDATED

And how the Nyāyamañjarī and the Seśvaramīmāṃsā do (not) fit the definition

What makes a text a “commentary”? The question is naif enough to allow for a complicated answer. First of all, let me note the obvious: There is not a single word for “commentary” in Sanskrit, where one needs to distinguish between bhāṣyas, vārttikas, ṭippanīs, etc., often bearing poetical names, evoking Moons, mirrors and the like.

Veṅkaṭanātha as a way for reconstructing the history of Sanskrit philosophy in South India: The Bṛhaṭṭīkā

Veṅkaṭanātha is an important milestone for the reconstruction of the history of Indian philosophy. In fact, he is a historical figure and the reconstruction of his thought is also facilitated by the contextual knowledge already available about the times, the cultural and geographical milieu, and the religious tradition related to him.

Woody Allen’s “The Irrational Man” between existentialism and reuse

Woody Allen’s last movie, The Irrational Man (henceforth TIM) keeps on discussing about luck and case, a topic which was at the center of his Match Point (MP). In both movies, the “villains” end up being punished, in a (too) straightforward way in TIM and in a subtler one in MP. Notwithstanding that, one of the strengths of TIM is that the condemnation of the villain is so straightforward, that one is lead to suspect that his punishment only happened by chance and not as a result of justice. If you are interested in the topic and can read Italian, you can read my analysis of MP in the light of Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta here.
If you don’t know Italian, you might have missed that the climax scene of TIM is a quotation* of the corresponding climax scene of Il Vedovo, a 1959 movie by Dino Risi, which also elaborates on the topic of trying to organise the perfect murder of an unpleasant person. The main difference lies in the fact that W. Allen sympathises with the prospective murderer (a philosophy professor who dislikes Kant’s Categorical Imperative and is fond of Sartre) much more than D. Risi, whose commedy really has no hero.

*I do not think it is a simple reuse of a convenient device. The similarity is so striking that the director surely intended his public to recognise what he was doing. In this sense, the movie presupposes a public of connaisseurs (along the public of people paying the tickets). I discuss the terminology related to reuse in the Introduction of a forthcoming volume edited by me and Philipp Maas. Its basic ideas can be read here (where “pragmatic reuse” stands for what we later labelled “simple reuse”).

Substances according to the Vātsīputrīyas

Little is known about the Vātsīputrīyas who are an ancient (3rd c.) group of Buddhists mostly known because of their pudgalavāda ‘doctrine about the [existence of] persons’. Since they seem to be referred to only in connection with this teaching, I was surprised to find them mentioned by Veṅkaṭanātha in 14th c. South India.

Textual reuse in South Asian texts: Some resources

A basic bibliography on textual reuse can be found at the end of my Introduction to the Reuse of Texts in Indian Philosophy, available Open Access on and on the website of the Journal of Indian Philosophy. Apart from these titles, you might want to know about a few others which have been published thereafter or are now forthcoming:

TOC of Adaptive Reuse of Texts, Ideas and Images

What does it mean for a Sanskrit author to reuse previously composed texts, concepts or images? What does (s)he want to achieve by doing it? On these topics, I am currently in the process of finishing a volume I edited together with Philipp Maas namely, Adaptive Reuse in premodern South Asian Texts and Contexts (or perhaps Adaptive Reuse. Reflections on its Practice in Pre-modern South Asia), to appaear in the series ‘Abhandlungen für die Kunde des Morgenlandes’, Harrassowitz: Wiesbaden.