[Advaita-l] pratItyasamutpAda and advaita

Ananta Bhagwat ananta14 at yahoo.com
Sat May 3 12:58:01 CDT 2008

Dear All

Here is my understanding of pratItyasamutpAda vis-a-vis advaita.

In brahma-sUtra-bhAshya (BSBh), Sankara argues against Buddhist Schools in II.2.18-32. In last two of these sUtra-s (II.2.31 and 32) he summarily dismisses Buddhist doctrine on the basis of kshaNikatva (momentariness) and SUnyatA (emptiness or absence of substratum). Sankara does not find any logic in both these principles; and says that Buddhist view should be abjured in every way. 

One thing needs to be noted here is that Sankara does not refute empirical framework of pratItya samutpAda but refutes sarvAstivAdins, yogAcArins etc who use this principle to assert their view. Also, anAtmA and pratItyasamutpAda are said to be based on original Buddha teachings and hence they are the metaphysical axioms of Buddhism. SUnyatA has been equated in mAdhyamka to pratItyasamutpada; it is a later position formulated by nAgArjuna in the name of Buddha: "yaH pratItyasamutpAdaH SUnyataH tAM pracakshamahe" (mUlamAdhyamakakArikA 24.18).

When anAtmA and pratItyasamutpAda were standing separately in Tripitaka (Pali canon), the most authentic expression of early Buddhism, why were they combined into the axiomatic identity pratItya-samutpAda = SUnyata (= anAtma) by Sri nAgArjunA in his Sanskrit text? 

It looks to me, this act of nAgArjuna (c.. 2nd century AD or later) foreclosed (or minimized) the possibility of pratItysamutpAda being used as another vedAnta prakrIyA like adhyAropa-apavAda, anvaya-vyatireka, or dRk-dRshya viveka. We can find the support for this argument in Sankara's BSBh itself (II.2.20). In refuting sarvAstivAdins Sankara reaches the position of 'permanence' as the 'third' alternative while discussing origination (utpAda) and cessation (nirodha). Here, Sankara could have called this permanence as brahman, but he refrains from it possibly because mAdhyamaka too can call it SUnya (emptiness) due to their axiomatic position of pratItyasamutpAda = SUnya.

It is interesting to note that gauDapAda does not dwell on pratItyasamutpAda much but uses it only to show that absolute consciousness is not governed by pratItyasamutpAda (GK IV.28). He bases his arguments on the upanishadic principle brahman = Atman though in the process he sometimes uses terminology prevalent in Buddhist literature. (e.g. MMK of nAgArjuna; and mAdhyamakarhudaya kArikA of bhAvaviveka).

The ajAtivAda (no origination) of advaita will look benignly at 'dependent-origination' since it happens in vyavahAra. Ultimately, whether flux of the universe can stand on its own (mAdhymaka) or whether it needs acosmic substratum (brahman of advaita), are two axiomatic positions. I tend to go with advaita (otherwise, I would not have been on this list) but will not have any problem if somebody decides to call brahman as SUnya. (What is in a name; brahman is beyond name and form after all).


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