brahman by birth or guna and karma

Jaldhar H. Vyas jaldhar at BRAINCELLS.COM
Mon Nov 25 12:43:40 CST 1996

> From: Sankar Jayanarayanan <kartik at>
> To: Multiple recipients of list ADVAITA-L <ADVAITA-L at TAMU.EDU>
> Subject: Re: brahman by birth or guna and karma
> Date: Saturday, November 23, 1996 12:32 AM
> On Fri, 22 Nov 1996, Ramakrishnan Balasubramanian wrote:
> > Why, even Vyasa was the son of a fisherwoman.
> But I doubt if Satyavati, Vyasa's mother, was the daughter of a
> fisherman. She is supposed to have been born of the seed of a deva
> which was swallowed by a fish, if I remember right. So she had divine
> genes :-)

Not to mention that his father was the Rshi Parashara so as far as the
shastras are concerned, he is a Brahman.

> Buddha definitely permitted people of any caste into his Sangha.
> The Buddhist dharma is independent of caste, unlike hinduism, which
> allocates different roles in society to different castes and even in
> many cases, the rules pertaining to moksha (eg. according
> to Shankara, only Brahmins can take up Sannyasa). So I don't know
> how exactly you can conclude that Buddhism was not anti-caste. Maybe you
> mean that Buddhism was simply "without caste"?

This may be more accurate.  Bear in mind Indian Buddhism has bean dead for
centuries now so we are basing our speculation on slender evidence.
However a comparison to Jainism may be apt.  Both were founded by
Kshatriyas around the same time period and both do not consider caste or
the Vedas part of their theology and are considered heretical.  But Jains
in todays Gujarat do believe in caste.  In fact they will marry with
Vaishnavas of the same jati but not Jains of a different one.  Was the
Buddhist attitude the same no matter what the "party line" may have been?

> Also, there were several postings arguing against Buddha being
> considered a Rishi or equivalent, since his teachings were refuted by
> later great advaitins.

Not just on that basis but on the testimony of the Puranas which say that
Buddha was explicitly out to _destroy_ Dharma.

> Moreover, Gaudapada does, in his Karika, say that:
> "The Jnana of the Buddha is all-pervasive, but does not extend to
> objects...

Here, Shankaracharya translates buddhasya jnanam as "the knowledge of the
(generic) enlightened one" not knowledge of the Buddha.

> But this is not in the teachings of Buddha...

You've left a crucial bit out.  "But the knowledge of all (Shankaracharya
explains all to mean all souls) does not extend to objects"  This is what
is not in the teachings of the Buddha.

So the import is this. "Buddha believes the enlightened person understands
the non-existence of external objects.  However he omits the fact that all
people enlightened or not can understand this."  What Gaudapadacharya is
arguing against is the idea that Jnana is some kind of "mystical" insight.
He is saying it can be understood using ordinary cognition.  Shankaracharya
 comments that this cognition is knowledge of the Upanishadic texts.  The
self is to be known through rational study of the Upanishads not through

We salute this knowledge to the best of our ability."

However just because you are using the same type of cognition you use to
read the Sunday paper, it doesn't mean this knowledge is easy to
understand.  The next verse says "It is hard to fathom, very profound,
eternal, unitary, and holy.  Knowing this, we salute it and try and
understand it to the best of our ability."  Shankaracharya adds "to the
best of our ability" means even though our empirical faculties are
ultimately limited we must use them to their utmost.

> Now, it's quite obvious that the above is a praise to the Buddha, for
> Gaudapada plainly says that it is the _knowledge of the Buddha_ which is
> not in the teachings of the Buddha, which is merely saying that true
> knowledge of the Buddha is ineffable and therefore cannot be expressed in
> words, not that the teachings of the Buddha are false or that Buddha
> wasn't enlightened.

It is not so obvious based on the verses you have quoted above.  I think I
have demonstrated an equally viable interpretation.

> Moreover, the first verse of the last chapter of the
> Karika is an invocation to "The greatest among the bipeds"

Which also isn't adequate proof.  Shankaracharya says this verse refers to
Narayana and it is ambiguous enough that it could be interpreted either

> and the entire
> fourth chapter is based upon Buddhist teachings. According to Richard
> (and I agree with him),

Admittedly I don't have an in-depth knowledge of Buddhist teachings but it
doesn't seem that way to me.  Terminology like dharma meaning object and
hetu could be from nyaya-vaisheshikas as from Buddhists.

> Gaudapada was trying to reconcile the teachings of the Buddha with the

It's possible, after all people are trying to do that today, but I don't
think you've made a good case for it.

Jaldhar H. Vyas [jaldhar at]   And the men .-_|\ who hold
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