What happened at the beginnings of Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta?—Part 1

The starting point of the present investigation is the fact that between Rāmānuja and Veṅkaṭanātha a significant change appears to have occurred in the scenario of what was later known as Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta (the term is only found after Sudarśana Sūri). The Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta as we know it was more or less there by the time of Veṅkaṭanātha, whereas in order to detect it in the oeuvre of Rāmānuja one needs to retrospectively interpret it in the light of its successive developments. This holds true even more, although in a different way, for Rāmānuja’s predecessors, such as Yāmuna, Nāthamuni and the semi-mythical Dramiḍācārya etc.

16th World Sanskrit Conference: A panel on the development of Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta

Last week took place one of the main (or the main?) conferences for Sanskrit scholars, namely the 16th edition of the World Sanskrit Conference, of which you can read a short summary by McComas Taylor on Indology (look for it here). Marcus Schmücker and I organised a panel called One God—One Śāstra, Philosophical developments towards and within Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta between Nāthamuni and Veṅkaṭanātha. You can read the initial call for papers here.

How Vedāntic was Yāmuna?

Was Rāmānuja the first author of the Vedāntisation of the current(s) which later became well-known as Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta? Possibly yes. But, one might suggest that there are many Upaniṣadic quotations also in Yāmuna’s Ātmasiddhi and that Rāmānuja’s Śrībhāṣya seems to speak to an already well-established audience, and I wonder how could this have been the case if he were the first one attempting the Vedāntisation…

Loving God for no reason

Why does a devotee love God? Because He is good, merciful, omniscient…? Or just out of love?

This seems to be one of the moot issues between the two currents within the form of Vaiṣṇavism later to be known as Śrīvaiṣṇavism, since Piḷḷai Lokācārya (13th c.) stresses that loving without reason is superior to loving with a reason, just like Sītā’s ungrounded love for Rāma is superior to that of Lakṣmaṇa, who loves Rāma for his good qualities (see Mumme 1988, p. 150).

Two (or three) different narratives on Yoga, Mīmāṃsā, Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta etc.

Some authors tend to think that once upon a time there was one Yoga and that later this has been “altered” or has at least “evolved” into many forms. According to their own stand, they might look at this developments as meaningful adaptations or as soulless metamorphoseis.

Patterns of Bravery. The Figure of the Hero in Indian Literature, Art and Thought

Cagliari, 14th--16th May 2015

Tiziana Pontillo signalled me the conference mentioned in the title. You can download the flyer here.
From the point of view of methodology, let me praise T. Pontillo for the fact that she will give two joint papers. Let us all learn from each other and dare more cooperative work (if we enjoy it)!

The making of Śrīvaiṣṇavism: A tentative hypothesis about its reconstruction

It is difficult to disentangle the different roots of what is now known as Śrīvaiṣṇavism, since this term is usually the label attributed to the religious counterpart of the philosophical-theological school of Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta. However, Vaiṣṇavism was apparently an important presence in South India well before the beginning of the philosophical enterprise

Going beyond knowledge

The 13th–14th c. Vaiṣṇava theologian Veṅkaṭanātha (also known as Vedānta Deśika) opened various chapters (called vāda) of his Śatadūṣaṇī with a different praise of Hayagrīva. Interestingly, they focus on different aspects of this complex God. The first one focuses on His being connected with the Veda and speech, the second on the latter connection only, the last two on Him as the supreme deity, while the middle one is a sort of threshold between Hayagrīva’s connection to knowledge and Hayagrīva as supreme deity. Accordingly, the translation of this maṅgala is particularly tricky.

viditam anuvadanto viśvam etad yathāvad vidadhati nigamāntāḥ kevalaṃ yanmayatvam |
aviditabahubhūmā nityam antarvidhattāṃ hayavaravadano ‘sau sannidhis sannidhiṃ naḥ ||

The second part of the verse is relatively clear, although I am sure I am missing something in the equation of Hayagrīva with sannidhi:

Let He, as proximity*, with the face of a horse, whose opulence is not understood, take perpetually place close to us ||

The first part is less clear and the following translation is only tentative (comments are welcome):

The Upaniṣads, by repeating what has been understood, properly distribute this all [knowledge], which consists purely of Him |

Now, the tricky part is the echo between vidita/avidita and vidadhati/antarvidhattām. Given that the the first part of the verse refers to the Upaniṣads and the second part refers directly to Hayagrīva, the gist of the passage appears to lie in the idea that the Upaniṣads are an excellent device for gathering knowledge, but Hayagarīva surpasses all possible human knowledge.

*I would now read it as “Let he, the depository of good things” (the puṇya for this translation accrues to H.I.’s comment below).

For Hayagrīva in other Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta texts, see this post. For Hayagrīva in Vaiṣṇava temples, see here.

172nd Philosophers’ Carnival—SECOND UPDATE

Welcome to the 172nd Philosophers’ Carnival! Read, enjoy, add your favourites in the comments below and submit here your proposals for the next edition of the Philosophers’ Carnival (which will be hosted by Samuel Paul Douglas).

As a general framework, let me start with Catarina Dutilh Novaes’ review of Williamson’s Tetralogue, discussing the possibility of rational dialogue to advance knowledge —that is, the reason which could make philosophy more than a Glasperlenspiel.

Should philosophy (of religion) go out of its comfort zone?
In this post, Aaron Thomas-Bolduc suggests that we should go out of our comfort zones and test our ideas outside them. A few days before, Adriano Mannino had posted here his comments on a study by Helen De Cruz and asked whether philosophy of religion is more than Christian apologetics.
This post by Michael Almeida shows that arguments about philosophy of religion can be dealt with in a purely logical way (from premisses to absurd consequences). Similarly, Eric Schwitzgebel discusses here the application to artificial intelligence of a problem originally dealt with within philosophy of religion, i.e., God’s responsibility for our well-being (and our responsibility towards AI, if we ever were to create one). By the way, the author includes in his dialogue also the Confucian approach of ethical obligations (which get stronger the closer one is to oneself, so that one has higher obligations towards one’s family than towards strangers).

Free will within and without contemporary Western philosophy
The idea of going out of one’s comfort zone brings me to the following series of posts, dedicated to free will. One can start with John Danaher‘s general summary of the possible meanings of “Liberty” and “Free will” as explained by Skinner (John Danaher has further interesting posts on freedom and work and democracy).
Next, this post by Jayarava Attwood discusses the Buddha’s defense of free will while debating with a denier of free will in a text of the Pāli Buddhist Canon. The same author has also dedicated a more general post to the issue of free will at the boundaries of philosophy and neurosciences, here. Again on Buddhism, Amod Lele discusses here how ethics is possible even within a deterministic worldview. Last for the non-Western series, this post discusses Free will vs. divine omnipotence in a Vaiṣṇava theologian, Rāmānuja. Stewart Duncan discusses here some passages of Leibniz which suggest that he might have conceived of things deterministically and of thoughts as actions, depending on the souls only.
Flickers of Freedom is the usual reference point when it comes to free will. This month, this post by V. Alan White on whether responsibility comes in degree especially recommends itself.

Language and reality
Richard Yetter Chappell discusses here an aspect of the problem entailed in the naturalistic account of meaning.

On a similar vein, Tristan Haze discusses here a paradox, namely

If you’re a brain in a vat then you don’t have hands
You don’t know that you’re not a brain in a vat
Therefore you don’t know that you have hands

Interestingly, Haze does not enter into the ontology of the topic, but rather dwells in its linguistic and logical consequences (what does it mean to say that one has hands? To what does language refer?).

On the arbitrariness of the signified and its implications for linguistics, Alexander Pruss discusses here the problems one encounters when translating English hand with Polish rȩka. Pruss closes his post with a thought on false implicature (could occur in cases such as the one described) and lying (morally problematic).

On a sidetrack, Jon Cogburn discusses here how some misunderstandings of the so-called Continental Philosophy by Analytic Philosophers might just be due to wrong translations of French expressions such as l’event or l’autre as “The Event” (=the creation? what other key event?) and “The Other” (Satan?), does creating unwanted metaphysical entities.

Concerning lying, a post at Experimental Philosophy and PeaSoup by John Turri discusses how people react when one asks them whether telling the truth while trying to lie still counts as lying. Unsurprisingly perhaps, the answers depend on how the question is phrased.

At Practical Ethics, Hannah Maslen discusses a bias which seems to lead to more problems than it can solve, namely the hostile attribution bias, which is the cause of avoidable bloody fights, especially among teenagers, just because someone was “looking at me funny”. If you are schocked and ask yourself what could be done to interrupt this vicious circle, have a look at Eric Schwitzgebel’s memories of his father and of how he engaged young criminals, thus automatically making them relinquish crime.

Again at Practical Ethics, this post by Chris Chew discusses what could be the best death.

A new blog on the philosophical problems connected with disability has helped in raising an interesting debate on whether the discussion on some problems, such as the abortion of disabled fetuses, or the moral justification of evil, should be altogether avoided. On the Philosophers’ Cocoon, Marcus Arvan summarises the discussion and adds his view.

At Aesthetics for birds, Rebecca Victoria Millsop discusses the role of originality in painting and whether the research of originality at all costs does not lead astray (I agree). Rebecca is herself an artist (beside being a fifth-year PhD student in philosophy of art) and this perspective deeply enriches her post.

Last, although this is a philosophical Carnival, I hope readers will forgive me —given the high symbolic impact of the Paris attacks on the issues of freedom of thought and critique— if I add this post (which I discovered through Catarina Dutilh Novaes at NewApps) by Juan Cole, a historian of the Middle East, discussing the recent facts in Paris.

By coincidence, the colleague who will host the next Philosophers’ Carnival, Samuel P. Douglas has also a post on the epistemology of conspiracy theories, in relation to the Charlie Hebdo attack.



Free will in Rāmānuja

As frequently observed, free will was not a main topic in Indian philosophy, and discussions about it need rather to be looked for either at partly unexpected places (e.g., within logical discussions about agency) or in texts which are not primarily philosophical and in their commentaries, most notably the Mahābhārata and especially the Bhagavadgītā. Nonetheless, a precious exception is offered by a passage in a 11th c. theologian and philosopher, namely in Rāmānuja’s Vedārthasaṅgraha, which focuses on a constellation of topics quite similar to the one Western readers are accustomed to.