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

Venkatraghavan S agnimile at gmail.com
Wed May 18 10:57:15 EDT 2022

Namaste Michael ji,
A few comments in-line.

On Wed, May 18, 2022 at 12:54 PM Michael Chandra Cohen <
michaelchandra108 at gmail.com> wrote:

> Citations from the Hacker paper below:
> Hacker (1950, pp. 248–249) noted that avidyā “ignorance” in the BSBh is
> synonymous to adhyāsa “superimposition.”

As discussed, in the sentence in the adhyAsa bhAShya, it is adhyAsa that
has been called as avidyA (evamlakshaNAm adhyAsam...avidyeti manyante), not
the other way around. For the conclusion to be that avidyA and adhyAsa are
synonymous, the denotation to be bi-directional. Here the sentence is
"adhyAsam (in the objective case) avidyeti manyante" - ie adhyAsa is
considered to be avidyA (by the wise ones).

There are ample examples in the bhAShya where a word denoting the cause is
used to refer to the effect. For example, the sUtra tadadhInatvAdarthavat
(1.4.3) in fact says that the word "avyakta" is used to denote the physical
body, because the physical body is a product of avyakta. Therefore, it is
not surprising that Shankaracharya says that adhyAsa (effect) is often
referred to by the wise ones as avidyA (the cause).

In fact in this very bhAShya, after saying that the word avyakta is
avidyAtmikA bIja shaktih (a causal power, of the nature of avidyA),
Shankaracharya goes on to say: avidyA hyavyaktam, avidyAvattvenaiva jIvasya
sarvah samvyavahArah santato vartate - It is avidyA that is denoted by the
word avyakta; for it is only because of the jIva being ignorant that his
continuous sequence of transactions are possible. Putting these two
together, the entity "avidyA" is the causal potency that gave rise to the
world referred to in the sentence avidyAtmikA hi sA
bIjashaktir-avyaktashabdanirdeshyA parameshvarAshrayA mAyAmayI

> Avidyā is also used synonymously to mithyājñāna “false cognition,
> misconception”.
Not in the adhyAsabhAShya, for reasons articulated previously.

> 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.

The later advaitins who consider avidyA to be the cause of mithyAjnAna are
those that hold mithyAjnAna to be mithyA jnAna, ie adhyAsa. Those that hold
mithyAjnAna to be mithyA ajnAna (the panchapAdikA-kAra, for example), do
not consider avidyA to be the cause of mithyAjnAna - for them avidyA IS

> 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.”.

This view of avidyA as anirvachanIya (sadasadbhyAm anirvachanIyam -
unclassifiable as real or unreal) is mentioned in several places in the
bhAShya by Shankaracharya. In the very same bhAShya of BS 1.4.3,
Shankaracharya says avyaktA hi sA mAyA, tattvAnyatvanirUpaNasyaashakyatvAt
- That mAyA is avyaktA (indescribable), because it cannot be proven to be
either real, or unreal.

In fact this particular bhAShya is very relevant to the discussion, because
in the one place you have three ideas from Shankaracharya:
1)  The entity denoted by the word "avyakta" is the same as mAyA
(mAyAmayI), is of the nature of avidyA, is located in Ishvara, and is a
causal potency (shakti)  - avidyAtmikA hi sA
bIjashaktir-avyaktashabdanirdeshyA parameshvarAshrayA mAyAmayI mahAsuShuptih
2) That mAya is indescribable as either real or unreal, ie mithyA - avyaktA
hi sA mAyA, tattvAnyatvanirUpaNasyaashakyatvAt
3) avyakta is avidyA, and the jIva is under the influence (tadadhIna as per
the sUtra) of avidyA - avidyA hyavyaktam, avidyAvattvenaiva jIvasya sarvah
samvyavahArah santato vartate
4) It is this avyakta, which is nothing but avidyA, which is the basis for
Ishvara's creation of the world - parameshvarAdhInA tu iyam asmAbhih
prAgavasthA jagatah abhyupagamyate - sA ca avashya abhyupagantavyA ;
arthavatI hi sA - na hi tayA vinA parameshvarasya SraShTRtvam sidhyati,
shaktirahitasya tasya pravRttyanupapatteh.

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
> rarely.

If Hacker agrees that avidyA having material causation is found in the
bhAShya - then it is accepted by Shankaracharya. To then argue that avidyA
does not have material causation would be contradictory. The rarity of
occurrence is no basis to argue for non-acceptance. At most, we can
conclude that it did fall under the search criteria. Reasons articulated

Frequency of occurrence is no proof of relevance or use - it is a mere
curiosity, not proof. The issue is exacerbated for non-native speakers of
Sanskrit / computer search programmes, where the erroneous conclusion that
one may reach is that such ideas are less relevant to the author.  When the
same idea is conveyed with different words, a frequency analysis is not
particularly useful in determining the centrality of the idea.

For example, the idea of mithyAtva as sadasatvilakshaNatva occurs in the
bhAShya as tattva-anyatvAbhyAm-anirvachanIyam; mAyA is sometimes referred
to as avyakta, sometimes as shakti, sometimes as avidyA, sometimes as
AkAsha, sometimes as akshara; avidyA being the cause of the body etc are
said in a manner where the very term avidyA etc does not occur (e.g tacca
avyaktagatam mahatah paratvam abhedopacArAt *tadvikAre* sharIre
parikalpyate).  If a frequency analysis has taken these types of issues
into account, well and good, but it is difficult to know to what extent
this has been accounted for by the researcher.

Further, this particular frequency analysis occurs in an article whose
purpose is a method to determine Shankaracharya's authorship of certain
works / identifying his verbal signature, if you will. When that is the
stated purpose of the article, we cannot extrapolate the findings from such
a report to draw conclusions on the centrality or otherwise of avidyA in
Shankaracharya's thinking.


> 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
> ignorance
> 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
> Namarupa
> 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
> consist.
> //..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.
> Eshwara
> 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).
> https://www.academia.edu/79198170/The_Reliability_of_Hacker_s_Criteria_for_Determining_%C5%9Aa%E1%B9%85kara_s_Authorship

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