Indian philosophy has always been marked by ceaseless dialogue – Raffaelle Torella

Indian philosophy has always been marked by ceaseless dialogue – Raffaelle Torella

Professor Raffaele Torella, Chair of Sanskrit, Sapienza Universita di Roma, will be speaking at the two day seminar on the Philosophy of Indian Aesthetics, on the occasion of World Philosophy Day at the Manipal Academy of Higher Education on January 15, 2020.

You have mentioned your favourite brilliant Indian minds. Please could you name them and why do they appeal to you?

Bhartṛhari, Dharmakīrti, Abhinavagupta (and his mentor Utpaladeva), Kumārila. Bhartṛhari, for one, is probably the greatest linguist in the history of mankind.

What is the role of your Gurus in your life? Is the Guru-Shishya parampara unique to Indian traditions?

I must confess a native “uneasiness” about having any kind of gurus, but this must be a problem of my own… Be it as it may, I feel proud to be the last of an illustrious paramparā; my direct teacher was Raniero Gnoli, his teacher was Giuseppe Tucci. And the paramparā continues with my students…

Who are the leading lights of the Roman school of Indologists. What is their main area of research?

I did my best to direct my students to a wide range of subjects. The list of my most brilliant students, some of them now professors at prestigious universities, risks being a long one… To mention only the brightest ones: Francesco Sferra (Naples University: Buddhism), Vincenzo Vergiani (Cambridge: Bhartṛhari, linguistic speculation), Elisa Freschi (Vienna, now on the way to Toronto: Mīmāṃsā, Indian philosophy), Claudio Cicuzza (Bangkok: Pali Buddhism), Daniele Cuneo (Paris: Indian classical aesthetics), Elisa Ganser (Zurich: Indian classical aesthetics and dance), Cristina Pecchia (Vienna: Buddhist logic), Marco Ferrante (Oxford: Bhartṛhari), Andrea Acri (Paris: Old Javanese studies), Alessandro Graheli (Vienna: Jayanta Bhaṭṭa). And more…

What does your research on Utpaladeva tell us about the work of Abhinavagupta?

Without Utpaladeva there would have been no Abhinavagupta. Utpaladeva is the most original and innovative thinker of non-dual Kashmir Śaivism. As I said in a recent article: “Now that it is possible to look, however partially, into the Vivṛti, we realise that most of Abhinavagupta’s ideas are just the development of what Utpaladeva had already expounded there. As a consequence, we are no longer allowed to consider Utpaladeva a mere predecessor of Abhinavagupta - as being the latter the great master of Pratyabhijñā - but we must rather take Utpaladeva, particularly with his Īśvarapratyabhijñā-vivṛti, as the real centre of gravity of the system and Abhinavagupta mainly as his brilliant commentator.”

What inspired you to hold the first ever conference on Utpaladeva?

The wish to finally assign to Utpaladeva the place he deserves in Indian culture.

How does Kashmir Shaivism bring together Indian philosophical traditions, Tantric traditions, Epistomological traditions and Aesthetic traditions?

Non-dual Kashmir Śaivism focused not only on spiritual experience but on Indian culture as a whole.

You speak about 'purity' in Tantra. What does that cover?

Let me quote again from one of my writings: “Dominated by purity, life would come to a standstill, since it is essentially made of typically impure components, like the production of any kind of polluting substance, copulation, birth, death, and so on. Very significantly, while for Brahmans life is impurity itself, in the Tantric Vīrāvalī passage quoted in the Tantrāloka life is assumed as the ultimate criterion for demarcating purity from impurity (“The life principle is what sets in motion all entities; nothing exists that is destitute of such life principle. Whatever is destitute of life you should consider as ‘impure’ ”).” Establishing a totally artificial demarcation line between what is pure and what is impure was one of the most powerful tools in the Brahmanical hegemonic project (but, mutatis mutandis, the same happened in many world cultures…).

How are Indian traditions changing and evolving? Do they feed off other each other and 'reformulate' as you put it?

Indians attempted to present themselves as totally dominated by tradition, and (some of the) western philosophers clung to this belief blindly. In fact, Indians, too, were keenly aware of their being ‘historical’ creatures and never really believed in the atemporal truth of one Great Tradition. Indian philosophy has always been marked by ceaseless dialogue with all kind of opponents and allies: the very structure of Indian philosophical texts bears testimony to this.

What are your thoughts on religious philosophies and aesthetics.

In my recent studies I have been more and more inclined to give prominence to a basic aesthetic flavour as the more or less hidden background of religious experience of non-dual Śaivism. In it, homo aestheticus and homo religiosus are two sides of the same coin.

How would you describe the aesthetic quality of tantric texts in terms of poetry and language?

While most of the Tantras just feature endless descriptions of rituals and prescriptions without any direct bearing on intimate insight into human psyche, here and there we also meet with sudden flashes of extremely keen penetration into the depth of ourselves. Just to give one example: if our language is meaningful it is only because, when we speak, our human phonemes are embraced by the divine ones (Mālinīvijayottara-tantra).

Is there any connection between the Pancharatra tradition and Shaivite Tantra?

The Vaiṣṇava Pañcarātra is very close to Śaiva tantra, at least as far as ritual is concerned. Unfortunately, the Pāñcarātrins did not have a post-scriptural exegetical tradition comparable to the Śaivas’. If a few brilliant philosophers can be found also in Pañcarātra, first of all Vāmanadatta (X century), it is because they were deeply influenced by coeval Śaiva philosophers (which made the later ‘orthodox’ Pañcarātra tradition have a tough ban on them). However, we should bear in mind that, quite paradoxically, more than fifty verses by the “heretic” Vāmanadatta found their way into one of the most revered Pañcarātra scriptures, the Lakṣmī-tantra.