Texts beyond words : contemplation and practice in Śaṅkara's Advaita Vedānta

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Date

2009-05

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Dalal, Neil Akshay, 1974-

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Abstract

Among Advaita Vedāntins there is a tension between those who believe texts are the ultimate authority and primary soteriological method for gaining liberation and those who advocate an independent process of meditation and self-inquiry leading to religious experience. This dissertation examines the role of Advaita's contemplation (nididhyāsana) as a method in which text and practice intersect. I focus on Śaṅkara, the seventh-century Advaitin, whose interpretations of Advaita have been authoritative within the tradition. This investigation examines how Śaṅkara strove to exclude contemplation from a discourse of practice while maintaining it as a part of textual study, and explores the intersections of text, contemplative practice, and liberating experience in Advaita's soteriological program. I argue that sacred texts possess a receding horizon for Śaṅkara. At first there appears to be a clean distinction between texts and contemplative practice. However, if one enters the methodology prescribed by Śaṅkara, the notion of text expands and continues to grow the deeper one studies. Sacred texts stretch beyond conventional boundaries of words, not only to encompass contemplation, but knowledge of non-duality and liberation as well. One never catches the boundary of the boundless text. This dissertation will be of benefit to religious studies scholars seeking to understand the relationships of textual study, contemplation, and religious experience in the Indian context.

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