[Advaita-l] Maya and Buddhism

Jaldhar H. Vyas jaldhar at braincells.com
Sun Feb 12 01:36:27 CST 2012

[Was Re: [Advaita-l] Holenarsipur Swamiji's remarks and why even Avidya 
is not necessary for Advaita]

On Tue, 31 Jan 2012, Kalyan K wrote:

> Orthodox advaitins may find it difficult to accept that some of the
> concepts in advaita-vedanta have been used in buddhism before.

"Orthodox" Advaitins (who tend to be more educated about these matters 
than the "modern" ones) wouldn't find it difficult to accept that 
Buddhists use similar terminology but they would vigorously contest the 
"before" part.  This has come up on the list several times in the 
past so you may wish to look in the archives for the full discussion but 
to give just one example, the word maya occurs in the Rgveda (10.54.2) 
Let's just go back to something else you said.

On Sat, 28 Jan 2012, Kalyan K wrote:

> But the other usage of the word mithya is in the context of something being
> sublated by knowledge of brahman, like the knowledge of rope sublating the
> knowledge of the snake. This kind of mithyatva leads to multiple
> definitions of reality (by the way, multiple realities originally was a
> buddhistic concept, found in mUla-mAdhyamika kArIka of nAgArjuna).

The notion that there are multiple levels of reality is hardly profound. 
Forget ropes and snakes, the basic example is the dream state and that 
definitely is pre-Nagarjuna.  (Aside on the question of influence:  Why do 
Nagarjuna and Buddhists of his time suddenly stop writing in Pali and take 
up Sanskrit?)

The Buddhists contend in a nutshell that the  multiple levels of reality 
continue in infinite regress.  This is the difference between the 
Madhyamaka concept of void (shunyata.)  Maya then is only the illusion 
that causes the void to be seen as a singular continuum.

Advaitins contend that there are three levels of reality.  Purely 
subjective (as in dreams,) conventional or vyavahara, and ultimate or 
paramartha.  In the first, Maya operates as a creative force, in the 
second as concealment and missaprehension and in the third (which actually 
pervades the other two being purna not shunya) not at all.  Now within the 
broad Advaita camp there are thinkers who have different opinions on these 
topics but their internal differences are miniscule in comparison with the 
vast gulf that seperates them from the Buddhists.

> However, it is a fact that Sankara uses them to a much lesser extent as 
> compared to others. If you look at this list for example, things like 
> vyavahArika and paramArthika satya and mAya are ubiquitous (all three 
> concepts were used by buddhists). Sankara himself uses these concepts to 
> a much limited extent, as anyone can verify by reading his bhAshyas in 
> totality (rather than quoting bits and pieces from them).

I think a case can be made that later thinkers have extended Advaita 
Vedanta beyond what Shankaracharya said (though there is an influential 
view that they _re_introduced ideas from i.e. Mandana Mishra) but I just 
don't see what any of it has to do with Buddhism.

> That said, borrowing concepts from the buddhists is absolutely nothing to
> be ashamed of. That Buddhism has produced some of the greatest thinkers is
> a fact whether one acknowledges it or not.

Ah but historically the opponents of Advaita Vedanta have used pracchanna 
bauddha ("pseudo-Buddhist") as an insult and the resistance to it from our 
side has precisely been because it was taken as something to be ashamed 

Jaldhar H. Vyas <jaldhar at braincells.com>

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