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.

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.

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.

Against the extrinsicity of validity of cognitions UPDATED

Mīmāṃsā authors think that cognitions are by themselves, i.e., intrinsically valid. In other words, they are not valid because of some additional reason, but just because of the sheer fact of being unfalsified.

In order to establish this claim, Veṅkaṭanātha defeats three possible candidates as extrinsic reasons for the cognitions’ validity, namely agreement (saṃvāda, with other people’s cognitions or with one’s other cognitions), quality of the cognition’s cause and causal efficacy (arthakriyā). The latter candidate is rejected because it would lead to an infinite regress (one would need to establish the causal efficacy of the cognition of causal efficacy and so on) and because some cognitions just don’t have any causal result. The passage is as follows:

arthakriyā ca na vyāptā, aśakyārthakriyeṣv anādarapadeṣu ca pratīteṣu puruṣapravṛttyabhāvena tanmūlārthakriyābhāvāt.

Nor is the causal efficiency (arthakriyā) included (vyāp-) [in the ascertainment of a cognition’s validity], because there is no causal efficiency as the root of certain [cognitions], given that there is no human activity (pravṛtti) in the case of apprehended [cognitions] in regard to which causal efficiency (arthakriyā) is impossible and whose contents (pada) have not been taken into account (anādara). (SM ad PMS 1.1.5)

UPDATE: The translation has been updated according to the suggestion (see comments below) by Lalitālālitaḥ (for which I am extremely grateful). I am sure he is right about the general meaning, but I would have still preferred anādarapadārtheṣu or anādaraviṣayeṣu.

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).

A basic introduction to Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta

(I have been asked to write a short introduction to Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta and would like to test it on you, dear readers. Any comment or criticism would be more than welcome!)

In its full-fledged form, the Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta (henceforth VV) is a Vedāntic school, thus one which accepts the authority of the Upaniṣads, the Brahmasūtra and the Bhagavadgītā and which recognises a form of God as brahman (on the various ways of understanding God in India, see here). The full-fledged VV accepts also further groups of texts, namely on the one hand the Pañcarātra (a group of Vaiṣṇava texts prescribing personal and temple rituals, see Leach 2012, and, here) and on the other the Tamil devotional poems collected in the Divyaprabandham.