[Advaita-l] Paul Hacker on Avidya in Brahma Sutras

Raghav Kumar Dwivedula raghavkumar00 at gmail.com
Mon May 16 23:42:00 EDT 2022

For those may be interested in the context or framework under which Paul
Hacker operated, the following article would be of interest. His interest
in showing that post-Shankara Advaitins diverged from Sri Shankara and
their understanding of Advaita was therefore incorrect or incomplete,
stemmed from his deep and genuine Eurocentricism and devotion to the
superiority of Christian theology.


 He argues in a scholarly way that there is no organic continuity between
the Dharma as it existed in the past in India and the Dharma as it exists
today (informally called 'Hinduism' ). So the current manifestation of
Dharma (today) is an illegitimate and incorrect expression divorced from
its original motivations and expression.

 He strove to show this at other levels as well viz., in showing how even
later Advaitins too diverged from Shankara etc. And Hacker found a useful
ally in Sri SSS (who hardly had the same motivation as Hacker.)

My observation is - Hacker's urge to show avidyA as purely epistemological
(às only a kleSha in the mind) and not any ontological bIja-shakti stemmed
from the fact that Christan theology is based on sin being a deep
affliction of the mind and one is saved from this kleSha of sin by the
salvific power of the Church, is much more compatible with "avidyA as a
kleSha" idea.

Whereas if Advaita is taken to rightly employ the idea that avidyA is the
upAdAna of the whole of creation itself, then that is irreconcilable with
Christian theology.


On Tue, 17 May, 2022, 8:40 am Raghav Kumar Dwivedula, <
raghavkumar00 at gmail.com> wrote:

> Namaste Venkatraghavan ji
> Thank you for your lucid post.
> Can we have a laukika example where avidyA is only the nimitta kAraNam and
> not both nimitta and upAdAna kAraNam?
> Can we take the example of a person due to avidyA centred on "the way to
> reach Gangotri" takes a wrong route and ends up at Yamunotri and
> experiences Yamunotri? In this case avidyA was the nimitta for his landing
> in and experiencing Yamunotri instead of Gangotri. But even upon realising
> his mistake, he is going to continue to be in Yamunotri; he is not going to
> cease experiencing Yamunotri.
> On the other hand, in many cases of bhrama jnAnam, as per vedAnta
> paribhAShA, avidyA is regarded as both nimitta and upAdAna for the bhrama
> viShaya like snake, nacre etc.
> Also in the case of the jnAnI - can we say that *if* avidyA had been only
> a nimitta kAraNam for samsAra, then the kleshas like rAga dveShas alone
> would have been destroyed (upon the arising of jnAnam) while the cycle of
> births etc., would have *indefinitely* continued for even a jnAnI
> notwithstanding his jnAna? Because (under the assumption of) avidyA not
> being the upAdAna kAraNam, there is no reason for the cessation altogether
> of the cycle of janmas etc., upon jnAnam, since their (continued
> embodiments')  upAdAnam is not destroyed - only the rAga dveSha and
> abhiniveSha would be removed.
> Om
> Raghav
> On Mon, 16 May, 2022, 7:13 pm Venkatraghavan S via Advaita-l, <
> advaita-l at lists.advaita-vedanta.org> wrote:
>> Namaste,
>> It appears that Hacker's conclusion that avidyA is the same as adhyAsa
>> rests on the bhAShya sentence "tametam evamlakshaNam adhyAsam paNDitA
>> adhyAseti manyante". He concludes from this that according to Shankara,
>> avidyA is the same as adhyAsa, which differentiates him from later
>> advaitins.
>> However, the traditional view is that that sentence does not seek to
>> equate
>> avidyA with adhyAsa, as Hacker alleges. Rather, it is to show that adhyAsa
>> is accepted in other systems too. In this interpretation, the word
>> paNDitAh
>> in the sentence refers to the knowers of yoga, as opposed to advaitins.
>> This sentence occurs in the adhyAsa bhAShya, whose purpose is to provide
>> the context and introduction to the brahmasUtra.
>> Establishing the idea of adhyAsa is necessary, because the proposition
>> that
>> "samsAra is a result of this adhyAsa" is the underlying basis of the first
>> sUtra, athAto brahmajijnAsa.
>> The first sUtra, athAto brahmajijnAsa, says that an enquiry of Brahman is
>> to be commenced. It is to be commenced because such an enquiry leads to
>> the
>> dawn of the knowledge of Brahman. The knowledge of Brahman is to be
>> sought,
>> because such a knowledge leads to the cessation of samsAra and the
>> attainment of moksha. For all of this to be true, it must follow that the
>> knowledge of Brahman leads to the cessation of samsAra.
>> Now, the knowledge of anything only has the capacity for the eradication
>> of
>> ignorance. Therefore, if by the eradication of ignorance, samsAra ceases
>> to
>> exist, it follows that samsAra has to either be ignorance or have
>> ignorance
>> as its material cause. The destruction of an effect can happen when the
>> effect is destroyed, or when its material cause is destroyed - e.g. the
>> destruction of a clay pot is possible when the pot is destroyed, or if the
>> clay that the pot is made of, is destroyed. As samsAra cannot be ignorance
>> itself, one is left with the hypothesis that samsAra is an adhyAsa, whose
>> material cause is ignorance.
>> Now, the destruction of a nimitta kAraNa, an efficient cause, does not
>> lead
>> to the destruction of the effect. The death of the potter does not lead to
>> the destruction of the pot. Therefore, for samsAra to be an adhyAsa, it is
>> not just sufficient for adhyAsa to have avidyA as its nimittakAraNa. It
>> requires that avidyA be the upAdAna kAraNa of adhyAsa. It is only then (if
>> the effect has ignorance as its material cause) that such an effect
>> (samsAra) is capable of being sublated by knowledge, through the
>> destruction of its material cause, ignorance.
>> To prove the possibility of such a hypothesis, Shankaracharya enquires
>> into
>> the nature of adhyAsa. The first section of the bhAShya raises a doubt
>> that
>> adhyAsa itself cannot exist. That is refuted by saying that not only does
>> adhyAsa exist, it is a matter of common experience. The next section of
>> the
>> commentary provides the definition of adhyAsa as smRtirUpah paratra
>> purvadRShTAvabhAsah adhyAsah. It is following the definition of adhyAsa
>> that Shankara writes - " tametam evamlakshaNam adhyAsam paNDitA adhyAseti
>> manyante". If his intention was to say that avidyA was the same as
>> adhyAsa,
>> what could be the purpose of such a sentence?  It cannot be his intent to
>> define adhyAsa as avidyA, because the definition of adhyAsa has already
>> preceded this sentence.
>> Therefore, this sentence must have a different meaning than to merely
>> state
>> that avidyA is adhyAsa. One such interpretation that tradition gives is
>> that adhyAsa is acknowledged by other systems such as yoga too. That is,
>> Shankara invokes other philosophical systems to build his case for the
>> existence of the adhyAsa of the self and the non self.
>> There are other interpretations of this sentence within tradition too -
>> one
>> other interpretation is that the effect, adhyAsa, itself is called avidyA,
>> the cause, by the wise ones. Such a usage is possible because the effect
>> is
>> non-different to the cause. It is desirable to do this to indicate that
>> adhyAsa, which is the cause of all evil, can be eradicated by vidyA - and
>> hence it is a-vidyA, that which is removed by vidyA, knowledge.
>> Coming back to the view that this sentence refers to the equation of
>> adhyAsa to the avidyA of the yogi-s - that yoga also refers to avidyA to
>> mean adhyAsa is acknowledged by Hacker himself in talking of the pancha
>> klesha-s or five defects being avidyA, asmita, rAga, dveSha, abhinivesha.
>> However where he differs is in concluding that avidyA used in the advaitin
>> sense has no place in Shankara's bhAShya-s.
>> This is a mistaken view because the idea that avidyA cannot be adhyAsa can
>> be inferred from the first sentence of the adhyAsa bhAShya itself. The
>> first sentence of the bhAShya responds to the objection that adhyAsa is an
>> impossibility by saying that adhyAsa  has been naturally occurring,
>> without
>> beginning (naisargiko'yam lokavyavahArah) - and one cannot deny something
>> that is a matter of common experience.
>> In doing so he, uses the phrase "itaretara
>> avivekena..mithyAjnAnanimittah".
>> Here, we say that the compound mithyAjnAna refers to a mithyA ajnAna. That
>> is, adhyAsa has a cause (nimittah) which is a mithyA ignorance.
>> If the compound mithyAjnAna is instead split as mithyA jnAna, false
>> knowledge, then the phrase mithyAjnAnanimittah would not hold meaning,
>> because it would mean mithyA-jnAna nimittah adhyAsah. mithyA jnAna, a
>> false
>> knowledge is nothing but adhyAsa itself. Therefore, mithyAjnAnanimittah,
>> in
>> this interpretation would mean adhyAsa-nimittah adhyAsah, i.e. the cause
>> of
>> adhyAsa is adhyAsa, which would be a tautology.
>> On the other hand, the interpretation mithyA ajnAna nimittah adhyAsah
>> shows
>> that the material cause of adhyAsa is ajnAna / avidyA, which is of the
>> nature of mithyA (neither sat nor asat).
>> It may be asked how does this prove that avidyA is the material cause, the
>> upAdAna kAraNa, when Shankara uses the word nimittah, which indicates the
>> nimitta kAraNa, the efficient cause? To this, it is said that the word
>> nimittah is used in the general sense meaning "cause", and the efficient
>> cause (the amarakosha says निमित्तं हेतुलक्षणो:, ie it says that words
>> nimitta, hetu etc are synonymous, meaning cause).
>> Further, the first sentence already mentions the efficient cause, the
>> nimittakAraNa  - as itaretara avivekena, ie adhyAsa arises as a result of
>> the lack of discrimination between the self and non-self. If the nimitta
>> kAraNa is mentioned, a natural question arises about its material cause,
>> the upAdAna kAraNa. To answer it, Shankaracharya uses the phrase
>> mithyA-ajnAna-nimittah, by which he wants to convey that it is avidyA that
>> is the upAdAnA kAraNa of adhyAsa.
>> Now if Shankaracharya's intent is that avidyA is the upAdAna kAraNa, why
>> did he not say mithyAjnAnopAdAnah? Why instead did he use the word
>> nimittah
>> in the phrase? This is because Shankara wants to convey that avidyA is not
>> just the upAdAna kAraNa, it is also the nimitta kAraNa of adhyAsa. That
>> is,
>> avidyA serves as the nimittakAraNa too as a doSha, a defect. That is,
>> adhyAsa arises due to the defect that is ignorance. It also has a mithyA
>> ignorance as its material cause. To convey this dual meaning he uses the
>> word nimittah, to refer to a cause in the general sense.
>> The interpretation of the phrase mithyAjnAna elsewhere in the bhAShya
>> needs
>> to have a similar context-based interpretation.
>> Hacker says that "avidyA for Shankara is more an affliction of the psyche
>> (klesha) than a cosmic power (shakti)". However, the equation of avidyA
>> with a klesha is simply Shankara mentioning the position of adhyAsa within
>> the yogic system as one of the pancha klesha-s.  The contention that
>> avidyA
>> according to Shankara is not a cosmic power, shakti, is refuted by the
>> words of Shankara himself.
>> In the commentary to sUtra 1.4.3, Shankara says - avidyAtmikA hi sA
>> bIjashaktir-avyaktashabdanirdeshyA parameshvarAshrayA mAyAmayI
>> mahAsuShuptih, yasyAm svarUpapratibodharahitAh sherate samsAriNo jIvAh -
>> that causal power (shakti), of the nature of ignorance, denoted by the
>> word
>> avyakta and located in the Supreme Ishvara, is mAyA. It is the great sleep
>> in which the jIvas slumber, unaware of their true nature.
>> Thus, contrary to Hacker's contention, Shankaracharya here specifically
>> equates avidyA to the cosmic power of Ishvara that creates the universe
>> and
>> deludes jIva-s into forgetting their own true nature.
>> I'm sure that if we spend the time to look at each contention by Hacker,
>> it
>> is possible to reconcile his allegations with the position of the
>> tradition
>> within advaita. That such a reconciliation is possible is not to fault
>> Hacker - it is just that on the other side, there is a living, breathing,
>> teaching tradition, which has the benefit of innumerable advaita thinkers
>> having considered these ideas over millennia.
>> Regards,
>> Venkatraghavan
>> On Sun, 15 May 2022, 14:11 Michael Chandra Cohen via Advaita-l, <
>> advaita-l at lists.advaita-vedanta.org> wrote:
>> > It seems to me any defense of Mulavidya vada would have to account for
>> > Hacker's exhaustive study. Sengaku Mayeda performed the same analysis on
>> > Upadesa Sahasri and came to similar conclusions
>> >
>> >
>> >
>> https://docs.google.com/document/d/1nE0s2sFIqc0fYdgto0rGlW16xx6lsNEDJKsWVr6CJPw/edit?usp=sharing
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