Regarding the Upanishads.- Conflicting logic of tenured Indologists.

Vishal Agarwal vishalagarwal at HOTMAIL.COM
Sat Feb 12 01:59:46 UTC 2000

----Original Message Follows----
Subject: Re: Regarding the Upanishads.- Conflicting logic of tenured
Date: Fri, 11 Feb 2000 11:52:59 -0500

MD: Secondarily, while the classical authors are ahistorical in their
approach, is no reason for us to disregard history of thought.  We can do so
only in deliberate ignorance.
VA: I agree that the historical backround of the texts is indispensible to
understand their correct import. And I would also agree that many
'traditional Bhashyas' of the Upanishads are sometimes out of place because
of anachronisms. However, such a view assumes two things:

1. that the correct historical backdrop is indeed known. While there is a
lot to be learnt from the publications of Indologists, one is often apalled
to see the flimsiness of conjectures and the wild guesses that are used for
reconstruction of history. As an example, I recall an article in the SII in
which the Indologist avered that the Vaidik Rishika Apala had very little
pubic hair. Another Indologist wrote yet another article stating that
actually her vagina was too small for copulation with a male. And of course,
esteemed Indologists often make blunders. For an Eg. A. B Keith, in the
introduction of his translation of the Aitreya Aranyaka conjectures that
Purnaprajna Anandatirtha and Anandagiri were ONE and the same person who
first wrote an Advaita exposition of the Upanishads and then a Dvaita
interpretation!! And the other classical case is the ridiculous translation
of a Baudhayana Srauta Sutra by Dr. Witzel to 'prove' the AIT. Many such
reconstructions remind one of the Hindi proverb:

"Kahim ke eenth kahin ka roda
Bhanumati ney kunba joda"

2. The other assumption is that the Upanishads are textbooks like modern
works (i.e, systematic and not needing a living tradition to expound their
meaning), and that one does not have to read in between the lines. The
Indian tradition rather terms the Brahmanic texts as 'Pravachana' and the
justification of this title becomes clear when one actually reads the texts
themselves and reflects upon the style in which they are written. Of course,
the Max Muellers are free to call them 'raving and rantings of mad men' and
Witzels are free to conjure images of fair skinned Kashmiri/Irani/Kashmiri
looking IE speakers hurtling down the Khyber on the chariots and
overwhelming the proto Mundas or the Para Mundas, but a lot certainly
depends on the way one looks at these texts-- i.e, whether one looks them as
primitive songs of sheperds and chariot drivers or as products of a river
valley civilization. The Srauta Yajnas themselves are an example. Not
everything is recorded in the Sutra texts, or Prayogas or the Paddhatis (in
vernacular or in Sanskrit) and there is a lot in them that is merely handed
down by tradition, orally/via actual practice. If one insists on sticking to
the texts themselves, then what will become of the non-verifiable
conjectures and reconstructions of Linguists? (And here, I would certainly
nod in agreement that Indologists should take Statistics and Probability 101
and Logic 101)

I do not even want to discuss the textual emendations that some esteemed
Indologists suggest for Upanishads, but even Olivelle takes a rather
negative view of it. As you might be aware, the numerous Hindi commentaries
on AV, RV etc. (Eg. those of Vishvanath Vidyalankar), make a mockery out of
the emendations proposed by Indology scholars in the past.
MD: While Raamaanuja felt no shame in authoring his "hundred
faults with the doctrine of Maayaavaada",
VA: Since I maintain the Visishtadvaita Homepage ( I am still preparing the
section on Sri Vedanta Desika, the author of Shatadushani), I feel compelled
to add that the Satadushani was not meant to enumerate a 100 faults in
Advaita. Rather, it had 2 parts: The first part (surviving portion) deals
with the 5 dozen odd flaws in Advaita and the remaining dealt with flaws in
the system of the nearly contemporary Sri Madhvacharya. This is the view of
the Sri Vaishnava tradition as I know it, although there might be other
views on this. The early texts of Visishtadvaita have suffered considerable
losses (See work of V. Raghavan and others: Forthcomming section on my

MD: a modern visiting Swamy blandly told me
that all schools of Vedanta teach the same thing and that there was no
more any reason to study the differences between these schools.  If such
spiritual orientation is to guide the academic study of Sanskrit, we may as
well close down the universities and join the Swamis in their anything goes
VA: The view of the Swami is not new, it is definitely not post Vivekanda. I
do not want to quote the famous words of RV, AV etc., but suggest you to
read the 'Uddhava Gita' portion of the Srimad Bhagvatam or even the Karikas
of the Mayavadin Gaudapada himself, where he declares that Advaita has no
conflict with any other school. On the question of the job security of
Indologists, it is indeed worrisome that funding for such programs seems to
be declining. But then, why will somebody fund the study of a bucolic
culture that was brought by invaders and imposed on an urban civilization in
1500 B.C.E. Personally, I would not give money to people just for making
silly conjectures. No, I am not talking of your publications, which are
wonderful (and many of them are not completely intelligible to me because of
their rigor) and interesting, but this is indeed a point to ponder.

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