Indic Varta

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In this beautiful piece, author and great grammarian Shri Gaurinath Shastri explains that though the words do have individual meanings, in plurality they are incapable of conveying the complete meaning. a grammarian tries to drive home the point that the meaning is great than the sum of its parts and lies somewhere in the unity that is represented on one level by the grammatical structure.

Unity or Plurality: A Linguistic Perspective – 2

This is the second part of the series. Please read the first part here:

Unity or Plurality: A Linguistic Perspective – 1

The grammarian does not deny the obvious fact which is plain to the meanest understanding that words in a proposition denote their meanings piecemeal – a fact which is made the cornerstone of their theories by the Mimamsist and the Naiyayika.

The individual meanings, no doubt, are initial data and the starting point and they are the inevitable conditions of verbal judgement. But what the grammarian emphasizes and seeks to drive home to the opponent is the incalculable and unpremeditated consciousness of unity which holds together the different concepts.

The logician, no doubt, correctly lays emphasis upon the mutual compatibility of the concepts and thinks that this is the secret of their being welded by a unity bond. But the so-called compatibility, expectancy and propinquity are rather the conditions, and they cannot throw any intelligible light upon the unity-bond.

It is sheer intellectual inertia and laziness which induce the logician to think that no further explanation is necessary. It is on this vital point that Bhartrhari joins issues with his opponents who pin their faith to analytical thinking as the competent instrument of synthetic knowledge. The logical difficulty involved in the conception of many diverse elements being strung together by a unity-bond is insurmountable.  

The Naiyayika logician is a believer in the metaphysics of atomism. He asserts that atoms are ultimate reals which by their mutual combination and permutation produce the world of matter. It is the same atomistic bias of thought which is responsible for the formulation of their analytic-cum-synthetic theories of verbal judgement and, for that matter, all judgements. What escapes the atomist and also what he refuses to face is the problem – how autonomous atoms merge together in a gross magnitude without shedding their atomicity. It atoms are recalcitrant entities and cannot be induced to abandon their autonomy and atomic constitution, no amount of adjustment can give rise to a massive whole. In the massive whole the status of the minuter parts is not discernible. We can appreciate the position of the Buddhist who denies the existence of a unitary whole. The Buddhist asserts the whole to be a plurality of parts at bottom and the idea of unity to be an illusion.

The logician wants to have the benefits of both the worlds when he believes in the unanalyzable constitution of atoms and at the same time admits the actual merger of them in a whole.

The incongruities of the atomic theory have been laid bare by Vasubandhu and the philosophers of the Idealistic schools, and they are too well-known to require any restatement here. The same fallacy is seen to be at work in their conception of the relation of words to propositions and of concepts to judgements. They think that the many units preserve their individualities and yet somehow are merged in a greater unity. With regard to verbal judgement also they affirm complacently that the different meanings are somehow brought into a synthetic whole. They make the unity a consequent effect of the plurality.

Bhartrhari is not deceived by this show of logic. He has a keener intuition than the Realist. He affirms that the unity is not a posterior event. It is there from the very beginning and discovered in the end. The culmination of the thought activity, which seems to move by a halting process, is undeniably the grasping of a unity and a flash of intuitive illumination. This is not the result of a halting movement but an entirely different fact. It simply springs like a flame of fire, and the analytical process of thought, though it leads up to the vision of it, has nothing in common with it.

It is immediate and distinct and unique. It is an illumination and not intellectual judgement. The different concepts are rather shot through by this unitary revelation and they simply float on as pendants and appanages. This illumination is not a deliberate thought-process as the logician seems to make out. The meaning of the proposition, therefore, is in the last resort this intuitive flash of illumination which is felt to assume diverse forms due to its association with diverse verbal meanings. It is not an unaccountable mystery or miracle but the result of funded experiences of the past. This illumination is directly generated by word, if bodily present, and if absent, by the unconscious impressions left by it.