[INDOLOGY] origin and discussion that the Vedas are "nitya apaurusheya"

Jan E.M. Houben jemhouben at gmail.com
Wed Nov 6 08:35:03 EST 2019

Dear Dean,
Some quick notes in reaction to your query:
It is a widely accepted cliché that "the Vedas are eternal and apauruṣeya"
and another cliché, equally widely accepted by both traditional and modern,
Indian and non-Indian, scholars is that this is essentially (!) THE Indian
view on the Vedas. At some point in time, indeed, the "irrational" view of
the nitya and apauruṣeya Veda became dominant, and the theory of elevated
but basically "human" authors disappeared from view in "orthodox" circles
(just as the view of an originally basically "human" Jesus Christ advocated
by Arius made in the course of time place for more "irrational" positions
such as Trinitarianism which implies the anādinidhanam divinity of Jesus in
Christianity?). This means there was an earlier time that the view of a
nitya and apauruṣeya Veda was not dominant or evident. Even if we limit
ourselves to the six so-called "orthodox" schools of Indian philosophy we
find that widely divergent views were held about the nature and (extent of)
authoritativeness of the Vedas -- and on the question whether the Vedic
texts had or did not have authors: Sāṁkhya is severely critical of the
Vedas and Vedic ritual (Houben 1999); Nyāya makes efforts to prove that the
Veda is not apauruṣeya but pauruṣeya: deriving from a Puruṣa, namely God
(Chemparathy 1983); the school of Aitihāsika interpretation of the Rgveda
did not survive but interpreted the subject matter of hymns often in terms
of references to human or divine,“historical” personalities (E. Sieg 1902).
Not much of their views is preserved, but it is likely that the authors of
the hymns were also regarded as “historical” personalities; in Vaiśeṣika,
although theism overtook later on, there is no early systematic commitment
even to God but to the Ṛṣis and their knowledge (even Praśastapāda accepts,
apart from pratyakṣa, laiṅgika and smṛti, only ārṣa as another category of
reliable knowledge, vidyā, in contradistinction to four forms of avidyā)
>From Vaiśeṣika-sūtra (VS)6.1.1 buddhipūrvā vākyakṛtir vede we can infer the
position that the composition of Vedic texts is preceded by thinking, and
hence a creation by individuals, esp. the seers, although Candrānanda’s
commentary forcefully tries to interpret the plural as honorific and the
reference to the author of the Veda as a reference to Maheśvara (Houben
2019, pp. 198-199); in the system of Yoga (Yoga-sūtra etc.) the Veda and
God have marginal roles, as for the latter i.a. in an optional way to the
ultimate Yogic goal (A. Nugteren, God as an alternative, Leuven, Apeldoorn:
Garant, 1991). Hence, we are left with only Pūrva-mīmāṁsā and Vedānta as
fully and originally committed to the Vedas as sources of ultimate
knowledge, an irrational position which Mīmāṁsakas such as Kumārila
brilliantly tried to defend rationally by arguing for a nitya and
apauruṣeya Veda. Somewhere in Alexis Pinchard’s Les langues de sagesse dans
la Grèce et l’Inde anciennes (2009, based on a thesis defended in 2005) the
author describes how there is an 'inflation' in the sacred status of Vedic
and Sanskrit, an ‘inflation’ that can be easily traced back to its earlier
stages. At first, the “secret names or footsteps of the cows” are preserved
in ‘human’ hymns addressed to the gods. Subsequently, the entire ‘human’
hymns, skillfully composed by trained poets, acquire the status of divine
texts which through their metre etc. are demarcated from all other language
use, including the comments and explanations of difficulties associated
with these divine texts. The next stage is the acquisition of divine status
of both the hymns and their explanations, the stage reflected in the dictum
mantra-brāhmaṇayor veda-nāmadheyam “Mantras and Brāhmaṇas have the
designation ‘Veda’ ” (Āpastamba Śrauta-sūtra 24.1.31). The auxiliary
disciplines such as grammar, etc., which develop in order to bridge the
increasing distance between the language of the Veda and even the polished
language of daily life, are the next candidates to receive divine status;
the last observed stage is the attribution of divine status not only to
Vedic literature and its auxiliary disciplines but to the entire Sanskrit
language, a view which we find already clearly formulated by the 5th
century grammarian-philosopher Bhartṛhari, but which remained in his time
far from uncontested (Houben 1996b). This does not detract from the de
facto role of classical Sanskrit as a language to the co-production of
which Buddhists contributed importantly, a philosophical and literary
lingua franca (Houben 2018 “Linguistic Paradox and Diglossia”).
Jan Houben

On Mon, 4 Nov 2019 at 18:37, Dean Michael Anderson via INDOLOGY <
indology at list.indology.info> wrote:

> Sorry, I mistitled that earlier thread.
> Does anyone know the origin of the term and concept that the Vedas are
> "nitya apaurusheya", eternal and uncreated by humans?
> I have heard it might have originated in Karma Mimamsa.
> Also, any information about how it was conceived, discussed and debated
> would be appreciated.
> Thanks,
> Dean
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*Jan E.M. Houben*

Directeur d'Études, Professor of South Asian History and Philology

*Sources et histoire de la tradition sanskrite*

École Pratique des Hautes Études (EPHE, PSL - Université Paris)

*Sciences historiques et philologiques *

54, rue Saint-Jacques, CS 20525 – 75005 Paris

*johannes.houben at ephe.sorbonne.fr <johannes.houben at ephe.sorbonne.fr>*

*johannes.houben at ephe.psl.eu <johannes.houben at ephe.psl.eu>*

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