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ON MEANING AND MANTRASESSAYS IN HONOR OF FRITS STAAL
Frits Staal at the 2011 agnicayana in Kerala, India. Photos courtesy of Michael Witzel.
On Meaning and MantrasEssays in Honor of Frits Staal
Richard K. Payne
Institute of Buddhist Studies andBDK America, Inc.
Contemporary Issues in Buddhist Studies
Series Editor, Richard K. Payne
2016 by Institute of Buddhist Studies andBDK America, Inc.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, storedin a retrieval system, or transcribed in any form or by any means
electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwisewithout the prior written permission of the publisher.
First Printing, 2016ISBN: 978-1-886439-64-1
Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 2016962174
Published byBDK America, Inc.1673 School Street
Moraga, California 94553
Printed in the United States of America
Foreword by Richard K. Payne ix
Letter from HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn of Thailand xi
Introduction by George Thompson xiii
On Meaning and Mantras: Essays in Honor of Frits Staal
Dharmarja in the Mahbhrata, Dhammarja in Early BuddhistLiterature by Greg Bailey 3
AV 19.68, 72::AVP.19.35.13: Using Oral Repositories of the Pre-redaction Veda by Dipak Bhattacharya 29
On a Textual Problem in Navya-nyya by Kamaleswar Bhattacharya 51
Discovering Frits Staal by Philo Bregstein 59
Agnioma and the Nature of Sacrifice by Johannes Bronkhorst 79
Indian Mathematics in the Context of the Vedic Sacrifice(ulbastras) by Jean Michel Delire 101
Predicament of the Maitryaya Community in Maharashtra:Migration, Acculturation, and Identity Crisisby Madhav M. Deshpande 145
Vedic Poetry upon a Chariot: The Last Journey in the Lightof ksahit X 135, and of the Vekaabhya by Silvia DIntino 163
Melody, Mantra, and Meaninglessness: Toward a Historyof OM by Finnian M. M. Gerety 185
Poet as Seer, Poetry as Seen: Reflections on Visualizationas a Critical Element in the Conceptualization of Kvyaby Robert Goldman 227
The Monstrous Feminine: Rkass and Other OthersThe Archaic Mother of Bhsas Madhyamavyyogaby Sally J. Sutherland Goldman 247
Philosophy as Drama: Amtacandra and Abhinavaguptaby Phyliss Granoff 275
The Divine Revolution of gveda X.124: A New Interpretation Beyond Asuras and Devas by Stephanie W. Jamison 289
The Meaning of Ritual in the Brhmaas by Joanna Jurewicz 307
Eroticism in Hindu Texts and Modern Hindusby P. Pratap Kumar 333
Universal Knowledge: Swami Vivekananda on the Vedasby Jeffery D. Long 351
Vedic Turtles and Their Visiting Cards: Doing Vedas with Fritsby Thennilapuram Mahadevan 361
Notes sur les joutes vdiques by Boris Oguibnine 385
The Shadow of Kl Over the Goddess Kmk and Her Cityby Carl Olson 407
For Frits Staal: On Mantras by Andr Padoux 433
On the Date of Bhavatrta, the Jaiminya Commentatorby Sudalaimuthu Palaniappan 439
Meetings with Frits Staal by Asko Parpola 451
Jesus Christ, Tantric Deity: Syntax and Semantics in RitualChange by Richard K. Payne 455
The Bhtasakhy Notation: Numbers, Culture, and Languagein Sanskrit Mathematical Literature by Alessandra Petrocchi 477
Five Jewels in the University of Pennsylvanias Rare Bookand Manuscript Library by Peter M. Scharf 503
What Did Arjuna Want to Know? by Arvind Sharma 517
Why Perform Vedic Sacrifice in the Twenty-first Century?Notes on Recent Vedic Ephemera by Frederick M. Smith 523
Remembering Frits Staal by Romila Thapar 549
A Brief Anthology of Hymns in the gveda Having to doWith Soma (and Shamanism) by George Thompson 557
An Adventurous Mountaineer in the Lowlands: Frits Staals Uncommon Presence in The Netherlandsby Laurens van Krevelen 579
Reminiscences of Frits Staal and the Agnicayanaby Michael Witzel 601
King Sryavarman II and the Power of Subjugationby Hiram Woodward 623
Jesus Christ, Tantric Deity:Syntax and Semantics
in Ritual Change1
Richard K. PayneInstitute of Buddhist Studies, Berkeley
One of the characteristics frequently noted in academic discussions ofritual is resistance to changeeither actually evidenced or attributed.It seems obvious, at least to me, that rituals do change. Those of us whoare old enough may recall the what were then considered radicalchanges in the Catholic Mass following Vatican II.2 These included suchchanges as the use of the vernacular instead of Latin and relocatingwhere the officiant stands so that his actions can be viewed by the laity.
The view of ritual as subject to change has perhaps received increas-ing attention because it is counter to an older, received view. CatherineBell notes, for example, that Part of the dilemma of ritual change lies inthe simple fact that rituals tend to present themselves as the unchang-ing, time-honored customs of an enduring community.3 She then indi-cates two reasons for this: the legitimacy of age and tradition and theuse of ethnographic methods to study oral societies. Such methods gen-erally frame research results in terms of the ethnographic present, look-ing at a society synchronically rather than diachronically.4 Syn chronicstudies may in turn have been motivated by functionalist theory. Withits fundamental argument that social practices exist because they pro-vide social stability, functionalism reinforced a static conception ofprimitive societies and of primitive religious practices, a concep-tion that is itself part of the rhetoric of high modernity.
The analogies made between language and ritual by some scholarssuggests another reasonthough indirectly from those theories. Dis -cussing the arbitrary character of the linguistic sign, such as phonemicminimal pairs,5 Terence Hawkes points out that The very arbitrariness ofthe linguistic sign protects it from change.6 Linguistic signs are arbitrary
in the sense they have no rationale other than social convention, and aretherefore not subject to debatethey simply are. Despite doctrinal or sym-bolic meaning being attributed to them, rituals are performed in the waythat they are because that is the way they are performed. In his rejection ofthe thesis that rituals are referentially meaningful, Staal makes this point:
[W]hen we ask a brahmin explicitly why the rituals are performed, we neverreceive an answer which refers to symbolic activity. There are numerousdifferent answers, such as: we do it because our ancestors did it; becausewe are eligible to do it; because it is good for society; because it is good; be-cause it is our duty; because it is said to lead to immortality; because it leadsto immortality.7
I personally experienced this during a festival (matsuri) on Mt. Kyain 1983. When I asked some of the participants, Why are you doingthis? they responded, Because weve always done it.
The conception of rituals as static and unchanging, even perhaps as themost conservative factors of a given religious world, is itself located in aconceptual frame in which change is understood as being driven primari-ly by changes in doctrine. This representation of the relative roles of ritualand doctrine in religion derives from a theological conception of religion.
Several additional factors also support this conception of ritual asstatic, two of which I briefly note here. The first follows from the Protes -tant Reformation, when some Protestant advocates argued against theconception of ritual as salvific. This entered popular Western religiousculture in the form of the connotation for the term ritual as somethingdone purely out of rote or habit, as mere activity done unthinkingly andwhich lacks any substantive content or meaning.8 This characterizationof ritual was reinforced by the Romantics emphasis on spontaneity asthe guarantor of the authenticity that they valued, in contrast to whatthey characterized as the inauthenticity of premeditated actions, whichwere stultifying and constrained the creative spirit.
For religious studies per se, another factor is the influence of thescholarship of Mircea Eliade. Once almost definitive of the field, the in-fluence of his work has faded in academia, though he continues to occu-py a zombie-like existence in the popular religious world. One of the areasof Eliades thought that has been criticized is his theories of ritual. InEliades view, rituals are understood by their practitioners as the reac-tualizion of the deities actions in illud tempus. This reactualizing doesnot mean copying or simply reenacting, but rather making the actions ofthe gods at the beginning of time present once again in the timeless
Richard K. Payne
realm of the ritual performance itself, technically know as anamneusis.Under this anamnestic theory, because of their divine origins rituals can-not be allowed to change.9
Psychological approaches to ritual are a third factor, inasmuch as theystill seem to struggle with the pathologizing analogies between ritualand obsessive behavior introduced most famously by Freud.10 More re-cently, the cognitive study of religion has given attention to ritual as well,and several influential authors have continued emphasize resistance tochange in a fashion very reminiscent to that of Freud.11
Frits Staal onRitual Change
A very different theoretical orientation, one that also suggests that ritualsare highly stable, was put forth by Frits Staal. In contrast, for example, toEliades crypto-theologizing, Staal was much more scientifically oriented.He has theorized that rituals (and also mantras) do not change, even whentrans