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

Michael Chandra Cohen michaelchandra108 at gmail.com
Wed May 18 18:14:58 EDT 2022

Sir, The Stanford Dalal article was indeed intended to stand as
misinterpreted Vedanta and not in conformity with SSS and Bhasya. The
concept of a "relatively real" vyavahara and comparable phrases is repeated
frequently in the paper.


On Wed, May 18, 2022 at 10:57 AM Venkatraghavan S <agnimile at gmail.com>

> 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
> mahAsuShuptih.
>> 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
> mithyAjnAna.
>> 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
> below.
> 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.
> Regards,
> Venkatraghavan
>> 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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