advaita and Buddhism
Anand V. Hudli
anandhudli at HOTMAIL.COM
Mon Jun 7 16:41:49 CDT 1999
I apologize to Ganesh for posting a reply to some of his (private) e-mail
but he raises some issues that may be of interests to others in this list.
1) Shankara's defence or opposition to animal sacrifices as per the
second chapter of the gItA bhAShya.
2) The broader issue of Buddhism and advaita.
3) Whether GauDapAda merely gave a "Buddhist interpretation" to
4) If the Buddhism and advaita share the same goals what difference
does it make if they only differ in the details.
Here's my response.
I agree that Shankara might not have actually encouraged animal
sacrifices, but I do maintain that he was well in agreement with
the Vedas, unlike Buddha, and so Shankara must have agreed with
the principle that killing of animals in Vedic sacrifices does
not constitute a breach of dharma. I am positive that this was
his stand because his commentary in the sUtra-bhAShya (3rd adhyAya)
is unmistakable. Even if there is any seeming contradiction in
other commentaries of Shankara (which I doubt very much is the
case), the sUtra-bhAShya has long been held to be one of the
unquestionable works where Shankara is identified as definitely
being the author. Whether he held an exactly opposite view in
personal life is open to speculation and therefore cannot be
Regarding the broader contention of yours that Buddhism did not
borrow from the upanishads, I sincerely disagree. I have been trying
to authenticate a verse I received from private communication
which I hope to post to the list in a few days. The verse is from
the work of Mahendra Varma a Pallava king who came _before_ both
GauDapAda and Shankara,and he mentions in the verse ideas from
the upanishads and the MahaBhArata were borrowed. Surely he could
not have been defending GauDapAda and Shankara.
The discussion of who is a true brahmin in the mahAbhArata, for
example, is echoed in the DhammapAda.
Regarding your contention that advaita borrowed techniques from
Buddhism, this is open to interpretation. It is true that some
advaitins such as shrIharSha made use of Buddhist arguments against
logicians, but this hardly says anything. In a hypothetical argument
with, say the VaishNavas of today, I may very well make use of
western logic because of its almost universal acceptance today.
And I may defend advaita using western (propositional/predicate
logic) as a mere tool. Does that make me a Christian? Or does it
make advaita Christianity-in-disguise? No. Why not? Because, the
use of such logic is NOT indispensable to advaita. advaita can stand
on its own without the need for western logic arguments. It so
happened that it was just a preference of mine to use such logic
to defend advaita. MadhusUdana SarasvatI, for example, makes
extensive use of nyAya terminology in his defence of advaita.
Does this then make advaita a borrower of concepts from the
nyAya school? No. In a similar fashion, just because shrIharSha
or even if GauDapAda used Buddhist terminology/techniques in arguing
for advaita says nothing about the indebtedness of advaita to Buddhism.
advaita can stand on its own as an independent system;
there is no dependence implied or otherwise on other systems, as
far as the core doctrines are concerned. So I find the criticism
that Shankara and GauDapAda borrowed Buddhist concepts to come
up with advaita and suggesting that advaita is a mere variation
of Buddhism, rather amusing. I would insist that it was
Buddhism that borrowed, without acknowledgement, many ideas from
the upanishads and the mahAbhArata until I see concrete evidence to
the contrary. Even so-called modern historians and scholars agree
that upanishads existed before Buddha and even they concede
that at least parts of the Bhagavad GItA are pre-Buddhist.
I would also give little importance to academic scholars and so-
called intellectuals. Many a time on the advaita list, the attitude
of the academicians has been discussed and many others, besides me
feel that whatever the academicians say must be taken with a large
dose of salt! Others who claim to be intellectuals too, out of a
regrettable inferiority complex feel that whatever good there is
in Hinduism/India is borrowed from elsewhere and whatever bad there
is in Hinduism/India is indigenous. The ramblings of those who belong
to this category is not worthy of consideration.
Finally, what I meant by "the devil is in the details" is that
just as it is important to define ideals and goals, it is equally
important to define the means by which those ideals and goals
may be achieved. Even if one were to agree that the ideals of
advaita and Buddhism are the same, which they are certainly not,
the means of achieving those ideals are vastly different in advaita
and Buddhism, due to the fact that one accepts the timeless Vedas as
the final authority and the means, and the other takes a clear stand
against the Vedas. Carrying this line of reasoning further, what is
achieved by the following the Vedas (including the upanishads) cannot be
the same as what is achieved by not following the Vedas or by going against
the Vedas. If the opposite were the case, the Vedas would be redundant. And
this is an absurd and unacceptable position. This is yet another argument
to show that advaita and Buddhism cannot have anything but a similarity
that only the naive would be guilty of perceiving.
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