Soteriology of universals

Paul G. Hackett ph2046 at COLUMBIA.EDU
Sat Oct 13 02:48:31 UTC 2007


   You could argue that meditation on universals (sAmAnya) in Buddhism 
is not directly soteriological (since they are held to be un-real), 
but the negation of them is.  Georges Dreyfus has a discussion of the 
soteriological aspects of Dharmakirti's epistemology in his 
_Recognizing Reality_.

Paul Hackett
Columbia University

At 9:46 PM +0100 10/12/07, Will Rasmussen wrote:
>The realist-nominalist debate over the epistemology and metaphysics 
>of universals (sAmAnya) was/is as robust in the India as it was/is 
>in the West. However, in a few places Plato defends real universals 
>not only for their explanatory and even causative power, but also 
>for their soteriological power, by which meditation upon them (e.g., 
>beauty, wisdom, goodness) is transformative of the mind/soul. 
>Graphically portrayed are his myths of metempsychosis (Meno, 
>Phaedrus and Republic), but only briefly does he ever identify 
>meditation/contemplation as the instrument/vehicle for determining 
>the direction of the psyche's transmigration.
>I am curious to inquire whether this use of universals as objects of 
>meditation/contemplation was ever prescribed in any of the Indian 
>schools of philosophy, where of course metempsychosis was so widely 
>endorsed. In particular, I would be especially interested if India's 
>staunch universal realists, nyAya and vaizeSika, ever did so. Can 
>anyone suggest texts from nyAya or vaizeSika that address the 
>soteriological use of universals, and not just their existence and 
>explanatory power?
>Failing that, might later mImAMsA address this anywhere, perhaps 
>through their doctrine of the eternality of sound..., though I 
>suspect this is rather a long shot.
>And finally, I wonder whether the yoga darzana's meditation on the 
>qualities of saguna brahman might in some text(s) be construed as 
>reflection upon the universals (sAmAnya) of these qualities. I'm not 
>thinking here so much of the Tantric theory of the transformative 
>power of mantras purely by dint of their sound, but transformation 
>by focus upon the meanings of the universals.
>I should perhaps mention that in turning to traditions in India I am 
>not seeking to put words in Plato's mouth, nor am I delving for 
>directions in the diffusion of ideas. Instead, I am interested in 
>seeing how different traditions (may have) developed the idea of the 
>salvific effect of 'universals-contemplation' on the mind/soul.
>Many thanks and best wishes to all,
>Dr Will Rasmussen
>Matilal Lecturer in Indian Philosophy
>Department of Philosophy
>King's College London
>160 The Strand, London WC2R 2LS
>Tel: 020 7848 2757
>Email: will.rasmussen at

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