Antiquity of Advaita Vedanta

Anand Hudli anandhudli at HOTMAIL.COM
Sun Jun 25 12:55:56 CDT 2000

On Sat, 24 Jun 2000 07:06:42 +0000, Vidyasankar Sundaresan
<vsundaresan at HOTMAIL.COM> wrote:

>nanda chandran <vpcnk at HOTMAIL.COM> wrote:
>>Yup, no doubt about it. But it should be understood that neither does
>>the Self in Advaita stand for the "self" as normally understood and
>There is one important thing to remember. Our usage of Roman script allows
>us to write Self/self, Atman/atman, Brahman/brahman, and make a distinction
>between such members of a pair. Neither in Indian/Tibetan/Chinese/Japanese
>scripts, nor in spoken language, is such a distinction possible. That in
>itself can lead to lots of misconceptions.

 I remember having read in Walpola Rahula's book that the Buddha does
 not use the word "Atman", at all in the dhamma. Peter Harvey's
 authoritative book, "An introduction to Buddhism" has this to say:

 "In the Buddha's day, the spiritual quest was largely seen as the search
 for identifying and liberating a person's true self (Skt atman,
 Pali atta). Such an entity was postulated as a person's permanent inner
 nature... In Brahmanism, this atman was seen as a universal Self identical
 with Brahman, while in Jainism, for example, it was seen as the
 individual 'life principle' (jiva)... The teaching on phenomena as
 not-self is not only intended to undermine the Brahminical or Jain
 concepts of self, but also much more commonly held conceptions and
 deep-rooted feelings of I-ness. To feel that, however much one changes
 in life from childhood onwards, some part remains unchanged as the
 'real me', is to have a belief in a permanent self... The Buddha
 accepted many conventional usages of the word 'self' (also atta),
 as in 'yourself' and 'myself'. These he saw as simply a convenient way
 of referring to a particular
 collection of mental and physical states. But within such a conventional,
 empirical self, he taught that no permanent, substantial, independent,
 metaphysical self could be found."
  Harvey further quotes the explanation of an early Buddhist nun called
 Vajira. She uses the analogy of a "chariot" to describe the non-self
 theory. A chariot can be viewed as a collection of parts functioning
 together. Similarly, the conventional term "being" refers to what are
 called five khandas functioning together. There is no self involved
 here, only the five khandas, none of which is a "self".

 So I feel that the Buddha meant to achieve two ends with his
 non-self theory - 1) to reject the Brahminical and Jain theories of
 "atman" or "jiva". and 2) to eliminate the "suffering" of people which
 the Buddha saw was due to egoism. So what he ended up doing was
 essentially "throwing the baby out with the bath water" by rejecting
 both the Atman (Self) and the ego (self, ahaMkAra).

 Further, it is apparent to one who reads Buddhist works, including
 nAgArjuna's, that there is a deliberate attempt to deny what is
 called "reification", treating abstract things as though they are real.
 It is parallel to the modern-day scientific/materialist demand for a
 "proof" or "measurement" of things such as consciousness. The scientist
 will say that consciousness is simply a high-sounding term we give to
 a bunch of chemical reactions in the brain. (In fact, we had a member
 in this list who was arguing along those lines.) Any "non-dual"
 experience is then explained away as some chemical reactions happening
 in the brain. As the Buddhist nun Vajira states, the conventional
 self, what we mean when we say "I" is only due to the functioning of
 parts of the body, aggregates. An independent entity called "self",
 independent of this functioning does not exist.

>>I'll not agree to this "great thinkers" and obiesence to them. It is
>>that this is the attitude in the supposed age of reason. Contrast this
>It is not that one should blindly follow anybody else. What I am arguing
>for is that those who have transmitted the tradition need to be given due
>weight when they make particular statements about such things as we are
>debating. Without very solid arguments, we cannot throw out all the
>accumulated evidence from so many people, who have all been great brains,
>based on our own reading of the texts those very people wrote. Yes, once
>you take all this into account, you can find out where people disagree with
>one another, even within a tradition, and you can apply your own reason to
>make sense out of it. But in cases where there is broad agreement about
>something, that is an indication of how the tradition has progressed, and
>it must be taken seriously.

 I would also add that apart from the traditional followers of Shankara,
 the smArtas, the so-called neo-advaita schools of Ramakrishna/Vivekananda,
 Ramana, Chinmayananda, etc. also do not buy the Buddhist influence theory.
 When I was visiting Austin, Texas, in January of 1996, I happened to
 meet with Swami Tejomayananda, Head of the Chinmaya Mission, who was
 giving discourses on the gItA. I had a conversation with him during a
 private "satsang" where I brought up the issue of GauDapAda.
 The Swami said "GauDapAdAchArya has worshipped nArAyaNa" (these were
 his very words) in the kArikA.

 So what we would contend against, if we insisted on a Buddhist influence
 on advaita, is not just the collective wisdom and intelligence of
 Shankara's direct followers which itself is unmatched in history, but
 also the intelligence of such brilliant minds as Vivekananda,
 Chinmayananda, and others who are sometimes referred to as
 neo-advaitins. I am not suggesting a "I-am-so-insignificant-compared-
 to-these-great-people" defeatist attitude. All I am saying is that
 we should have a solid, bullet-proof (as they say here in the US) case
 if we have to prove all these people wrong or question their integrity.


bhava shankara deshikame sharaNam

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