[Advaita-l] Authorship issues - 2

Vidyasankar Sundaresan 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 
academic criteria.

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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