- For the Anglo-Indian military term, see Batta
|Born||est. 700 AD
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Kumārila Bhaṭṭa (Devanagari: कुमारिल भट्ट, fl. roughly AD 700) was a maithil Brahmin Hindu philosopher and Mimamsa scholar from Assam. He is famous for many of his seminal theses on Mimamsa, such as Mimamsaslokavarttika. Bhaṭṭa was a staunch believer in the supreme validity of Vedic injunction, a great champion of Purva-Mimamsa and a confirmed ritualist. The varttika is mainly written as a subcommentary of Sabara's commentary on Jaimini's Purva Mimamsa Sutra. His philosophy is classified by some scholars as existential realism.
Scholars differ as regards Kumārila Bhaṭṭa's views on a personal God. For example, Manikka Vachakar believed that Bhaṭṭa promoted a personal God (Parabrahman), which conflicts with the Mimamsa school. In his varttika Kumārila Bhaṭṭa goes to great lengths to argue against the theory of a creator God and held that the actions enjoined in the Veda had definite results without an external interference.
Bhaṭṭa is also credited with the logical formulation of the Mimamsic belief that the Vedas are unauthored (apaurusheya). In particular his defence against medieval Buddhist position on Vedic rituals, is noteworthy. Some believe that this contributed, to the decline of Buddhism in India because his lifetime coincides with the period in which Buddhism began to decline. Indeed, his dialectical success against buddhists is confirmed by Buddhist historian Taranatha, who reports that Bhaṭṭa defeated disciples of Buddhapalkita, Bhavya, Dharmadasa, Dignaga and others. His work strongly influenced other schools of Indian philosophy, most notably Advaita Vedanta, especially since Vedanta adopts purva Mimamsa's epistemological arguments almost verbatim, with the exception that while Mimamsa considers the Upanishads to be subservient to the Vedas, the Vedanta school does not think so.
Kumārila Bhaṭṭa and his followers in the Mimamsa tradition (known as Bhāṭṭas) argued for a strongly Compositional view of semantics (called abhihitānvaya). In this view, the meaning of a sentence was understood only after understanding first the meanings of individual words. Words were independent, complete objects, a view that is close to the Fodorian view of language. He also used several Tamil words in his poems, one of the earliest mention of the name Dravida in North Indian sources.
This view was debated over some seven or eight centuries by the followers of Prabhakara school within Mimamsa, who argued that words do not directly designate meaning; any meaning that arises is because it is connected with other words (anvitābhidhāna, anvita = connected; abhidhāna = denotation). This view was influenced by the holistic arguments of Bhartrihari's sphoṭa theory.
Essentially the prābhākaras argued that sentence meanings are grasped directly, from perceptual and contextual cues, skipping the stage of grasping singly the individual word meanings, similar to the modern view of linguistic underspecification, which relates to the Dynamic Turn in Semantics, that also opposes purely compositional approaches to sentence meaning.
Criticism of Buddhism
With the aim to prove the superiority of Vedic scripture, Kumārila Bhaṭṭa presented several novel arguments:
1. "Buddhist (or Jain) scripture could not be correct because it had several grammatical lapses." He specifically takes the Buddhist verse: ime samkhada dhamma sambhavanti sakarana akarana vinassanti (These phenomena arise when the cause is present and perish when the cause is absent). Thus he presents his argument:
The scriptures of Buddhists and Jains are composed in overwhelmingly incorrect (asadhu) language, words of the Magadha or Dakshinatya languages, or even their dialects (tadopabhramsa). Therefore false compositions (asannibandhana), they cannot possibly be true knowledge (shastra) ... By contrast, the very form itself (the well-assembled language) of the Veda proves its authority to be independent and absolute.
This argument of Bhaṭṭa relies heavily on his idea that the meanings of each individual word should be complete for the sentence to have a meaning. It may be noted, that the Pali Canon was intentionally recorded in local dialects and not in languages germane only to the scholarly.
2. Every extant school held some scripture to be correct. To show that the Veda was the only correct scripture, Bhaṭṭa ingeniously said that "the absence of an author would safeguard the Veda against all reproach" (apaurusheya). There was "no way to prove any of the contents of Buddhist scriptures directly as wrong in spirit...", unless one challenges the legitimacy and eternal nature of the scripture itself. It is well known that the Pali Canon was composed after the Buddha's parinirvana. Further, even if they were the Buddha's words, they were not eternal or unauthored like the Vedas.
3. The Sautrantika Buddhist school believed that the universe was momentary (kshanika). Bhaṭṭa said that this was absurd, given that the universe does not disappear every moment. No matter how small one would define the duration of a moment, one could divide the moment into infinitely further parts. Bhaṭṭa argues: "if the universe is does not exist between moments, then in which of these moments does it exist?" Because a moment could be infinitesimally small, Bhaṭṭa argued that the Buddhist was claiming that the universe was non-existent.
4. The Determination of perception (pratyaksha pariccheda).
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According to legend, Bhaṭṭa went to study Buddhism at Nalanda (the largest 4th century university in the world), with the aim of refuting Buddhist doctrine in favour of Vedic religion. He was expelled from the university when he protested against his teacher (Dharmakirti) ridiculing the Vedic rituals. Legend has it that even though he was thrown off of the university's tower, he survived with an eye injury. (Modern Mimamsa scholars and followers of Vedanta believe that this was because he imposed a condition on the infallibility of the Vedas thus encouraging the Hindu belief that one should not even doubt the infallibility of the Vedas.)
Kumārila Bhaṭṭa left Nalanda after that and settled down in Prayag (modern day Allahabad). Bhaṭṭa visited many kingdoms and regionalities to debate with the Buddhist pundits. It was tradition at that time that whoever wins a debate in the King's court, their philosophy and ideology would be accepted by the King and by the subjects. To prevent the further downfall of Vedic Sanskruti, Kumārila Bhaṭṭa had defeated many Buddhist pundits and saved the country from Buddhist supremacy. It so happened that the jealous Buddhist pundits, who were unable to defeat Bhaṭṭa in debates, challenged him to a stunt. They said, "If your Vedas are the Truth, then nothing will happen to you when you fall from the top of a mountain." Kumārila Bhaṭṭa had utter conviction and faith in the Vedas and Shrutis and readily accepted this challenge. He proclaimed, "If the Vedas are the Ultimate Truth nothing will happen to me" and jumped from the mountain. In doing so, there was not a scratch on his body. However, he did lose an eye. This was because he uttered "IF", which signifies that a person who believes the Vedas to be the ultimate would not utter "If", and instead would say "The Vedas are the Ultimate Truth and nothing will happen to me." However, the Buddhist monks wanted Bhaṭṭa to leave and they proclaimed he had lost.
Kumārila Bhaṭṭa was devastated and could not bear the defeat. It was not that someone had defeated him, he was more angry that "I have failed to protect my own Mother Sanskruti". He decided to take samadhi by burning himself on a pile of peanut shells, which is said to be the most torturous death. This character study can be found in the works of Pandurang Shastri Athavale.
One medieval work on the life of Sankara (considered most accurate) claims that Sankara challenged Bhaṭṭa to a debate on his deathbed. Kumārila Bhaṭṭa could not debate Sankara and instead directed him to argue with his student Mandana Misra in Mahiṣmati. He said:
- "You will find a home at whose gates there are a number of caged parrots discussing abstract topics like — 'Do the Vedas have self-validity or do they depend on some external authority for their validity? Are karmas capable of yielding their fruits directly, or do they require the intervention of God to do so? Is the world eternal, or is it a mere appearance?' Where you find the caged parrots discussing such abstruse philosophical problems, you will know that you have reached Maṇḍana's place."
Another work on Sankara's life however claims that Sankara implored Bhaṭṭa not to commit suicide. Another contradictory legend however says that Bhaṭṭa continued to live on with two wives several students, one of whom was Prabhākara. According to this legend, Bhaṭṭa died in Varanasi at the age of 80.
- Scholar's origin caught in the web Times of India – 7 July 2011
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- Shlokavartika ("Exposition on the Verses", commentary on Shabara's Commentary on Jaimini's Mimamsa Sutras, Bk. 1, Ch. 1) 
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- Text of Mimamsalokavarttika by Kumarila Bhatta (in transliterated Sanskrit)