Not Gaudapada, but Buddha!

Vidyasankar Sundaresan vidya at CCO.CALTECH.EDU
Fri Feb 6 15:45:09 CST 1998

> By nastika, I meant Buddha, not Gaudapada. For quite a few author are of the
> opinion that Gaudapada felt that Buddha was only expounding the philosophy
> of the Upanishads. And if it's Buddha that Gaudapada is saluting, then would
> Buddha be the first Advaitic teacher?

See, the problem with such questions is one of whom we believe. We will
never know for ourselves whether Gaudapada is saluting the Buddha or
Narayana, will we? There is verbal testimony from one side that it is
Narayana, and there is inferential argument from another, that it is the
Buddha. And one who is mythologically inclined may as well ask, what is
the difference, isn't the Buddha an incarnation of Narayana?

But as for whether the Buddha is the first advaita teacher or not,
(whether in Gaudapada's opinion or otherwise) we will have to delve into
the reasoning of the kArikAs, and not be content with the salutation
alone. Here again, there is a diversity of opinion. Still, the thrust of
the argument in the kArikA is that one must accept an Absolute as the
substratum (adhishThAna) of all experience, and the text ends with a very
succinct, "this was not said by the Buddha". Without taking away from the
content of the Buddha's teaching, it should be clear that without
accepting an adhishThAna, there is no advaita. And by accepting an
Absolute, there can be no middle-path of the Buddha, the central position
of which is neither acceptance nor denial. In my opinion, it would be an
injustice both to advaita thought and to bauddha thought to simply claim
the Buddha as the first advaitic teacher.

> Interestingly, even Ramana Maharishi felt that the Compassionate One's
> followers misinterpreted him. S Radhakrishnan is of the same opinion. And
> the reference to Narayana in Gaudapada's salutations are made mostly by
> Hindu monks belonging to one orthodox tradition or the other, who don't want
> the Buddhist influence to show.

Not necessarily. Sankara presumably met, talked with, and knew direct
disciples of Gaudapada, if not Gaudapada himself. At the very least, the
distance in time between the kArikAs and Sankara cannot have been very
great. When he says that the salutation is to Narayana, it must be given
some weight, instead of dismissing it as arising due to a wish to suppress
any Buddhist influence. The question now is whether Sankara himself wrote
the commentary on the mANDUkya upanishad and the associated kArikAs. I
don't want to get into a long discussion of this, but again, the scholarly
consensus is that this is most probably Sankara's work.

This line of thought (about Hindu monks not wanting to acknowledge
Buddhist influence) probably originated with Tscherbasky's writings on
Buddhism and Vedanta. Again, I feel that he and others who interpret
Buddhism (especially Mahayana) as entailing an Absolute like the advaitic
Brahman are misinterpreting Buddhism.

> I think it's sad that we who strive for the TRUTH, for the sake of orthodox
> tradition, should not acknowledge and try to understand the greatness of the
> teachings of probably, the singular greatest philosopher Bharath has
> produced. Again it'll only be our loss!

It is a question of how the truth is constructed. If we are only concerned
about the Absolute Truth, it has no parts, and it does not matter who
before you has reached it. What should matter is whether you reach it or
not. We can acknowledge the Buddha as a great Buddhist philosopher, why
appropriate him as an advaita philosopher?

If it is geographical truth, in terms of the Buddha being a Bharatiya
philosopher, such a thing is a very recent development. For most of the
two millennia after the Buddha, neither the upholders of Hindu tradition
nor the foreign countries which became Buddhist viewed the Buddha as
particularly Bharatiya. Given that Buddhism is widely practised in a
number of other countries, acknowledgement of the Buddha by orthodox
Hindus will be more than a little hypocritical, don't you think? And in
any case, Nepal has a better claim to the Buddha than Bharat, no? Unless,
our notion of Bharat is a quasi-imperial one, to include all our
neighbours in the subcontinent.

If it is historical truth about the so-called orthodox and heterodox
traditions, then we should get an idea of the tangled relations between
Buddhists and Brahmanas. A valid case can be made that neither the Buddha
nor his immediate followers acknowledged the greatness of the upanishadic
sages like uddAlaka and yAjnavalkya. Even in contemporary times, neither
the theravAdins nor the mahAyAnikas acknowledge any similarity to or
influence of/on upanishadic thought. For example, the structure of the
kAlacakra maNDala in Tibetan Buddhism shows remarkable congruence with the
five koSa doctrine, first seen in the taittirIya upanishad, but the
Tibetans don't even seem to be aware of the upanishadic teaching. So, the
upholders of tradition on either side, do not see much room to equate
Buddhism and Advaita, at any level. Those of us who do so, end up being
neither here nor there, and may eventually end up creating a third
tradition, which tries to combine both.


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