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  • What Determines Śaṅkara's Authorship?The Case of the Pañcīkaraṇa
  • Vidyasankar Sundaresan


Śaṅkara is traditionally credited with the composition of a number of independent texts (prakaraṇa granthas) and hymns on various deities, in addition to his commentaries on the basic source texts of Vedānta. The presence of early commentaries on or quotations from a work traditionally attributed to Śaṅkara plays an important role in a critical study of the Advaita texts. Thus, the presence of Sureśvara's vārttikas on the TUBh and BUBh and his quotations from the US in the NS allow scholars to accept that Śaṅkara, the author of the BSBh, also wrote these other texts. Among the numerous prakaraṇa texts attributed to Śaṅkara, the Pañcīkaraṇa1 carries great importance. According to standard manuals that describe the procedure of saṃnyāsa, the newly initiated monk is to be taught the inner meaning of the syllable auṃ as explained in this text. Its importance is also reflected in the fact that numerous commentaries upon it are known, beginning with one attributed to Sureśvara.2 For this reason, both Belvalkar (Potter 1981, p. 318) and Dasgupta (1932, pp. 78-79) accept the traditional attribution of the Pañcīkaraṇa to Śaṅkara.

However, if Śaṅkara's authorship of a given text can be questioned, so can Sureśvara's authorship of a commentary on it. Thus, in spite of the traditional attribution of the Praṇavavārttika (commentary on the Pañcīkaraṇa) and the Mānasollāsa (commentary on the Dakṣiṇāmūrti hymn) to Sureśvara, there is great doubt about the authenticity of both the original texts and the corresponding commentaries. In the absence of independent guidelines to investigate Sureśvara's authorship of a sub-commentary or an independent text, some of the reasons offered to doubt the genuineness of the original texts and their commentaries end up being circular in nature. For example, the genuineness of the Dakṣiṇāmūrti hymn is doubted because Sureśvara's authorship of the Mānasollāsa is questioned (Potter 1981, pp. 317, 550), while the attribution of the Praṇavavārttika to Sureśvara is rejected because Śaṅkara's authorship of the Pañcīkaraṇa is said to be doubtful (Potter 1981, p. 560). It should be obvious that similar reasoning can equally well be applied to the TUBh and the BUBh and the corresponding vārttikas also, although no one seems anxious to doubt seriously the authenticity of these texts.

Mayeda (1992, p. 60) offers other independent reasons to doubt the attribution of the Pañcīkaraṇa to Śaṅkara. Potter (1981, p. 560) holds that the Praṇavavārttika is clearly redolent of Tantra, and also that both the original text and its commentary have been influenced by various schools of Yoga, including mantra, laya, haṭha, and rāja varieties. This presumably suggests a time of composition much later than that of [End Page 1] Śaṅkara. On the other hand, Pande (1994, p. 115) thinks that this text occupies a special place among the prakaraṇa texts, as it teaches "cosmological back-tracking" as part of a meditation practice, and therefore concludes that this text is genuine. Pande accounts for the supposed influence of Tantra in the Praṇavavārttika by postulating that Śaṅkara and Sureśvara had connections to Tāntric traditions.

Within the Advaita Vedānta tradition, the name Śaṅkarācārya has become a title for heads of monasteries that trace their lineage to Śaṅkara, but such is not the case for Sureśvara. While one may expect that a work reverentially attributed to Śaṅkarācārya, but not to Śaṅkara Bhagavatpāda, may have been composed by one of the numerous titular Śaṅkarācāryas,3 it is not understandable how a commentary on such a work would also come to be equally reverentially, but mistakenly, attributed to Sureśvara. A reputation as a vārttikakāra is not sufficient to explain away the attribution of the...


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