A Śaiva Interpretation of the Buddhist Theory of Exclusion

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This project deals with one of the most compelling schools of Indian philosophy, the so-called Pratyabhijñā, or school of ‘Recognition’. This school belongs to the broad spectrum of the tantric Śaiva traditions and is philosophically characterized by the endorsement of a radical and original form of non-dualism. The name of the school explicitly alludes to its final purpose, that is to establish a substantial identity between the god Śiva and every phenomenal manifestation. Such an identity is regarded as eternal but for some reason is lost, and needs to be rediscovered or ‘re-cognized’. The tradition was established in Kashmir between the 10th and the 11th c. CE, and developed by a series of brilliant thinkers and spiritual masters like Somānanda, Utpaladeva and Abhinavagupta. Differently from other tantric traditions, which rarely emerged from their own more or less esoteric spheres, the Pratyabhijñā openly engaged with the coeval philosophical schools, and based its theological assumptions on a rational analysis. This tendency, somehow already noticeable in Somānanda, becomes explicit in the works of his disciple Utpaladeva, who composed the core text of the tradition, the Īśvarapratyabhijñākārikā, or ‘Stanzas on the Recognition of the Lord’, which he further developed in two commentaries. In these works, Utpaladeva’s aim is to rationally justify the basic tenets of his tradition by adopting an argumentative strategy, in which the Buddhists figure both as the principal opponents and as a source of philosophical arguments.

Utpaladeva is dealing with a number of philosophical questions as for instance: what is the nature of a cognition? What is the role of language in knowledge? How can the process of memory be explained? Is a relation possible? How do we account for the similarity among things? Are universals a dependable answer or does the Buddhist theory of exclusion actually provide a better explanation? What is the nature of the cause and effect relation? What is an action? Does action prove the existence of an agent or not? The list is incomplete, yet it gives an adequate idea of how wide the philosophical interests of the school were. Utpaladeva’s final intention is nevertheless straightforward: he tries to show that none of the above theory is tenable without positing the existence of an ever-present knowing subject, which is identical to consciousness, and ultimately, to Śiva. Even more interesting is Utpaladeva usage of philosophical arguments. He often accepts the views put forth by the Buddhists just to show that they work only within the Śaiva framework. Equally often, he adopts theories elaborated in other Brahmanical traditions. Among them the most important source is certainly the work of the 5th c. grammarian and philosopher Bhartṛhari.

Bhartṛhari’s influence on the Pratyabhijñā is therefore the main topic of this project. More concretely, the project analyses the argumentative strategies that Utpaladeva and his commentator Abhinavagupta applied against Buddhist conceptions, and in their own understanding of knowledge and reality, and asks, to which extent these strategies are based on Bhartṛhari’s ontological and epistemological ideas.

Languages: EN

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