You are on page 1of 27

American Academy of Religion

Why the Veda Has No Author: Language as Ritual in Early Mīmāṃsā and Post-Modern
Theology
Author(s): Francis X. Clooney
Source: Journal of the American Academy of Religion, Vol. 55, No. 4 (Winter, 1987), pp.
659-684
Published by: Oxford University Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1464680
Accessed: 17-11-2016 17:02 UTC

JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted
digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about
JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org.

Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at
http://about.jstor.org/terms

Oxford University Press, American Academy of Religion are collaborating with JSTOR to
digitize, preserve and extend access to Journal of the American Academy of Religion

This content downloaded from 132.248.9.8 on Thu, 17 Nov 2016 17:02:17 UTC
All use subject to http://about.jstor.org/terms
Journal of the American Academy of Religion. LV/4

WHY THE VEDA HAS NO AUTHOR:

LANGUAGE AS RITUAL IN EARLY MIM


AND POST-MODERN THEOLOGY
FRANCIS X. CLOONEY

Traditional religious discourse has been the subject of in


radical analysis in the "post-modern" West. Some of the m
tant work in theology and the study of religion no longer
questions about the nature of God, the revelatory capaci
tures, or the explanation of religious experience in ways sat
the contemporary mind. Rather, scholars now ask: "What k
ology can be done after the death of God? How does one
and organize the meanings of a sacred text without appe
idea of an author who establishes meaning? What indeed is
ing of 'meaning' when we no longer agree on a commo
nature or an anthropocentric cosmos?" The ability to talk
about religious issues has itself become a subject of quest
discussion of religion has been systematically detached from
unifying foci-God, Scripture, and the meaning of life-th
ditionally afforded at least minimal coherence within ev
acrimonious discussions.
This unsettling deconstruction (to use the term in a general sense)
is a challenge of the first order to traditional religious discourse and to
those who have articulated their faith and understanding of religion in
terms of that discourse. But it also is a promising basis on which to
purify, recover, and rebuild our manner of thinking and talking about
the same traditional religious ideas. By calling into question the valid-
ity of the operative concepts that have made religious discourse possi-
ble, this critique clears the way for a fresh re-envisioning of the
entirety of that discourse, a way beyond the present fragmentation in
"church and academy."
It is premature to venture even the outline of a new synthesis, and
I do not venture here to describe what theology and the study of reli-

Francis X. Clooney, S.J., is Professor of Theology at Boston College, Chestnut Hill, MA


02167

This content downloaded from 132.248.9.8 on Thu, 17 Nov 2016 17:02:17 UTC
All use subject to http://about.jstor.org/terms
660 Journal of the American Academy of Religion

gion will look like after deconstruction and reconstruction. Rather, I


wish to highlight an additional, often unheeded, observation about the
status of our current situation and then to develop an example that
illustrates it.
However new our situation in regard to religion and its under-
standing may seem to us, it is not without precedent. Our questions
and problems are not achievements unique to contemporary thought
or to our civilization, with its strong Judaeo-Christian and Hellenistic
roots. Even if we grant that no situation merely replicates what has
gone before, it is misleading to accept and employ notions of "pro-
gress" and "post-modernity" as if the latest scholarship were the one
unambiguous and undoubted achievement characteristic of our age.
There are all kinds of precedents for our current debates, and we will
benefit greatly in our quest for understanding if we attend to the ways
our dilemmas have been debated in other times and places.
A school of thought in ancient India discussed many of the same
issues that perplex us today and posed and answered questions in a
way that should help us in our current situation. The school is known
as the Mimamsa, a worldview and mode of inquiry that developed in a
context of reflection on the meaning of the action of sacrifice. In
Mimamsa, notions such as "God," the "sacred text," the "author" and
the "anthropocentric ordering of reality" were already subjected to a
radical critique more than two thousand years ago, and the primary
vehicle of this critique was an uncompromising commitment to a
reworking of religious discourse on a ritual basis. In the following
pages I wish to explore aspects of the Mimamsa inquiry and its rele-
vance to the modern study of religion.
The earlyI Mimamsa school took a definite shape in a text known
as the Pdrva Mmindmsd Sitras, which is attributed to a teacher named
J aimini (c.200 BCE) and was given a comprehensive commentary by
Sabara (c.200 CE). Basic to the text are the following conclusions:
1) religion includes meanings and values appropriate to human beings,
but the sum of its meaning necessarily exceeds the human perspective;
2) the sacred Sanskrit-language Scripture known as the Veda is not a
"book" to be read, nor a source of information about a world exterior
to itself; and 3) the Veda has no author, no meaning beyond the words
and the sacrificial actions themselves; one cannot appeal to a pre-ver-
bal intention to get beyond the words.

1I refer throughout to the "early" Mimmasa because I have restricted my considera-


tion to the system before the development in the 7th and 8th centuries CE of its two
great schools, those of Kumarila Bhatta and Prabh&kara Migra. I do not mean to suggest
a radical division beween the earlier and later periods, but only that the debates
between the two later schools would require a lengthy analysis before it would be possi-
ble to state succinctly how they contribute to the issues discussed in this paper.

This content downloaded from 132.248.9.8 on Thu, 17 Nov 2016 17:02:17 UTC
All use subject to http://about.jstor.org/terms
Clooney: Language as Ritual 661

Each of these points is directly relevant to the mod


religion. In addition, a school of thought known as th
"Later Mimaimsd" responds to the Mimamsd with a "po
rethinking of religious discourse that also contributes to
contemporary problems in theology and religious disco
The environment in which Mimalmsa developed ex
well before the second century BCE, when Jaimini's
fairly definitive shape. Some evidence of those earlier sta
in the text and Sabara's commentary. From the beginning
the Stitras was incomplete in the sense that it intentional
in need of both elaboration in commentary and testing by
ritual case studies. The tradition of commentary rema
centuries, and it was only four or five centuries later tha
posed a definitive explication of Jaimini's system. In turn
itself invited further elaboration in a process that co
today.

The religious
interconnected worldFirst,
systems. of the Mim.imsakas
there was comprised
were the traditional of two
sacrifices,
which had been practiced and described even a thousand years ear-
lier. In their primary and modified forms these sacrifices numbered in
the hundreds and ranged from the simple, which took moments to
perform, to the elaborate, which took years. But the basic form of a
sacrifice was straightforward: when a deity is invoked and something
material burnt in a fire "for" that deity, a sacrifice occurs. However
complex a sacrifice might become, its core action is the destruction of
something from one's property in a fire, in the presence of an invoked
deity. Throughout this article I reserve the word "sacrifice" for this
core action, while using the word "ritual" in a broader sense, to indi-
cate the entire set of texts, actions, performers, deities, material things,
and attitudes about life and death that constituted the environment in
which sacrificing could make sense.
The second system was that of the Veda, the totality of the texts
relevant to the sacrifices. Some texts described what was needed for
the various sacrifices, who was allowed to perform them and for what
reasons, when they were appropriately performed, which sacrific
were suited for which gods, when and why the sacrifice was first per
formed "in the beginning," etc. Other texts were the prayers recited
during the sacrifices themselves, paired with specific actions.
The twelve books of the Pdrva Minamsd Stitras consist of discus-
sions that deal with the corpus of orthodox sacrifices and orthodox text
in three basis ways. First, there are discussions that seek to resolv
smaller and larger inconsistencies and ambiguities that pertain to the
performance of particular sacrifices and to the interpretation of th
texts about them. A discussion might focus on whether the designated

This content downloaded from 132.248.9.8 on Thu, 17 Nov 2016 17:02:17 UTC
All use subject to http://about.jstor.org/terms
662 Journal of the American Academy of Religion

prayer for a certain sacrifice is to be used without modification if the


designated god of the sacrifice actually goes by a different name than
the one mentioned in the prayer; or as often happens, when several
small sacrifices are combined as stages in a complex one, the Mima.m-
saka asks if all the details pertaining to each still need to be performed
for each or if, to avoid needless repetition, some might be done "once
for all."

Second,
by which theproblems
such Mimai.sakas
couldsought to articulate
be resolved. Thus (tothe
use invariable
the same rules
examples), the Mimamsakas proposed, refined, and qualified rules gov-
erning "changes in the names of gods in prayers" and rules governing
the evaluation of "real and apparent useless repetitions in sacrificial
performance." Moreover, the goal was not only the discovery of a
complete set of particular rules, but also the complete set of the "meta-
rules" that would regulate the application of rules in various cases.

Thus, the Mim.msakas


the material objects usedfasioned rules such
are instrumental to as, "In any
relation given
to the sacrifice,
actions
they are connected with" and "Rules pertaining to only one context
take precedent in that context over rules that also pertain elsewhere."
Each generation of Mimarnsakas sought to elaborate more and more
sweeping rules by which to govern the preceding set of meta-rules,
although the search for generality was constantly subverted by the
precise demands posed by the concrete ritual situations to which the
interpreter eventually would have to return.
Third, the Mimamsakas occasionally stepped back and discussed
the presuppositions of their whole endeavor. They asked, for instance,
about the overall purpose of sacrifices, or the basis on which one can
say that the Vedic scriptures are absolutely true, or the manner of veri-
fying the efficacy of sacrifices that apparently did not produce the
material results promised to those who performed them. Many of
these questions were raised clearly in response to objections from
outside the Mimamsa itself.
These three kinds of discussions can be found throughout the
Sgtras, often juxtaposed and intertwined, one kind of discussion shift-
ing without warning into another kind. The first kind of discussion is
the most frequent, and one gets the impression that the Mimamsa
began with the effort to resolve inconsistencies in text and action and
then expanded its realm of inquiry from there. But even if their pro-
posed conflict-resolutions were of use to performers, the points at issue

would not
became. have
There werewarranted
other textsthe
thatimmense
described project that Mimad.m
the performances step
by step and in detail and resolved by some compromise most practical
problems that would arise. Thus, concern for the larger rules gov-

erning the ritual world probably was the primary focus of Mima.m

This content downloaded from 132.248.9.8 on Thu, 17 Nov 2016 17:02:17 UTC
All use subject to http://about.jstor.org/terms
Clooney: Language as Ritual 663

from the start; its ultimate concern had to do with the


and with the intelligibility and predictability of a
founded on the performance of particular actions accor
texts. Certainly, it was on the basis of its more genera
rules that Mimaimsa influenced much of later Indian th
The question of intelligibility demanded attention because

Jaimini's Mimim.sa took


ligibility undergirding Vedicshape in a world
orthodoxy had lostinitswhich
power the traditional intel-
to convince.
It was no longer self-evident, for instance, that sacrifices would please
deities and lead to rewards, that offering sacrifices would hold the uni-
verse together, or that the Veda itself was a reliable source of informa-
tion. The Buddhists and Jainas, as well as world-renunciants still
within the Vedic fold, de-mythologized the idea of sacrifice and con-
tended that these actions were not qualitatively different from, and
would lead to results no more permanent than, other actions. Skeptics
of all sorts charged that the sacrifices did not produce what they prom-
ised to produce, while those whom today we might label "Vedic funda-
mentalists" simply put aside questions of meaning and asserted that
sacrifices had to be performed, no matter what one might think about
them. Called into question, it seems, was the notion that there could
be any perspective from which the whole of the ritual world could be
comprehended and hence kept intact. The pieces were all there--
brahmin priests, fires, rice to be cooked, words to be chanted, gods to
be invoked, etc.-but they no longer cohered convincingly.
Mimairmsa's response to the whole range of criticisms was to
rethink its world without reliance on any single viewpoint, effectively
undercutting the possibility of a single perspective. It sought a justifi-
cation for sacrifice that needed no external validation, either from
active gods or satisfied humans, and that required the positing neither
of any supernatural realities nor a reliable world order beyond that of
good Sanskrit texts, well-performed sacrifices, and a set of rules for
integrating the two.
Jaimini and his commentator Sabara primarily wel :ncerned
with achieving a right understanding of the rules of sacrificial action
and sacrificial text so as to ensure that what one saw and heard at a
sacrifice would cohere--be intelligible-regardless of what anyone
might say about it from some particular perspective. In discoverin
these rules they sought to replace the "laws of the cosmos" with th
"laws of language and ritual," and reliance on gods and humans (
norms for meaning) with an appreciation for the harmony of text an
action (and everything accompanying them, even in orthodox society
as a whole) that underlay the well-wrought sacrifice.
Such rules were desirable, since rules are by nature humanly intel
ligible (so that they can be obeyed) and not dependent on the humans

This content downloaded from 132.248.9.8 on Thu, 17 Nov 2016 17:02:17 UTC
All use subject to http://about.jstor.org/terms
664 Journal of the American Academy of Religion

who observe them (so that they must be obeyed). When the rules are
known and obeyed, they depend on no particular opinion, any more
than do the rules of grammar. Because they govern the totality of
experience, they overcome fragmentation by making the location and
relation of any particular fragment-be it a god, a human, a word-
more important than the stability of the thing itself. In the course of
articulating these rules, the Mimamsakas made the three claims cited
above, to which we will now turn, attending as well to their modern
analogues.

1. Religion includes meanings and values appropriate to human


beings, but the sum of its meaning necessarily exceeds the
human perspective.

It is central to the Mimamsa analysis that sacrifices are not merely


the instruments of the sacrificers who perform them, even if these sac-
rificers act only because they want the promised rewards of cows, sons,
heaven, etc. and wish to use the sacrifices to get those rewards. The

Mim.msakas
the havestrictly
sacrifices exist no problem admitting
for their that
satisfaction, andhumans may think
it is reasonable that that
the situation appear this way to performers. But the Mimamsakas also
insist that this human perspective contributes to a more comprehen-
sive primary goal: the enactment of the particular body of words and
actions that constitute a particular sacrifice and, ultimately, the whole
body of orthodox rites. The Veda states unequivocally that sacrifices
are to be performed, and human performers are obviously required if
any sacrifice is to be completed. No offering can actually be burnt in
the fire unless some potential sacrificer is sufficiently motivated to
expend the required effort and money. But, the Mimamsakas reason,
if the sacrificer's gain were the "absolute" motivation of the sacrificial
performances, there would be no basis for the obligatory nature of the
command to sacrifice. If human satisfaction were the only warrant for
the performances, there might eventually be a cessation of sacrifices
altogether.
The Mimamsakas situate the performer in a world rightly ordered
around the sacrifice, and this order is called dharma. When a sacrifice
is properly performed-with all the words uttered at just the right
point in the action, and all the actions performed in the right sequence
using the right materials, by performers from the right families who
have received the right education, etc.-this right performance
embodies dharma, the ultimate value to which all else is subordinate.
That humans contribute to dharma is what matters, whether or not
they are aware of their role in it. In fact, if humans act out of self-
interest, they are likely to play their parts better than if they do not,

This content downloaded from 132.248.9.8 on Thu, 17 Nov 2016 17:02:17 UTC
All use subject to http://about.jstor.org/terms
Clooney: Language as Ritual 665

and nothing of value is lost due to that self-interest. S


humans are "themselves," just as a rice grain is "itself."
This relocation of the human perspective-from cent
supporting role-is an intellectually useful position that
Mimamsakas to affirm the human significance of sacr
reducing it to an expression of this or that human m
meaning of sacrifice is multiple, projected from different
irreducible to one perspective-even if someone might sa
ple, "This is for me" or "That is just a necessary part of th
There is indeed human meaning in ritual, but there is also
than that.
The Mimamsakas achieve this restructuring of mea
profound reflection on how and what words and actions m
developing rules for the ascertaining of meaning that d
on attention to the views of the human speakers and doer
tion of the Mimamsa treatment of one Sanskrit word, art
shorthand way of appreciating the convergence of multip
their analysis suggested. Artha is frequently and legiti
lated as "meaning" and is often used to refer to the meani
Yet artha is not only "word meaning" (s'abda-artha)
Mimiimsakas never forget that it is such; it is also "th
action" (kriyd-artha), which integrates a set of ritual m
group of words by giving them an intrinsic finality-a goa
intended proper completion of an action.2 A ritual in
words, things, and minor actions, which mean only throu
tionship to one another as parts of the ritual act. Even if
tion of each individual word and its meaning is innate,
plural, are expressive of dharma only when composed into
which refer to and contribute to the ritual. (1.1.26)3
Later in the Stitras, the purpose around which the tex
ance as a whole coheres is differentiated into two kinds of
human goal (purusa-artha) a person (purusa) has in p
actions-"meaningfulness", and the sacrificial purpose (k
the meaningful interconnections of the parts of the sacrifi
actions, utensils, offering materials-"inherent cohesion
of "inherent cohesion" provides a rule by which to judge h
actions and things fit at certain points in the ritual (4.1-2
notion of "meaningfulness" organizes sacrifices and parts

2 When the word artha appears, it is often difficult to discern whether


artha is meant; as a general principle one can assume that it is a ritual g
a verbal elucidation.
3 "Words already (individually) formed (before use) are handed down togeth
express) a ritual purpose. This (handing down together) is the cause (of the knowle
dharma)."

This content downloaded from 132.248.9.8 on Thu, 17 Nov 2016 17:02:17 UTC
All use subject to http://about.jstor.org/terms
666 Journal of the American Academy of Religion

according to how they directly or indirectly contribute to the satisfac-


tion of human desires (4.3-4).4 These further determinations of "pur-
pose" guide both the reading of texts and the performance of actions.5
In its treatment of the human perspective and meaning, the
Mimramsa anticipated by millennia the current debate over the mean-
ingfulness of ritual. By noting the comparable structures of the per-
spective of the performer of ritual and the speaker of language and
placing them firmly within a ritual whole--the meaning of which
extends beyond both perspectives-the Mimams.kas defend the vari-
ety of meanings a human being may give ritual and text, but they deny
any such perspective the privilege of being the meaning. A ritual can
appear meaningful and meaningless at the same time, from different
perspectives, because meaning depends on where one is standing. It
can appear to be solely one or the other, if one forgets that there are
the other perspectives. Ritual is "for its own sake" (sva-artha), from
the performer's viewpoint, when participation is interpreted as strictly
instrumental toward the accomplishment of the larger goal; in this
case the performer is "for the other" (para-artha), for the ritual. Con-
versely, when the performer interprets ritual as ordered exclusively to
the satisfaction of personal interests, he acts "for his own sake" and the
ritual is "for the other."
The necessary appreciation of multiple perspectives recalls the
parallel position proposed by S.J. Tambiah, who suggests that rituals
are not static but dynamic and embody both a conservative tendency
toward the loss of their semantic component and a revivalist tendency
toward the infusion of new, purified meaning. The two tendencies are
in tension, and the interpretation of ritual has to take into account the
continuing movement from one extreme to the other and back. When
Mimamsd allows the multiple perspectives on artha to remain in oper-
ation without further simplification, it invites a similarly "dynamic"
reading.
To say then that ritual is meaningless because it is "for itself"

(Staal,sensational.
lessly 1979; 1986) is according the
Notwithstanding to Mima.msa partially
claim that "what true but need-
the Mimunms
in fact ended up teaching is that the rituals have to be performed for
their own sake" (Staal, 1979:7), it is evident that even the most general
Mimamsaka notion of sacrificial dharma never excludes the satisfac-

4 For a fuller examination of the meaning of artha in the Sutras, see my 1984 University
of Chicago Ph.D. dissertation, "Retrieving the Pfirva Mima.msu of Jaimini", due to
appear as Volume 17 in the series, Publications of the De Nobili Research Library, Indo-
logical Institute, University of Vienna--especially Chapter IV, and the briefer 1986
exposition.
5 In commenting on 12.4.37 Sabara asserts that in cases of conflict the "inherent cohe-
sion" of the ritual takes precedence over "meaningfulness."

This content downloaded from 132.248.9.8 on Thu, 17 Nov 2016 17:02:17 UTC
All use subject to http://about.jstor.org/terms
Clooney: Language as Ritual 667

tion of human desires and needs, including the demand f


ity. The sacrifice does serve its performer's interests,
not have that as its sole or primary purpose. Penner (13)
his criticism of Staal's strained effort to interpret as me
is evidently meaningful to the ritualists who performed
the elaborate rites. Semiotics aside, one can simply p
Mima-msa elaboration of the complex structure of meani
around the sacrifice to see that we have-at least as far as the Indian
ritual theorists themselves are concerned-not a lack of meaning but a
lack of an exclusive determination of meaning by self-interested
performers.

2. The sacred Sanskrit-language Scripture known as the Veda is no


a "book" to be read, not a source of information about a
world outside itself

We have seen that the Mima~sa systematically implicates the


human perspective within the ritual whole of word and action an
subordinates it to that whole. The early Mimrmsa also elected to make
language inseparable from ritual. It stated that the Veda is not a book
or text that can be considered in isolation from the performance of th
sacrifices it refers to. There are all kinds of intelligible statemen
made in the Veda, but none of them is meant to be understood "for it
own sake," as providing neutral information about its future use. O
course, many religions similarly argue that their sacred texts have
specific religious usefulness and command a certain kind of behavior i
response, but Mimrnmsa works out the details of this position mo
thoroughly than any other school.
At the beginning of the Stitras, Jaimini gives the fundamenta
tenet that underlies the Mimuamsa contextualization of the Veda: "The
relationship between word and purpose (or meaning) is innate (autpat-
tika, "original"; 1.1.5). At issue first of all is how (or when) Vedic state-
ments get their meanings. Jaimini's view is that they are not assigned
meanings by a conventional, societal process; instead, the statement-
referent relationship precedes any speaker's use of either the state-
ment or the words comprising it. This point is defended by Jaimini in
a complex argument. First (1.1.6-23), he argues in favor of the position
that speech presumes a prior "always-there" relation of the individual
word and its referent. His position is elaborated by the later commen-
tators, with increasingly complex linguistic arguments. Then (1.1.24-
45) he defends the view that the meaning of statements cannot be
learned from adding together the meanings of the words in the state-
ment, but only by noting that to which the whole statement purpose-
fully refers-usually an action rather than a thing, and usually a ritual

This content downloaded from 132.248.9.8 on Thu, 17 Nov 2016 17:02:17 UTC
All use subject to http://about.jstor.org/terms
668 Journal of the American Academy of Religion

action (in the religious context).6


The larger point to be drawn is that the "Word"-the Veda as a
whole-is in an innate, original, and indivisible harmony with the
larger "purpose" (artha), which is the continuing enactment of the
corpus of Vedic sacrifices. The Veda intends the performance of the
sacrifice, and a sacrifice is impossible without words that determine its
structure and illuminate its meaning. Mimasa saw language and lan-
guage questions "with ritual eyes" and effectively undermined the
notion of a separate text or "book."
Because of the centrality and importance of this ritual implication
of language, I wish to examine in detail several examples of how the
Mimdamsakas ritually interpret language-terms that might easily have
been otherwise used. First I will consider the terms "statement" or
"sentence" and "context," and then mantra ("prayer") and brdhm
("rubric"). All four terms are used to make the Veda inseparable fro
the sacrificial performance.
"Statement" (vdkya; often translated as "sentence") is defined
Jaimini as: "A group of words serving a single purpose forms a
tence (vdkya), if on analysis the separate words are found to h
mutual expectancy" (2.1.46).7 To begin with a simple example of
own making, consider these two statements: "I ate" and "I ate. A
dinner I returned home." While one can say "I ate" without add
"After dinner I returned home", one cannot omit the first "I" and
"ate." Therefore, "I ate" and "After dinner I returned home" can
considered separate sentences, while "I ate" is a single statement
words of which "need" one another.
For centuries this definition has served in India as a basis for lin-
guistic and philosophical definitions of the sentence, since it stresse
both the single overall meaning of the group of words and the "bond-
ing" of the words, the insufficiency of each without the others. Yet it
not meant to be primarily a contribution to grammar. It occurs within
a discussion of the kinds of texts found in the Veda (2.1.30-49), and it is
introduced in order to clear up a ritual difficulty. "Statement"
designates one kind of text, the prose passages (yajurs) recruited dur-

6 How sentences come to mean what they mean is a subject of heated debate in later
Mimamsa. Around 700 CE the schools of Kumrrila Bhatta and Prabhakara took the
positions, respectively, that the sentence meaning is in some way commu
through the sum of word meanings or that the sentence meaning cannot be trac
to the word meanings; the subtleties of their positions, however, go far beyond w
be said in this context. In my view, the Prabhdkara school more faithfully re
Jaimini's Mimamsa.
7 I.e., if they "need" one another to make complete sense. The translation is that
Kunjunni Raja, p. 152. His comments (152 ff.) on the later use of Jaimini's defini
pertinent.

This content downloaded from 132.248.9.8 on Thu, 17 Nov 2016 17:02:17 UTC
All use subject to http://about.jstor.org/terms
Clooney: Language as Ritual 669

ing the ritual. The priest told to recite a yajur (identified


starting words) may not be sure where the yajur ends or
stop reciting, since there is no necessary linguistic stoppi
prose passage.
This would not be the case with the other two kinds of texts, "
which are poetic verses divided into metrical feet, and "sdm
which are verses set to music and sung, most often some of the s
rgs. Hearing either of these, one would come to natural stop
points without having to refer to meaning.
Jaimini's definition of "statement" solves the problem by ident
ing a prose unit as a group of words with a complete meaning (ar
which "lacks nothing." But this "meaning" is a ritual referent
aspect of the ritual referred to by the words in the prose passage
not a coherent syntactical meaning separable from the ritual cont
This ritually grounded "statement" can be comprised of two or
grammatical sentences, however many are required to denote
erly the ritual referent at hand. For example, in discussing the d
tion of "statement," (PMS 2.1.40) the commentator Sabara intr

the following
Vedic text
collections of from the Taittiriya
texts related Sam.hita
to the sacrifices: (1.1.4.2), one of the
On the impulse of the god Savitr, with the arms of the
Agvins, with the hands of Pisan, I offer thee dear to Agni, to Agni
and Soma.8

Correct reading of the passage allows for repetition of the verb, "
offer," with each phrase-"I offer on the impulse ... I offer with th
arms ... etc."-and there would then be no strictly grammatical rea-
son that each should not be a separate sentence. But in the appropri
ate context of the Dariapfirnamisa sacrifice, it is clear that only on
offering is at issue, modified by the mentioned deities-Savitr, Aivins,
etc. This ritual location, not an independent reading of the words
themselves as a grammatical unit, determines the limits of the unit of
meaning. One cannot read properly without knowing the ritual
context.

The second term in this first pair is prakarana, often transla


"context" or "leading subject matter." It too has a more than
reference and is carefully distinguished by the Mimramsakas
"place" (sthdna), which more closely refers to words or ideas
contiguously "on a page" or, better, placed together in the units
memorized in a particular school of Vedic practice.9 The not
prakarana comes into use for the following reason. Sacrifices are

8 As translated by A.B. Keith.


9 Sthdna too has a ritual meaning, referring to the location of things in the sac
arena.

This content downloaded from 132.248.9.8 on Thu, 17 Nov 2016 17:02:17 UTC
All use subject to http://about.jstor.org/terms
670 Journal of the American Academy of Religion

enjoined in abbreviated rules, with only their main sacrificial action,


designated deity, and promised result identified. For actual perform-
ance, they require the addition of nearby means of performance (such
as accessory actions, preparations, or foresacrifices), which are
observed normally to accompany this kind of ritual even if there is no
text that makes the connection explicit. Conversely, these accessory
actions would never be performed-fruitless in themselves, they
would be pointless-unless there were some purposeful primary sacri-
fice with which they are connected and that motivates their
performance.
Thus, an offering into fire cannot be made without a prior lighting
of a fire, and the lighting is pointless unless there is to be an offering.
These actions "need" one another. They are, in Sabara's words, a

"context"
done, (prakaran.a),
in need of a manner "the declaration
of doing."10 In theofMimrimsa
that which needs to be
framework,
"context" pertains only secondarily and by extension to words in need
of one another, i.e., the other words one needs to know (the other
sentences that have to be read) in order to understand the point of any
particular sentence. One must take into account other-usually, but
not always, physically-nearby statements to understand what one is
reading. Originally, this too pertained to the texts accompanying the
above-mentioned primary and accessory actions, but by extension it
came to refer to any text and its context(s).11
These examples of "statement" and "context" show that in
Mrh-nisa the meaning of texts is ascertained by reference to ritual
actions, which are themselves meaningful; meaning contributes to
purposefulness, and purpose is first of all ritual purpose. The position
suggests that for the Milmarmsakas, intelligibility-in the widest
sense-is a property neither of independent texts, nor of the actions
taken separately from the words pertaining to them, nor of external
referents such as performers and gods, both of whom are merely actors
within the language-ritual process. Rather, meaning is disclosed in the
complex, multi-perspectival sacrificial event, which includes all these.
The interdependence of sacred text and ritual action is genera-
lized when the Mimnimsakas divide the Veda into two major portions,
each of which is ritually defined: mantras and brdhmanas, with

10 Bhdsya on 3.3.14. Cf. 3.3.11 and Bhdsya.


11 In commenting on PMS 3.3.14, Sabara gives as an example of "context" the case of
the ritual of royal consecration [the rdjasdya], which consists of a series of sacrifices. In
one of these only, one particular myth is told to illuminate the action taking place.
Because the same myth is needed to illuminate all the sacrifices in the series, it is under-
stood to belong to all of them. The myth and the series of sacrifices form a single
"context."

This content downloaded from 132.248.9.8 on Thu, 17 Nov 2016 17:02:17 UTC
All use subject to http://about.jstor.org/terms
Clooney: Language as Ritual 671

arthavdda as an important "subdivision" of the two.12


Mantras are verses sung or recited in the course of the
ance of a sacrifice; usually their utterance inaugurates t
action, within the whole, with which each is associated. Th
name and thereby focus attention on some sacrificial elem
action itself, or the material used, or the deity who is the
the sacrifice (2.1.30-31; 3.2.1). Thus, for instance, the m
cutting the grass which becomes the seat of the gods" (cit
at 3.2.1) illuminates with meaning the act of cutting grass
at the altar. Because the mantras are used directly in the p
(2.1.31; 5.1.16), they are more authoritative than the ac
injunctive texts (brdhmanas), which talk about the action o
fice. If the words of a mantra imply something that contr
an injunctive text states, whatever fits best with the man
is preferable. Thus, if the way mantras are listed in their p
Veda suggests an order of performance different from
tions given in the injunctive portion, the former take
over the latter. This very precedence permanently imb
tras in the ritual; they are essential to it, but unimportan
any extra-ritual context. Mimaimsa rejects the notion
have separable, intrinsic value apart from the sacrifice.
Brdhmanas, by contrast, define and make possible th
ance by enjoining it and organizing its components. For th
they are in the form of injunctions, "ordering" words, alth
a wide variety of literary forms in which the intended
made known. By these brdhmanas, hitherto commonpl
of daily experience are identified, gathered, prepared, a
one another in special ways. The right performers are
form the right actions, with the right materials, for the r
and with the right results in mind. Thus, as Sabara illustr
menting on 2.1.33, the statement "The branch of the udum
of the same height as the sacrificer" is meant to guide the
the branch by telling us how long a branch is to be c
brdhmanas are certainly statements with meaning-the
cate-but they have no purpose apart from the ritual that
and order. The Mimi~imsakas' focus on ritual purpose d
effort to glean from the brdhmanas knowledge not relate
ual. We do not need a sacred text to know about udumbara trees and
men who cut branches, but only the Vedic text will relate the tree a
the man to the cutting action in this particular way. The view t

12 My intention is to understand what Mimdmsakas say about mantras and brdhman


although they are not the only ones to divide the Veda into such parts, and probably
the first (cf. for example Apastamba Srauta Sutra 24.1).

This content downloaded from 132.248.9.8 on Thu, 17 Nov 2016 17:02:17 UTC
All use subject to http://about.jstor.org/terms
672 Journal of the American Academy of Religion

the Veda is comprised only of texts used in the performance of sacri-


fices and texts about sacrificesl3 provoked a sensible objection: What
about those parts of the Veda that give us information about this
world, the gods, creation, etc.? Can we not turn to the Veda for this
information? Jaimini is aware of this question. Soon after he has
defined the Veda as sacrificially-oriented (1.1.25-26), the thesis is pro-
posed that since the sacrificially-oriented parts of the Veda have a pur-
pose, guide action, and hence are "truly authoritative." The rest,
lacking this orientation, must be irrelevant, whatever the meaning of
the words may be. (1.2.1)
Jaimini knows that there apparently are purely informational
statements in the Veda and does not wish to concede that a large part
of the Veda is useless. But he insists equally that there are no texts that
merely give us information. He therefore introduces the category of
"supportive statements" (arthavdda):14 statements in the Veda
neither uttered in the performance nor helpful in organizing it. Such
statements, he says, are in "praise" of what is being done (1.2.7). They
assist the performance by encouraging the performer, describing the
results in glowing terms, explaining how the world is such that the
sacrifice works, etc. Such information found in the Veda is useful only
when identified as supportive of the ritual. Thus, for instance, after
potential performers have been urged to sacrifice an animal dedicated
to the god Vayu, a text says "For Vayu is the swiftest of all deities."
The point of this citation, Sabara explains (1.2.7), is not to give us infor-
mation about Vayu, but rather to encourage us to sacrifice, since Vayu
is a god who will surely be swift in awarding the desired results.

3. The Veda has no author, no meaning beyond the words and the
sacrificial actions themselves; one cannot appeal to a pre-
verbal intention to get beyond the words.
If we connect the ritual implication of language with the earlier
claim that in a sacrifice the sacrificer is only an instrument, and neither
the creator of the rites nor their finality, it should not come as a sur-
prise that like the sacrifices themselves, the Veda has no creator, no
author. People do not invent their rituals, nor author their sacred
texts, says Mimfamsa.
This authorlessness is based on a homologization of the speaker or
text-performer to the sacrificial-performer. Because the Veda is insep-

13 It is interesting to note in addition that the division of the Veda into three Vedas is a
ritual one, grouping texts to be used by the three active priests at major rites: texts for
the chanter (hotr) are in the Rg Veda, for the singer (udgatr) in the Sdma Veda, and for
the priest performing the actions (adhvaryu) in the Yajur Veda.
14 But without using this term until a subsequent discussion of the meaningfulness of
mantras, in 1.2.43.

This content downloaded from 132.248.9.8 on Thu, 17 Nov 2016 17:02:17 UTC
All use subject to http://about.jstor.org/terms
Clooney: Language as Ritual 673

arable from the ritual, the "performer" of the Veda, t


reciter of its words, is likewise inseparable from it. Hi
regard to the text is subject to the same strictures gov
former of sacrificial actions: he speaks it because it
him, either in its content (and Mimurmsakas insist tha
the Vedic texts should be understood) or because he
some goal, such as the reward accruing to the sacrifice
determine the meaning. His participation is necessar
no creative contribution; he utters them, he can und
he wishes, but he cannot change them or "own" them
the text by making it audible, but has no role in its com
is already set and inter-structured with the ritual. He
by the word.15
The position is presented without fanfare and briefly
When, near the beginning of the Sttras, an opponen
argument that the Vedic scriptures cannot be a sou
knowledge because their authors may be fallible, Jaimi
that the sacred text is prior to and, in regard to i
independent of those who have taught it; i.e., it has
authors: "It has been explained that word is prior (t
(1.1.29-30) Only later was the assertion formalized as
the "authorlessness" (apauruseyatva) of the text.16
The reduction of the author to speaker/expound

15 As suggested above, this notion of subordinate agency, in speech


supported by the fundamental structures of the Sanskrit languag
sakas note this point. Thus Prabha.kara, an important eight-century
citations from Panini's grammar in defense of Jaimini's theory. But
on an understanding of how ritual uses its performers to indicate
apparent authors.
16 The idea of authorlessness in ancient India can be analyzed fro
spectives. For instance, one could look at the grammar of classica
which most Indian theological and philosophical texts were compos
understand the structure of a sentence to be that of subject/predicat
a verb qualified by various relationships, including to agent and in
The "subject" of the sentence is, grammatically speaking, only app
has explored at length the relationship between certain grammati
Sanskrit language and philosophical structures in Vedanta philosop
observations on the impersonal structure of Sanskrit are pertinent f
understanding of the notion of "authorlessness."
Or, one might begin by attending to the general orthodox Brahm
the original seers (rsis) saw the Veda at the beginning of the age but
I have chosen to place the notion of authorlessness against the sp
background because it is in this school that the important conne
ritual is most clearly explored, and the "theological" implications of
developed; also, because it is in response to this school's formulation
some of the most interesting theological responses are formed. I
ever, to suggest that the Mim~msa viewpoint developed in isolatio

This content downloaded from 132.248.9.8 on Thu, 17 Nov 2016 17:02:17 UTC
All use subject to http://about.jstor.org/terms
674 Journal of the American Academy of Religion

unnecessary to defend textual authority by defending the competence


and sincerity of authors. A veda composed by human authors would
depend on them and be fallible as they are, and even divine authors
may have intentions not perfectly expressed in their words, or may
even intentionally obscure what they mean. Authorlessness allows one
to concede these points without the risk of damage to the Veda; it does
not really matter what an apparent author may have intended, since
what actually is constructed in language according to the rules of lan-
guage and gleaned from it by the rules of interpretation transcends
the author's intentions and only by chance coincides with what this
author may have meant. The Veda in effect uses the instrumentality
of an "author" to express itself.
Penner approaches Jaimini's viewpoint when he takes up this
issue of the author.

Neither rituals nor myths have an author. Thus there is a sense in


which performers of ritual learn to perform a ritual as we learn
how to speak our language in spite of the fact that we cannot
explain the rules on which both are based. In either case it sim-
ply will do no good to search for an original performer who first
taught the ritual or the language, for this simply leads us into a
infinite regress.(13)

Although he does not refer to the Mimadmsd doctrine explicitly, Penner


actually presents with admirable clarity the substance of that view on
ritual/scriptural authorlessness.
The larger effect of the implication of performer, text, and
speaker in the ritual action is to define dharma, the entirety of ritual
and scriptural intelligibility, as a closed system: complex and nuanced,
but internally- and self-justifying. The coherence of rules in relation to
one another makes both speaking and acting meaningful without mak-
ing that meaning depend solely on the intentions of an external refer-
ent, an author. Understanding the rules of the text allows one to use it
and perform its corresponding actions, but without the added illusory
effort to understand some intended meaning beyond what is written
and done.

Later Mimamsa elaborates this theory of authorlessness, in sup-


port of the basic point that (ritual) text, like (ritual) act, has no personal
originator. In their general theory of interpretation, which later on is
not made to rest explicitly on a ritual foundation (although this may
simply be presumed as obvious), they refuse to equate tdtparya, the

"intent"that
maintain of the
thetdtparya
text, with the
or the realauthor's
purport intent.
meant by".it. can
. the Mim.msakas
be stud-

and mythical perspectives; it may be properly understood as an effort at a formal con-


ceptualization of ideas implicitly available elsewhere in Indian thought.

This content downloaded from 132.248.9.8 on Thu, 17 Nov 2016 17:02:17 UTC
All use subject to http://about.jstor.org/terms
Clooney: Language as Ritual 675

ied objectively without any reference to the intention of


(Kunjunni Raja: 184). They seek rather to ascertain th
texts strictly on the basis of internal evidence, the st
paragraphs, conclusions drawn, etc.
The Mimrnimsi theory of authorlessness, with its und
cern to "liberate" the sacred texts from its author, appro
Foucault's influential interpretation of the common (thou
sal) way in which the author-function is used as a soc
restrain language, assign responsibility, and confine th
texts. Foucault shows how this author-function--despit
the "infinite creative resources" which are culturally s
within the speaker- actually restricts texts by ordering t
ignated author, whose intentions determine what the tex
to mean. Authors are used to confine the encompassin
"event" of language within manageable limits. Foucault
amines the notion of subject connected with the author-f
questions
the absolute character and founding role of the subject ...
order to reestablish the theme of an originating subject, b
grasp the subject's points of insertion, modes of functioni
system of dependencies ... it is a matter of depriving the
(or its substitute) of its role as originator, and of analyzing t
ject as a variable and complex function of discourse. (118)

By refusing to take for granted the author-text relations


seeks to free the text from the "system of constraint" tha
but he admits that some other constraint might yet emer
I think that, as our society changes, the author function wil
pear, and in such a manner that fiction and its polysemou
will once again function according to another mode, but sti
a system of constraint--one which will no longer be the au
but which will have to be determined or, perhaps, experie
(119)

Mimaimsa sought to secure the authority of the Veda by founding


it on an ever-precedent weaving of word into ritual action. It decided
that reference to the author as the privileged source of meaning lim-
ited the Veda, cut it off from its ritual context, and made it liable to the
mistakes and limitations of the author. By locating author and per-
former in the ritual context, the instrumental role of the speaker of
words is accounted for, yet in proper subordination.
Foucault's suggestion that focus on the author overly restricts the
text likewise points to an appreciation that text and language possess
horizons and scopes of significance wider than those belonging to any
given set of authors and readers. Indeed, his search for some other
"system of constraint" seems open to the way in which something like

This content downloaded from 132.248.9.8 on Thu, 17 Nov 2016 17:02:17 UTC
All use subject to http://about.jstor.org/terms
676 Journal of the American Academy of Religion

ritual might constrain the text, or in which grammar (particularly if


ordered as Sanskrit grammar is) might be given precedence over
authors' meanings. The two projects illuminate and reinforce one
another, and it is perhaps unfortunate the Foucault was not familiar
with the Mimuamsd analogue to his position. Anyone seeking to
develop the implications of Foucault's position has a very promising
resource available in the Indian material.

The remaining question I wish to address takes us in a differe


direction. I am concerned about the viability of traditional religio
discourse after Mimamsa's deconstruction of the notion that sacrifice is
anthropocentric, the notion of Veda as a distinct, independent text,
and the notion of author (divine or human). Conversely, we may ask
whether or not the Mimamsd positions are of any use to people who
wish to remain religious and continue to use some of the traditional
categories and limits. One medieval commentator is reported to have
said that "the study of Mimamsd withers the soul." We must at least

consider
hardly the possibility
anything to religionthat
but aa never-ending
thorough "Mima.msification" leav
series of sacrificial per-
formances, or a religion so peculiarly defined that just about no one
can believe in it.

Analogously, one must wonder what is left of religion after mod-


ern deconstructionism, or what, if anything, deconstruction might
mean for theologians in Christianity and other highly developed tradi-
tions. Referring to Derrida's claim that "in the void remaining after
the death of God, veils veil veils and masks mask masks," Mark C. Tay-
lor has vividly summarized the larger and initially devastating effect of
this phenomenon:
Such ceaseless masking has a domino effect on much Western
philosophy and theology. One after another, central concepts
and dominant notions-God, self, history, book . . .-tumble. As
entanglement in a very different world once led us to suspect ...
this domino effect carries serious consequences for all of western
society and culture. (Wyschogrod, et al.: 549)

Elsewhere he has shown how the "God is dead" theme is necessarily


connected with other important "deaths" which together shake the
whole of traditional religion:
God, self, history, and book are, thus, bound in an intricate rela-
tionship in which each mirrors the other. No single concept can
be changed without altering all of the others. As a result of this
thorough interdependence, the news of the death of God cannot
really reach our ears until its reverberations are traced in the
notions of self, history and book. The echoes of the death of God
can be heard in the disappearance of the self, the end of history,
and the closure of the book. (1984: 7-8)

This content downloaded from 132.248.9.8 on Thu, 17 Nov 2016 17:02:17 UTC
All use subject to http://about.jstor.org/terms
Clooney: Language as Ritual 677

How is Christianity, for instance, to be visualized without


"Bible," the "self" and "history?" Taylor argues, however,
structionism by its radical extension of the death of God cr
a way beyond the perceived theological stalemate in th
death of God: not by the denial of this "death," but by the
of its implications in other areas of religious discourse.

Similarly,discourse
new theological Mima.msa's relentless
that was critique
to be essential to significantly shaped the
Hinduism. Taylor
himself has suggested that attention to non-Western religious tradi-
tions is invited and facilitated by the deconstructionist move, and even
that the connections of language and ritual in Buddhism might be spe-
cifically helpful.
For example, it might be possible to establish a constructive com-
parison between the textual strategies of deconstruction and
those deployed in some Buddhist texts. Inasmuch as deconstruc-
tive critics subscribe to a performative view of language, it might
not be unreasonable to expect similarities between the practice
of deconstruction and certain Buddhist meditative and ritual
places. (Wyschogrod, et. al.: 553)
The suggestion of comparison with Buddhism is appropriate an
promises to be fruitful if seriously pursued. But I prefer to search o

the comparison
were interested inwith Mimamsa, precisely
reappropriating, albeit by because the Mim~.amsakas
drastic measures, the
"old religion" of the Vedic Scriptures and sacrifices, placing them on a
new basis. Except perhaps in a very extended sense, the Buddhists did
not share this goal.
We have already seen that the Mimamsa, in its de-emphasis on the
gods and the human person and its reintegration of the Veda into a
ritual context precedent to any author or performer, parallels many
deconstructionist themes. For a few Hindus, perhaps, the Mimamsa
defense of the meaningfulness of the Veda was a sufficient rehabilita-
tion of the tradition. But I wish now to explore a particular response to
Mim~msa, by a school of thinkers not entirely satisfied with the
Mimamsa synthesis but also unwilling and unable to revert to the pre-
Mimamsa orthodoxy. Certain developments within the Vedanta,
which has accurately been called the "Later Mimamsa," offer us a
model we should seriously consult in fashioning a post-deconstruction-
ist religious thinking that is not in total disrupture from the recogniza-
ble religious tradition of Christianity.17
There were many responses to the Mimamsa doctrines, particu-
larly their displacement of the human performer and the author. It

17 For simplicity, from this point on I treat the problem of deconstruction as a problem
for Christian theology although, of course, deconstruction challenges all (religious) ways
of thinking.

This content downloaded from 132.248.9.8 on Thu, 17 Nov 2016 17:02:17 UTC
All use subject to http://about.jstor.org/terms
678 Journal of the American Academy of Religion

seems that even Sabara, the authoritative first commentator on


Jaimini, stepped back from Jaimini's radically non-anthropocentric
perspective and argued that the purpose of sacrifices is to bring about
the satisfaction of the performer's desires.'8 Some, such as the logi-
cians of the Nydya school, sought to refute the notion of authorlessness
on the grounds that it made no sense to say that there are texts no one
has composed, and that since God is a perfectly reliable source of infor-
mation, there is no need to doubt the reliability of texts God authors.
The Vedanta approach is most interesting because it develops
only in a context where the major stratgegies and achievements of
Mimamsd have been taken seriously. The Vedinta, on the basis of the
late Vedic texts called the "upanisads," expounds the theory that
underlying all reality is a perfect, conscious absolute, brahman. On
the basis the Vedantins necessarily disassociate themselves from the
Mimamsakas, who do not recognize the authority of the upanisads.
Unlike the logicians, however, who departed from a Mima5ms view of
the world by focusing meaning in a transcendent Lord, the Vedintins
sought to effect a re-centering without shifting the meaning of the sys-
tem to a reality merely outside it. Like the Mimnmsakas, they also
resisted the introduction of the author concept, and declined to base
Vedic authority in the will or intention of a higher being; brahman
does not author the Veda.
The question of the relation of the Veda to brahman is raised i
the seminal Vedanta text, the Brahma Stitras of Badaraya.ia, first
1.1.3 and later in 1.3.29 ff. The claim is two-fold: the Veda has its
source in brahman and yet it is eternal, beginningless. Sankara (c. 70
CE), the first great Vedanta commentator, does not offer us a fu
elaborated theory of how this is so, but merely insists, wit
Bddarayana, that brahman is the source and cause of the Veda (1.
and that even the periodic total destructions of the universe do
include the dissolution of the Veda. It does not require re-creation b
brahman (1.3.30), and is simply manifest again in each new age.
view that the Veda is eternal but somehow dependent on brahma
more clearly explained by later commentators. The view of
PrakiSatman, the author of a commentary entitled Vivarana (c. 1200
C.E.), is summed up by Satchidananda Murty:
At the beginning of each world-cycle God merely utters the
Vedic sentences, just as today we might quote the sentences of
the Mahabharata (the great epic of India, generally acknowl-
edged to have a human author). So the Vivarana school says that
the purport of the Veda is not to express an 'opinion'-not even

18 Sabara thus sparked a controversy which occupied the two main Mimamsa schools in
later generations. I developed this theme in Chapter 7 of my forthcoming book (see n.4
above).

This content downloaded from 132.248.9.8 on Thu, 17 Nov 2016 17:02:17 UTC
All use subject to http://about.jstor.org/terms
Clooney: Language as Ritual 679

that of God; its purport through the injunction to study c


in injunctions. (46)

Prakaiitman discards the model of an author-text


rooted in intentionality and instead points to how a m
relates to its elaborated effects: "Brahman is only the ma
the Veda, not its author." (Murty: 48) A standard example
causality is clay, which can be seen in many forms as
various things (a jug, a plate, a cup, etc.), without ceasi
and the Vedanta thinkers appeal to such examples, even if
hold any crassly material monism. What concerns them is
Veda in brahman as the only reality in which anything ca
without resorting to the notion that language is the prod
sition of an author's mind. The Veda is rather a dependen
evolute of brahman, its externalization or "self-manifesta
term can be used without implying an intentional choice
cate). Its eternity and unchangeability are founded dir
man's essence. It explicitates the otherwise unrecogni
brahman in an objectifiable form-just as a jug, for instan
a material form under which it is perceptible to the sense
The Vifistadvaita Vedanta school preeminently con
Ramnnuja (c. 1100 C.E.) interprets brahman not simply
sciousness, but as a personal absolute, the deity Vis.n
rejects the logicians' appeal to a divine author of the Veda
the same Mimamsa-Vedanta theory of authorlessness, but w
ent nuance. Julius Lipner summarizes Rm~nanuja's basic p
The Vedas (during the periodic dissolutions of the unive
some way exist continuously, eternally, in the mind of
man-their source and goal-who is eternal ... the Vedas
deep within the consciousness of brahman in potency prox
to their pre-established empirical form ... when the time f
emitting the world arrives, they are evoked or manife
rather than composed by the supreme person.... (9)

The Veda eternally resides in and manifests the mind


it is, as it were, God's "verbality," his consciousness trans
word. Its eternity is dependent on and derives solely from
complete thought; it is as unchanging-unchangeable ev
his own essence. As Lipner rightly suggests, Rmnanuja
analogous to that of the European scholastic theologian
guished between God's essence and God's will; for Rama
is rooted in the former, not the latter (Lipner: 9) Th
Rmanuja says, between human teachers of the Veda an
regard to the set order of Vedic words, is not that brahm
while others see what has been composed, but that br
spective of mental impressions himself apprehends (t

This content downloaded from 132.248.9.8 on Thu, 17 Nov 2016 17:02:17 UTC
All use subject to http://about.jstor.org/terms
680 Journal of the American Academy of Religion

directly." (Lipner: 12) To learn of brahman from the Veda, therefore,


is not to learn of a message directed to us, but rather to become
engaged in the language itself and hence simultaneously in brahman.
Parahara Bhattar (c. 1150 C.E.), a disciple of Ramanuja, adds to our
set of explanatory images of the authorlessness of the absolute and the
sacred text by suggesting that the Veda is the "body of God." In his
commentary on the litany called the Vis.nusahasrandma ("The 1000
Names of Vis~nu") he explains the title veda-ariga as follows: "Veddai-
gah means that the Vedas, with all their innumberable branches, are
his limbs (ariga), body; because they manifest his inner portion."'19

The soul-body analogy is standard in Rrminuja's school; it is sim-


ply specified here in relation to the Veda. According to Rrmn.nuja, a
"body" is first of all "any substance that an intelligent being is able
completely to control and support for his own purposes, and the essen-
tial nature of which isentirely subservient to that intelligent self..."
(Carman: 127). To say that the Veda is God's body is therefore to stress
its dependence on, essential inherence in, and its inseparability from
him. Dependence is mutual: because the Veda reflects his inner
being, God is not free to change it in any way, any more than he could
alter his own perfect being. Epistemologically, the interdependence is
even more striking: just as our bodies make us perceptible to other
people, the Veda is God's way of being known. Yet it is not God's
intentional, willed self-expression, it is not his word and he is not its
author. Its way of expressing God is not limited by the strictures of a
mind "behind the text." It is God's "word," or, as suggested above, the
intrinsic "verbality" of divine being.
These developments within the Veddnta suggest a new "face" for
religious discourse after deconstruction, one that does not ignore or
minimize the radical depth and importance of that critique. The
notion that the Veda is either the material effect of brahman or God's
body (as a kind of verbal emanation, language as one's exteriority)
offers a way of reimagining what revelation in books like the Bible
might be about or "look like." In particular, the notion that the sacred
book as verbal-ritual event, in all its words, sound, images, patterns
and redactions, is God's externalization or "verbalization" seems to
offer a way of recovering, in a post-historical age, an interpretation of
the whole of the Christian sacred texts that allows for "word-play"
without a complete forgetting of the canonical boundaries of the texts.
Two potential developments in this project exemplify what I have in
mind.

19 "VedLngah" is the 132nd name, in the recently published Sanskrit-English edition of


the text: Sri Vishnu Sahasranama with the Bhdsya of Sri ParSiarabhattar (Visishadvaita
Pracharini Sabha: Madras, 1983), 259-60.

This content downloaded from 132.248.9.8 on Thu, 17 Nov 2016 17:02:17 UTC
All use subject to http://about.jstor.org/terms
Clooney: Language as Ritual 681

First, however invaluable the historical-critical inter


the Bible has been, the limitations of its effort to uncove
of the original authors and communities have become evid
scholarly and pastoral levels. The religious power of a b
not adequately explained by discovering what its auth
composing it, nor by trying to imagine what God must h
allowing this or that community to fashion a certain kind
appeal to the historical author has been a useful correc
kinds of abuses of the text, but is not sufficient to recove
its sacredness. Moreover, historical-critical interpretat
fragmenting the Bible, transforming it from the (single)
into a collection of redacted documents (themselves of
tions and redactions) arranged according to various pr
notion that it is indeed a single "writing," each part of wh
with the rest in mind, has been obscured and almost ce
possibility to be conceived of-except, again, by an app
entire Israelite "people" as author. The Vedanta's effor
the Veda as brahman or as God's body, in a context alread
by Mimrmsd's critique of authorial intent, supports curre
return to a "literary" and therefore multi-perspectiv
sacred texts and encourages the tendency to do so wi
restricted to the notion that a work of literature is an author's self-
expression.
Second, Wyschogrod (544) notes correctly that deconstructio
entails "a world that is scriptic but without Scriptures, a field of late
ally interpenetrating texts . . . an ahistorical world;" Taylor's Erring,
she suggests, invites us into a "brilliantly contrived maze . .. without
exit or closure" (544). This is a world of endless commentary, such as
modelled by Mimimsa/Veddnta's still unfinished set of multiplyin
intertwined commentaries. What I find in need of critique, however,
is the prospect of commentary without a "text," "scripture" without
"Scripture"-such that commentary and the commented on becom
virtually indistinguishable. There is the danger that commenting and
interpreting may remain just an ultimately anthropocentric endeavor
a game we play simply because we enjoy playing it-instead of som
thing binding and transcending us in the manner of a ritual whic
though we may enjoy it and find it endlessly freeing, nevertheless con
strains us by concerns and rules that are not reducible to our interest
and the confines of our creativity. The Mima~sa implication of th
Veda in ritual performance, the ritualization of its meaning, and i
systematic reduction of the author-function in a sense restores t
"canon" of Scripture without leaving it as something external to
human understanding and volition.
The Vedanta response too, shows us a way in which this can b

This content downloaded from 132.248.9.8 on Thu, 17 Nov 2016 17:02:17 UTC
All use subject to http://about.jstor.org/terms
682 Journal of the American Academy of Religion

transformed into a new kind of theology with its own thoroughly


revised understanding of how God is to be found in Scripture. Again,
Taylor speaks to the point:
Writing is an unending play of difference that establishes the
thoroughgoing relativity of all "things." This complex web of
interrelationships is the divine milieu. Within this non-totaliz-
able totality, nothing is itself by itself, for all things emerge and
face through the interplay of forces ... The absolute relativity of
the divine milieu renders all other things completely correlative.
(Wyschogrod, et. al.: 537)

I diverge from what Taylor is saying in my view that there is noth-


ing about this recovery of the "unending play of difference" that
excludes "writing" in the specific sense of the "writing that has already
been definitively written"--a Bible, a Veda, a Qur'an-even if as such
it is then the subject of unending commentary. In this view the "abso-
lute relativity of the divine milieu" can be read with the Vedanta as
"the relatedness of everything as the divine body." In suggesting this,
however, I freely concede that I am taking sides with the Mimmsakas
and Vedantins against their Buddhist opponents in that "post-Bud-
dhist" reconstruction of Vedic orthodoxy that ultimately becomes
"Hinduism." Indeed, we might well suppose that as deconstruction-
ism develops it will split more clearly in "Buddhist" and "Hindu"
schools.
The widest extension of what I have been suggesting is that we
must "demythologize" our notions of distance in time and space and
the disciplines we define in conformity with these notions. We locate
other religions and cultures and older periods in Europe's own tradi-
tion as objects of study, as if they are merely prior to our own evolving
modern/post-modern thinking, materials to use, but not peers to learn
from who have already grappled with questions comparable to those
we raise. Given the very fascinating and endangering problems which
today confront anyone who wishes to be and act and think religiously,
we cannot afford to ignore the ways in which our current problems
have been thought out before. Even if we have just been introduced
to Mimamsa, we might do well to learn to see this thinking as our own
thinking.20

20This paper is a significantly revised and greatly expanded version of a paper


presented at the American Academy of Religion Annual Meeting at Anaheim in Novem-
ber, 1985 and at the South Asian Language Analysis Roundtable held at the University
of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana, in May, 1986.

This content downloaded from 132.248.9.8 on Thu, 17 Nov 2016 17:02:17 UTC
All use subject to http://about.jstor.org/terms
Clooney: Language as Ritual 683

REFERENCES

Carman, John B.
1974 The Theology of Ramanuja. New Haven: Yale University
Press.

Clooney, Francis X.
1986 "Jaimini's Contribution to the Theory of Sacrifice as the
Experience of Transcendence." History of Religions 25:
199-212.

Foucault, Michel
1984 "What is An Author?" The Foucault Reader. Ed. P. Rabi-
now. New York: Pantheon Books.

Gerow, Edwin
1982 "What is Karma [Kim Karmeti]? An Exercise in Philo-
sophical Semantics." Indologica Tauriensia x: 87-116.

Kunjunni Raja, K.
1977 Indian Theories of Meaning. Madras: Adyar Library.

Keith, A.B., trans.


1914 The Veda of the Black Yajus School entitled Taittiriya
Sanhita. Harvard Oriental Series, Vols. 18-19. Cam-
bridge: Harvard University Press.

Lipner, Julius
1986 The Face of Truth. Albany: State University of New York
Press.

Murty, K. Satchidananda
1974 Reason and Revelation in Advaita Vedanta Delhi: 1974.

Penner, Hans H.
1985 "Language, Ritual and Meaning." Numen 32: 1-16.

Staal, Frits
1979 "The Meaninglessness of Ritual." Numen 26: 2-22.
1986 "The Sound of Religion." Numen 33: 33-64.

Tambiah, S.J.
1979 "A Performative Approach to Ritual." Proceedings of the
British Academy 55: 113-169.

Taylor, Mark C.
1984 Erring: A Postmodern A/theology. Chicago: University
of Chicago Press.

This content downloaded from 132.248.9.8 on Thu, 17 Nov 2016 17:02:17 UTC
All use subject to http://about.jstor.org/terms
684 Journal of the American Academy of Religion

Wyschogrod, Edith, et. al.


1986 "On Deconstructing Theology: A Symposium on Erring:
A Postmodern A/theology". Journal of the American
Academy of Religion 54/3: 523-557.

This content downloaded from 132.248.9.8 on Thu, 17 Nov 2016 17:02:17 UTC
All use subject to http://about.jstor.org/terms