[Advaita-l] article by Coman

Sundaresan, Vidyasankar (GE Infra, Water) vidyasankar.sundaresan at ge.com
Thu Jun 14 11:23:42 CDT 2007

>Anyone interested in investigating further the idea of Sankara as a
>prior to Advaita may be well advised to consult Paul Hacker (selected
>translations from the original German may be found in, Philology and
>Confrontation, ed.: W. Halbfass). For those unfamiliar, Hacker is a
seminal and
>insightful academic who has provided some interesting analysis of
>Notwithstanding and possibly because of the occasional critique, Hacker
is a good
>read for any serious student of Advaita. 

Yes, Hacker has many important points to make, which must be read
carefully. However, for some reason, Paul Hacker gets more attention
than many other academics who have contributed very interesting analyses
on Sankara and advaita vedAnta, Hajime Nakamura, Tillmann Vetter,
Madeleine Biardeau, Daniel Ingalls and Sengaku Mayeda, to name a few.
Vetter and Biardeau have not been as influential as Hacker. They mostly
wrote in Dutch and French respectively, but unlike Hacker, they did not
concentrate only on Sankara, advaita vedAnta and neo-Vedanta. Readers
will also notice a couple of Japanese names in the above list. In fact,
Japanese scholars have been producing some excellent research work on
advaita vedAnta. Shoun Hino, who has been extensively studying
sureSvarAcArya's vArttikas, comes to mind.

Returning to Hacker, specifically in the case of Sankara bhagavatpAda's
stance on yoga, I think he has completely missed the point. I have tried
to address some of this in my postings on Yoga and Advaita Vedanta on
this list.

(As an aside, to those who have asked about continuing that series, the
last two posts are archived at
.html and
html. I have not been able to post anything on this thread after January
2007, but hope to resume by the end of July.)

In Hacker's analysis of Sankara, everything goes back to a central
question, "which works traditionally attributed to Sankara can be
considered genuine?" The brahmasUtra bhAshya is considered the key text,
and is therefore genuine, by definition. Now, there are many other
important texts that are undoubtedly genuine, but which don't seem to
fit with the assumptions that he has made about authorship. This problem
appears in its keenest form when yoga related discussions are found in
the texts. Hacker now modifies the above central question and asks, "was
this text, no doubt genuine, written by Sankara when he was a mature
philosopher or was it written when he was a student?" The presumption is
that the same person would have more likely made mistakes and/or
contradicted himself when he was a young student as compared to when he
matured as a philosopher. The problem of authenticity of a text is
thereby converted to a problem of internal chronology in Sankara's
career as an author of vedAnta texts. This then leads Hacker to
speculate (and it is nothing more than speculation, in my opinion), that
Sankara was a vaishNava attached to the gItA, and originally a yogin
with affinity to the system of pAtanjala yoga, who later became an
advaita vedAntin, via exposure to gauDapAda's asparSa yoga, and thus
rejected yoga altogether (as seen in sUtrabhAshya 2.1.3 - etena yogaH

I find this kind of argument to be merely self-fulfilling, in that it
allows Hacker to never question his initial assumption(s). He comes to
his final conclusions by making more assumptions as he goes along. It is
amazing to read the number of times he uses phrases like "must have
been", "may have led to", "tentatively" etc. when initially exploring an
idea. By the end of the same essay, these have given way to "clearly"
and "definitely" and "obviously" in restating the same idea as a
conclusion, with very slight modifications in a handful of cases. When a
second scholar quotes Hacker and a third scholar refers to the second,
the same idea now gets reiterated and cited as if it has been proved
beyond all doubt and as if that is the only possible academic conclusion
about these texts and the tradition. What is often overlooked is that
Tillmann Vetter and Madeleine Biardeau each have come to very different
conclusions about the order in which Sankara presumably wrote the
various texts. Daniel Ingalls raises a cautionary note about pivoting
everything around the brahmasUtra bhAshya and he considers the
bRhadAraNyaka bhAshya to be the more original text.

Wilhelm Halbfass makes a highly important point, which we would do well
to remember -

"It requires extreme caution to identify "inconsistencies" and
"contradictions" which would be illegitimate in Sankara's own horizon
and which would provide reliablem unambiguous clues for actual changes
in his thought and for a development from earlier to later positions."
(Studies in Kumarila and Sankara, Studien zur Indologie und Iranistik,
Monograph 9, Reinbek, ed. Inge Wezler, 1983)

I think this one statement captures the basic problem that various
people have when it comes to yoga and how Sankara and the advaita
vedAnta tradition treat it.


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