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Periodization and Historiography of Indian Philosophy.

Periodization and Historiography of Indian Philosophy. Edited with an introduction by ELI FRANCO. Vienna: De Nobili, 2013. Pp. viii + 388. 40 [euro].

We all do periodizations and we are all conditioned by the historiography of the subject we are examining. It is of crucial importance that we become aware of it or we will just unreflectingly assume that what we have learned to believe is the only possible truth. In this way, people who were born before ... (insert the right date according to your country and what you have learned) thought that the inferiority of a certain race or another was a natural fact and not an interpretation of (very controversial) historical data. Thus, Franco's book is more than welcome and it is hoped that it will initiate interesting debates among scholars. The twelve essays collected here follow two fils rouges: on the one hand the theoretical debate about periodizations (Franco, Lipner, Oetke, Bronkhorst, and partly also Pinchard and Eltschinger), on the other hand the discussion of specific instances of periodization (Patil, Eltschinger, Clavel, Pinchard), most notably of Erich Frauwallner's periodization (Franco, Motegi, Oetke, Bronkhorst). The remaining essays deal more concretely with given schools (Maas, Bansat-Boudon, Pinchard) or attempt different periodizations (McCrea, Eltschinger).

Franco's own introduction aptly shows how the periodizations we are used to while reading about Indian philosophy are historically determined (nineteenth and early twentieth century scholars, unsurprisingly, valued Vedic philosophy much more than we would today). Thus, one can come to discover that what one has learned in early Indological studies is far from uncontroversial and is rather the result of the success of one interpretative trend. More specifically, a reader may discover that she has most probably been implicitly influenced by Frauwallner's emphasis on a first "scientific" period--from Vedic times to the beginning of the second half of the first millennium A.D.--followed by a "religious" period--from Sankara to the eighteenth century--as well as from Madeleine Biardeau's tripartition: 1. formation of the systems, lasting until the end of the fifth century A.D.; 2. elimination of Buddhism, from Dignaga to Ramanuja; 3. Hindu philosophy, from Ramanuja to the sixteenth century.

More importantly, Franco's introduction implicitly suggests that even our own contemporary and scholarly informed periodizations will probably in some decades also be looked at in the same way as we look at Deussen's. The exercise of periodizing, thus, is shown to be inherently provisional, and readers are suggested to be cautious before thinking that someone has settled an issue forever.

This kind of methodological discussion is, however, not explicitly found in the introduction (perhaps because it is obvious for Franco, who at the end of his introduction writes "It goes without saying that every periodization presupposes a perspective," p. 25), but rather in Julius Lipner's contribution (which, accordingly, bears the title "The Perils of Periodization"). It contains many interesting suggestions, most of all about the distinction between periodizations as depending on the interpreter, just as the arrangement of an army depends on the decisions of its commander, and ones that are believed to orient themselves according to their object, as if they were reproducing an animal's "anatomy" (pp. 145-48). The latter are particularly dangerous because while thinking that one is only describing one's object, one risks introducing an evaluative periodization without even being aware of it (p. 149). Here Lipner goes back to Frauwallner's example and to the racist ideology that made him distinguish between an Aryan, scientific, and atheistic period, and a non-Aryan, non-scientific, and mostly theistic period in the history of Indian philosophy. Is there a middle way between a self-consciously arbitrary periodization and one that is also arbitrary but presented as "natural"? Perhaps, insofar as Lipner acknowledges that there are salient facts that can guide one--for instance, in the case of Vedanta, the survival of only Sankara's work among the earliest commentaries of the Brahmasutra.

McCrea implicitly follows the suggestion of identifying salient facts and reads Indian philosophy in general and Mimamsa in particular through the lens of Dignaga's unique contribution to it. Dignaga was the first thinker who engaged in a detailed textual analysis of his opponents' texts, thus forcing his opponents to do the same. Further, his approach to ontology and epistemology largely determined the subsequent developments of Mimamsa philosophy. McCrea accordingly explains how the main theories of Kumarila and, even more so, Prabhakara should be read as answering the objections raised by Dignaga. The present reviewer agrees with the importance of Dignaga and finds the theory fascinating but not completely convincing (for reasons Eltschinger--see below--would call "internalist"; that is, because she sees Prabhakara's anvitabhidhanavada as a consistent output of his holistic approach to the Veda, rather than as the forced result of his epistemological reaction to Dignaga; see p. 140).

While discussing evaluative periodizations, Lipner points out the case of Sharma's and Satchidanandendra's approaches to Vedanta. They each openly favor one Vedantic school, the Dvaita and the Advaita schools, respectively. According to Lipner, it is therefore all the more interesting that they implicitly agree on an unspoken criterion of philosophical value (p. 163). In fact, both look askance at Citsukha and at his "dialectical period," thus implicitly assuming that philosophy needs to be "innovative" and that dialectic diatribes are a symptom of philosophical decline. But why so?

In a similar manner, Parimal Patil's contribution is basically a critical reconsideration of Pollock's (evaluative) periodization (which also favors innovation over scholasticism) by means of a detailed, learned, and insightful analysis of late Nyaya-Vaisesika and of how it at least in part contradicts Pollock's general scheme. In this sense, Patil's article offers a precious chance to consider how periodizations and big interpretative frames can only have a heuristic role and are always provisional and falsifiable (the reviewer discussed this topic at greater length here: http://indianphilosophyblog. org/2014/01/21/investigatio-semper-reformanda/).

Similarly, Anne Clavel starts her contribution dedicated to the periodization of Jaina philosophy with the discussion of two main periodizing attempts, namely Krishna Dixit's Jaina Ontology (Ahmedabad 1971) and Indra C. Shastri's Jaina Epistemology (Varanasi 1990). Since both authors are less well known--and less controversial--than Pollock, the article does not start in the most appealing way. However, after the first twelve pages Clavel moves on to a topic she appears to master, i.e., the development of the denotation of the term pratyaksa in Jaina philosophy. The reader is thus reminded of the fact that in the Jaina para-canonical literature the pramanas are divided into two sets, pratyaksa 'direct' including avadhi-, manahparyaya-, and kevalajuana (i.e., intellectual intuition, telepathy, and omniscience) and paroksa 'indirect' including sensory cognition and linguistic communication. Sensory cognition is considered indirect because it depends on the mediation of something unconscious, the sense faculties. Through their contact with other schools, however, Jaina authors ended up modifying their definition of what counts as pratyaksa. Clavel explains how this happened and how it has been justified with reference to a loka vs. vyavahara opposition. Furthermore (unfortunately only in a footnote, fn. 22 p. 291), she connects this turn with the early Jaina recognition that in the present time (from 463 B.C.E. onwards) no one can expect to reach omniscience or liberation (any longer?).

Alexis Pinchard's essay brings an attempt at periodization to proof, namely Franco's own as very briefly discussed in his introduction (p. 24). Pinchard shows through the case of the history of sphota that the history of Indian philosophy cannot be interpreted as a passage from ontology to epistemology, since the sphota continues to have an ontological basis distinct from the ontological reality of varitas 'phonemes'. The present reviewer is somewhat skeptical about the middle term of this argument, since although she agrees that the sphota was understood by Sphotavadins as having an ontological basis, she would think that what lacks an ontological basis are exactly the varnas 'phonemes' (counter to Pinchard, p. 332, but perhaps in accord with pp. 337-38), which were described as useful abstractions without any separate existence but only meant for didactic purposes. Moreover, unless Pinchard relies on oral discussions about Franco's periodization, his seems to be a straw-man argument, since Franco's short description of his periodization in this book does not imply "that one cannot develop epistemology without rejecting ontology" (p. 332).

Motegi also discusses a periodization attempt, insofar as he focuses mainly on Frauwallner's interpretation of the pre-Sastitantra Sankhya philosophy. Given the justified hostility towards Frauwallner's interpretation present in both Franco's and Lipner's articles, one would have expected a detailed examination of how Frauwallner's racial prejudices led him to make crucial mistakes while speculating about early Sankhya. However, this is not the case and Motegi rather agrees with Frauwallner's basic tenets in this case, thus seemingly justifying Steinkellner's claim that Frauwallner's ideology can be removed from his works, which would in turn retain their general value; see Steinkellner 2009 (available at Frauwallner's periodization is again discussed by Bronkhorst, who notices a change in Indian philosophy around the middle of the first millennium. This harmonizes with the beginning of Franco's second (epistemological) period but also does not clash with Frauwallner's claim that Indian philosophy changed around the time of Sankara. However, no one would think of defending Frauwallner's racial explanation of this change, and Bronkhorst has good reasons to show that, rather, the philosophical schools of the first "scientific" period were linked to non-Vedic roots. (1)

Vincent Eltschinger's contribution is almost a book within the book, since it encompasses 101 learned pages. The present reviewer, therefore, can only point out a positive contribution to the general topic of the volume and a negative detail. The positive contribution lies in the fact that Eltschinger detects the "incrementalist, teleological and internalist" (p. 174) assumptions lying at the heart of most interpretations of Buddhist tantrism and Buddhist epistemology as an organic result of the Buddhist interest in, respectively, magic and debate. Eltschinger suggests placing next to this approach one that takes into account external political and social conditions. The negative detail lies in Eltschinger's seemingly unreflective use of the term "medieval" where, at least in the context of this volume, one could have expected a less evaluative terminology or at least a footnote acknowledging that there is no consensus regarding the use of "medieval" in the Indian context (see Franco's introduction, p. 1).

Maas deals mainly with the historiography of Yoga and does not mention the word "periodization" at all, but he deals with one of the main issues in the periodization of Yoga philosophy, i.e., the authorship of Yogasutra and Yogabhasya (Maas, following Bronkhorst's "Patanjali and the Yoga Sutras" [Studien zur Indologie und Iranistik 10, 1984]), though on the basis of mainly textual-critical reasons, upholds a single authorship for both). Bansat-Boudon's focus is narrower still, namely on the concept of jivanmukti 'liberation while alive' in Saiva texts, especially of the Trika and Pratyabhijna traditions. The topic is extremely fascinating: Is liberation within a lifetime possible or does one need to wait until death to be liberated? Is therefore suicide a legitimate option? The (tenuous) link to the general topic is made explicit in the last one and a half pages, in which the author suggests that the history of Indian philosophy should be understood more through "transitions" than through "ruptures," as illustrated by the case of the evolution of the concept of liberation through Sankhya, Sankara's Vedanta, and Trika.

The second to last essay, by Oetke, again raises very general issues, departing from the problematic definition of "Indian philosophy," in which both noun and adjective should be better assessed, up to the problem of why we keep on doing periodizations although they are so slippery. Perhaps, Oetke insinuates, because "by classifying objects[,] rational beings are better equipped for making predictions" (p. 349). But this view, tempting as it may seem, is untenable, since historical developments are not subject to one and the same scheme and, thus, predictions are unwarranted. Oetke's suggestion is to focus not only on chronological periodizations, but also on discussions of the philosophical contents dealt with (as done in the third part of von Glasenapp's Die Philosophic der Inder, Stuttgart: Kroner, 1958), or on "classifications relating to different ways of performing philosophy and to diverse methods of philosophical reasoning" (p. 355) (one is reminded of the sidra-, bhasya-, and prakarana periods). Oetke offers also a further interesting contribution to the Frauwallner debate, namely the remark that it is not the "ethnic [i.e., racial, EF] explanation" that is problematic in Frauwallner, but rather the fact that he does not explain why it fits the material he was dealing with. Given that Frauwallner seemingly explained that non-Aryan religious cults prevailed in the second period, Oetke's point amounts to saying that Frauwallner was a priori convinced of a given explanation and did not look for the best one among many.

As a concluding remark, the book is highly recommended for what it contains and for what it stimulates, namely reflections on our implicit periodizations and on the historiographies we have been unconsciously influenced by (further remarks on Maas's, Clavel's, Franco's, Lipner's, Oetke's, and others' essays in this volume can be read on the reviewer's blog,, under the tag "Franco 2013").



(1.) It is perhaps useful to remember here that Frauwallner included Buddhists and other non-Brahmanical thinkers within the "Aryans," so that Bronkhorst's suggestion that "the opposite of what Frauwallner proposed" was the case seems to depend on a faulty equation, namely on that between Frauwallner's definitions of "Aryan" and "Vedic" (p. 361).
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Title Annotation:Periodization and Historiography of Indian Philosophy
Author:Freschi, Elisa
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jan 1, 2015
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