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

Michael Chandra Cohen michaelchandra108 at gmail.com
Wed May 18 07:53:28 EDT 2022

Citations from the Hacker paper below:


Hacker (1950, pp. 248–249) noted that avidyā “ignorance” in the BSBh is
synonymous to adhyāsa “superimposition.” Avidyā is also used synonymously
to mithyājñāna “false cognition, misconception”. Hacker (1950, p. 249)
claims that the later Advaitins, in contradistinction to Śaṅkara, consider
avidyā the cause of mithyājñāna and the stuff (material) out of which every
wrong cognition is formed.

It is interesting to note that mithyājñāna is not the same as avidyā even
for Padmapāda. Padmapāda disjoins Śaṅkara’s compound mithyājñāna into
mithyā and ajñāna, although it is clear that Śaṅkara understands it as
mithyā + jñāna “false knowledge.” Padmapāda interprets mithyā as
“inexpressible” (anirvacanīya), while he takes ajñāna “ignorance” to mean
the capacity (śakti) of avidyā that is of an insentient nature.15

15 PañcP, p. 4, line 20: mithyā ca tadajñānaṃ ca mithyājñānam | mithyeti
anirvacanīyatā ucyate ajñānam iti ca jaḍātmikā avidyāśaktiḥ
jñānaparyudāsenocyate | “That which is both mithyā and ajñāna is
mithyājñāna. The word mithyā means ‘inexpressible’, and the word ajñāna
means ‘power of ignorance’ that consists of insentience and is a negation
of knowledge.”.

Hacker (1950, pp. 253–254) notes that efficient causation is assigned to
avidyā more often than material causation in BSBh as compared to the later
Advaitins, where ignorance becomes the prime matter out of which the world
is made. Hacker, however, points out that a strong distinction between the
material and efficient cause is unnecessary, because expressions where
avidyā is qualified by the word bīja “seed” and avidyātmaka “having the
nature of ignorance,” which imply material causation, also appear, albeit

21 Cf. BSBh 2.3.31 and 2.1.14

Attributes of ignorance found in later Advaita Vedānta do not appear in
BĀUBh and TaittUBh. Such an attribute is jaḍa “insentient,” which appears
in Padmapāda’s Pañcapādikā (p. 4, line 21) and in Sureśvara’s BĀUBhV
4.4.896 as an attribute of avidyā. Attributes of ignorance such as “power
of dispersion” (vikṣepaśakti) and “power of concealment” (āvaraṇaśakti) are
also missing from BSBh24; they do not appear in TaittUBh either.

Attributes of ignorance found in later Advaita Vedānta do not appear in
BĀUBh and TaittUBh. Such an attribute is jaḍa “insentient,” which appears
in Padmapāda’s Pañcapādikā (p. 4, line 21) and in Sureśvara’s BĀUBhV
4.4.896 as an attribute of avidyā. Attributes of ignorance such as “power
of dispersion” (vikṣepaśakti) and “power of concealment” (āvaraṇaśakti) are
also missing from BSBh24; they do not appear in TaittUBh either.

//..This shows that certain concepts that were developed in later Advaita
are rooted in Śaṅkara’s original works. While the expression āvaraṇātmaka
is used in BĀUBh as a passing remark, Sarvajñātman systematizes teachings
on the power of concealing and the power of dispersing as the two powers of

If naisargika and svābhāvika can be understood as synonyms, this is another
example of compatibility between BSBh and the Upaniṣad commentaries.

An important issue is that BĀUBh and TaittUBh make no attempt to define the
locus/bearer (āśraya) 29 and object (viṣaya) of ignorance. Hacker (1950, p.
255) emphasizes that theorizing about this is contrary to Śaṅkara’s teaching


Hacker considers the frequent use of the term nāmarūpa “name and form” to
be a characteristic of Śaṅkara’s language. Nāmarūpa appears quite
frequently in BSBh (104 times), with a frequency rate of 0.09%.33 In BĀUBh
and TaittUBh, the frequency of its use is remarkably similar to the
frequency in BSBh. It appears 72 times in BĀUBh (0.07%) and 20 times in
TaittUBh (0.11%). However, the claim that frequent use of nāmarūpa
indicates Śaṅkara’s authorship cannot be applied to some other works
reasonably attributed to Śaṅkara. In BhGBh, which is half of the size of
BSBh, it appears only twice (both in BhGBh 18.50) at a frequency rate of
0.004%. It appears four times in KaUBh and only once in ĪUBh. According to
Harimoto (2014, p. 254) and Mayeda (1967, p. 45), the absence of the term
nāmarūpa is not a reason to doubt Śaṅkara’s authorship. On the other hand,
nāmarūpa appears only five times in Padmapāda’s Pañcapādikā (0.00017%) and
eight times in Sureśvara’s TaittUBhV (0.0005%), while it is lacking
entirely in NaiṣS

Hacker argues that nāmarūpa was to Śaṅkara what avidyā and māyā was to the
later Advaitins; however, it seems that Sureśvara and Padmapāda are in line
with Śaṅkara in this respect.

According to Hacker (1950, p. 265), this chain of terms in which ignorance
affects name and form in some way is unique to Śaṅkara. As far as this
author was able to verify, this concept truly does not appear after
Śaṅkara. However, this feature is not especially common in other works that
are attributed to Śaṅkara

In PañcP, the term māyā appears only nine times, but never in a way
comparable to the usage in BSBh and in the Upaniṣad Bhāṣyas attributed to
Śaṅkara. For Padmapāda, māyā is not illusion or mirage, but rather an agent
that creates illusory appearances, or is the matter of which all phenomena

//..It may be assumed that the development of māyā as a philosophical and
metaphysical concept is more rooted in Padmapāda’s usage of the term than
in Sureśvara’s, who follows Śaṅkara more closely in this case.


Hacker (1950, p. 276) notes that Śaṅkara refrains from identifying the
highest Lord with ānanda “bliss,” except in cases where ānanda appears in a
text upon which Śaṅkara comments. This feature distinguishes BSBh from the
later Advaitins, who regularly identify highest brahman with ānanda.

Sureśvara’s opposition of kṣetrajña-īśvara is atypical of works associated
with Śaṅkara

This prime matter is also a limiting adjunct (upādhi) of īśvara. However,
even at this point, the terms īśvara and brahman are interchangeable as
brahman is also often referred to as a creator; the only distinction is
that īśvara’s “īśvarahood” (īśvaratva) is illusory, while “brahmanhood” can
never be illusory.

The most important of Hacker’s observations concerns the interchangeable
use of the words (parama-) ātman/(paraṃ) brahman with (parama-) īśvara.
Hacker also notes that Śaṅkara’s successors use the word īśvara less often.
It appears that the use of the word īśvara only for conditioned brahman
took place later; Śaṅkara’s direct successors did not yet use the word
īśvara only for conditioned brahman.

The term (parama-) īśvara appears 48 times in BĀUBh, but only 16 times in
TaittUBh, as compared to BSBh where it appears hundreds of times
(parameśvara alone appears around 150 times).


On Tue, May 17, 2022 at 3:00 PM Venkatraghavan S via Advaita-l <
advaita-l at lists.advaita-vedanta.org> wrote:

> Namaste Raghav ji,
> Thank you.
> On Tue, 17 May 2022, 04:10 Raghav Kumar Dwivedula via Advaita-l, <
> advaita-l at lists.advaita-vedanta.org> 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.
> >
> As far as I know, all bhrama in advaita is explained by anirvachanIya
> khyAti, which requires avidyA as the upAdAna kAraNa. In the case of
> prAtibhAsika things, the upAdAna kAraNa is tUlAvidyA - e.g. the case of the
> rope snake, shell silver etc. In the case of vyAvahArika things, the
> upAdAna kAraNa is mUlAvidyA.
> In the path to Yamunotri being mistaken for the path to Gangotri, the
> avidyA of the path to Yamunotri undergoes pariNAma to appear as the path to
> Gangotri to the person. When he reaches Yamunotri, his avidyA of the path
> to Yamunotri is destroyed, leading to the sublation of the illusion of that
> being the path to Gangotri. Here too, the avidyA is not just the nimitta
> for the adhyAsa, it is also the upAdAna.
> > 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.
> >
> > Not just for a jnAni, for anyone who experiences an adhyAsa - the
> sublation of the adhyAsa is only possible if ignorance is the material
> cause of the adhyAsa. Without avidyA as the material cause, there is
> neither the adhyAsa, nor is there its sublation.
> Regards,
> Venkatraghavan
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