Sāṅkhya on śyena

The Sāṅkhya reached its acme before Mīmāṃsā and its position is therefore attacked as a useful departure point for deontic discussions, especially around the case of the śyena in Mīmāṃsā texts (in the following, I will refer to its representation in Veṅkaṭanātha’s TMK).

Interestingly, although the school accepted the authority of the Vedas, Sāṅkhya authors did not insist on their being necessarily consistent and instead highlighted that the prohibition to perform violence should not be overturned, not even in case of sacrificial violence. Accordingly, they understand the sequence:

  • 1. One should not perform violence on any living being
  • 2. If one desires to harm one’s enemy, they should sacrifice bewitching with the śyena

as implying that 1. invalidates 2. Interestingly, Sāṅkhya authors are ready to go as far as stating that this applies also to the following sequence:

  • 1. One should not perform violence on any living being
  • 3. One should sacrifice an animal within the agnīṣomīya sacrifice

Whereas all Mīmāṃsā authors agree that 2. should not be fulfilled (but out of different reasons than the one put forward by Sāṅkhya authors), no one among them would agree in extending this position to 3.

Sāṅkhya authors are therefore presupposing that Vedic commands do not necessarily form a consistent whole and, more importantly, that prohibitions are \emph{unrestricted in their application} (see TMK 5.78). This is connected to a point we will see developed by Maṇḍana, namely the incommensurability of the bad. Transgressing a prohibition involves accumulating pāpa, i.e., bad karman, and this bad output cannot be compensated by any good result one might gather. Prescriptions contrasting with prohibitions are automatically suspended, since prohibitions are unrestricted and always prevail. Only prescriptions not contrasting with prohibitions are valid.

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.

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