Evaluation of Literature through Ancient Indian Epistemology

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Literature, unlike other arts, is psycholinguistic in nature. It involves the properties of language, synthesis of emotions and assimilation of experience at the same time. With the advent of European psychological theories, literary criticism round the world underwent a great change. Hypothetical conceptions were empirically judged and some scientific conclusions were deduced therefrom. But the temper of literature is too subtle to be analyzed with scientific exactitude. As such philosophical tools, the validity of which is still uncertain, persisted in the field of literary criticism. In such a situation adding a new philosophical theory to the great corpus of literary ideologies would be far from simplifying the issues. What is needed is to fish out the most efficient tools from the already existing numerous philosophical theories.

If we consider all literature to be communication of experience, we can safely apply the epistemological theories of ancient Indian philosophy to literature because they are very exhaustive as well as psychological in their approach. Indian psycho-philosophical systems are based on the deepest experiences of life, and, as such, they encompass some universal truths about human mind and its functions. The levels of experience and domains of cognition that have elaborately been dealt with in the system of Saïkhya and Yōga seem to be highly applicable to literary experiences.

Literary creation is as instinctive to human nature as literary enjoyment that transports the mind of the reader to an artistically stimulated microcosm. The philosophical theories formulated by Indian schools of thought regarding the evolution of the universe are common to the creation of literature. There seems to be an identical uniformity between the macrocosm of the universe and the microcosm of art. Besides, Indian epistemology believes in the theory of instinctive memory that goes beyond the horizons of death: Vāsanānam ānantyatvāt”. Vāsanā refers back to the previous births and the vāsanās that are embedded in the subconscious mind give rise to Jijīvißā, that is, longing for life. The act of literary creation as well as the act of enjoying it is rooted in the intensity of Jijīvißā.

Vāsanā and Jijīvißā are combined by Ānanda which expresses itself in various ways and degrees. All Indian aesthetics depends on this single stimulus of human psychology. The theory of Rasa and its realization in literature emanates from the seminal conviction of absolute pleasure. Literary evaluation requires both epistemology and aesthetics: either of these alone is inadequate; the one is always in want of the other. A synthesis of these two helps in analyzing the most complex experiences in the literary evaluation.

Creation of literature bears a striking resemblance to the creation of Life. The same instinct lies behind both: Ēkōham bahusyām (I am One, I want t o be many.) On the macrocosmic scale, it is Brahmā who desires and brings forth the variegated creation of the universe. Something similar to this a creature wants to do instinctively. This instinct develops and expands extensively in Man. Although he may not be as free and capable as God in creating life and creatures, his imagination assumes marvelous dimensions and, as such, reaches a level from where he can mentally create his own universe which is identical with the one created by God. He multiplies himself into many characters: “Sarva bhūtēßu ātmānaì sarvāÐi bhūtāny-ātmani ca paśyati.” The whole universe lies in his person. He is the Virāt-purußa of his universe: “Apārē kāvya-saìsārē kavir-ēva prajāpatið.”

According to the Vedas, all creation is the imagination of Brahmā. Every cycle of creation is called a “Kalpa”, that is, an IDEA. Brahmā creates the universe with the help of (i) Dravya-śakti (Matter) (ii) Jñāna-śakti (Perception), and (iii) Kriyā-śakti (Action). The fourth factor is Kāla (Time), which is Brahmā’s own manifestation, and which has the atttributes that are possessed by Him. All these factors are present in the creationof a stimulated world of literature. MATTER, PERCEPTION and ACTION may be similar to those of the real world and seem to be borrowed from real situations. They are never imitations or reflections because the Kavi is Manīśi paribhūð svayaìbhūð yāthā-tathyatað arthān vidadhāti śāśvatībhyað samābhyað.” CREATION is a cyclic process and, therefore, takes place repeatedly; the basic structure remains the same, but always with a variety that keeps it from being stale. It is like human anatomy: every human body has the same structure, the same organs, but the individuality gives it a personality altogether different from that of anybody else’s. Similarly, the same laws apply to the creation of any piece of literature, but the setting, the sizzling of life and characters have their own unique individuality.

The world of literary imagination is no truer than the real world we live in. The vedantic theory of dreams is applicable to both. Dreams are the creations of mind. The world of dreams is the expansion of our own “self” : all the people and things we see in dreams are made of our individuality. Even if they are imitations of the real-life characters, they bear the stamp of our ego. They speak and act in accordance with the hopes and fears of the dreamer. Their transformation symbolizes his dormant complexes. The Upanßiads mention four different states of mind – Jāgrat (Conscious), Svapna (Dream), Suśupti (Deep Sleep), and Turīya (the fourth or the Transcendental). Jāgrat has two substrates: Vyavahāra (conscious behaviour) and Saïkalpa (conscious imagination). These states of mind can be rearranged in the order of convenience: Suśupti, Jāgrat, Vyavahāra, Jāgrat, Saïkalpa, Svapna, and Turīya. According to this theory, the conscious state of imagination (Jāgrat svapna) and the dream state (svapna) have equal intensity of imagination. The only difference between the two is that the former is creative and Reason has full control over the flights of imagination; simulation of action is voluntary. In this state eth hypothalamus of the human mind, which is the repository of emotions and sentiments, remains fully active. Simultaneously the cerebral functions such as recollections, selection, omission, addition, rearrangement remain functioning properly. On the other hand, in the dream state (svapna), these functions assume passivity, and the mind remains floating involuntarily from one piece of imagination to another. In the state of Jāgrat saïkalpa, the mind is capable of simulating any state as well as any state of experience. Besides, the vedantic epistemology has given a great deal of elaborate explanation as to the intensity of human experience.

Enjoyment of poetry depends more on epistemological processes than on aesthetic response. We can account for and measure the intensity of joy in terms of vedantic epistemology. Upanißadic literature has given us a profound analysis of the human mind. There are three levels of human existence: (i) Sthūla, (ii) Sūkßma, (iii) and KaraÐa. They are further subdivided in to Kōśas: (i) Annamaya, (ii) PrāÐamaya, (iii) Manōmaya, (iv) Vijñānamaya, and (v) Ānandamaya. The Sūkßma or the subtle body consists of PrāÐamaya Kōśa, Manōmaya Kōśa and Jñānamaya Kōśa which together constitute the AntaðkaraÐa. The AntaðkaraÐa has four parts: Manas, Ahaïkāra, Buddhi and Citta. Any experience of life passes through the different levels and states of our mind. With the help of the epistemological theories of the Upanißads, it is possible to prepare a cross diagram of human experience. Moreover, the vēdantic epistemological theory may be helpfulin elaborating Rasa theory to the accuracy of literary evaluation.

Matter, Perception and Action cannot be effective without the Time (Kāla) factor. Every piece of literature has a subtle dimension of Time – Explicit and Implicit. The Explicit Kāla is manifest in the straightforward reference to the time of experience. When the Kāla is implicit, it may be inferred from the sequential order of events and experiences or from maturity of ideas. There is one more classification of Kāla from the vēdantic point of view: (i) Mahākāla (Universal Time), (ii) Dikkkāla (Local Time), and (iii) Svakāla (Individual Time). Literature is not as much concerned with the Universal or Local Time as it is with the Individual Time. The Individual Time is Experiential. In the Bhāgavata-purāÐa a Gopi pines for a vision of K®ßÐa at dusk and says, Truñīr-yugāyatē tvām-apaśyan (One moment assumes the length of a yuga without seeing you.)

As such exaggeration in the expressions in literature may be accounted for by this principle. Expansion or contraction of time depends on the mental condition of the writer. Besides, he can expand or contract the process of time deliberately also. As the Individual Time is sequential, it is measured either in terms of events or through association of experiences. Thus if all literature is the record of human experience, it will automatically incorporate the time factor in all expressions invariably.