[Advaita-l] What is abhitaanvaya-vaada and anvitaayabhidhaana-vada ?

Vidyasankar Sundaresan svidyasankar at hotmail.com
Fri Nov 19 10:01:54 CST 2010

> "There remains one important question, namely, how is the meaning of a sentence 
> known? Two theories are put forward to answer this question, one known as 
> abhitaanvaya-vaada, and the other, anvitaayabhidhaana-vada."
> I read through the text, but not able to comprehend clearly and completely. 
> Would someone who has already studied this text, or someone who read these 
> concepts from other texts help me understand. Would you please point me to some 
> other place where these concepts are analyzed, so that I may get to read a 
> different presentation.
> I have other clarifications to seek on Samkshepa saareeraka. But, I will reserve 
> them to later posts.

Let me try a simplified explanation here. The two views on how a
sentence conveys meaning are called abhihita-anvaya vAda (aligned
with bhATTa mImAMsA) and anvita-abhidhAna vAda (aligned with
prAbhAkara mImAMsA). The abhihitAnvaya position says that each
word has its own meaning and the meaning of the sentence arises
from the meanings of its words.
e.g. in the sentence, "I am a man", "I" is the word relfexively denoting
the speaker, "am" is the form of a verb in the present tense, "a" carries
a meaning of particularity and "man" means a male of the human species.
The meaning of the entire sentence arises from the relationship arising
out of putting these four words together into a sentence and the listener
therefore gets the meaning that the speaker is a man, who is living at
the time the sentence was spoken and identifying himself as such. Any
meaning of any sentence will have to arise in a similar fashion.

When words are put together so as to prevent a direct juxtaposition of
the individual words to provide meaning, then one moves to the implied
meaning, or what is called lakshaNArtha. e.g. "the king was a lion in the
battle" does not mean that the king magically transformed himself into a
lion, but that he fought like a lion. In lakshaNArtha, we give up the direct
referent of the word "lion" as an animal that dwells in the forest. We
also give up the direct referent of the word "king" as the ruler who sits
in his court. We see the comparison being made of the quality of valour
or bravery or ability to fight in the context of the battle and construe the
meaning of the sentence based on these secondary considerations.

For advaita vedAnta, this obviously has implications for how one grasps
meaning from the upanishadic statements such as "tat tvam asi" and
"ayam AtmA brahma". 

The anvitAbhidhAna position says instead that individual words do not
convey meaning except in relation to other words in the context of a
sentence. The meaning of the sentence is grasped by the listener as a
whole, without requiring the meanings of the individual words that
constitute the sentence. Thus, in the above example, the sentence "I
am a man" conveys a single idea - a male talking about himself, which
is understood by the listener in one shot. Similarly, the metaphorical
usage of fighting like a lion is conveyed directly in the sentence, "the
king was a lion" and does not require one to resort to lakshaNArtha.
This view also has implications for how vedAnta conveys meaning.
But by and large, most authors in the vedAnta tradition seem to have 
taken the abhihitAnvaya vAda position of bhATTa mImAMsA seriously
and interpreted the upanishad-s accordingly. This is the reason for
their talking of jahad-ajahal-lakshaNa etc. 
If you search Wikipedia, you will see that these old theories of word
and sentence meaning continue to have contemporary relevance and
that linguists and grammarians are still debating these ideas.

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