[Advaita-l] pratItyasamutpAda and advaita

Amuthan aparyap at gmail.com
Sun May 4 00:47:32 CDT 2008

Dear SrI Ananta Bhagwat,

On Sat, May 3, 2008 at 11:28 PM, Ananta Bhagwat <ananta14_at_yahoo.com> wrote:
>  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?

I'm not sure if this is the appropriate place to discuss this topic
since it is not directly related to advaita, but I'll briefly touch
upon some aspects of this problem.

By asserting that the pratItyasamutpAda-SUnyatA equation is absent in
the Buddha's teachings and that this is AcArya nAgArjuna's innovation,
one is making precisely the same mistake that some vedAntin-s make
when they assert that post-SaMkara vedAntin-s have misinterpreted
SaMkara by introducing mUlAvidyA or by stressing the role of
yogAbhyAsa for cittaSuddhi etc. What AcArya nAgArjuna teaches is the
_same_ as what the Buddha taught though he presents it in his own
style. The way pratItyasamutpAda is presented in the tripITaka clearly
implies SUnyatA (and consequently the pratItyasamutpAda-SUnyatA
identity) though it is hard to come across any explicit statement to
that effect. This is understandable if we notice that the Buddha shows
a marked indifference to any form of metaphysical speculation. Compare
this with the typical attitude of SaMkara to dismiss any enquiry into
the ontological status of avidyA and the later advaitin-s' effort to
present SaMkara's teachings in a form that gives room for such an
enquiry (within vyavahAra and with obvious limitations). Such
developments in the presentation of a philosophical system are quite
natural and are better interpreted as an effort to accomodate the
original teachings within an ontological framework than as a deviation
in the essential philosophical content.

Let me also mention (to avoid the risk of being misunderstood) that
advaita is _not_ the same as the bauddha siddhAnta. Though the
enigmatic silence of the Buddha and the similarity between the two
schools give enough room for such an equation, I don't think it would
be proper to equate the two. Unlike vedAnta where we have (in
vyavahAra) two fundamental padArtha-s, AtmA and anAtmA, the bauddha
worldview does not classify reality based on the notion of a self. To
a bauddha, such a classification is a completely irrelevant activity
as far as nirvAna is concerned. What is meant by anAtmA in the bauddha
darSana is the absence of a svAbhAvika sattA to any observed phenomena
(including our consciousness) and not in the sense of being different
from the Self (AtmA) as we do in vedAnta since the bauddha-s assert
that there is no such Self. To a bauddha, even the notion of brahman
as a sarvavastusvabhAva (and the direct consequence of this -
jIva-brahmaikya) is an unnecessary ontological speculation. If this is
kept it mind, it obviously doesn't make any sense to equate the SUnya
of bauddha to the brahman of advaita since SUnya by itself does not
have an existence; It is rather the negation of any existence. To say
that this 'absence of svabhAva' (svabhAva-abhAva) itself has an
independent existence (svabhAva) is useless speculation, besides being

With the above difference between advaita and Buddhism clearly
understood, I agree with you that pratItyasamutpAda (as explained in
the tripITaka) can be readily incorporated within advaita in the same
sense that yogAbhyAsa is integrated within advaita though the
pAta~njala darSana is not. But there is no necessity to explicitly do
so since the essential idea of pratItyasamutpAda is well contained
within advaita. Its just a matter of name and form :)

Best regards,

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