gaudapaada and buddha (was Re: brahman by ...)

Vidyasankar Sundaresan vidya at CCO.CALTECH.EDU
Tue Nov 26 13:41:54 CST 1996

On Tue, 26 Nov 1996, Kim Poulsen wrote:

While you do make an interesting case for the Buddhist overtones in GK IV,
the following translation is not correct grammatically.

> kramate na hi buddhasya GYaanaM dharmeshhu taayinaH |
> sarve dharmaaH tathaa GYaanaM na etat.h buddhena bhaashhitam.h || 99||
> na hi buddhasya GYaanam, ..the knowledge of the Buddha does not,
> kramate, ...go, dharmeshhu taayinaH, ...into the doctrines of the taayin.h
> (Buddha, viz. Gautama Buddha) ).
> (here Nikhilananda completely destroys the word taayin.h, as
> was sunishchita before - two distinctive epithets of the Buddha)
> sarve dharmaaH tathaa GYaanaM, .....all these doctrines and so the
> knowledge, na etat.h buddhena bhaashhitam.h, ....(was) not expounded
> by this Buddha.

I will not go into whether "dharma" means object or doctrine here. Let us
take "na etat.h buddhena bhaashitam.h". Most certainly, this cannot be
translated as "was not expounded by this buddha". etat.h cannot qualify
buddhena in this verse, simply because of the cases employed. etat.h is
nominative, buddhena is the instrumental form of buddha. I have yet to see
non-Vedic Sanskrit, where a nominative pronoun goes with an instrumental
noun. Therefore, I do not see this as a reference to "this buddha",
although the reference is definitely to "buddha". The correct grammatical
translation of this sentence, whatever be the philosophical predilections
of the translator, is, "this (etat.h) was not spoken (na bhaashitam.h) by
buddha (buddhena)."

It seems to me that your translation assumes that GK IV completely accepts
the mahayana mythology of dhyAnI buddhas and bodhisattvas. Note that
according to most mahayana texts, there was another turning of the
wheel after Sakyamuni. Then, if GK IV accepts mahayana mythology so
completely, "this buddha" that you think GK IV refers to, would not be
"the buddha" (Sakyamuni) but somebody else (Nagarjuna?). I doubt if this
is the case, simply because I see no justification for "this buddha" at
all in the GK verse. Also note that GK IV refers to mahayana by the rather
rare term "agrayana". This term itself occurs only in a few buddhist texts
that talk of the tathAgata-garbha doctrine.

>    Whatever the interpretation of these words (and there are several, one
> of
> which may be an attack on buddhism) it is very clear that Gaudapada
> is discussing Buddhas, the historical Buddha and that he accepts idea
> (well-known from Mahayana teachings) of the Dhyani-Buddhas and their
> earthly reflections - the human Bodhisattvas.
>   The claim that Buddha and buddhism are not mentioned in these shlokas,
> well, hmmm....I lack words.

I would not say that GK IV is silent about Buddha and buddhism, but
neither would I say that GK IV accepts the ideas of dhyAnI-buddhas and
bodhisattvas. There is nothing in GK IV that remotely approaches the
concept of a bodhisattva, who postpones his liberation out of compassion
for the other souls that seek liberation. In the absence of bodhisattva,
it is a moot point whether dhyAnI-buddhas are present in GK IV's

>  Now to the interpretation of the last part of the treatise. After
> expounding the
> view that braahmaNa is a state one attains, not something one is born into
> (thus accepting the distinctive view of the Buddha), Gaudapada reaches
> the vital part (for this discussion.)
> GYaanaM GYeyam cha viGYeyaM sadaa buddhaiH prakiirtitam.h || 88||
> "Knowledge, that which must be known (the object of knowledge) and
> viGYeyaM are revealed by the Buddhas of Sat"
>          ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

I don't understand the term "Buddhas of Sat". sadaa just means always.

>     These buddhas are the knowers (initially, in the beginning so to
> speak).
> In their viGYaana, consciousness (the term is distinctly used as such in
> buddhist thought), there is that which must be learned, the viGYeyam.

So is it in upanishadic thought, as seen in the br.hadAraNyaka terms
vijnAnamaya, vijnAtA, vijnAnaghana etc. Rather than terms like vijnAna
which are common to both buddhist and vedAnta traditions from time
immemorial, I would concentrate on the use of the word "buddha" in GK IV.
Any interpretation of terms related to vijnAna is bound to be biased.

>    To make a very long story short Gaudapada makes the comment:
> "sarve dharmaaH tathaa GYaanaM, .....all these doctrines and so the
> knowledge, na etat.h buddhena bhaashhitam.h, ....(was) not expounded
> by this Buddha."
>    Leaving all hostile explanations the following observations must be
> made. On this field of experience, this kshetra, Earth, there is something
> which must be known. The Buddha was born to reveal it, Gaudapada
> makes this very clear, and failed (at least in part) to do so.

Again, one could find fault with your last sentence. If you look at how
the Brahminical tradition has internalized Buddha as an avatar of Vishnu,
it is in a rather hostile sense. And GK, being appended to an upanishad,
is a quintessential Brahminical document. I also find it difficult to
believe that Gaudapada would say, "The Buddha was born to reveal it" and
that a century later, his grand-disciple, Sankara, would find fault with
the Buddha's teaching as being misleading. In general, the advaita vedAnta
tradition does not set great store by a particular person being born to
reveal a particular doctrine.

>   "*All* these tenets were not taught publicly by this Buddha". It is
> not a refutation of buddhism, since he accept the status of the
> Buddha. It is the reconciling explanation as to why Advaita contains
> many tenets upon which buddhism remain silent. "The view of the
> Buddha", Shankara says in Nikhilananda's translations, "is said to
> be similar to or very near ot the truth of the non-dual Atman. But this
> knowledge of non-duality, which is the Ultimate Reality can be attained
> through Vedanta alone."

This is asking the buddhists to commit to a rather radical shift in their
allegiances, no? According to the same Sankara, vedAnta can be learned
from the upanishads alone, which are Sruti. Remember that the rejection of
the Sruti as a valid source of knowledge is a corner-stone of any buddhist
school of thought.

>   Or said different, the paramartha, the highest meaning of these
> doctrines, was not touched upon by the Buddha, and must be
>  found in the Vedanta.

Here, I draw attention to Sankara's one-sentence criticism of madhyamaka
buddhism in his brahmasUtra bhAshya. He says in effect, "to deny the
reality of this world, without affirming a higher reality, is to fall into
nihilism." And this affirmation is precisely what the middle path will not
do. samsAra is equivalent to nirvANa, not lower than nirvANa. That, and
the concept of pratItya-samutpAda make madhyamaka buddhism very different
from the thrust of GK IV. The buddhist ajAtivAda goes hand in hand with
the concept of pratItya-samutpAda. The GK's ajAtivAda is very
conspicuously silent about pratItya-samutpAda, and this in turn is
related to their respective views on own-nature (svabhAva) and
other-nature (parabhAva).

For more about the buddhist denial of svabhAva and the GK's attitude
towards svabhAva, read Comparisons
between GK and madhyamaka are not easy, and it is very easy to take
extreme positions on this. One extreme position seeks to deny any
influence of buddhist thought, while the other extreme position sees more
buddhism than there really is in the GK. A piece of gratuitous advice: let
us follow the middle path and avoid both extremes!


S. Vidyasankar

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