[Advaita-l] Re: Buddhism Related Discussions

Ramesh Krishnamurthy rkmurthy at gmail.com
Fri Aug 18 14:25:59 CDT 2006

On 16/08/06, Jaldhar H. Vyas <jaldhar at braincells.com> wrote:
> So it would seem more profitable not to consider Indian (or South Asian,
> or Hindu or Eastern...) culture as a monolith.

I was referring to the culture of bhAratavarSha - the subcontinent.
One can probably use the word "Indic". It is not a monolith, but there
is a strong substratum (that word again!) that anybody can see unless
s/he wants to deny it on purpose. SrI Sankara's travels exemplify that

The priest at Badrinath comes from Kerala, at Pasupatinath (Kathmandu)
from coastal Karnataka and at Rameswaram from UP!

> Anyway as already mentioned that particular offshoot if you want to call
> it that withered away many centuries ago in most parts of India.

The jaina-s too were far more widespread earlier than they are today.
And even the remaining ones are often difficult to distinguish from
the vaidika-s. Many schools, including vaidika ones, have withered
away over the centuries. Also, bauddham has staged a comeback of sorts
with the followers of Dr Ambedkar. They even have a new name for their
sect - bhImayAna. Overall, it is closer to theravAda as mahAyAna is
perceived as being too "brahminical" and "Sanskritised".

> >
> > Names like tathAgata and sa~NghamitrA have long been popular in Orissa
> > and Bengal, and to a lesser extent in Bihar.
> How long have they been popular?
> Apart from perhaps the Tibetan influenced areas like Darjeeling and around
> Sikkim I doubt if you will find such names from between the 12th to 19th
> centuries (when interest in Buddhism revived due to western scholarship.)

The bauddha-s in the Darjeeling-Sikkim belt have close ethnic &
cultural links with Tibet - Sanskrit names are not common among them.
I was referring to Oriya and Bengali speaking people. At least some of
the people (with such names) I have met come from fairly traditional
families who are unlikely to have been influenced by 19th century
western scholarship. It is noteworthy that Orissa has remained a
fairly traditional society till today. British influence was much
lesser in Orissa than in Bengal. Orissa was also a major centre of

But the most interesting "Indic" bauddha-s are from Nepal. I am
referring to them as "Indic" because they are are not Tibetan
influenced bauddha-s, but a remnant of the old bauddha-s of the
subcontinent. They are followers of vajrayAna, and have a jaati
system, with only the priestly "bajrAcArya" jaati allowed to perform
certain tAntric rites. In recent decades, the bajrAcArya-s have
largely taken on secular occupations, with the result that traditional
knowledge is being lost (sounds familiar?). And yet, I hear that they
are generally resistant to learning anything about vajrayAna from the
Tibetan lama-s, as the latter are considered foreigners (i.e. of
non-subcontinental origin). Some of these bauddha jaati-s consider
themselves to be the descendants of the SAkya clan of kShatriya-s in
which the historical buddha was born. These communities share a close
knit relationship with their vaidika neighbors.

> For Nagarjuna shunyata is the ultimate.  For Advaitins, there is
> something beyond mithya--Brahman.

May be we could debate this a bit more with better understanding.
Anyway, nAgArjuna was not the only bauddha AcArya. mahayAna in general
has concepts like dharmakAyA, tathatA, etc which are more like the
advaitic brahman.

> In fact in this regard the Buddhist view is even more extreme than the
> Charvakas who were atleast willing to admit atma = bodily self.  But the
> Buddhists think concepts such as self and consciousness are momentary
> (kshanika) This is why the karika refers to their view as "it does not
> exist, it does not exist"

I dont quite agree with this. From the perspective of any school that
posits an Atman for each individual (the basic idea that "Jaldhar's
self" and "Ramesh's self" are different, whether bodily or otherwise),
the advaitic conception of the non-dual Atman is tantamount to
rejecting the very idea of Atman. The advaitins use the term Atman,
but it is not an individual self. It is not the entity that undergoes

As the early bauddha-s rejected the idea of an individual self, they
were asked the question, "what is it that undergoes rebirth?" I am not
very clear on what is the bauddha answer to this. But the same
question can be put to the advaitins also. We have the concept of
li~Nga SarIra or sUkShma SarIra (correct me if I am wrong here). But
this is not the Atman. Therefore, I dont find anything extreme in the
bauddha rejection of the individual self. They still conceive of
saMsAra as a cycle of births & deaths, which means some kind of
continuity has to be maintained, and there can be various theories for
the same.

> > And it was the theistic vedAntins who referred to the advaitins as
> > pracanna bauddha-s. Commonalities of vaidika pramANa, etc
> > notwithstanding, it is much easier to appreciate the difference
> > between the advaitins and (say) the mAdhva-s, than the difference
> > between the advaitins and the bauddha-s.
> >
> If one is determined to "appreciate" one difference over another there
> isn't much to argue about.  But such subjective opinions aren't very
> useful to other people.

Well, the fact is that advaya, mAyA, non-creation, etc are found in
mahAyAna. There are brahman-equivalent terms too. It appears to me
that pretty much whatever distinguishes advaita-vedAnta from the other
vaidika schools is also found in mahAyAna. The last sentence is of
course my subjective opinion. As you say, such opinions are not very
useful to other people. But then, your opinion that the similarities
between advaita-vedAnta & the bauddha schools are only superficial is
an equally subjective opinion and therefore equally useless :)

Anyway, what I am planning to do is as follows: I am doing some
reading on vij~nAnavAda. Once I am done, I will try to put up a post
comparing the same with advaita-vedAnta. This will take a couple of
weeks at least. The vij~nAnavAdins were criticised by the other
bauddha-s for being too close to the vedAntins. They are

> How much ancient cultures of India were related and to what extent they
> influenced each other is an open question.  And what our attitude towards
> them should be *today* is more a political question than a historical one.

As Abhishek said, it is tough to separate history from politics. But
what you say about ancient cultures is equally true of ancient
darSana-s. So the relationship between advaita-vedAnta & the bauddha
schools is an open question too.

In my subjective opinion, discussing who influenced who is an exercise
driven by the ego and is best avoided. Therefore, I only talk about
understanding similarities & differences, culturally as well as
philosophically. In all my posts in this thread, I have never talked
about who influenced who.


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