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

Vidyasankar Sundaresan vsundaresan at HOTMAIL.COM
Wed Jun 21 01:13:44 CDT 2000

Okay, at last we are getting somewhere with this discussion.

Sankaran Kartik Jayanarayanan <kartik at ECE.UTEXAS.EDU> wrote:

>Actually, the first two verses don't claim that the Buddha taught asparsha
>yoga. The second verse says that asparsha yoga is "deshitaH taM," that
>which is *obtained from scripture*.

Let us go back to GK 4. 1-2.

jnAnena AkASa-kalpena dharmAn yo gagana-upamAn |
jneya-abhinnena saMbuddhas taM vande dvipadAM varam ||

asparSa-yogo vai nAma sarva-sattva-sukho hitaH |
avivAdo 'viruddhaS ca deSitas tam namAmyahaM ||

1. The first verse salutes him who is "saMbuddha." The knowledge of this
saMbuddha is further described as AkASakalpa, jneyAbhinna, and the objects
of this knowledge are also gaganopama. Compare with AkASakalpa.

2. The second verse salutes asparSa-yoga, which is avivAda and aviruddha.

3. The taM in the first verse refers to the one who is saMbuddha. The taM in
the second verse refers to the asparSa-yoga.

4. The word deSita does not refer to scripture directly here. It is common
to call the teacher as deSika, that which is taught is deSita. The clearest
and most unstrained reading of the text would suggest that the saMbuddha in
the first verse is the deSika intended to be saluted, and the asparSa-yoga
is the corresponding deSita. Any reference to sripture will come indiretly,
inasmuch as the deSika teaches in accordance with Sruti. It should be
obvious that the person who is saluted in the first verse taught

5. I find it amazing that nobody cares to pay attention to the opposite of
asparSa, namely the word sparSa, meaning touch. Look at bhagavadgItA, where
very early on in the teaching of Krishna, there is a verse beginning
mAtrAsparSas tu kaunteya (2. 14). There are numerous references in the gItA
to sparSa, meaning contact of sense organs with their gross objects, and
yoga/meditation as a means of withdrawing from this contact, i.e. asparSa.

6. It is more than possible that this is what Sankaracharya has in mind when
he says that the salutation is to nArAyaNa, the founder of the Advaita
sampradAya. His reference could well be to Krishna, the teacher of the gItA,
which has been described as advaita-amRta-varshiNI in one traditional verse.

7. One might say that even if this is what Sankaracharya has in mind, it may
not be what Gaudapada had in mind when he wrote GK. In response, note the
following parallel -

auMkAraM pAdaSo jnAtvA na kiMcid api cintayet - GK 1. 24

AtmasaMsthaM manaH kRtvA na kiMcid api cintayet - gItA 6. 25.

Note that gItA chapters 5, 6 and 8 are full of references to meditative
techniques for withdrawing from sparSa of the sense organs with material
objects. Note also that gItA describes meditation on auM as one of these
techniques. The mANDUkya upanishad describes the details of one kind of
meditation on auM, and Gaudapada uses that description as a springboard to
discuss various philosophical issues. Suffice it to say that if we read GK
in light of gItA and the way it is interpreted in the Advaita tradition, we
will understand the text much better.

8. Sankaracharya wrote the pancIkaraNa, describing the meditation on auM
similarly. The correspondences between this text and his bhAshya on gItA are
numerous. His disciple, Suresvaracharya, wrote the praNavavArttika on this
text, and the references to gItA are even more obvious. In partiular, note

cidAtmani vilInaM cet tac cittaM naiva cAlayet - praNavavArttika, 53,

and compare with the above two quotations. Note the remarkable conservation
of the theme from teacher to great-grand-disciple. The tradition is very
continuous in this respect.

9. Therefore, when Sankaracharya says that the salutation is to nArAyaNa, it
need not mean that it is to Buddha as an incarnation of Vishnu. Rather, it
could be to Krishna as an incarnation of Vishnu. When a commentator says
something, it is because he has intimate knowledge of the teaching, the
texts and the teachers. We should give due weightage to it, especially those
of us who consciously place ourselves within the tradition. Any sort of
appeal to Buddhists may be on the lines of the following - "Buddha is an
incarnation of Vishnu, but Krishna is also an incarnation of Vishnu, and
here is Krishna's teaching, presented through topics familiar to Buddhist

10. I might be sounding pedantic, but I think it is high time we realized
one thing. We can debate topics within Advaita forever. We can debate the
relationship between Advaita and Buddhism forever. But without a first-hand
knowledge of the texts, we will always rely upon what some scholar said, and
what some other scholar said in response to the first, and so on. To get to
the heart of the matter, we need to do what is called "close reading" of the
text. This is especially necessary for difficult texts like GK and MMK.
Superficial similarities and differences should not be given undue weight.

It has taken academic scholarship almost two hundred years to wake up to the
fact that our traditional commentators are most of the times remarkably
faithful to the text they are commenting upon. See for example, Patrick
Olivelle's paper on Haradatta's commentary on the Apastamba dharmasUtras, in
the Journal of Indian Philosophy, available free online (for now), at
<>. When Sankara as a
commentator on GK says something, it should not be thrown aside. Even if one
doubts that the commentator on GK is the same as the commentator on the gItA
or the brahmasUtras, the commentary is a traditional text and needs to be
taken into consideration, and not simply construct contrary theories.

>Moreover, if you see Nagarjuna's mUla madhyamaka kArikA, the invocation
>deshayAmAsa saMbuddhastaM vande vadatAM varaM .
>"I bow down to the Buddha... the greatest among the teachers."
>The GK 4.1 reads:
>GYeyAbhinnena saMbuddhastaM vande dvipadAM varaM .
>"I bow down to the Buddha (whose knowledge is non-different from the
>object of knowledge), the greatest among the bipeds."
>They are both praising the saMbuddha, but in a different way. GauDapAda
>praises the Buddha, but is very careful not to praise the Buddha's

What we know for sure is that GK is *stylistically* referring to MMK. In
light of the above, it seems rather unlikely that the "saMbuddha" in the two
texts is the same historial Buddha.


bhava shankara deshikame sharaNam

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