[Advaita-l] Authorship issues - 1

Vidyasankar Sundaresan svidyasankar at hotmail.com
Sun Aug 31 13:38:03 CDT 2003

The recent discussion in the thread Vivekachudamani vs. Bhashyas has raised 
some important general considerations regarding how to determine whether a 
text generally attributed to Adi Sankara is indeed a composition of his or 
not. I will try to summarize the various points that weigh in on this topic 
in this series of mails.

The full range of texts traditionally attributed to Sankara is perhaps quite 
well-known to list members. A brief description is given at 
http://www.advaita-vedanta.org/avhp/sankara.html and a fuller list with 
texts can be found at 
http://sanskrit.gde.to/doc_z_misc_shankara/doc_z_misc_shankara.html .

Till recently, Indian tradition, being largely orally transmitted, did not 
keep written records as well as some other cultures. In the late 19th and 
early 20th centuries, a need was felt for printing a large number of texts 
from various traditions. This in turn raised questions of whether all the 
texts attributed to prolific authors were actually written by him or were 
falsely/mistakenly attributed to them. Doubts have been raised not only 
about Sankara's works but also about Kalidasa's poems and dramatic plays, 
musical compositions handed down over the centuries etc.

Generally, such questions were raised by people outside the tradition of 
pundits and practitioners. The world being what it was till the mid-20th 
century, that usually meant the small community of academic scholars, 
populated largely by Europeans and to a lesser extent by Japanese and 
Americans. With very few exceptions, we may characterize such scholars as 
people who were interested in learning ABOUT various texts, but not in 
learning FROM them. This contrasts with traditional followers who tend to be 
primarily interested in grasping the content and not so much in the external 
form. This probably holds true for studies of Chinese, Iranian Greek and 
Latin texts and traditions too ... As far as advaita texts are concerned, 
the few Indian scholars who involved themselves in these questions did not 
get too deeply into questioning authorship. This is partly because they 
tended to interested in synthesis, not analysis, and partly because even the 
undisputed texts are a large enough corpus to keep entire generations of 
scholars busy.

Once a doubt is raised about texts attributed to a famous author, intense 
study and analysis is required, from an angle that is quite different from 
the perspective of traditional faith. This is perhaps easily accomplished 
for those who are not interested in learning from texts, but when their 
conclusions are presented to us, they often strike a jarring note. Many of 
us on this list carry a dual legacy of having some kind of family connection 
with advaita tradition on the one hand, although we may not have a deep 
knowledge of the Sanskrit language, and having gone through modern education 
according to Western paradigms on the other. We are therefore uniquely 
situated in combining the traditional perspective of learning from the 
advaita texts with that of learning about and analyzing the authorship of 
the same texts. There is already one example, that of Swami Saccidanandendra 
Sarasvati of Holenarsipur, who attempted precisely this.

This approach requires us to equip ourselves with (a) a passable knowledge 
of Sanskrit, (b) a dispassionate approach towards existing scholarly 
publications, (c) a similarly dispassionate approach towards our own 
tradition, and (d) courage to face up to conclusions that might contradict 
previous scholars/teachers.

In the next post in this series, I will describe the previous scholarly 
attempts to address issues of authorship with respect to advaita texts and 
the advantages/shortcomings of each point as I see it. At the outset, let me 
caution that there are no absolute certainties in my conclusions, only 
probabilities. I request list members who might differ from my conclusions 
and/or approach to feel free to raise their doubts/objections. I may not be 
able to respond to them immediately, but I will get to them eventually.

Best regards,

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