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

K Kathirasan brahmasatyam at gmail.com
Tue May 17 08:39:54 EDT 2022


When discussing avidya, we cannot disregard Shankara’s attempt to define it systematically at 3 instances in his Bhashya-s:

Brahma Sutra Bhashya, 13.2 - ajñāna saṃśaya viparyaya
Brhadaranyaka Upanishad Bhashya, 3.3.1 - jñānābhāvo yadi saṃśayajñānaṃ yadi viparītajñānaṃ
Bhagavad Gita Bhashya, 13.2 - viparīta-grāhakau saṃśayopasthāpako vā agrahanātmako vā

The above descriptions show a systematic consistency in the way Shankara has described avidya. This consistency corresponds to the functions of shravana, manana and nididhyasana as well i.e. shravana tackles the absence of knowledge, mañana - doubts, nididhyasana - deep seated misconceptions.

I am sharing this with all of you with no intention to deepen the polarised views, but in the spirit of expanding our own perspectives on avidya. 

Kathirasan K

> On 17 May 2022, at 7:56 PM, Michael Chandra Cohen via Advaita-l <advaita-l at lists.advaita-vedanta.org> wrote:
> Namaste Sri Raghav,
> Thanks for sharing this study of Hacker. The paper does not criticize
> Hacker's enumeration of avidya usage. Hacker is simply providing evidence -
> eurocentrism, whether true or not, is of little consequence.  For instance,
> Hacker states,
> "If follows from what has been discussed up to this point that S. does not
> materialize avidyA. As a result the adjective jada, which is constantly
> added to avidyA from PadmapAda onward ... is missing in S. Moreover, the
> epithet *bhavarupa, *which can be found in Advaita texts from JnAnottama
> onward, is missing"
> There is nothing Eurocentric in that passage but yet it is key to
> understanding Sankara's teaching.
> On Mon, May 16, 2022 at 11:42 PM Raghav Kumar Dwivedula via Advaita-l <
> advaita-l at lists.advaita-vedanta.org> wrote:
>> Namaste
>> 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.
>> https://www.academia.edu/9270352/The_passion_of_Paul_Hacker_Indology_orientalism_and_evangelism
>> 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.
>> Om
>> Raghav
>> 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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