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An Enquiry into the Nature of Liberation: Bhatta Ramakantha's Paramoksanirasakarikavrtti, a Commentary on Sadyojyotih's Refutation of Twenty Conceptions of the Liberated State (moksa).

An Enquiry into the Nature of Liberation: Bhatta Ramakantha's Paramoksanirasakarikavrtti, a Commentary on Sadyojyotih's Refutation of Twenty Conceptions of the Liberated State (moksa). Edited and translated by Alex Watson, Dominic Goodall, and S. L. P. Anjaneya Sarma. Collection Indologie, vol. 122. Pondicherry: Institut Francais de Pondichery, Ecole francaise d'Extreme-Orient, 2013. Pp. 508. 38 [euro].

The Sanskrit text edited and translated in this book is by Bhatta Ramakantha, a Saiva Siddhanta commentator who lived in the late tenth c. C.E. He comments on the Paramoksanirasakarika of Sadyojyotih (circa 675-725 C.E.), a text in verse whose concern was to refute the erroneous ideas about liberation held by other schools. Ramakantha's work offers a remarkable glimpse of the intellectual landscape of tenth-century India through the lens of Saiva Siddhanta's dualist theology. While much of the text is devoted to intramural disputes among Saiva sects, Ramakantha also targets others, such as Buddhists, Naiyayikas, Carvakas, and Advaita Vedantins, who hold erroneous views on moksa and are in need of refutation.

The authors Watson, Goodall, and Anjaneya Sarma have organized this book into three main parts: a scholarly introduction, a critical edition of the Sanskrit text, and an amply annotated English translation. They write that their translation was not intended as "an independent text in smooth English," but rather as a tool to help readers follow along with a very demanding Sanskrit commentary. Some of this commentary's difficulty comes from the great number of arguments Ramakantha uses to attack opposing views. Understanding these arguments and counter-arguments requires an almost encyclopedic knowledge of Indian philosophy and theology. Fortunately, the translators are up to the challenge, and in their extensive footnotes explain what is at stake in each of the arguments. Ramakantha's polemical approach is similar to that of Bhaviveka's celebrated sixth-century Madhyamaka Buddhist text, "The Heart of the Middle Way" (Madhyamakahrdaya). Both are refutations of competing schools. Neither text is primarily concerned with summarizing viewpoints, but in the process of refutation Bhaviveka and Ramakantha present many doctrines that were unfamiliar to later doxographers. Some of the doctrines that Ramakantha examines are quite exotic indeed, and rarely or never discussed elsewhere. There are also surprising omissions of major schools. For instance, Sadyojyotih and Ramakantha make no mention here of Jain doctrines of liberation, though they certainly knew of them.

Of the twenty viewpoints on liberation Ramakantha presents for refutation, he sets three groups apart as being close to Saiva Siddhanta. He describes these as being samanatantrika, which the translators render in English as "belonging to our own religion" or "belonging to the same religion" (pp. 18, 63). In a later footnote the translators contradict themselves, describing these three samanatantrika groups as "the three religions closest to the Siddhanta" (p. 282). Are these three different but related religions, or three denominations of a single religion? This seems to me one of a small number of times when the translators are not conscious enough of the Eurocentric subtexts of the English words they choose (another example: translating papa as "sin"). The foreignness of the category "religion" to pre-modern Asian cultures has been well documented in recent works by S. N. Balagangadhara, Richard King, and Tomoko Masuzawa, among others. The question of whether Ramakantha understood the Kalamukhas, Pasupatas, and Kapalikas as belonging to the "same religion" as Saiva Siddhanta is actually moot, because he could not have entertained the question. A conclusive understanding of the term samanatantrika would require systematic study of the word's usage across a range of similar texts. For now, I tentatively suggest "sharing the same canonical texts" as a preferable translation. What is apparent, however, is that Ramakantha had no sense of astika unity of the sort envisioned in slightly later texts such as Krsna Misra's eleventh-century "Rise of Wisdom Moon" (Prabodhacandrodaya). The seventeen groups that Ramakantha does not regard as samanatantrika with Saiva Siddhanta include not only Buddhists and Carvakas, but also Vedantins and Naiyayikas. In mid-second millennium doxographies in Sanskrit, the latter two groups are lumped together with Saivas as belonging among the "affirmer" (astika) schools, in contradistinction to the Buddhist and Carvaka "denier" (nastika) schools.

Though Ramakantha's text is surely not a work for neophytes, its topics of discussion do have much potential for comparative philosophical and theological study that will be of interest to non-Indologists. One example is the issue of God's omnipotence (sarvakartrtva), and especially the logical conundrums raised by the possibility of multiple omnipotent beings. For the Saiva Siddhanta school, liberation entails the individual self's realization of its innate omniscience and omnipotence. Upon liberation, selves become the same as Siva (sivasama)--numerically distinct, yet possessing the same properties as God (p. 40). If this is the case, what happens when one of these omnipotent beings comes into conflict with another? Similar paradoxes concerning omnipotence were familiar to Western thinkers such as Averroes and Aquinas, albeit in a monotheistic framework. Ramakantha presents one novel response to this problem as belonging to a rarely documented Saiva school that he calls Pravahanityesvaravada ("the view that God is eternal in the way that a stream is eternal"). According to this view, each time a new yogi is liberated and obtains the same omnipotence as Siva, the previous omnipotent lord willingly retires from his previous job (p. 53). In effect, each liberated being becomes king for a day, or at least for a moment. However, Ramakantha illustrates the logical weaknesses in this view and presents his own school's ingeniously simple solution. There is no problem of multiple omniscient beings coming into conflict, since upon liberation those beings are also omniscient and free of vices such as greed and passion. Hence, the Saiddhantika says, there will be no possibility of discord among them.

Ramakantha's approach in commenting on Sadyojyotih's text will also be of great interest to intellectual historians, for differences between their texts reveal that rapid change was underway between the seventh and tenth centuries. For instance, although Ramakantha presents and refutes the Vedantic doctrine of illusionism (mayavada), he acknowledges that Sadyojyotih's original verses describe a different Vedantic doctrine, called transformationism (parinamavada). Ramakantha remarks that he made a conscious choice to refute illusionism because transformationist Vedanta is no longer en vogue: "it is not taught ... by the foremost of those learned in this spiritual [tradition]" (p. 236). In the seventh century Sadyojyotih likely relied on the realist Identity-in-Difference (bhedabheda) Vedanta of Bhartrprapanca for his presentation of Vedanta. In the tenth century Ramakantha quotes Mandana Misra, an Advaitin, and appears not to be familiar with Sankara's works. This is also corroborating evidence for Hajime Nakamura's thesis that before the eleventh century the philosophy of Sankara was little known outside of his own group of followers.

In the limited space of this review I have only been able to offer a small sampling of the food for thought in Bhatta Ramakantha's Paramoksanirasakarikavrtti, but there is much more on offer. For instance, Ramakantha confronts a Carvaka interlocutor who denies transmigration of selves, which leads Ramakantha to follow Bhartrhari in citing children's ability to acquire language as proof of the existence of past lives (p. 373). In this, comparativists may find resonances with the theory of recollection presented in Plato's middle dialogues. Another fascinating question for the cross-cultural study of religious diversity is whether schools such as Buddhism and Vedanta have any value, given their erroneous ideas about liberation. According to Saiva Siddhanta, the answer is yes. Buddhists and Vedantins cannot be liberated until they abandon their flawed doctrines and practices. However, Buddhists may nonetheless ascend as far as the principle (tattva) of intellect (buddhi), and Vedantins can do slightly better in realizing the principle of spirit (purusa), eleven rungs from the top of the hierarchy of thirtysix principles in Saiva Siddhanta cosmology (p. 73).

Watson, Goodall, and Anjaneya Sarma deserve congratulations for their lucid introduction, fine critical edition, and helpful translation of a fascinating text. This book more than upholds the Institut Francais de Pondichery's tradition of publishing high quality indological works. I believe that excerpts from this translation would work very well in future sourcebooks in Indian philosophy and theology. Ramakantha's text deserves a wide readership, and this book should be acquired by all major research libraries whose collections include Indian philosophy and religion.


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Author:Nicholson, Andrew J.
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Article Type:Book review
Date:Oct 1, 2015
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