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Lectures by Dr. James Madaio

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

Lectures of the Shivdasani Visiting Fellow
9 Feb 2017

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.

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Narratives selves and embodied conditioning: Advaitin techniques for waking up within the saṃsāric story

Lectures of the Shivdasani Visiting Fellow
2 Mar 2017

The phenomenon of experience is ambiguous, even chaotic, outside of explanatory models or narrative frameworks that saturate the world with meaning. In this hermeneutical context, I explore the relationship between the nature of the Advaita Vedāntin soteriological framework, egoity (ahaṃkāra) and embodied conditioning (vāsanā) in the work of the Advaita Vedāntin Vidyāraṇya (14th century) and his preeminent advaitic source text, the (Laghu-)Yoga-Vāsiṣṭha. I argue that the nexus between conditioned ways of being in the world and interpretative frameworks is central to the ‘vertical’ movement of Advaita Vedāntin soteriology. In doing so, I pursue the synergistic intersection between Vidyāraṇya’s account of ahaṃkāra, articulated in his praxeological discussion of yogic inwardness, and his employment of pedagogical stories, or ‘narrative hooks’, as a means of drawing personae into the Advaita Vedāntin soteriological story and out of frameworks that concretize dualism and valorize objects. I conclude the paper with exploratory remarks about the nature of liberation-while-living (jīvanmukti) or ‘waking up’ within the interpretative story.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.

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