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. 

Quotations, references and interlanguage in a Buddhist shrine

The categories of “quotation” (literal or semi-literal and acknowledged reuse), “reference” (paraphrase, often unacknowledged) and “interlanguage” (floating ideas common to a whole cultural milieu) have been distinguished and discussed (in Freschi 2015, special issue of the JIPh) in regard to texts. Accordingly, a quotation is an instance in which a text passage is purposefully acknowledged as belonging to a different work and reused with little or no modifications. Quotations are often linked to the desire to enhance the value of one’s work by appeal to the authority of a different one. However, at the same time, quoting a work means distantiating oneself from it.

By contrast, a reference reuses a text without mentioning that it is being reused and usually in a looser way. No explicit appeal to the authority of the previous text is made, although in some cultural milieus (see again Freschi 2015 for the case of philosophical schools in Classical India) the reuse of materials of the same milieus is consciously or subconsciously recognised by the audience who thus accepts the new work as part of their own cultural milieu.

Amorino at Miran M III (wikipedia)

Last, the category of interlanguage points to a wide-spread reuse of a motif which is so common that authors just reuse it without any further thought, as if it belonged to their basic tool kit. Similarly, the audience does not perceive interlanguage as a distinct element of a given work and they do not acknowledge it as pointing to some other work.

Already Bignami 2015 (in the same issue of JIPh) has suggested to apply these category to the history of art. The following examples discuss possible applications:

  1. the term quotation could cover cases such as Andy Warhol’s reuse of well-known works of art (notably the Mona Lisa) within his creations. In fact, in this case, the reuse is acknowledged and the viewers need to be aware of the original painting for the mechanism to work.
  2. the term reference could cover cases such as the reuse of a content without a specific form, as in the above=mentioned case of Motycka’s Christ which reuses the motif of the crucified Christ although it does not reuse a specific representation of him.
  3. the term interlanguage could cover cases such as the diffusion of Corinthian columns throughout the Roman Empire. Their use outside of Greece was in fact no longer linked to a specific geographic area and readers were not reminded of a single building whose style would have been reused. They were just the shared common language for prestige buildings.\footnote{By contrast, the reuse of the same Corinthian columns in Washington D.C. is a case of reference, since it did not represent the obvious way of building and it rather clearly referred to the classical model of ancient Greece, trying to evoke democracy and other classical ideas.

More in detail, the use of references may be part of an important legitimizing strategy also in history of art (as it is the case in Classical Indian philosophy, see above), since the conscious reuse of a motif which is familiar to one’s audience can be a device used by artists in order to be accepted by the audience. A typical example might be a religious work of art including iconographic elements of a well-known depiction of the same theme. This example also shows how the boundaries between quotation, reference and interlanguage are in art-history, just like in textual history, blurred. The reuse of the Amorini or of the garland-bearers in Buddhist art in Central Asia , for instance, seems today to be a case of interlanguage. However, for the coeval viewers of the paintings at the Miran’s shrines labelled as M III and M IV (see Lo Muzio 2014) the link with a single well-known model, perhaps circulating through note-books might have been so evident that we should rather speak of a quotation (see Filigenzi 2006 for the thesis that the paintings at Miran M III and M IV were inspired by Gandharan ones at Saidu Sharif, in Swat, perhaps through the medium of reproductions in painted albums), perhaps aiming at enhance the prestige of one’s site by linking it ideally with a famous one, as it happened in the case of Roman reproductions of Greek statues. Last, the same kind of reuses could be conceived as instances of reference if they were reusing a specific motif without reproducing it exactly nor presupposing that the viewers would have noted the reference, as perhaps suggested by Bussagli’s comparison of the same Miran paintings with the 1st–3rd c. Gandharan sculptures in Bussagli 1963.

As usual, categorizations are only useful if they serve to understand phenomena or to draw similarities and differences one would not have been able to understand otherwise. Do these categories help you in this sense?

This blogpost is part of my series on reuse in art (see here). It has further been inspired by a lecture at the ISTB by Ciro Lo Muzio (who is not at all responsible for my interpretation of the data, nor for the mistakes I may have added).