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How is Verbal Signification Possible Understanding Abhinavagupta s Reply - Raffaele Torella

How is Verbal Signification Possible Understanding Abhinavagupta s Reply - Raffaele Torella



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How is Verbal Signification Possible Understanding Abhinavagupta's Reply - Raffaele Torella
How is Verbal Signification Possible Understanding Abhinavagupta's Reply - Raffaele Torella

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Published by: raffaeletorella on Feb 09, 2012
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We can find, scattered in Abhinavagupta’s works, a number of penetratingremarks on the nature of language. An overall assessment of his position inthe Indian speculation on
´ sabda
has not yet been attempted, and certainlythis is not an easy task due to the many components and the various sourcesof his eclectic teaching. Another reason for his absence from the generalsurveys of Indian linguistic studies may have been the implicit assump-tion that owing to his being a tantric master, and therefore above all a‘mystic’, his philosophy is not to be taken seriously, an exception beingmade only for his well-known contribution to aesthetics. Be this as it may,the available studies on Abhinava as a philosopher of language end up bybeing either a chapter attached to specific tantric studies or just a paragraphwhen dealing with the doctrine of Bhartr.hari, to which Abhinavagupta’sdoctrine is considered an esoteric appendix.
Now that it is becoming moreand more apparent that Abhinavagupta is one of the great philosophers of traditional India, time has come for us to make an attempt to reconsider hisideas in broader perspective.The starting point of my enquiry was, in a sense, a negative one. At acertain point of my study of Abhinavagupta’s work I was struck by thefact that he hardly ever mentions
sphot .a
. Acceptance of 
sphot .a
wouldseem the natural outcome of the central place that Abhinavagupta assignsto the whole of Bhartr.harian teaching in the Trika philosophy, since inBhartr.hari’s conception the
sphot .a
theory plays an essential role. On thecontrary, the rare occurrences of the term
sphot .a
in Abhinavagupta’s worksall show that he considers this doctrine as belonging to ‘others’,
that is,the Vaiy¯akaran.as towards whom he never fails to exhibit a certain cold-
Extended version of a paper presented at the XII World Sanskrit Conference,Helsinki (July, 2003). Earlier drafts were read at La Sorbonne (May, 2002) and Berkeley(September, 2002).
Among the studies on linguistic speculation in Abhinavagupta, or more in general,in the so-called Kashmir Shaivism, see Gaurinath Shastri, 1959; Seyfort Ruegg, 1959:101–116; Padoux, 1990; Filliozat, 1994; Torella, 1998, 1999b, 2000.
E.g.,¯IPVVvol. II,p. 188ll.12–13
tath¯ acavaiy¯ akaran.airapi v¯ akyasphot .asya pr¯ aya´ sobuddhinirgr¯ ahyataiva dar´ sit¯ a
 Journal of Indian Philosophy
173–188, 2004.© 2004
Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.
And, incidentally, this fact, too, deserves a closer investigation:how is it that Abhinavagupta is so often disparaging of the Vaiy¯akaran.asand at the same time so respectful and appreciative of their recognizedleader. The next step in my enquiry has been to see what is, then, themeaning-bearer for Abhinavagupta, once he has decided not to take theBhartr.harian
sphot .a
into account. An answer to this question is to besought, first of all, in the
Par ¯ atrim.´ sik ¯ atattvavivaran.a
(PTV), one of hismost personal and fascinating works, and in the
Tantr ¯ aloka
(T¯A). Usefulhints are also to be found in
¯  I´ svarapratyabhijñ¯ avivr .tivimar´ sin¯ ı
¯ alin¯ ıvijayav¯ arttika
. The picture which can be gathered from the fullrange of his texts is, if rather complex, nonetheless highly consistent.To this old problem – what is the
v¯ acaka
? quite unexpectedlyAbhinavagupta furnishes the oldest of the solutions, that of the M¯ım¯am.s¯a:
‘Ultimately, the power of verbal signification, consisting in the iden-tification with meaning, only pertains to phonemes’.
The phonemeshave as their essential nature ‘sonority’ (
´ sruti
; PTV p. 249 l.20), whichpresupposes difference (without difference in sonority no articulation of phonemes is possible). For the difference to be possible an inner unityis necessary; however, this unity, represented by supreme Consciousnessor Par¯a V¯ac, does not cancel difference, but acts as the inner backgroundon which more and more interiorized forms of difference rest. For, as weshall see later, difference, multiplicity, are the very heart of phonemes.The fact that it is possible to speak inwardly implies that all the sourcesof differentiation of phonemes (place and organs of articulation, aspira-tion and so on) must also have some, so-to-speak, internal version (PTVp. 249 ll.24
antas tath¯ asamucitasvabh¯ avah.sy¯ ad eva
). The status of thephonemes in Abhinavagupta’s view seems to be very different from anyother classical conception, including the M¯ım¯am .s¯a’s. A telling evidencemay be represented by Abhinavagupta’s paradoxical answer to the objec-tion that not only the phonemes of language but many other sounds canexpress meanings, for example the sound of a drum or that of a bird (PTVp. 251 ll.10–11). Only phonemes, Abhinavagupta says, have by them-selves the power to express meanings (PTV p. 251 l.9
varn.¯ an¯ am eva ca
PTV (Gnoli edition) p. 236 ll.21–24
anyai´ s caitat prayatnas¯ adhitam iha caet¯ avadupade´ sadh¯ ar¯ adhi´ sayana´ s¯ alin¯ am aprayatna eva siddhyat¯ıty n¯ asm¯ abhir atra vr  .th¯ avaiy¯ akaran.agurugr .hagamane p¯ uta´ sar¯ırat¯ avis .kriy¯ am¯ atraphale nirbandho vihitah.
.¯IPVVvol. II, p. 194 ll.17–21, p. 195 ll.17–22, etc.
The first to maintain the identification of the word with the phonemes that compose itis held to be the M¯ım¯am.saka Upavars.a (
´ S¯ abarabh¯ as. ya
p. 54, ad
ım¯ am.s¯ as¯ utra
athagaur ity atra kah.´ sabdah.| gakarok¯ aravisarjan¯ıy¯ a iti bhagav¯ an upavars .ah.
PTV p. 251 l.9
varn.¯ an¯ am eva ca param¯ arthato ’rthat¯ ad¯ atmyalaks .an.am.v¯ acakatvam
;p. 241 ll.13–14
evam ekaikasyaiva varn.asya v¯ astavam.v¯ acakatvam
 param¯ arthato ’rthat ¯ ad ¯ atmyalaks .an.am.v¯ acakatvam
), so, if all sounds areseen potentially to have this power, this simply means that all sounds,without distinction, must have phonemes astheir ultimate stuff. Evenwhenthey are indistinct or not fully manifested or articulated, the various soundscannot exceed the corpus of the phonemes (
m¯ atr .¯ a
Nor can one say that,though being acknowledged as not going over the range of the
m¯ atr .¯ a
, theindistinct/unmanifest sounds are not to be taken into account because theylack any efficiency or practical application.
In fact, they can for examplegenerate pleasure and pain, as is the case with the sound of the ocean orthe drum. Further, for the´Saiva schools it is the
‘unmanifestsonority’ itself to be described as being the very stuff of the mantra (PTVp. 250 ll.19–20
mukhyatayaiva pr ¯ aya´ so mantratvam
), the powerful soundpar excellence.Anadditional evidence for the ultimately phonemic nature of all soundsis to be found in the somewhat cryptic statement made by Patañjali in the
Yogas¯ utra
(III.17): ‘There is an overlapping of word, object and conceptdue to their being superimposed on each other. Thanks to directing [yogic]exercise on their differentiation one can obtain the knowledge of thesounds of all beings’. If, as seems obvious, ‘the knowledge of the sounds’is to be understood as ‘the knowledge of the
of the sounds’,this means that all sounds are given the qualification of not exceeding thenature of unperceived phonemes,
since only phonemes can indeed signify.Before attempting to find a rationale for bold statements like these,let us broaden our perspective and see what is the place of phonemes inthe theology of the´Saiva advaita tradition which Abhinavagupta stemsfrom. It is very high, indeed. The whole of reality, in´Saiva ritual, canbe traversed by six ‘paths’ (
). The guru has to resort to one of them,according to the circumstances and the leanings of the adept, particularlyduring the initiatory ceremony. These paths are divided by Abhinavaguptaand his followers into two groups of three, called
v¯ acaka
s, mantras,phonemes) and
v¯ acya
kal¯ a
s, principles), respectively. In the´Saivaadvaita outlook, the ‘linguistic’ paths hold an undiscussed ontologicalsupremacy with respect to the ‘realistic’ ones, while the opposite holdstrue in the dualist´Saivasiddh¯anta.
PTV p. 250 ll.15–16
avyaktatve ’pi ta eva t¯ avantah.´ sabdatv¯ at ´ sabdasya ca m¯ atr .k¯ atirekin.o ’bh¯ av¯ at 
PTV p. 250 ll.16–17
m¯ atr .k¯ anatireky
(my emendation for
m¯ atr .k¯ atireky
in the editedtext)
api avyaktah.´ sabdo ’nupayog¯ an na sam.gr .ıta ity apy ayuktam
PTV p. 251 ll.7–8
sa katham., asphut .avarn.ar¯ upatv¯ atirekivihag¯ adik¯ ujitajñ¯ an¯ aya  paryavasyet 
See Torella, 2001: 854–855.

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