मूढा बुद्धिर्यस्य सः He Who Is Dull-Witted - an academic blog

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gjd800
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मूढा बुद्धिर्यस्य सः
mūḍhā buddhiryasya saḥ
He who is dull-witted

This is a tiny blog for those interested in what a (somewhat) academic does with their time. Feel free to ask me any university-related questions (except where I work!) and I will endeavour to answer as best I can.

About me

As most of the regulars here will know, I am a working class boy from Liverpool who went to university relatively late (in my early-mid 20s). Prior to the academic route, I had worked as an ironmongery assistant, labourer, concreter, and general skivvy on a dockside chemical plant.

At University I read philosophy, with a specialism in Indian Philosophy. I hold a first class degree and a Master's at distinction, both with a heavy focus on Indian thought. I began an AHRC-funded PhD in 2014, which I submitted in late 2018.

I now hold a PhD in Philosophy, with - predictably - a specialism in Indian religions, philosophy and languages. I mainly work with Vedic and Classical Sanskrit, Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit, and Pali, the liturgical languages of Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism. My major research areas are the philosophies of Classical Indian Buddhism and Classical Indian Hinduism.

I also hold a PGCE in secondary Religious Education.

I currently work at Russell Group university as a full-time academic, though I am not presently teaching.

Current stuff

When I'm not chasing around after the (many, many) undergraduates under my purview, I do research. Last year I put off two R&Rs (revise and resubmit) to leading journals because I just didn't have the time to dedicate to writing when I was also in the midst of an intense, COVID-affected PGCE course.

Happily, I now do have some time!

Links:
artful_lounger's Electric Boogaloo blog, which has significant crossover with my research interests, and where we talk about all things Sanskrit.
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gjd800
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This week

This week has been busy: the undergraduates are back on campus and teaching either has started/is to start shortly. What this means for me is lots of emails about mostly small, niggling problems - sometimes emails about larger problems, too! I have also started to see students dropping into the office with questions, issues, or just to say hello.

In terms of work, I have a book review due (whoops) and so have spent the majority of my free time this week trying to get that done. The book is A Time of Novelty: Logic, Emotion, and Intellectual Life in Early Modern India, 1500-1700 CE. I initially wondered if this strayed too far from my area of interest, but it concerns progressions in Nyāya philosophy. The Nyāya school is a subset of Hindu thought which deals in direct realism, epistemology, metaphysics, and logic. The book claims (quite convincingly) that the Hindu scholars of the C16th devised 'novel' arguments, moving away from the accepted orthodoxy, and that 'novelty' includes an affective emotional aspect as well as a strictly intellectual aspect. I need this done ASAP, so it will be my focus next week, too.
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londonmyst
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Do you have any suggestions on which english language translations of the Manusmṛiti and Bhagavad Gita are the most accurate?

Rashtra supporting brahmin friends get very unpleasant whenever they get a glimpse of translated versions that they view as inept or doctrinally incompatible with their versions of hindu tradition.
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gjd800
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(Original post by londonmyst)
Do you have any suggestions on which english language translations of the Manusmṛiti and Bhagavad Gita are the most accurate?

Rashtra supporting brahmin friends get very unpleasant whenever they get a glimpse of translated versions that they view as inept or doctrinally incompatible with their versions of hindu tradition.
I've never used a translated version of the Manusmrti (it was something I used in the early days to practice translation!) so I'd have to have a little look, but re the Gita, I like Georg Feuerstein's version - it is very comprehensive, ahs a hige glossary and gives the whole thing in Skt as well as in word-for-word translation.

I own a copy of the ISKCon version of the Gita and I thought the actual translation there was ok, but the commentary takes some liberties :lol:

It's hard to find a version that pleases everyone, especially if they are predisposed to the whole Bharat narrative.
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gjd800
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IIRC, the one that a lot of Indologists use is Olivelle's trans of the Manusmrti - I expect that this will be one of those that upset the Brahmins, however!
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artful_lounger
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(Original post by londonmyst)
Do you have any suggestions on which english language translations of the Manusmṛiti and Bhagavad Gita are the most accurate?

Rashtra supporting brahmin friends get very unpleasant whenever they get a glimpse of translated versions that they view as inept or doctrinally incompatible with their versions of hindu tradition.
Well you've sort of highlighted the issue which is, accurate according to whom? There are a lot of possible interpretations of the Gita at least, and hence varied translations; some may be more or less inline with their doctrinal views of Hinduism, depending on what those views are. There isn't even consensus among the classical Sanskrit commentators, much less modern English language translations!

Anecdotally of the two translations we have been referring to in our Sanskrit language module this year (which is mostly translating the Gita ourselves) the Winthrop Sargeant translation is rather rough and our lecturer has noted several errors made by Sargeant in it, although it includes both devanagari and transliteration of the original as well as glosses, and then the overall translation. The Barbara Stoler-Miller translation is purely in English but is more elegant/idiomatic generaly, but tends to follow Shankara's commentary by and large (which thus follows a particular perspective).

Both have extended commentaries before the translations which may be illuminating though (I really should get around to reading them at some point).
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gjd800
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(Original post by artful_lounger)
Watching this thread



Well you've sort of highlighted the issue which is, accurate according to whom? There are a lot of possible interpretations of the Gita at least, and hence varied translations; some may be more or less inline with their doctrinal views of Hinduism, depending on what those views are. There isn't even consensus among the classical Sanskrit commentators, much less modern English language translations!

Anecdotally of the two translations we have been referring to in our Sanskrit language module this year (which is mostly translating the Gita ourselves) the Winthrop Sargeant translation is rather rough and our lecturer has noted several errors made by Sargeant in it, although it includes both devanagari and transliteration of the original as well as glosses, and then the overall translation. The Barbara Stoler-Miller translation is purely in English but is more elegant/idiomatic generaly, but tends to follow Shankara's commentary by and large (which thus follows a particular perspective).

Both have extended commentaries before the translations which may be illuminating though (I really should get around to reading them at some point).
Yes, this is all true. And indeed, the Hindutva, Bharat-perspective, Rashtra Brahmins will have their own take, which is why they will dislike basically all other takes on it!
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5hyl33n
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(Original post by gjd800)
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PRSOM. I look forward to this blog. I've been born and raised in a Hindu family but only recently started taking a genuine interest in the religion.

Can I ask how you originally became interested in what is now your specialism?
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gjd800
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(Original post by 5hyl33n)
PRSOM. I look forward to this blog. I've been born and raised in a Hindu family but only recently started taking a genuine interest in the religion.

Can I ask how you originally became interested in what is now your specialism?
That's really cool! Yes of course you can ask!

It's a bit of a convoluted tale but the basics of it is this: my Dad worked on the ships for a long while and spent a fair bit of time docked in India, where he was exposed to things about Hinduism and, to a lesser extent, Buddhism. One time he was talking to me about this stuff and he said I'd probably be interested in it if I bothered to look it up in any detail.

Anyway, I did, and I was :lol: I bought books and went increasingly down the rabbit hole, but without any formal training or guidance (except for a few awful fora full of know-it-alls).

When I was approaching my mid-20s I decided to do a degree, and by that point I was quite well versed in Christian theology (thanks, Catholic upbringing) and had an above-average grip on Buddhist philosophy, too. I did a phil degree at an institution that had a specialist in Indian Philosophy, and I stayed there working and teaching under him for my BA, MA, PhD.
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gjd800
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Today

Friday is usually a 'work from home' day, which involves online drop in hours and basically doing what I'd do in work, but at home with the dogs milling about. A bit different today as my mum isn't well, so I expect that there will be a trip to the doctor's later on, followed by some admin-y stuff that, for one reason or another, I'd not got around to this week. I can't work on the review because silly me left the book in work :shot:

The students don't seem to get in touch much on Fridays, which is nice. I will probably knock off a bit earlier than I do when in the office. Got a few things to sort out for a little gig thing I have going on tomorrow, then I'm going out for a scran and a bev with the other half.
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Bristolbb
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Your background is fascinating! Can you share a bit more about your current research? What is the purpose of it? Do you have to speak at conferences or give talks often?
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gjd800
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(Original post by Bristolbb)
Your background is fascinating! Can you share a bit more about your current research? What is the purpose of it? Do you have to speak at conferences or give talks often?
As clichéd and dweeby as it sounds, my interest in this stuff is to figure out how to effectively live well, to be on a level more days than I am not, to be happier more than I am not, to be satisfied. So that's the broad motivation. I don' think I'd have stuck it out if I didn't use it and apply it myself. The translation stuff is a little different because it serves a wider research purpose, but I also just enjoy doing it for its own sake. If it is of value to people, then all the better.

But in terms of general research I mostly look at how to best interpret classical thinkers and then how these interpretations should impact our thinking in other ways, like in terms of our ethics, or metaphysics (I don't have much time for the vast majority metaphysics, as it happens, even aesthetics. I suppose for me it's about marrying up how the world seems to work with how our minds seem to work and working out which sort of equilibrium is the best for being happy.

Cheesy, but the basis of Indian thought is largely 'how I can be better' and 'how can I be happier'. it takes you on weird and wonderful tangents, with the Hindus (mostly) claiming that liberation is found in the absolute godhead, and some Buddhists saying look, it's about how you engage with the world, there is no more than this, here, now.

One of my R&Rs is a piece about why (most) Buddhists deny that there is a permanent, unchanging 'reality' or cosmic soul (ātman-Brahman) underpinning either ourselves or the world, and what psychological work that does in their quest for 'liberation' from the trappings of day-to-day life. I have another on the go responding to a thinker that I think has misconstrued a major Buddhist philosopher and then wrongly used his arguments to claim the opposite of what the Buddhist thinker in question was really getting at.

I do talks semi-often, but I'm not a huge fan of academic conferences where we stoke each other's egos or get into adversarial point scoring. I like doing public stuff where you can just throw out a new perspective to people, and I especially like working with kids on the 'big' questions. They are usually more insightful than the adults. Luckily my job role does not really rely on research or conference participation, so I can take a laid back approach to it. I do a lot of 'guest' stuff for other universities talking to their 3rd year or grad students.
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Bristolbb
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(Original post by gjd800)
As clichéd and dweeby as it sounds, my interest in this stuff is to figure out how to effectively live well, to be on a level more days than I am not, to be happier more than I am not, to be satisfied. So that's the broad motivation. I don' think I'd have stuck it out if I didn't use it and apply it myself. The translation stuff is a little different because it serves a wider research purpose, but I also just enjoy doing it for its own sake. If it is of value to people, then all the better.

But in terms of general research I mostly look at how to best interpret classical thinkers and then how these interpretations should impact our thinking in other ways, like in terms of our ethics, or metaphysics (I don't have much time for the vast majority metaphysics, as it happens, even aesthetics. I suppose for me it's about marrying up how the world seems to work with how our minds seem to work and working out which sort of equilibrium is the best for being happy.

Cheesy, but the basis of Indian thought is largely 'how I can be better' and 'how can I be happier'. it takes you on weird and wonderful tangents, with the Hindus (mostly) claiming that liberation is found in the absolute godhead, and some Buddhists saying look, it's about how you engage with the world, there is no more than this, here, now.

One of my R&Rs is a piece about why (most) Buddhists deny that there is a permanent, unchanging 'reality' or cosmic soul (ātman-Brahman) underpinning either ourselves or the world, and what psychological work that does in their quest for 'liberation' from the trappings of day-to-day life. I have another on the go responding to a thinker that I think has misconstrued a major Buddhist philosopher and then wrongly used his arguments to claim the opposite of what the Buddhist thinker in question was really getting at.

I do talks semi-often, but I'm not a huge fan of academic conferences where we stoke each other's egos or get into adversarial point scoring. I like doing public stuff where you can just throw out a new perspective to people, and I especially like working with kids on the 'big' questions. They are usually more insightful than the adults. Luckily my job role does not really rely on research or conference participation, so I can take a laid back approach to it. I do a lot of 'guest' stuff for other universities talking to their 3rd year or grad students.
What’s your current stance on how in Buddhism negating the idea of a permanent unchanging reality helps create a liberating approach to everyday life? Or is your argument still in progress?

Also touching on what you said about the conferences, do you find aspects of academia toxic or what would you forewarn budding academics of about the ‘culture’ in your experience?
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gjd800
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(Original post by Bristolbb)
What’s your current stance on how in Buddhism negating the idea of a permanent unchanging reality helps create a liberating approach to everyday life? Or is your argument still in progress?

Also touching on what you said about the conferences, do you find aspects of academia toxic or what would you forewarn budding academics of about the ‘culture’ in your experience?
It's actually really straightforward - compared to Hindu thinkers, their argument is one of change. if a person has a permanent soul and is bound to a permanent, unchanging reality, then they are logically doomed to whatever lot in life they already have.

And so the argument against this stuff is twofold for most Buddhists: first, it is a matter of empirical fact that things change all the time, we see it with our own eyes every day. Similarly, when we look for a 'soul' we can't find it; we just find personal characteristics that we assume are immutable - for the Buddhists, they are not. We, along with everything else re conditioned by all sorts of factors. And the idea is that if we look at the world honestly and without prejudice, we just see that this is the case, it's obvious to us all.

Second, it is a matter of logical necessity that for things to improve (or indeed get worse - karma etc), change must be in some way fundamental. if there is a permanent reality and a permanent essence/soul, change must be negated. In such an instance, how can a person ever improve, how can the world change, why do we experience this stuff?

I do think large parts of academia are toxic. the publish or perish thing means that, especially in the humanities, there is a focus on slapping down other people rather than engaging with them in good faith to arrive at the best possible conclusions. I was taught that we should give the most charitable interpretation of others' arguments, and the least charitable interpretation of our own. That doesn't happen now, if it ever really did.

Second, you are expected to do a lot of work for free, i.e. outside of your contracted hours and outside of your contracted duties - and this can be really overwhelming for lots of people. In many cases the wage does not justify the effort, and the job market is so bad and so competitive, that it's hard to say 'no' when your dept puts more and more onto you. Someone else would be glad for that job.

With that said, it is a matter of perspective. I have done backbreaking, difficult, exhausting, health-depleting jobs in the past. My current gig is not any of those things and my worst day in a University is better than my best day in my old jobs. So there are issues, but if you know what they are and can keep a wide-lens view of things, you can get on. the hardest thing is getting your foot in the door and so you should do whatever you can to increase your odds. I got a PGCE and have a bunch of experience working with disabled and additional needs kids, so that really helped me get onto my current pathway. Things like that which aren't immediately obvious can be greatly useful in a job application. You have to make yourself seem essential to them. Publishing is also super important for most academic positions, so get in early if possible and publish before you finish the PhD.
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Son of the Sea
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I find the metaphysics particularly fascinating. Have you done much reading/research on the so-called Indian yogis and their practice of things like kriya yoga which they claim is found in the vedas?? I believe the basic idea is that there is a self (unlike Buddhism) but that this self is the one unified spirit and that the body is just a tool that is used. Reading on this seems to frequently crop up the idea of silencing the mind and practise constant self-enquiry (i.e. who am I? Who is it that is thinking this thought? and so on) and that gradually the ego is dissolved and one loses identification with the body and instead identifies with cosmic consciousness. I don’t know what this school of thought is called exactly but I do know that it was practised by relatively well-known yogis of the 19th and 20th centuries such as Paramahansa Yogananda, Sri Yukteswar, Lahiri Mahasaya and the like. Just wondering if your research and reading has touched on these topics??
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gjd800
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(Original post by Son of the Sea)
I find the metaphysics particularly fascinating. Have you done much reading/research on the so-called Indian yogis and their practice of things like kriya yoga which they claim is found in the vedas?? I believe the basic idea is that there is a self (unlike Buddhism) but that this self is the one unified spirit and that the body is just a tool that is used. Reading on this seems to frequently crop up the idea of silencing the mind and practise constant self-enquiry (i.e. who am I? Who is it that is thinking this thought? and so on) and that gradually the ego is dissolved and one loses identification with the body and instead identifies with cosmic consciousness. I don’t know what this school of thought is called exactly but I do know that it was practised by relatively well-known yogis of the 19th and 20th centuries such as Paramahansa Yogananda, Sri Yukteswar, Lahiri Mahasaya and the like. Just wondering if your research and reading has touched on these topics??
Yeah, all told I have about 18 years experience with the Indian traditions - it is impossible to read everything but my broad Indological knowledge is really good (tooting my own horn a bit!). I have spent a few years teaching on this stuff, too. There are a few ways to go at this.

The broad philosophical schools that advocate this sort of thing are usually under the Vedanta, which can be further subclassified, but people like Paramahansa Yogananda were usually (Bengali) Vaishnavites so they believe that the supreme reality is Visnu and that we can be absorbed into God with the correct liberative practices. Very much Indian theism rather than philosophy, but it does share some philosophical underpinnings with aspects of the vedanta, specifically dvaita (dualism), which is open to theism in ways that advaita (non dualism) is not.

There is so much cross-pollination that it is quite hard to draw neat lines (much as we would like to), but I enjoy that, really.
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gjd800
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Monday:

I have additional admin to do (that I had admittedly forgotten about; mea culpa) which will detail to the higherups the type of issues facing first year undergraduates in 2021/22. This take priority so I imagine much of my afternoon will be spent gathering the data on that (I have a lot) and organising it into something vaguely coherent and readable.

If, by some stroke of luck, this doesn't take me the whole afternoon, I want to crack on with the review. I made good progress last week. I also need to do a bit advocacy with another department on behalf of one of my students, but that should be a ten minute thing (where I wait 3 days for a reply...).

The rest of the week:

You never quite know what will crop up in this gig but I hope to have the review done by Thursday evening. Friday afternoon I will again finish early, because I need to get to Birmingham for a metal festival and I have a train to catch...
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gjd800
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Distracted by American new agers that are intent on pushing the (wrong) idea that Buddhism is somehow not a religion. They focus too heavily on God with these sweeping generalisations. Buddhism does not have a creator God, but it does have lots and lots of deities, each subject to karma and samsara. It has a peculiar metaphysics and a soteriology (theory of salvation), there are many aspects of Worship, and the Prajnaparamita (Perfection of Wisdom) texts all advocate worship if other more fruitful avenues are not possible (these other avenues include 'honouring', learning, reciting, applying, reproducing Buddhist texts - 'honouring' is a form of worship!).

'Religion' is a dirty word to Westerners looking to co-opt Buddhist teachings minus the religious import, but this does not mean that Buddhism is not a religion. The millions upon millions of Buddhists that have followed the dharma since the Buddha preached it some 2500 years ago would all disagree, and they are better placed to decide than outsiders who have read the Dalai Lama's book on ethics.
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Food!!
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:woo: you got a blog
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Will be following this one! Always enjoyed how passionate you are about your field.
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