Forging Indian philosophical texts

Did Indian authors forge their authorities? Did they need it, given the freedom commentators enjoyed (so that Śaiva texts have been used by Vaiṣṇava authors (see the Spandakārikā) and dualist texts by non-dualist authors (see the Paratriṃśikā) as their authorities)?

In fact, it seems that forgery has been used, although this term and its negative connotations might be completely out of place in classical India. The first example one might think of is Madhva, who quoted profusely from texts which have not been traced. If he really forged his quoted, Madhva would seem to me a unique case in the Classical Indian horizon —I still do not understand why he did not just interpret the texts he had at his disposal in the way he wanted.

Now, one might object, Madhva’s case is not that exceptional, given that many other authors founded their teachings on lost texts. Mīmāṃsā authors justified the validity of Smṛtis and even of sadācāra ‘the behaviour of right people’ exactly by postulating that they are founded on lost Vedic texts, or on only-inferable ones (nityānumeya). But this is not a suitable comparison.
In fact, on the one hand we have Mīmāṃsā and Dharmaśāstra (and later also Vedānta) authors trying to justify existing behaviours on the basis of inferred texts, on the other we have Madhva trying to ground new ideas on the basis of untraced but existing quotes.
Thus, Madhva is more or less doing the opposite of what Kumārila and Co. were doing.
However, what about Madhva’s successors and supporters, both within and without his school (e.g., in Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism)? In this case, could the fact that the idea of lost Vedas was already current have helped in making the claim that Madhva had quoted from texts which were later lost less preposterous?
Perhaps. But I tend to doubt it, given that the claim of loss texts seems to be always projected to a far-away antiquity, and more specifically to the Vedas (including texts contemporary scholars would not recognise as part of the Veda, but which were presented as such, like the Pāñcarātra Ekāyanaveda). Also the terma-device of “finding” back (allegedly) lost Buddhist texts had a different purpose (namely legitimizing whole new texts).
Madhva and his followers, as far as I know, never used the lost Veda argument to support their claims. This might be a further indirect evidence of the fact that they also thought of the two cases as quite far apart.

What do you think? Did you ever encounter “forged” texts in Classical Indian Philosophy?

On Madhva’s quotes, see this post.

Cross-posted on my personal blog

About elisa freschi

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

9 thoughts on “Forging Indian philosophical texts

  1. As you note, most Buddhist sūtras are pretty obviously “forged” in the sense that they claim to be the word of the Buddha and aren’t – but it really doesn’t take long for people to settle into that point by claiming “whatever is well spoken is the word of the Buddha”, thus redefining buddhavacana so that historicity is no longer an issue.

    Madhva’s “forgeries” would then differ only in that he’s quoting more recent texts instead of ancient ones. But that may have to do with his time. It has recently been pointed out to me a couple of times that medieval thinkers like Abhinavagupta actually begin to claim authorship for themselves and identify themselves as authorities in some sense – a remarkable change from, say, Śāntideva a few centuries before (“nothing new will be said here, I am writing this to perfume my own mind”). Perhaps that is the context in which we need to understand what Madhva is doing?

    • Thanks, Amod, very interesting.
      Re. the Buddhist sūtras, I see another difference, since I do not know of “forged” Buddhist quotes. I.e., Buddhists “forged” (if they did) complete sūtras, not quotes to be inserted in their works.

      Re. authorship, I completely agree that Madhva displays a quite different approach to the issue and that this could be an evidence of a more general shift (this is also what I argue in my introduction to the volume I edited on textual reuse in Indian philosophical texts, JIPh 2014 —sorry for the self-ad). However, I would not say that Abhinavagupta is part of the same party. At the beginning of his commentary on the Nāṭyaśāstra, for instance, he writes:
      “How can this be anything new, if it was established by tradition? If it just the apprehension of something already known […] Therefore, here the opinions of wise people have not been censured, but rather improved, because they pass down a fruit whose support is rooted in formerly supported theories” (transl. Graheli IIAS 48 (2008). Perhaps one could think, rather, of Utpaladeva’s ĪPK and their final verses as a turning point? Whom else would you mention?

      • I immediately thought of the Sāṃkhyasūtras, composed late but still attributed to Kapila, but then realized that the lateness of their composition was the only reason I put this in a different category than, e.g., the Yogasūtras, or even texts like the Nāṭyaśāstra or Mānavadharmaśāstra which claim to have been composed by mythical sages. The “buddhavacana” principle isn’t unique to Buddhism: if something is really true, then somebody important probably said it, and if he didn’t, he should have.

        Abhinavagupta may be very polite, but he is ruthless in his quest to “recover the truth” (tattva-pariśuddhi), and he’s perfectly clear about what each scholar (including himself) contributed to the debate—he just thinks that the final position (his own) represents what Bharata intended. He certainly saw himself as an “authority” on the Nāṭyaśāstra, but the kind of authority that could compete with other interpreters (Lollaṭa, Śaṅkuka, Nāyaka, etc.), but not with Bharata.

  2. And what about Tattvopaplavasimha? A real cArvaka would hardly spend time arguing (by means of anumAna), that all pramANas are vain.

      • Thanks for this thoughtful post, Elisa.

        My impression is that Madhva’s case is extreme, and Mesquita, at least claims that M’s own sense of being an avatAra of Vayu gave him the sense of entitlement that he could create his own texts.

        Also, Jayarashi’s association with the chArvakas is not entirely clear. Clearly, he was an advocate of materialism in the tradition of Brihaspati, but he seemed to be independent in many ways.

        Some discussion here:

        And in any case, the self-refutation which Evgeniya alledges is a more basic problem for all Charvakas, imho. If anything, Jayarashi was more consistent than them (as they are represented in texts like the Sarvadarshanasamgraha).

      • Yes, I’ve heard an opinion, that this work could have been composed in order to make the cArvaka system textually represented. The same as it was in doxographic works, as Matthew mentioned.
        By the way, Bronkhorst claimed cArvakas to be a strictly ritualistic branch of mimAnsakas. What do you think about it?

          • It was from his talk in Edinbourgh, as far as I remember it now. I don’t know, whether it was published.

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