Thursday, March 20, 2014

‘Tradition’ has moved towards less esoteric, intellectual fields

Neevel’s suggestion is that the life-spans of probably already long lives have been prolonged in order to make sure that every important teacher had met the previous one (Nathamuni-Yamuna-Ramanuja…). The life span of Nathamuni has been extended to 300 years in order to put him in touch with the Alvars. It was the way a tradition made its strong belief in their connection into history.

Daniele Cuneo on 19 March 2014 at 11:12 am said:
Hi Elisa, as you might imagine, along lines similar to those you have drawn, I would think of the theoretical developments within Pratyabhijñā (Kaśmīr Śaivism, Trika, paramādvaita or whatever we should call it). Probably very much influenced by Torella’s writings, my take would be that the ‘tradition’ has moved towards a progressive opening up with respect to different, and less esoteric, intellectual fields, social strata, scriptures and the like. Very briefly, and without checking references and stuff, from the world of Somānanda quite close to not only śaiva scripture and crowded with many enemies (famously, Bhartṛhari and the grammarians) and few allies, we move to the much more open intellectual universe of Utpaladeva (in which—for instance—Bhartṛhati has become a powerful ally), carefully constructed in order to debate with all the philosophical schools, in the open, so to say, practically outside the esoteric, only-Tantric circles; then Abhinavagupta systematizes even more the theoretical and scriptural grounds of it all, by coordinating—for instance—the various Tantric strands (Krama, Kaula, etc.) and by further incorporating the dualistic schools in the system; with Kṣemarāja, it seems to me, we witness a further moment of intellectual colonization, with the full inclusion of the Spanda-side of Tantric speculations and the appropriation of dualistic tantras (like the Netra or the Svacchanda) by means of clever commentaries that reinterpret them in a nondualistic framework. So, my general feeling would be that in the span from Yāmuna to Veṅkathanātha something similar was happening, with the gradual conquest of intellectual and social fields to the cause of the new edifice of Viśiṣṭādvaita. But it is just my feeling, very much imbued with my assumption on the social and cultural workings of making philosophy…

Thank you, Daniele. This is also my take on it. I even suggested that the sequence Yāmuna–Rāmānuja–Veṅkaṭanātha resembles the Somānanda–Utpaladeva–Abhinavagupta one (here:

Matthew, thanks for this. I will need more time to assess the value of the book (and will possibly write about it) —which, mea culpa, I did not know. By and large, however, it can be said that the book has a clear thesis (the continuity of the lineage from the Āḻvārs through Yāmuna to Rāmānuja) and that it develops it in an interesting way. Nothing can be said against the solid preparation of its author, although he might be slightly inclined to read the history of Viśiṣṭādvaita ante litteram through the lenses of what came out of it (e.g., by detecting in causal remarks in Yāmuna the seed of later developments). I am, for instance, not in the position to assess the authenticity of the Tamil’s comments embedded in the Divya Prabandham and attributed to Yāmuna, but it strikes me that Narasimhachary does not even address the issue. What do you think?

Sri Krishna Prem on science - This is a letter by Sri Krishnaprem, the unique case of a British professor who became an Indian yogi and eventually a Guru in his own right. He had his as...
I first read this in 1977. Now, 37 years later, I still find it one of the most inspired comments on the limits of modern science. As much as I admire Alan Wallace, whom I consider to be one of the greatest exponents of contemplative science in the world today, I’ve never seen anything in his writings that captures the whole picture as beautifully and as simply as this passage.
I think part of it is that not only was Ronald Nixon (his name before he took sannyas) a brilliant intellectual, but he had a spontaneity of devotion rare among westerners (rare for anybody, I suppose).

There’s a great story about his going to the Mother (of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram) for darshan. When he got to her, She said, “What do you want?” He replied, “To give myself.’
The Mother was known for having the capacity to look into the depths of one’s soul. She looked at Krishna Prem for an unusually long time, and said, “But you have given yourself.”
Without any hesitation, he quietly and sincerely replied, “Not enough.” The Mother later said that those two words impressed Her very deeply.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Maybe we need to ditch the label of “philosophy” altogether

Chris Framarin on 13 March 2014 at 4:19 pm said: Hi Shyam,
I think we should be more open to the possibility that the Yogasūtra (and other seminal Hindu texts) attribute direct moral standing to entities in virtue of their capacity for pleasure and pain (among other reasons). Your argument against this view reads:

One standard account that we find from Hedonic Utilitarians like Peter Singer and Bentham is the idea that someone counts, ethically, if they can suffer (Singer 2012). Animals count because they can suffer. I like the hedonic account, but it has problems. On this account, if I overcome suffering, I would no longer be in the category of things who should be taken seriously. This disincentivises me from overcoming suffering. That’s strange.

Ethan Mills on 14 March 2014 at 5:52 am said:
It seems to me that freedom vs. determinism wasn’t a major issue in the Indian tradition because almost everyone was a compatibilist (or soft determinist). Karma and rebirth simply wouldn’t work without determinism: the whole idea that certain actions inevitably lead to certain consequences seems like some kind of determinism. But it need not be hard determinism, the theory that determinism rules out freedom. A decision to follow the path of a specific school can be free in the sense of being caused by the right sort of desire or mental state, but one need not claim that such a choice must itself be solely caused by an agent (as in libertarian agent causation theories). Compare this with the sort of compatibilism advocated by Hume and Mill.

Now, I’m not saying that any classical Indian philosophers explicitly advocated compatibilism. They didn’t have to. In a tradition driven so heavily by disagreement, there was simply no reason to argue about an issue that almost everyone agreed about. I suspect this has been such a big issue in Western thought because of the religious background: if you can be damned for all eternity for your choices, they damn well better be fully yours. But with karma and rebirth, you simply need to be in a position where you can follow a path to liberation at some point. If it doesn’t happen now, you’ll have plenty more chances in future lifetimes.

andrew ollett on 8 March 2014 at 5:03 pm said:
there is clearly a lot to disagree with here, especially regarding the narrow construal of “philosophy,” which clearly reflects an enlightenment-era ideal of “reasoning without tradition” that is not only western, but even excludes an enormous amount of what had previously counted as philosophy in the west. i will limit my dissent to an obvious point: there may be “theology” and “philosophy” (maybe), but there are not “theologians” and “philosophers.” this is one instance of the myth of the schools, according to which everyone who ever wrote in india was a card-carrying member of one and only one philosophical (or should i say theological?) school. is kumārila incapable of philosophical thought because his primary output was commentaries on a system of scriptural interpretation? instead of kicking every important indian thinker (except for the later naiyāyikas, i guess) out of “philosophy,” we need to change our idea of what “philosophy” is. or maybe we need to ditch the label of “philosophy” altogether, constricting and judgmental as it is, and focus on the history of indian intellectual traditions.