[Advaita-l] Authorship issues - 2
svidyasankar at hotmail.com
Mon Sep 8 19:32:44 CDT 2003
In the first post of this series (31 Aug 2003), I provided a brief
introduction to issues involved in addressing the question of whether
Sankara is the actual author of a text attributed to him
In this second part, I will continue with details of how different scholars
have approached this issue.
Among the purely academic scholars who have investigated this question, two
names stand out. One is the German Indologist, Paul Hacker, and the other is
the Japanese scholar, Sengaku Mayeda. One other name may be mentioned as
having paved the way for their researches, and that is the Japanese scholar,
Hajime Nakamura. Other scholars who have addressed the authorship question
in one way or the other include Daniel Ingalls and Wilhelm Halbfass from the
USA, V Raghavan and Suryanarayana Sastri from India, Tilmann Vetter from
Netherlands and Madeleine Biardeau from France.
The two major questions these scholars have raised and attempted to answer
a. How does one determine what texts were actually written by Sankara?
b. In what order did he probably write these works?
Given that a large number of commentaries, independent texts and hymns are
traditionally ascribed to Sankara, any answer to the above questions has to
rely on literary and/or doctrinal criteria, which are themselves to be drawn
from the primary works of Sankara.
1. Sankara is taken to be, by definition, the author of the commentary on
the vedAnta sUtras (brahmasUtrabhAshya). All other works are to be studied
in the light of this commentary. This seems to be a firm foundation on which
to build such a scholarly analysis, because the bhAshyakAra of the advaita
tradition is THE Sankara in whom we are interested. Everybody seems agreed
on this criterion and it seems as if traditional pundits should have no
objection to it either, but I will examine one important limitation imposed
by it in a subsequent post in this series.
2. A text may be taken to be genuinely of Sankara's authorship if there are
commentaries on it or quotations from it by direct disciples or other early
authors. The brahmasUtrabhAshya satisfies this criterion, as padmapAda wrote
the pancapAdikA and vAcaspati miSra wrote the bhAmatI on it. Similarly, the
presence of sureSvara's vArttikas on the taittirIya and bRhadAraNyaka
bhAshyas indicates their authenticity. The quotations from upadeSasAhasrI in
sureSvara's naishkarmyasiddhi and from the bhagavadgItA bhAshya in
bhAskara's commentary also argue for the authenticity of those works. This
has been agreed upon by all the scholars mentioned above.
In my opinion, however, this criterion has one serious argument against it,
especially with respect to how it has come to be applied. If one can doubt
whether Sankara wrote a given text, then one can also doubt whether one of
his direct disciples wrote a commentary on it. For example, the
pancIkaraNa-vArttika on pancIkaraNa and the mAnasollAsa commentary on the
dakshiNAmUrti hymn are traditionally attributed to sureSvara. However, the
attribution of the original texts to Sankara and their corresponding
commentaries to sureSvara have both been doubted within academic
scholarship. No questions have been raised about the taittirIya and
bRhadAraNyaka commentaries and sureSvara's vArttikas on them. There are no
properly independent criteria to evaluate whether the same author wrote
these two vArttikas and the naishkarmyasiddhi. After all, if tradition is
supposed to be mistaken about textual attribution to Sankara, it may be
equally mistaken about textual attribution to sureSvara, as also about his
being a direct disciple of Sankara.
No detailed studies on style and language usage have been done on the
taittirIya and bRhadAraNyaka commentaries. Their attribution to Sankara, the
author of the brahmasUtrabhAshya, is consequently taken on faith, even
within critical academic scholarship. Meanwhile, pancIkaraNa and the
dakshiNAmUrti hymn are rejected, inspite of the presence of commentaries
attributed to sureSvara on them.
3. Paul Hacker points out that in the catalogs of the original manuscripts,
the author of all the primary commentaries is named specifically as Sankara
bhagavatpAda or bhagavat-pUjyapAda and as a disciple of govinda
bhagavatpAda, not just generally as SankarAcArya. Now, SankarAcArya has
become the title of the heads of monastic institutions in the advaita
tradition. Given that many SankarAcAryas have existed over the centuries,
many of the works whose author is named SankarAcArya may have been written
by titular SankarAcAryas and not by the same person who wrote the primary
The merit of this observation is that it is quite objective and independent
of any personal opinions a scholar may hold. According to this criterion,
Paul Hacker accepts upadeSasAhasrI, vivekacUDAmaNi and a vivaraNa on vyAsa's
yogasUtra bhAshya as genuine works. The manuscripts of all these works
specify the author's name as Sankara bhagavatpAda.
On the other hand, other scholars doubt the attribution of vivekacUDAmaNi
and the yogasUtra bhAshya vivaraNa to Sankara, the former because it seems
to be post-Sankaran in many respects and the latter because Sankara's
connection to the yoga tradition independent of the vedAnta tradition is
held to be questionable. This vivaraNa has also not been studied much within
the advaita tradition, which points to its probably having been written by a
different author. The oldest available manuscripts of the yogasUtra bhAshya
vivaraNa are in Malayalam script. It is said that there was another Sankara
bhagavatpAda from a Kerala nambUdiri family in the 14th century or so, who
may have been the author of this text.
If this is correct, then it follows that not only have there been multiple
SankarAcAryas, but there have also been more than one Sankara bhagavatpAda.
This raises the possibility that although the bhAshyas on the brahmasUtra,
the principal upanishads and the gItA are all attributed to Sankara
bhagavatpAda in the manuscripts, one or more of them may have been written
by a Sankara bhagavatpAda who was different from the one who wrote the
brahmasUtrabhAshya. It has not been proven by critical academic scholarship
that the same author wrote all the primary bhAshyas. Thus, when contemporary
researchers take the commentaries on the principal upanishads as genuine
works, they are still taking these texts on faith, not on independent
As for the other principal upanishad commentaries, an appeal to the
probability that they may have all been written by the same author is rather
weak. It is the same tradition that has studied and transmitted the
independent texts and the commentaries together. If an independent text,
vivekacUDAmaNi, attributed to Sankara bhagavatpAda, may nevertheless be
post-Sankaran in origin, then it is equally probable that an upanishad
bhAshya, also attributed to Sankara bhagavatpAda, may also be of
post-Sankaran origin. Conversely, both the bhAshyas and the independent
texts may be genuine, and scholars have to reevaluate what exactly is
legitimately Sankaran and what is post-Sankaran. A priori, there is no
rigorous reason to privilege the commentary and devalue the independent
The only exceptions to the above comments are the texts that have been
investigated by Sengaku Mayeda, using criteria of style and language usage
derived from the brahmasUtrabhAshya. I will discuss these in the next post
in this series.
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