One of the many things I’ve been learning from the special issue of South Asian History and Culture called Discipline, Sect, Lineage and Community is that 16th-century intellectuals like Vyāsatīrtha and Appayya Dīkṣita had an unprecented awareness not just of the history of the traditions in which (and against which) they placed themselves—this has been known for some time, and parenthetically I worry that imputing a historical consciousness to the 16th-century intellectuals means denying it to earlier intellectuals simply because they did not declare as loudly that what they were doing was “new”—but of the dizzying ramification and proliferation of those traditions in what was for them relatively recent history. Lawrence McCrea’s article in that issue brings together two important texts that exemplify this awareness: Vyāsatīrtha’s “Nectar of Reason” (Nyāyāmṛta) and Appayya Dīkṣita’s “Brief Condensation of the Established Conclusions of the System” (Śāstrasiddhāntaleśasaṃgraha), the latter being essentially a review of scholarship that takes its departure from the “many diverse streams” (saraṇayo nānāvidhāḥ) of Vedānta.
McCrea shows that, according to Vyāsatīrtha’s exposition in the “Nectar of Reason,” Advaitins had, at different times and different places, argued for almost every single intepretation possible of the crucial Upaniṣadic sentence “the self should be seen, it should be heard about, it should be thought about, it should be meditated on.” Some said that the phrase “the self should be heard about” was an “new injunction” (apūrvavidhi), some said it was a “restrictive injunction” (niyamavidhi), and others said that it wasn’t an injunction at all. The broad spectrum of interpretation on the Advaita side, and the almost total lack of interest in the question on the Dvaita side, allowed Vyāsatīrtha to come up with an interpretation (that the injunction in question is a “new injunction”—a position he elides in his critical exposition) that makes good sense to him while maintaining an appearance of consistency within the Dvaita system which the Advaitins manifestly lacked.
Appayya Dīkṣita, as McCrea also shows, documents the controversy about this sentence in a way very similar to, and probably indebted to, his Dvaita opponent Vyāsatīrtha. It seems pretty clear that the traditional understanding and classification of “injunctions” (vidhis) was, in Appayya’s view if not in Vyāsatīrtha’s, the source of a lot of confusion and mischief. People kept arguing about how to classify and understand sentences like “the self should be heard about” on what must have seemed like very flimsy grounds: whether the “hearing” and the knowledge it was instrumental to were directly or indirectly connected, or whether “hearing” about the self is a included within “hearing” the Vedas more generally, and so on. In the Śāstrasiddhāntaleśasaṃgraha, Appayya holds his tongue, exhibiting the diversity of opinions rather than diagnosing it. But one might reasonably suspect that the profusion of mutually-exclusive interpretations points to something broken in the analytic machinery of interpretation itself.
Although McCrea doesn’t mention it in this article, he (and several others) have written about the devastating critique that Appayya Dīkṣita offered of the traditional classification of injunctions in the Vidhirasāyana. This work is firmly grounded in Mīmāṃsā: the examples are all typical ritual examples, and much of the discussion concerns whether the stock examples of “new injunction,” “restrictive injunction,” and “exclusive injunction” in Mīmāṃsā should really be thought of in those terms. Yet it seems that Appayya’s interest in the topic was kindled by the controversy over injunctions in Vedānta, and particularly in the debate between Dvaita and Advaita thinkers that would define much of his intellectual output. (This is evident, for example, in his “Milky-Way of Debates in Prior and Posterior Mīmāṃsā,” one essay of which focuses on the injunction to Vedic study.) Mīmāṃsā was “prior” for Appayya not merely in the sense that it focused on the sequentially prior part of the Vedas, but in a disciplinary sense: in order to intervene in a debate about injunctions in Vedānta, he needed to critique the standard understanding of injunctions in Mīmāṃsā without reference to specifically Vedānta concerns. This strategy seems to me, in a necessarily impressionistic way, a typical Appayya Dīkṣita move: whereas other scholars were content to debate each other on specific points, Appayya first framed the debate in a clear and principled (and often historically sensitive) way, and then—although not always in the same texts—went behind the specific points of debate to their conceptual and disciplinary substructures. It is, in other words, one strategy to say that your opponent is simply wrong about the interpretation of a specific passage; it is a far riskier, but sometimes far more effective, strategy to say that your opponent’s very procedure of interpretation rests on a mistake.