A Śaiva interpretation of the Buddhist theory of exclusion (apoha)

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Project Data

The present project is meant as a contribution to the history of Indian philosophy, and more particularly, to the understanding of the fruitful interaction between Śaiva and Buddhist philosophical systems in Medieval India. It focuses on the appropriation and transformation, by the 10th-century Śaiva nondualist Utpaladeva and his 11th-century commentator Abhinavagupta, of a theory developed by Dignāga and Dharmakīrti (5th-6th centuries?) and essential in the Buddhist epistemological tradition, namely that of exclusion (apoha). The study will be based on the critical edition of a series of commentaries on an important chapter (1.6) of Utpaladeva’s Īśvarapratyabhijñākārikā-s. It will show how the representatives of the Śaiva Pratyabhijñā (“Recognition”) school adopted this Buddhist theory and even gave it a central role in their philosophical system, but not without profoundly subverting its meaning so as to fit their own metaphysical principles. The theory was originally designed by Buddhist philosophers to defend the nominalist idea that concepts do not refer to real universals (but merely to mental constructs), as well as the corollary thesis that there are no enduring substances such as a Self (ātman) or God (īśvara), but only momentary events. Paradoxically, it was exploited by the Śaivas so as to establish the existence of Śiva understood as an all-encompassing consciousness being both the universal Self and the creator of the universe. While thus appropriating and transforming this Buddhist notion of exclusion – arguably one of the most influential philosophical theories ever elaborated in India –, Utpaladeva and Abhinavagupta did not confine themselves to the epistemological issues of apoha highlighted in most Buddhist and Brahmanical sources, but also explored its ontological, soteriological and even aesthetic aspects. The project has as its main aim to provide a better understanding of the Pratyabhijñā philosophy (the most elaborate among Śaiva philosophical systems) by showing how Utpaladeva adopted and adapted this crucial theory of his Buddhist rivals. It will do so by examining the sources (both Brahmanical and Buddhist) of Utpaladeva’s knowledge of the Indian controversy over the nature of conceptualization, and by offering critical editions and annotated English translations of several key texts on this topic. But it also has as its purpose to shed light on the history of the apoha theory within Buddhist circles through the examination of the different later Buddhist interpretations of Dharmakīrti’s exclusion theory (notably that of Śaṅkaranandana) that are alluded to and criticized in the Śaivas’ works.

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