Did ṛṣis author the Veda? UPDATED

A Mīmāṃsā and Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta view about it

In his Seśvaramīmāṃsā (ad 1.1.29), Veṅkaṭanātha discusses the problem of the authorship of the Veda while being a Mīmāṃsaka, but also trying to condede something to theism.

For instance, he is less straightforward than Mīmāṃsā authors in ruling out the role of the ṛṣis. Mīmāṃsā authors spoke of the ṛṣis mentioned in connection with some Vedic parts as having just recited (and not authored) those parts in an excellent way. Veṅkaṭanātha does not deny his opponent’s claim that ṛṣis could see parts of the Veda they did not learn with a teacher. Nonetheless, they only see what they are eligible to see, through powers given to them by Prajāpati. They also don’t see anything new:

For this very reason, also the fact that the ṛṣis have done the sūtras, the [Vedic] parts (kāṇḍa) (Brāhmaṇa and Upaniṣads) and the mantras (i.e., the Vedic saṃhitās), conforms to previous acts (i.e., they have uttered them as they were in the previous kalpa), [and] the immediate perception (sākṣatkaraṇa) of a part of the Veda which has not been studied [by them] by ṛṣis who had specific powers given [to them] by Prajāpati conforms with their various eligibilities. For this reason, in this way there is no author of the Veda. Therefore, in all times the Vedas are only recited by a sequence (paramparā) of people depending on someone else (paratantra).

ata eva ṛṣīṇām sūtrakāṇḍamantrakṛttvam api prācīnakarmānuguṇaṃ prajāpatipradattaśaktiviśeṣāṇāṃ tattadadhikārānuguṇam anadhītavedabhāgasākṣātkaraṇam eva. tad evaṃ na vedakarteti sarvadā paratantrapuruṣaparamparādhītā eva vedāḥ.

In other words, ṛṣis are an exception to the normal transmission of the Veda, they are not at its origin. And they don’t see anything more than what people learn through their teachers.

Now a question to you, dear readers: I am not sure about my interpretation of the compound sūtrakāṇḍamantrakṛttvam. This is found in the same context also in Veṅkaṭanātha’s Nyāyapariśuddhi, but I could not find it in any other text. I am not sure about its meaning, since the Vedic kāṇḍas (karmakāṇḍa and jñānakāṇḍa) do include mantras. Nor did Veṅkaṭanātha mention here mantras of altogether different origin… Moreover, sūtras are generally accepted to have an author, so that they don’t really belong to the same group. What could be meant here?

Being a Mīmāṃsaka and believing in God might be hard

To my knowledge, Veṅkaṭanātha’s Seśvaramīmāṃsā has been commented upon only once in Sanskrit, namely in the 20th c. by Abhinavadeśika Vīrarāghavācārya.
At times, the Sūkṣmārthaṭīkā‘s author seems to disagree with Veṅkaṭanātha insofar as he stresses that a certain position by the Mīmāṃsā school is “not accepted by us” (i.e., by the Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedāntins). Many such cases pertain to the core teachings about language and the Veda being fix according to Mīmāṃsā and depending on God according to Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta. In the commentary on SM ad PMS 1.1.29, the Sūkṣmārthaṭīkā is quite explicit:

By contrast, we do not accept the inference said by Mīmāṃsakas, namely ”Each recitation of the Veda has been preceded by one’s teacher’s teaching one the recitation of the Veda, because it is a Vedic recitation, like the present ones”. We do not accept it, because there is an exception, since the probans is absent in the recitation performed by Brahmā of the [Vedic text] based on the Lord (who was Brahmā’s inner controller, so that Brahmā did not need to learn the Veda from a teacher) as well as in the present recitation of the Veda, when it is performed by an ascetic who has made it present (and therefore can see it without the need of a teacher).
And we also do not accept the syllogism because it contradicts the sacred texts speaking of creation and dissolution [of the entire world].

vedādhyayanaṃ sarvaṃ gurvadhyapanapūrvakam adhyayanatvād ity anumānaṃ tu mīmāṃsakoktaṃ necchāmaḥ. īśvaramūlacaturmukhakartṛkādhyayane sākṣātkāritapasvikārite ādyādhyayane ca sādhyābhāvāt vyabhicārāt (ad SM ad 1.1.29, 1971 edition p. 128).

It is easy to see how a Mīmāṃsaka could not have agreed less with Vīrarāghavācārya’s arguments. Mīmāṃsā authors in general believe in a beginningless time and think that the idea of creations and dissolutions is only an unwarranted assumption. Even more dangerous is the idea that an ascetic might see directly the Veda, since this could open the door to yogipratyakṣa and to autonomous religious experiences.

In all the above ways, 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.

nitya and eternality

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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).
  3. 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.

Meanings of Words and Sentences in Mīmāṃsā

Mīmāṃsakas of both the Bhāṭṭa and the Prābhākara subschools refute the idea of a sphoṭa carrying the meaning and being different from what we experience, namely phonemes and words, since this contradicts the principle of parsimony and our common experience. Accordingly, they claim that phonemes really exist and that they together constitute words. They also subscribe to the idea that words convey word-meanings, and thus refute the Bhartṛharian holism, again because this idea is confirmed by common experience and common experience should be trusted unless there is a valid reason not to. In fact, human beings commonly experience that one needs to understand the words composing a sentence in order to understand its meaning.

Is anything at all understood out of false sentences?

Before answering that you do obviously understand something out of false sentences, too, consider that this would lead to:

—distinguishing between understanding the meaning of a sentence and knowing it to be true

—assuming a non-committal understanding of the meaning of a sentence

—understanding fitness as a requirement for the sentence meaning (yogyatā) as limited to the lack of obvious inconsistencies and not as regarding truth

—(possibly) assuming that the meaning of a sentence is not an entity out there (since there is no out-there entity in the case of false sentences), but rather a mental one

 

If you are now inclined to say that Indian authors on a whole could not answer yes to the question in the title, read the following sentence by Veṅkaṭanātha:

śaśaviṣāṇavākyād api bodho jāyata eva

Also out of the sentence claiming that hares have horns (e.g., out of an obviously false sentence), an awareness does indeed arise (SM ad 1.1.25, 1971 edition p. 114).

 

Śyena reinterpreted: You can kill your enemy, if he is about to kill you

The Śyena sacrifice is a sacrifice aiming at the death of one’s enemy. The usual interpretation of the Śyena sacrifice is that you just don’t perform it, because it is violent and violence is prohibited (unless it is performed as an element of a rite, e.g., in the Agnīṣomīya). Here comes, however, a novel interpretation:

“For Mīmāṃsā, it is not the case that violence in itself is the cause for pāpa (evil karman), only prohibited violence is. The killing of the sacrificial animal performed within the Jyotiṣṭoma is [just] effecting that the sacrifice is complete with all its elements.
Out of the result of the Śyena sacrifice anartha is produced. Out of this result, which consists in the killing of one’s enemy, there is anartha in the form o reaching suffering, i.e., hell. [For] the killing of one’s enemy, which is the result of the Śyena sacrifice, is not known through a prescription. However, If the enemy is already ready to kill (ātatāyin), then his killing is prescribed. Since in that case violence is prescribed, the Śyena sacrifice does not produce anartha. Therefore, it is established that the Śyena sacrifice does not in itself lead to anartha as result.”
(p. 25 of Rāmaśaṅkara Bhaṭṭācārya’s commentary (called Jyotiṣmatī) on Sāṃkhyatattvakaumudī)

The author of this work, Dr. Ram Shankar Bhattacharya (1927-1996), was a scholar of international repute, well-known for his ground-breaking works in the field of Indological scholarship in general and Sanskrit in particular. He was a pupil of Hariharānanda Āraṇya and then of his successor, Dharmamegha Āraṇya. He has at least 30 works and hundreds of articles in various languages (English, Bengali, Hindi and Sanskrit) dealing with Purāṇas, Sānkhya and Yoga philosophies, Sanskrit grammar, Indian History, etc. to his credit. He co-edited (along with Prof. Gerald James Larson) the volumes on Sānkhya and Yoga philosophies of the Encyclopaedia of Indian Philosophies series, published under the general editorship of Karl H. Potter, by M/S Motilal Banarsidass. He also served as the scholar-in-residence (sabhāpaṇḍita) of His Royal Highness, the King of Benaras, and the editor of the bi-annual multi-language journal, Purāṇam, published by the All-India Kashiraj Trust, for years, which contains innumerable research articles from his pen. Besides, he also edited four Purāṇas (Agni, Vāmana, Kūrma and Garuḍa) for the same institution.

What remains to be researched, is what it means for an enemy to be ātatāyin (lit. `with one’s bow stretched’, i.e., ready to shoot). Should the enemy be literally about to kill one? If so, there would be no time to perform a Śyena sacrifice. So, either Rāmaśaṅkara Bhaṭṭācārya thinks of preventive actions against people who are known to be about to kill someone or his is just a theoretical discussion.

In order to partly solve this problem, we checked the definition of ātatāyin in the Śabdakalpadruma (a famous Skt-Skt dictionary). This states `ready to kill’ and then quotes a verse from the commentary of Śrīdhara on the BhG discussing six types of such villains: people who are about to set something on fire, poisoners, people with a sword or a knife (śastra) in their hands, robbers, people taking away one’s wife or fields (perhaps: the products of one’s fields?). Śrīdhara then concludes: “There is no flaw in killing an ātatāyin”.

The Vācaspatyam (Skt-Skt) dictionary has a much longer entry. I am still not sure whether someone can be defined an ātatāyin for just plotting a killing —something which would allow one to prepare and perform the Śyena sacrifice.
Sudipta thinks that plotting should be included, since otherwise it might be too late to take action against the ātatāyin and the prescription about killing an ātatāyin found in Dharmaśāstra would be futile. Sudipta accordingly thinks that the Śyena is not prohibited in the case of preventing, e.g., a terrorist attack and that it is only prohibited if performed for one’s own sake, as an offensive action.

(This post has been jointly discussed by EF and Sudipta Munsi, who kindly showed me the quote mentioned above.)

The semantic development of tantra and prasaṅga

A review of Freschi Pontillo 2013

A review of our 2013 book on the evolution of the semantics of tantra and prasaṅga by Émilie Aussant can be read on the Journal of South Asian Languages and Linguistics (link here).

Many thanks are due to Dr. Aussant for her ability to explain in a few sentences the broad context (the Sanskrit śāstra tradition and its ability to encode as many aspects of life as possible), the narrow one (metarules for the interpretation of sūtras) and the specific topic of tantra and prasaṅga.

You can read more on tantra and prasaṅga in my previous blog, here and here. A short version of the book is available on Academia.edu, here.

The Natural Relation in Mīmāṃsā

Mīmāṃsā authors refute the Nyāya and Buddhist theory of a conventional relation and try to prove that nobody would ever be able to establish a linguistic convention without words, since any convention-maker would in turn need words to explain that a certain word X is to be connected with a certain meaning. It follows that, in order to avoid a circular regress, at some point one necessarily needs words whose relation with their meanings is not conventional. Later Nyāya authors introduce here the idea of a God who creates words with an embedded conventional relation, but this thesis implies, according to Mīmāṃsā authors, far too many unwarranted assumptions. Mīmāṃsakas rather stick to common experience, in which language is a given.
Mīmāṃsā authors also dedicate much energy to the explanation of the process through which one learns a language, first understanding the meaning of basic sentences and then the meaning of their constituent words.

The “Hillary Clinton” effect in Sanskrit studies

Why do we look for excuses for not engaging with recent Sanskrit scholarship?

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?