What did Kumārila have in view when he spoke of a “linguistic force” and of an “objective force”?

A short terminological excursus: bhāvanā is a rather common name throughout Sanskrit philosophy (it designates, e.g., a peculiar meditation in Buddhism and in Kashmir Śivaism, a linguistic function in Bhāṭṭa Nāyaka’s aesthetical theory, etc.). It is also found in grammar.

Within Mīmāṃsā, it is found already in Śabara (see, e.g., his commentary ad MS 2.1.1) as indicating the activity of a person, designated by the verbal forms and directed towards an object. In fact, such an activity is further specified by its requiring an object, an instrument and a procedure (respectively answering the question “what [does one do]?”, “through what?” and “how?”). In accordance to such an interpretation, Śabara paraphrases the Vedic prescription svargakāmo yajeta ‘one who desires heaven should sacrifice’ as yāgena svargaṃ bhavati ‘through sacrifice, heaven occurs’. That is, an object/aim (according to the polysemy of the Sanskrit term artha, noticeably within Mīmāṃsā, see MS 1.1.5 et passim) is connected to the bhāvanā, the root of the verb is read as an instrument (yāgena), and the verbal action is designated by the conjugated verbal form alone (bhavati). Later on, Kumārila noticed that such an account does not make sense of the prescriptive character of, say, yajeta ‘one should sacrifice’ as opposed to yajati ‘s/he sacrifices’. Therefore, he introduced a further bhāvanā, called śabdabhāvanā. This one is peculiar to prescriptive forms (that is, liṅ, loṭ, leṭ, tavya, but also present indicative forms may do, if the semantic of the passage requires a prescriptive meaning) and it accounts for their faculty to make whoever listens to them feel compelled to perform the action indicated by the verbal root. It has still nothing to do with the actual performance of such action, it operates purely on a linguistic niveau and therefore Kumārila has named it “linguistic bhāvanā”. At that point, he had to qualify also the other bhāvanā, the one meant by Śabara. In opposition to śabdabhāvanā (or śābdībhāvanā), he called it arthabhāvanā (or ārthībhāvanā), that is “actual bhāvanā”, “objective bhāvanā”, or “purpose[-oriented] bhāvanā”. So, this latter designation is less precise than the first one and is mainly devised in opposition to the former. In fact, “bhāvanā” alone is commonly used to indicate the arthabhāvanā.

But what exactly does arthabhāvanā mean?
1. The objector in Rāmānujācārya’s (late) Tantrarahasya (chapter 3.16) seem to interpret arthabhāvanā as puruṣārthabhāvanā, so “bhāvanā having a human end [as its bhāvya]”, “purpose-[oriented] bhāvanā”. But is this a reinterpretation or the initial meaning of arthabhāvanā? It would rather seem an innovation of Rāmānujācārya, since he is at that point by a parallel passage by Pārthasārathi Miśra, but emphasises the etymological understanding of arthabhāvanā (whereas Pārthasārathi speaks of arthabhāvanā as puruṣārthasādhana).
2. To me, the innovation of Kumārila, who distinguished between śabda– and arthabhāvanā seems to presupose the opposition between śabda (as language) and artha (as its object). Nonetheless, I could not find a precise explanation of arthabhāvanā as meaning “the efficient force directed on an external object” or the like.
3. The Mīmāṃsābālaprakāśa, a late Bhāṭṭa primer, explains: arthayata ity arthaḥ phalakāmaḥ puruṣaḥ ‘he desires, hence the person, who covets a result is called artha‘ (MBP, II adhyāya; 74.15-16, see below), and Kei Kataoka also suggests that Kumārila probably has in mind puruṣa ‘person’ as artha.
The (indeed unusual) equation artha-puruṣa can be justified as follows:

  • a. MBP’s statement, and Bhatta Śaṅkara’s explanation that, when interpreting artha as person, the meaning “person” should be derived from the understanding of artha from the root arth-, X class, “to desire” (hence, “a person who desires” is an artha, since –a is, among other meanings, a kṛt suffix indicating the agent, according to the list in Ā III and to Kāśikā on Ā III 4.67) and not from the root arth-, IV class, “to be an object” (arthyate). (By the way, the latter seems to be an artificially conceived root, not attested in the Amarakośa, nor in the Śabdakalpadruma, nor in the Dhātupāṭha, nor in modern dictionaries such as PW and Monier William’s.)
  • b. The symmetry between śabdabhāvanā and arthabhāvanā. It is in fact hardly the case that Kumārila devised the two names without linking them to each other. Pārthasārathi Miśra proposes two interpretations of the compound śabdabhāvanā, as a karmadhāraya and as a tatpuruṣa respectively. If it is a karmadhāraya, however, it is hard to conceive a symmetric understanding of arthabhāvanā, which should mean “that efficient force which consists in an object/a purpose”. On the other hans, if śabdabhāvanā is tantamount to “an efficient force (bhāvanā) which has a statement as its locus of action” (as with Pārthasārathi Miśra’s explanation of śabdabhāvanā as a tatpuruṣa, see below), arthabhāvanā would mean “an efficient force which has an artha as its locus of action”. Artha in this connection cannot be the final object brought about by the activity, but only the locus where this activity finds place, that is, a person.
  • c. The fact that arthabhāvanā and śabdabhāvanā are also called by Kumārila arthātmikā bhāvanā and śabdātmikā bhāvanā and those explanations need to be made sense of in a symmetric way.

By contrast, the understanding of śabdabhāvanā is made easier by Pārthasārathimiśra’s etymological explanation, see Kataoka 2004: 167-8, fn. 190: “ahidhāyāḩ śabdasya bhāvanā abhidhābhāvanā ‘the abhidhābhāvanā [a synonym of śabdabhāvanā] is the bhāvanā of the language, also called abhidhā‘(NRM VN, 77.1) and abhidhīyata iti abhidhā pravartanā ‘it denotes, hence the promoting [force] (i.e., the śabdabhāvanā) is called abhidhābhāvanā‘. Hence, śabdabhāvanā could be explained as a tatpuruṣa (the force of language) or as a karmadhāraya (the force consisting of language)

What do you think? Do you side with 1., 2. or 3.?

(If, for whatever reasons, you want to read more about śabda- and arthabhāvanā you can check the corresponding labels in my first blog, here.)

About elisa freschi

My long-term program is to make "Indian Philosophy" part of "Philosophy". You can follow me also on my personal blog: elisafreschi.com, on Academia, on Amazon, etc.

2 thoughts on “What did Kumārila have in view when he spoke of a “linguistic force” and of an “objective force”?

  1. i think #2 is right. jaimini 2.1.1 says bhāvārthāḥ karmaśabdās tebhyaḥ kriyā pratīyetaiṣa hy artho vidhīyate, and it almost seems perverse not to understand arthabhāvanā or ārthī bhāvanā as somehow connected with this sense of artha.

  2. Andrew, as I said in the post, this is also my position, although for other reasons (basically, because of the *śabda-artha* opposition). And I also find it “perverse” to interpret *artha* as *puruṣa*. Still, I am not sure that Jaimini could be used as an evidence, given that he is not the inventor of the *bhāvanā*.

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