Antiquity of advaita vedanta (was : an open letter to all)

nanda chandran vpcnk at HOTMAIL.COM
Wed Jun 14 12:43:45 CDT 2000

Regarding the objections raised by Ravi and Anand about the necessity of
learning bauddha logic, let me point out something.

Some of the greatest Advaitins are outspoken admirers of MAdhyamaka thought.
While GaudapAda keeps saluting the Buddha repeatedly in his KArikA, Sri
Harsha finds nothing better than the MAdhyamaka dialectic to refute other
schools. The great VAchaspati Mishra, one of the greatest scholars in Indian
philosophy, openly lauds the intellectual calibre of the MAdhyamika.

I can sympathize with Ravi's concerns regarding my posting an article on the
MAdhyamaka. But Ravi please understand that the MAdhyamaka doesn't try to
preach anything. It has no doctrine at all. It just analyzes what we call as
knowledge and questions them. If it is based purely on reason how could you
stand to lose, by understanding their arguments?

Advaita as a philosophical school was non-existent at the time of NAgArjuna.
So there's no contradicting Advaita here. Infact, Advaita as a philosophical
theory, implicitly accepts the MAdhyamaka arguments of the ultimate
unreality of the phenomenal world. For that is what gives logical base to
the theory of mAyA. But that doesn't make Advaita prachanna bauddham and
I'll explain why in the last part of the article.

In those days of yore, there was healthy interaction between philosophers of
different streams. VAda or discussion itself is the main reason that Indian
philosophy reached the levels that it did. And GaudapAda or KumArilla Bhatta
never had any problems about learning Bauddha logic. Because the main
criterion was a sincere quest for the truth. Advaita itself is a result of
over two millenea of philosophical effort in India.

Today, we have no such environment and people take up Advaita directly.
Without understanding the fundementals as taught by earlier schools, Advaita
theory is almost impossible to understand. For that is the base on which the
Advaita dialectic works. To negate views you've to first understand them and
then rise to a higher level of dialectical and philosophical consciousness.

Though practice is important, without knowing the goal which comes from
understanding theory, how accurate can practice be? Advaita has to be
understood in all its dimensions - dialectical, theoretical and practical.
And it has to be understood in that order. Without understanding the first
it is not possible to understand the second and so on.

And mAyA is probably along with shUnya the most misunderstood topic in
Indian philosophy. It is to understand it in the intellectual sphere I'm
asking you to understand the MAdhyamaka dialectic and how it ultimately
differs from Advaita.

As Aristotle says, "the mark of an educated mind is to entertain a thought
without accepting it". Being Advaitins who pride ourselves on our jnAnic
path, we should atleast have that level of tolerance.
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