World Philologies Seminar
Do 26 Jun 2014 | 16:00–18:00

“Know, then, Yourself”: An Invitation to Extend a Brief History of a Weighty Imperative

Sonam Kachru (Zukunftsphilologie Fellow 2013-2014); Chair: Roy Tzohar (Zukunftsphilologie Fellow 2013-2014/Tel Aviv University)

Freie Universität Berlin, Raum JK24/122d, Habelschwerdter Allee 45, 14195 Berlin

The Quiescent One loving dwells here and there:

Do not know Hindu and Muslim.
You are wise—know, then, yourself.
That is being acquainted with the Master, the Friend.

(Utterance ascribed to Lalla, fl. 14th century in Kashmir)

My subtitle might have been: "a too brief history of a weighty imperative in a small valley in South and Central Asia". Some historians feel that to write the history of the Delphic motto "Know Yourself" as it was received in European letters from antiquity to the present is almost to write the history of conceptions of persons - the different ways in which human beings have imagined themselves. In this talk, we shall meet a historically unrelated, but no less important (if considerably less well known) pre-modern instance of the imperative "Know Yourself". In a dynamic context of radically changing political, sociological and religious cultures in medieval Kashmir, we shall consider how the imperative was used to focus debates about what we are, and what we must aspire to do and to be in light of knowledge of the self, as distinguished from knowledge of others, or knowledge of oneself in the third-person. Specifically, we shall meet the imperative in a poetic verse of a particular kind as the conclusion to a poetic argument, and believed to issue from the fourteenth century in the valley of Kashmir. In this talk, I analyze this utterance - an "utterance" here being a specific literary mode of poetic thought associated with the visionary teacher Lalla of Kashmir (fl. 14th century) - and begin providing a history of the interpretation of this utterance. We will inquire into theological and political contexts of relevance for this utterance, ranging from 12th century scholastic debates about human-kinds, to contemporary debates about ethnic and cultural forms of identity, for these concerns have provided the contexts for the interpretation of both the utterance and the imperative. In the process, we shall attempt at least to catch sight of new conceptions of persons come into being.

Sonam Kachru specializes in the history of philosophy, with a focus on Buddhist and Brahmanical philosophical traditions in premodern South Asia. He completed his PhD from the University of Chicago in 2013, where his dissertation “Dreams, Demons and Beyond: Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind in Vasubandhu’s Twenty Verses” was devoted to the intersection of metaphysics, natural philosophy, hermeneutics and philosophy of mind in the thought of the Buddhist philosopher from Peshawar, Vasubandhu (fl. 360-430 C.E.). Extending his interest in Vasubandhu as a fellow of Zukunftsphilologie, Sonam seeks to characterize the phenomenon of “thinking in commentary” in Sanskrit letters. In this capacity, he will explore rival conceptions of philosophical commentary, and conceptions of history, tradition and truth associated with practices of commentary in fifth-century South Asia. In particular, Sonam Kachru will focus on Vasubandhu's exemplary presentation of commentary, in theory and practice, as a distinctive way in which to engage the relationship between history and the kind of truth Vasubandhu believed was only preserved through critically engaged and rationally reconstructed tradition. 

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