beginningless avidyA and transmigration
Anand V. Hudli
anandhudli at HOTMAIL.COM
Fri Jun 4 12:31:05 CDT 1999
On Thu, 3 Jun 1999 16:06:39 -0700, Sankaran Panchapagesan
<panchap at ICSL.UCLA.EDU> wrote:
> To my beginner's mind, it seems as if the problem in advaita is
>similar to the one in buddhism, where I read that a specific causal chain
>leading to rebirth after death after birth, is called a transmigratory
>chain, without there being anything called the soul (or something like
>that.), which again ends when the intuitive knowledge of "SunyatA" is
>gained. (i.e. cessation of "avidyA"). As I seem to understand it, finally
>both buddhism and advaita deny the existence of a "soul" that
>transmigrates. Am I right in having a preliminary understanding that
>Buddhism and Advaita are very similar except that one (advaita) talks in a
>positive vein by affirming the existence of Atman/Brahman and the other
>(buddhism) in a negative vein by either denying the same, or refusing to
>speaking about it?
Similarities can be misleading and downright dangerous! You are right
in saying advaita denies a "soul", if you mean "jIva", the individual
soul. Even this denial is only from an ultimate viewpoint. advaita
certainly accepts the transmigration theory of the "jIva" as much as
any other system in Indian philosophy, where "jIva" is understood to
be Brahman reflected in a liN^ga-sharIra (subtle body). This acceptance
is, of course, only from a vyAvahArika viewpoint. From a purely
academic viewpoint, the apparent similarities between Buddhism and
advaita are because they can both be traced back to the upanishads.
This does not mean that advaita borrows from Buddhism. Only that
both have a common source, the upanishads.
In all probability, the Buddha got His enlightenment from studying
the philosophy of the upanishads which were pretty well-known during
His time. And He attacked the Vedas and misled the people, because
that was His mission. This may be a purely Hindu view of the Buddha,
but it is surprising to see how quickly so many people dismiss the
view as fanatic. What if the Buddha was, in fact, trying to mislead
corrupt Brahmins of the day into giving up their corrupt practices?
Is this so implausible as to dismiss it entirely as opposed to the
view that He was teaching a genuine philosophy? I don't think so.
Some of harshest criticism of Shankara in the BrahmasUtrabhAShya is
against the Buddhists.
The vital difference between advaita and Buddhism is that the former
acknowledges, accepts, and upholds the validity of the Vedas as the
means of knowledge regarding Brahman (shAstra-yonitvAt.h of the
BrahmasUtra's). Buddhism, on the other hand, which no doubt borrows
several ideas from the upanishads goes on to denigrate the Vedas,
the very source of its ideas! But Buddhism positively denies any kind
of absolute entity such as the Brahman/Self described in the upanishads.
The result is some kind of a distorted version of what is contained in
the upanishads. And this distorted version serves the purpose of misleading
people rather than presenting a genuine teaching.
Regarding Vedic sacrifices and like, Shankara vigorously defends the
use of sacrificial animals in his bhAShya on the BrahmasUtras. Even
in the upadeshasAhasrI, he says that when the mind becomes pure like
a mirror, vidyA manifests itself (chitte hyAdarshavadyasmAchchhuddhe
vidyA prakAshate). Therefore he goes on to recommend Yama, niyama,
obligatory and purificatory Vedic sacrifices (yajna's) and austerities
(yamairnityaishcha yaGYaishcha tapobhistasya shodhanam.h).
Sometimes people say that there are broad similarities between Buddhism
and advaita and only the details differ. But, we would say: "the devil
is in the details!"
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