Jaldhar H. Vyas
jaldhar at BRAINCELLS.COM
Wed Apr 8 12:16:18 CDT 1998
What I have to say may not make sense at first (it didn't to me :-) but
bear with me and read to the end and I hope you can see what I mean.
On Tue, 7 Apr 1998, Anand Hudli wrote:
> I would like to respond to one point that has been raised here.
> Certainly, advaita is not restricted nowadays to followers of
> Shankara. Many other traditions that have recently started
> such as the ones by Ramakrishna and Vivekananda, Chinmayananda,
> Ramana Maharshi, etc. can be classified as new advaita schools or
> neo-advaita schools.
Just because someone takes a fancy to the name advaita doesn't mean they
are entitled to it. After all Vallabha called his doctrine Shuddhadvaita.
His main quarrel with Shankaracharya is with the doctrine of maya but
other than that he mainly agrees. Should he be included? How about the
right-wing crowd who have recently taken power in India? They invoke
Advaita concepts in the name of "national integration." Should they be
> I see no harm in discussing advaita as seen
> by these schools, precisely because all these schools have
> established some kind of a tradition in India and abroad.
It is exaggeration in the extreme to call what they practice a
"tradition." Most of these people are vague and mixed up in their own
doctrines let alone Shankaracharyas.
> the view of advaita according to these schools may be debated,
> but that is not the point I am trying to address here. There is
> nevertheless some tradition that classifies these schools as
> belonging to advaita and, more importantly, such classification
> is not the result of purely academic "research."
There is some tradition that Advaita belongs with Buddhism (at least if
you believe Anand Tirth etc!) Let's look at what the doctrines of Advaita
Vedanta themselves say and use them as a yardstick to measure the
newcomers. They fall far short of the mark in most cases.
> But, in contrast, there is absolutely _no_ such tradition assigned
> to Buddhism in India. Buddhism virtually disappeared from India
> a long time ago. Today, it is rare to come across a Buddhist in India,
> much rarer is a Buddhist who knows the philosophy as taught by
> Buddha and his descendents. In spite of the fact that Buddha was/is
> considered to be VishNu, there is scant respect shown for his
> teachings in Indian philosophy.
The same can be said of the pseudo-Vedantins. It seems for the most part
they and their followers only pay lip service to Advaita teachings or
worse follow them when it suits their fancy and ignore them when they find
it inconvenient. I don't know many learned people who have much respect
for that either.
> More relevant here is the fact that
> Shankara is sharply critical of Buddha in his Brahma suutra Bhaashhya.
> He condemns both Buddha and his teachings in no uncertain terms.
I don't think he would have been any less critical of people who believe
mystic experiences are more important than Vedic testimony, karma and
jnana are anything less than completely seperate, or women and foreigners
are entitled to study the upanishads.
> This being the case, my question to people here in the list who want
> to harp on Buddhism or who perhaps want to mix Buddhism and advaita,
> or who want to treat both the same is this:
> Do we consider ourselves so superior to Shankara that we override
> his opinion on Buddhism? I am not saying that one must not question
> the reasoning that Shankara and his followers put forth against
> Buddhism. There has been plenty of debate about this but still
> some people keep harping on alleged similarities between Buddhism
> and advaita.
But there _are_ apparent similiarities between Vedanta and Buddhism. It
may be a mistake but it is an easy mistake to make. That's precisely why
the topic should be kept in the open where it can by answered instead of
being allowed to fester. Lately most of the posts relating to Buddhism
have been posted by Nanda Chandran (and it's hardly the only topic he's
asked about) who stated he was exploring the relationship between Buddhism
and Vedanta and not endorsing Buddhism. I fail to see what is wrong with
> This is what I find disturbing, because it indicates
> perhaps a lack of respect for Shankara on one hand, and a blind
> faith in what modern day academicians, new age philosophers, etc.,
> say. This kind of belief in everything that such people say
> is as bad as and as deplorable as people's blind belief in the
> "dark ages." What I am saying is that before you jump to conclusions
> based on some academic's half-baked theories, try to subject those
> theories to the same critical analysis that you would to a text
> from classical advaita.
I agree but the same goes for the modernists. A lot of their followers
blindly follow them without realizing they are being led astray. They are
led to believe Shankaracharya only made some suggestions about Advaita
instead of laying down doctrine.
> Coming back to the neo-advaita schools, it would be injustice to
> Shankara' school if we deny its predominant influence on such
> schools. Many of the monks from the new schools were either
> directly or indirectly influenced profoundly by Shankara's tradition.
> The founders of these new schools did not just pick up advaita
> from scratch. They had to read and learn from commentaries by
> Shankara and his followers. And Ramakrishna Mission and Chinmaya
> mission have published many texts attributed to Shankara and his
> followers. This shows that they have accepted these texts as
> texts to be studied by their own members. So it is futile to
> even try to project these neo-advaita schools as being independent
> of Shankara's advaita.
What hasn't been an influence on these people? They have taken some
aspects of Advaita doctrines and mixed it up with all sorts of things:
Buddhism, new Age stuff, Max Muller, "modern science", and who knows what.
Ramakrishna _mission_ and Chinmaya _mission_ don't sound like they got
their influences from Indian culture. Have you been to the RK mission in
New York? The place looks like a church!
> I had the opportunity to meet with and have discussions with the
> current head of the Chinmaya mission, Swami Tejomayananda about
> two years ago in Austin, Texas. He is a very unassuming, well
> learned man, and with a great sense of humor too. Apart from the
> discussion I had on various topics including Panchadashii, karma,
> bhakti, and jnaana,
I'm sure there are individual people in those groups, both teachers and
students who are quite orthodox but there are also many of them who are
not. This is an inevitable consequence of their lack of discipline and
> I also had the opportunity to listen to his
> lectures on the fifth chapter of the Giitaa. I do not recall even
> a single instance when he made references to anything that had to
> do with Buddha or Buddhism. Also, looking at some of his books,
> I did not see any influence from Buddhism. My impression at this
> point is that Chinmaya mission does not adopt anything from
> Buddhism. Sadananda, please correct me if I am wrong. My impression
> of the other neo-adviata schools are also similar, although I do not
> know much about Nisargadatta. So the conclusion is none of the
> advaita schools, whether it is Shankara's or the new schools, do not
> care much for Buddhism. Why should the list?
The point of all I wrote is this. The new schools are in fact in exactly
the same position vis-a-vis Advaita Vedanta as the Buddhists. If you're
going to ban discussion of one, you ought to ban discussion of the other.
Overall it is far better to allow both, see the good parts and try and
remove the bad. And to determine what is good and bad only the shastras
are a faithful guide.
Jaldhar H. Vyas <jaldhar at braincells.com>
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