gaudapaada and buddha (was Re: brahman by ...)

Vidyasankar Sundaresan vidya at CCO.CALTECH.EDU
Mon Dec 2 18:58:03 CST 1996

On Sat, 30 Nov 1996, Kim Poulsen wrote:

> Vidyasankar Sundaresan:
> >Again, one could find fault with your last sentence. If you look at how
> >the Brahminical tradition has internalized Buddha as an avatar of Vishnu,
> >it is in a rather hostile sense. And GK, being appended to an upanishad,
> >is a quintessential Brahminical document.
> If there is something Gaudapada is not, it is your average brahmin.
> You can hardly affirm that a primeval revelation should have much
> to do with secterian emotions in popular works. We have at
> one hand a secret treatise, considered in part an upanishad itself,
> being highly repectful of buddhist thought. On the other a few remarks
> in popular, exoteric works which may be interpolations.

I'm sorry if I conveyed the impression of putting the Karikas at the
same level as some quotes in Puranas. However, I still maintain that the
history of Brahmanical-Buddhist relations in India is quite complicated
and mostly hostile. In particular, the non-acceptance of the Vedas as a
valid source of knowledge is a vexed point between the two broad streams
of Indian philosophical thought, viz. Brahmanic and Sramanic.

> > I also find it difficult to believe that Gaudapada would say, "The Buddha
> >was born to reveal it" and that a century later, his grand-disciple,
> Sankara,
> >would find fault with the Buddha's teaching as being misleading.
>    You completely misses my point here, I'm afraid: The Buddha did not
> teach on certain subjects, hence the teaching is incomplete. Being
> incomplete it will not give a full picture, - unless you *also* studies
> vedanta. This is the only solution that can explain both the positive
> and negative comments.
>    Furthermore without this, the arising of Mahayana metaphysics would
> be  incomprehensible, they would be innovations, had the Buddha not
> worked from a framework which is often only alluded to in his sayings.

There is a passage in Udana, which has often been quoted by Dr. Suzuki and
other Mahayana scholars. Here the Buddha actually seems to affirm an
absolute. But this then raises another question. Did the earlier
Theravadins all completely miss the actual intention of the Buddha?

> >In general, the advaita vedAnta tradition does not set great store by
> >a particular person being born to reveal a particular doctrine.
>    I withdraw the word born, it gives a wrong impression. It will suffice
> to say that Gaudapada represents his various terms (including the
> typically buddhistic) as facts, not something to refute or somebody
> else's view. This includes, among many terms, Buddha and Buddhas.
>   Further more he inserts a short desciption "of that which is not
> taught by the Buddha" between verses with a buddhistic form. This
> includes Atman and its four quarters, etc. - or something looking
> like a desciption of the upanishad content.
>    This gives me a definite impression of "filling in the blanks."

This again goes to the core of the debate. The Atman in the waking state
is necessarily the atman that all Buddhist schools deny the reality of, is
it not? In the Vedanta, this Atman is seen as the foundation (adhishThAna)
of all sense-experience. Does the madhyamaka affirm such a thing of say
the "bodhicitta" or of "tathatA"?

> >>Shankara says in Nikhilananda's translations, "is said to
> >> be similar to or very near ot the truth of the non-dual Atman. But this
> >> knowledge of non-duality, which is the Ultimate Reality can be attained
> >> through Vedanta alone."
> >This is asking the buddhists to commit to a rather radical shift in their
> >allegiances, no? According to the same Sankara, vedAnta can be learned
> >from the upanishads alone, which are Sruti. Remember that the rejection of
> >the Sruti as a valid source of knowledge is a corner-stone of any buddhist
> >school of thought.
> Not their allegiance, rather their attittude. And this rejection is
> no-different from that demonstrated by their brahminical counterparts..
> Fundamentalism is ever popular, demanding little intellectual effort.

I think it goes beyong attitude. The brahminical attitude towards the
Vedas is as a valid source of knowledge, whether in the mImAm.sA system or
the vedAnta system. They also affirm the Vedas to be beyond human
composition. In contrast, the Buddhists would have seemed to them as
trying to substitute the Vedas with alternative scripture, which was
spoken by a human being, even if that human was the Sakyamuni. Note that
the Brahminical view of scripture does not accord the Gita the same status
as the Vedas, because the Gita was spoken by a human being, although the
human was Krishna, an avatAra. There is more than blind fundamentalism
involved in this.

> >>   Or said different, the paramartha, the highest meaning of these
> >> doctrines, was not touched upon by the Buddha, and must be
> >>  found in the Vedanta.
> >Here, I draw attention to Sankara's one-sentence criticism of madhyamaka
> >buddhism in his brahmasUtra bhAshya. He says in effect, "to deny the
> >reality of this world, without affirming a higher reality, is to fall into
> >nihilism."
> - and which is adressing a very common misinterpretation of buddhist
> philosophy.

No, Sankara is not merely dismissing madhyamaka as nihilism. He finds it
problematic that the madhyamaka does not affirm an absolute. Now, we may
differ on whether madhyamaka does affirm an absolute or not, but I think
Sankara is right. Nagarjuna's main intention seems to be to break down all
talk of any absolute. Four centuries after Sankara, SrIharsha openly
admits that his advaita dialectic is very similar to that of Nagarjuna's,
except for the fact that he affirms an absolute where the madhyamaka
school does not.


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