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.

Viśiṣṭādvaitins speaking of Advaitins

The following passage is from Yāmuna’s Ātmasiddhi and it is a description of the Advaita position about the brahman as being tantamount to consciousness:

ato ‘syā na meyaḥ kaścid api dharmo ‘sti. ato nirdhūtanikhilabhedavikalpanirdharmaprakāśamātraikarasā kūṭasthanityā saṃvid evātmā paramātmā ca. yathāha yānubhūtir ajāmeyānantātmā iti. saiva ca vedāntavākyatātparyabhūmir iti (ĀS, pp. 29–30 of the 1942 edition)

Therefore this (consciousness) has no characteristic as its knowable content. Therefore, this very consciousness is eternal, uniform and it consists of light-only, without characteristics, in which all conceptualisations of difference have been dissolved. This consciousness alone is the self (ultimately identical with the single brahman, but illusory identified as one’s own self) and the supreme self (i.e., the brahman). As it has been said: ”That experience (i.e., consciousness) is unborn, cannot become a knowledge content, it is endless, it is the self”*. And this alone is the ultimate meaning (tātparya) of the Upaniṣads’ sentences.

The quote within the passage (yānubhūtir ajāmeyānantātmā) could be from Vimuktātman’s Iṣṭasiddhi (1.1: yānubhūtir ajāmeyānantānandātmavigrahā |
mahadādijaganmāyācitrabhittiṃ namāmi tām ||).*

Yāmuna’s description seems fair to me. Do readers more expert in Advaita agree?

*I am grateful to Anand Venkatkrishnan for his help in identifying this quote.

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).

 

What shall one avoid in the case of eye-diseases?

A problem with polysemy

Veṅkaṭanātha discusses in his commentary on PMS 1.1.9 the case of words having multiple meanings. On the one hand, there are words which have multiple meanings and whose meaning can be fixed only due to the proximity to other words. On the other, there are words which have one prevalent meaning, but which can assume a different meaning due to the proximity of other words. Therefore, the proximity of other words is not in itself a disambiguating factor. The Nyāya objector takes advantage of that to suggest that one needs to resort to convention.

Interactions among Śaiva, Vaiṣṇava and other religious and philosophical schools

The religious debate in the early second millennium in South India

The early second millennium in South India saw a culmination of scholarly activities in the sphere of Śaiva and Vaiṣṇava devotional movements, including both philosophical and ritual discourses. While we tend to study these separately from each other, for Śaiva and Vaiṣṇava thinkers both aspects – theological speculations and ritual practice – played an integral part in their intellectual and daily lives, and thus we should consider their theological works deeply entangled in the ritual world they moved in.

Further, these scholarly activities were embedded in an environment with a long history of Śaiva and Vaiṣṇava interactions, with some works showing passages conceived in direct response to their competitors. The present workshop aims to transcend disciplinary boundaries and investigate the interactions between both Śaiva and Vaiṣṇava thinkers as well as theological theory and ritual practice and how these may be manifested in discourses of identity on both an ideological and a practical level. Some of the questions will be: Do ritual practice and theological theory correspond to each other? How did theories develop from rituals and subsequently feed back and impact theological discourses and vice versa? To what extent do rituals presuppose an identification between God and His human devotees? And does the answer to this question depend on a dispute between opponents, who upheld the opposite view (i.e., a non-dualist Śaiva answer may depend on a dualist Vaiṣṇava opponent)? Or how much do Śaiva-Vaiṣṇava or intra-Vaiṣṇava and intra-Śaiva exchanges shape prescriptive and theoretical discourses on ritual practices relating to external religious markers?

In order to pursue this set of questions, a range of specialists has been asked to choose a passage from key works that shaped the intellectual and ritual life of early medieval South India. While an introduction to each of the sources will be presented, the sessions will focus on the joint reading to be held in the light of this set of guiding questions. In addition, further specialists have been invited to join the reading and contribute towards the discussions.

You can read the whole program here.

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?

Jaimini and Bādarāyaṇa

PMS 1.1.5 strangely inserts the word bādarāyaṇasya ‘according to Bādarāyaṇa’ in its wording. Does it mean that this key sūtra of the school is only the opinion of Bādarāyaṇa? The context makes it clear that it is not a prima facie view and in the commentary on PMS 1.1.5, Veṅkaṭanātha uses the mention of Bādarāyaṇa to substantiate his idea of a unitary system of Pūrva Mīmāṃsā and Vedānta. He explains that Jaimini mentions Bādarāyaṇa in order to show that this view is traditional (sāmpradāyikatā) and accepted by his own teacher.
That Bādarāyaṇa was the teacher of Jaimini is proven by means of some Mahābhārata quotes, which should prove their connection, and also the identity of Bādarāyaṇa and Vyāsa.

Again on omniscience: Why talking about it, God’s omniscience and some reasons to refute it

Why is the topic of omniscience relevant in Indian philosophy? Because of at least two concurring reasons. On the one hand, for schools like Buddhism and Jainism, it is a question of religious authority. Ascribing omniscience to the founders of the school was a way to ground the validity of their teachings. Slightly similar is the situation of theistic schools ascribing omniscience to God, as a way to ground His ability to organise the world in the best possible way. On the other hand, for other schools the idea of omniscience was initially connected with the result of yogic or other ascetic practices. In this sense, omniscience was conceptually not different from aṇimā `the faculty to become as small as an atom’ and other special powers.