Southern Asia Seminar: How to Read (At the Bottom of the Sea, For Example): On Reading Candrakīrti’s In Lucid Words (Prasannapadā) with Bibhuti S. Yadav

September 30, 2021 - 5:00 pm

Virtual Event

Sonam Kachru, Assistant Professor, Department of Religious Studies, University of Virginia 

The tragically short-lived philosopher and theologian Bibhuti S. Yadav (1943-1999) often returned to the Buddhist Candrakīrti’s In Lucid Words (circa 7th century C.E.), a commentary on Nāgārjuna’s Verses on the Middle Way (circa 2ndcentury C.E.). Speaking of the powerful metapoetic images with which Candrakīrti begins, Yadav liked to observe that “The world is an ocean; its truth is contained in the words of Tathāgata, and it is in the ocean that the words dwell. Chandrakīrti [sic] embellishes the metaphor in a recollective mood. Nāgārjuna descended in the ocean, meditated at the bottom of sea, traced the Prajñāpāramitā texts and brought them back to the world.” For Yadav, to read with Candrakīrti is to retrace such a journey—working one’s way “into the text, perform[ing] meditation at its heart, conceiv[ing] [one’s] own text while there and then return[ing] to the world to put it all in words.” Candrakīrti’s metapoetic orientation to reading philosophical texts, on this view, entails a therapeutic model of philosophy: through reading, we are invited to experience how “ontology formalizes a world that the ego conceives in its own image.” For Yadav’s Candrakīrti, neither the space of reasons nor texts ever spin entirely free of psychological considerations: “Epistemology,” Yadav once put it, “is covert egology.” “Desire,” he wrote elsewhere, “edits itself into the language of truth claims.” Do we have reason to learn to read at the bottom of the sea, as it were? In this talk I revisit this characterization of Candrakīrti. I resist the charge that this provocative model of reading, writing and philosophical critique is obviously anachronistic using two examples I find in Candrakīrti’s work: one involves a psychologically sophisticated genealogy of philosophically held moral commitments aiming at their revaluation; the second involves what I shall call critique in service of acknowledging the orienting role of affect in the life of the mind. I conclude with a consideration of the interplay of felicities of affect, thought and style in Candrakīrti’s prose intimated by the title of his work, and the role of love (or, social hope, as Yadav inteprets him) in his concluding remarks.

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