Society for Asian and Comparative Philosophy 2015

As promised, this (a bit belated) post summarizes some talks from the October 2015 Society for Asian and Comparative Philosophy in Monterey, CA. To keep the post brief, I’m choosing to discuss only those SACP talks which I attended, have good notes on, and which bear on Indian philosophy. If someone’s talk is omitted, and readers think it should be discussed here, let us know in the comments. Finally, Ethan Mills will be talking about the plenary panel he organized, so I will not include those papers here.

The titles of the papers I will summarize follow, in the order they were presented at the SACP:

  1. Ana Laura Funes Madery, University of Hawaii: “Liṅga and Sūkṣma: A Feminist Phenomenological Analysis of the Subtle in Classical Sāṁkhya (Graduate student first prize paper)”
  2. Chris Chapple, Loyola Marymount University: “Prakṛti, Cudala, Pārvatā and the Construct of Feminine Power”
  3. Geoff Ashton, University of Colorado: “Ardhanārīśvara or the Lord of Dance who is Half-Woman: Performative Liberation and Divine Androgeny in Kashmir Śaivism”
  4. Veena Howard, California State University, Fresno,  “Queen Gāndhārī’s Lament in the Mahābhārata: Philosophical and Literary Perspectives.”
  5. Gino Signoracci, University of New Mexico: “Liberation in Nyāya, Sāṁkhya, Vedānta
  6. Itsuki Hayashi, Kyoto University, “Can Flux Bring About Flux: The Inconclusiveness Objection against Radical Impermanence and a Buddhist Response.”
  7. Purushottama Bilimoria, University of Melbourne, “Frits Staal and Daya Krishna: A Tribute to their Counter-Intuitions for Indian and Comparative Philosophy.”

If you are one of the presenters and find my summary to be lacking, please let me know in the comments!

1. Madery on Liṅga and Sūkṣma

This talk explores the implications of a phenomenological reading of the subtle body (sūkṣma), in which “body incorporates its cosmic dimension and reveals its emotional and dispositional aspects as primordial constituents without falling into metaphysics.” Using Irigay’s work as a methodological framework, she claims that the body’s awareness of the other is inexplicable without pre-existent, immaterial awareness. Her goal is to reimagine the self-aware body and understand prakṛti as self-aware, and not unconscious, body.

2. Chapple on Prakṛti

In this analysis of the roots of Kashmir Śaivism, Chapple discusses its origins in Sāṁkhya, with the goddess Śrī Lalita being consciousness itself. The goddess as hṛim-utterer in the Upaniṣads can be understand, with Irigay, as a moment of intimacy, and not merely an instrument of communication. Given that Pārvatī can be worshipped in male or female form, there is a collapse of dualism, along with the goddess’ form being a means of criticising male cultivation of technologies and emphasis on possession/exchange of objects.

3. Ashton on Ardhanārīśvara

Beginning with a traditional dichotomy—masculinity as free self vs feminine as suffering field of action—he explains that it not necessarily a firm one in indian thought. Understanding Śaivism as a criticism of Sāṁkhya, it not only gives attitional tattvas in an attempt to fillout the unexplained presupposition of separation between puruṣa/prakṛti, but it embeds this metaphysics within a compelling narrative. This narrative, according to David Lawrence, is “agental”, in which Śiva as Kapālika is alienated from śakti in order to overcome dualism and experience union. Ardhanārīśvara as androgynous experiences the other as being their deepest desire.

4. Howard on the Mahābhārata

Focusing on Queen Gāndhārī’s lament in the Mahābhārata, she argues that it is fruitfully read through the lens of rasa theory, as a means to prompt the reader into the rasa of karuṇa, which then leads to śāntarasa. She leans on Ānandavardhana and Abhinavagupta to elucidate this process, especially Abhinavagupta who, she notes, views the experiencing of rasa as a transcendent religious experience, as for him, śāntarasa is the organizing principle of the Mahābhārata.

5. Signoracci on Liberation

Drawing on three of the traditional darśana-s, he argues that liberation is presupposed as the aim of Indian philosophy. He focuses on Nyāya, Sāṁkhya, Advaita Vedānta in particular. In Nyāya, he notes the aim of apavarga, in which the released ātman is insensate—jivanmūkti is not the goal, as such living liberation is lesser. In Sāṁkhya, he discusses kaivalya, observing that it is more soteriologically-focused than Nyāya, and while jivanmūkti is possible, it is not emphasized. In Advaita Vedānta, he observes an emphasis on māya and coming to be liberated while living. His concluding question is what socioeconomic conditions enabled the focus on liberation in these traditions and, given changing conditions, what relevance remains?

6. Hayashi on Flux

This talk gave a close reading of Kṣaṇabhaṅgasiddhi-anvayātmika 5.3 to show that Ratnakīrti’s reply to the Naiyāyika criticism of momentariness fails,. In reply to the Buddhist’s charge that non-momentary things cannot be causally efficacious, the Naiyāyika (Bhadanta Yogasena in the Tattvasaṃgraha) replies that momentariness is likewise problematic as it is arbitrary when a seed (with or without accompanying upādhi) produces a sprout. Hayashi examines whether Ratnakīrti’s attempt to index properties to times, as we might for locations, can explain the causal patterns which we observe, concluding that it does not.

7. Billimoria on Krishna & Staal

Within the larger context of Daya Krishna’s understanding of “comparative philosophy,” Bilimoria focuses on the debate between Staal and Krishna on whether mantras are meaningless, and in what sense, as well as Krishna’s discussion of the puruṣārtha-s, and their number. He argues that Krishna’s response to Staal shows how the latter misinterpreted Mīmāṃsā, as their concern was not the meaningfulness, but their functional nature in the ritual context (for instance, as a coded way of invoking gods by confusing demigods). As for the puruṣārtha-s, drawing on “The Myth of Puruṣārthas”, he examines Krishna’s argument that the rational life has been left out.

Rather than attempt to reproduce the question-and-answer periods here, I encourage you to look to the published work of these philosophers, or look out for forthcoming papers.

About Malcolm Keating

Malcolm Keating is Assistant Professor of Humanities (Philosophy) at Yale-NUS College, Singapore.

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