Moral Reasoning through Narratives: dharma and exegesis in medieval Advaita Vedānta (HT17)

Location: OCHS Library
Speaker: Dr James Madaio
Date: February 9, 2017
Time: 2.00-3.30

In this paper I analyse how Vidyāraṇya, a fourteenth century Advaita Vedāntin, utilises scriptural narratives about sages as a means to extrapolate and ground the dharma of renouncers (saṃnyāsin), including the proper sequence of two different kinds of renunciation and their corresponding disciplines. I argue that this approach, informed by the dharmaśāstric tradition, engenders a reading of scripture as a panoply of stories about the conduct of exemplar-sages which differs from modes of exegesis in the early period of Advaita Vedānta. This narratological reading of scripture, which takes seriously plot and character development, provides a method of diagnosing the liberative status of sages as well as their particular afflictions. I position this discussion within an overall claim that Vidyāraṇya’s moral reasoning, or solving problems of how to act in the world, is intimately connected to narrative or the practice of reading and telling stories.

Dr. James Madaio is a fellow at the Oriental Institute of the Czech Academy of Sciences in Prague. He received his PhD from the Religions and Theology department at the University of Manchester and has held research positions at New Europe College in Bucharest and at the University of Maryland, USA.