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.

The Mīmāṃsā approach to the sentence meaning as something to be done

According to Mīmāṃsā authors, and unlike Nyāya ones, Vedic sentences do not convey the existence of something, but rather that something should be done. This means that the entire Veda is an instrument of knowledge only as regards duties and cannot be falsified through sense-perception, inference, etc. No Mīmāṃsā author, for instance, could ever blame a scientist for reaching a conclusion that clashes with data found in the Veda.

Body and self from the viewpoint of the ritual’s justification

The trigger for a discussion about the distinction of body and self in Mīmāṃsā is not or not primarily the polemic with the Buddhists, but rather the need to justify the validity of ritual prescriptions. In particular, a sentence, the yajñāyudhivākya `sentence about the one who bears the weapons of sacrifice’ identifies the entity being endowed with the weapons which consist in the sacrifice itself with the one which will reach heaven.
The problem is that the entity which carries these weapons is the body — and the body will clearly not reach heaven, since it will be burnt.
Interestingly, bodily resurrection seems not to have ever been taken into account as an option, so that the resulting dualism is much more radical than in a Christian milieu: Mīmāṃsā authors plainly agree that the body will not go to heaven and that the sentence should rather be read as addressing in fact the real agent of the sacrifice, which is not the body, but the self.
This, however, has an important consequence, namely that the self is identified with the real agent beyond the body’s acts. This makes Mīmāṃsā authors start far away from the Upaniṣadic, Sāṅkhya and Vedāntic ideas of an underlying self which is untouched by change and action.
Thus, Sacred Texts like the above sentence suggest that there is a self. Mīmāṃsā authors point also to further evidences, first and foremost our I-cognitions, that is, the cognition we have of an “I” whenever we refer to ourselves. Objectors can easily contend that “I” is used in sentences which in fact refer to the body, such as “I am tall”, thus concluding that this evidence is valueless. Mīmāṃsā authors answer that metaphorical usages of “I” as referring to the body do not rule out that it usually refers to the subject. Again, this claim bases on the idea that the Mīmāṃsā subject is not a changeless and super-individual entity, but that it is a changing and dynamic person, which can be rightly described in I-sentences such as “I am bright” or perhaps even “I am a scholar of Greek philosophy”.

Śabara on sentences (PMS 1.1.24–26)

The discussion on the epistemological validity of sentences starts in Jaimini’s Pūrva Mīmāṃsā Sūtra (PMS) and in Śabara’s commentary thereon when the opponent notes that, even if —as established in PMS 1.1.5— there were really an originary connection between words and meanings, this would still not mean that the authorless Vedas are a reliable instrument of knowledge, since they are made of sentences, not just of words. And clusters of words are either made by human authors or are just causally put together by chance and are thus meaningless.

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)!

How to know God?

Basically, we can either claim that God can be known through reason alone (Samuel Clarke, Anthony Collins, Voltaire, Kant, Nyāya, Śaivasiddhānta…) or that S/He can be known through personal insight and/or Sacred Texts (Śrī Vaiṣṇavas after Yāmuna, Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavas…).

Arne Niklas Jansson

A pathway through Kumārila’s Ślokavārttika, śabda-chapter, part 1

The chapter on śabda ‘language as instrument of knowledge’ within Kumārila’s Ślokavārttika is an elaborate defense of linguistic communication as an autonomous instrument of knowledge. Still, its philosophical impact runs the risk to go unnoticed because it is at the same time also a polemical work targeting rival theories which we either do not know enough or we might be less interested in, and a commentary on its root text, Śabara’s Bhāṣya on the Mīmāṃsā Sūtra. The chapter has also the further advantage that all three commentaries on it have been preserved. Thus, beside Pārthasārathi’s useful one, one can benefit also from Śālikanātha’s deeper one and from Uṃveka’s commentary, which is the most ancient, tends to preserve better readings of the text and is philosophically challenging.

The following is thus the first post in a series attempting a pathway through the chapter:

Deontic logic applied to Sacred Texts

I discussed already in several previous posts a project on the application of deontic logic to the understanding of the Mīmāṃsā exegesis of the Vedas. Now, the project leader, Agata Ciabattoni, made me ponder about a question I should have considered long ago, namely whether someone else has been applying deontic logic to other Sacred Texts.

At first sight, I would have thought that this would have certainly been the case, given that Sacred Texts are, at least in part, prescriptive texts.